War And Peace

CHAPTER XV

Chinese

EARLY in October another messenger came to Kutuzov from Napoleon with overtures for peace and a letter, falsely professing to come from Moscow, though Napoleon was in fact not far ahead of Kutuzov on the old Kaluga road. Kutuzov answered this letter as he had done the first one, brought him by Lauriston; he said that there could be no question of peace.

Soon after this Dorohov's irregulars, which were moving on the left of Tarutino, sent a report that French troops had appeared at Fominskoe, that these troops were of Broussier's division, and that that division, being separate from the rest of the army, might easily be cut to pieces. The soldiers and officers again clamoured for action. The staff generals, elated by the easy victory of Tarutino, urged on Kutuzov that Dorohov's suggestion should be acted upon.

Kutuzov did not consider any action necessary. A middle course, as was inevitable, was adopted; a small detachment was sent to Fominskoe to attack Broussier.

By strange chance this appointment, a most difficult and most important one, as it turned out to be later, was given to Dohturov, that modest little general, whom no one has depicted to us making plans of campaign, dashing at the head of regiments, dropping crosses about batteries, or doing anything of the kind; whom people looked on and spoke of as lacking decision and penetration, though all through the Russian wars with the French, from Austerlitz to the year 1813, we always find him in command where the position is particularly difficult. At Austerlitz he was the last to remain at the ford of Augest, rallying the regiments, saving what he could, when all was flight and ruin, and not a single other general was to be found in the rearguard. When ill with fever, he marched with twenty thousand men to Smolensk to defend the town against the whole of Napoleon's army. In Smolensk he had only just fallen asleep at the Malahovsky gates in a paroxysm of fever when he was waked by the cannonade of Smolensk, and Smolensk held out a whole day. At Borodino when Bagration was killed, and nine-tenths of the men of our left flank had been slain, and the fire of all the French artillery was turned upon it, Kutuzov made haste to recall another general he had sent by mistake, and sent there no other than Dohturov, who was said to be lacking in decision and penetration. And unpretentious little Dohturov went there, and Borodino became the greatest glory of the Russian arms. And many of its heroes have been celebrated in prose and verse, but of Dohturov hardly a word. Again Dohturov was sent to Fominskoe, and from there to Maley Yaroslavets, the place where the last battle was fought with the French, and where it is plain the final destruction of the French army really begun. And again many heroes and men of genius are described to us in accounts of this period of the campaign, but of Dohturov nothing is said, or but few words of dubious praise. This silence in regard to Dohturov is the plainest testimony to his merits.

It is natural that a man who does not understand the working of a machine should suppose, when he sees it in action, that a shaving that has fallen into it by chance, and flaps about in it, hindering its progress, is the most important part of the mechanism. Any one who does not understand the construction of the machine cannot conceive that this shaving is only clogging and spoiling it, while the little cog-wheel, which turns noiselessly, is one of the most essential parts of the machine.

On the 10th of October Dohturov had marched halfway to Fominskoe, and halted at the village of Aristovo, making every preparation for exactly carrying out the orders given him. On the same day the whole French army, after reaching in its spasmodic rush as far as Murat's position, seemingly with the object of giving battle, suddenly, with no apparent cause, turned off to the left to the new Kaluga road, and began marching into Fominskoe, where Broussier had before been alone. Dohturov had under his command at the time only Dorohov's troops and the two small detachments of Figner and Seslavin.

On the evening of the 11th of October, Seslavin came to the general at Aristovo with a French prisoner of the guards. The prisoner said that the troops that had reached Fominskoe that day were the advance guard of the whole army; that Napoleon was with them; that the whole army had marched out of Moscow five days before. The same evening a house-serf coming from Borovsk brought word that he had seen an immense army entering that town. Dorohov's Cossacks reported that they had seen the French guards marching along the road to Borovsk. From all this it was evident that where they had expected to find one division there was now the whole army of the French, marching from Moscow in an unexpected direction—along the old Kaluga road. Dohturov was unwilling to take any action, as it was not clear to him now where his duty lay. He had received instructions to attack Fominskoe. But there had then been only Broussier at Fominskoe, and now the whole French army was there. Yermolov wanted to act on his own judgment, but Dohturov insisted that he must have instructions from his highness the commander-in-chief. It was resolved to send a report to the staff.

For this purpose they chose a capable officer, Bolhovitinov, who was to take a written report, and to explain the whole matter verbally. At midnight Bolhovitinov received his despatch and his verbal instructions, and galloped off to headquarters, accompanied by a Cossack with spare horses.

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