On the twenty-fifth of August, so his historians tell us, Napoleon spent the whole day on horseback inspecting the locality, considering plans submitted to him by his marshals, and personally giving commands to his generals.
The original line of the Russian forces along the river Kolochá had been dislocated by the capture of the Shevárdino Redoubt on the twenty-fourth, and part of the line—the left flank—had been drawn back. That part of the line was not entrenched and in front of it the ground was more open and level than elsewhere. It was evident to anyone, military or not, that it was here the French should attack. It would seem that not much consideration was needed to reach this conclusion, nor any particular care or trouble on the part of the Emperor and his marshals, nor was there any need of that special and supreme quality called genius that people are so apt to ascribe to Napoleon; yet the historians who described the event later and the men who then surrounded Napoleon, and he himself, thought otherwise.
Napoleon rode over the plain and surveyed the locality with a profound air and in silence, nodded with approval or shook his head dubiously, and without communicating to the generals around him the profound course of ideas which guided his decisions merely gave them his final conclusions in the form of commands. Having listened to a suggestion from Davout, who was now called Prince d’Eckmühl, to turn the Russian left wing, Napoleon said it should not be done, without explaining why not. To a proposal made by General Campan (who was to attack the flèches) to lead his division through the woods, Napoleon agreed, though the so-called Duke of Elchingen (Ney) ventured to remark that a movement through the woods was dangerous and might disorder the division.
Having inspected the country opposite the Shevárdino Redoubt, Napoleon pondered a little in silence and then indicated the spots where two batteries should be set up by the morrow to act against the Russian entrenchments, and the places where, in line with them, the field artillery should be placed.
After giving these and other commands he returned to his tent, and the dispositions for the battle were written down from his dictation.
These dispositions, of which the French historians write with enthusiasm and other historians with profound respect, were as follows:
At dawn the two new batteries established during the night on the plain occupied by the Prince d’Eckmühl will open fire on the opposing batteries of the enemy.
At the same time the commander of the artillery of the 1st Corps, General Pernetti, with thirty cannon of Campan’s division and all the howitzers of Dessaix’s and Friant’s divisions, will move forward, open fire, and overwhelm with shellfire the enemy’s battery, against which will operate:
30 guns of Campan’s division
and 8 guns of Friant’s and Dessaix’s divisions
in all 62 guns.
The commander of the artillery of the 3rd Corps, General Fouché, will place the howitzers of the 3rd and 8th Corps, sixteen in all, on the flanks of the battery that is to bombard the entrenchment on the left, which will have forty guns in all directed against it.
General Sorbier must be ready at the first order to advance with all the howitzers of the Guard’s artillery against either one or other of the entrenchments.
During the cannonade Prince Poniatowski is to advance through the wood on the village and turn the enemy’s position.
General Campan will move through the wood to seize the first fortification.
After the advance has begun in this manner, orders will be given in accordance with the enemy’s movements.
The cannonade on the left flank will begin as soon as the guns of the right wing are heard. The sharpshooters of Morand’s division and of the vice-King’s division will open a heavy fire on seeing the attack commence on the right wing.
The vice-King will occupy the village and cross by its three bridges, advancing to the same heights as Morand’s and Gibrard’s divisions, which under his leadership will be directed against the redoubt and come into line with the rest of the forces.
All this must be done in good order (le tout se fera avec ordre et méthode) as far as possible retaining troops in reserve.
The Imperial Camp near Mozháysk,
September, 6, 1812.
These dispositions, which are very obscure and confused if one allows oneself to regard the arrangements without religious awe of his genius, related to Napoleon’s orders to deal with four points—four different orders. Not one of these was, or could be, carried out.
In the disposition it is said first that the batteries placed on the spot chosen by Napoleon, with the guns of Pernetti and Fouché; which were to come in line with them, 102 guns in all, were to open fire and shower shells on the Russian flèches and redoubts. This could not be done, as from the spots selected by Napoleon the projectiles did not carry to the Russian works, and those 102 guns shot into the air until the nearest commander, contrary to Napoleon’s instructions, moved them forward.
The second order was that Poniatowski, moving to the village through the wood, should turn the Russian left flank. This could not be done and was not done, because Poniatowski, advancing on the village through the wood, met Túchkov there barring his way, and could not and did not turn the Russian position.
The third order was: General Campan will move through the wood to seize the first fortification. General Campan’s division did not seize the first fortification but was driven back, for on emerging from the wood it had to reform under grapeshot, of which Napoleon was unaware.
The fourth order was: The vice-King will occupy the village (Borodinó) and cross by its three bridges, advancing to the same heights as Morand’s and Gérard’s divisions (for whose movements no directions are given), which under his leadership will be directed against the redoubt and come into line with the rest of the forces.
As far as one can make out, not so much from this unintelligible sentence as from the attempts the vice-King made to execute the orders given him, he was to advance from the left through Borodinó to the redoubt while the divisions of Morand and Gérard were to advance simultaneously from the front.
All this, like the other parts of the disposition, was not and could not be executed. After passing through Borodinó the vice-King was driven back to the Kolochá and could get no farther; while the divisions of Morand and Gérard did not take the redoubt but were driven back, and the redoubt was only taken at the end of the battle by the cavalry (a thing probably unforeseen and not heard of by Napoleon). So not one of the orders in the disposition was, or could be, executed. But in the disposition it is said that, after the fight has commenced in this manner, orders will be given in accordance with the enemy’s movements, and so it might be supposed that all necessary arrangements would be made by Napoleon during the battle. But this was not and could not be done, for during the whole battle Napoleon was so far away that, as appeared later, he could not know the course of the battle and not one of his orders during the fight could be executed.
Many historians say that the French did not win the battle of Borodinó because Napoleon had a cold, and that if he had not had a cold the orders he gave before and during the battle would have been still more full of genius and Russia would have been lost and the face of the world have been changed. To historians who believe that Russia was shaped by the will of one man—Peter the Great—and that France from a republic became an empire and French armies went to Russia at the will of one man—Napoleon—to say that Russia remained a power because Napoleon had a bad cold on the twenty-fourth of August may seem logical and convincing.
If it had depended on Napoleon’s will to fight or not to fight the battle of Borodinó, and if this or that other arrangement depended on his will, then evidently a cold affecting the manifestation of his will might have saved Russia, and consequently the valet who omitted to bring Napoleon his waterproof boots on the twenty-fourth would have been the savior of Russia. Along that line of thought such a deduction is indubitable, as indubitable as the deduction Voltaire made in jest (without knowing what he was jesting at) when he saw that the Massacre of St. Bartholomew was due to Charles IX’s stomach being deranged. But to men who do not admit that Russia was formed by the will of one man, Peter I, or that the French Empire was formed and the war with Russia begun by the will of one man, Napoleon, that argument seems not merely untrue and irrational, but contrary to all human reality. To the question of what causes historic events another answer presents itself, namely, that the course of human events is predetermined from on high—depends on the coincidence of the wills of all who take part in the events, and that a Napoleon’s influence on the course of these events is purely external and fictitious.
Strange as at first glance it may seem to suppose that the Massacre of St. Bartholomew was not due to Charles IX’s will, though he gave the order for it and thought it was done as a result of that order; and strange as it may seem to suppose that the slaughter of eighty thousand men at Borodinó was not due to Napoleon’s will, though he ordered the commencement and conduct of the battle and thought it was done because he ordered it; strange as these suppositions appear, yet human dignity—which tells me that each of us is, if not more at least not less a man than the great Napoleon—demands the acceptance of that solution of the question, and historic investigation abundantly confirms it.
At the battle of Borodinó Napoleon shot at no one and killed no one. That was all done by the soldiers. Therefore it was not he who killed people.
The French soldiers went to kill and be killed at the battle of Borodinó not because of Napoleon’s orders but by their own volition. The whole army—French, Italian, German, Polish, and Dutch—hungry, ragged, and weary of the campaign, felt at the sight of an army blocking their road to Moscow that the wine was drawn and must be drunk. Had Napoleon then forbidden them to fight the Russians, they would have killed him and have proceeded to fight the Russians because it was inevitable.
When they heard Napoleon’s proclamation offering them, as compensation for mutilation and death, the words of posterity about their having been in the battle before Moscow, they cried “Vive l’Empereur!” just as they had cried “Vive l’Empereur!” at the sight of the portrait of the boy piercing the terrestrial globe with a toy stick, and just as they would have cried “Vive l’Empereur!” at any nonsense that might be told them. There was nothing left for them to do but cry “Vive l’Empereur!” and go to fight, in order to get food and rest as conquerors in Moscow. So it was not because of Napoleon’s commands that they killed their fellow men.
And it was not Napoleon who directed the course of the battle, for none of his orders were executed and during the battle he did not know what was going on before him. So the way in which these people killed one another was not decided by Napoleon’s will but occurred independently of him, in accord with the will of hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the common action. It only seemed to Napoleon that it all took place by his will. And so the question whether he had or had not a cold has no more historic interest than the cold of the least of the transport soldiers.
Moreover, the assertion made by various writers that his cold was the cause of his dispositions not being as well-planned as on former occasions, and of his orders during the battle not being as good as previously, is quite baseless, which again shows that Napoleon’s cold on the twenty-sixth of August was unimportant.
The dispositions cited above are not at all worse, but are even better, than previous dispositions by which he had won victories. His pseudo-orders during the battle were also no worse than formerly, but much the same as usual. These dispositions and orders only seem worse than previous ones because the battle of Borodinó was the first Napoleon did not win. The profoundest and most excellent dispositions and orders seem very bad, and every learned militarist criticizes them with looks of importance, when they relate to a battle that has been lost, and the very worst dispositions and orders seem very good, and serious people fill whole volumes to demonstrate their merits, when they relate to a battle that has been won.
The dispositions drawn up by Weyrother for the battle of Austerlitz were a model of perfection for that kind of composition, but still they were criticized—criticized for their very perfection, for their excessive minuteness.
Napoleon at the battle of Borodinó fulfilled his office as representative of authority as well as, and even better than, at other battles. He did nothing harmful to the progress of the battle; he inclined to the most reasonable opinions, he made no confusion, did not contradict himself, did not get frightened or run away from the field of battle, but with his great tact and military experience carried out his role of appearing to command, calmly and with dignity.
On returning from a second inspection of the lines, Napoleon remarked:
“The chessmen are set up, the game will begin tomorrow!”
Having ordered punch and summoned de Beausset, he began to talk to him about Paris and about some changes he meant to make in the Empress’ household, surprising the prefect by his memory of minute details relating to the court.
He showed an interest in trifles, joked about de Beausset’s love of travel, and chatted carelessly, as a famous, self-confident surgeon who knows his job does when turning up his sleeves and putting on his apron while a patient is being strapped to the operating table. “The matter is in my hands and is clear and definite in my head. When the time comes to set to work I shall do it as no one else could, but now I can jest, and the more I jest and the calmer I am the more tranquil and confident you ought to be, and the more amazed at my genius.”
Having finished his second glass of punch, Napoleon went to rest before the serious business which, he considered, awaited him next day. He was so much interested in that task that he was unable to sleep, and in spite of his cold which had grown worse from the dampness of the evening, he went into the large division of the tent at three o’clock in the morning, loudly blowing his nose. He asked whether the Russians had not withdrawn, and was told that the enemy’s fires were still in the same places. He nodded approval.
The adjutant in attendance came into the tent.
“Well, Rapp, do you think we shall do good business today?” Napoleon asked him.
“Without doubt, sire,” replied Rapp.
Napoleon looked at him.
“Do you remember, sire, what you did me the honor to say at Smolénsk?” continued Rapp. “The wine is drawn and must be drunk.”
Napoleon frowned and sat silent for a long time leaning his head on his hand.
“This poor army!” he suddenly remarked. “It has diminished greatly since Smolénsk. Fortune is frankly a courtesan, Rapp. I have always said so and I am beginning to experience it. But the Guards, Rapp, the Guards are intact?” he remarked interrogatively.
“Yes, sire,” replied Rapp.
Napoleon took a lozenge, put it in his mouth, and glanced at his watch. He was not sleepy and it was still not nearly morning. It was impossible to give further orders for the sake of killing time, for the orders had all been given and were now being executed.
“Have the biscuits and rice been served out to the regiments of the Guards?” asked Napoleon sternly.
“The rice too?”
Rapp replied that he had given the Emperor’s order about the rice, but Napoleon shook his head in dissatisfaction as if not believing that his order had been executed. An attendant came in with punch. Napoleon ordered another glass to be brought for Rapp, and silently sipped his own.
“I have neither taste nor smell,” he remarked, sniffing at his glass. “This cold is tiresome. They talk about medicine—what is the good of medicine when it can’t cure a cold! Corvisart gave me these lozenges but they don’t help at all. What can doctors cure? One can’t cure anything. Our body is a machine for living. It is organized for that, it is its nature. Let life go on in it unhindered and let it defend itself, it will do more than if you paralyze it by encumbering it with remedies. Our body is like a perfect watch that should go for a certain time; the watchmaker cannot open it, he can only adjust it by fumbling, and that blindfold.... Yes, our body is just a machine for living, that is all.”
And having entered on the path of definition, of which he was fond, Napoleon suddenly and unexpectedly gave a new one.
“Do you know, Rapp, what military art is?” asked he. “It is the art of being stronger than the enemy at a given moment. That’s all.”
Rapp made no reply.
“Tomorrow we shall have to deal with Kutúzov!” said Napoleon. “We shall see! Do you remember at Braunau he commanded an army for three weeks and did not once mount a horse to inspect his entrenchments.... We shall see!”
He looked at his watch. It was still only four o’clock. He did not feel sleepy. The punch was finished and there was still nothing to do. He rose, walked to and fro, put on a warm overcoat and a hat, and went out of the tent. The night was dark and damp, a scarcely perceptible moisture was descending from above. Near by, the campfires were dimly burning among the French Guards, and in the distance those of the Russian line shone through the smoke. The weather was calm, and the rustle and tramp of the French troops already beginning to move to take up their positions were clearly audible.
Napoleon walked about in front of his tent, looked at the fires and listened to these sounds, and as he was passing a tall guardsman in a shaggy cap, who was standing sentinel before his tent and had drawn himself up like a black pillar at sight of the Emperor, Napoleon stopped in front of him.
“What year did you enter the service?” he asked with that affectation of military bluntness and geniality with which he always addressed the soldiers.
The man answered the question.
“Ah! One of the old ones! Has your regiment had its rice?”
“It has, Your Majesty.”
Napoleon nodded and walked away.
At half-past five Napoleon rode to the village of Shevárdino.
It was growing light, the sky was clearing, only a single cloud lay in the east. The abandoned campfires were burning themselves out in the faint morning light.
On the right a single deep report of a cannon resounded and died away in the prevailing silence. Some minutes passed. A second and a third report shook the air, then a fourth and a fifth boomed solemnly near by on the right.
The first shots had not yet ceased to reverberate before others rang out and yet more were heard mingling with and overtaking one another.
Napoleon with his suite rode up to the Shevárdino Redoubt where he dismounted. The game had begun.
On returning to Górki after having seen Prince Andrew, Pierre ordered his groom to get the horses ready and to call him early in the morning, and then immediately fell asleep behind a partition in a corner Borís had given up to him.
Before he was thoroughly awake next morning everybody had already left the hut. The panes were rattling in the little windows and his groom was shaking him.
“Your excellency! Your excellency! Your excellency!” he kept repeating pertinaciously while he shook Pierre by the shoulder without looking at him, having apparently lost hope of getting him to wake up.
“What? Has it begun? Is it time?” Pierre asked, waking up.
“Hear the firing,” said the groom, a discharged soldier. “All the gentlemen have gone out, and his Serene Highness himself rode past long ago.”
Pierre dressed hastily and ran out to the porch. Outside all was bright, fresh, dewy, and cheerful. The sun, just bursting forth from behind a cloud that had concealed it, was shining, with rays still half broken by the clouds, over the roofs of the street opposite, on the dew-besprinkled dust of the road, on the walls of the houses, on the windows, the fence, and on Pierre’s horses standing before the hut. The roar of guns sounded more distinct outside. An adjutant accompanied by a Cossack passed by at a sharp trot.
“It’s time, Count; it’s time!” cried the adjutant.
Telling the groom to follow him with the horses, Pierre went down the street to the knoll from which he had looked at the field of battle the day before. A crowd of military men was assembled there, members of the staff could be heard conversing in French, and Kutúzov’s gray head in a white cap with a red band was visible, his gray nape sunk between his shoulders. He was looking through a field glass down the highroad before him.
Mounting the steps to the knoll Pierre looked at the scene before him, spellbound by beauty. It was the same panorama he had admired from that spot the day before, but now the whole place was full of troops and covered by smoke clouds from the guns, and the slanting rays of the bright sun, rising slightly to the left behind Pierre, cast upon it through the clear morning air penetrating streaks of rosy, golden-tinted light and long dark shadows. The forest at the farthest extremity of the panorama seemed carved in some precious stone of a yellowish-green color; its undulating outline was silhouetted against the horizon and was pierced beyond Valúevo by the Smolénsk highroad crowded with troops. Nearer at hand glittered golden cornfields interspersed with copses. There were troops to be seen everywhere, in front and to the right and left. All this was vivid, majestic, and unexpected; but what impressed Pierre most of all was the view of the battlefield itself, of Borodinó and the hollows on both sides of the Kolochá.
Above the Kolochá, in Borodinó and on both sides of it, especially to the left where the Vóyna flowing between its marshy banks falls into the Kolochá, a mist had spread which seemed to melt, to dissolve, and to become translucent when the brilliant sun appeared and magically colored and outlined everything. The smoke of the guns mingled with this mist, and over the whole expanse and through that mist the rays of the morning sun were reflected, flashing back like lightning from the water, from the dew, and from the bayonets of the troops crowded together by the riverbanks and in Borodinó. A white church could be seen through the mist, and here and there the roofs of huts in Borodinó as well as dense masses of soldiers, or green ammunition chests and ordnance. And all this moved, or seemed to move, as the smoke and mist spread out over the whole space. Just as in the mist-enveloped hollow near Borodinó, so along the entire line outside and above it and especially in the woods and fields to the left, in the valleys and on the summits of the high ground, clouds of powder smoke seemed continually to spring up out of nothing, now singly, now several at a time, some translucent, others dense, which, swelling, growing, rolling, and blending, extended over the whole expanse.
These puffs of smoke and (strange to say) the sound of the firing produced the chief beauty of the spectacle.
“Puff!”—suddenly a round compact cloud of smoke was seen merging from violet into gray and milky white, and “boom!” came the report a second later.
“Puff! puff!”—and two clouds arose pushing one another and blending together; and “boom, boom!” came the sounds confirming what the eye had seen.
Pierre glanced round at the first cloud, which he had seen as a round compact ball, and in its place already were balloons of smoke floating to one side, and—“puff” (with a pause)—“puff, puff!” three and then four more appeared and then from each, with the same interval—“boom—boom, boom!” came the fine, firm, precise sounds in reply. It seemed as if those smoke clouds sometimes ran and sometimes stood still while woods, fields, and glittering bayonets ran past them. From the left, over fields and bushes, those large balls of smoke were continually appearing followed by their solemn reports, while nearer still, in the hollows and woods, there burst from the muskets small cloudlets that had no time to become balls, but had their little echoes in just the same way. “Trakh-ta-ta-takh!” came the frequent crackle of musketry, but it was irregular and feeble in comparison with the reports of the cannon.
Pierre wished to be there with that smoke, those shining bayonets, that movement, and those sounds. He turned to look at Kutúzov and his suite, to compare his impressions with those of others. They were all looking at the field of battle as he was, and, as it seemed to him, with the same feelings. All their faces were now shining with that latent warmth of feeling Pierre had noticed the day before and had fully understood after his talk with Prince Andrew.
“Go, my dear fellow, go... and Christ be with you!” Kutúzov was saying to a general who stood beside him, not taking his eye from the battlefield.
Having received this order the general passed by Pierre on his way down the knoll.
“To the crossing!” said the general coldly and sternly in reply to one of the staff who asked where he was going.
“I’ll go there too, I too!” thought Pierre, and followed the general.
The general mounted a horse a Cossack had brought him. Pierre went to his groom who was holding his horses and, asking which was the quietest, clambered onto it, seized it by the mane, and turning out his toes pressed his heels against its sides and, feeling that his spectacles were slipping off but unable to let go of the mane and reins, he galloped after the general, causing the staff officers to smile as they watched him from the knoll.
Having descended the hill the general after whom Pierre was galloping turned sharply to the left, and Pierre, losing sight of him, galloped in among some ranks of infantry marching ahead of him. He tried to pass either in front of them or to the right or left, but there were soldiers everywhere, all with the same preoccupied expression and busy with some unseen but evidently important task. They all gazed with the same dissatisfied and inquiring expression at this stout man in a white hat, who for some unknown reason threatened to trample them under his horse’s hoofs.
“Why ride into the middle of the battalion?” one of them shouted at him.
Another prodded his horse with the butt end of a musket, and Pierre, bending over his saddlebow and hardly able to control his shying horse, galloped ahead of the soldiers where there was a free space.
There was a bridge ahead of him, where other soldiers stood firing. Pierre rode up to them. Without being aware of it he had come to the bridge across the Kolochá between Górki and Borodinó, which the French (having occupied Borodinó) were attacking in the first phase of the battle. Pierre saw that there was a bridge in front of him and that soldiers were doing something on both sides of it and in the meadow, among the rows of new-mown hay which he had taken no notice of amid the smoke of the campfires the day before; but despite the incessant firing going on there he had no idea that this was the field of battle. He did not notice the sound of the bullets whistling from every side, or the projectiles that flew over him, did not see the enemy on the other side of the river, and for a long time did not notice the killed and wounded, though many fell near him. He looked about him with a smile which did not leave his face.
“Why’s that fellow in front of the line?” shouted somebody at him again.
“To the left!... Keep to the right!” the men shouted to him.
Pierre went to the right, and unexpectedly encountered one of Raévski’s adjutants whom he knew. The adjutant looked angrily at him, evidently also intending to shout at him, but on recognizing him he nodded.
“How have you got here?” he said, and galloped on.
Pierre, feeling out of place there, having nothing to do, and afraid of getting in someone’s way again, galloped after the adjutant.
“What’s happening here? May I come with you?” he asked.
“One moment, one moment!” replied the adjutant, and riding up to a stout colonel who was standing in the meadow, he gave him some message and then addressed Pierre.
“Why have you come here, Count?” he asked with a smile. “Still inquisitive?”
“Yes, yes,” assented Pierre.
But the adjutant turned his horse about and rode on.
“Here it’s tolerable,” said he, “but with Bagratión on the left flank they’re getting it frightfully hot.”
“Really?” said Pierre. “Where is that?”
“Come along with me to our knoll. We can get a view from there and in our battery it is still bearable,” said the adjutant. “Will you come?”
“Yes, I’ll come with you,” replied Pierre, looking round for his groom.
It was only now that he noticed wounded men staggering along or being carried on stretchers. On that very meadow he had ridden over the day before, a soldier was lying athwart the rows of scented hay, with his head thrown awkwardly back and his shako off.
“Why haven’t they carried him away?” Pierre was about to ask, but seeing the stern expression of the adjutant who was also looking that way, he checked himself.
Pierre did not find his groom and rode along the hollow with the adjutant to Raévski’s Redoubt. His horse lagged behind the adjutant’s and jolted him at every step.
“You don’t seem to be used to riding, Count?” remarked the adjutant.
“No it’s not that, but her action seems so jerky,” said Pierre in a puzzled tone.
“Why... she’s wounded!” said the adjutant. “In the off foreleg above the knee. A bullet, no doubt. I congratulate you, Count, on your baptism of fire!”
Having ridden in the smoke past the Sixth Corps, behind the artillery which had been moved forward and was in action, deafening them with the noise of firing, they came to a small wood. There it was cool and quiet, with a scent of autumn. Pierre and the adjutant dismounted and walked up the hill on foot.
“Is the general here?” asked the adjutant on reaching the knoll.
“He was here a minute ago but has just gone that way,” someone told him, pointing to the right.
The adjutant looked at Pierre as if puzzled what to do with him now.
“Don’t trouble about me,” said Pierre. “I’ll go up onto the knoll if I may?”
“Yes, do. You’ll see everything from there and it’s less dangerous, and I’ll come for you.”
Pierre went to the battery and the adjutant rode on. They did not meet again, and only much later did Pierre learn that he lost an arm that day.
The knoll to which Pierre ascended was that famous one afterwards known to the Russians as the Knoll Battery or Raévski’s Redoubt, and to the French as la grande redoute, la fatale redoute, la redoute du centre, around which tens of thousands fell, and which the French regarded as the key to the whole position.
This redoubt consisted of a knoll, on three sides of which trenches had been dug. Within the entrenchment stood ten guns that were being fired through openings in the earthwork.
In line with the knoll on both sides stood other guns which also fired incessantly. A little behind the guns stood infantry. When ascending that knoll Pierre had no notion that this spot, on which small trenches had been dug and from which a few guns were firing, was the most important point of the battle.
On the contrary, just because he happened to be there he thought it one of the least significant parts of the field.
Having reached the knoll, Pierre sat down at one end of a trench surrounding the battery and gazed at what was going on around him with an unconsciously happy smile. Occasionally he rose and walked about the battery still with that same smile, trying not to obstruct the soldiers who were loading, hauling the guns, and continually running past him with bags and charges. The guns of that battery were being fired continually one after another with a deafening roar, enveloping the whole neighborhood in powder smoke.
In contrast with the dread felt by the infantrymen placed in support, here in the battery where a small number of men busy at their work were separated from the rest by a trench, everyone experienced a common and as it were family feeling of animation.
The intrusion of Pierre’s nonmilitary figure in a white hat made an unpleasant impression at first. The soldiers looked askance at him with surprise and even alarm as they went past him. The senior artillery officer, a tall, long-legged, pockmarked man, moved over to Pierre as if to see the action of the farthest gun and looked at him with curiosity.
A young round-faced officer, quite a boy still and evidently only just out of the Cadet College, who was zealously commanding the two guns entrusted to him, addressed Pierre sternly.
“Sir,” he said, “permit me to ask you to stand aside. You must not be here.”
The soldiers shook their heads disapprovingly as they looked at Pierre. But when they had convinced themselves that this man in the white hat was doing no harm, but either sat quietly on the slope of the trench with a shy smile or, politely making way for the soldiers, paced up and down the battery under fire as calmly as if he were on a boulevard, their feeling of hostile distrust gradually began to change into a kindly and bantering sympathy, such as soldiers feel for their dogs, cocks, goats, and in general for the animals that live with the regiment. The men soon accepted Pierre into their family, adopted him, gave him a nickname (“our gentleman”), and made kindly fun of him among themselves.
A shell tore up the earth two paces from Pierre and he looked around with a smile as he brushed from his clothes some earth it had thrown up.
“And how’s it you’re not afraid, sir, really now?” a red-faced, broad-shouldered soldier asked Pierre, with a grin that disclosed a set of sound, white teeth.
“Are you afraid, then?” said Pierre.
“What else do you expect?” answered the soldier. “She has no mercy, you know! When she comes spluttering down, out go your innards. One can’t help being afraid,” he said laughing.
Several of the men, with bright kindly faces, stopped beside Pierre. They seemed not to have expected him to talk like anybody else, and the discovery that he did so delighted them.
“It’s the business of us soldiers. But in a gentleman it’s wonderful! There’s a gentleman for you!”
“To your places!” cried the young officer to the men gathered round Pierre.
The young officer was evidently exercising his duties for the first or second time and therefore treated both his superiors and the men with great precision and formality.
The booming cannonade and the fusillade of musketry were growing more intense over the whole field, especially to the left where Bagratión’s flèches were, but where Pierre was the smoke of the firing made it almost impossible to distinguish anything. Moreover, his whole attention was engrossed by watching the family circle—separated from all else—formed by the men in the battery. His first unconscious feeling of joyful animation produced by the sights and sounds of the battlefield was now replaced by another, especially since he had seen that soldier lying alone in the hayfield. Now, seated on the slope of the trench, he observed the faces of those around him.
By ten o’clock some twenty men had already been carried away from the battery; two guns were smashed and cannon balls fell more and more frequently on the battery and spent bullets buzzed and whistled around. But the men in the battery seemed not to notice this, and merry voices and jokes were heard on all sides.
“A live one!” shouted a man as a whistling shell approached.
“Not this way! To the infantry!” added another with loud laughter, seeing the shell fly past and fall into the ranks of the supports.
“Are you bowing to a friend, eh?” remarked another, chaffing a peasant who ducked low as a cannon ball flew over.
Several soldiers gathered by the wall of the trench, looking out to see what was happening in front.
“They’ve withdrawn the front line, it has retired,” said they, pointing over the earthwork.
“Mind your own business,” an old sergeant shouted at them. “If they’ve retired it’s because there’s work for them to do farther back.”
And the sergeant, taking one of the men by the shoulders, gave him a shove with his knee. This was followed by a burst of laughter.
“To the fifth gun, wheel it up!” came shouts from one side.
“Now then, all together, like bargees!” rose the merry voices of those who were moving the gun.
“Oh, she nearly knocked our gentleman’s hat off!” cried the red-faced humorist, showing his teeth chaffing Pierre. “Awkward baggage!” he added reproachfully to a cannon ball that struck a cannon wheel and a man’s leg.
“Now then, you foxes!” said another, laughing at some militiamen who, stooping low, entered the battery to carry away the wounded man.
“So this gruel isn’t to your taste? Oh, you crows! You’re scared!” they shouted at the militiamen who stood hesitating before the man whose leg had been torn off.
“There, lads... oh, oh!” they mimicked the peasants, “they don’t like it at all!”
Pierre noticed that after every ball that hit the redoubt, and after every loss, the liveliness increased more and more.
As the flames of the fire hidden within come more and more vividly and rapidly from an approaching thundercloud, so, as if in opposition to what was taking place, the lightning of hidden fire growing more and more intense glowed in the faces of these men.
Pierre did not look out at the battlefield and was not concerned to know what was happening there; he was entirely absorbed in watching this fire which burned ever more brightly and which he felt was flaming up in the same way in his own soul.
At ten o’clock the infantry that had been among the bushes in front of the battery and along the Kámenka streamlet retreated. From the battery they could be seen running back past it carrying their wounded on their muskets. A general with his suite came to the battery, and after speaking to the colonel gave Pierre an angry look and went away again having ordered the infantry supports behind the battery to lie down, so as to be less exposed to fire. After this from amid the ranks of infantry to the right of the battery came the sound of a drum and shouts of command, and from the battery one saw how those ranks of infantry moved forward.
Pierre looked over the wall of the trench and was particularly struck by a pale young officer who, letting his sword hang down, was walking backwards and kept glancing uneasily around.
The ranks of the infantry disappeared amid the smoke but their long-drawn shout and rapid musketry firing could still be heard. A few minutes later crowds of wounded men and stretcher-bearers came back from that direction. Projectiles began to fall still more frequently in the battery. Several men were lying about who had not been removed. Around the cannon the men moved still more briskly and busily. No one any longer took notice of Pierre. Once or twice he was shouted at for being in the way. The senior officer moved with big, rapid strides from one gun to another with a frowning face. The young officer, with his face still more flushed, commanded the men more scrupulously than ever. The soldiers handed up the charges, turned, loaded, and did their business with strained smartness. They gave little jumps as they walked, as though they were on springs.
The stormcloud had come upon them, and in every face the fire which Pierre had watched kindle burned up brightly. Pierre standing beside the commanding officer. The young officer, his hand to his shako, ran up to his superior.
“I have the honor to report, sir, that only eight rounds are left. Are we to continue firing?” he asked.
“Grapeshot!” the senior shouted, without answering the question, looking over the wall of the trench.
Suddenly something happened: the young officer gave a gasp and bending double sat down on the ground like a bird shot on the wing. Everything became strange, confused, and misty in Pierre’s eyes.
One cannon ball after another whistled by and struck the earthwork, a soldier, or a gun. Pierre, who had not noticed these sounds before, now heard nothing else. On the right of the battery soldiers shouting “Hurrah!” were running not forwards but backwards, it seemed to Pierre.
A cannon ball struck the very end of the earth work by which he was standing, crumbling down the earth; a black ball flashed before his eyes and at the same instant plumped into something. Some militiamen who were entering the battery ran back.
“All with grapeshot!” shouted the officer.
The sergeant ran up to the officer and in a frightened whisper informed him (as a butler at dinner informs his master that there is no more of some wine asked for) that there were no more charges.
“The scoundrels! What are they doing?” shouted the officer, turning to Pierre.
The officer’s face was red and perspiring and his eyes glittered under his frowning brow.
“Run to the reserves and bring up the ammunition boxes!” he yelled, angrily avoiding Pierre with his eyes and speaking to his men.
“I’ll go,” said Pierre.
The officer, without answering him, strode across to the opposite side.
“Don’t fire.... Wait!” he shouted.
The man who had been ordered to go for ammunition stumbled against Pierre.
“Eh, sir, this is no place for you,” said he, and ran down the slope.
Pierre ran after him, avoiding the spot where the young officer was sitting.
One cannon ball, another, and a third flew over him, falling in front, beside, and behind him. Pierre ran down the slope. “Where am I going?” he suddenly asked himself when he was already near the green ammunition wagons. He halted irresolutely, not knowing whether to return or go on. Suddenly a terrible concussion threw him backwards to the ground. At the same instant he was dazzled by a great flash of flame, and immediately a deafening roar, crackling, and whistling made his ears tingle.
When he came to himself he was sitting on the ground leaning on his hands; the ammunition wagons he had been approaching no longer existed, only charred green boards and rags littered the scorched grass, and a horse, dangling fragments of its shaft behind it, galloped past, while another horse lay, like Pierre, on the ground, uttering prolonged and piercing cries.