Friday, September 7, 2012

The Battle of Borodino 200 years on

Beginning at 5:00 am, September 7, 1812, an epic battle was fought by the Russian Army in an attempt to stop Napoleon's invasion of their country.  12 hours later, the battle was over and in excess of 75,000 lay dead—way over half of them Russians (45,000-30,000 French).  Some would say the French had prevailed because they were in fact able to push on to Moscow.  But the French were a LONG way from home and supplies so the Battle of Borodino really was one of those moments when history changed directions.  It was the beginning of the end for Napoleon and with it, the French experiment with republicanism.  Europe's nobility would get a reprieve that lasted until the end of World War I.

The Russians see this event in a much more heroic light than history might allow.  But this is understandable too.  Leo Tolstoy made this battle the centerpiece of his War and Peace and it's the subject of Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  Those triumphant choirs and pealing bells in the Finale of 1812 do not teach about defeat.  In Russian version of their history, this was perhaps their greatest triumph until Kursk when the armies of Hitler got to find out for themselves just how utterly stupid it is to invade Russia.

So last Sunday, the Russians played dress-up and staged a re-enactment of Borodino.  Apparently 200,000 folks showed up which created an epic traffic jam in the tiny town.  Imagine the trouble and expense all those historical re-enacters went to—some folks just love uniforms, I guess and those from the Napoleonic Era were especially colorful.  Love those hats!

Battle of the century redux: Grand Napoleonic battle reenacted 

03 September, 2012, 03:33

Members of historical clubs, dressed as French soldiers and Russian soldiers take part in the reenactment of the 1812 battle between Napoleon's army and Russian troops in Borodino, some 120 km outside Moscow on September 2, 2012 during the celebration of the battle's 200th anniversary (AFP Photo/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Two hours of clanking swords, firing canons, hundreds of horses, tons of armor and pure fun for spectators. The famed 1812 Battle of Borodino has been reconstructed in the Moscow region, marking its bicentenary jubilee.

The cavalry, infantry and artillery were all identical reproductions of what’s written in the chronicles about the most famous battle of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia.

Napoleon attacked the Imperial Russian Army, lead by General Mikhail Kutuzov, near the village of Borodino on September 7, 200 years ago. The real battle lasted 12 hours, and left over 45,000 Russian soldiers dead and around 30,000 dead on the French side. Napoleon called it a battle of giants. “The French have proved worthy of victory and the Russians earned the right not to be defeated,” the French Emperor said.

Despite the fact that the real battle began early in the morning – at roughly 5 am – the reenactment was scheduled to begin during the day, so that more people could see the show. The weather 200 years ago was very similar to this Sunday’s, so viewers got a rather clear picture of how it all happened in 1812.

This weekend's event featured the key episodes of the battle.

Among hundreds of cavalrymen and thousands of infantrymen dressed in 19th-century military uniform, more of them wore the French uniform – just as it was back in 1812.

“We will win this battle today. And probably it will be the biggest victory in the history of France… I expect victory,” a US actor playing the role of Napoleon I said before the first shots were fired.

“Though it is only a reenactment, we will fight in the memory of those who threw back Napoleon on the approaches to Moscow,” the man who played Kutuzov told Channel 1. more

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