Monday, June 28, 2010

Borodino: The aftermath

Travels in North Europe: from modern writers
By William Bingley.
Published in 1822.

From the narrative of Mr. James's Journey from Moscow into Poland in 1814.

The travellers passed through Borodino, and saw the remains of the fortifications which had been made by the Russians; they visited the spot where a furious battle had been fought between the Russians and the French, on the advance of the latter towards Moscow. Though the Russians were finally defeated, the loss sustained by the two armies was nearly equal. To prove the sanguinary nature of the conflict, it will be sufficient to state that sixty-three thousand bodies were left dead upon the field; an amount such as can scarcely have been equalled in any preceding war. The ground was still strewed with memorials of the havoc that had taken place. Caps, feathers, scabbards, pieces of camp-kettles, scraps of uniforms, both French and Russian, were lying apparently in the place where each man had fallen. The French general had been killed by a cannonball and a small wooden tablet, attached to a rough stake, had been erected over the place of his interment. It bore an inscription to his memory, written in ink.

After the expulsion of the French army from Russia, a question of great importance was agitated, regarding the best mode of consuming the innumerable carcasses of men and horses which covered the surface of the ground. The method of burying in quick lime was at first suggested ; but since it occurred, that wood necessary for burning so large a quantity of lime would, in all probability, be sufficient to consume the bodies themselves, the scheme was dropped, and the more summary process was preferred of committing the bodies to the flames. They lay, during the hard season, in a frozen state, until a short time before the thaw was expected to commence; they were then hewn in pieces, collected in heaps, and burnt upon piles of wood.

An interesting and unusual account highlighting a part of battle we here little of, recording a pragmatic though sad end to the fallen heroes of both sides. 

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