BOOK TEN: 1812
28. CHAPTER XXVIII
At the battle of Borodino Napoleon shot at no one and killed no one.
That was all done by the soldiers. Therefore it was not he who
The French soldiers went to kill and be killed at the battle of
Borodino 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.