After Borodin: the living and the dead

Attack of the 1st Cavalry Corps of General Uvarov at Borodino. Artist A.O.Desarno. State Hermitage

And a mountain of bloody bodies prevented the nuclei from flying …
(M. Yu. Lermontov. Borodino)

Documents and history. In the previous article on the figures of the Borodino battle, we focused on the data on losses. And they, like the data on the number of troops fighting, also turned out to be different for everyone. Moreover, the losses of the French, as many believe, were overestimated by the French themselves, namely those who, under the Bourbons, sought to show Napoleon’s failure, while the historians who promoted his military genius, accordingly, underestimated them. Our “patriotic” researchers acted in a similar way, hence a number of figures, suffering from obvious exaggerations, but found on some of the monuments of the Borodino field.

We continue to use the materials of the Niva magazine for 1912 as illustrations. Here, for example, are photographs of the exhibits of the exhibition that opened in Moscow on the days of the 100th anniversary of the battle.


According to the surviving records preserved in the archive of the RGVIA, the Russian army during the battle lost 39,300 people killed, wounded and missing (in the 1st army 21,766 and 17,445 in the 2nd), although these losses did not include the militia and the Cossacks. In addition, there were some wounded who died some time after the battle. So usually the number of casualties is brought to 44-45 thousand people. In particular, the historian Troitsky, on the basis of data from the Military Registration Archive of the General Staff, names the losses at 45.6 thousand people. If we count the total number of the army at 120 thousand people, then it turns out that after the battle a little more than a third of its number was missing, or even more figuratively: 4.5 out of every 12 people dropped out!

What to do, they did not know how to print high-quality photographs then!


French historians also note that the number of deaths from wounds was enormous. Thus, the captain of the 30th line regiment Ch. François, for example, testified that 3/4 of the wounded died in the Kolotsky monastery, where the main military hospital of the Napoleonic army was located, in the 10 days that followed the battle. And the French encyclopedias directly indicate that among the 30 thousand victims of the Borodino field, 20.5 thousand people died from wounds.

But on the other hand, Niva printed a large number of high-quality black and white reproductions of paintings by famous artists


And there were also horses. Who were also killed and wounded. Moreover, if the wounded soldiers still somehow tried to save them, they did amputations of limbs that were crushed or torn off by the nuclei, and this really saved some, then there was simply no one to tinker with the horses and they were ruthlessly shot even when they could have been cured.

But this is an interesting opinion about the “fire of Moscow”


However, the data on losses at the Borodino field can be found out in one more way, which historians do not really like to remember. Namely, by counting the burials made on the battlefield. After all, when the Russian army left the Borodino field, Napoleon’s army followed after it, and all the killed people and horses lay on it and remained. Of course, crows flocked there to feed, and wolves came out of the woods to eat. But … it was not so easy even for a crow with its strong beak to gut a man dressed in a cloth uniform, a tough mentik or cuirass, and also a shako and a helmet with a crest and tail. Face, eyes, bloody wounds – these are the parts of the bodies left on the field accessible to the crows. So, looking at the uniform, it was quite possible to say: this is Russian, and this is French.

As always, the loser blames anyone for all his troubles, but not himself! Here, by the way, it is appropriate to recall Leo Kassil’s wonderful story “The Great Confrontation”, in the first part of which a film about the war of 1812 is being shot. The following words are attributed to Napoleon there:

“I could, with one movement of this pen,” he says thoughtfully, walking about, taking two fingers of a large quill, sticking out on the table, “with one movement of the pen, dissolve the entire army of your sovereign. It would be enough for me to sign a decree on the release of your peasants. Not a single soldier would have remained with Alexander. But I am a monarch myself. I cannot raise the rabble against another monarch, even if he was my enemy. No never! Too much blood. You are barbarians and slaves. “

Interesting, isn’t it? So could or could he not have disbanded the “slaves” of Emperor Alexander I? And if he understood that he could not, then was it worthwhile to start a war with Russia at all?


But was there such a count at the burial, which simply had to take place on the Borodino field some time after the battle, and how many people and horses were buried there?

And then the soldier of Napoleon was expecting this … Dramatic, and quite. But how amazingly accurately depicted the cuirassier broadsword!


To find out about this, the funds of the Central State Historical Archive of Moscow – documents from the “Office of the Moscow Governor-General” (f. 16) and the fund “Chancellery of the Mozhaisk district marshal of the nobility” (f. 392). The latter contains 12 statements for the period from January 4 to April 6, 1813, concerning the burial of bodies and “carrion” found in the Borodino field, that is, human and horse corpses. In them, as well as in many other documents, with meticulousness characteristic of any bureaucratic state, the money allocated for firewood to burn too decomposed bodies and carrion, amounts for firewood, carts, payment for digging holes and actually burning them – in a word, these are documents of a high degree accuracy, although it is quite possible that the amount of “work” in them may well be somewhat exaggerated. Well, it is clear why and for what …

To carry out the burial, the entire battlefield was divided into sections, which were assigned to the nearby villages. And so their inhabitants were charged with the obligation to bury or burn the corpses of people and horses who died on it.

Another painting on the horrors of the war of 1812 in Russia


When the work began, the officials responsible for its implementation regularly carried out on-site inspections. So, one of these checks took place on January 15, 1813. Arriving at the Borodino field, the inspection commission established that “in all places when examining the corpses are not visible, because they have already been previously removed … by the working peasants under the local supervision of four officials.” (This “tuta” just delighted me. – Approx. Auth.).

However, not only the French, but also our soldiers suffered from “General Frost” then. You just read the data on the losses of the Russian army pursuing Napoleon! And then someone will say that the same Kutuzov felt sorry for his soldiers? The goal for him was in the first place, but for everything else … women, what for? For him, the soldier was all the same “mechanism provided for by the article”, as for all other military leaders of that time


Bulletin records were compiled weekly. First of all, they indicated which “distances” (departments) were allocated to one or another nearby county for cleaning bodies and carrion, and which of the local officials in this or that department was responsible for this. It was indicated which village was assigned to which department, that is, in modern language, which territory the inhabitants of this or that village that were near the Borodino field should be cleared of corpses. The number of workers is called, as well as the burnt corpses and carrion in the departments. The number of those exempted from burning work and the reason for the release were also indicated without fail. By the way, judging by these documents, the work on the burial of the remains was started on November 14, 1812 and continued until May 6, 1813. Of these, it is known that a total of 6050 peasants from different villages worked at the burial. But the work was carried out unevenly, and in winter many more corpses still remained unburied and lay covered with snow. They took out dead bodies not only from the field, but also from cellars, wells (?) And even houses. Some of the corpses were buried, and very deeply (the depth was checked by tearing up some burials!), But most of them were simply burned on huge bonfires. The amount of payment for this hard work is interesting – 50 kopecks for a worker per day. True, he was also supposed to pour him two glasses of wine!

N. Samokish’s drawings, as always, were distinguished by a high degree of accuracy. They could well illustrate the history textbooks of that time.


The total number of removed remains by April 6 throughout the Mozhaisky district is impressive: 58,521 human corpses and 35,478 horse corpses. And this is in addition to those burials that were carried out at the Kolotsky monastery, where only the French were buried, who died there from wounds.

The historian A. A. Sukhanov, who cited these data, also checked them and found out that during the earlier calculation, there was a double count of some numbers and a shortage of others. In addition, these data related to the entire Mozhaisky district, and not just the Borodin field. As a result, he found that 37,386 human bodies and 36,931 horse corpses were removed from it, with 4,050 “dead bodies” and 8,653 “horse carrions” buried in the ground, and the rest were cremated. Well, 2,161 human and 4,855 horse corpses fall on the whole of the city of Mozhaisk and its environs.

And as a result, the French and others like them were also waiting for the crossing across the Berezina


The work was financed by the Moscow Treasury and was expressed in the following amount: 17,305 rubles. 30 kopecks. (until June 4, 1813), of which part of the funds went “for firewood” – 5,636 rubles. 25 kopecks. (940 cubic meters. Fathoms), and the remaining 11 669 rubles. on the daily wages of the peasants who worked on the harvest. But to make an assumption about the separate burial of the removed remains of people and animals, writes A.A. Sukhanov, it does not seem possible, since such facts were not found in the documents. And we can conclude that many of the remains were so decomposed that … the corpses of people and horses were burned together.

However, Napoleon himself did not wait for the complete defeat of his army.


One can imagine the stench over the Borodino field a couple of weeks after the battle, especially since the autumn was warm, and then, during the collection of the remains in the spring of 1813 and their subsequent burning. It would also be interesting to know whether the corpses of the Russians and the French were buried and burned together or separately, the corpses were undressed before “burial” or not.

Exhibits of the Penza Regional Museum of Local Lore, dedicated to the war of 1812. Oh, what a cloth, what cords, edging, buttonholes …


The question, by the way, is very important. After all, the soldiers of that time were dressed in good cloth, boots, boots, had copper buttons, forehead badges and other ammunition. The knapsacks, which did not suffer in any way from being with the corpses, could well contain clean linen and some valuables, that is, they were also of considerable interest to the funeral teams. True, before the battle, the command was often given to “take off the backpacks,” but were all the backpacks collected later, after the battle? After all, trophy teams, and they, of course, were later distinguished by the French army, collected primarily weapons and those items of uniform that were easiest to put into use without repair, that is, fur hats, shako, “dragoons”, cuirasses, boots. But then, when the French left, the local peasants, no doubt, came to this field and used it to their fullest, although, of course, none of them then buried the corpses.

The drum of that time. Penza Regional Museum of Local Lore


So the data on large losses on both sides is also confirmed by the data on the burial of the dead at the Borodino field. But we will most likely never know the exact data. And is it really so important? We know that this battle was the beginning of the end of Napoleon, that the “fire of Moscow” “finished off” him, and all the other details, in principle, are not very important today …

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