Thursday, October 18, 2012

Kutuzov's challenge

Then, as often occurs in war, the unexpected happened.  The same day that Napoleon decided to retreat, Kutusov took it into his head to advance and attack the nearest formations of Murat's somnolescent cavalry reserve.  The King of Naples had never anticipated that the "friendly" Russians to his front would brek the unofficial armistice, and so he and his lieutenants were taken completely by surprise.  General Sebastiani, now commanding teh Second Corps of the reserve cavalry, who "spent his days in slippers, reading Italian poetry," according to one critic, bore the brunt of the attack near Vinkovo and received a sharp defeat at the hands of Denisov's cavalry, losing six guns.  Meanwhile Baggvout's infantry advanced to attack Murat's center, separated by some two miles from Sebastiani.  Kutusov evidently hoped to encircle the King of Naples' entire command.  "The enemy infantry then set out to seize a defile in the King of Naples' rear," Napoleon wrote to his Foreign Minister, Maret.  "The King [Murat] however, fell on this infantry at the head of his carabineers and cuirassiers, and scattered them."  by the end of the 18th, Murat had successfully fought his way out of danger, falling back on  Voronovo, but the day's events had been a decided scare.  With a little more drive and commitment of his reserves, Kutusov might have pulled off a considerable victory; under the circumstances , however, the Russians made no attempt to follow up their limited success, but contented themselves with concentrating in the vicinity of Tarutino where a fortified camp was being prepared.
~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 819

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