Friday, October 26, 2012

Napoleon's Star in decline ...

Bonaparte had lost the edge
Some commentators believe that this momentous decision represents the critical turning point in Napoleon's career.  His original plan of driving off Kutusov and heading for Kaluga and Smolensk was undoubtedly the best he could have pursued under teh circumstances, but to abandon the movement so precipitately resulted in throwing away every advantage earned during the preceding six days.  At the very least he might have opted for the alternative route through Medyn which lay invitingly open before him; but to revert to the original axis of advance, surrendering all initiative, was to court disaster.  Not only did the decision remove all pressure from Kutusov and throw away the hard won fruits of Maloyaroslavets, it also wasted a precious week of comparatively fine weather.  In the opinion of General Wilson, an English observer of the campaign: "Napoleon's star no longer guided his course, for after the [Russian] rear guard had retired, had any, even the smallest reconnaissance, advanced to the brow of teh hill over the ravine -- had the slightest demonstration of a continued offensive movement been made -- Napoleon would have obtained a free passage for his army on the Kaluga or Medinj road, through fertile and rich country to the Dnieper; for Kutusov, resolved on falling back behind the Oka, had actually issued the orders 'to retire there in case of the enemy's approach to his new position.'"  Thus after winning a small tactical advantage, Napoleon in effect conceded a huge strategical victory to Kutusov who had no wish to fight a further action.

The Emperor's powers of discernment and intuition were far from their peak at this time.  After a slow and cautious approach, he had won an indecisive battle, only thereafter to select the worst possible route for his army's further march when a better lay open before him.  A combination of this uncustomary slowness, irresolution and excessive caution, was dooming his army to gradual extinction as surely as a major defeat in the field.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 822-823

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