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"Imperial Guard at Borodino: You don't agree" Topic


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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian19 Sep 2022 9:37 p.m. PST

You were asked – TMP link

In the book Napoleon's Imperial Guard, Gabriele Esposito writes:

…At the Battle of Borodino, the largest clash of the Russian campaign, Napoleon decided not to employ the Old Guard. keeping it in reserve. It is likely that, if he had have risked the life of his loyal veterans in battle, the emperor could have achieved a decisive victory over the Russians…

Do you agree?

55% said "no, I disagree"
19% said "yes, I agree"

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2022 1:24 a.m. PST

Yes and no. He would have won the battle more handily, but he won IIRC all the battles in 1812 and he still lost the campaign. Given the casualty rate during the Retreat, the losses from committing the Guard would not have been material, because they'd have suffered them one way or another anyway.

14Bore20 Sep 2022 2:19 a.m. PST

Reading Russia Against Napoleon, he points out that the 6 Russian Guard regiments were still whole and unused. And the Russians still would have gotten away.
I contend it would have been worth it as by December the Guard was a shell of what it once was without meaning.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2022 7:11 a.m. PST

Depends a lot on what's meant by "decisive." If more captured flags and cannon count, quite possible. But if by "decisive" Esposito means a favorable end to the campaign, I don't see it. "We'll invade Russia, thrash the Russian army, take Moscow and then they'll do what I want" is just another in a long list of plans which require the other fellow to cooperate.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2022 9:14 a.m. PST

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth, as a very perceptive strategist once said.

14Bore20 Sep 2022 1:25 p.m. PST

My commitment should be 6 Battalions of Preobrazhensk and Semenovsk Regiments

Green Cheek20 Sep 2022 1:36 p.m. PST

Not committing the Guard was a very "un-Napoleon" thing to do imo. He should have taken the risk. Perhaps the losses from that would have persuaded him to not March further into Russia?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2022 3:01 p.m. PST

Half-way agree Green Cheek. Yes, I think a younger Emperor would have committed the Guard. But I can't see marching as far as Borodino, winning the battle and not continuing on 70 miles to Moscow. In fact, had he stopped at Borodino, no discussion of casualties could have made it look like anything other than a Russian victory.

The place to stop, if you were going to stop, was Smolensk, and it would have had to be planned. By the time he'd marched to Borodino, all he could do was persist and hope the plan worked. But "hope is not a planning consideration."

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP20 Sep 2022 10:39 p.m. PST

Winter in Smolensk. In the spring continue or declare victory and leave. We gave the Russians a bloody nose, that will teach them. As with other Russians invasions, the best choice is not to attempt it in the first place.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2022 1:31 a.m. PST

@ Old Contemptible

If he'd tried that, he'd surely have had to return to Paris to run the government over the winter. Then for sure the Russians would have attacked his army in winter quarters in February, a la Eylau, while he was 1,500 miles away.

14Bore21 Sep 2022 2:02 a.m. PST

In book he quotes many who say Napoleon thought he couldn't stay away from Paris for long

carnot21 Sep 2022 11:33 a.m. PST

Wintering in Smolensk also makes sense since it would have allowed the Poles to complete training of recently recruited units and recruit more. As far as Napoleon having to go back to Paris, just leave Davout in charge…he was a better general than anything the Russians could put up against him.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 Sep 2022 11:53 a.m. PST

My father used to say that "life is full of choices." Napoleon had been ruler of France and the French Army for 12 years. If a Russian war needed two years--as he sometimes said--but none of his picked generals could conduct even a defensive campaign unsupervised, and he didn't dare leave Paris and his civilian appointees without his presence for more than six months, then maybe war with Russia was not his best choice.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2022 2:41 a.m. PST

@ carnot

Wintering in Smolensk also makes sense since it would have allowed the Poles to complete training of recently recruited units and recruit more.

Net, probably no difference as the Russians could of course have done the same. Depending on the state of supply, also, the French army could have come out of the winter relatively depleted compared to the Russians.

As far as Napoleon having to go back to Paris, just leave Davout in charge…he was a better general than anything the Russians could put up against him.

This policy did not work well in Spain, on the Danube in 1809, or in Russia in 1812 after Napoleon deserted the army. In fact, back in Paris in the winter of 1812-13, the news from Spain was of more and ever-worse defeats, which would surely have called into question whether he could risk returning east.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP22 Sep 2022 3:04 p.m. PST

Credit where it's due, 4th. His Majesty never left anyone in charge. He was still trying to micromanage Spain from Poland and Russia by way or semaphore and courier, aided by willful misunderstanding of conditions. He left Berthier to mismanage the Danube rather than put Lannes or Davout actually in charge, and in 1812-13 he left Eugene with more reporting requirements than infantry.

I say again, he was one of the most brilliant military minds the human race has produced. But Maharbal was right when he said no one got all the gifts. If Hannibal knew how to win victories but not what to do with them, Napoleon knew how to command brilliantly, but not how to delegate.

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