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Tolstoy

[From War and Peace, Volume IV, Part Two, VII]

Count Orlov-Denisov whispered the command: “Mount!” They formed up; they crossed themselves…

“God be with you!”

“Hurrah!” rang out through the forest, and one by one, as if pouring from a sack, hundreds of Cossacks, their lances atilt, flew merrily across the brook towards the camp.

One desperate frightened cry of the first Frenchman to see the Cossacks — and all who were in the camp, undressed, half-awake, abandoned cannon, muskets, horses, and ran off wherever they could.

If the Cossacks had pursued the French, paying no attention to what was behind and around them, they would have taken both Murat and everything that was there. The officers wanted that. But once the Cossacks got hold of the booty and the prisoners, they would not budge. No one obeyed orders. Fifteen hundred prisoners, thirty-eight cannon, standards, and, what was most important for the Cossacks, horses, saddles, blankets, and various objects were taken on the spot. All that had to be managed, the prisoners and cannon had to be taken in hand, the booty divided, with shouting and even fighting among themselves: the Cossacks were taken up with all that.

The French, no longer pursued, gradually began to recover, formed units, and started shooting. Orlov-Denisov waited for the rest of the columns and did not advance further.


Meanwhile, according to the disposition — “die erste Kolonne marschiert” and so on — the infantry of the belated columns, commanded by Bennigsen and directed by Toll, started out properly and, as always happens, got somewhere, but not where they were supposed to go. As always happens, the men, who had started out cheerfully, began to halt; displeasure was voiced, confusion was sensed, they began moving back somewhere.

Adjutants and generals galloped about, shouted, became angry, quarreled, said they had come to the wrong place and were late, denounced somebody, and so on; and finally they all waved their hands and went on, only so as to go somewhere. “We’ll get somewhere!” And indeed they did, but not to the right place, though some also got to the right place, but so late that they were of no use and only got themselves shot at.

Toll, who in this battle played the role of Weyrother at Austerlitz, galloped assiduously from place to place, and everywhere found things the wrong way round. Thus he ran into Bagovut’s corps in the forest when it was already quite light and that corps was supposed to have long been with Orlov-Denisov.

Agitated, upset by the failure, and supposing that someone was to blame for it, Toll rode up to the commander of the corps and began to upbraid him sternly, saying he ought to be shot. Bagovut, an old, calm, seasoned general, also worn out by all those halts, confusions, contradictions, to everyone’s surprise, and completely contrary to his character, flew into a rage and said all sorts of unpleasant things to Toll.

“I’m not going to take lessons from anybody, and I can die with my soldiers no worse than anybody else,” he said and marched on with a single division.

Coming into the field under French fire, the agitated and brave Bagovut, without considering whether his going into action now, with only one division, was useful or useless, marched straight ahead and led his troops under fire. Danger, cannonballs, bullets were what he needed in his wrathful state. One of the first bullets killed him, the bullets that followed killed many of his soldiers. And for some time his division went on standing uselessly under fire.

This excerpt is from the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Vintage, 2007, pages 998-999.

Posted in War and Peace.

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