The costs proved to be high. On the way back the “Grande Armée” was badly damaged, almost annihilated. Over 400,000 French soldiers had set out to conquer Russia, barely 40,000 returned home.
Their horses had no traction on snow and ice, due to lack of winter horseshoes. The French soldiers were not equipped for survival in temperatures below zero.
Many of them froze or starved to death, as the Russians used scorched-earth tactics, burning all the villages the French troops passed through, leaving no food or water for them.
Napoleon was used to foraging and plundering occupied land during his wars, but this was not possible in Russia.
Another painting by Vasily Vereshchagin with the title “Night Bivouac of Great Army, 1812” shows the poor rest of the French soldiers, huddled together under thin blankets, sleeping on frozen earth.
A snow storm is sweeping past them, in the foreground we see a broken wagon buried in heaps of snow. Rows of rifles are pointing upwards into the bluish-green-grey air, and we wonder how many of those soldiers are still alive, how many dead.
Vasily Vereshchagin clearly was no friend of the French. The viewers can feel the painter’s satisfaction, depicting the French losses during their shameful retreat.
Some of these sleeping soldiers probably never reached France. They were constantly attacked by Russian peasants and Cossack Light Cavalry.
The Cossack horsemen of the Russian steppes were well suited for reconnaissance, scouting, and harassing the enemies’ flanks, rear, supply lines and communication. Napoleon admired the Cossacks. “Cossacks are the best light troops that exist. If I had them in my army, I would go through all of the world with them,” he stated.
For Russia, the victory over the French Army in 1812 formed a symbol of strengthened national identity and patriotism.
Mikhail Lermontov, a poet of Cossack origin, romanticized the battle in his poem “Borodino.” Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his “1812 Overture” to commemorate the battle.
The Soviet Union released a one ruble coin in 1987, on the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. Four million of them were minted.
Last but not least, the little village of Borodino is known even in space. A minor planet, 3544 Borodino, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1977, was named after the village near Moscow.
In Russia, the Battle of Borodino is reenacted on the first Sunday of September each year.
Losses and suffering are deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche, just like the battles fought and won. The victories gained in the Patriotic Wars form a strong layer in the collective memory of the Russian nation.
Für Russland wurde der Sieg über die französische Armee im Jahre 1812 zu einem Symbol von nationaler Stärke und Patriotismus.
Michail Jurjewitsch Lermontow, ein Dichter kosakischer Abstammung, verewigte die Schlacht in seinem Gedicht “Borodino”. Der Komponist Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowski komponierte seine “1812 Ouvertüre” zur Erinnerung an die Schlacht.
1987 gab die Sowjetunion eine Ein-Rubel-Münze zum 175. Jahrestag der Schlacht von Borodino heraus. Vier Millionen Münzen dieser Sorte wurden geprägt.
Schließlich ist das kleine Dorf Borodino auch im Weltall bekannt. Der kleine Planet 3544 Borodino ist nach dem Dorf bei Moskau benannt. Er wurde 1977 von dem sowjetischen Astronom Nikolai Stepanowitsch Tschernych entdeckt.
In Russland wird die Schlacht von Borodino jedes Jahr am ersten Sonntag im September aufgeführt.
Verluste und Leiden sind tief in der russischen Seele verankert, ebenso wie die gewonnenen Schlachten. Die im Laufe der Patriotischen Kriege errungenen Siege formen eine starke Schicht in der kollektiven Erinnerung der russischen Nation.