On This Day in Napoleonic History – 20 August 1812

Kutuzov1Tsar Alexander replaces Pyotr Bagration with 67-year old Field-Marshal Prince Mikhail Kutuzov

The move was popular with the Russian army. Napoleon, too, was delighted. He had already defeated Kutuzov once at Austerlitz and this change of command led him to believe that the decisive battle he wished for wasn’t too far off. He was under the impression that the Field-Marshal had been summoned to command the army on the condition that he stops the retreat and fights.

In reality for two weeks after his appointment Kutuzov continued retreating towards Moscow. He stopped at a village 65 miles to the east of Moscow called Borodino, where he waited for the French. He knew that the Russian people would not forgive him if he gave up Moscow without a battle. Despite the supply difficulties Napoleon decided on August 24 to follow Kutuzov. ‘Peace is ahead of us,’ said Napoleon, believing that Kutuzov would never surrender the Holy City of Moscow, the heart of Russia, and the Tsar would have to sue for peace.

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