War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy

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Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter IX

Prince Andrew reached the general headquarters of the army at the end of June. The first army, with which was the Emperor, occupied the fortified camp at Drissa; the second army was retreating, trying to effect a junction with the first one from which it was said to be cut off by large French forces. Everyone was dissatisfied with the general course of affairs in the Russian army, but no one anticipated any danger of invasion of the Russian provinces, and no one thought the war would extend farther than the western, the Polish, provinces.

Prince Andrew found Barclay de Tolly, to whom he had been assigned, on the bank of the Drissa. As there was not a single town or large village in the vicinity of the camp, the immense number of generals and courtiers accompanying the army were living in the best houses of the villages on both sides of the river, over a radius of six miles. Barclay de Tolly was quartered nearly three miles from the Emperor. He received Bolkonski stiffly and coldly and told him in his foreign accent that he would mention him to the Emperor for a decision as to his employment, but asked him meanwhile to remain on his staff. Anatole Kuragin, whom Prince Andrew had hoped to find with the army, was not there. He had gone to Petersburg, but Prince Andrew was glad to hear this. His mind was occupied by the interests of the center that was conducting a gigantic war, and he was glad to be free for a while from the distraction caused by the thought of Kuragin. During the first four days, while no duties were required of him, Prince Andrew rode round the whole fortified camp and, by the aid of his own knowledge and by talks with experts, tried to form a definite opinion about it. But the question whether the camp was advantageous or disadvantageous remained for him undecided. Already from his military experience and what he had seen in the Austrian campaign, he had come to the conclusion that in war the most deeply considered plans have no significance and that all depends on the way unexpected movements of the enemy- that cannot be foreseen- are met, and on how and by whom the whole matter is handled. To clear up this last point for himself, Prince Andrew, utilizing his position and acquaintances, tried to fathom the character of the control of the army and of the men and parties engaged in it, and he deduced for himself the following of the state of affairs.

While the Emperor had still been at Vilna, the forces had been divided into three armies. First, the army under Barclay de Tolly, secondly, the army under Bagration, and thirdly, the one commanded by Tormasov. The Emperor was with the first army, but not as commander in chief. In the orders issued it was stated, not that the Emperor would take command, but only that he would be with the army. The Emperor, moreover, had with him not a commander in chief's staff but the imperial headquarters staff. In attendance on him was the head of the imperial staff, Quartermaster General Prince Volkonski, as well as generals, imperial aides-de-camp, diplomatic officials, and a large number of foreigners, but not the army staff. Besides these, there were in attendance on the Emperor without any definite appointments: Arakcheev, the ex-Minister of War; Count Bennigsen, the senior general in rank; the Grand Duke Tsarevich Constantine Pavlovich; Count Rumyantsev, the Chancellor; Stein, a former Prussian minister; Armfeldt, a Swedish general; Pfuel, the chief author of the plan of campaign; Paulucci, an adjutant general and Sardinian emigre; Wolzogen- and many others. Though these men had no military appointment in the army, their position gave them influence, and often a corps commander, or even the commander in chief, did not know in what capacity he was questioned by Bennigsen, the Grand Duke, Arakcheev, or Prince Volkonski, or was given this or that advice and did not know whether a certain order received in the form of advice emanated from the man who gave it or from the Emperor and whether it had to be executed or not. But this was only the external condition; the essential significance of the presence of the Emperor and of all these people, from a courtier's point of view (and in an Emperor's vicinity all became courtiers), was clear to everyone. It was this: the Emperor did not assume the title of commander in chief, but disposed of all the armies; the men around him were his assistants. Arakcheev was a faithful custodian to enforce order and acted as the sovereign's bodyguard. Bennigsen was a landlord in the Vilna province who appeared to be doing the honors of the district, but was in reality a good general, useful as an adviser and ready at hand to replace Barclay. The Grand Duke was there because it suited him to be. The ex-Minister Stein was there because his advice was useful and the Emperor Alexander held him in high esteem personally. Armfeldt virulently hated Napoleon and was a general full of self-confidence, a quality that always influenced Alexander. Paulucci was there because he was bold and decided in speech. The adjutants general were there because they always accompanied the Emperor, and lastly and chiefly Pfuel was there because he had drawn up the plan of campaign against Napoleon and, having induced Alexander to believe in the efficacy of that plan, was directing the whole business of the war. With Pfuel was Wolzogen, who expressed Pfuel's thoughts in a more comprehensible way than Pfuel himself (who was a harsh, bookish theorist, self-confident to the point of despising everyone else) was able to do.

Besides these Russians and foreigners who propounded new and unexpected ideas every day- especially the foreigners, who did so with a boldness characteristic of people employed in a country not their own- there were many secondary personages accompanying the army because their principals were there.

Among the opinions and voices in this immense, restless, brilliant, and proud sphere, Prince Andrew noticed the following sharply defined subdivisions of and parties:

The first party consisted of Pfuel and his adherents- military theorists who believed in a science of war with immutable laws- laws of oblique movements, outflankings, and so forth. Pfuel and his adherents demanded a retirement into the depths of the country in accordance with precise laws defined by a pseudo-theory of war, and they saw only barbarism, ignorance, or evil intention in every deviation from that theory. To this party belonged the foreign nobles, Wolzogen, Wintzingerode, and others, chiefly Germans.

The second party was directly opposed to the first; one extreme, as always happens, was met by representatives of the other. The members of this party were those who had demanded an advance from Vilna into Poland and freedom from all prearranged plans. Besides being advocates of bold action, this section also represented nationalism, which made them still more one-sided in the dispute. They were Russians: Bagration, Ermolov (who was beginning to come to the front), and others. At that time a famous joke of Ermolov's was being circulated, that as a great favor he had petitioned the Emperor to make him a German. The men of that party, remembering Suvorov, said that what one had to do was not to reason, or stick pins into maps, but to fight, beat the enemy, keep him out of Russia, and not let the army get discouraged.

To the third party- in which the Emperor had most confidence- belonged the courtiers who tried to arrange compromises between the other two. The members of this party, chiefly civilians and to whom Arakcheev belonged, thought and said what men who have no convictions but wish to seem to have some generally say. They said that undoubtedly war, particularly against such a genius as Bonaparte (they called him Bonaparte now), needs most deeply devised plans and profound scientific knowledge and in that respect Pfuel was a genius, but at the same time it had to be acknowledged that the theorists are often one sided, and therefore one should not trust them absolutely, but should also listen to what Pfuel's opponents and practical men of experience in warfare had to say, and then choose a middle course. They insisted on the retention of the camp at Drissa, according to Pfuel's plan, but on changing the movements of the other armies. Though, by this course, neither one aim nor the other could be attained, yet it seemed best to the adherents of this third party.

Of a fourth opinion the most conspicuous representative was the Tsarevich, who could not forget his disillusionment at Austerlitz, where he had ridden out at the head of the Guards, in his casque and cavalry uniform as to a review, expecting to crush the French gallantly; but unexpectedly finding himself in the front line had narrowly escaped amid the general confusion. The men of this party had both the quality and the defect of frankness in their opinions. They feared Napoleon, recognized his strength and their own weakness, and frankly said so. They said: "Nothing but sorrow, shame, and ruin will come of all this! We have abandoned Vilna and Vitebsk and shall abandon Drissa. The only reasonable thing left to do is to conclude peace as soon as possible, before we are turned out of Petersburg."

This view was very general in the upper army circles and found support also in Petersburg and from the chancellor, Rumyantsev, who, for other reasons of state, was in favor of peace.

The fifth party consisted of those who were adherents of Barclay de Tolly, not so much as a man but as minister of war and commander in chief. "Be he what he may" (they always began like that), "he is an honest, practical man and we have nobody better. Give him real power, for war cannot be conducted successfully without unity of command, and he will show what he can do, as he did in Finland. If our army is well organized and strong and has withdrawn to Drissa without suffering any defeats, we owe this entirely to Barclay. If Barclay is now to be superseded by Bennigsen all will be lost, for Bennigsen showed his incapacity already in 1807."

The sixth party, the Bennigsenites, said, on the contrary, that at any rate there was no one more active and experienced than Bennigsen: "and twist about as you may, you will have to come to Bennigsen eventually. Let the others make mistakes now!" said they, arguing that our retirement to Drissa was a most shameful reverse and an unbroken series of blunders. "The more mistakes that are made the better. It will at any rate be understood all the sooner that things cannot go on like this. What is wanted is not some Barclay or other, but a man like Bennigsen, who made his mark in 1807, and to whom Napoleon himself did justice- a man whose authority would be willingly recognized, and Bennigsen is the only such man."

The seventh party consisted of the sort of people who are always to be found, especially around young sovereigns, and of whom there were particularly many round Alexander- generals and imperial aides-de-camp passionately devoted to the Emperor, not merely as a monarch but as a man, adoring him sincerely and disinterestedly, as Rostov had done in 1805, and who saw in him not only all the virtues but all human capabilities as well. These men, though enchanted with the sovereign for refusing the command of the army, yet blamed him for such excessive modesty, and only desired and insisted that their adored sovereign should abandon his diffidence and openly announce that he would place himself at the head of the army, gather round him a commander in chief's staff, and, consulting experienced theoreticians and practical men where necessary, would himself lead the troops, whose spirits would thereby be raised to the highest pitch.

The eighth and largest group, which in its enormous numbers was to the others as ninety-nine to one, consisted of men who desired neither peace nor war, neither an advance nor a defensive camp at the Drissa or anywhere else, neither Barclay nor the Emperor, neither Pfuel nor Bennigsen, but only the one most essential thing- as much advantage and pleasure for themselves as possible. In the troubled waters of conflicting and intersecting intrigues that eddied about the Emperor's headquarters, it was possible to succeed in many ways unthinkable at other times. A man who simply wished to retain his lucrative post would today agree with Pfuel, tomorrow with his opponent, and the day after, merely to avoid responsibility or to please the Emperor, would declare that he had no opinion at all on the matter. Another who wished to gain some advantage would attract the Emperor's attention by loudly advocating the very thing the Emperor had hinted at the day before, and would dispute and shout at the council, beating his breast and challenging those who did not agree with him to duels, thereby proving that he was prepared to sacrifice himself for the common good. A third, in the absence of opponents, between two councils would simply solicit a special gratuity for his faithful services, well knowing that at that moment people would be too busy to refuse him. A fourth while seemingly overwhelmed with work would often come accidentally under the Emperor's eye. A fifth, to achieve his long-cherished aim of dining with the Emperor, would stubbornly insist on the correctness or falsity of some newly emerging opinion and for this object would produce arguments more or less forcible and correct.

All the men of this party were fishing for rubles, decorations, and promotions, and in this pursuit watched only the weathercock of imperial favor, and directly they noticed it turning in any direction, this whole drone population of the army began blowing hard that way, so that it was all the harder for the Emperor to turn it elsewhere. Amid the uncertainties of the position, with the menace of serious danger giving a peculiarly threatening character to everything, amid this vortex of intrigue, egotism, conflict of views and feelings, and the diversity of race among these people- this eighth and largest party of those preoccupied with personal interests imparted great confusion and obscurity to the common task. Whatever question arose, a swarm of these drones, without having finished their buzzing on a previous theme, flew over to the new one and by their hum drowned and obscured the voices of those who were disputing honestly.

From among all these parties, just at the time Prince Andrew reached the army, another, a ninth party, was being formed and was beginning to raise its voice. This was the party of the elders, reasonable men experienced and capable in state affairs, who, without sharing any of those conflicting opinions, were able to take a detached view of what was going on at the staff at headquarters and to consider means of escape from this muddle, indecision, intricacy, and weakness.

The men of this party said and thought that what was wrong resulted chiefly from the Emperor's presence in the army with his military court and from the consequent presence there of an indefinite, conditional, and unsteady fluctuation of relations, which is in place at court but harmful in an army; that a sovereign should reign but not command the army, and that the only way out of the position would be for the Emperor and his court to leave the army; that the mere presence of the Emperor paralyzed the action of fifty thousand men required to secure his personal safety, and that the worst commander in chief if independent would be better than the very best one trammeled by the presence and authority of the monarch.

Just at the time Prince Andrew was living unoccupied at Drissa, Shishkov, the Secretary of State and one of the chief representatives of this party, wrote a letter to the Emperor which Arakcheev and Balashev agreed to sign. In this letter, availing himself of permission given him by the Emperor to discuss the general course of affairs, he respectfully suggested- on the plea that it was necessary for the sovereign to arouse a warlike spirit in the people of the capital- that the Emperor should leave the army.

That arousing of the people by their sovereign and his call to them to defend their country- the very incitement which was the chief cause of Russia's triumph in so far as it was produced by the Tsar's personal presence in Moscow- was suggested to the Emperor, and accepted by him, as a pretext for quitting the army.

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