War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book X: Chapters 26–39

The news that the Russians were attacking the left flank of the French army aroused that horror in Napoleon. He sat silently on a campstool below the knoll, with head bowed and elbows on his knees. Berthier approached and suggested that they should ride along the line to ascertain the position of affairs.

"What? What do you say?" asked Napoleon."Yes, tell them to bring me my horse."

He mounted and rode toward Semenovsk.

Amid the powder smoke, slowly dispersing over the whole space through which Napoleon rode, horses and men were lying in pools of blood, singly or in heaps. Neither Napoleon nor any of his generals had ever before seen such horrors or so many slain in such a small area. The roar of guns, that had not ceased for ten hours, wearied the ear and gave a peculiar significance to the spectacle, as music does to tableaux vivants. Napoleon rode up the high ground at Semenovsk, and through the smoke saw ranks of men in uniforms of a color unfamiliar to him. They were Russians.

The Russians stood in serried ranks behind Semenovsk village and its knoll, and their guns boomed incessantly along their line and sent forth clouds of smoke. It was no longer a battle: it was a continuous slaughter which could be of no avail either to the French or the Russians. Napoleon stopped his horse and again fell into the reverie from which Berthier had aroused him. He could not stop what was going on before him and around him and was supposed to be directed by him and to depend on him, and from its lack of success this affair, for the first time, seemed to him unnecessary and horrible.

One of the generals rode up to Napoleon and ventured to offer to lead the Old Guard into action. Ney and Berthier, standing near Napoleon, exchanged looks and smiled contemptuously at this general's senseless offer.

Napoleon bowed his head and remained silent a long time.

"At eight hundred leagues from France, I will not have my Guard destroyed!" he said, and turning his horse rode back to Shevardino.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After leaving his wife, what does Pierre do that gives him new hope?




Quiz