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The Napoleon Series > Publications > Despeche In English

A Russian Corps at Borodino 1812

By: Markus Stein, based on the original article by John E. Koontz

Translator:  Justin Howard

This article previously appeared in Issue 3 of the German-language magazine Depesche, which is published by our partner, Napoleon Online. We appreciate the kindness of the editor, Markus Stein, for giving us permission to publish the translation. It is based on an article in Journal of the Napoleonic Association.


In this and the following issues of Depesche, I would like to present an excellent longer study of the Russian 8th Corps of 1812, taken from earlier publications by our British friends from the Napoleonic Association.


This study aims to provide a brief insight into the composition and structure of a Russian corps from the period of the Battle of Borodino; the author concentrates on the 8th Corps, because this is the only one for which he has a truly comprehensive picture of its situation in 1812.

To do so, the study relies mainly on three sources, Geschichte des Feldzuges 1812 (History of the Campaign of 1812) by Mod’est Bogdanov’ic, translated by the Saxon officer Baumgarten, as well as two works which were published in 1962 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary. These bear the titles Borod’ino and Narodnoje Opolčen’ije v Ot’ečestv’ennoj Vojn’e 1812 Goda (The National Militia in the Patriotic War of 1812), were both edited by L. G. B’eskrovnij and present original documents from Russian archives.

To aid in comprehension of the text, two points should be noted:

Firstly, the dates in this study follow the Julian Calendar, which was still used in Russia in 1812. According to this calendar, the Battle of Borodino took place from 24 to 26 August 1812, not from 7 to 9 September 1812 as with the currently used Gregorian calendar.

Secondly, when translating Cyrillic into Latin script, I endeavour to retain the Russian intonation by using special symbols. An exact explanation of this transcription method follows in the next section.    

Transcription of Cyrillic script

The above table should first of all allow the readers themselves to transcribe Cyrillic texts into Latin script, and secondly make a more correct pronunciation and intonation possible. It would however take up too much space to list all the rules of the Russian language here, so the table is only to be seen as a very simplified language aid.

For instance, in Russian certain words are intonated differently, namely by changing the vowels – to be correct, Borod’ino should be pronounced /barad’inó/. Where a consonant at the end of a word is to be intonated, it must be must be pronounced firmly, i.e. b-d-g-v-z-ž become p-t-k-f-s-š, so that e.g. Gluxov becomes /gluxof/. The apostrophe symbol (‘) signifies that the preceding consonant is intonated while simultaneously adding a /j/ sound, for example d’ is pronounced /dj/.

To follow this short excursion into the intonation of the Russian language, I now present the reader with a translation of several common endings and names, which is probably of more interest.

Al’ekso                                   Alex(ander)

b’elij, b‘el(o)                          white

-gorod, -grad                           city

Jekat’erin(o)-                          Catherine’s

Jel’izav’et-                              Elisabeth’s

l’ejb                                         body/life (as in bodyguard/lifeguard)

malij, malo-                             small

n’ižnij, n’iže-                          smaller, less

novij, nov(o)-, nava-               new

-ov, -jev                                   ending for the genitive plural

-pol’                                         field, plain

-sk’ij                                        to denote an adjective

                                                further variations are –ski, -skij, -sk, -ck, etc.

-slav                                         praise, honour, fame

starij, star(o)-                           old

v’el’ik’ij, v’el’iko-                   large

Several regimental names indicate regions or provinces, e.g.

Gruz’ija                      Georgia

Kavkaz                        Caucasus

Krim                            Crimea

L’itva                           Lithuania

Ross’ija                        Russia

V’engr’ija                    Hungary

Organisation of the VIII Corps

The 8th Corps formed the reserve of the 2nd Western Army (2-aja Zapadnaja Arm’ija), which at Borod’ino also included the IV Cavalry Corps (4-ij Kaval’er’isk’ij Korpus), the VII Infantry Corps (7-oj P’exotnij Korpus) as well as a detachment of cossacks (Kazačij Otr’ad) under Karpov.

The IV Cavalry Corps comprised a single (unnumbered?) cavalry division, while the VII Army Corps was a typical Russian infantry corps, i.e. with two regular infantry divisions (12th and 26th) as well as two attached artillery brigades (12th and 26th).

Being a reserve unit, the VIII Infantry Corps had several irregularities to its organisation. The core of the Corps consisted of the 2nd (Grenadier) Division (2-aja gr’enad’erskaja d’iv’iz’ija) and the 27th Infantry Division (27-aja p’exotnaja d’iv’iz’ija) as well as the attached 2nd and 27th artillery brigades (27-aja art’ill’er’iskaja br’igada). In addition, Voroncov’s 2nd Combined Grenadier Division (2-aja svodnaja gr’enad’erskaja d’iv’iz’ija), the 2nd Cuirassier Division (2-aja k’iras’irskaja d’iv’iz’ija) and the 3rd Reserve Artillery Brigade (3-aja r’ez’ervnaja art’ill’er’iskaja br’igada) were integrated into the VIII Corps.

However, one should not be misled by this quantitative strength of the VIII Corps, because though the 2nd (Grenadier) Division consisted of experienced regular troops, Voroncov’s battalions were only assembled from new, provisional depot units while the regiments of the 27th Division had only been formed in 1811 from former garrison troops. The Novgorod Cuirassier Regiment of the 2nd Cuirassier Division had also only been raised in 1811.

The 27th Division was stationed in Moskva (Moscow) at the start of the campaign and only had its baptism of fire at Krasnij on 2 August. Voroncov’s Division was therefore probably raised so that VIII Corps would have a second infantry division before 27th Division arrived. The 27th Artillery Brigade had not even reached the Corps by the time of the Battle of Borod’ino and was only at its disposal after 28 August.

                                                                                                            (To be continued).


Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2010