And in this chapter, we see General Bagration in action.  He was a real historical character, which you can read about on Wikipedia (so it must be true).

However, Tolstoy’s portrayal of him is somewhat quirky.  Is he grossly incompetent, which is why he gives no orders, but just goes with whatever is happening? 

Or is he quite clever – realising that the narrator of this novel doesn’t actually believe Generals have much say in what goes on in the battlefield anyway – and thus not giving any real orders and letting events happen as they will?

Believe it or not, this issue of whether battles are won and lost by the orders of generals vs being won and lost by the hundreds of tiny skirmishes by individual soldiers goes on to become a huge philosophical issue that Tolstoy starts to tackle in the second half of the book.  (My apologies is a) you didn’t realise there was going to be any philosophy or b) you really hate philosophy.)

Anyway, what do you think of Bagration’s leadership style?


3 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 2.17 – General Bagration

  1. I guess Bagration here is rather like a lot of leaders – and no just in the military, either: somehow managing to look like they’re in charge when really they’re doing very little, and yet the sheer fact that they pull it off so well somehow dupes everyone into thinking what great leaders they are. I sense a kind of wry humour in Tolstoy’s portrayal of Bagration here. It’s iteresting that Andrei sees through it, but still sees an important role for Bagration in boosting morale.

    So I don’t think I see Bagration as incompetent – but perhaps as more of a facade of leadership than as an actual leader which, as you point out, is so central to Tolstoy’s view of history.

    But all of this, of course, is so much more than just an academic question about how decisions are made and carried out – because, while we see this ambiguity in Bagration’s leadership, we also see that people are now dying, and the machinery of war, in all its wild and chaotic horror, is now in top gear.

  2. I think this was just Tolstoy’s view of him as a leader – and he had a lot of nerve depicting him in that way. I can imagine he went up against a little conflict with people, over this cynicism.

    He did it well though . . . I found Bagration an amusing sort of character.

    What did this mean?

    “But where and how will my Toulon present itself?”

    Does anybody know?

    I’m adding these folks to my character count:

    Accountant –

    A civilian- an accountant who had asked permission to be present at the battle out of curiosity.

    Adjutant –

    But at that moment an adjutant galloped up with a message from the commander of the regiment in the hollow and news that immense masses of the French were coming down upon them and that his regiment was in disorder and was retreating upon the Kiev grenadiers.

    Artilleryman –

    “Whose company?” asked Prince Bagration of an artilleryman standing by the ammunition wagon.

    Cossack –

    He seemed to swell with satisfaction. He had hardly finished speaking when they again heard an unexpectedly violent whistling which suddenly ended with a thud into something soft… f-f-flop! and a Cossack, riding a little to their right and behind the accountant, crashed to earth with his horse.

    Gunner (2) –

    A huge, broad-shouldered gunner, Number One, holding a mop, his legs far apart, sprang to the wheel; while Number Two with a trembling hand placed a charge in the cannon’s mouth.

    Lemarrois –

    Lemarrois had just arrived at a gallop with Bonaparte’s stern letter, and Murat, humiliated and anxious to expiate his fault, had at once moved his forces to attack the center and outflank both the Russian wings, hoping before evening and before the arrival of the Emperor to crush the contemptible detachment that stood before him.

    Red-Haired-Freckled Gunner –

    “Captain Tushin’s, your excellency!” shouted the red-haired, freckled gunner in a merry voice, standing to attention.

    Zakharchenko – Sergeant Major –

    No one had given Tushin orders where and at what to fire, but after consulting his sergeant major, Zakharchenko, for whom he had great respect, he had decided that it would be a good thing to set fire to the village.


    And that’s enough from me about this illustrious Book 2.

    My final count of characters?


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