Battle of Vinkovo or Tarutino, 18 October 1812

The battle of Vinkovo or Tarutino (18 October 1812) was an unsuccessful Russian attack on Murat's cavalry screen south of Moscow that played a part in convincing Napoleon that he would have to abandon Moscow (Russian campaign of 1812).

Marshal Joachim Murat
Marshal Joachim Murat

On 14 September Napoleon entered Moscow and began to send peace envoys to Tsar Alexander I. The Tsar had no intention of negotiating at this point, and refused to reply to any of Napoleon's messages, but around Moscow the French troops were convinced that peace was inevitable. Field Marshal Kutuzov, the commander of the Russian troops outside Moscow encouraged the French in this belief, but only so he could raise fresh troops and recover from the heavy losses at Borodino. He also moved his main base from the east of Moscow to Tarutino, on the Kaluga road south-west of the city. This put the main Russian army between Napoleon and the more prosperous provinces of southern Russia.

The nearest French troops to Kutuzov were part of Marshal Murat's cavalry screen, supported by Prince Poniatowski's V Corps. They were posted very close to the Russian lines, but relations between the two armies were largely cordial and for some time there was little or no fighting.

This changed on 18 October. Kutuzov was under a great deal of pressure to attack the French, and he decided to strike Murat's positions south of Moscow. The attack involved two forces. General Vasili Denisov's cavalry was to attack the French right flank (General Sebastiani's II Cavalry Corps), while General Karl Fedorovich Bagguvut attacked the French centre and left flank (Murat himself and Prince Poniatowski).

The attack on the French right was a great success. Sebastiani had a reputation for being surprised, and he was caught out once again. His cavalry was routed and fled from its camp. Denisov's Cossacks then stopped to loot the French camp. 

Baggovut's infantry attack began fairly successfully with the capture of a defile in the rear of Murat's position, and threatened to surround the French. The Russians failed to take advantage of the successful start to the attack. Prince Poniatowski's men held their position, giving the French a solid base. Murat led his carabineers and cuirassiers in an attack on the Russian troops and was able to break through and reach safety at Voronov.

The Russian cause probably wasn't helped by the death of Baggovut, who was killed by a cannon ball during the battle. The Russians may have lost as many as 1,000 men during the battle, the French around 250. Amongst the French wounded was General Lefebvre-Desnouëttes

By mid-October Napoleon had already realised that he would have to leave Moscow and move west, although he still hoped to be able to over-winter somewhere inside Russia. After the fighting at Vinkovo he decided to speed up his plans, and on the morning of 19 October the first units of the Grande Armée marched out of the city. The destruction of the Grande Armée has always been blamed on the retreat from Moscow, but the advance actually did more damage - Napoleon left the city with around 95,000 men and 500 cannon, a fraction of the massive army that had started the campaign. His initial plan was to move south and retreat west through areas untouched by the war, but after a hard-fought battle at Maloyaroslavets on 24 October 1812 he changed his mind and returned to the northern route that he has used on the advance to Moscow.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 May 2014), Battle of Vinkovo or Tarutino, 18 October 1812 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_vinkovo.html

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