The French Grande Armée had begun the invasion of Russia in June, 1812. The Russian forces fell back before the invaders, executing a 'scorched earth' policy as they withdrew. The new Russian commander, Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, waited until the French were within 125 Kilometers of Moscow before choosing to seek a battle. Kutuzov picked an eminently defensible area near the village of Borodino and from September 3 strengthened it with earthworks, notably the Rayevski Redoubt in the centre-right of the line and three open arrow-shaped ' Bagration fletches' to the left. Around 115,000 men and 630 cannon then waited for the French to arrive.
Napoleon came to the battle with maybe 125,000 men and 587 cannon; faced with the Russian defences his usual tactical skill appears to have left him, as he ordered a frontal assault straight at the Russians. It is believed he was seeking a decisive encounter that would destroy the Russian army in one day. The initial French attack was successful if costly, Joachim Murat directed a joint cavalry and infantry attack that by early afternoon had broken through the Russian line and seized the Rayevski Redoubt, lost it and retaken it. But the Russians committed their reserves and the battle ground down into a bloody attritional mess. A Russian counter-attack was broken by artillery; as night fell, both sides broke away and the Russian forces retreated, at first only a few miles, but later that night they began to withdraw all the way past Moscow.
The Russians had suffered around 44,000 casualties and the French 35,000. The Russian retreat opened the way for the French to seize Moscow on September 14 but the capture would do the French very little good.
See also: Napoleonic Wars