The attack is set for October 5th. Toll draws up the disposition and Kutuzov signs off on it. Toll reads it to Ermolov so that Ermolov can begin carrying it out, but he says he has no time right now. The disposition is beautifully written, but as is always the case with a disposition, not a single detail (“the first column will march to such and such a place,” etc.) is executed as the disposition states.
A battle disposition simply refers to the way troops will be positioned for battle—where different units should be and when. Tolstoy suggests that no matter how good dispositions are, they’re useless, because the variables of battle render such plans obsolete.
Kutuzov’s orderly is sent to Ermolov with copies of the disposition, but he can’t find Ermolov after hours of searching. Someone directs him to General Kikin’s ball, where exuberant singing and shouting can be heard. Inside, he finds all the most important generals gathered around another general who’s dancing the trepak. Seeing the orderly, Ermolov takes the order, frowning. Later, the orderly speculates with a friend that tomorrow’s battle will be a mess.
There might be another reason that dispositions don’t work. For all their insistence on strategy, the army staff appears to be more concerned about folk dances and revelry than about preparing for battle. Even a general’s lowly servant can predict what this means: things won’t go as planned.
Kutuzov rises early the next morning. He dreads leading a battle of which he doesn’t approve. He rides to the place three miles beyond Tarutino where the columns are to assemble, fighting to stay awake. Eventually, he notices soldiers eating breakfast who should already be preparing for an ambush. An officer informs Kutuzov that they’ve received no orders to advance. Kutuzov shouts and swears at the senior officer, though it isn’t his fault. He feels humiliated. He finally returns home, listens to the generals’ justifications, and is forced to agree that the battle can simply be postponed until tomorrow.
Kutuzov once again finds himself in the position of leading an attack he only reluctantly authorized. Things are worse than expected—the orders were never passed down in the first place. So not only is Kutuzov’s expertise overridden, his inferiors don’t even pull themselves together to execute the attack he signed off on—a totally demoralizing position for a veteran like Kutuzov.
The next day the troops assemble and march toward their appointed places through the night. However, only Count Orlov-Denisov and his insignificant Cossack regiment arrive where they’re supposed to be. Before dawn, a Polish deserter from the French army tells Count Orlov that if he’s given an escort of 100 men, he can capture Murat, who’s nearby. As Orlov studies the French army in the growing light, he thinks the Polish deserter must have been lying—there are too many troops present to kidnap a commander in chief from among them. He calls his men back.
The battle of Tarutino took place on October 6th, 1812, between Bennigsen’s and Miloradovich's regiments and General Murat’s 20,000 men. Though the Russians won, the battle fell short of Russian hopes since only Orlov-Denisov’s column reached their appointed place at the right time.
Count Orlov prepares his Cossacks for attack, even though the supporting infantry columns haven’t yet arrived. When the French see the Cossacks, they immediately scatter. If the Cossacks had chased them, they could have overrun all the French, but as soon as they seize booty and prisoners, they refuse to go farther. Meanwhile, the infantry regiments get lost, fall into confusion, and quarrel. When a division finally shows up, its general Bagovut, fresh from a heated argument, angrily marches his men straight into the line of fire, and many die.
Orlov’s column undertakes a successful surprise attack, but without support, there’s only so much they can do against a large French force. Because of the bungled orders, a devastating defeat isn’t possible, and some die pointlessly.
Meanwhile, Kutuzov holds his men back, believing that nothing good will come from this chaos. Finally, at Ermolov’s urging, and hearing that Murat’s men are retreating, he orders an offensive. However, he halts the offensive at every hundred paces for most of an hour. Ultimately, Orlov’s Cassocks are the only ones to do anything in the battle. After the battle, Kutuzov and many others receive honors. People grumble about this, suggesting that if they were in charge, the battle might have come off differently. But battles never happen the way they’re planned. There are too many different forces in play. In spite of the incoherence of the battle of Tarutino, though, it helps achieve what the Russians want most—beginning to push the French out of Russia, and that with very few losses.
Kutuzov only grudgingly commits his men to a battle he doesn’t believe in. The whole battle is a mess, as he’d predicted beforehand. Tolstoy comments that battles are usually this way—even the best-planned battles are subject to countless variables. And even when things don’t go according to plan, major objectives can still be achieved. The French invasion is effectively over.