Arrived on the other side, Oudinot faced some troops of infantry which General Tschaplitz, the commander of the advance guard of Tchitchakoff, had brought there. The engagement was very lively but of short duration. The French killed 200 men of the enemy and were able to establish themselves in a good position, from where they could cover the passage.
Thus, on reaching Smolensk, Napoleon was about to find the place almost destitute of troops, while the left wing was in very great danger, attacked at the same time by Wittgenstein, the Finland troops, and Tchitchakoff. The supplies even were smaller than was expected, on account of the difficulty of conveyance. The soldiers were delighted as they came near Smolensk.
Alfred de Noailles was an excellent officer and a good friend. This digression has diverted me from Tchitchakoff, who, after his defeat by Ney, did not dare to attack us again nor to leave the village of Stakovo for the rest of the day.
He learned at the same time, that Marshal Oudinot had driven the Russians from Borisow without being able to prevent them from burning the bridge. He could there check Tchitchakoff, and leave Napoleon time to throw over the ford at Studianka a simple bridge of tressels, which was the only apparatus General Eble had been able to preserve during their rout.
The approach of Admiral Tchitchakoff was already announced; returned from Turkey with a large army, the negotiator of the treaty of Bucharest had, with Tormazoff's assistance, driven General Reynier and Prince Schwartzenberg behind the marshes of Pinsk; and, after leaving General Sacken with 25,000 men to keep the allies in check, was now advancing towards the upper Berezina, to support Count Wittgenstein.
Not only were the town, the bridge across the Beresina and the fort which dominates it in the hands of Tchitchakoff, but the Admiral, carried away by this success and anxious to challenge the French, had marched from the town with the bulk of his army, the vanguard of which, consisting of a strong cavalry division, was led by General Lambert, the most competent of his lieutenants.
All hope of passing between the Russian armies was thus lost: driven by the armies of Kutusoff and Wittgenstein upon the Berezina, there was no alternative but to cross that river in the teeth of the army of Tchitchakoff, which lined its banks.
They overpowered a Russian outpost, the men sitting around a fire, took a corporal with them, and brought this prisoner before Napoleon who learned to his great satisfaction that Tchitchakoff with his main force was before Borisow to prevent the passage of the French, and that at Studianka there was only a small detachment of light troops.
They might indeed be met by Wittgenstein, but Tchitchakoff covered Borisow, and would be certain to burn the bridge over the Berezina if he saw it threatened. The emperor listened as he kept looking at his maps. At last something arrested his attention, the sight of a name of ill-omen: "Poltava! Poltava!" he repeated.
The latter having called Prince Swartzenberg to his assistance, they both advanced upon the Bug, thus protecting the grand duchy, without being able to rejoin the grand army or support the general movement. Admiral Tchitchakoff had just signed the peace with the Turks, and was expected to come to Tormazoff's assistance.