What are some historical facts that sound fictional?
Answered by: Michael M. Ross,I'm a historian of human misery, myth, and meaning.
The Russian general who gets credit for defeating Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, Mikhail Kutuzov, should not have been alive to do that - twice over. He survived two devastating gunshot wounds to the head in which the bullet or musket ball traversed his skull.
The first bullet: 1774 - Storming Alushta, Crimea
A bullet entered one temple and exited the other at an oblique angle, striking the frontal lobe without destroying it, missing the optic nerves but inflicting some damage to the right eye. His doctor performed surgery and kept him in the dark, literally, for six weeks to recover. And recover he did, including his sight.
The second bullet: 1788 - Siege of Ochakov, Ukraine
A musket ball entered his cheek and exited his lower skull, smashing his upper jaw but missing his brain case. (He continued to give orders on the battlefield until collapsing with loss of blood.)
Fast forward two decades, he’s Commander in Chief of the Imperial Russian Army. In 1812 he led the Russian forces at the Battle of Borodino, depleting the ranks of Napoleon’s Grand Army, and then organized the tactical evacuation of Moscow, followed by the Battle of Maloyaroslavets and Napoleon’s retreat.
Well, I read War and Peace, and his name comes up quite a bit - 529 times - but I don’t think Tolstoy mentioned these minor wounds even once. He does mention that he fell asleep while his general staff planned a battle. He died the following year.
The doctor, Jean Massot, who is credited with saving Katuzov’s life twice, was French. Catherine the Great brought him from France to reform the decrepit practice of medicine in the Russian army. He actually performed real surgery on Katuzov, removing bone fragments and draining and suturing the wounds. He wrote in his diary “It must be believed that fate appoints Kutuzov to something great, because he was still alive after two injuries, a death sentence by all the rules of medical science.” The doctor actually returned to France in the midst of revolution, before Napoleon came to power.
Source and images: The Journal of NeurosurgeryTwo bullets to the head and an early winter: fate permits Kutuzov to defeat Napoleon at Moscow