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DIARY OF A NAPOLEONIC FOOTSOLDIER
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DIARY OF A NAPOLEONIC FOOTSOLDIER

3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  248 ratings  ·  31 reviews
A grunt’s-eye report from the battlefield in the spirit of The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front—the only known account by a common soldier of the campaigns of Napoleon’s Grand Army between 1806 and 1813.

When eighteen-year-old German stonemason Jakob Walter was conscripted into the Grand Army of Napoleon, he had no idea of the trials that lay ahead. T...more
ebook, 170 pages
Published May 9th 2012 by Doubleday (first published August 1st 1991)
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Jason Koivu
Aug 27, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: war buffs, Napoleonic war scholars/studiers
Shelves: history, biography, war
This ain't no teen girl diary filled with airy-yet-painfully-heart-felt musings on puppy love written in loopy handwriting with a pen that could double as a peacock. But I'll bet Jakob Walter, author of The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier wishes he could've lived that life instead of his own.

Walter was in Napoleon's army when it made the famous 1812 winter march on Russia: 500,000 men attacked, less than 40,000 successfully retreated. Walter himself barely survived to tell the tale of extreme...more
Margaret Breidenbaugh
This account of a common soldier fighting for Napoleon is at once terrifying and illuminating. Jakob's detailed descriptions shed much-needed light on what life was like for someone who could be seen as an unsung hero or perhaps an anonymous tyrant, depending on what nationality you were at the time. At the risk of spoiling this text for a potential new reader, I will say nothing further about Jakob's words.

I cannot give this book five stars because it was edited so poorly. There are perhaps a d...more
Frank Johnston
Only known memoir of the Napoleonic Wars written by a non-officer. Unbelievable account of the trials and hardships endured by this young German Stonemason conscripted in Napoleon's Grand Army between 1806 and 1813. It is truly amazing that he lived to tell the story when so many like him died a terrible death. Worth reading.
Holly
Engrossing. It was fascinating to see familiar soldier behaviors like rifle pyramids, quartering, and soldier misery. However, this goes beyond standard soldier misery to the truly harrowing.
Eric_W
We normally view the war experience from the perspective of generals, great strategists, and politicians who invent euphemisms to allay our fears. (See Paul Fussell's Wartimefor more examples). There are few books showing what war was like from the perspective of the grunt (most were killed for one thing). An exception is The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier by Jakob Walter. This manuscript was discovered at the University of Kansas several years ago. Walter was a stone mason who was conscript...more
Megan Anderson
If you’re interested in social history, then you’ll love this. This is the only account of a footsoldier in the Napolenoic wars. Usually only high ranking officers wrote accounts; this is the only common account that has been found. Pretty cool.

I really like that this account doesn’t glorify war. There’s very little battle action and a whole lot of walking. It also shows how immature the soldiers are in the early campaigns. It shows how much it sucked for the villagers who had to quarter soldier...more
Sean
I am currently slogging through Adam Zamoyski's 1812, which is a Antony Beevor-esq "topdown" overview of the whole sorry war. It's epic, wide-spanning: ie. the complete opposite of this diary.

War must be awful (yes, full points for that statement, I know), ping-ponging from terrifying, generally unpleasant, "why do all these people hate me" fighting to, well, tedium, as you wait for people to try to kill you again or spend days traveling to your next battlefield, where you get to wait for peopl...more
Frank Kelly
It is very unusual to find the memoirs of a foot soldier from the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, the diary entries of Jakob Walter, a draftee into the Westphalian Army under service to Napolean. Eventually, he marched with Napoleon's Grand Armee into Russia.

The narrative begins by conveying the life most soldiers experienced at this time in history, hurry-up-and-wait, uneventful. But as he moves into Russia, the horrors begin -- hunger, cold and the extroardinary inhumanity that followed. Walter witness...more
Thomas T
A first hand account of Napoleons disastrous Russian Campaign, Grand strategy and martial glory are irrelevant to the conscripted private soldier who's every moment is about merely trying to survive, Jakob Walters memoir is a harrowing account of the savagery of war and a testament of how all social norms and bonds of humanity can quickly disintegrate under extreme hardship, these recollections and the other letters included penned by common soldiers rather than members of the privileged officer...more
marcus miller
The only known account of a regular soldier in Napoleon's army as he marched to Moscow and then retreated, or fled back to central Europe. Walter's description provides a harrowing, yet restrained description, of the hardships he and the other soldiers faced, especially during their retreat. Not only did the men have to avoid the Russian soldiers, they could not trust their fellow soldiers. Walter had a horse for some time but unless he was on it, or tied to it, the horse was likely be stolen. I...more
Aditya /
this is a good book.the way to read is the following: read the first sentence and then skip/skim any paragraph or sentence that you find boring until you find the next one that you find interesting. Then the book is interesting.
Jessi Marie
Fascinating insight into the life of a foot soldier. The conditions that they were subjected to were beyond horrifying. It's amazing that anyone came home alive from the Napoleonic wars.
Amanda Bull Chafin
I loved this book. It is my go-to resource when I want to know what life was like for a soldier on the ground during the Napoleonic wars.
Geoff Sebesta
A valuable historical document, with a lot of those delightful boxes-inside-boxes that you get with good history. It's a modern reprint of a 1938 translation of some letters written in the 1830s about 1812, when the author was a young man and a soldier in Napoleon's grand army to conquer Moscow. He walks from his home in Germany to Russia and back again. It's a soldiers-eye view of one of the hardest parts of history.

The guy was a good and clever writer, and his point of view (a stonemason of qu...more
Shane Avery
A startling first-hand account of Napoleon's Russian campaign written by a rank and file conscripted German. Includes an essay on the surprising reliability and accuracy of the memoir.

The whole thing is just disgraceful. This is the sort of stuff that leads one to become a pacifist. Napoleon sacrificed over 500,000 lives for nought but glory and ambition. He refused to retreat, even though it was clear from very early on that the campaign had no chance at succeeding. Many striking and arresting...more
Rick
Amazing story of survival during the 1812 invasion of Russia. Walter, a conscripted German into Napoleon's army, provides the only known infantry diary of the time. The story of its discovery is nearly as amazing as the chronicle itself. The amazing thing as I read the description of the westward invasion, one can see the Russian strategy in play, which was new and unique at the time. Walter's attention to detail leads to an obsession with every meal during the retreat, further showing the despe...more
Jacob
Matter-of-fact account of a French preacher enlisted in the campaign against the far east/Russia, where Napoleon began losing due to overstretched distance/poor supply wagons, and the starving march home as part of a scattered and splintered army with various factions and desertion-avoidance. At one point he walked 20 yards by Napoleon himself seeing the face of defeat. Distrust among soldiers, boiling of leather to eat from hunger. Very real. Fight the yawn. Its good for you.
Mhd
Several spots in the diary and the map are the area from which some of my ancestors left in 1839. My goal was to learn more about what had been going on in the area before they left. This book is unusual in that the diary component is that of a non-officer. The history component added by the translator/editor is a bit hard to follow but well worth the extra effort required. The original diarist's opinions on the poverty and life-styles he observed are important.
KOMET
This book represents a rare retrospective from a semi-literate soldier from one of the German states which supplied soldiers to Napoleon during his campaigns against the Prussians and Russians. Walter's experiences with the Grande Armée took him beyond Prussia and Poland into Russia itself. He conveys the difficulties of soldiering, living off the land, and the hazards he faced in getting out of Russia in the wake of Napoleon's disastrous winter retreat of 1812-13.
Neal Grout
If you want to know what happens to human beings when all civility breaks down then this is the book to read. Jacob witnessed the most terrifying things on Napolean's disasterous retreat from Moscow including men freezing to death as they pulled their pants down to relieve themselves, infighting over scraps of food and was himself at one point run down by a cossack and left for dead.
Susie Nee
This was an interesting book of an German soldier who was conscripted by Napoleon to fight in his "Grand Army" between 1806 and 1813. Apparently, the book was written quite awhile after the war and taken from Germany to Kansas by the authors son in the mid 1800's. It was heartbreaking to hear of the pain and especially the hunger that the soldiers had to endure.
Michael
Very short book. Half of it is preface by some editor. This guy was conscripted for the march to Moscow. He tells of all the crap that happened on the way there and back... with a dose of anti-Semitism thrown in for good measure.
Sean Chick
May 16, 2014 Sean Chick is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a great read, but many passages will burn into your mind as Walter recalls Napoleon's Russian disaster. A tale of suffering that is given resonance by the author's miraculous survival.
Sandra D
The title is misleading; this memoir was actually written many years after the fact. It lacked the immediacy and vivid detail of a true diary, and was more broad than deep.
James
Choose a time to rad this void of distractions. I could not stop reading this account. The human will to live is amazing.
Derk West
A lot of detail about the retreat but pretty light on battles and etc... a good read though.
Michael Edwards
I loved this book, a rare look at an individuals account of historical events.
Christian Kiefer
Well worth looking at if you have an interest in Napoleonic history.
Joel
Perhaps my most favorite book of all time.
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