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The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  365 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Eighteen-year-old German stonemason Jakob Walter served in the Grand Army of Napoleon between 1806 and 1813. His diary intimately records his trials: the long, grueling marches in Prussia and Poland, the disastrous Russian campaign, and the demoralizing defeat in a war few supported or understood. It is at once a compelling chronicle of a young soldier's loss of innocence ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published February 1st 1993 by Penguin Books (first published August 1st 1991)
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(showing 1-30)
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Jason Koivu
Aug 27, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
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
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
Ross
Aug 02, 2016 Ross rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, don't think that a three star rating means it was bad; however it is not something I would have usually read, and I think it's value is more academic than literary. It is not a war book, there are no dramatic accounts of battles, and the historical epilogue even notes that the writer did not take part in many of the more famous battles of the Russian campaign.
It is the straightforward story of how Napoleon's "Grande Armée" fell to pieces as they withdrew from Moscow.

While n
...more
Frank Johnston
Jan 05, 2008 Frank Johnston rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2013 Holly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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.
Audrey V.
Oct 26, 2016 Audrey V. rated it really liked it
This book was pretty good. It told the story of a young German stonemason who served as a soldier in Napoleon's army from 1806-1813. The book was great, but at times I would get lost because the story would jump around from town to town and many of the towns had weird names. The story itself was good, and I feel it was a very touching one. It shows you in detail the struggles, pain, and unfairness that the soldiers were feeling. I would recommend this book to readers who want to engage in a ...more
Kim
Nov 28, 2016 Kim rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-european
It really shouldn't have taken this long to read this book. I suppose, insofar as diary narratives go, it wasn't the most riveting read in the world. I attempted to go through the historical notes of how they recovered the diary, and after about a paragraph in, promptly gave up. The six letters from soldiers in after the diary itself were a great read - I felt they had entirely more personality than the diary itself.
DaneCross
Oct 08, 2016 DaneCross rated it really liked it
rare glimpse into the average privates experience during Napoleon's ill-fated attempt to take Russia. This memoir brings to the forefront the brutality and horror of the retreat from Moscow. The follow on letters by other contemporary soldiers give a glimpse into how the Soldiers were reporting things home to their families.

Even with little background knowledge of the Napoleonic era this was an easy book to read and still gain knowledge from. Not going to make you an expert.
Ronni
Sep 20, 2016 Ronni added it
I personally did not like this book. It was very repetitive to me and I could not follow it. I am selling it for $10 though if anyone wants it
Sean
Apr 24, 2013 Sean rated it liked it
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
Eric_W
Nov 28, 2008 Eric_W rated it really liked it
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
Stephanie
Nov 04, 2014 Stephanie rated it really liked it
This was such an interesting book to read. It was an assignment for one of my history classes but I picked it out of a long list. I was expecting this to be a book that just spouted out information that would totally just go in one ear and out the other. However, I am pleased to say that that was not the case. I absolutely loved this book. The fact that Walter was able to account for all this after it happened is amazing. He gives such detailed and graphic scenes that you can almost picture it ...more
Megan Anderson
Jul 14, 2012 Megan Anderson rated it really liked it
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
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
marcus miller
Feb 14, 2012 marcus miller rated it liked it
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. ...more
Thomas T
Mar 10, 2014 Thomas T rated it liked it
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
Monty Milne
Sep 14, 2015 Monty Milne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not great literature, but very absorbing. Strange that the young German soldier saw no conflict between committing thuggish outrages on civilians - especially Jews - interspersed with maudlin reflections on his love of his parents and his religion. But interesting that as he matures, his thuggishness seems to diminish, and his piety increases. His sufferings reach a horrifying crescendo in the retreat from Moscow, and we share his relief at is against-the-odds survival. I am left in no doubt ...more
Geoff Sebesta
Aug 27, 2011 Geoff Sebesta rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 31, 2009 Shane Avery rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Dec 31, 2010 Rick rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mhd
Sep 12, 2011 Mhd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genealogy, history
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.
Jacob
Sep 19, 2012 Jacob rated it really liked it
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.
Susie Nee
Apr 23, 2010 Susie Nee rated it liked it
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.
Neal Grout
Nov 26, 2013 Neal Grout rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, military
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.
Aditya /
Feb 14, 2014 Aditya / rated it really liked it
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.
Michael
Nov 19, 2008 Michael rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
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.
Amanda Bull Chafin
Aug 12, 2014 Amanda Bull Chafin rated it it was amazing
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.
Sean Chick
Apr 11, 2015 Sean Chick rated it really liked it
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.
James
Oct 10, 2012 James rated it it was amazing
Shelves: others
Choose a time to rad this void of distractions. I could not stop reading this account. The human will to live is amazing.
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