I have just finished reading one of the best accounts of a Peninsular War battle that I have read for some time. The book in question was; Albuera 181...moreI have just finished reading one of the best accounts of a Peninsular War battle that I have read for some time. The book in question was; Albuera 1811: The Bloodiest Battle of the Peninsular War by Guy C. Dempsey.
The battle of Albuera is known to Napoleonic historians and enthusiasts as one of the Peninsular War's bloodiest clashes and has provided history with such dramatic accounts of the British 57th Foot, forever after known as the “Die Hards”, and Napoleon’s Polish Lancers.
The book is easy to read and well told, without any national bias cluttering up the story. The narrative is supported with copious notes, showing the depth of research. Mr Dempsey offers reasoned analysis not only on the tactics, manoeuvres and the leadership of the commanders but also on the sources used in his study.
The book covers not only the strategic situation in Spain leading to this battle, the movements to the village of Albuera, the subsequent battle but also what happened after the fighting ended; the casualties (wounded and dead), the prisoners and the years of controversy and debate on certain aspects of this battle and its outcome.
The author makes excellent use of numerous first-hand accounts from both sides to give the reader an insight into the men involved in this costly battle and certain aspects of Napoleonic warfare. Like this account in regards to the accuracy of muskets and the main reason for massed volleys:
"One British officer famously summarised the abysmal qualities of his own army’s weaponry in the following terms:
A soldier’s musket, if not exceedingly ill-bored, and very crooked, as many are, will strike the figure of a man at 80 yards; it may even at a hundred, but a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards, PROVIDED HIS ANTAGONIST AIMS AT HIM; and as to firing at a man 200 yards [off] with a common musket, you may as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes of hitting your object. I do maintain, and will prove, whenever called on, that NO MAN WAS EVER KILLED AT TWO HUNDRED YARDS by a common soldier’s musket, BY THE PERSON WHO AIMED AT HIM."
Here is another first-hand account of an incident regarding the many wounded being transported after the battle at Albuera:
“One pair of wretches I particularly remember, an Irishman and a Frenchman, who travelled in the same car, both of whom had lost their legs – not partially, but entirely – and who yet ceased not to abuse and revile one another from morning to night. It was melancholy to hear them railing, in their respective tongues, and threatening one another."
The author mentioned how the casualty list for the British killed in the battle was released to the newspapers, only numbers of killed by rank, no names for NCO’s and privates:
“The casualty figures for Albuera were so gruesome that they were shocking to even casual readers of the press. Jane Austin had a reaction that was simultaneously both sensitive and somewhat callous: ‘How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!’”
There are a number of decent maps to follow the relevant actions and a large number of appendices providing information on a range of subjects of interest. This book has inspired me to start reading the full set of Sir Charles Oman’s history of the Peninsular War. If anyone is looking for a great battle narrative then I don’t think you will go too far wrong with this book. (less)
Frederick Kagan's first volume of a projected four volume series covering Napoleon and Europe provides the reader with a detailed and well researched...moreFrederick Kagan's first volume of a projected four volume series covering Napoleon and Europe provides the reader with a detailed and well researched account of the events leading up to and the conclusion of Napoleon's 1805 campaign against the Third Coalition.
I was a bit worried after reading some other readers comments that this book was going to be a anti-Napoleon tirade, glad to say it wasn't as bad as that. In many cases where the audience does not have access to the material used in the research of a book we have to trust the author. It would seem that Mr Kagan has gone to some lengths in researching this book and provides numerous notes to support his research.
I may not have agreed with everything he said about Napoleon and his actions but I didn't feel that he was going over the top to destroy my vision of Napoleon as a great military commander. I sometimes felt he could have given Napoleon more credit then he did but the author always attempted to show why he made certain statements.
The book does provide a in-depth diplomatic, political and military account of the events leading up to the 1805 campaign with a lot more about the Ulm encirclement and combats after the Austrian surrender that I had not read about previously, including the Battle of Durnstein, relevant to me as I had just walked through that very small town on the Danube not aware of the battle fought there between French and Russian forces.
The author's account of the Battle of Austerlitz was detailed and he provided numerous maps to follow the various actions. He also provide notes comparing the numerous sources and issues raised within those sources. The book does not end with the close of fighting on that fateful day but follows the many political and diplomatic going-ons between the various leaders and nations.
Overall I enjoyed this book enough to say that I will be ordering the next volume in the series as soon as its published.(less)
I’ve been meaning to read Paul Britten Austin’s majestical trilogy on Napoleon’s 1812 campaign since it was first published in the 1990’s. It’s only t...moreI’ve been meaning to read Paul Britten Austin’s majestical trilogy on Napoleon’s 1812 campaign since it was first published in the 1990’s. It’s only taken me twenty years to get started on the first volume; 1812: The March on Moscow. After reading this book and enjoying it a great deal I am committed to finishing the next two volumes over the coming few months.
This story of Napoleon’s fateful invasion of Russia has been told many times before, and why not – a drama on a massive scale - over 450,000 men of the Grande Armée, the largest army assembled up to that point in European history marching into the wilds of unknown Russia.
The first volume of the trilogy takes us from the fateful crossing of the Niemen River, through the many battles and skirmishes, to the battle at Smolensk and finally the bloodbath at Borodino before Napoleon finally enters Moscow with what remains of his once mighty Grande Armée.
So what has this book got to offer that hasn’t already been told? With twenty years of research the author has managed to skilfully weave the first-hand accounts of over 100 particpants into a narrative of events as seen and experienced by the French and Allied soldiers of the Grande Armée.
Many of the accounts taken are from officers and soldiers known to most readers of Napoleonic history, such as de Segur, Bourgogne, Caulaincourt, Rapp, and Marbot. But there are a host of others, less well-known, but still offering great accounts and different perspectives of this calamitous event.
I was a bit hesitant in starting the book as I was unsure how well the narrative would flow with multiple first-hand accounts however I was pleasantly surprised and then hooked. The author has managed to use these accounts and fit them into the narrative of the story quite unobtrusively.
This is a well-told story and many of the events described come alive with the accounts as experienced and recorded by the men who fought under Napoleon. The only issues I had with the book were a small number of spelling errors or typos that should have been identified by the editor and corrected and the number of maps supplied; two general maps and two battle maps, all at the very end of the book.
For anyone who really wants to understand the horrors that the soldiers of Napoleon's army underwent during this invasion, then this is the book for you - highly recommended.(less)
I have just finished read The Amazing Career of Bernadotte 1763 to 1844 by Dunbar Plunket Barton. This book was first published in 1929 and taken from...moreI have just finished read The Amazing Career of Bernadotte 1763 to 1844 by Dunbar Plunket Barton. This book was first published in 1929 and taken from three previous volumes that the author had written about Bernadotte:
Bernadotte, The First Phase, 1763-1799 Bernadotte and Napoleon, 1810-1844 Bernadotte, Prince and King, 1810-1844
Although written nearly one hundred years ago this is a fine telling of a very interesting an amazing Napoleonic Marshal who started his military career as a private in the Régiment de Royal-Marine under the King.
Bernadotte managed to rise through the ranks steadily, promoted to colonel in 1792 and by 1794 was a brigadier attached to the army of the Sambre et Meuse. He was later Minister of War and upon the introduction of the French Empire under Napoleon he became a Marshal. During the campaign of 1805, Bernadotte served Napoleon well, as a reward for his services at Austerlitz he became the Prince of Ponte Corvo.
Bernadotte is portrayed in this book as a man of principle and as such had many run-ins with Napoleon and some of the other Marshals. In 1810 he was surprisingly elected the heir-presumptive to King Charles XIII of Sweden and decided that he would be his own man and not to be ruled by another, including Napoleon. This obviously upset Napoleon and his followers and ever since poor old Bernadotte has been regarded as something of a traitor to France and has been presented to readers in many histories in a negative light.
In January 1812 Marshal Davout, under Napoleon’s orders, invaded & occupied Swedish Pomerania. As a result Bernadotte turned towards the allied camp. After Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 Russian campaign Bernadotte became the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Northern Army and successfully defended the approaches to Berlin and was victorious in battle against Marshal Oudinot in August and Marshal Ney in September at the Battles of Grossbeeren and Dennewitz. After the Battle of Leipzig he went his own way in regards to the interests of his adopted country.
Many historians castigate Bernadotte for his slowness or dilatory manner in the subsequent campaign however in this book the author provides a reasonable excuse – Bernadotte was loath to spill the blood of his French countrymen and for what purpose? Bernadotte tried to reign in the Allied Monarch’s and spare France, to allow it to live within its ‘natural’ barriers, but to no avail.
Although much has been made of Bernadotte’s alleged treachery, even the man himself, Napoleon, stated on St. Helena that: "I can accuse him of ingratitude but not treachery.”
Overall this was a very easy to read account of a Marshal that I have only ever read negative comments about in other Napoleonic histories. It’s a very general account but in just under 400 pages we get to see the ‘other’ side of the story and I came away highly impressed with Bernadotte the Marshal and the man, well worth the effort to read. (less)
This new book on the life of General Alexandre Dumas; father of the French author; Alexandre Dumas, père (The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musk...moreThis new book on the life of General Alexandre Dumas; father of the French author; Alexandre Dumas, père (The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers), offers the reader an enjoyable account of this famous but apparently forgotten hero.
In The Black Count we get a good look at the life and career of a French Revolutionary soldier and officer, and later Napoleonic General, who served in Italy during the Revolutionary Wars and later in Egypt under Napoleon.
However this is not just a military account, it offers an insight into slavery in the French empire; the life of a man of ‘colour’ in 18th-century France; the French Revolution; Napoleon’s campaign in Italy & Egypt and finally how the son & author saw his father and how he presented him and his life in some of his most famous novels.
Overall this is a very interesting and enjoyable book in which I learnt a few things about General Dumas and France that I was not aware of previously. I think anyone who enjoys a good history book will love this account however if you are looking for just a military account of this officer I would recommend the book; General Alexandre Dumas: Soldier of the French Revolution by John Gallaher. (less)
1805: Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition is a detailed military analysis of one of Napoleon's most famous battles. It may...more1805: Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition is a detailed military analysis of one of Napoleon's most famous battles. It may not be an easy to read book with a free-flowing narrative but it is a well-researched and well-presented military study of a famous campaign.
The author has provided numerous footnotes through the book along with some decent maps to follow the action. He has also presented a number of points of views from previous books on the subject, highlighting differences and offering a likely scenario based on his research.
The book also has a number of first-hand accounts scattered throughout offering the perspective from those on the battlefield from both sides. The author has also provided the reader with some Biographical notes and some decent Order of Battle charts.
Overall a very good military history but maybe not as easy to get into as Christopher Duffy’s book; Austerlitz 1805, which is another very good account. (less)
This book; Attack in the West provides the reader with an easy to read and concise account of Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796. The book was first...moreThis book; Attack in the West provides the reader with an easy to read and concise account of Napoleon’s Italian campaign of 1796. The book was first published in 1953 with the view of offering military students a look into the methods used by Napoleon in this campaign to achieve victory against superior forces.
The book is easy to read and has multiple maps throughout the narrative to allow you to follow Napoleon’s movements and strategy. There is also a number of very large pull out maps at the back of the book to give you a perspective of the area that this campaign covered.
I found this book to be a fun and interesting read, to the point and although there is the occasional reference to Russia and the Cold War these do not detract from the story. If you wanted one easy to read book about Napoleon’s first campaign as a commander then this book should suit you. (less)
Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Suvorov, Prince of Italy, Count of Rimnikskiy, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Generalissimo of Russia's Ground and Naval force...moreAleksandr Vasiliyevich Suvorov, Prince of Italy, Count of Rimnikskiy, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Generalissimo of Russia's Ground and Naval forces, Field Marshal of the Austrian and Sardinian Armies, Prince of Sardinia is one of the most famous commanders in Russian history.
His reputation was used by Stalin to inspire Soviet troops during WW2 and it would appear that his reputation is justly deserved although not as well-known in the West for a number of reasons. This book, first published in 1965 tries to rectify this anomaly in military history.
Suvorov is known for his military manual The Science of Victory and noted for several of his sayings, including "What is difficult in training will become easy in a battle", "The bullet is a mad thing; only the bayonet knows what it is about", and "Perish yourself but rescue your comrade!". He taught his soldiers to attack instantly and decisively: "Attack with the cold steel! Push hard with the bayonet!"
Suvorov fought in the First Turkish War (1768-1774), the Second Turkish War (1787-1792) and was involved in the taking of the Danube River fortress of Izmail. He was later transferred to Finland at the end of the Turkish war to help watch the frontier with Sweden and to build defences along that border and was then called in 1793 to command the Russian forces against Thaddeusz Kosciuszko's Polish revolutionaries.
In 1799, Suvorov took position as Supreme Commander of the Austro-Russian force in Northern Italy. From 15 April to August, 1799 Suvorov's combined army defeated the French armies of Moreau at Adda; of MacDonald at the River Trebbia, 17-19 June; and of Moreau and Joubert at Novi, 15 August. This last victory virtually expelled French forces from Italy.
Suvorov was then ordered to unite in Switzerland with the Army of Rimskiy-Korsakov and, reinforced by the Austrian armies, to face Massena who was then threatening Switzerland. Suvorov’s campaign in Switzerland was one of the most dynamic and tragic campaigns he directed, being forced to save his Army after the failure of the Austrians to supply and support his Russian troops.
This book was an enjoyable read but a product of its times with the limited material available to historians on the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’. There are a few basic maps but enough to give you a general idea of movements and battles. This is not an in-depth military history but a good rounded story of a famous commander who should not be lost to history.
Suvorov died in St. Petersburg on 18 May 1800. He is buried in the chapel at the Aleksandr Nevskiy Cemetery in St. Petersburg.
William Nester’s latest book; “Napoleon and the Art of Diplomacy” had me a bit worried when I ordered it. I wasn’t keen to read a dry & dull expos...moreWilliam Nester’s latest book; “Napoleon and the Art of Diplomacy” had me a bit worried when I ordered it. I wasn’t keen to read a dry & dull exposé of the art and use of diplomacy by Napoleon and his court (however I do acknowledge the importance of diplomacy). I started this book off then with some trepidation but soon found it to be an easy to read book of Napoleon and his campaigns with accounts of his use of diplomacy interwoven within the story.
I don’t think there are any ground-breaking revelations here, nothing entirely new for those readers of Napoleonic history, but the author has managed to put together a great story of Napoleon’s style of diplomacy, how and why it worked or didn’t work. As usual I was frustrated and annoyed to read of Talleyrand and Fouche causing problems for the Emperor. I wonder how he achieved so much sometimes with those two and a few others in the wings wrecking his plans but that’s history.
There are a number of errors; Sir Sidney Smith appears in the book as Sydney Smith, and Pasha Djezzar becomes Pjezzar along with a few other examples but nothing that detracts too much from the story. This is not an in-depth study of the use of diplomacy by Napoleon, more a general history of his campaigns and how he used his style of diplomacy to further his aims. Overall a good general study and well worth the effort to read. (less)
A surprisingly good and enjoyable account of how Napoleon waged war via his headquarters and staff. First published and translated in 1914, at the sta...moreA surprisingly good and enjoyable account of how Napoleon waged war via his headquarters and staff. First published and translated in 1914, at the start of the Great War, the author allows us to follow Napoleon through his methods of conducting a battle, using the 1806 Jena campaign as an example with the occasional reference to the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Using many first-hand accounts from contemporary memoirs and reports the author shows how Napoleon used his inspired leadership to achieve victory in war.
This is an example from the book:
“The majority of the conscripts, sons of the people, were enrolled by force, and left their village without enthusiasm for warlike deeds. Yet these coerced men, carried away by a powerful influence, were quickly transformed into the splendid soldiers we know. ‘Duped, the soldier was by Napoleon, as the weak are by the strong, and yet he never ceased to become enthusiastic about him, to come under his charm, and to obey his will; nay, he even loved him, especially when he was no longer there’.” - Memoires de Meneval, vol. iii p.8 (less)
Decent account of little known uprising that occurred between 1793-1794 during the French Revolution known as the War of the Vendée. Basically a revol...moreDecent account of little known uprising that occurred between 1793-1794 during the French Revolution known as the War of the Vendée. Basically a revolt by peasants in the rural areas of France when the revolutionary committees attacked the Catholic Church and instigated the levee en mass to recruit men for the French armies fighting against other European powers. The book was a little dry at times and needed more maps but only one of very few modern accounts available on this subject.(less)
A short (150 pages) first-hand account written by a Sergeant of the 7th Royal Fusiliers who served and fought in most of the famous battles and sieges...moreA short (150 pages) first-hand account written by a Sergeant of the 7th Royal Fusiliers who served and fought in most of the famous battles and sieges of the Peninsular Campaign during the Napoleonic Wars, including such battles as Talavera, Busaco, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Vittoria and the battles for the Pyrenees.
The author, Sergeant John Cooper, returned to England upon the surrender of French forces and was due for discharge but was shipped to America to fight in the battle of New Orleans in 1815. This is part of his account of the British assault upon the American defensive positions:
“Another man, about ten or twelve files on my right, was smashed to pieces by a cannon ball. I felt something strike my cap; I took it off, and found a portion of his brains sticking to it, about the size of a marble. A young man on my left got a wound on the top of his head, and ran to the surgeon behind us: he was dressed and sent into his place again. Close to him, another man had his arm, near the shoulder, so badly fractured that it was taken out of the cup. A few yards behind sat a black man, with all the lower part of his face shot away; his eyes were gone, and the bones of his brow all jagged, and dripping blood. Near him, in a ditch, lay one of the 43rd, trying to hold in his bowels.”
This book offers the reader an easy to read and quick account of the many battles fought against the French and also an insight into the daily life of a British soldier during the war against the French. (less)
This is one of those great books that you can slowly take your time and enjoy the beautiful illustrations as you flick through the pages in this lovel...moreThis is one of those great books that you can slowly take your time and enjoy the beautiful illustrations as you flick through the pages in this lovely presented book; "Napoleon's Army in Russia" by Albrecht Adam.
Once you start taking in the artwork of the paintings you realise what a great job the artist did. This is a nice book just to slowly browse through and enjoy the colours and visual story of this man's journey in Napoleon's army as it marched upon Moscow.