Augustus Gump's Reviews > Napoleon's Russian Campaign

Napoleon's Russian Campaign by Philippe-Paul de Ségur
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Jul 25, 12

Read in June, 2012

An unexpectedly moving piece of history. As Napoleon's aide-de-camp during the Russian campaign, Segur was present during the battles and the disastrous retreat, as well as the discussions and decision-making that brought on the destruction of the Grande Armee without ever losing a battle to the Russians. We feel Napoleon's uncertainty about whether to advance on Moscow and his consternation at the ruthless and to him (and me) barbarous lengths to which the Russian elite were prepared to go to avoid defeat, sacrificing large sections of their own population and setting fire to their capital, all the while blaming the French and inspiring fear and hatred in their subjects. This misrepresentation of his character and intentions seemed particularly to get under Napoleon's skin. The relative chivalry of the French stands in stark contrast, and one cannot help but admire the skill and daring of their generals in the face of such appalling and constantly worsening odds.
Segur is frequently generous with his praise of the Russians, especially Barclay, for sticking to his tactics. However, it is the heroism of so many of the doomed French which sticks in the mind, as well as the humanity of Napoleon, whom we are accustomed to regard more as an icon of good or evil. He was a much greater, and in many ways better, man than his eventual conquerors.
An interesting side note. The number of Scots involved is surprising. - Barclay was the overall Russian commander, until removed due to xenophobic back biting. It was only after the war that it was recognized that he had in fact saved Russia. On the French side, we find Lauriston and MacDonald. We Scots get everywhere!
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