Greenhill Books: Napoleonic Library

In The Legions Of Napoleon

The Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain and Russia, 1808-1813

By Heinrich von Brandt
Translated and Edited by Jonathan North

In The Legions Of Napoleon cover

Heinrich von Brandt was eighteen when he enlisted in the French Army and was sent to Spain, in 1808, as an officer in Napoleon's Grande Armée. These superb memoirs, never before published in English, are some of the finest to have emerged from the Napoleonic era.

From 1808 to 1812 Brandt was caught up in Napoleon's attempt to subjugate Spain, fighting in set-piece battles, horrific sieges (including the legendary siege of Saragossa) and hunting and being hunted by merciless bands of guerrillas. In 1812 his unit was ordered to take part in the invasion of Russia. Crossing the Niemen 3,000 strong, his regiment fought at Borodino and was completely destroyed in the epic retreat from Moscow - only sixty men returned.

Brandt's exciting narrative conveys what it was like to be a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars and his evocative memoirs paint a picture of Napoleon's troops on campaign and in battle

John Elting described In The Legions Of Napoleon in the following terms:

"This is a real delight - all sorts of new and interesting material. Brandt was an unusually good junior officer and this book really brings home how physically and mentally tough the soldiers of these wars had to be."

Jonathan North, who translated and edited Brandt's recollections, here presents some background to this fascinating project:

"That an account by one of Napoleon's soldiers be translated into English is nothing new. Labaume and Segur were both published soon after the close of the conflict when interest in the 'other side of the hill' was particularly keen. The close of the nineteenth century also saw a spate of translations - Marbot, Coignet, Lejeune and Parquin for example - many of which revelled in the glorious exploits of, usually, the illustrious Imperial Guard. It is much harder to find an account in English which sets down just what it was like to serve and suffer in the armies of the French Emperor. Bourgogne's classic narrative of a soldier's adventures in Russia stands out - but, again, he was a member of the Imperial Guard and his experiences were atypical.

Brandt's account, which was published in French, German and Polish in the nineteenth century, does set down what life was like for the soldiers in an ordinary line infantry regiment - in this case the 2nd Regiment of the Vistula Legion - and, moreover, one which fought in two dreadful campaigns: the Peninsular War (where he served for four long years with only two days of leave) and the invasion of Russia.

In addition, Brandt's account is direct, touching and free from the nostalgic sabre-rattling of old soldiers. He relates his six years of difficult service - whether they reflect well or badly on himself, his unit or his commanders - without exaggeration and in an absorbing narrative punctuated with flashes of humour. It was no doubt that humour which kept Brandt - who was only eighteen when he was conscripted - going through such horrors as the siege of Saragossa, fighting the guerrillas, Borodino and the hell of the retreat from Moscow.

Translating the memoirs was an enjoyable experience. There were a number of problems with some of the technical terms - the meanings of which have changed over the years - and with some of the more colloquial expressions (some of which were even in Spanish for local colour) and soldierly language. But all that adds to the fun."

In The Legions Of Napoleon (ISBN 1-85367-380-3) has 288 pages, 9 maps and 26 illustrations.


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