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
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
"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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