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1812: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

By Paul Britten Austin

The three volumes of Greenhill's unique trilogy about 1812 by Paul Britten Austin are now being gathered to make a single, monumental, trade paperback entitled 1812: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia. This is a unique endeavour in military history publishing, and Greenhill may soon learn whether or not there is an audience for such a remarkable 1,136 page volume. The three books by Paul Britten Austin now gathered together are — 1812: The March on Moscow, 1812: Napoleon in Moscow and 1812: The Great Retreat.

Paul Britten Austin's acclaimed and atmospheric trilogy on Napoleon's Russian campaign, allows the reader to trace the course of Napoleon's doomed soldiers from the crossing of the Niemen in June 1812 to the catastrophic finale in the depths of a Russian winter.

Drawing on hundreds of eyewitness accounts by French and allied soldiers of Napoleon's army, this brilliant study brings to life a landmark military campaign in all its appalling grandeur. Here we quote a small portion describing the aftermath of Borodino:

'By now its quite dark. A cold damp north wind is blowing over the wreckage of two shattered armies, the thousands of dead and dying. Shocked and shaken in a way they've never been before, the survivors know in their bones that the sacrifice has been in vain. The battle has been neither won nor lost. Which, 3,000 miles from France, is almost as bad as a defeat: "This victory, instead of arousing any general rejoicing, filled us with grim forebodings." Half of Vossler's 180 Prussian hussars have been killed or wounded. And he's only one of the many who realise that "the Russians had withdrawn defeated, but by no means routed".

During the battle von Muraldt's servant has found him a cow and prepared him a good dinner. But he finds he can't enjoy it. Even the normally sanguine Le Roy is "so depressed' he can't swallow my dram of aquavit" — whether of the French or Russian variety, he doesn't say: but the fleches are strewn with Russian corpses, which Biot sees the French infantrymen "disembarrassing of the bad brandy in their water-bottles." Trying some "of this terrible beverage" himself, he finds "the pepper and vitriol tore your mouth off".

Even the bloodsoaked acres that have been gained at such terrible expense are so thickly strewn with dead and wounded men and horses, debris and roundshot, it's virtually impossible to bivouac on them, and many units — for instance the Red Lancers, who haven't come under fire — are retiring behind the Kolotchka. Particularly shocking to Dumonceau as he rides back in the gloaming are the huge numbers of dead and dying horses.

Nearby, the Imperial Guard, bivouacked around its camp fires, is massed around the emperor's tents. Lejeune sees all five of them have been raised "at the foot of the field of battle. No doubt this was a token of victory. But the Russian army was still only a musket-shot away from us, and all our superior officers should have been taking measures to be able to begin again. Soon the night became very black, and little by little we saw too many fires being lit on either side not to give us serious preoccupations about another day's fighting on the morrow."

Although the spent roundshot which had stricken Davout's chief-of-staff in the lumbar region has left "no exterior trace", inside, General Romoef — he whose style when writing to divisional generals on the eve of battle was so chivalrous and elegant — is a horrible mess. Larrey realizes the muscles are "torn and reduced to a mush, the coxal bone and the corresponding lumbar vertebrae broken". As he attends to him and other top brass he's thinking "it's impossible to show more valour and courage than these honorable victims".

All sorts of gruesome things are happening in the cold wet windy night.'

Author Notes:

Paul Britten Austin has written widely and contributed the chapter on Marshal Oudinot to David Chandler's Napoleon's Marshals. He lives in Sweden and Britain.

Reviews:

'...Vivid and compelling...The most detailed account of the disaster yet to become available in English.' Dr Charles Esdaile, University of Liverpool, R.U.S.I. Journal

August 2000; 6 x 9in (234 x 156mm); 1,120 pages;
82 illustrations; 12 maps; paperback; ISBN: 1-85367-415-X
£29.95/$39.95

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