Greenhill Books: News

Publishing on the Napoleonic Wars

By Lionel Leventhal

The Napoleonic Wars have formed an important part of my career in military history publishing.

I have published books on military history that included material on the Napoleonic Wars since the early 60s, but I think the first book that I published especially on the subject was Waterloo by Commandant Henry Lachouque.  This was a large format, glorious album, very fully illustrated, and we held a special public launch event called Waterloo Day on 18th June, 1975, in London.  The event was sensational, completely packed out, and we had lectures, films, trade fairs, and of course we sold the book.  It was almost too successful, for so many people came on what was the hottest day of the year, we had problems with crowd control.

Waterloo was introduced by David Chandler, and indeed he gave the keynote lecture at Waterloo Day and this helped cement a relationship with him which lasted.

Waterloo Day was the first of a number of such events, and we held them to mark the launch of books such as The Anatomy Of Glory which was also by Henry Lachouque, with Anne S. K. Brown.  These events help foster the subject area, and more recently we held the Napoleonic Fair in Central London for ten years (from 1994 to 2003) which brought visitors from both the Continent and United States.

In my autobiographical On Publishing:  A Professional Memoir (2002) there are long descriptions of my work with David Chandler and John Elting, the Napoleonic Fair, Waterloo Day and the publishing of books such as Napoleon's Elite Cavalry and Napoleonic Uniforms.

Amongst the many books I published that covered the Napoleonic Wars within a much wider subject area were David Chandler's Atlas of Military Strategy:  the Art, Theory and Practice of War 1680-1878, and Herbert Knotel's Uniforms Of The World, 1700-1937.

However, I have worked with a generation or two of the finest British and American Napoleonic authors, sometimes commissioning a new book and sometimes publishing what came in from them. 

At the top of any listing would be David Chandler and Colonel John Elting.  Chandler was Head of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  I often visited him at Sandhurst, sometimes having a breakfast meeting in the Officers' Mess, or lunch.  Chandler wrote many introductions to reprints of classics that I restored to print, but I published his Atlas of Military Strategy, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, On the Napoleonic Wars, etc. 

John Elting, of West Point, introduced my reprint of the wonderful, wonderful Oman's History of the Peninsular Wars, and I published his revised edition of A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars, which he had compiled at West Point with Vincent J. Esposito, and his magnificent Napoleonic Uniforms (volumes 1 and 2) which has over 900 paintings by Herbert Knotel.  He left me the rights to Napoleonic Uniforms in his will, and Napoleonic Uniforms has just been reissued in a handsome, slip-cased edition.  John also introduced a reissue of The Anatomy Of GloryAlthough difficult for him, for he was well into his 80s and somewhat fragile, he came over to London especially for two of the Napoleonic Fairs.  He flew in on both occasions the day before, attended the full day of the Napoleonic Fair, and flew out the next day, for his wife was also well into her 80s and had been unwell, and his place was by her side.

Important authors that I published would include Paul Britten Austin whose projected single volume on Napoleon's invasion of Russia became, after a wait of something like twenty years, the much admired trilogy 1812:  The March on Moscow, 1812: Napoleon in Moscow, and 1812: the Great Retreat.

Then there was Digby Smith's monumental Napoleonic Wars Data Book, and which I still think has not been recognised for the immense contribution it made to the subject area, and his Napoleonic Regiments:  Battle Histories of the Regiments of the French Army, 1792-1815.

At the time of publishing Jack Gill's With Eagles to Glory:  Napoleon and His German Allies in the 1809 Campaign he was in the American army, and the research was undertaken when he was posted to Germany .  Instead of spending all his spare time researching the varieties of German beer, Jack researched in the libraries and eventually took home with him an enormous gathering of photocopied files on which the book was based.  With Eagles to Glory was published in 1992 and since then Jack has not been able to write a full scale work but he returns to publishing another notable contribution to Napoleonic literature with a three volume study of the 1809 campaign for the bicentenary.

Philip Haythornthwaite's large format, colour Wellington’s Army: the Uniform of the British Soldier, 1812-1815, based on the contemporary plates by Charles Hamilton Smith, which we published with the help of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection in Providence, Rhode Island, and In the Words of Napoleon: the Emperor Day by Day (which was edited by R. M. Johnston).  Curiously, notwithstanding working with Philip Haythornthwaite, who lives in Lancashire, for a great many years we have never met.  Several times we have nearly met, such as when he was due to come to a reception for me that was held at the London Book Fair.  He is however the most brilliant correspondent, and when he reports on another author's book project to us he will write many, many pages.  He is always generous with his advice and help.  His knowledge goes far beyond the Napoleonic Wars period, of course.

Notable also was Edward Ryan's marvellous, largee format, colour Napoleon's Elite Cavalry:  Cavalry of the Imperial Guard, 1804-1815 for which we had the loan of the originals of the colour illustrations from the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection and his biography of Daumesnil Napoleon's Shield and Guardian.

Perhaps the most unusual book was the Napoleon Options.  I have always published alternate history and so brought together ten authors to look at alternative scenarios of the Napoleonic Wars, and although it had many, many superb and imaginative contributions, the book did not achieve the success I thought it was due.

I have mentioned authors we have worked with sometimes contributing introductions to reissues.  I have made it a practice to reissue many of the fine works and memoirs that have been published over the years, but that have been out of print for a great many.  I established the Napoleonic Library which reprinted books such as Journal of the Waterloo Campaign by General Cavalie Mercer, The Memoirs of Baron Marbot (two volumes), the books by Jac Weller, Napoleon and Iberia by Donald D. Howard, Twenty Five Years in the Rifle Brigade by William Surtees and many other fine books, in their distinctive livery.  There have been thirty-five books in the Napoleonic Library.  Also I have reissued as independent books works that were only available as part of a major work that very few have access to.  So, for example, from Fortescue's monumental twenty-volume A History of the British Army I excerpted what he wrote about Waterloo, and published it in the Napoleonic Library independently for the first time as The Campaign of Waterloo.  Theodore Ayrault Dodge's study of Napoleon's 1812 campaign appears for the first time as an independent book excerpted from his four volume study of Napoleon, later this year entitled Napoleon's Invasion of Russia.

Having had the privilege of working with commanding figures in Napoleonic literature such as David Chandler and John Elting, and many significant other authors, one is always watching out for a new generation.  Three of these come from the United States and Jack Gill is one, but we have also recently published Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars and Once There Were Titans by a retired marine major, Kevin S Kiley, and one by Guy Dempsey with another appearing shortly.  In Britain there is Gareth Glover, whose edited letters from the Waterloo Campaign is indeed a notable contribution to the subject area.

We are now in the bicentennial period of the Napoleonic Wars, and for the coming year there will be a continuity of publishing of new assessments, perhaps newly discovered or presented memoirs, and new interpretations of that climactic period.  Truly, 'of the making many books there is no end.'



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