Reviews: Biographical Books

A Dictionary of the Cuirassier Officers of the First Empire, 1804-1815

By Lapray, Olivier

Lapray, Olivier.  A Dictionary of the Cuirassier Officers of the First Empire, 1804-1815.  Paris: Historie & Collections, 2008. 240 pages. ISBN# 9782352500261. $65.

Anyone interested in the history of Napoleonic cavalry will be craving this book which includes biographies of (reputedly) almost 1400 officers (no, I didn’t count them). The biographies range from one paragraph to one page in length. Each biography includes birth date and place, as well as the officer’s service record, promotions, wounds and other information. In some cases an officer’s coat of arms is shown, or his signature.  Also included are portraits of some of the officers.

The biographies range from one of “Cantu”, dates unknown, who entered service as a velite in the Grenadiers à Cheval, joined the 5th Cuirassiers as a sous-lieutenant in March 1811, incorporated into the 2nd Provisional Heavy Cavalry at Hamburg in Sept 1811, returned to garrison in May 1814 and disappears from the records, to a full-page biography of François-Etienne Kellermann, the son of the Marshal. It is interesting to see the international nature of the Napoleonic war machine with officers born in the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and elsewhere.

The volume is profusely illustrated with contemporary paints and prints, as well as later illustrations depicting cuirassiers on campaign, standards.  In addition there are uniform plates by Andre Jouineau depicting the uniforms of the various cuirassier regiments during the Napoleonic Wars. There are also photographs of surviving cuirassier equipment— cuirasses, helmets, swords, etc., and of various documents associated with service in the cuirassiers— requisitions, letters, letterheads, appointments, etc.

In addition to the biographies and illustrations, insets include information on the “Elementary Organizational Principals” of a cuirassier regiment, a map showing the principal cuirassier charges at Waterloo, a history of the evolution of the cuirassier uniform, a timeline, a list of units serving in various campaigns, a map of depot squadron locations, rank identifications, evolution of saddlery,  etc.

Printed on thick, slick paper the illustrations are well reproduced.  Illustrations range from classic paints such as Gericault’s “Wounded Officer of the Imperial Guard” and Gros’s portrait of sous-lieutenant Legrand to uniform studies by Rava and Rousselot.  Obviously a great deal of work went into this book, compiling the information on these French officers and collecting the numerous illustrations.

Reviewed by Tom Holmberg

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011


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