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A Soldier for Napoleon

The Campaigns of Lieutenant Joseph Hausmann 7th Bavarian Infantry

By Lieutenant Joseph Hausmann

Translated by Cynthia Joy Hausmann

A Soldier for Napoleon cover

Although there are numerous memoirs in English by British and French soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, there are very few by soldiers who fought in the German states that were Allies of Napoleon. Thanks to Cynthia Hausmann, the papers of a junior officer from Bavaria, Lieutenant Franz Joseph Hausmann, have been made available for publication. They consist of a "military diary", which provides information on his military service, and numerous letters from him to his parents. He closes with advice to his son on how to succeed in the military and a listing of the numerous campaigns, combats, and battles he fought in. Lieutenant Hausmann's papers cover from 1805 to 1814 and include the campaign of 1805 against Austria and Russia; the campaigns of 1806 and 1807 against Prussia and Russia; the war with Austria in 1809; the 1812 Invasion of Russia; the siege of Thorn in 1813; and the Invasion of France in 1813.

The Hausmann papers will be invaluable to both the connoisseur of Napoleonic memoirs and to those who are have a general interest in the period. The papers are not great literature, for they appear to have been written for private consumption. However they are rich in detail and fill a large gap in the information on the lives of the Germans who fought under the French Eagle. Although his military diary quite often consists of nothing more than the route of march his regiment took on a day-to-day basis and how long it took to make the march, the astute researcher will be able to extrapolate useful information on how far a regiment could march under different conditions, the amount of time it took to make the march, and the exact route the unit took in a campaign. This is something that is often lacking in many other memoirs. Additionally, his diary briefly records the major events of the day. For example the entry for 20 April 1809 states: "Ludmannsdorf near Pfeffenhausen. Marched ten hours into bivouac. On this day the enemy was attacked near Abensberg. The 7th Regiment stormed across the bridge near Biburg. The 2nd Division thereupon advanced in battle order, closely pursuing the enemy to Pfeffenhausen. Near the village of Ludmannsdorf, the enemy wanted to remain in place in bivouac, but at 9 o'clock in the evening he was chased out of the village toward Landshut later that night."

The uniqueness of the Hausmann papers, however lie in the numerous letters he wrote to his parents on campaign. These letters were uncensored and contain his impressions of the events as they occurred. He was completely candor in them and made no attempt to conceal the hardships and danger of the campaigns. He wrote about the extensive casualties from fatigue, disease, and combat his regiment took at the time with almost a callous disregard for the lives of his subordinates. These were everyday occurrences and were to be expected, so he never painted a rosy picture for the folks at home. Yet his letters are also filled with the more mundane and often trivial matters of life on campaign, such as how his health was, what to do about uniform items, whether his pay was being forwarded home, and what his living quarters were like. Of great interest is his reaction to earning the Legion of Honor for his heroism at the battle of Polotsk in 1812. Throughout it all, Hausmann takes pride in what he is doing and rarely questions the reasons why he is there. His is not the story of great men and their achievements, but one of the faceless men who made the great men great. In the end, the reader is left with a vivid portrait of what life was like for a junior officer from one of Napoleon's minor allies.

Jack Gill, noted author of With Eagles to Glory, does a superb job editing the papers. He provides much background information on the organization and training of the Bavarian Army and its relationship to the French Grande Armee. Each chapter covers a different campaign and Mr. Gill begins it with an in-depth analysis of the campaign and the role of the Bavarian military in it. Rather than just giving an overview of the Bavarian participation, he goes to great length to examine the 7th Infantry Regiment's actions and how they performed. Additionally he explains many archaic German military terms and words and through his numerous notes, expands on many different points. The reader should be aware that Mr. Gill choice of words will be puzzling to them at times and they may need to keep a dictionary handy. For example on page 179 he writes: "...but his often tendentious approach vitiates his arguments (he seems intent on highlighting every instance of Franco-Bavarian friction regardless of true salience...)" This is a minor irritant, but does make the book more difficult to read!

The editor has made a great effort to bring Lieutenant Hausmann to life through pictures. Amazingly he was able to find not only pictures of Lieutenant Hausmann, but also of his father and mother to whom the letters were written. Additionally, there is also a photograph of Lieutenant Hausmann's provisional notification of membership in the Legion of Honor, signed by Marshal Berthier in Moscow on 25 September 1812!

Once again Greenhill Publishers have outdone themselves in bringing little know works of the Napoleonic Era to light! This book is a necessary read for anyone who wants to know what life was like for the common soldier of the period and what motivated them to do so much in the name of the Emperor. As word spreads about this book, it will be more difficult to find. So do not wait to buy your copy!

Reviewed by Bob Burnham, FINS

 

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