Reviews: Military Books



Eggmühl, 1809: Storm over Bavaria & Aspern and Wagram, 1809: Mighty Clash of Empires

Castle, Ian. Eggmühl, 1809: Storm over Bavaria. Osprey Campaign Series: 56. London: Osprey, 1998. 96 pages. Illus. ISBN# 1855327082. Paperback.

Castle, Ian. Aspern and Wagram, 1809: Mighty Clash of Empires. Osprey Campaign Series: 33. London: Osprey, 1994. 96 pages. Illus. ISBN# 1855323664. Paperback

Ian Castle has done a masterful job recounting the Campaign of 1809 in two Osprey Campaign books, Eggmühl, 1809: Storm over Bavaria, and Aspern and Wagram, 1809: Mighty Clash of Empires. Both accounts are accurate, balanced, and present a view of the two halves of the campaign that can be used with confidence by historians, researchers, modelers, and wargamers. Written four years apart, they nonetheless should be used in conjunction with one another to get the full view and feel of this most interesting of campaigns.

Using both accepted sources, and information from the Austrian staff history, Krieg 1809, which the author diligently notes in the volume on Eggmühl, is a broad picture painted of a desperate bid for victory by a resurgent Austrian army, anxious to avenge the defeats of 1796-97, 1800, and 1805. The Austrians are goaded into action by seemingly near-fatal French reverses in Spain at Baylen. The newly reorganized Hapsburg Army under the command of Archduke Charles, whom Wellington thought was the best allied commander of the period, invades Bavaria in an attempt to catch the French half-ready, as the Prussians had been in 1806.

What follows is a well-researched and authoritative tale of marching, fighting, attack and retreat, that qualifies as very reliable volumes that can be used for authoritative research for those enthusiasts who don't have access to the Austrian archives. Errors in the text are few and far between. Castle maintains the old error that Marshal Berthier was the commander of the Army of Germany, when he definitely was not. Napoleon was attempting to command from Paris in the initial stages of the campaign. Additionally, Castle states that there was little tactical distinction between the French line and light infantry, which is not entirely correct as to employment and leadership. He also makes the mistake that voltigeurs were called chasseurs in the light infantry units, when they were also called voltigeurs; chasseurs being the equivalent of fusiliers in the line units. Lastly, he assigns numbers to the corps of the French Army of Italy, when they had none. These minor errors do not detract from the overall impact of these two authoritative volumes.

Interestingly, on the other hand, Castle makes the important points that the lack of backplates for the Austrian cuirassiers 'was a serious disadvantage' for Austrian cuirassiers when they clashed with their French counterparts. He also points out that 'in the Hapsburg army, progression was dictated more by birth and seniority than by military prowess.' Casualties are generally accurate, and give a good indication of the savagery of the fighting in the campaign.

Christa Hook's artwork in the Eggmühl volume is excellent. There is variety, action, and accuracy, and it greatly enhances the presentation. I particularly like the painting of the French light infantry firing on deployed Austrian artillery from an overlooking tree line. The illustrations in general are superb, some of the black and white pictures being hard to find and not generally available in current "in-print" volumes of the period. One disappointment was the reuse of some of the color prints from the Osprey "Men-at-Arms" series, in the Aspern/Wagram volume, which are not always reliable. On the other hand, Romain Baulesch's small watercolors are delightful and add much to the Aspern and Wagram volume.

I was impressed with the balanced, complete coverage these two volumes gave to the Campaign of 1809. These are the best of the current "Campaign Series" that I have seen, and Ian Castle is to be congratulated for setting the standard in this venue. Both of these books are highly recommended and should be used by every enthusiast of the period.

Reviewed by Kevin Kiley
Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2000

 

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