Reviews: Military Books


Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon, The Eylau Campaign of 1806-1807

Arnold, James R. and Ralph R. Reinertsen. Crisis in the Snows: Russia Confronts Napoleon, The Eylau Campaign of 1806-1807. Lexington, VA: Napoleon Books, 2007. 470 p. ISBN-13#: 9780967098517. Hardcover. $44

Crisis in the Snows

The famous Eylau campaign, fought in the cold winter of East Prussia in February 1807, has long been the subject of much debate, speculation, and mystery since the final shot was fired to end the slaughter of that long ago day in the cold, mud, and mess of a Napoleonic battlefield.  However, the last serious study in English of that battle and the campaign in which it took place was done by F. Lorraine Petre in 1901 (republished by Greenhill in 1989), and it has taken a very long time for that campaign to be restudied, analyzed, and written about, impartially and in depth.

James Arnold, and his co-author Ralph Reinertsen, have manfully stepped up to fill that gaping breech in Napoleonic scholarship with this new volume and have admiringly, and more than adequately, filled that void with this intense new study that is well-researched, thoroughly documented, and one of the best campaign studies now available on any Napoleonic campaign now in print.

This is a thorough and complete study of the campaign that immediately followed the three week campaign against Prussia where Napoleon and the Grande Armée completely defeated the vaunted Prussian Army, virtually destroyed it, and overran Prussia, knocking her out of the war except for the few Prussian units that were in East Prussia.

This volume quite literally covers the Eylau campaign from muzzle to butt plate.  Both armies are introduced to the reader, as well as the respective army commanders, and tactical systems are also given their just due before the main drama opens.  In painstaking detail, the progress of the campaign is presented to the reader and the buildup to the battle is intense, well-written, and leaves the reader in no doubt not only as to the relative merits and shortcomings of both the Russian army and the Grande Armée, but also as to the worsening terrain and weather in which this campaign was conducted.

Over one hundred of the book's 397 pages of narrative and notes are devoted to the Battle of Eylau itself, which is more than adequate, and taken as a whole, this is a masterly study of the first setback the Grande Armée suffered in the great campaigns of 1805-1807.  The narrative is impartial, the authors' conclusions make sense, and the reader is left in little or no doubt as to the reasons for the what the commanders of both armies, and their subordinates did on that campaign and on the battlefields in Poland and East Prussia in late 1806 and early 1807.  Nor does the narrative leave out the political jockeying of the major players after the battle regarding who won and who lost.

The notes are at the end of the chapters which make referencing while reading very easy and there are eight appendices at the end of the narrative section which cover such interesting and valuable topics as orders of battle for the French, Russians and Prussians, not only overall and for the Battle of Eylau, but also for the Battles of Golymin and Pultusk.  There is also a most interesting appendix entitled The Battle of the Maps, showing maps produced by both the French and the Russians in a contest to show the rest of Europe who really won the battle.

The bibliography is thorough, and is composed of primary (both archival and first person material) as well as reliable and competent secondary accounts.  There is also a section on regimental histories.

Taken alone, this is a must for every Napoleonic historian, enthusiast, and hobbyist.  Taken together with the forthcoming second volume which will cover the Friedland campaign (which this reviewer has not seen), this will be a monumental history of the Eylau and Friedland campaigns done by a proven military historian who has already covered the 1809 campaign and the Marengo and Hohenlinden campaigns as well. 

In short, this is a wonderful addition to Napoleonic scholarship and is definitely yet one more arrow in the quiver for anyone doing research for the period or who merely wants a good read.  It is a large volume, and definitely cannot be digested in one sitting.  It is written in a highly readable style, as are all of James Arnold's books, and in this reviewer's opinion this is the author's best work to date.  To say that I am looking forward to the second volume is a mild understatement.

Reviewed by Kevin F. Kiley.
Placed on the Napoleon Series:April 2008

 

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