Reviews: Military Books

Napoleon's Italian Campaigns, 1805-1815

Schneid, Frederick C. Napoleon's Italian Campaigns, 1805-1815. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. 228 p. Maps and orders of battle. ISBN# 0275968758. Hardcover. $64.95.

Schneid, author of the excellent Soldiers of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy (Westview, 1995), presents a brief overview of the campaigns in Italy between 1805 and 1815.  This volume, unlike Schneid's previous book, is military history in the sense of focusing solely on campaigns and battles. Schneid looks at the chief military campaigns of 1805, 1809, 1813-14, and 1815 (Murat's last hurrah and Suchet's last stand in Savoy), covering the battles of Caldiero, Maida, Sacile, Piave, Raab, Mincio, and Tolentino.

What went on between campaigns is passed over lightly and the book presumes knowledge by the reader of the Napoleonic era as a whole.  Political and diplomatic affairs are touched upon only as they affect military matters.  Schneid tells us briefly what happened, where it happened and how it happened.  He does not analyze the political or diplomatic reasons why it happened, nor does he look at the larger implications of these campaigns.

The title of the book is, of course, misleading.  During the years covered, Napoleon was fighting in Germany and elsewhere.  Campaigning in Italy was left to his marshals, Jourdan, Masséna, etc., or to his son-in-law and Viceroy, Eugène de Beauharnais.  Schneid can be excused, on marketing reasons, for entitling the volume "Napoleon's" rather than "Eugène's" or even "Charles's Italian Campaigns."  The campaigns in Italy during this period were largely a sideshow to battles occurring elsewhere.

Napoleon's 1805 campaign was perhaps his most masterful, so events in Germany overshadowed those in Italy.  Masséna, less energetic than in the past and strategically "less than brilliant," still managed to fulfill his role of preventing the Austrian Archduke Charles from affecting the campaign in Germany.  Schneid errors in presenting the Battle of Maida (1806) as a classic British line versus French column battle, following Oman, who in later editions admitted his error.  For the 1809 campaign Schneid prefers Epstein's (Prince Eugene at War: 1809) more positive assessment of Eugène's performance to that of Macdonald and Pelet.  For the 1813-1814 campaign Schneid unfortunately has to compete with the much fuller recent account by Nafziger and Gioannini (The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814, also by Praeger, 2002).

Schneid indicates that this book was written prior to his Soldiers of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, which was Schneid's doctoral dissertation, and laid aside for a number of years. I did find a number of errors that indicate the book might have benefited from another run through the editorial process (if books are edited these days).  For instance, Schneid inexplicably refers to William Bentinck throughout (including the index) as William Bentick.  One also finds occasional partial sentences, such as, "Neither he nor Bellegarde found prospect of a Bonapartist ruler in Italy appealing." (p. 141) In addition, the dating of some events, such as that of Murat's "treachery," is confused.  Though not an error, Schneid mentions that by the time Metternich replied to Murat's advances in 1813, Murat was already on his way to Dresden, where he had been ordered by Napoleon.  Schneid indicates that Murat did not respond to the Austrians' belated offers because Murat "was already on his way to join the Emperor."  Nafziger adds the detail that Metternich's message was in cipher and Murat didn't have the key.  Nafziger also adds that despite this, Murat kept a representative in the Allied camp who kept him informed of developments there.

The book lacks an analytical index that, because the book covers a number of campaigns, would have been helpful.  Also included are orders of battle for the 1805, 1809, 1813-14 and 1815 campaigns (down to brigade and regimental levels).  There are eight maps, seven of which are for specific battles and one of northern Italy.  The maps, however, are not detailed and will probably disappoint most military history readers.  The bibliography includes archival sources from France, Italy and Austria, as well as published memoirs, staff histories and secondary sources.  By far, though, the majority of the footnotes refer to French sources.

Because Italy was a sideshow Schneid's book is a useful, if not essential, overview of an often-ignored area of Napoleonic history.  While Schneid's account of the campaigns of 1805-15 comprise 160 pages of text, Nafziger and Gioannini give us 235 pages on the 1813-14 campaign alone (so if you buy your books by their bulk the Nafziger book will be your first choice).  Epstein does a better job at elucidating the often stormy relationship between Eugène and Napoleon.  Of use though are Schneid's descriptions of relatively in-depth such largely overlooked battles such as Caldiero.  Schneid's account is chronological and his descriptions of battles are straightforward and relatively easy to follow, but rather dry and lacking in the "gunpowder and blood" that distinguishes a master military historian.  The chief drawback to the book for the casual reader of military history will be its price.


Reviewed by Tom Holmberg

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2003

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