1806-1807 Tsar Alexander’s Second War with Napoleon
The Russian Official History
Alexander Ivanovich Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky
Helion & Company (2023)
Images: 23 maps
This is the first translation of Alexander Ivanovich Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky’s Official History of the second war between Tsar Alexander and the Emperor Napoleon, Brought to the anglophone readership by Peter G.A. Phillips. Offering an insight into Tsarist Russian perceptions of the Napoleonic Wars, Phillips work provides a new lens into the campaigns of 1806-1807, the Russian order of battle, and the foreign policy situation as perceived by the Russian government at the time.
Commissioned in 1846 at the behest of Tsar Nicholas I, this history begins with Napoleon’s crushing defeat of the Prussian army at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstädt with a focus on the Russian reaction to the conflict. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky then turns his attention to 1807, when Russia took the lead in the war with Napoleon, culminating in the battles of Eylau and Friedland and eventually the Treaty of Tilsit between France and Russia. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky’s account provides a general overview of the military campaigns and their diplomatic context. Giving a wonderful insight into Russia’s perspective on the conflict, – particularly the prevalent feeling of being abandoned by the rest of Europe – however, as Philips suggests in his introduction, this text is not without its foibles.
Produced under the watchful eye of Tsar Nicholas, Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky’s history is light on critically examining the decisions of the main figures in the Russian court, particularly the Tsar’s brother Alexander I. The same is true of his subject matter, which is wide, but not deep in its analysis, which often leaves the reader left with just a taste of the subject rather than the whole meal. Even Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky’s contemporaries, such as Modest Bogdanovich, who was brought into revise and expand on Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky history of the 1812-1814 campaigns, felt that his predecessor was too light on a number of details. Indeed, Bogdanovich complained that Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky missed important records, which would have provided more context to the events around Napoleon’s downfall following his unsuccessful 1812 invasion of Russia. This is frustratingly true of his coverage of the 1806-1807 campaign as well, however the insights within the book give enough of an opportunity to look at this from a Russian perspective. It is a shame that the original text is so short, coming in at only 210 pages.
Phillip’s translation is a great addition to the continuing process of bringing Russian sources to an anglophone readership. It is frustrating that the original text is less substantive and potentially biased, providing the lightest introduction to the 1806-1807 campaigns. However, this translation still provides valuable insights into the way that Tsarist Russia viewed the campaigns, and the country’s place in the Napoleonic Wars. I look forward to seeing future translations of the Russian official histories, to continue broadening our understanding of the Napoleonic period from the perspective of one of France’s principal opponents.