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Glory is Fleeting: New Scholarship on the Napoleonic Wars

Glory is Fleeting: New Scholarship on the Napoleonic Wars

Glory is Fleeting: New Scholarship on the Napoleonic Wars

(From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 No. 44)

Andrew Bamford (Ed.)

Helion and Company (2021)

ISBN 978 1 912866 69 4

Paperback, 277 pages, 31 plates, 14 maps

 

Napoleon reputedly said that ‘glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever’, and this collection of studies revisits both well-known and obscure episodes from the Napoleonic Wars. It is a product of the Napoleon Series website and forum that for over twenty years have served as a major resource for the international community of Napoleonic scholars. This collection of papers, written by respected authors in their field, was commissioned with the support of the then-editor of the Napoleon Series, Robert Burnham (who has added the foreword), and the authors have all contributed to the website. It is a fascinating collection of studies covering a range of subjects.

‘We Endured a Lot, Suffered a Lot’: The Anholt Duchies during the Napoleonic Wars 1804-1814 by Daniel Clarke examines the four small Anhalt principalities along the River Elbe ruled by branches of the same family. It is a detailed study of how such territories coped with the rapidly changing military and political situation in Europe during the period. The Anholt houses were allies of Austria and Prussia until late 1806 when it became inevitable that they should join the Confederation of the Rhine if they were to survive a Napoleon-dominated continent. They were then required to provide troops for Napoleon’s war machine and the author describes the formation, organisation, equipping, finance, and command of the Anhalt Battalion. Problems regarding high rates of desertion are examined, alongside details of life in a German Regiment, and how such a unit was organised and reorganised over time. The study looks at the campaigning of the regiment, from central Europe to the Peninsula, including details of the officers commanding it. Many suffered sickness in Spain, and many were taken as prisoners of war by the British, with 135 volunteering for British service. The battalion was rebuilt in time for the invasion of Russia and the study examines the life of a German soldier in that campaign. The regiment served in Russia, was besieged in Danzig, and while this was happening Herzog Leopold III raised a unit to serve with the Russians as part of the Coalition. This paper provides an enlightening view of what it was like to be a German soldier of one of the minor states during this period, and the extent of campaigning and the trials they were forced to undergo. It is a story of changing politics, disease, captivity, and action throughout Europe.

David Hollins recounts That Other Battle in 1805: Second Caldiero during the Italian campaign of 1805 that has been overshadowed by Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. This is an account of the campaign fought between an Austrian army under Archduke Charles and the French Armée d’Italie under Maréchal Masséna. It examines the military situation in what was the former Venetian Republic, a territory next to the new Kingdom of Italy. The Battle of Verona on 18 October is examined, with an account of the Austrian defences they erected in the region and the actions throughout the month of October. The interpretation of the battles and skirmishes prior to the Battle of Caldiero is very much a day by day, hour by hour account from both sides, concluding with orders of battle for the protagonists.

The Prussian Light Infantry in 1806, written by Hans-Karl Weiss, examines the formation of the Prussian Regiment of Feldjäger, looking at the origins and organisation of the unit, including a study of the armaments issued to the troops, and how these weapons evolved during the latter decades of the 18th century. During the 1806 campaign the myth has arisen that the Prussian army totally collapsed, but many successful rear-guard actions were fought involving these Jäger, holding their own against the advancing French.  The author uses contemporary accounts to describe these actions. Included is an account of the formation of the Schützen, with a detailed description of the weapons they were issued with, along with their training and the tactics used in the field. The same approach is used to tell the story of the Füsiliere, with details of their organisation including horses, wagons, and servants. Regimental distinctions are described and are illustrated with a selection of prints. Again, contemporary accounts describe the use of these troops on the battlefield, including French accounts. This is a very comprehensive study of the subject.

Kevin Kiley is the author of The Pursuit After Jena, examining the aftermath of the battle, beginning with the background to the events leading up to the war before the pursuit occurred. The author states that ‘during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars there is only one example of a relentless pursuit of a decisively defeated enemy that ended with the destruction of that enemy’s army and the collapse of that enemy’s state. That occurred in October and November of 1806 after the French victories over the Prussian-Saxon army at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt on 14 October 1806. Other armies after other battles had either attempted a pursuit or pursued a defeated enemy, some effectively, most not’. This paper looks at the unremitting and savage pursuit of the beaten Prussians that resulted in the destruction of their army. The background story examines the organisation of the opposing armies, looking at how the Grande Armée demonstrated its training and professionalism in this campaign, and the mental inflexibility of the senior Prussian leadership. The chase of the Prussians is described in detail, looking at the pursuit on an almost hourly basis. French cavalry would gain intelligence by questioning civilians and by seizing the letters in the Prussian postal system for any usable information. Detailed maps enhance the account. The author concludes that this remains one of the greatest pursuits of history, and this account explains very clearly why this is the case.

The Austrian Tyrol is a popular holiday destination and having spent a holiday there many years ago I recognised many of the place names in A Poor Place to Fight a War: France-Italian Operations in the Tyrol 1809 by John H. Gill. The Franco-Austrian War of 1809 is remembered for the battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram, but at the same time there was a brutal war being fought between an army composed of French, Bavarian and Italian troops and an insurgency in the Tyrol. Here we are given an account of the little-known operations along the Tyrol’s southern and eastern borders during 1809, beginning with the opening actions in April, containing the Tyrol during May and June, repulses of the French and their allies in June, and the fighting that continued in the region after Wagram through to December. The account is accompanied by explanatory maps that assist the reader’s understanding of the campaign. There is an analysis of the troops involved – Austrian, French, Bavarian and Italian, complete with orders of battle. This is a comprehensive study of a little-known campaign.

Maucune’s Division at Salamanca by Garry David Wills analyses accounts of the Battle of Salamanca by looking at what happened to Maucune’s division and uses this study to highlight some of the potential inconsistencies in reports of the battle. Maucune commanded the 5e Division of the Armée de Portugal that features in Garry’s book Wellington at Bay: The Battle of Villamuriel 25 October 1812. The division faced Leith’s Anglo-Portuguese 5th Division both at Salamanca and again at Villamuriel. The author investigates the reason Maucune’s division was broken at Salamanca, examining accounts written after the event, with Marmont’s account after the battle, and his memoirs published many years later, placing the defeat of the French (somewhat unfairly the author argues) on the shoulders of Maucune. The analysis includes accounts written by British participants, and later by Oman and Napier. There is a discussion of what eagles and colours were or were not taken by the British. Detailed maps and photographs of the battlefield aid the debate.

The final section in Glory is Fleeting is by Guy Dempsey and entitled Rockets at Leipzig: The British Contribution to the Battle of the Nations October 1813. This is an interesting look at the use of rockets by the British, the story of which usually starts and ends with Wellington’s view of these weapons and their limited and less than successful use during the Waterloo campaign. The story of the Rocket Brigade that fought at Leipzig begins with William Congreve and his development of rockets as a weapon in the British army. The author looks at the types of rocket, the equipment required to use them, and the Mounted Rocket Corps – their uniform, equipment, and training. The employment of this Corps under a Captain Bogue in Europe is detailed, where they were attached to the forces of the Crown Prince of Sweden, and accounts of their use and effect are taken from British and German sources. This is an interesting and intriguing story not told in such detail before.

I was once asked why I collect so many books on the Napoleonic period, as surely, being history, one account of an event would tell you all you needed to know about the subject. I replied that history, while by its very nature happened in the past, is studied by many historians who find new journals, diaries, and archive sources that they use to give new and often unique interpretations of these events from the past. The study of history constantly evolves and for us historians, provides new analyses and interpretations of sometimes well-known, often little-known, happenings. Helion and Company have given us a superb collection of such new analyses and interpretations in the form of Glory is Fleeting. All the contributions have been written by experts in their fields and these provide a valuable supplement to our knowledge of the period. The book contains many uniform and equipment plates, photos and maps that aid the narrative. As the introduction states, this collection of essays ‘rescues from obscurity some fascinating but overlooked episodes’ from the period. This volume should be on the shelf of every serious historian of the era. Highly recommended.

At the time of writing this review, Helion have special offer for visitors to the Napoleon Series website. If you use the offer code GLORYNS15 you will get 15% off the purchase price when ordering the book from their website www.helion.co.uk. The code is active until 16 April 2021.

Paul Chamberlain

March 2021