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Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée

Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée

Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée

Alain Pigeard (Editor)

Heimdal (2019)

ISBN 978-2-84048-542-1

Hardcover, 614 pp., illustrations.

French text


This beautifully designed book is the second edition of a work first published in 2002. The editor, Alain Pigeard, an expert about the First Empire (4 dictionaries, 66 publications and 400 articles) felt that the resurgence of interest in the era generated by the bicentenary of the Napoleonic era between 2004 and 2015. The result is an impressive guide to the Grande Armée containing some 2,600 entries. Many of these articles contain source references, often a rarity in guides of this type. I also liked the fact that dealing with subjects that have numerous entries, the editor thoughtfully provides a recapitulation at the beginning of the article. Thus, the subject of ‘Artillerie’ contains no less than 31 entries and the reader can quickly go to that which interests him.

The Dictionnaire is splendidly illustrated with images of the detail of weapons, headgear, buttons, and badges, etc. In addition, the beginning of each letter of the alphabet is graced with a full page colour illustration of actual uniforms or military art. As a result, the book is a visual feast. What the reviewer found interesting was the 128 biographies of well-known students and illustrators of the Grande Armée. Details on such well-known names as Chandler, Detaille, Elting, Houssaye, Job, Lliepvre, Martinet, Rousselot and many others are contained therein.

This is very much a hard-core Napoleonic title. You will find no mention of Waterloo, Wellington, Russia, or Blucher. There is an article on ‘Atrocities’ but it deals only with the bad things the Spanish and Portuguese did to the French, not the opposite. There is scarce information on the marshals and battles or campaigns but Pigeard has already contributed separate guides to those subjects. He does include a nice ‘table retrospective de la personalité des marechaux’ graded according to their military qualities, their integrity and honest, their bravery and their loyalty to the emperor. Davout rates very highly but Marmont is toward the lower end of the scale; but that is no surprise.

Pigeard may not include marshals but there are hundreds of entries regarding lesser-known figures such as Colonel Arnould-Francois-Léopold-Odille-Sigismond du Pouget, Marquis de Nadaillac, one of Napoleon’s cavalry officers. No matter, really, because there are several reliable sources on the marshals and generals of the First Empire. The Dictionnaire excels in other ways. If you want to know when the sabre-briquet was removed from light infantry units, there is an article that will tell you so, with six references. If you want to know about the orders and decorations of Hesse-Darmstadt, or the technical details of the French military lance, or the buttons of the Imperial Guard, or information about Dalmatian pandours, and on and on, this is the source.

En avant! Vive l’Empereur! The Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée is an indispensable source for the dedicated devotee of the First Empire and a fascinating and informative work for all interested in the Napoleonic period.

Donald E. Graves

May 2021