Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon's Grande Armée
By J. David Markham
London: Greenhill Books; 2003. 456 pages. Maps. Glossary. Index. ISBN# 1853675423. Hardcover. $45
Reviewed by Robert Burnham, FINS
Occasionally a new book is released that is so important to the study of the Napoleonic era that it immediately falls into the "must have" category for both Napoleonic scholars and enthusiasts. Imperial Glory is such a book. David Markham has assembled for the first time, all of the bulletins written by Napoleon between 1805 and 1812. Many of them have never been translated into English before, while others were only available to the serious scholar. Additionally, Mr. Markham also checked the translations of those bulletins that had been translated in the 19th Century and found many errors in them.
Napoleon used his bulletins for a variety of reasons: to inform the public and his soldiers of the progress of his campaigns, to praise his soldiers and their officers for the actions, and to ensure his enemies heard of his triumphs. They were published in the government's official newspaper, Le Moniteur, and often hung on doors and posted in public squares throughout the Empire. The veracity of the bulletins has always been open to question, with one of the most frequently used expressions from the Napoleonic era being, "To lie like a bulletin."
Although many of these bulletins were published for propaganda purposes, Mr. Markham does point out most are "reasonably accurate." Furthermore, he writes "[Napoleon's] losses were sometimes described as 'considerable', and he would list specific officers that were lost, along with the numbers of men killed, wounded or taken prisoners."
In addition to all 183 bulletins written from 1805 and 1812, Imperial Glory contains 170 other documents, many of which have never been published in English before. Broken down by year, the book includes:
The collection of material is by campaign, with a separate chapter covering the different campaigns fought in that year or years. Within each chapter, the material is also arranged chronologically. This is an ideal arrangement, for not only does it permit the reader to follow the campaigns as seen through the official press releases, but it also provides great insight into how Napoleon managed his propaganda campaign.
The supplementary material is fascinating. I found particularly interesting the after-action reports on various battles written by the unit commander to the Imperial Headquarters. These reports were not written for public consumption and often were the first communication between a subordinate commander and the army headquarters. These reports contain information that would not necessarily be placed in the bulletins. Mr. Markham also included all the bulletins written by Marshal Masséna in 1805. He was in command of the Army of Italy and operating as an independent commander. Masséna's bulletins are in chronological order and interspersed with Napoleon's. Reading them together will give the reader a good feel for the two individuals' writing styles.
Mr. Markham and Greenhill Books are to be commended for making available to the public, material that has long been inaccessible to all but those with extensive libraries. Imperial Glory is an impressive collection of documents that every Napoleonic library should own. Do not delay buying Imperial Glory. It will be snatched up quickly and soon will be out of print.
For more information on Napoleonic propaganda go to: The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2003