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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Memoirs

The Czar's General: The Memoirs of a Russian General in the Napoleonic Wars

Yermolov, Alexey. The Czar's General: The Memoirs of a Russian General in the Napoleonic Wars. Translated and edited by Alexander Mikaberidze. Welwyn Garden City: Ravenhall Books, 2005. 252 Pages. ISBN# 1905043058. Hardcopy. $34.95.

Fiddlers and Whores: the Candid Memoirs of a Surgeon in Nelson’s Fleet

Dr. Alexander Mikaberidze has opened another door to the Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars following on his recent The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815. (N.Y.: Savas Beatie, 2005.) This time, he brings us the inner workings of the Russian army through the memoirs of General Alexey Petrovich Yermolov.

Yermolov, a young officer fighting at Austerlitz in 1805 and at only 38 years old, rose to hold high staff appointments under Barclay de Tolly and Kutusov during the campaign in Russia against Napoleon in 1812. Described in the book as a "true legend in Russia," he does not seem to be as well known in other countries or works. So this is a long overdue look at his career.

Dr. Mikaberidze has relied extensively upon the writings of Yermolov, has added many useful annotations and included short biographies of the personalities mentioned in the text. Yermolov's writing can be flowery at times. But the book is about how Yermolov saw history unfolding and his part in it. A fact he is not shy about expanding upon.

Yermolov has some interesting comments upon his fellow officers and senior generals. These comments reveal that the Russian army of the time was not immune to jealousies, seniority claims and bias against foreign officers; in short not unlike every other army of the period. It makes for interesting reading as he talks about Barclay de Tolly or Bagration or Bennigsen, or even Kutusov. As he was on the staff for most of the 1812 campaign you are taken behind the scenes of the high level thinking that occurred. You are privy to the way both good and questionable decisions were made. His observations of the French retreat are important and topical as when he mentions the sick and dying in Vilnius and here we have recently been informed of the mass graves found there.

The book is divided into an 'Introduction', seven chapters on 'My Adolescence', '1801-1805', 'The Campaigns in Poland 1806-1807', 'Recollections on the Patriotic War of 1812, June -August 1812', 'Recollections on the Patriotic War of 1812, September - November 1812', 'Recollections on the Patriotic War of 1812, November-December 1812' and 'Governor of Georgia and War in Chechnya' with 'Short Biographies of Personalities'. There is no index.

Unfortunately Yermolov ends with the retreat of the French from Russian soil and does not record anything of either 1813 or 1814 with only a few brief paragraphs on 1815. This is too bad as his observations on these campaigns would have been as valuable as his others. The book finishes with Yermolov's tenure in Chechnya after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. A land making headlines today.

This is a very nice addition to the Napoleonic era library and certainly one that should be close at hand if you read about or study the invasion of Russia in 1812.

Reviewed by Ron McGuigan

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2006