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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Leipzig: 1813

Boué, Gilles. Leipzig: 1813. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2013. 83 p., illus. ISBN# 9782352502845. Paperback.

Leipzig: 1813

This is an 82-page booklet somewhat in the style of Osprey’s famous Men-at-Arms series. The original is in French by Gilles Boué (author of The Battle of Essling: Napoleon’s First Defeat?) and it is published by Histoire & Collections and translated by Elisa Doughty. Leipzig was the greatest battle of the Napoleonic wars, fought over 3 days by some half a million men - to try to condense such an immense battle into 82 coherent pages is a challenge. The volume’s illustrations include many in colour and all are good. They include four pages of uniform plates, as well as maps in colour, both strategic overviews and battle plans. A six-page order of battle and a page-long bibliography for further reading are also included. Inevitably the compact length of the publication places it in the ‘thumbnail sketch’ category.

I must add that the original French text seems to have suffered in translation, especially in regards to military terminology. On page 7 we are told that the difficulties of the French cavalry included them having to ‘deburr’ their new horses. The repeated use of the term ‘rifle’ instead of ‘musket’ is most misleading for the uniformed reader. We are told that the artillery fired ‘bullets’. On page 9 are presented two analyses of the Russian army of the Leipzig campaign by contemporary British observers, Sir Robert Wilson and General Stewart; the pictures painted by these reporters are at loggerheads on almost every point, but the author gives no explanation of why this might be or which was correct. The Prussian ‘Krumper-System’ for secretly increasing the strength of trained manpower is explained, as is the use of combined regiments in the 1812 campaign and the raising of the numerous Freikorps and the Landwehr of the following year. The sketch of the Austrian army includes the dubious statement: ‘From 1792 to 1815 the Austrians were the only European power to be a permanent adversary of the French.’ The presence of an Austrian corps, operating with the Saxons in support of the southern flank of the Grande Armee in 1812 has been forgotten.

There follows an attempt to describe the course of the various combats over three days, which made up this great battle, but the brevity, dictated by the format of the booklet, makes coherence almost impossible. Getting quarts into pint pots is the usual problem facing any author, but trying to squeeze the literary Niagara Falls of Leipzig into this thimble just didn`t work for me. Brave try.


Reviewed by Digby Smith

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2014