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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Imperial Bayonets: Tactics of the Napoleonic Battery, Battalion and Brigade as Found in Contemporary Regulations

Nafziger, George. Imperial Bayonets: Tactics of the Napoleonic Battery, Battalion and Brigade as Found in Contemporary Regulations. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1996. 312 pages. ISBN# 1853672505. $44.95. Hardcover.

Imperial Bayonets cover

I didn't want to buy this book, and when I received it in the mail, I didn't want to open it and read it. In fact, the only reason I ordered it in the first place was that it is listed in the revised "Recommended Reading List" for the newest edition of Col. John Elting's A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars. And I couldn't have been more wrong. George Nafziger has done a superb job with this volume. It is much more than just a compendium of the different drill regulations of the warring powers in the Napoleonic era. It is the best book on minor tactics that has so far been produced by a Napoleonic historian. I not only think highly of it, I was fascinated with it. The first thought I had thumbing through it was 'Excellent!'

The book shows in numerous charts and diagrams, and in excellent detail, the maneuvers that troops performed on the battlefield, as well as the different skirmishing techniques of the various armies. There are 138 tactical diagrams, 91 tables, and 7 charts. These are helpful, easily read, and contribute immensely to the overall content of the book. The three combat arms are discussed at length, horse, foot and guns, combined arms techniques are covered, as well as grand tactics and strategic operations.

Here you can learn how to maneuver a battalion, whether you are French, Prussian, Austrian, Russian, or British. Maneuvering a brigade is fully covered, quoting Meunier and Ney. Davout's 1811 instructions on skirmishing are referenced, as well as a very interesting section on Winfield Scott's use of skirmishers in the War of 1812, where he adapted the French 1791 Reglement for American use. It should be noted that because of Scott's expertise and professionalism, as well as his talent for training, tactics, and battlefield leadership, and his common sense adaptation of the Reglement, the troops he led in the subsequent battles on the Niagara frontier were the first instances of American Regulars defeating their British counterparts on the battlefield in the open during the war.

The author's section on French tactics is clear and quite exceptional, demonstrating an understanding of the subject matter not often displayed in other books of this type. The four chapters covering cavalry and artillery are exceptionally well done, and are clear, concise, and extremely helpful.

Errors are almost nonexistent. I dont like the term 'converged' for either composite or provisional units, as it is more a wargamers term than a military one, and is generally incorrect. Geographical Engineers is a mistranslation of Ingenieurs-Geographes, which should be Topographical Engineers. The author's use of Jomini, who is notoriously inaccurate, is also somewhat mystifying. However, these minor faults do not detract at all from the overall accuracy and impact of the book.

This superb work, with which the author must have had the patience of Job in assembling, is a minor masterpiece. It is written in a lively, scholarly style, and is clear and concise. It is a treasured and valuable addition to my Napoleonic library, and if you don't own it, or at least havent either read or used it, you are missing out on an expert work on Napoleonic tactics that will not be equaled or surpassed in the near future, if ever. With this work, which is his best so far, George Nafziger has definitely entered the front rank of Napoleonic military historians.

Reviewed by Kevin Kiley
Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2000