Forty-four battles of the Napoleonic era in words and pictures
Napoleon was one of the most significant figures in world history; a military and administrative genius, statesman and despot, he set Europe ablaze and his influence around the globe resounds to this day. While there is no real glory in warfare, the Napoleonic period, with its marching Imperial armies, plumes bobbing above casques and shakos, and martial figures in uniforms glinting with steel, brass or bronze, is an irresistibly romantic time that fascinates both serious students and casual readers. Great battles were fought across continents, from the heat of the Iberian Peninsula to the snows of the Russian steppe, from the sands of Egypt to the northern woodlands of the Canadian frontier. This world at war, on land and sea, has been chronicled in hundreds of books, from first-hand accounts by soldiers who knew its battles to the works of modern historians who know there is an eager readership. Today we are familiar with photographs of warfare, but in the early nineteenth century the visual documentation of wars was undertaken by a host of talented artists and illustrators, and it is their work that places this unique Leonaur four volume set above the ordinary. Compiled from the writings of well regarded historians and experts on the subject, these accounts were originally part of a multi-volume collection of essays on the battles of the entire 19th century. Each essay benefits from the inclusion of illustrations, diagrams and maps to support and enhance the narrative, many of which will be unfamiliar to modern readers.
Battles covered in this third volume include Badajoz, Canadians in the War of 1812, Ciudad Rodrigo, Retreat from Moscow, Queenston Heights, Salamanca, Leipzig, Fight Between the Chesapeake & Shannon, Chrystler’s Farm, Dresden and Lutzen.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The 3rd column flung its white battalions on Dösen and Doetlitz, and had a hard fight among the bushes and garden walls.
Napoleon stayed for an hour on his right flank to watch the opening struggle; Hesse-Homburg was wounded, and Bianchi took command; Kellerman’s Horse and old Augereau’s men supported Poniatowski with some success, but the Austrians eventually took Connenitz, and there they stayed, unable to do more, and held in check by the firm front of brave Poniatowski, backed by Oudinot with some of the Guard.
All day they kept up an incessant skirmishing, and the brown batteries of Austrian artillery on the one side, and the blue batteries of the French on the other, continued to thunder and boom almost without intermission until darkness fell.
Somewhere about ten o’clock, or an hour after the battle began. Napoleon left the right flank and galloped away to Probsteyda, a circular village surrounded by villas and gardens, strongly occupied by Victor; and there he found the 2nd column of the enemy, which had passed through Wachau unmolested, preparing for the attack.
Probsteyda, and Stötteritz a mile off to the left, were the keys of the French centre, and massing Lauriston’s men between the two, rather in the rear, with the bulk of the Imperial Guard on the windmill hill behind Probsteyda, Napoleon turned all his attention to that portion of the field, viewing the conflict from the ruined windmill itself.
A furious artillery duel began on both sides—a duel which was, perhaps, the most prominent feature of the Leipzig battles, for, from morn till eve the whole plain resounded with the roar of cannon, and the smoke of 1,600 pieces hung round the city, through which the watchers on the ramparts and steeples could catch hasty glimpses of surging cavalry or the progress of infantry columns rushing to engage.
Under cover of the guns three Prussian brigades flung themselves on Probsteyda, met by the fire of Victor’s troops, who lined the walls and fired from the attics and windows.
Many forgotten scrimmages took place in alleys and pretty gardens; the hedges hid long lines of dead and dying who had fought with desperation in attack and defence; the people in Leipzig questioned the wounded who staggered in through the gates, “How is it going?” and it was always the same reply, “Badly enough; the enemy is very strong!”
By two o’clock Prince Augustus and General Pirch had taken half the village, but reprisal was at hand, and the emperor descended at the head of his Guard and led it with loud shouts of victory down the hill, where the bearskins thronged into the streets and hurled the Prussians out again.
French horsemen in a dense body rode round the end of the village soon after, but Grand Duke Constantine—he of the lowering brow—moved his troopers forward with a strong support of foot and held them in check, while smoke and flames rolled over Probsteyda, and the horsemen did not charge. Shot and shell tore backwards and forwards, until it seemed little short of miraculous that men could live; battery after battery swept the plain: the officer riding with a vital order, the drummer beating to advance or retire, the surgeon dressing a limb in the shelter of a burning farmhouse—all were hit, death was in the very air itself; yet Murat, in sable-trimmed pelisse, galloped hither and thither unhurt, and the emperor himself tore heedlessly through his troops after his usual manner; his suite sometimes riding down an unlucky fantassin or two who did not get out of the way fast enough.
All day they fought at Connenitz, at Probsteyda, and round about Stötteritz, without making any headway on either side; but to north and east clouds were rolling up in spite of every effort of the heroic Ney to ward them off.
After hot skirmishing all morning on the banks of the Partha, Langeron’s Russian corps crossed that river at Mockou; and about two o’clock Wintzingerode’s cavalry passed it higher up and came into touch with Beningsen, whom we left waiting at Engelsdorf.
Ney accordingly concentrated his forces between Schoenfeld and Setterhausen to oppose the approach of the Army of the North, which began to appear at Taucha.
Reynier, who was under Ney, had been fighting hard for several hours with Bubna, and his difficulties were increased by the presence of the Hetman Platoff, with 6,000 roving Cossacks.
Poor Reynier was destined to meet with severe reverses on that day, and also to experience a novelty in warfare, for there trotted up about the same time a little body of horsemen clad in smart blue jackets braided with yellow, with large semicircular crests of black bearskin on their leather helmets. English horse artillery they might have seemed from a distance but for the long bundles of what appeared to be lance-shafts which they carried in buckets by their sides.
English they were—Captain Bogue’s troop of the Experimental Rocket Brigade attached to the Swedish army; and soon there came fiery serpents into Reynier’s ranks, whizzing and burning and causing great disorder. Bogue was killed by a ball in the head, and Lieutenant Strangways took command—the same man who, as General Strangways, said gently, “Will someone kindly lift me from my horse?” when a cannon shot tore off his leg at Inkerman in 1854.
Often enough those rockets went the wrong way, and caused consternation among the troop itself; but it is certain that they astonished the French tremendously, and not long after eleven Saxon battalions, three squadrons of cavalry, and three batteries of guns stalked over from Mockou in the heat of action, and deliberately joined Bubna, leaving Reynier to his fate.
The French cuirassiers understanding too late what was happening, charged after them, but the traitorous artillery slewed round and fired on their late comrades, the rest of the Saxon brigade marching into bivouac a league behind the allies.
This serious defection caused Napoleon to send a strong force to Reynier’s assistance; but all it could do was to rescue the remnant of that general’s corps, and the desertion remains a standing disgrace to Saxon honour for all time.