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 first volume include Marengo, Copenhagen, Egypt, Janissary Rebellion, Laswaree & Assaye, Pulo Aor, Austerlitz, Trafalgar, Jena, Maida, Walcheren and Albuera.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The struggle had now lasted about twenty minutes, and the French had been driven back everywhere. In fact, the action was virtually over. The French and the British, however, kept up a desultory fire of artillery for about an hour and a half, Sir Sidney Smith and the sailors having, with superhuman exertions, dragged up to the top of the sand hills several field-pieces. A little after 11 a.m. the French fell back, and our troops advanced to a position about three miles from the shore. Thus ended this hazardous enterprise, carried out under great difficulties of every description. Nor was our victory dearly purchased, our casualties being only 98 killed, 515 wounded, and 35 missing, the latter having been, no doubt, drowned. The loss of the French was computed at 400 killed and wounded, while eight guns and many horses were captured. So excellent were the arrangements that by nightfall the whole of the army was landed.
The ground which was the scene of subsequent operations was a narrow spit of land with the sea to the north and Lake Aboukir on the south; it is about a mile and a half broad and twelve miles long, on the western extremity being Alexandria. Immediately after the battle some men-of-war boats entered Lake Aboukir by an open cut. This lake was of great value to us in respect to protection to our left flank and also for the transport of stores. Thus a serious difficulty was overcome, as we were almost destitute of transport animals. Sir Ralph Abercromby was at first anxious about the water supply, but his fears were soon dispelled by Sir Sidney Smith, who pointed out to him that wherever date trees grew water was to be found. Explorations were at once made, and proved successful. The castle of Aboukir on our right rear was blocked by the Queen’s and the 26th Dragoons, who were dismounted.
On the 9th, the wind being fresh, no stores could be landed. On the 10th the disembarkation was completed, and the day was spent in reconnoitring. Some skirmishing between the advanced posts took place, a surgeon and twenty men of the Corsican Rangers being captured by a sudden advance of French cavalry.
On the 12th the army advanced about four miles to Mandora Tower. Beyond a little skirmishing between the cavalry and advanced posts no fighting took place on that day. On the 13th the advance was continued, with a view of turning the right flank of the enemy, who had taken up a strong position across the peninsula, chiefly on an elevated ridge. The French having been reinforced by two regiments of infantry and one of cavalry from Cairo, and by a portion of the garrison of Rosetta, were able to put about 6,000 men and between twenty and thirty guns into line; their cavalry numbered 600 well-mounted men. Menou arrived that day from Cairo, but does not seem to have directed the operations. The advance was commenced in a line of three columns, with intervals. Each column was in mass of open column. The right column consisted of the reserve under Sir John Moore in two brigades, one in rear of the other. It skirted the sea, and was a little in rear of the alignment of the rest of the army. In the centre was Craddock’s brigade with the 90th Light Infantry, under Colonel Hill as advanced guard. Craddock’s brigade was followed by Coote’s brigade, the Guards, under Ludlow. The left consisted of Cavan’s brigade, with the 92nd Highlanders as advanced guard, Stewart’s foreign brigade and Doyle’s brigade following in succession.
It may here be mentioned that there had been a little redistribution of regiments, and that a battalion of marines had been added to the force. Our small body of cavalry, badly mounted and only numbering 250, were on the right of the rear of brigade of the centre column. During part of the advance Lake Aboukir was on the left, and that flank was covered by a flotilla of armed boats under Captain Hillyar, R.N.
The army marched off at 6.30 a.m., and when it came within range the enemy opened fire from their artillery, which, searching out the columns from front to rear, caused heavy loss. Sir Ralph Abercromby, therefore, ordered a deployment of the left and centre columns. They formed two lines—Doyle’s brigade remaining in column in rear of the left, while the Guards formed a third deployed line in rear of Coote’s brigade in the centre. The reserve, under General Moore, remained in column on the right, with their leading company on a level with the second line of the deployed troops.
Whilst the troops were deploying the French descended from their position to attack us. The 90th, which were forming the advanced guard of the centre column, were charged with impetuosity by the 26th Chasseurs-à-Cheval. It is said that the 90th, as a light infantry corps, wore helmets, which fact induced the French to mistake them for dismounted cavalry. Hence they were attacked with great confidence. It is not expressly so stated, but it would appear that the 90th received their opponents in line, receiving them with a steady fire which emptied many saddles. Some of the more daring of the chasseurs persevered, however, charging right up to the regiment, but were quickly bayoneted. Colonel Hill on this day owed his life to his helmet, which resisted a bullet which would otherwise have penetrated his head. In the mêlée Sir Ralph Abercromby, whose personal intrepidity amounted to a fault, was surrounded, his horse was shot, and he was nearly captured, when he was rescued by a party of the 90th. At about the same time the 92nd Highlanders were attacked by the 61st Demi brigade, named “The Invincibles,” and were also exposed to the fire with grape of two field-pieces. Nothing daunted, however, the gallant Highlanders sprang to meet them, and poured in so heavy and effective a fire that the 61st Demi brigade were forced to retire, abandoning the two guns. For their brilliant conduct on this occasion both the 90th and 92nd were authorised to bear “Mandor” on their colours. About this period of the action Dillon’s regiment attacked with the bayonet a bridge over the canal and captured it and two guns. The French fell back, halting from time to time to open on us with their well-horsed batteries. Our progress was, on the contrary, slow, for our guns had to be drawn by hand and the sand was heavy. About 2.30 p.m. the French having abandoned the crest which they had originally occupied, took up a fresh position on another crest close in front of the forts and works of Alexandria.