Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Anatomy of Glory, Napoleon and his Guard Book Review


Originally written in French by Henry Lachouque and adapted into English by Anne S K Brown. Brown (1906-1985) was an American who as a young journalist became very interested in France and Napoleon. It's a heavy hitter running to just over 560 pages.

Lachouque is unashamedly pro Napoleon and France and it shows greatly in his treatment of some of the sticker subjects such as living off the land and the treatment of the Spanish even stating that the Spanish resisting French domination was the core reason for these acts. Not that she was uncritical of French actions but even when she admits to any wrong doings she tended to give excuses for such as if that made such actions OK.

The main focus of the book is how the Guard was dressed and at what cost and goes into great detail down to the smallest of items. Whilst this is actually the least interesting part of the book for me it was still fascinating to read of the shear scale and cost that the Guard. In uniforms alone the expenditure ran into millions of Francs and these costs were not one off's but were regularly repeated. In the later years when the Guard was at it's largest this cost was such a burden on the state that it could be argued that the day to day running costs and regular uniform orders actually helped bring around the fall of Napoleon as France struggled to keep the army equipped and the difficulty juggling the finances to keep the country fiscally viable.

The campaign details are far less detailed and as it's focus is on the Guard tends to be incomplete. That's not to say it's not of interest to the reader who is solely interested in the military campaigns but it certainly helps to have a reasonable knowledge of the battles when reading this book. 

What I was a little disappointed in was that it was somewhat repetitive. Each time Napoleon stopped for the night Lachouque goes into detail of the Palace and who guarded Napoleon and often the comments are echo's of the previous few nights. The same can be said for when the Guard was at a battle but did not fight, the comments on their disappointment just seemed to be lifted from the previous battle and inserted again.

On the other hand I have to say that the illustrations are probably the strongest part of the book. Most of them will have been seen before but these are referenced in the main body of text and as such have greater meaning than in some other books I have seen them in.

What becomes very clear in the book is how little the Guard actually took part in the battles, they being mere spectators so much of the time. Again of great interest was how the Guard coped with the retreat from Moscow and the level of losses it sustained. I was not aware that post Russia the Guard started to recruit heavily from conscripts from the army and civilians who met the height criteria of the Guard. Indeed when reformed for the Hundred Days campaign the amount of untrained men in the ranks (especially the Young Guard) had to have effected their ability to fight and sheds some light on their performance at Waterloo.

I did enjoy reading the book and recommend it to anyone interested in the Napoleonic wars as Lachouque casts light on so many details than the typical Napoleonic book may not even mention.

5 comments:

  1. Fair enough review, I thought. A good book on the army proper (and still available) with a decent summary of the operations of Davout's Third Corps at Auerstadt and in the Polish Campaign is HCB Rogers' Napoleon's Army. Worth including in any library.

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    1. Every time I read a book I get advice for another, how will I ever climb this book mountain I have? ;-)

      Ian

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  2. Actually Lachoque wrote it in French, he is a Frenchman, and Anne Brown translated it into English (Brown University press). He wrote a number of other books as well. Great book.

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    1. Yep your right, misread the introduction several times!

      Ian

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    2. And corrected the text, thanks for the heads up

      Ian

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