This is the second of three volumes, in which Mr. Britten-Austin paints a riveting picture of Napoleon's Russian Campaign in 1812. The concentration is on that part of the campaign aimed at Moscow, and the activities of other forces, detached to address different targets, are only covered in so far as they impact on the march on, stay-in and retreat from Moscow. A huge number of personal recollections have been carefully sifted and appropriate extracts selected, and then merged into a continuous narrative, linked almost seamlessly together by Mr.Britten-Austin himself. The result is a masterpiece. The feeling of immediacy is very pronounced and indeed at times the events, harrowing in themselves, are so graphically described by the participants that the reader has to pause, all but overcome by the horror and pathos of the narrative. This volume is dominated by the conflagration that engulfed most of Moscow immediately after the French arrival, by Napoleon's dithering as he waits for Russian responses that never come to his peace overtures, by Murat's starving forces confronting increasing Russian resistance and by the fatal decision to lurch southwards from Moscow with forces that have already been depleted by hunger and disease, and demoralised by looting and growing breakdowns in discipline. The volume ends with the Emperor's realisation, far too late, that a victory in the field, in the Ukraine or elsewhere, is impossible in 1812 and that retreat is unavoidable. This is grim story of wishful thinking, lack of realism and of a slide towards disaster. Few of the major players come well out of it, other than Prince Eugene Beauharnais, Napoleon's stepson, who in this and the subsequent volume, emerges as an admirable and capable commander in very difficult circumstances. As with the other volumes the footnotes (at the back of the book) are a joy, often packed with detailed information that sheds significant illumination on the main text.
I currently have one copy each of the entire set. Buy all three and get a discount of $15.
1812 : Napoleon in Moscow
1995 Greenhill London