Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign

Defeat: Napoleon's Russian Campaign

Meeting only sporadic opposition and defeating it easily along the way, the huge army moved forward, advancing ineluctably on Moscow through the long hot days of summer.

The French army sacked the city, and by October, with Moscow in ruins and his supply lines overextended, and with the Russian winter upon him, Napoleon had no choice but to turn back.

One of the greatest military debacles of all time had only just begun.

His book, a fundamental inspiration for Tolstoys War and Peace, is a masterpiece of military history that teaches an all-too-timely on about imperial hubris and its risks.

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In his original two volumes, Ségur interleaved tedious statistics and technical disquisitions in archaic military French with a vivid memoir of Napoleon and the Russian campaign that incensed hardcore Bonapartists. Ségurs history/memoir was a major source of War and Peace (and of more obscure works by Chateaubriand and Hugo). It is a salute to Ségurs dramatic craftsmanship that Tolstoy lifted whole scenes from the Histoire, even as he sought to correct the books Great Man bias and disdainful picture of the Russian people at war. ---------- *To choose from literally hundreds of examplesMarshal Neys rearguard of the retreat, like the army as a whole, was a core of still-disciplined units marching in formation amidst a desperate horde of unarmed, leaderless stragglers scrambling about in unrecognizable tatters of uniforms.

NAPOLEONS RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN. Philippe-Paul de Segur; translated into English by J. This is an excellent history of Napoleans 1812 Russian campaign, written by his aide-de-camp. Philippe-Paul de Segur (1780-1873) began the campaign as Napoleons aide, but was ultimately promoted to the rank of brigadier general. To the extent that anyone can relive the past, he can relive it here, in Segurs pages...(w)hat the translation preserves best are the vivid moments of high drama as, for example, when the beaten French Army, five months after the invasion began, crosses the Niemen River on its way out of Russia.

--- as i get older, i find myself wanting to read books about war pretty much all the time.

This relatively thin (just shy of 300 pages) account of Napoleon's disastrous Russian Campaign is not a grand study of the operational, tactical, and strategic shortcomings that led to the decimation of the Grande Armée. With the Russians exiting Smolensk, Napoleon ignores his generals and plans for the grand battle that doesnt happen, because he believed what he most desired. After Smolensk burns and the Russians have again vanished, de Ségur gives us a despondent Napoleon who chased the mirage of victory, which lured him on, which he seemed so often on the point of grasping, yet had once more eluded him. Next up Borodino but before the grand and bloody battle, the weather too turns against the Emperor: ...a fine cold rain began to fall, and a high wind heralded the coming of autumn. Borodino, Napoleon felt, was finally THE ONE BIG BATTLE that was needed to break the Russians. At Borodino Napoleon had no more than 190,000 tired, hungry and now shivering cold men left: He Napoleon felt that the army needed a restand there was no rest in store for his troops save in death or victory. Some have been critical of this version of Napoleon de Ségur was challenged to a duel and was wounded by another former soldier of the campaign but I find it not dissimilar from other accounts I have read of the Emperor post-Wagram.

I found myself frustrated with de Segur's obvious restraint regarding the portrait he creates of his hero Napoleon.

Philippe-Paul de Ségur served as Napoleons aide-de-camp during the infamous and fantastically disastrous 1812 invasion of Russia by the enterprising Emperor and his Grande Armée, consisting as that behemoth was at outset of more than half a million men. Ségur would publish his firsthand account of the debacle in 1824, over a decade after the events themselves transpired, the Emperor having subsequently endured an unprecedented fall from grace, having in fact been dead for about three years. Finding himself temperamentally disposed to a military career, he quickly rose up the ranks in Napoleons forces, finding himself a trusted intimate of the great leader. Ségur was present as Napoleon remade Europe, triumphing in one brazen military campaign after another, seizing territory and placing functionaries in important leadership roles hither and yon. Russia would be the first time the Emperor disastrously overextended himself and would mark the beginning of his legendary downfall. Ségurs account of this epic folly is written with considerable literary verve, setting out to both make and unmake myth, and the author himself serves as detached commentator, entirely removed from the events as an active agent. In his introduction to the New York Review Books edition, Mark Danner states the following: If the narrative skeleton of Ségurs work is fashioned from factsof deeds witnessed and words spokenthe flesh of its prose springs from a mixture of facts and greater truths, and some of those latter flowered only with the passage of time. If Ségur reflects upon the lesson of the Swedish king Charles XIIs perilous foray into Russia, a lesson from which Napoleon failed to himself learn, DEFEAT also looks forward to Hitlers analogous calamity. Like Napoleon, Hitler would himself conquer much of Europe, finding himself opposed to both England and Russia, and would see Russia as the latest of a series of strategic dominoes, a prelude to direct confrontation with Great Britain. Also like Napoleon, whose disaster he knew all too well but nonetheless failed to avoid repeating, Hitler would face a Russian strategy of strategic retreat and scorched earth. Napoleon lost Russia without once suffering a decisive loss on the battlefield. This overconfidence presents itself on a number of levels, Ségur for example seeing it at play in the Emperors conception of his adversaries, and the fact that either through vanity or experience, he was not accustomed to imputing to his enemies the cleverness he would have shown in their place. According to Ségur, the Russian generals Kutuzov, Wittgenstein, and Tchitchakov themselves made mistakes resulting in the situation for the French being less completely disastrous at times than it might otherwise have been, and he attributes this to a timidity instilled in them by the firece legacy and reputation of the great Napoleon.

This book was so engrossing it was hard to put down, and so horrific it was hard to keep reading. The dissolution of the Grande Armée, the finest fighting force since the Roman legions, is almost beyond belief, and even the author find that words fail to convey the full extent of the disaster.

Philippe-Paul de Ségur puts humanity back into an event where we get distracted by the sheer number of the dead. To get out they had to climb the opposite incline, thickly coated with ice on which the horses hoofs, with their smooth, worn-out shoes, could find no hold.

The abridged de Segur memoir was written by his son and became a standard reference on the tragedy of invasion and the burning of Moscow resulting from the Russian strategy for defeating Napoleon's army.

  • English

  • History

  • Rating: 4.07
  • Pages: 289
  • Publish Date: October 21st 2008 by NYRB Classics
  • Isbn10: 1590172825
  • Isbn13: 9781590172827