Napoleonic Wars Book Review – “Blundering to Glory” Napoleon’s Military Campaign by Owen Connelly

Blundering to Glory Napoleon’s Military Campaign by Owen Connelly

 

 

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I picked up this book because of the provocative name “Blundering to Glory” which is in relation to Napoleon’s campaigns, wondering how the author would portray the many great victories of Napoleon. Almost immediately in the introduction the author says that a better title would have been “Scrambling to Glory”, a lot less emotive than the chosen title, which makes me think the title must have been decided on due to the higher chance of people purchasing it (as I did) to read about the idea of Napoleon blundering his way to victory for 20 years.
Have a look on Amazon to see other thoughts on the book and to see if you may be interested in it.

CONTENT

After the initial shock and backtrack from the title, “Blundering to Glory” by Owen Connelly actually starts with a fairly good introduction. He lays out the legacy of the Old Regime and the Revolution and the impact they had on military theory, the difference in weaponry between the nations and the impact it would have. The change in quality of the officers and the size and ability of armies due to the Revolution are also discussed. These are all good for providing the reader with an understanding as to why the French were able to accomplish much during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

The book is divided into 12 chapters:

Chapter 1 – Young Bonaparte: Character, Education and Early Triumphs

As the title suggests this chapter focuses entirely on the early life of Napoleon detailing briefly his growing up in Corsica before moving on to his education in France and throughout his life until the chapter ends with him being assigned the Army of Italy. At only 18 pages it is clear to see how quickly Connelly manages to cover these bits. While there is no great detail there are some interesting footnotes included by the author, notably one about his height, which covers the differences in reasoning for his measurements and has the author’s own opinion that Napoleon was “almost certainly” 5ft 2 inches by English measurement.

Chapter 2 – The Scrambler Emerges: The First Italian Campaign 1796-1797

This chapter begins by outlining Napoleon’s advantages and disadvantages in commanding the Army of Italy and discusses the main generals that would assist him during the campaign. Connelly then proceeds to run through the campaign in a quick fashion with very little detailed offered.  He suggests that Napoleon was amazed that his plans were working so well but he never let it be known, which
makes me wonder where Connelly managed to find this information. A crowded and not easily readable map is given to show the breakup of the Piedmont and Austrian forces and the French movements which can be seen to the right.

The importance of victories and Napoleon’s use of propaganda are explored and reasons given for why he was so successful after his campaign in Italy.

The Chapter faithfully runs through all of the battles and manoeuvres of the Italian campaign, providing a good amount of maps to accompany them although the maps are not well detailed and are in fact a bit too hard to make out what is meant to be happening.

Chapter 3 – Flirting with Oblivion: Egypt 1798-1799

This chapter begins by Connelly calling back to the title of the book, claiming the Egyptian Campaign to be a blunder from start to finish, and that even the victories provided no glory as they were against enemies so primitive.

After this he outlines the reasons put forward for going on the expedition, the preparations that Napoleon had to make and the reasons for his stopping off in Malta (commercial interests apparently). He describes the cat and mouse game of the French and British navies and provides a good overview of British naval supremacy before moving on to the actual landing of the French in Egypt.

The battle of the Pyramids is described but not in great detail and the only map given is a broad overview of the whole of Egypt and Syria with little stars pointing out the sites of battle. It is during this description of the battle that Connelly explains Napoleon’s fascination with the Mamelukes and the hiring of his bodyguard even mentioning his personal Mameluke, Roustan, who rarely gets a mention in works on Napoleon’s campaigns.

Connelly then goes on to mention the Battle of the Nile, the campaign in Syria and the Battle of Aboukir in the general terms with little focus on the detail. He covers these events in about 3 pages, before discussing Napoleon’s return to Paris and the forming of the Consulate.

Chapter 4 – Over the Alps: The Second Italian Campaign 1800

This chapter launches straight into Napoleon’s crossing of the Alps and the campaign in Italy. The Battle of Marengo is given the most detail I have seen in the book with about 5 pages and 2 maps given to showing just the battle itself.

It is the secondary parts of the Peace process and the formation of the Grande Armée that stick out in this chapter as good overviews. Connelly provides most of his footnotes with additional expansions and information in regards to these parts.

Chapter 5 – The Scrambler on the Danube: The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign 1805

This chapter begins by discussing Napoleon’s stationing of his army near the English Channel to make show of an invasion and of his actions in provoking another war on the continent. Connelly then moves on to discuss Napoleon’s methods of catching the Austrians off guard by turning up weeks earlier than they were expecting and the manoeuvre around Ulm which is shown with a decent map explaining what happened as can be seen to the left.

It is in the manoeuvre around Ulm where we see Connelly dissect Napoleon’s strategy and call it a “Blunder” as his title suggests. He states that Napoleon overshot Mack at Ulm and had to scramble backwards to engage him before major damage could be done to his supply lines and supporting equipment. Connelly then runs through the rest of the campaign quickly, noting the Battle of Trafalgar along the way. The Battle of Austerlitz is given its own small description and another confusing map to describe it.

A post dissection of the battle of Austerlitz is given where Connelly suggests that Napoleon had not used all his available troops because he was not used to using large armies – another blunder to add to the list.

Chapter 6 – Overkill in the East: The Jena-Auerstadt-Friedland Campaign 1806-7

This chapter begins by describing how Napoleon was fomenting conflict with Europe and how it would lead to war with Prussia. He goes on the outline how Napoleon managed to catch the Prussian army off guard, showing a map to explain the movement of both the French and Prussian troops. He goes on to give separate small descriptions of the dual battles of Jena and Auerstadt and another map showing the action. Again the map is in no great detail.

Connelly dissects the dual battles and places emphasis on Auerstadt as the main and deciding battle of the two and of the campaign as a whole. He goes on to detail Napoleon as deceiving himself and being defensive by suggesting that Jena was the more important (the battle he actually commanded at).

The author then proceeds to discuss the Continental Blockade and its importance as a strategy, noting its use of bringing the United States to war with Britain in 1812. He then moves on to discuss Napoleon’s creation of the Duchy of Warsaw and his romance with Maria Walewska before moving quickly to the campaign against the Russians and the Battle of Eylau, which is given a single complicated map to show the battle. The chapter ends with the Battle of Friedland (also given a map) and a discussion of the treaty of Tilsit.

Chapter 7 – The “Affair of Spain”: The Peninsular War 1808-1813

This chapter begins with Connelly explaining that he will not be too focused on the war in Spain because of the fact that Napoleon did very little actual commanding in it. I suppose it is harder for him to claim more blunders from Napoleon in a campaign in which his Marshals did most of the participating.

He proceeds to explain why the invasion of Spain happened and the events that would lead to rebellion against the French. In this Connelly provides a decent amount of information in easing us to the subject and why everything happened.

Connelly runs through he manoeuvres of the Grande Armée and the Battle of Somo Sierra with a general map of Spain with the troop movements on it included. He discusses the British involvement and then quick exit before really ending the substance of the chapter. Only further brief information is given about the subsequent campaigns with the Duke of Wellington and the changing French Marshals. A small section at the end of the chapter explores the reasons why Napoleon never returned, all of which are plausible, but Connelly states that the war in Spain was possibly Napoleon’s biggest blunder of all due to its constant drain on the French war machine.

Chapter 8 – The Wagram Campaign: The Austrian War 1809

This chapter begins by outlining the strength of both the Austrian and French armies and why the Austrians believed it was an opportune time to strike at France. The campaign is then outlined in a fair amount of detail with a map given for the movements around the 19-23 April 1809 before the narrative moves quickly on to the Battle of Aspern-Essling. The death of Marshal Lannes gets a special mention and a fair chunk of the text dedicated to the battle covers the loss of Lannes and the impact it had on Napoleon.

Connelly quickly moves on to the Wagram phase of the campaign with a map provided for Eugene’s march to assist Napoleon and a more detailed and cluttered map showing the battle of Wagram in full.

The chapter ends with an analysis of the Battle at Wagram, the reasons for the Austrians signing peace and who Connelly believes should be given credit for the victory – with him particularly highlighting Davout and Massena rather than Napoleon.

Chapter 9 – Compromises with the Old Order: European Empire 1809-1812

This chapter begins with a discussion of Napoleon’s need for a male heir to secure his dynasty before moving on to the practices in place with managing his Empire. It discusses the implementation of the Code Napoleon and how constitutions were arranged in Italy and Germany and who he got to enforce them in each area, with a particular focus on the nobles he promoted.

Connelly then examines the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise and the implications it had on the Peninsular War. Connelly suggests that Napoleon wanting to stay with the new Empress, especially after the birth of his son, would be the reason Marshals were sent to fight in his place.

The chapter ends by suggesting that the old General Bonaparte was gone and replaced by an inferior, fat, middle aged version. His European empire was at its peak but only served to highlight how his dominance had to be challenged and so would lead to inevitable conflict with Russia.

Chapter 10 – Heat, Ice, Snow and Disaster: The Russian Campaign 1812

This chapter begins by exploring the changed man Napoleon was in 1812 and the implications this may have for the future before moving on to a brief breakdown of the opposing sides and the numbers they managed to muster. A general run through of the campaign is then given with a broad map to show the route of the French advance. The Battles of Smolensk and Borodino are given a bit more attention with Borodino also getting a map to show the battle in full.

Connelly describes the situation when the French army occupies Moscow, including the issues that were faced by the French suppliers and the failure to properly procure enough food for the troops. He then moves on to explain Napoleon’s need for a strategic withdrawal back to Smolensk in order to get adequate supplies for winter.

A good run through of the crossing of the Berezina is given, with a map to show the disposition of the Russian and French forces.  The chapter ends with the detachment of Napoleon from the Grande Armée and his return to Paris as well as the reasons for placing Murat in control of the army, and then Eugene after Murat abandons it for Naples.

Chapter 11 – The Kill: From Lutzen to Elba 1813-14

This chapter begins by showing how Napoleon managed to scrape together a new large army to combat the allied forces arranged against him, but Connelly emphasises that it was in no way the same quality as the Grande Armée it replaced.

Connelly quickly goes over the troop movements before describing briefly the Battles of Lutzen and Bautzen and why Napoleon needed an armistice to reorganize and rest his troops. He then moves on to Austrian reasons for joining the war on the allied side against Napoleon and gives a rundown of the troop numbers arranged by each side. Connelly explains the Trachenburg Plan from the allies before continuing with the campaign and the Battles of Dresden and Leipzig which are not given very much detail.

Connelly gives a brief rundown of the 1814 campaign in France and also a map showing the encounters and movements of Napoleon over the campaign, however it is not given in any great detail and he quickly moves on to the abdication of Napoleon and his exile to Elba.

Chapter 12 – The Glorious Irrelevance: The Waterloo Campaign 1815

This chapter begins by exploring the irrelevance of Waterloo with Connelly suggesting that even if Napoleon would have won the battle the allies still would have gone on to win the war. He explores his reasons for stating this including inferior generals, lack of political support and allied strength.

Connelly explores the reasons for Napoleon’s return, his ability to take back control and level of support as well as looking at Murat and his own offensive against the allies.

Napoleon’s army at Waterloo is then dissected and described by the author, including the placement of commanders and his questioning of some of the placements. He then goes on to describe the advance into Belgium and the Battle of Ligny with a map included to show his route of march. The Battle of Waterloo is given extra attention with a section given describing the positions of the opposing sides before the battle, a rundown of the battle itself and a map detailing the fight.

A brief epilogue is given at the end detailing the Emperor’s fate and his ability on St Helena to continue with his myth making. The author ends the book by saying that Napoleon was probably the greatest commander of all time but his genius lay in scrambling and not in following out a strategic plan.

READABILITY

Blundering to Glory was easy enough to read as Connelly did not go into much detail and kept the narrative broad and flowing. Because of this it was a quick book to skim through and appropriate figures and information was provided in footnotes and the text. He also keeps his sources at the end of the book and they are laid out in an easy to follow manner. Where the readability fails is in regard to the maps as I found most of them too cluttered and trying to show too much which made it hard to work out what was meant to be happening on them.

LENGTH

This is not a big book by any means and runs to 234 pages not including his source list at the end. This is actually quite small for a book that intends to describe and explain all of Napoleon’s military campaigns. It is quite noticeable as well that most of the campaigns do not get the attention they deserve with only small paragraphs being given to describe some of the very important battles.

The size of the book can be seen to the left with an A4 pad for scale.

ILLUSTRATIONS/MAPS

Blundering to Glory does provide a fair few maps which is commendable and more than some of the militarily focused books I have read, however these maps are not of particularly great quality. Some maps that provide a general overview such as the French advance into Russia in 1812 are adequate enough for the situation but the maps that try and squash complicated battles into a single picture, such as the Battle of Eylau, are too cluttered to make sense of and so fail in their purpose. The map provided for the Battle of Eylau can be seen to the right here as an example.
I believe higher marks could be given for this had some of these battles been given even as little as an extra map or two to show different phases of the battle.

OVERALL

This was an average book in the end. While the narrative does move fast it lacks the detail I would expect from a book focused on the military campaigns of Napoleon. In some instances the author spends more time discussing Napoleon’s changing character or of his consideration for his wife or mistress then he does on the actual campaigning itself.  The maps provided are ok but attempt too much in a single picture and overly complicate it to the point that they become difficult to read.

I also feel as if Connelly deliberately chose the word blunderer in regards to Napoleon to create a sense of shock and to encourage people to read his book. When actually reading, the blunders he talks about seem nothing more than the fortunes of war and he constantly points out allied mistakes without referring to them as blunders. He suggests Napoleon could not follow a pre-conceived strategy in the same breath as saying that his number one aim was to destroy the enemy army. To me it seems harsh to then say that Napoleon could not follow a strategy if his strategy would have to be fluid to react to the movements of the enemy forces.

There are redeeming qualities to Connelly’s work as he provides good use of footnotes to give some extra little snippets of information when needed. In fact I actually found these parts to be some of the most interesting parts of the whole book as they often showed stories or facts that I did not know about and raise interesting questions – especially about Napoleon’s true height.

Overall there are much better books on the campaigns of Napoleon. This one may be found useful if you are just after a quick overview of all the campaigns. If you are after an interesting discussion about Napoleon blundering his way to victory however it is not in this book.
If you want to check out any further reviews or add this book to your library check it out on Amazon here.

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