Napoleonic Wars Book Review – A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Vincent J. Esposito and John R. Elting
This is exactly the sort of book I was after when researching the military side of the Napoleonic Wars. Many other books do not provide enough maps so it’s easy to get lost as to what troops are where and why it matters. Not so in A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars as everything is covered in great detail and explained in full. It truly is a one of its kind book that deserves a spot in the top 5 of anyone’s book list on the Napoleonic Wars.
A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars by Vincent J. Esposito and John R. Elting starts with an in depth introduction for the reader about the period starting with a section on Napoleon’s early life and career. The most useful part of the introduction is the excellent summary of organization, weapons and tactics of the period. This summary gives us all the information we need such as the difference between musket types and their ranges, the different types of weapons used by cavalry and the differences between the size and weight of the cannons and their effective ranges. All of this effectively sets us up so that we can fully understand how warfare worked in this age, and Elting identifies the differences between modern assumptions and the realities of the period.
It is in this introduction that the definition of the symbols used throughout the book are laid out, and as this is a map book heavily reliant on visual aids it is necessary for the reader to familiarise themselves with what the various symbols mean so as not to get confused by the different Cavalry, Infantry, artillery brigades or with their supporting elements. An example of this page can be seen to the right.
The book is divided not in chapters but by the different campaigns:
The Italian Campaigns
This Chapter begins by giving the reader an overview of the situation at the beginning of Napoleon’s career in early 1796. The author describes the situation in Europe, detailing a quick history of the revolution so far and an overview of the conflicts which set the stage for Napoleon’s entry. This can be seen to the left.
It is when Napoleon joins the army of Italy that the book really takes off, with a very detailed map given of the initial troop dispositions and to whose command they were under. The divisions of soldiers are well labelled and shown as cavalry or Infantry, and whether they are under brigade, divisional, corps or army command with a various X rating given. For example one X signifies a brigade, XX a division, XXX a corps and XXXX an army.
Elting gives an excellent outline of the troop numbers, the separation of command between the allied generals Colli and Beaulieu and the initial assumptions at the beginning of the campaign, as well as the initial troop movements and weaknesses of the positions they occupied.
The chapter proceeds to run through the campaign in Italy in detail, with each new set of double pages showing a new map with updated troop movements and a body of text to accompany and describe the action in detail and explain the importance of all the manoeuvres undertaken. Important actions are further zoomed into with even greater detail, with this chapter showing excellent dispositions and the actions in regard to the battles of Lonato, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero, Arcola (throughout its many days) and finally Rivoli. An example of a more detailed view can be seen to the left .
The chapter then details the final movements of the campaign over the next few maps before having a page of text to summarise and explain the events of the campaign. In total this campaign has a total of 31 maps attributed to it with 32 pages of explanation.
The Campaign in Egypt and Syria
This section dives into the campaign in Egypt, with a brief explanation given as to why. Elting gives a quick outline of the events before reaching Egypt such as landing in Malta and avoiding the British Navy, but the main substance of the explanation is the landing in Egypt and the initial troop movements. The map at the beginning of the chapter does not start with an overview but also launches straight into showing the troop movements.
The battles of the Pyramids and Aboukir are shown but only as small boxes within the much bigger overview of the troops stationed around Egypt and Syria.
This is the shortest section of the book and holds maps 32 – 34 with 4 pages worth of explanation, including one at the end of the section detailing Napoleon’s return to France and his rise to be the First Consul.
The Marengo Campaign
This section begins by outlining Napoleon’s position and the disposition of his troops and the enemy troops throughout Europe in April 1800. It moves through the various pressures on France and Napoleon’s decisions in tackling them before moving onto the initial movements in the Marengo Campaign.
Once again excellent descriptions and maps show the movements of the armies throughout the campaign. The only battle in which an extra detailed map is provided is for Marengo itself, of which 4 maps are actually presented to show the varying fortunes of the battle. The section then finishes with the run through of the troop movements across Europe which results in a peace between France and Austria. Elting’s final page summarises the peace between Austria and France and the peace (and breaking of it) between Britain and France before detailing the reasons for the beginning of the next campaign.
In total this campaign covers maps 35 – 44 with 11 pages of explanations, including the final summary.
The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign
This section begins with the various naval manoeuvres between the French and British navies around Western Europe, the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean. This is wrapped up with a mention of the Battle of Trafalgar, although no detailed maps are given of the battle itself.
The section continues on by showing the troop dispositions on a general map of central Europe with the initial movements of the French army. It has extra detailed maps provided for the manoeuvre around Ulm, before tracking the general movements and dispositions of the troops up to the battle of Austerlitz. The Battle of Austerlitz is provided with extra detail over 3 consecutive maps.
The summary at the end details the peace between France and Austria and runs through the actions taken by Napoleon that would eventually lead to an ultimatum from Prussia and the beginning of the next campaign. In total this section has maps 45 – 56 with 13 pages of explanation, including the summary at the end.
The Jena Campaign
This section begins with a map showing the general positions of the soldiers in early September, while the text describes the Prussian military and its current shape and the political situation on the continent, with Elting suggesting that Napoleon was hoping to avoid war.
Maps 58 – 62 show the movements around Germany of the French and Prussian troops and the initial engagements. Maps 63 – 66 show the twin Battles of Jena and Auerstadt in thorough detail while the text explains the engagements in full detail. Maps 67 and 68 show the troop movements after the battles and details the successful pursuit of the French army and the destruction of the Prussian forces.
The section ends with a summary of Napoleon’s actions after the occupation of Prussia, including bolstering his army and diplomatic overtures to Austria in order to keep them out of the war.
The Eylau-Friedland Campaigns
This section begins with the French advance into Russia, with a general map showing the situation in late November. The following maps of 70 – 72 are all split in two with a part A and B showing the Russians and French movements with very general information. Maps 73 – 75 show the Battle of Eylau in excellent detail, including the different phases of the battle, an example of which can be seen to the right. Maps 76 – 78 are then once again back to minor detail and two maps per page before we are shown the Battle of Friedland from maps 79 – 82 in greater detail.
The final map of this section is number 83 which shows in two parts the final movements of the campaign before the text describes the peace negotiated between Napoleon and Alexander at Tilsit. The final page summarises the outcome of the peace and events that would lead to French involvement in Spain and the beginnings of the Spanish campaign.
The Campaign in Spain
This section begins with an outline of Napoleon’s plans in Spain and his orders to Murat, including his reasons for focussing strength in the capital and the tactics to be employed by the troops stationed there. The first map, number 84, gives a good overview of the whole of Spain and the disposition of the French and Spanish forces. Elting notes that only the official forces of the Spanish are shown, whereas in fact the actual forces would have been much larger due to the country being in mass revolt against the French. The rest of the maps detail the actions between the French and Spanish throughout 1808-1809,
including a small force of British soldiers which arrived only to be forced to withdraw soon after.
Overall maps 85 – 91 detail the campaign, with the final map number 92 and accompanying text being used to summarize events from 1809-1814. There is no extra detail given in the battles during this campaign and the size of the map is as shown here to the left for the whole section.
The section ends with a summary of how the events in Spain were seen in Europe, and focuses on Austrian plans for war and revenge against France.
The Campaign of 1809
This section begins with the advance of Archduke Charles of Austria against Davout who was in command of French forces in Germany. Maps 93 and 94 give a zoomed out picture for the operations of the armies as a whole and the areas they occupied, while maps 95 – 99 give a more detailed look at the actions around Ratisbon. Map 100 is again zoomed out to give a better picture to the reader of the troop dispositions as a whole and the movements of the armies after the Ratisbon phase of the campaign. Maps 101 and 102 then go into detail to show the battle of Aspern-Essling before again zooming out to show the fallout of that battle and following movements of each side. The final three maps, 104 – 106, show the battle of Wagram in great detail.
The section ends with a summary of the peace treaty that follows the battle and of the events in Napoleon’s life up until 1812. These are given in the very briefest terms, but are mentioned for the reader to understand the reasons for a new campaign against Russia.
The Russian Campaign
This section begins with map 107 showing the disposition of French and Russian forces, and runs through Napoleon’s possible routes of advance and the merits and problems with each one. Maps 106 – 112 detail the French advance and the various troop movements of each side, before a detailed look at the battle of Smolensk is given over maps 113 and 114. Map 115 is an overview map which shows the continuing French advance and the set up for the Battle of Borodino which is covered in great detail over maps 116 – 118. Maps 119 and 120 detail the French movements around Moscow and their occupation of the capital, while 121 and 122 detail the subsequent retreat from the Moscow. Maps 123 – 125 show in detail the crossing of the Berezina and the French escape from Russia. The final map of the section, number 126 shows an overview of the French retreat through Poland into Germany and the reorganization of their forces, as well as the Russian advance and the defection by the Prussian general Yorck.
The section ends a breakdown of the loss for Napoleon, the situation in France and Europe and the divided thoughts of the Russians about what to do next. It ends with an overview of the strength of the two sides, with a conclusion of Napoleon being more ready for the following campaign then the allies.
The Leipzig Campaign
This section begins with the movements of the French against the allies who had pushed deep into Germany following the Russian campaign. Maps 127 and 128 detail the disposition of the forces and their manoeuvring around each other before going into detail on map 129 (which is split into parts A and B) about the Battle of Lützen. Map 130 shows an overview of the French pursuit following this battle before another detailed map, again split into parts, shows the Battle of Bautzen. Map 132 shows the situation of the opposing forces at the end of the armistice that was arranged after Bautzen before the campaign is continued in a zoomed out fashion on maps 133 and 134. The battle of Dresden is then focussed on in detail over maps 135 – 137. Maps 138 and 139 show the troop movements of each side after this battle, with map 139 split into 4 parts to show the massive amount of manoeuvring over a small area. Map 140 details the movements of the troops that would lead to the confrontation at Leipzig, with maps 141 – 143 showing that battle in detail. The final map of the section, 144, shows the French retreat out of Germany and the Allied lines of pursuit against the French forces.
The section ends with a summary of the situation of the French and allied armies after Napoleon had retreated to France, the issues being faced by both sides and the political and psychological warfare being committed.
The Campaign in France
This section begins by explaining Napoleon’s assumptions of the allied armies and what their plan of action would be, as well as his arrangements for the defence of France which is shown in detail with map 145 which is split into parts A and B, with part B being more focused on the area around Paris and the bulk of Napoleon’s army. Map 146 is also split into two parts but focuses on the Battle of La Rothiere and the area surrounded it while map 147 does the same for the Battles of Champaubert and Montmirail and map 148 the same for Battle of Vauchamps. Maps 149 – 151 show an overview of the troop movements and manoeuvres during mid to late February, before map 152 focuses on the battle of Laon. Maps 153 and 154 detail the final movements throughout March before Napoleon’s defeat and abdication.
The Final Map, 155, details the various naval operations that were undertaken between 1805 and 1814, however it is very broad and only minor information is given.
The section ends with a summary of the terms of peace and the allies’ bickering during the Vienna conference, as well as the restoration of the Bourbons to the French throne and the problems caused by this. It gives the reasons for Napoleon’s return from exile and the beginning of his final campaign.
The Waterloo Campaign
This section opens with Napoleon’s issues in the upcoming campaign, namely a lack of soldiers, equipment and good generals. It begins by explaining how he was to try and overcome his issues in creative fashion, while map 156 shows the initial disposition of French and allied forces at the beginning of June in 1815. Maps 157 and 158 take a more focused look at the situation in Belgian and the movement of forces there as this was the theatre to which Napoleon would be present.
Maps 159 and 160 explore the Battles of Ligny and Quatre-Bras in more detail while maps 161 and 162 show the movement of troops after these battles and the set up for Waterloo. Maps 163 – 168 show varying levels of detail as they flick between well detailed maps of the
Battle of Waterloo only, and a less detailed map showing Waterloo and the Battle at Wavre which was happening simultaneously. Examples of the difference in detail can be seen by the pictures to the right. The final map of the book is 169 which shows the French retreat after Waterloo and Elting briefly describes the events that follow. A final page is given as an epilogue as to the final fate of Napoleon and his Marshalls are each given a small paragraph detailing their lives and accomplishments.
This book has some great strengths and minor weaknesses in regards to readability. Generally I find that readability tends to lack in some works on Napoleon’s campaigns as they do not provide enough maps so that the reader can understand what is going on which is certainly something this book does not do. The ample provision of maps on every other page of this book, and most in extremely great detail, help the reader understand exactly what is going on throughout these campaigns. Sometimes the writing can seem a bit dry however I think it still tends to lean towards an easier book to read then some of the other Napoleonic books out there.
This book has a perfect length. Elting and Esposito manage to cover all of the campaigns in extreme detail, expertly describing and showing where the various troops are moving and in what formations. If a battle requires 3 or more maps and pages to explain then they provide it for the reader, whereas movements with little action, or naval actions are covered in minor detail and one map may be provided for many engagements. I can’t fault them for being too long or short as they have managed to find the correct balance of detail where needed.
Again this would have to be a perfect score. The very point in this book is to provide detailed maps explaining the troop movements and battles during the Napoleonic Wars, to which is does extremely well. No other book really touches on the scale as to the amount of maps and detail provided by A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars.
This is an excellent book and I would easily rate it as one of my top Napoleonic War resources. Whilst it does not go into any detail really about very much other than military affairs it does that so well that it more than makes up for it. The only weakness I would say it has in regards to military matters is that it focuses solely on the campaigns that are headed by Napoleon, with the Peninsular War in Spain being essentially ignored with only a brief one page summary. So for those readers looking for a more in depth discussion of the political or personal issues facing Napoleon or for an in depth military history of Napoleonic War battles outside of those headed by Napoleon, then this is not the book for you. However for all those campaigns with Napoleon this book is indispensable for achieving great understanding as to what the manoeuvres and strategies meant on the ground and how they played out. This is something other books fail with and so I give this book top marks with the recommendation that it should be in everyone’s library.
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