Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Napoleon's Imperial Guard - Book Review

As preparation for an upcoming project, I thought I better brush up on the history of this most famous of Army Corps. J.T. Headley's "Napoleon's Imperial Guard - From Marengo to Waterloo" is an interesting 261 pages covering the Guard's impressive history. It follows, in sequential order, the Guard's exploits both on and off the battlefield from 1799 until after 1815. THe

Much is made of the mutual devotion between Napoleon and the Imperial Guard. This is told through numerous examples of interactions between the two, which are well described, as well as the incredible feats of valour on the battlefield. These feats were usually under overwhelming odds and mostly turned the tide of the battle. You can't help but admire the courage of these soldiers.

The retreat from Moscow describes the horrendous suffering of he troops as well as the exemplary behaviour while the Emperor was in their midst. Things got messy when Napoleon abandoned the army with Murat in charge.

The stories of the Pupils in the 1813/14 campaign highlights the effect of many years of war and conscription on the population of France.

Of particular interest was the chapter of the Guard after Waterloo, describing how some of the survivors made it to America and attempted to set up a colony. It was something I had little awareness of and would make an interesting fantasy campaign.

Headley makes an interesting point at the end of the book about Napoleon not starting wars, but reacting to the actions of the other nations around wanting to extinguish the Revolution and it's ideas. He paints the Imperial Guard as being part of a expansion of ideas of freedom and liberty against the established monarchies of Europe.

There is no attempt at describing the uniforms or detailed orders of battle. Occasionally at the end of each chapter the total number of the Guard is stated. Some details on the uniforms or organisation would be a welcome addition.

The book has a number of black and white plates of battles the Guard fought in. The order doesn't always match the chapter. Being in black and white, much of the emotion of the battle seems lost, as it is hard to tell particular uniforms. There were no maps in the book.

One disappointing aspect was the number of typographical errors I noticed (almost as many as on this blog). It seems the book was written and edited with some haste. Headley wrote this from material he had from another book project, so it seems a bit of an after thought.

Overall I found it an interesting read with some insights into the Guard. It was quick to read, but once read, I doubt that I'll go back to it.

Certainly good inspiration to finish painting my own Imperial Guard in 10mm, my upcoming summer project.