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1812: "1812: March on Moscow", "1812: Napoleon in Moscow", "1812: The Great Retreat": Napoleon's Invasion of Russia [Paperback]

Paul Britten Austin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1136 pages
  • Publisher: Greenhill Books (31 Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 185367415X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853674150
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 15.9 x 5.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 616,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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' ... Already heralded as a classic ... The text is enriched with first-hand accounts which bring the whole narrative to life with an air of stark realism ... Britten Austin's trilogy truly ranks as a masterpiece, representing all that is to be admired in a research-based work.' -- John S. White, Waterloo Journal

' ... Vivid and compelling ... The most detailed account of the disaster yet to become available in English.' -- Dr Charles Esdaile, University of Liverpool, RUSI Journal

From the Publisher

The three volumes of Greenhill's unique trilogy about 1812 by Paul Britten Austin are now being gathered to make a single, monumental, trade paperback. This is a unique endeavour in military history publishing. The individual three books by Paul Britten Austin are - 1812: The March on Moscow; 1812: Napoleon in Moscow; and 1812: The Great Retreat.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS TAKE YOU THERE! 15 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback
This is a superb collection of eyewitness accounts of Napoleon's infamous campaign of 1812. All life - and death - is here. It is a testament to the hardships that human beings can endure and to the courage and tenacity of the human spirit. And is is an excellent piece of scholarship by the author - it must have taken ages to piece this impressive mosaic of views and opinions together.

I have read the trilogy twice and have started for the third time - there is always something new to discover with every reading. This book is so compelling it reads like a novel. You can feel those bleak, scouring winds and hear the crisp frozen snow crack beneath your feet.

You will discover old favourites like Coignet and Bourgogne as well as a host of characters larger than life who did, nonetheless live and experience the traumas described in this book. As Napoleon waited fatally in Moscow, hoping that the Tsar would sue for peace, the Russian army surrounding him grew ever stronger. The English General Wilson (who would later be sent to jail in France by Louis XVIII for defending ex-soldiers of the Emperor) describes how the Guard ploughed through the massive Russian Army like a battleship through a fishing fleet at Krasny. Buy this trilogy, you will not be disappointed!

John Tarttelin MA, FINS
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent mammoth! 31 July 2011
By Sebastian Palmer TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Wow! These books, here gathered into a single volume, amount to, as the author points out, something 'fairly vast.' Paul Britten-Austin describes his book as a 'word film'. And, constructed from a collage of predominantly Allied' accounts (i.e. from the French/Grande Armée side), it does have something of that quality. The hefty use of first-hand accounts makes the book very vivid and engaging, which is fantastic. My only quibble on this score is that, in a very few instances, it's not 100% clear who's being quoted.

Paul Britten-Austin's writing style is quite different in tone to any of the other authors I've read so far on this subject, which is refreshing: I Iike a writer who says 'i'sooth'! He's also the only author, besides Burns, that I've encountered using the term 'agley', as in 'aft gang agley', for when things go wrong! Empire books dot com has a page where the author (now sadly deceased) explains how and why he wrote the book as he did, and it's fascinating. It took 25 years, and he used the accounts of 160 participants. Many books on the subject use eyewitness accounts, but none do so to such a degree, or as well, as Paul Britten Austin. With endearing modesty he was to say this, regarding his sources, of the resulting collage: 'If the result is enthralling it is them the reader should thank: for being there.'

Overflowing with lively anecdotal detail from all manner of ranks (but unsurprisingly weighted towards the higher echelons), such details as the sufferings of Heinemann, a German officer of voltiguers, and survivor of a virtual massacre, as he escorts a wounded sergeant to the rear before becoming a prisoner of some Cossacks, are just one example among many of the fascinating and touching insights the book is packed with.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An account like no other in English 6 May 2013
Format:Paperback
This account of the 1812 campaign is like no other in the English language. Austin has combined descriptive prose with quotes from primary sources to produce a readable account. It is similar to the approach that was used by French historians such as Lachouque, Hourtoulle and Houssaye.

By using present tense he brilliantly combines his own prose with extracts from memoirs and letters into a story-like telling of the history that transports the reader back two hundred years. We are there observing Napoleon throughout the campaign; we see what those around him and elsewhere in the Grande Armée saw and we `experience' what they experienced.

Book One, The March On Moscow begins with the an introductory chapter explaining the build-up to the campaign and how we have arrived here, in Poland in June 1812. We are then transported to the `present' and we experience the falling discipline as the army moves from fertile quarters in the western German states to the relative harshness and shortages of food and forage in East Prussia and Poland. Despite this, on the banks of the Nieman there is a sense of inevitable victory. An incident where the Emperor falls from his horse, re-mounting unhurt, has the superstitious among us worried, but who could resist a force of 350 000 combatants and 984 guns, their bright uniforms, silver and gold glistening in the midsummer's sun?

This magnificent pen picture continues as we march deeper and deeper into Russia across the dry emptiness of Lithuania, which turns to mud with sudden summer storms. "Even the men who've served in Spain--and there are many--soon begin to feel depressed by its sombre aspect" (p. 59). Stragglers increase, men fall and some even commit suicide. "Most of Napoleon's campaigns had started in similar fashion" (p.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great collection 22 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have recently purchased this book and can, with confidence, recommend it, even though I have not finished the first section.
If you have ever started a book and wished that it would not end then you understand where I am coming from.
The individual observations related in the collection bring history to life and the insights gained are stunning !
I cannot recommend this collection more highly.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Soldier's Account of the Russian Campaign 25 April 2001
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
1812 is a compilation of Austin's three earlier books on Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Austin's work is deservedly a classic, but due to its complexity is not for novices to Napoleonic history. Nor should this work be read by the faint-hearted, given some of the rather gory and explicit details of a rather savage chapter in the history of warfare. This book is not a comprehensive history of the campaign, since the main focus is on those units that marched to and then retreated from Moscow. Austin uses 100+ eyewitness accounts as the basic material to stitch together a portrait of the campaign as seen by the participants. Readers who seek discussions of grand strategy, the causes of the war or detailed orders of battle will be disappointed by this approach (they should instead turn to Chandler's and Riehn's excellent accounts), but those who want to gain a birds-eye view of the campaign will be very pleased.
Although the account starts with the invasion in June 1812 and covers the battles of Smolensk and Borodino, the most gripping part of Austin's work is the last 400 pages on the retreat from Moscow. The reader will find this account both agonizing and spellbinding, due to the appalling suffering and courage in adversity. This book is about real soldiering, when the chips are down, you are starving and the temperature is sub-zero. Although destroyed by the retreat, the bravery and ability of the soldiers of the Grande Armée shine in these pages. On the other hand, the battle accounts, such as Borodino, are good but a bit confusing and not particularly unique. Better maps with annotations where the major characters were located on the battlefield would have been very helpful.
Unfortunately, this very well researched and written book tends to fall apart a bit in the last few chapters (perhaps due to writer fatigue, after 1100 pages). Austin's account of the campaign ends once Marshal Ney leads the French rearguard across the Niemen River on 12 December. However, the retreat lasted two more weeks across a Prussia that was about to declare war on France. Austin provides no accounts of the final tally of survivors at Konigsberg. After following many of these characters for 1100 pages, Austin only informs the reader of the final fate of a few eye-witnesses, and then only in footnotes. A solid epilogue with notes on each character is missing.
These eyewitness accounts are the heart and soul of Austin's monumental work. However, certain facts should be made clear. First, they are not representative accounts; staff officers and inner-circle types make up 50% of the accounts, with only a handful of enlisted soldiers, NCOs or junior officers included. This is for the obvious reason that very few of the later made it back to publish accounts, but the staff officers had a better chance for survival. The second fact relates to the subjectivity of some accounts. There are cases of exaggeration, distortion and lies in the accounts, which Austin does his best to correct. One eyewitness for example, claims that the Grande Armée lost all its artillery in Russia which Austin corrects in a footnote (the French brought back at least 50 artillery pieces). Thus it is critical for readers to glance frequently at the footnotes to see where accounts are misleading. Nevertheless, Austin cannot eliminate the subjective factor in these accounts. One glaring case I found that goes without notice by Austin involves one of the principle accounts, by Colonel Lubin Griois, commanding the light artillery in the 3rd Cavalry Corps. Griois constantly complains about General Armand Lahoussaye, who took over the corps after the Battle of Borodino in September 1812. According to Griois, Lahoussaye is new to the corps and is an "imbecile". Austin repeats this every time he refers to Lahoussaye. Unfortunately, this does not mesh well with the facts. According to the authoritative dictionary on French generals by Georges Six, Lahoussaye had been a division commander in the corps for nine months so he was not a newcomer as Griois claims. Furthermore, Griois fails to mention that Lahoussaye had 20 years of combat experience in the cavalry, including the 1805-1807 campaigns in central Europe and 1808-1811 in Spain. Nor does Griois mention that Lahoussaye was seriously wounded at Borodino, which probably interfered with his command ability. Austin fails to mention that Lahoussaye was a baron in the Legion of Honor and that his name is inscribed on the Arc d'Triomphe. Napoleon did not allow "imbeciles" to command for 20 years and thus, Griois' account is probably a case of axe grinding against a former superior. Austin should have provided the background on Lahoussaye to provide balance.
Finally, a critical factor is how Austin uses the accounts, which are often missing crucial pieces. Based upon the pieces of the accounts he offers for example, it seems that almost nobody made it back from Russia. Colonel Chlapowski, commander of the Polish Lancers in the Guard, figures prominently in Austin's account, as do the Lancers themselves. Austin infers that almost all of the Lancers died escorting Napoleon out of Russia. Actually, in Chlapowski's full account, he states that the Lancer's went into Russia with 915 men and came out with 422. Austin uses partial accounts to suggest that the Old Guard came out with only a handful of men. While the Old Guard suffered very heavy losses, it went in with 5,286 infantrymen and came out with 1,430.
Nevertheless, 1812 is an excellent account of the Russian campaign. Reading it will certainly give one an excellent "feel" for the events, if not for all the facts. Therefore, this book should be used in conjunction with other standard campaign histories for balance.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Person Accounts of the 1812 Campaign 23 Nov 2000
By Michael E. Boyd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book is a combination of Austin's 3 previous works: The March on Moscow (out of print), Napoleon is Moscow, and The Great Retreat. Previous reviewers have correctly described these books as providing an atmospheric mood of the unfolding catastrophic events. The descriptions are mainly from army officers observing the campaign and Napoleon. The book is better at providing insights into human nature and reactions to chaos than as an detailed analysis of battlefield strategy.
This should not be the first book one reads on Napoleon. The style assumes a knowledge of generals and familiarity with military vocabulary that I lacked when I started it. A reading of Elting's introduction to his Military Atlas of Napoleon would be helpful to neophytes before starting Austin's book to prevent bewilderment over terms such as voltigeur, hussar, cuiassier, etc.
Nonetheless, the images of these first hand accounts are haunting.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "best of" first person account of the war 22 Dec 2000
By Milton Soong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author did a wonderful job of stringing together a diverse canvas of first person accounts into a coherent narrative. A must read if you are interested in what "actually" happened in 1812. You'll not find strategic analysis or detailed orders of battle info here. But if you want a unique and first rate narrative on the subject, this is it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for Beginners 6 Jun 2014
By SQUIDMAN - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Deep down I want to give it a better rating but I can't, not because it was badly written or edited. But 400 hundred pages or so of the
first hand accounts of mostly low level solders (Col.- privates) gets old pretty quick. What I would have liked to have read is the accounts of Napoleon and his Marshals along with the accounts included. What they saw and thought, their reactions to each other and the worsening situation. Why and how did they ignore the early warning signs of the catastrophic events that befell the Grand Army from the very beginning of the campaign. Very brief bio's on the major players would have helped the average reader understand the personalities involved. I think this is a good effort, but need to be fleshed out with more Major players observations and thoughts, especially Napoleon.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An account like no other in English 6 May 2013
By Avon Napoleonic Fellowship - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This account of the 1812 campaign is like no other in the English language. Austin has combined descriptive prose with quotes from primary sources to produce a readable account. It is similar to the approach that was used by French historians such as Lachouque, Hourtoulle and Houssaye.

By using present tense he brilliantly combines his own prose with extracts from memoirs and letters into a story-like telling of the history that transports the reader back two hundred years. We are there observing Napoleon throughout the campaign; we see what those around him and elsewhere in the Grande Armée saw and we `experience' what they experienced.

Book One, The March On Moscow begins with the an introductory chapter explaining the build-up to the campaign and how we have arrived here, in Poland in June 1812. We are then transported to the `present' and we experience the falling discipline as the army moves from fertile quarters in the western German states to the relative harshness and shortages of food and forage in East Prussia and Poland. Despite this, on the banks of the Nieman there is a sense of inevitable victory. An incident where the Emperor falls from his horse, re-mounting unhurt, has the superstitious among us worried, but who could resist a force of 350 000 combatants and 984 guns, their bright uniforms, silver and gold glistening in the midsummer's sun?

This magnificent pen picture continues as we march deeper and deeper into Russia across the dry emptiness of Lithuania, which turns to mud with sudden summer storms. "Even the men who've served in Spain--and there are many--soon begin to feel depressed by its sombre aspect" (p. 59). Stragglers increase, men fall and some even commit suicide. "Most of Napoleon's campaigns had started in similar fashion" (p. 62), but this is Russia 1812 and everything is magnified doubly.

We experience Bagration alluding the first envelopment, the bloody Battle of Ostrowno, the near perfect manoeuvre of the first battle of Krasnoe which, having missed, lead to the bloody assault on Smolensk, the Battle of Valutino (Lubino)--another missed opportunity--and the march through heat and dust to bloody Borodino.

Thanks to Austin's use of eyewitness accounts, we are taken, as if by helicopter or as a "fly on the wall" to each point of the action. We are there when the guns open up, slowly at first and then "like an earthquake" we join Delzons' men as they drive the Russian Guard jägers from Borodino and across the Kolocha, only to be driven back by a Russian counter-attack. We join Compans' men in their first successful attack on the flÍches, but they too are forced back by a Russian counter-attack. We `experience' each stage of the terrible battle, as seen through the eyes of those yet to be committed to the struggle. We see the troops resplendent in their full dress--none look finer than the veterans of the Imperial Guard. We are also there to observe Napoleon, static and almost aloof, laid low by illness. Finally we experience first-hand the capture of the Grand Redoubt in the last, desperate action of the day. At the conclusion of the battle we are taken across the battlefield to witness the "butcher's bill"...

The first book of this trilogy ends with the entry into Moscow, "Eighty-two days have passed since the Grand Army crossed the Niemen.. it has marched 825 miles, fought two major battles... Only two-thirds of its effectives are still with it eagles... Yet Napoleon isn't an inch nearer to his objective--to force Russia back into the Continental System... And tomorrow he'll get the shock of his life--as Moscow, as if by spontaneous combustion, bursts into flame" (p. 356).

The second book, Napoleon in Moscow takes up the story. with entry of the French-allied army into the city, "Europe's second largest and far and away most exotic capital..." (p. 18). But it is not the grand entry into a capital of previous campaigns. Through the eyewitnesses we experience the strange anti-climax of entering an empty town, wondering if it is a trap. Some incendiaries, dressed as policemen, are brought before Napoleon, Apparently they are acting on the orders of Governor Rostopchin. There is "...a violent detonation on the side of the Kaluga Gate. [...] It seems to have been an agreed signal" (p. 26). Then the city is set afire.

Following the great fire we enter a phase when Moscow is turned into a large bazaar as soldiers sell the loot that they have accumulated and, with winter approaching "whilst only few of us thought of providing ourselves with warm clothes and furs against the coming winter, many ladened themselves down with a mass of useless things" (p. 63). Napoleon is awakened from his delusional `slumber' by the Russian `surprise' attack on Murat's dispersed troops at Vinkovo (Tarutino). Belatedly he makes the decision to quit the capital and march south towards Kaluga.

The Russian army--more particularly Dokhturov--moves quickly to cut us off. Prince Eugène's French, Italian and Spanish troops lead the attack in this bitter encounter battle and struggle for a key strategic point. Increasing numbers are committed by both sides. It is particularly intense and hard-fought, even in a campaign that has been marked by such fights. The months of campaigning without a clear result and the high stakes ensure that, as Wilson put it, "the enemy was infuriated by despair, the Russians by `the Moscow cry of vengeance'" (p. 206).

Parried at Maloyaroslavets the fatal decision is made, perhaps the only one possible under the circumstances, to retreat via the route of the original invasion...
Thus the final book, The Great Retreat begins with `a word unknown in the French army'...

We are soon introduced to some `new' troops, les hourrassiers, the nickname scornfully given to the Cossacks whose cries of `hurrah' translate into death for the invaders (p. 24). In another terrible tit for tat in this brutal campaign we reciprocate the Russian scorched-earth tactic, following an order that "every village, every house, every cottage, every barn along the route to be fired" (p. 31).

The weather is cold and often wet. Lack of food soon tells and we then re-cross the terrible battlefield of Borodino. "The famous battlefield is exactly the same state as we'd left it in on 8 or 9 September. More than 20 000 corpses of men and horses in a more or less advanced state of decomposition were lying where they'd fallen" (p. 45).

We have our first significant combat with the pursuing Russians at the second battle of Viasma. It begins with an all-too-common occurrence, "Cossacks yelling frighteningly, came out and fell on this unfortunate mass [artillery, carriages and vivandière's carts]. At this sight, each man, driven by fear, acts on impulse" (p. 66). It is not too long though and "some roundshot whistled past our ears. After a few moments an extremely lively fire of guns and musketry started up on our left" (p. 67). Eugène and Poniatowski send their troops to assist Davout's rearguard and a bitter struggle ensues. Finally it is "...Ney who, by coming back to the other corps' assistance, has stabilised the situation" (p. 70). "...The Russians were put to flight, yet without being able to take any of their cannon" (p. 71).. The stragglers though are becoming a bigger and bigger mass "recognising neither chiefs nor discipline and only heeding its thirst for pillage..." (p. 69) and are impeding the rapidly diminishing army.

It begins to snow. "The Russian winter... blasts the army with its icy breath. [...] this suffering of a kind we'd so far not experienced" (p. 87). Vitebsk is lost so we continue on to Smolensk, but "where are all the `immense supplies' that should be here at Smolensk?" (p. 124). "Men flung themselves on the food stores. These were smashed in, looted. There were men killing each other, suffocating each other" (p. 138).

We are with the Guard when it turns at Krasnoe to fight off the Russian army and allow the remnants of IV Corps and I Corps to escape but Ney and the rearguard are cut off. The army marches on towards the Berezina but "as for what is happening to Ney, that's anyone's guess" (p. 191).

So begins the epic night march of Ney and his rearguard to the north of the Russian army to cross the Dnieper. Harassed by Cossacks and surrounded by 100 000 men they are driven on, largely by the force of will of the Marshal, and reach Orsha where Eugène "...has been told to wait until midnight for Ney until midnight" (p. 202). "After the `Qui vive?', to which the answer was `France', he and the Marshal embraced. Immediately there was a joy hard to describe, which somewhat revived our flagging morale" (p. 203).

We move then to the penultimate action of this most disastrous campaign for the French-Allied army and all those in it; the crossing and Battle of the Berezina followed by the slaughter and capture of the remaining stragglers after the bridges are destroyed. "The most afflicting spectacle anyone could see. The Cossacks flung themselves on these people who'd been left behind. They pillaged everything on the opposite bank, where there was a huge quantity of vehicles laden with immense riches. Those who weren't massacred in this first charge were taken prisoner and whatever they possessed was falling to the Cossacks" (p. 312).

Yet those who escape the Berezina are still not yet out of danger. The Emperor makes the decision to quit the army and return to Paris. "This news destroyed what was left of the army's courage. The men were sombre, and lost all hope of ever seeing their own country again" (p. 351). Indeed many would not. Vilna is not the haven hoped for bringing only confusion, illness, a fight for survival and then the Cossacks arrive. "On all sides one heard shouts, oaths, whiplashes being applied, and groans in I don't know how many languages" (p. 390).
Finally, amazingly, some do leave Russia. Count Dumas rejoiced at leaving "that cursed country" and he and some friends were drinking "some excellent coffee when a man in a brown greatcoat entered. He had a long beard. His face was blackened. And he looked as if he'd been burnt. His eyes were red and gleaming. `At last I am here,' he said. `Why, General Dumas! Don't you know me?' `Why no. Who are you?' `I am the rearguard of the Grand Army. I'm Marshal Ney.'"

So this remarkable story ends with the coalition forces buoyed by disaster that has befallen Napoleon's army and him gathering fresh armies to "...defend his crumbling empire" (p. 423).
Austin's account is purely through French-allied eyes and focusses principally on the mistakes, overestimations, poor coordination and examples of Napoleon's `hubris'. The problems and sufferings of the Russians are only covered in-so-much as they are brought about by an invading army. This in no-way detracts from the value of this magnificent book, but merely puts it in context.

This study is a must. These volumes are `keepers' that belong in the personal library of any Napoleonic enthusiast.
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