15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
"Don't worry lads, the gaffer knows what he's doing...",
This review is from: 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow (Paperback)Such may have been the comments of the members of the half million strong "Grande Armee" of Napoleon Bonaparte as they trudged to Moscow and back in 1812 under appalling conditions. Adam Zamoyski's book is a fine narrative history of the period leading up to and the actual invasion of Russia by Napoleon's France in 1812. In many ways a well-written military narrative history is better than a good novel and the epic events described in "1812" certainly make for a gripping read. The main characters in the drama are Emperor Napoleon, the (now paunchy) Gallic serial conqueror in the mould of Julius Caesar and Tsar Alexander of Russia, a stubborn , strong-willed expansionist committed to preserving the feudal order which Napoleon had overthrown elsewhere in French-occupied Europe. The crux of their dispute lay with their conflicting plans for the future of Poland and Russia's abandonment of Napoleons Continental System (enforced boycott of British produce.Differences of opinion there may have been between Napoleon and Alexander on these issues, but surely it was hardly worth a full scale war in which half a million people died on the barren,snowy wastelands of Lithuania, Belarus and Russia ?
"1812" clearly demonstrates that the invasion of Russia had more to do with a clash of egos than any imminent military threat or political differences between the two protagonists. Napoleon wanted an alliance with the Tsar, for Alexander to defer to him on important issues and to cease his expansionism into the West. He most certainly didn't want a regime change in Russia or a bloody war and this caution led to Napoleons downfall. He was too proud to compromise with Russia before the invasion and too timid in his objectives once the decision to invade went ahead. Napoleon wanted to call Russias bluff and achieve peace on his terms by marching a huge army to Russias borders but Alexander didnt capitulate as Napoleon had expected. When he finally sacked Moscow (why not go to St Petersburg ?) ,still Alexander refused to negotiate a peace deal and not knowing what to do next with the winter approaching, Napoleon retreated.The retreat turned into a total disaster which decimated the "Grande Armee" and ultimately led to Napoleons political demise and the end of French power. The aforementioned lack of clear objectives by Napoleon were the key to his failure, as well as the abysmal planning and organisation of transport and supplies for the huge army. From a purely military point of view , the French were tactically superior to the Russian Army and more skilled in battle, but the freezing weather,starvation and lack of shelter they suffered destroyed this superiority and turned what was to have been an orderly, temporary retreat into an embarrassing flight and a damage limitation exercise.
Zamoyski's "1812" serves up a wealth of detail about the French invasion, much of it in the form of eye-witness accounts which gives the reader an insight into the mood of the army at various stages of the campaign and the horrific conditions they suffered. The lucky ones were killed in battle; most of the rest froze to death ,died of exhaustion , caught a fatal disease, were killed and/or tortured by Russian soldiers or peasants or sold into servitude. The wounded were locked up in hospitals more akin to prisons and left to die without food ,water and proper sanitation. Visceral accounts by eye-witnesses of cannibalism, "fricasees of cat" and the hacking off of chunks of flesh from live horses by ravenous soldiers ,while their owners werent looking, make the whole book very vivid and makes the tragedy of 1812 more poignant.
I would definitely recommend this book; it's an epic story describing a dramatic series of memorable events, the humiliation of a great Emperor, the merciless destruction of a massive army and the unimaginable suffering of its soldiers.