Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Napoleon's Imperial Headquarters

These two Osprey books form a miniseries, with the first describing the growth and zenith of Napoleon’s headquarters while the second focuses on the 1815 campaign. I bought them to get a better idea of the organisation the imperial household so I could get an idea who was who among the memoirists like Flahaut, de Montesquiou, Mameluke Ali and Fain. 

The books in question plus extra

Apart from that, it was useful to learn the distinctions between the emperor’s Aides de Camp (general officers to be used for independent assignments), his officiers d’ordonnance (junior officers used for inspections and reconnaissance) and the personal Aides de Camp of the Major-Général, Berthiér. Especially as the latter included quite a few critical of the emperor.

For my interests the first part paid too much attention to the civil household, equipment (from coaches to cutlery) and details of camp layout. I would have preferred to learn more of the actual operation of army headquarters. The more limited focus of the second booklet makes it better than its sister. It contains useful information on the composition of the staff, on travel speed and arrangements and a bit more on the actual activity in the army staff. The details on what Napoleon ate and where he slept are more useful to me here as well.

What struck me is that the books are heavily Napoleonophile: the marshals are described as unthankfull and treacherous, and all the mistakes are somebody else's fault. I was actually amazed to find that Pawly had any good words for Soult as Major-Générale. But maybe that’s just playing to the expected audience.

The obvious point to continue the quest are the first few chapters of Elting's Swords Around A Throne.

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