Sunday, 25 May 2014

Review: Blücher: Scourge of Napoleon

Blücher: Scourge of Napoleon
Blücher: Scourge of Napoleon by Michael V. Leggiere

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Probably now the best account of Blücher's life as a commander in English. It didn't shock my view of Blücher after reading Henderson and some other stuff. Blücher was not the charging madman he has sometimes been made to be, but a rational and aggressive commander. Although his great strength lay in the maintenance of the ultimate objective (defeating Napoleon decisively on the battlefield) and inspiration of the men under his command he was clearly more involved in the running of the army than his detractors have suggested.

Driven by his sense of personal pride and urge to show that he loved the Prussian king more than the Prussians he was often more hurt by suggestions of disloyalty on his side or royal disfavour than loss on the battlefield. However, it seems he sought death on the battlefield at Vauchamps at the end of the disastrous week when Napoleon beat his dispersed corps 4 times in 6 days.

Strategically he showed his best during the fall campaign of 1813, when he managed to occupy Napoleon by keeping in close touch and reading his opponents actions well. His pursuit of MacDonald after the Katzbach forced Napoleon to break off the pursuit of the Army of Bohemia and prevented the emperor from moving against Berlin. His move to unite with Bernadotte´s Army of the North was the decisive move of the campaign, but his choice to evade Napoleon by crossing the Saale was of similar brilliance.

In all these cases the question is of course whether the genius was his or Gneisenau´s. To me it appears that Blücher's letters show enough comprehension of the siutation to suggest that he was heavily involved in the decisions. As his moves during 1814 and 1815 show, he was not afraid to try the unconventional, and this seems to have confounded Napoleon.

As one of the few allied commanders not afraid to take on the French emperor himself and because of his ability to draw others along he is probably the single most important military commander on the allied side in the defeat of Napoleon after 1812.

In his personal life he showed many traits of the 'hussar' lifestyle, but he was also a committed husband and father. Leggiere stressed that he also wasn't an uneducated boor, but that the connections made during his period outside the army and especially with the Freemasons, made him socially flexible.

Hats of to Leggiere for this great work, but I think I would have preferred if he had finished his account of the 1814 campaign first.

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