Thursday, 4 April 2019

Book review: The Anatomy of Glory, (still) a favourite

In a previous review, posted on our group's blog, I rated the Napoleonic Army Handbook as a valuable and valued resource because of its combination of detail and general content. No glitz, just full of useful information (albeit with a few minor errors). The Anatomy of Glory is at the other end of the spectrum. This is a gorgeous and valued book due to the subject material, the delightful presentation and the brilliant story-telling of its author—making it a truly treasured tome of mine.

As a boy, I received a copy of the 1978, third edition of this book, published by Arms and Armour Press. It immediately became the favourite in my small, personal collection and remains with the books that Dad kept chez-il. Finding out that Frontline (Pen & Sword) had published a fifth edition (2017) I jumped at the opportunity to receive a copy to review.

I was delighted to be ’reunited’ with the same, wonderful book that I remembered; although with one exception. This version has only 20 colour plates compared with the "over 180 illustrations, including 86 in full colour” of the earlier edition. I am sure that this is a way to reduce the price of the book, but it is a great shame and the only reason that I have given one of my all-time favourite Napoleonic books a mere 9 1/2 / 10!

 One of the black and white plates that was in colour in the third edition.

A glorious painting reproduced in full colour; one of twenty.

The Anatomy of Glory is a fabulous history of Napoleon's Guard: it's men, leaders, campaigns and uniforms. Illustrated with numerous colour and black and white plates (mentioned above), it is replete with fascinating details and comments all told in a witty, conversational fashion. As Anne SK Brown says in her introduction, “Commandant Lachouque has told the story, built around quotations from the letters and reports of the participants, in pithy soldier’s speech. This I have tried to render into colloquial English.” She did a fine job.

The book traces the life, and death, of the guard. The titles of the book’s sections show how the famous formation was linked directly to the fortunes of it’s founder and master: The Guard is Born, The Guard Keeps Watch, The Guard Suffers, The Guard in Splendour, The Guard in Action, The Guard Takes Charge, The Guard At Bay, The Guard Staggers, The Guard Falls, The Guard Dies.

The formation of every unit of the guard is described. Here you will find fascinating details including foundation dates, cost of uniforms and pay; plus interesting observations and insights. Some examples will serve to illustrate.
The Mameluks,
..must cost no more that a chasseur; therefore, since his oriental kit was elaborate and expensive, his pay had to be reduced.” Later though, “the squadron was costly but magnificient—so much so that Bonaparte had to give the Mameluks a bonus over and above their allotment to pay for their kit (pp. 30–31).
The Marines,
Bonaparte, as was his habit, relied principally upon Bonaparte… While he doubted whether soldiers could be made into sailors, he believed he could make sailors into soldiers—provided they were never referred to as such! (p. 33).
Empress Dragoons
Twelve troopers and several officers were levied from each dragoon regiment of the Line to form the first two squadrons, and a third was composed of vélites. The rest of the cadres came from the cavalry of the Guard (p. 71).
Napoleon kept this [losses in battle] in mind when planning the Guard’s organisation for 1806. ‘In case of war two companies of vélites will march with each battalion of the Guard … while 420 old chasseurs and grenadiers would be left at the depot in Paris (p. 74).
Polish chevau-légers

On the 30th, before leaving Warsaw for Willenberg, preceded by the Guard, the Emperor directed Berthier ‘to raise a corps of Polish light-horse to be composed of mend with sufficient education to guarantee their morality (p. 86).

Indeed, the reputation and morality of the Guard was of great importance. “The Guard’s renown required that its discipline be severe. A grenadier caught sleeping out of barracks got fifteen day’s arrest and thirty more ‘on bounds’. A second offence was punished by imprisonment. For misconduct a Guardsman was ‘drummed out’ and expelled from the Corps” (p. 74). Naturally, they had to be impeccable on parade. Prior to the Austrian surrender at Ulm “They had to groom their bearskin bonnets, to brush and brush the fur and hang them up by their chin straps so that when they wore them again they could be trimmed and puffed out in the proper Guard style. Forming single file, each man dressed the hair of the man in front, tied his queue just two inches from the end, stuck the eagle pin into the knot, and spread the powder with a brush” (p. 56). On the battlefield was no exception. Such as at Eylau,
By the light of the fires, with soap melted in the embers, the barbers shaved their comrades. Whatever the circumstances, a grenadier of the Guard must present himself shaved on the battlefield (p. 86).
Also at Friedland,
Behind were the big bearskins of the horse grenadiers and élite gendarmes. Noon. The foot Guard arrived, marching to battle in parade dress with plumes and gloves (p. 99).
They were not impressed at being left as observers,

‘A good day’, the Emperor remarked to the grenadiers.

‘For you perhaps… The bulletin will say we have put on full dress to stand with folded arms.’ grumbled an old-timer (p. 99).

It is well-known that Napoleon took personal interest in everything to do with the guard. There are numerous examples detailed in the book. Here is but one,
The Emperor rewarded individual merit with promotion, the Legion of Honour, or gifts of money. Sometimes he even paid men’s debts. … Nothing was too good for the Guard. Cloth for their overcoats cost 29 francs a metre. (p. 72)

Despite this, the Guard’s uniforms were not always up to scratch. As early as 1805, “even the Guard was wearing pantaloons of every colour of the rainbow—Austrian, Russian, and whatnot” (p. 58). By 1808, “the uniform problems was becoming serious. ‘The colour blue is the best… Besides, it is known as our colour throughout Europe’, the Emperor wrote Dejean on 11 July. But because of the blockade, there was no more indigo. Now that the grenadiers’ coats were dyed ‘with plants grown in the Empire’ (principally woad), their colour was quite unpredictable” (p. 130). By 1815 “…rifle [musket] straps were replaced by string… uniforms resembled those of the provincial national guard… not twenty men could be found wearing the same uniform in any company of the 3rd or 4th Chasseurs” (p. 469). These illustrate the myth of the idea of ‘uniforms’ amongst soldiers of the period, even in the Guard.

In Spain, the Guard Marines “…arrived destitute, lacking shoes, uniforms, equipment, and funds. A dispute between the Ministries of War and Marine left them suspended in mid-air” (p. 112). Of course, it was worse for the conscripts in the line, “…neither uniformed nor paid, whose equipment was stamped: ‘Rejected by the Grande Armée’” (p. 116).

It seems that the best ‘public servant’ mentality was alive and well in the early 19th C. Lachouque provides several other examples.
On 7 March [1807], 45 caissons of furnishings for the Guard left the École Militaire. Everything was packed, tied, and tagged, with detailed invoices in duplicate and papers carrying enough signatures and stamps to make the most punctilious commissary swoon from joy (p. 94).
In 1806, Arrighi complained that his dragoons (the Empress Dragoons) did not have overcoats. He wrote to Archchancellor Cambacérès who supported his request in a letter to Dejean (minister of war for administration). Dejean’s response is pure ‘gold’.
… I hasten to reply to the letter Your Highness did me the honour to write me concerning the request of M. the Colonel Arrighi, colonel of the Dragoons of the Guard, for overcoats for 200 dragoons who left yesterday on foot for the Grande Armée. Were the dragoons going to campaign on foot, doubtless I should have granted them the overcoats indispensable to such service. I should equip any cavalry in a similar situation; however, their situation is quite different. On a journey… conditions are not the same as on campaign where bivouacs and night marches make it mandatory to equip foot soldiers with overcoats. On the contrary, this garment, though useful, has never been considered indispensable on a journey, however long… (p. 83).

So much for asides.

The campaigns, marches and battles, naturally, form a major part of the book. They are told largely from the viewpoint of the Guard and its leaders, so there is more detail as the Guard becomes utilised more in combat—Moscow, 1812 is the half-way mark of the book. Lachouque’s style, using numerous quotes from memoirs, draws the reader into the action. A few extracts will serve to illustrate.

‘Sire’, Mortier replied, ‘I shall hold the enemy back throughout the day. … By placing his troops in two lines instead of three he was able to extend his front by a third. ‘And very thin it is’, a Grumbler observed, ‘like a bone thrown the Muscovites to chew on…’ …The Duke of Treviso, on horseback in the thick of the fire, would hold out until night. … Meanwhile, on the left, the Old Guard had been fighting gloriously to save the fusiliers and clear a path for Davout who was driving a Cossack horde before him. Krasny was on fire, revealing Dante’s inferno. The Russian troopers, yelling like banshees, were sabering everyone they met. The battalion of the 3rd Grenadiers made several charges in the crowded streets, being the last to retire behind the Young Guard and Roguet’s division. … The Old Guard had covered itself with glory. The Russian infantry had never dared attack it (pp. 257–259).

While leading his 5th Tirailleurs, Colonel Hennequin’s horse was suddenly decapitated. Officers and soldiers rushed to his aid as he went down in the snow with the bloody carcass; but he was already on his feet. ‘I am at my post, monsieurs’, he said. ‘Let others remain at theirs.’ Hennequin, of whom it was said that he ‘would laugh only if he were burning’, was very rude, but also rather pathetic. As his servant was saddling another horse a piece of bread fell out of one of his holsters. ‘If one of you needs this more than I’, he said to his soldiers, ‘you are welcome to it’ (p. 263).

‘The young troops were throwing away their arms which strewed the ground over which we galloped’, wrote Major Chlapowksi of the lancers. … Napoleon’s arrival had an electric effect, filling both veterans and recruits with enthusiasm and reassuring their commanders. … General Lanusse and Dumoustier’s first brigade took Kaya with a charge, overwhelming the Russian and Prussian guards defending the village (p. 293).
The over 180 images on 173 plates are grouped close to the sections to which they are most relevant.

At 9 pm the firing ceased. In their bivouacs behind Liebertwolkwitz the soldiers of the Young Guard saw the Emperor arrive on horseback, preceded by two chasseurs with torches. He ordered Mortier’s divisions to keep fires going to deceive the enemy and march by stealth to Leipzig, relieving Bertrand’s corps at Lindenau and the Elster bridges. …a retreat was now inevitable. … On the morning of the 18th the sentries on the front line peered into a cold mist. They kindled fires with the muskets of the dead while waiting for the enemy attack. … Schwarzenberg was making a determined attempt to cross the river at Connewitz to cut off the French line of retreat. He did not succeed; nor did Wittgenstein at Probstheida, a centre of resistance where Curial’s division covered itself with glory. Nor did Blücher at Reudntiz, though reinforced by Benningsen and the renegade Bernadotte, whose arrival provoked the French army to fury, and in spite of the Saxons and Württemberg cavalry who suddenly turned against their comrades-in-arms. … The shock of forces let loose was tremendous. The ensuing struggle was fought to the death, desperately and without mercy, amid the deadening din of artillery, falling masonry, cries of rage against the traitor whose marshal’s baton was bought with French blood, and shouts of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ pp. 317–318.
The changing make-up of the grande armée is an interesting bit of detail that Lachouque includes as part of his description of the various campaigns. In 1805, “The Grande Armée now included 180 000 Frenchman, 22 000 Bavarians, 3 000 Württembergers and 2 500 Badeners” (p. 57). By 1806 “On 7 October the Grand Army of 190 000 French and 33 000 Bavarians and Germans were gathered in the Rhine valley…” (p. 78). “In 1812 the Grand Army of Europe consisted of eleven infantry and four cavalry corps totalling 350 000 men with 1 300 guns. These included 270 000 French in 15 divisions, 40 000 garrison troops, and 15 000 foreign mercenaries serving in Swiss, Illyrian and Croatian regiments and the Portuguese Legion. All these wore the French cockade. The 170 000 troops of the European Confederation were divided between Polish, Bavarian, Saxon and Westphalian army corps; Italian, Neapolitan, Württemberg, and Danish divisions; and brigades from Baden, Berg, Hesse, and Mecklenberg. Finally an Austrian corps and several Prussian divisions contained 60 000 allies” (p. 217). A chapter is devoted to the rebuilding of the army in 1813, focussing on the guard as it became an army in its own right.

While clearly admiring and glorifying the Guard, Lachouque is not completely blinded. For example, the irony is clearly intended in his repeating of Napoleon’s comment to Mack at the surrender of Ulm, ‘All empires come to an end’, Napoleon told the vanquished general (p. 56). Then, by the end of 1807,
Drunk with glory, the Guard went into winter quarters. It was the keystone of the arch supporting the Imperial edifice; the order founded by the living god who held dominion over the world and who had assigned it, as a rule, the cult of honour. Napoleon had founded this lay religion on French pride, and raised it to sublime height of virtue and sacrifice. It imbued the soldiers of the Guard with the self-confidence, self-respect, and fidelity that the old aristocracy had acquired by education and tradition” (pp. 106–107). In late 1812, “He had some illusions on the subject, for he did not realise that the peoples of Europe—who only understood later what he had done for them—were about to rise against him p. 275).

I have said much about Lachouque’s colourful prose. Perhaps his best is left for his description of the relationship of Napoleon and the Guard. “The Emperor alone commanded the Guard. No one had the right, nor the power, to touch this prerogative. Whoever belonged to the Guard was under his authority and protection. His gratitude to those who gave him loyalty and devotion conferred grandeur upon the word ‘service’ which the vain and the mediocre consider demeaning” (p 124). Finally, “Napoleon, a citizen of France, was a universal genius. From the Frenchman of his day he fashioned the Imperial Guard and led it to immortality” (p. 505). What an ending to a book.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.


  1. Great review thanks James! Will add to the wishlist :)

    1. I'd put it near the top Mark! :)
      Thanks for leaving a comment.

  2. Fantastic review Fish. I have an affection for thi book as well as I recall visiting Foyles in London way back in 1996 and paying 100 quid for a first edition complate with cardboard protective box which still sits happily on my bookshelf...right next to another first edition I picked up 15 years later for $20.00!!!
    Probably on eof my favourite books on the period alongside Elting's Swords Around the Throne.

    1. Ah those were the days, eh Carlo? Isn't it marvellous to have such accessibility and prices nowadays (even down here in the antipodes)?

  3. I was indeed fortunate to pick upa copy of this wonderful book second hand, with a library style protective cover, for $20.