Thursday, 25 August 2022

Books, glorious books

I really, really like books; particularly those about military history, most particularly if to do with the Napoleonic era, even more if about campaigns or uniforms and especially when beautifully presented, hard-bound tomes!

I have bored readers previously by noting that, if forced to chose, I'd take my books over my figures. Any time. Of course, I am in the fortunate position of not having to, so it's a bit like the 'game' of considering which sense you'd 'prefer' to lose (although far, far more trivial, of course). But then, loss of any of the senses would impact my ability to enjoy books or figures to the extent that I can at present. Enough of that digression...

I recently had a quadruple dose of material delight when I ordered two special books, published by Le Livre Chez Vous (Éditions du Quotidien)#, which, due to an 'administrative error', became four. More on doubling later, but firstly to the two that I ordered:

(#Le Livre Chez Vous publish a range of titles, including a large catalogue on the Napoleonic period and the magazines 'Gloire & Empire' and 'Soldats Napoleoniens'. Sadly, their website has been being renovated for some months now. They provide links to resellers stocking their books, which is how I came to the shop of L'Est Républicain and these books).

Napoléon en Pologne- La campagne de 1806-1807, and
Napoléon en Autriche - La campagne de 1809 - Les opérations du 24 avril au 12 juillet.

These are particularly glorious, beautifully presented, hard-bound tomes.

The visual and tactile first impressions are sheer delight, thanks to the A4 format, heavy stock, beautiful layout and plethora of colour pictures. Examples of the latter appear on every page. The text includes a description of events of the campaigns/phases indicated by the titles with numerous quotes from eyewitness accounts (based on reports and memoirs—more on that later too). I have leafed through the pages, reading sections here and there so cannot yet comment in detail on the text. I can say that they are both well-written, in an interesting, story-telling style and in French that is easily comprehensible to me with my intermediate level.

Some sample pages from "Napoléon en Pologne" will serve to illustrate.

Three examples of the pages showing layout and illustrations. Every page includes illustrations. The majority of these are in colour and show personalities, actions, units, photos of locations and items of uniform from museums. I had only seen a handful of the illustrations previously: the 'famous' ones and some from the issues of  'Gloire et Empire' magazine covering this campaign.

Several pictures are presented as a double-page spread.

I found this view of Friedland and associated contemporary photos really interesting and they will be useful the next time I attempt to recreate the battle.

The book includes numerous maps of two types: some showing the distribution of forces and key geographic points at different stages of the campaign and others illustrating battles. The maps are colourful and clear, but only those of the overall campaign have a scale indicated. This is so frustrating. Why do publishers/authors do this?!!
I particularly liked the 'snow' landscape of this map of Eylau!

Orders of battle are provided for the three armies, French-Allied, Russian and (where appropriate) Prussian at the outset of the campaign and for each of the key battles (Golymin, Pultusk, Eylau, and Friedland).

I learn something everyday, even about topics of which I think I have a reasonable grasp.
I have read a lot about the campaign of 1807, but was not previously aware of this incident at Friedland of fire from horseback from the French dragoons against the charge of the uhlans (and one squadron of Lifeguard Cossacks). In the book there is a quote from Grouchy praising the action of the dragoons, but, unfortunately, no great detail. I found more about the incident on the 'Napoleon, His Army and Enemies' website which quotes cornet F. V. Bulgarin of Grand Duke Constantine Uhlans who says that the "...French dragoons halted and stood motionless like a stonewall [kak kamennaia stiena] waiting for the enemy... the second rank grabbed their muskets and began firing while those in the first rank drew sabres and waited. The charging uhlans first slowed down and then halted. The French sounded massive “En avant ! Vive l’Empereur!” and advanced forward en masse. The uhlans and Cossacks gave way before the sheer weight of the column."

In the foreword to the book, the authors, Natalia Griffon de Pleineville and Vladimir Chikanov, note the paucity of material about the 1807 campaign in Poland. They highlight the challenge of relying on 'eyewitness' accounts that were often written long after the events and as justification for the author's actions, in the politics of the day and/or simply with the reminiscence of older age. Their approach has been to utilise official publications of the day (which also have their limitations, as they note), along with selected quotes from French, Polish, German and Russian sources. The result, from my skimming, is a rich and vibrant description that was/is a great addition to available books about the campaign prior to its publication.

The book is organised in forty, brief/shortish chapters (a format that I like as it suits my 'bite-sized' approach to reading) plus several, detailed appendices covering military decorations and awards, a reproduction of Victor Hugo's 'Cimetière d'Eylau' (his father was an officer in the French army in the time of Napoleon), place names in 1807 and today, all of the proclamations and bulletins of the Grande Armée during the campaign, the acts signed at Tilsit, bibliography and index of names. It's a beauty!

I look forward to reading it in detail.

Error in my favour

I had been interested in "Napoléon en Pologne" since first seing in on the Le Livre Chez Vous website a few years ago. It sounded great, but the list price of 145 was far outside my budget! I took the plunge when I followed the link on the 'under construction' website of Le Livre Chez Vous to the website of L'Est Republicain and saw that the price had been reduced to €45 . I enquired about it along with the volume covering the second part of the 1809 campaign. It would still be a big purchase, since postage was near the price of the books, but the description of the quality of the publications, the involvement of Natalia Griffon de Pleineville and past experience with publications for Le Livre Chez Vous convinced me they'd be worth it.

I was super excited when, early in July, just eleven days after making payment, my wife said that she'd collected a large, heavy package for me. My delight changed to confusion when I opened the package and saw neither of the books that I'd expected. Instead, two of the others that I'd considered were contained therein:

"La bataille de Taroutino" and "La bataille de Polotsk".

I contacted L'Est Republicain immediately. They replied promptly. The books had been sent in error. Mine would be sent to me, although there would be a delay as they were taking holidays from Bastille Day until early August. What to do with the ones that I had received?

I had not opened them (they were wrapped in plastic), as they were not mine. There was a bit of toing and froing. They offered to me to purchase them at cover price only (i.e. without the cost of postage). I thought about it, but since I had already made a big purchase I was not keen on another. So, I offered to return them if they sent me the cost of postage. They declared that the cost of returning them was prohibitive and so I could keep them. It was then that I removed the plastic covering and looked inside.

Wow! They were beautiful. Some pages from La bataille de Polotsk will illustrate.

The books come in a rigid case and have a lovely, textured, pseudo-leather (vinyl) cover.

Like "Napoléon en Pologne" and "Napoléon en Autriche" (which, of course, I saw later) they are lavishlly illustrated with the same range of quality images (most not seen previously by me).

Not every page has illustrations, but the text is a clear and pleasing font, written in French that is accessible to me, providing a lot of detail and including quotes from Bavarian, French and Russian eyewitness accounts.

Several, beautiful illustrations of uniforms by A. Yejov are presented.

This painting by Peter von Hess, which graces the cover of the case and is an example of the few, known to me, more 'famous' ones that are in the book, is reproduced inside with a detailed and useful description.

Some paintings are reproduced as double-page spreads, in equsite detail/quality.

Another beauty by Yejov. The caption for this one erroneously notes the cuirassiers as being from the 2e regt. The Russian hussars are indeed the Grodno regt and it is pleasing that the artist has shown them in dolman only. While I prefer my wargaming Russian hussars in all their splendour of dolman and pelisse, it is more accurate to them in dolman only. The pelisses were left at the depot to make the weilding of the lances easier.

Numerous maps illustrate the series of battles that comprised the campaign within a campaign that was the first and second battle of Polotsk. Like "Napoléon en Pologne" above, there two types of maps: those showing the overall campaign and those showing battles, but only the former have scales—arrrrrgh!!

Orders of battle are presented in the appendices

"La bataille de Taroutino" follows the same format and is equally fabulous.

These were a real windfall and it was like that "bank error in your favour" card in Monopoly. Having opened them and seeing how lovely they were, it felt a bit strange to have received them for free. It did not sit well with me and felt dishonourable. So, I have paid for them and now feel that I have legimitate copies.

Painting progress—not much, but...

I posted on my non-Napoleonic blog about the lack of much progress with painting over the past couple of months. I expect that to change over the next two to three months, so reckon I'll have the early Austrians illstrated below, and a few others, marching out the other side of my 'active' painting queue.

All of the horses need painting on these early Austrian uhlans (Mészáros regt) and grenz hussars (along with the Polish-Italian legion lancers); then all colours for the base coat will be completed.

The Gyulai Freikorps (made from converted Airfix and Esci Royal Horse Artillery gunners) are ready for basing material, black-wash and then highlights. The early grenz, converted from Hat later grenzer, need mobs of white since "even the black bits [belts] were white" in 1796.


Bessonov, V (2010) La bataille de Taroutino. Translated by N Goutina. First Published 2008. Le Livre Chez Vous, Paris France. 165 pp.

Cavalry Tactics and Combat Napoleonic Wars (Parts 2 and 3). Napoleon, His Army and Enemies website.

Griffon de Pleineville, N and Chikanov, V (2008) Napoléon en Pologne- La campagne de 1806-1807. Le Livre Chez Vous, Paris France. 610 pp.

Molières, M (2004) Napoléon en Autriche - La campagne de 1809 - Les opérations du 24 avril au 12 juillet. Le Livre Chez Vous, Paris France. 600 pp.

Popov, A (2013) La bataille de Polotsk : opérations sur la Dvina occidentale, août 1812. Translated by N Goutina. Le Livre Chez Vous, Paris France. 173 pp.