Napoleon 1814

The Defence of France

By Andrew Uffindell

front cover - Napoleon 1814

Napoleon's campaign to defend France in 1814 from invasion by an array of Allied armies, although ultimately unsuccessful, is generally regarded as one of his most expertly executed. Although all of Napoleon's campaigns have been studied in depth by historians, this one seems to have been given comparatively light treatment, certainly when considered alongside the Russian and Waterloo campaigns. Andrew Uffindell takes a great stride toward addressing this disparity in his book, "Napoleon 1814: The Defence of France".

After the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812 and the defeat at Leipzig in 1813, Napoleon found himself in the unfamiliar position of fighting a defensive campaign. France herself was under threat from a huge force composed primarily of Russian, Austrian and Prussian troops - Napoleon's traditional enemies over the previous fifteen years. This was supplemented by contingents from many of the smaller states that he had subjugated during his years of conquest, many seeking revenge. What followed was a campaign of tremendous mobility; components of Napoleon's vastly outnumbered force being constantly shifted back and forth to counter the advances of the various approaching Allied armies. Uffindell captures this dynamism expertly and the reader is given a real sense of the pace of the campaign.

Frankly, this is an excellent book. Thorough use has been made of eyewitness accounts and other source material and, while the subject matter is covered in great detail, this never threatens to disrupt the flow of the narrative. Rather, it adds both interest and authenticity, providing colour and texture throughout. Significant supplemental information is provided in appendices, including orders of battle, sunrise and sunset times and even weather reports for every day of the campaign. Uffindell uses his depth of research to challenge several of the generally held opinions about the campaign. For example, Napoleon's final manoeuvre sur les derrieres is widely criticised by historians as a desperate gamble but Uffindell provides evidence to argue that it was more carefully considered than is generally thought. Similarly, Schwarzenberg's apparent reluctance to take the initiative at various times during the campaign is attributed by Uffindell more to prudence than indecision. These arguments demonstrate Uffindell's knowledge of the material and his confidence in his research.

Moreover, this book looks beyond the purely military aspects of the campaign and studies the effect on the population as a whole. This was a time of tremendous upheaval in France and it is interesting to consider the consequences of the fighting itself, the subsequent foreign occupation and the ultimate regime change. Uffindell devotes the final section of the book to these subjects and the book definitely benefits from it.

All in all, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It has been meticulously researched, resulting in a thoroughly interesting and absorbing read. Even if you are already familiar with Napoleon's 1814 campaign, this book will offer something new.

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