This is the second part of a trilogy that uses eyewitness accounts to follow the progress of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The focus in this volume is on the period the French spent in Moscow, from their arrival in mid-September to their departure in mid-October, and the first week after their departure, when Napoleon still hoped to force a decisive battle.
I must admit I did wonder if the stay in Moscow would provide enough material for an entire book, but Britten Austin has had no problem in filling this compelling book. There are several distinct strands to the text: the dramatic fire that destroyed large parts of the city; the every day life of the soldiers in partly destroyed Moscow; the continuing military activities as Ney's advance guard fenced with the Russian armies outside the city; the failure of Napoleon's attempts to turn Borodino and the occupation of Moscow into a political victory and finally the decision to leave Moscow, the first days of that movement and the first major clash with the Russian armies outside Moscow - a battle that forced Napoleon to reconsider his plans, and that helped lead to the disastrous decision to return west along the same route used on the initial invasion.
The book is built around extracts from the accounts of over 100 eyewitnesses to the campaign, some of the very highest rank and others from the ranks, and covering most of the nationalities that were present with the army (French, Italian, German and Dutch accounts are most common). The eyewitness accounts are linked by a text that is part narrative and part commentary, and that provides a solid frame for the book.
This is a very high quality piece of work, and provides an invaluable account of an often-overlooked period in the disastrous invasion of Russia, but a period in which the quality of the French army began to decline and winter crept ever closer. As with the first of the three, this entry in Britten Austin's trilogy comes highly recommended.
1 - 'Fire! Fire!'
2 - Napoleon Leaves the Kremlin
3 - The Fair of Moscow
4 - A Disconsolate Advance Guard
5 - Settling in for the Winter?
6 - Marauding Parties
7 - Lovely Autumn Weather
8 - A Lethal Truce
9 - Preparations for Departure
10 - Battle at Winkovo
11 - Taking French Leave
12 - 'Where Our Conquest of the World Ended'
13 - 'That's Enough, Gentlemen. I Shall Decide'
Author: Paul Britten Austin
Year: 2012 edition of 1995 original