The End of Empire: Napoleon's 1814 Campaign, George Nafziger

The End of Empire: Napoleon's 1814 Campaign, George Nafziger

The campaign of 1814 is widely regarded as one of Napoleon's best. Despite being massively outnumbered by a combined Russian, Prussian, Austrian and German army Napoleon managed to win a series of impressive victories that forced his opponents onto the defensive, but eventually the Allies were able to take Paris. The fall of his capital effectively marked the end of Napoleon's legitimacy, and despite a brief effort to recapture the city he was soon forced to abdicate and go into exile.

At first site this appears to be a massive text. It is indeed a long book, although one third of the over 750 pages are actually made up of appendices, mainly with orders of battle. This still leaves 500 pages for a campaign that only really lasted for two months.

At the start the text is a bit stodgy, looking at the opening moves of the campaign as the Allies approached and crossed the French border and attacked the French positions in the Low Countries (even so this section is still a very useful reference). The text gets more lively and readable once Napoleon enters the picture in person and begins to confuse the Allies with his rapid movements and unexpected attacks.

Some accounts of this campaign are more positive about the Allied commanders, portraying them as deliberately adopting a plan to avoid major confrontations with Napoleon, withdrawing when he appeared in person and advancing where he was absent. A close examination of Allied actions, orders and contemporary comments makes it clear that this wasn't the case. The Allies retreated where Napoleon was present because he repeatedly defeated them, and advanced when he was absent because his Marshals lacked his abilities. Most of the time the Allied commanders were responding (rather badly) to Napoleon's moves, without any clear plan of their own.

The end of the campaign thus comes as more of a surprise than in many accounts. Napoleon decided to leave Paris exposed to attack and move east to attack his enemy's lines of communications. Everything that had happened so far suggested that this would force them to withdraw, but for the first time Prince Schwarzenberg, the overall Allied commander, took a gamble. He ignored Napoleon and advanced straight to Paris. While Napoleon attempted to rush back into position, the Marshals defending the city fought for one day and then surrendered Paris to the Allies. With his capital gone Napoleon's regime began to crumble and a few days later he was forced to abdicate. However this account makes it clear that his move east wasn't quite as big a gamble as its result would suggest - nothing the Allies had done earlier in the campaign suggested that they were capable of quite such a daring move.

Nafziger's account shows that this was indeed one of Napoleon's most impressive campaigns, on a par with his earlier victories in Italy. Although he was only able to delay his fall by two months, this was with many of his best troops trapped in besieged fortresses and an army largely made up of new recruits. This is a splendid account of this campaign, covering just about every action fought on the eastern borders of France during 1814, and an invaluable reference for anyone interested in Napoleonic history.

Chapters
1 - The 1814 Campaign Begins
2 - Negotiations and Politics
3 - Operations in the Lowlands, December 1813-March 1814
4 - The Invasion of Switzerland, January 1814
5 - A Battle Won and a Battle Lost: The Battles of Brienne and La Rothière, 31 January-1 February 1814
6 - The Aftermath of La Rothière
7 - Six Marvellous Days: The Battles of Champaubert, Château Thierry, Montmirail and Vauchamps
8 - Actions to the North and South, 6-16 February 1814
9 - The Allies Withdraw: The Engagements at Mormant, Valjouan, Montereau and Méry, 15-23 February 1814
10 - The Allies Withdraw Beyond the Aube
11 - The Battles of Craone, Laon and Rheims, 5-15 March 1814
12 - Schwarzenberg Resumes the Offensive: The Engagements at Bar and La Ferté, 26 February-18 March 1814
13 - Napoleon's March on the Aube: The Skirmishes at La Fère-Champenoise, Plancy and Méry
14 - Operations on the Army of Silesia, 13-30 March 1814
15 - Peace and Politics: The Congress of Châtillon
16 - Operations in the Lowlands: The Assault on Bergen-op-Zoom and the Battle of Courtrai, March-April 1814
17 - Operations around Lyon: The Battle of Mâcon, Saint-Georges and Limonest
18 - The House of Cards Collapses: The Battle of La Fère-Champenoise
19 - The Battle and Occupation of Paris, 30 March 1814
20 - The Battles and Sieges on the Eastern Frontier of France
21 - The Last Days of the Empire: Marmont's Treachery, Souham's Defection and Napoleon's Abdication

Author: George Nafziger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 768
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2015


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