With Napoleon's Guard in Russia - The memoirs of Major Vionnet 1812, Louis Joseph Vionnet, trans. Jonathan North

With Napoleon's Guard in Russia - The memoirs of Major Vionnet 1812, Louis Joseph Vionnet, trans. Jonathan North

Major Louis Joseph Vionnet was an officer in the Fusiliers-Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard during the campaign in Russia in 1812. He escaped from Russia, but was wounded during the campaign in Germany in 1813. In this account we reach Moscow fairly quickly, but the level of detail increases after that and the main part of the memoirs look at the costly retreat from Moscow.

This is one of those accounts of the 1812 campaign that makes one wonder how any members of the Grand Army managed to escape from Russia. Vionnet paints a picture of a beaten mob struggling through the snows of Russia, almost surrounded by Cossacks, closely pursued by the main Russian armies and dying of starvation and the cold. This is a fairly grim account of a massive human tragedy.

The main text is supported by appendices that include other accounts of key events, in particular the fighting at Krasnoe where the Guard suffered very heavy losses. This is a nice idea and gives us a wider image of this particular battle. There is also a sizable introduction, looking at the history of the Fusiliers-Grenadiers and at Vionnet's own career, which again helps put the events in some context.

Vionnet is an unusual witness in that he was a member of the Imperial Guard but not a supporter of Napoleon. He blames the Emperor's ego for the sufferings of the Grand Army, and the destruction of the Guard, and went on to serve the restored Bourbons. This gives these memoirs a somewhat different tone to those written by supporters of the Emperor and makes them a valuable contribution to the history of the 1812 campaign.

Introduction - Vionnet and his Regiment
The 1807 Campaign
The Peninsular War
Austrian Interlude
Back to Spain
Russia in 1812
Germany and France

The Memoirs
The Advance to Vilna
The Battle for Smolensk
The Great Fire
Smolensk Again
Destruction at Krasnoe
Crossing the Beresina
The Aftermath
In Berlin
In Paris
My New Appointment

Author: Louis Joseph Vionnet
Translator and Editor: Jonathan North
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

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