The Fall of Napoleon, The Allied Invasion of France , Volume A, by Michael V. Leggiere,, volume A, 686 pages, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, November 8, 2007, $35
The Fall of Napoleon explores the waning days of the French First Empire from November 1813 to February 1814, four months that were critical in European history in political, economic and military terms. In the past two years Napoleon had lost nearly 900,000 soldiers in Spain, Russia and Germany. Only 60,000 of the troops he committed to his German campaign returned. Yet the coalition forces arrayed against him, totaling more than 1 million men under arms, hesitated to invade France directly. For about two months they discussed which route would give their offensive the best odds for success.
The Allies also wasted time making diplomatic proposals to Napoleon, which, both due to circumstances and his personality, he would not accept. The child of revolution, he understood that if he capitulated the crowned heads of Europe would not allow him to reign on as a simple king of France. On the other hand, a total war could spread the fire of revolution throughout Europe anew, at that point a problem to the coalition rulers and Napoleon alike.
From a military point of view, while Napoleon remained in Paris for the moment, he ordered his marshals and generals to do more than just hold the line along the Rhine River but to counterattack. Those orders only led to more failures and during January-February 1814 the allied armies were able to occupy one-third of French territory.
In his examination of those four fateful months Michael V.Leggiere, former Chairman and Associate Professor of History at Louisiana State University, now Deputy Director of the Miltary History Center at the University of North Texas, attributes their outcome to Napoleon’s command system, which robbed his generals of the ability to take their own initiative, even while expecting the impossible from them. Still, one must also consider that by then the coalition armies had adopted much of the French army’s organization and tactics, while far surpassing it in quality and quantity. Napoleon had lost too many of his elite troops in Russia. After that debacle the only name that stood out was General Nicolas Maison, for his brilliant defensive maneuvers around Lille.
Leggiere, who spent eight years to collecting the details of this time period, has produced a great book, which is enhanced by 25 maps and 15 illustrations and 14 appendices. Students of military students will find The Fall of Napoleon valuable, but anyone with an interest in the era will find it an engrossing read that will affirm Leggiere’s status among the most important North American writers on the Napoleonic Era.
Thomas Zacharis, FINS, Greece