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"Best book on the French army" Topic

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Lord Hill10 Dec 2018 7:26 a.m. PST

I have recently become very interested in the French napoleonic army, especially for the later period. For the British army I know there are some excellent books (Philip Haythornwaite's Armies of Wellington is perhaps the best) which detail recruitment, training, discipline, pay and pensions, life on campaign etc etc. It's this level of the ordinary soldier that I find fascinating rather than books about generals and marshals.

Could anybody recommend anything similar for the French army of the period?

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 7:35 a.m. PST

Try Elting's 'Swords Around a Throne'. An entertaining read and full of information.

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 7:49 a.m. PST

Philip Haythornwaite has a similar one on the French.


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 8:01 a.m. PST

Swords Around a Throne is an organizational history of the Grande Armee.

It is the best book on the subject that I have found since I began studying the period in 1965 or so.

Redblack10 Dec 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

David Chandler's." The Campaigns of Napoleon" -a classic and in my humble opinion still the best

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 8:18 a.m. PST

I disagree. The Esposito/Elting Atlas is superior as to campaigns and battles. And the maps are superb.

That being said, neither Changler's Campaigns nor the Atlas cover the material in the OP-Swords does.

Lord Hill10 Dec 2018 8:35 a.m. PST

Many thanks for the recommendations – I will look for the Haythornwaite one and 'Swords Around a Throne'.

Just to repeat, I'm not interested in campaigns and battles – I have dozens of such books. I'm specifically interested in the lives of the ordinary French soldier – recruitment, training, life on campaign etc.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 11:10 a.m. PST

Campaigns of Napoleon looks at the ordinary French soldier pretty well, as I recall. Maybe better than the others mentioned. (I am going by memory of reading all of them long ago.)

Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 11:17 a.m. PST

You might also find Napoleon's Infantry Handbook of interest: link

gboue200110 Dec 2018 12:13 p.m. PST

First learn fench language, second find this huge book

"L'Armée napoléonienne" by Alain Pigeard , edition Curandera, 977pages. 1993

Remember that all rehashed books written by godons are no match compared to french historian's work.

Just kidding!

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2018 12:26 p.m. PST

If you can read French, Le Soldat Imperiale is excellent and very helpful. The author is Jean Morvan and is in two volumes.

Military Life Under Napoleon by Elzear Blaze is also excellent and is a primary source. It is one of the best of the soldier-memoirs from the Grande Armee.

von Winterfeldt10 Dec 2018 1:10 p.m. PST

I agree with gboue2001 – best books for French Army, are in French, but for me Pigeard is poor compared to the two volumes of Morvan : Le Soldat Impérial (it is available for download).

Prince of Essling10 Dec 2018 2:34 p.m. PST

Agree totally with vW:

Le Soldat links
Volume 1 PDF link
Volume 2 PDF link

Berzerker7310 Dec 2018 6:28 p.m. PST

Swords Around the Throne is fantastic!

La Fleche10 Dec 2018 8:05 p.m. PST

A good and interesting work on the recruitment aspects of the French army in the broader context of French society at that time is:

Forrest, Alan. Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society During the Revolution and Empire

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Dec 2018 3:40 a.m. PST

All of Alan Forrest's work is excellent and also highly recommended.

von Winterfeldt11 Dec 2018 4:11 a.m. PST

thanks for the links, very good scans, I had worse ones, and updated my copies, yes indeed Morvan – the best source about the topic – quite down to earth without the usual legend building as in swords – yes if pays to learn la langue de la liberté

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Dec 2018 5:14 a.m. PST

Which 'legends' were in Swords?

Or perhaps your oft-repeated innate prejudice against Swords is because it is complimentary to the Grande Armee and demonstrates that Napoleon was a great captain?

21eRegt11 Dec 2018 9:36 a.m. PST

Besides Elting which I heartily endorse, you should also check out "Napoleon's Infantry Handbook" by T.E. Crowdy. Tons and tons of fascinating minutia.

Lord Hill18 Dec 2018 2:18 a.m. PST

Thank you all. I've now bought the Haythornwaite one (a bit too basic for my needs but would be a great introduction, and I would have loved it when I was a kid) and Elting's "Swords Around A Throne" which is absolutely excellent and exactly what I was looking for.

14Bore18 Dec 2018 12:47 p.m. PST

After reading Napoleonic war ligature 40 years recently picked up Swords Around the Throne, thats where you should start.

14Bore18 Dec 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

I also have Napoleon's Infantry Handbook, fascinating to see what the average infantryman carried and went through

Lord Hill18 Dec 2018 2:14 p.m. PST

Thanks, I'll give that a look too

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP18 Dec 2018 2:22 p.m. PST

It's a fair book and worth having. That being said, the information is also included in Swords as well as certain memoirs, such as Elzear Blaze's.

Unfortunately, the author (whom I consider quite good) tried to translate certain French terms into English (he does the same thing in his Marengo book, which is also quite good) which loses some of the feel of the period. They don't always translate well. Using the French terms is much better, more accurate, as well as more colorful.

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