Book Review:
Napoleon's Last Grande Armee

To order from Military History Press click here

By Alfred Umhey

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee The 1813 Campaign in Germany ruined Napoleon Bonaparte's last major fighting army and all but ended any hopes he had of maintaining an empire far outside of France's borders.

All up the French had more than 500,000 men under arms but that was dwarfed in comparison with the mighty combined Allied armies of about 700,000 soldiers.

As the battles of Lutzen, Bautzen, Kulm, Dresden, Dennewitz and Katzbach took their toll, Napoleon Bonaparte had only some 200,000 men at Leipzig to fight the Allies' 350,000 soldiers.

Leipzig was the Battle of Nations - the largest clash of arms of the Napoleonic Wars - and France's defeat resulted in an end to the campaign of German liberation.

Never again would an exhausted France field a Grande Armee and so author and historian Alfred Umhey's magnificent bound volume of uniform plates from the Dresden and Freiberg manuscripts enshrines the 1813 army in pictorial history.

Umhey was curator of the German Army Museum and is now a consultant for museums and historical exhibitions.

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee is a stunning 1000-copy limited edition that is the finest book I have seen on the Napoleonic Wars.

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee It is leather bound with gilt-edged pages, is larger than A4-sized paper and is of an unsurpassed quality. And we haven't even got to the information packed within its 348 pages - or the sensational full-colour picture plates.

It should be noted we are very fortunate to see these rare images as many images in the manuscripts were lost for much of the 20th century. They disappeared in 1963 and the missing Freiberg Manuscript became a legend.

The plates are from artworks done by artists Kurt Winkler (1794-1862) and Charles Brun (1825-1908) with the latter using as a reference the works of Christoph Bommer (1790-?) in the Dresden Manuscripts.

Bommer's works were known, but for 200 years the artist himself was not identified and it took a chance discovery in an antique store to find out who had created the body of work. It came about when a watercolour of a French marshal led to a signature that was recognised and connected to the uniform plates.

There are 50 Winkler watercolours and 63 from Brun based on the Freiberg Manuscripts and a further 34 by Brun from the Dresden collection.

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee All up in Napoleon's Last Grande Armee there are almost 150 full-page colour uniform plates, complete with a facing page of details on the troops and a brief description of where they were serving during 1813. Many of the works include ink sketches.

Generals, voltigeurs, dragoons, chasseur a cheval, lancers, Poles, Swiss, Croats, Italians, Neopolitans - they are all covered.

In addition you have detail on cavalry cloaks of the various units, horse furntiture, the artillery and their horses and excellent views of soldier's packs. I found this really interesting seeing how various objects - including a leg of ham, loaf of bread, metal plate - were packed. I loved the chained rabbit on top of one of them.

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee is one of those rare books that even non-Napoleonic fans can look at and go "Wow!". In fact even I - despite my vast Napoleonic library - was a little awed by it. I just wanted to touch it and admire it and it took a wee while to get the courage up to thumb through it.

The volume is not cheap - around US$250 - but its superb presentation and magnificent collection of plates makes it shine out as a must-have book. It really is hard to think of a better book for a Napoleonic devotee's library.

Napoleon's Last Grande Armee is a glorious volume of work that presents a trove of uniform information at an unparalled level of quality.

This is a treasure and both the author and publishers Military History Press should take great pride in their astounding achievement.

- Richard Moore


To order from Military History Press click here



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