Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beginner Napoleonics Reading

Not that I need a new period, really, but Napoleonics were some of the first figures I ever painted (early 1970s Minifigs that my older brother Alex bought for me since my youthful allowance wouldn't cover it), and then in high school SPI's epic and quite beautiful monster boarsgame Qellington's Victory was a passion for some time. There was also a brief foray into GDW's early 1980s System 7 cardboard counter substitute for miniatures.
Lately I've been thinking that 6mm might be the scale for me to try Napoleonics in an affordable and feasible way. But then I realized how little I knew of the period, other than the 1815 Waterloo campaign, so I thought that some basic reading might be in order first.

Last week an intriguing and quite novel bag was left on my front porch.

Aha, I said, that must be my order from Naval and Military Press in the UK, and sure enough it was.

Inside was a copy of Philip Warner's account of the Zeebrugge Raid, which NMP was flogging, appropriately, as its St. George's Day special. No interest in gaming that action, but I remember reading about it in my grandfather's set of Times Illustrated History of the Great War, and remembered Zeebrugge as a desperate and gallant affair (most VCs in a single day since Rorke's Drift) so it seemed like a great piece of summer reading.

The two Nap books are H.C.B. Roger's Napoleon's Army (1974) and Gunther E. Rothenberg's Art of War in the Age of Napoleon (2000). Of the two, I gather that Rothenberg was the professional academic while Rogers was a career soldier turned amateur historian. No matter, I am just looking for some good Napoleonic primers at this point.

Anyone out there have any thoughts on these two books? Any other recommendations on essential Napoleonic reading for the beginner?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Sorry, my knowledge stops around 1815 as well!

    1. So, Fran, we need to catch you in the morning or afternoon if we have any questions? ;)

      @ Mad Padre - 6mm is definitely the way to go for the mass effect of Napoleonics

    2. LOL. Well. at least Fran is honest about what he does and doesn't know. Would that were more common.

      Tamsin, thanks, I agree. If I get into this, 6mm will be the route.

  2. I must confess to not being a Napoleonic war gamer, but I've read most of the Osprey books on the subject and they're always good for a 'skin-deep' analysis of a given subject, and a great starting point for further research, since they always have good bibliographies. Of course 'On War' (apart from being a generally good read and useful for modern day lessons), as also summing up the period attitudes to warfare.

    I've been reading about Russo-Japanese War blockship operations on Port Arthur and the parallels between this and the Zeebrugge Raid are interesting. Certainly a gallant jaunt worthy of a comic strip as per one of your recent posts!

    1. Thanks, Colonel S. I will likely need to grab at least a few Ospreys when the time comes to purchasing and painting, as most of what I know about Napoleonic uniforms comes from repeated viewings of the film Waterloo and Sharpe's Rifles. Not terribly reputable sources. :)

      I didn't know they used blockships at Port Arthur. But then, what I don't know about the Russo-Japanese war could fill volumes. I would love to read a graphic novel about Zeebrugge, it seems tailor-made for that sort of Boys' Own treatment.

  3. Charles Esdaile is a must-read author. 2 books in particular: Napoleon's Wars: an International History 1803-1815 & The Peninsula War: A New History.

    Other books I'd recommend are;

    Tactics and the experience of battle in the age of Napoleon / Rory Muir.

    The emperor's last victory : Napoleon and the Battle of Wagram / Gunther E. Rothenberg.

    How far from Austerlitz? : Napoleon, 1805-1815 / Alistair Horne.

    1812 : Napoleon's fatal march on Moscow / Adam Zamoyski.

    These should get you started!

    1. Thanks kind sir . I will look for those titles, probably starting with Horne, who I know as a WW1 historian, and a good one. One thing you are pointing out to me is the key question of where to start chronologically, early Empire (say up to 1808) or later. I shall probably take the side of the Chris Stoesen (excellent chap who posts here) that early war periods are always more interesting than later ones.
      Much obliged for your response.

  4. HCB Rogers isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. Rothenburg is dry, but gives a good overview, he's good on the command of armies, but lacks the nutty tactical detail that I crave.

    David Chandlers "The Campaigns of Napoleon" is a well researched, if somewhat unwieldly (particularly in hardback) book with all the charm of its author. His dictionary is also available very cheaply and is handy to have on the bookshelf, though these days you'll find a lot of it on wikipedia.

    Brent Nosworthy "Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his enemies", is excellent, really hands down one of the most fascinating books I've ever read on the subject.

    Esposito and Elting's Atlas is a book to dip into, but valuable to have when one needs to establish who did what to whom and most importantly where.

    Anything written by Paddy Griffith is worth reading. Even if you never play them, the rules in Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun belong on every wargaming bookshelf. Currently available from John Curry, it is a wonderful, wonderful book - both on the period and for the whole approach to thinking about games.

    Rory Muir is another banker.

    If you're interested in the British involvement and don't want to break the bank you could do a lot worse than Jac Weller's trilogy on Wellington. The A&M are doing them rather cheaply at present. They have their faults, but for sheer skill at telling a story in a comprehensible way and for creating a sense of the period, Weller knocks dozens of more punctilious historians into a cocked hat. Weller is someone who really makes the period live for me.

    David Gate "Spanish Ulcer" is better on the Peninsula, mainly because of his Spanish sources, but he doesn't fire the imagination like Weller.

    NAM Rodgers "Command of the Oceans" is really the only thing, if you want an introduction to the naval side.

    You could do worse than just reading War and Peace if you're interested in 1812, but Adam Zamoyski's "1812" has better jokes.

    And if you insist on reading about that bad, bad man. "The Road to Rivoli" by Fremont-Barnes is fantastic and if I ever catch the chap that snaffled my copy, I'll give him what for.

    This is a short and extremely anglo-centric list, but I have to call a halt somewhere.

    1. My dear Kinch:
      That is precisely the sort of erudite and helpful comment that I would have expected of you. Most grateful for it. As w. Rosbif, busy scribbling notes.

      Do you know, I've never read Tolstoy, and I jolly well should. I suspect War and Peace will be my summer reading this year. I made it through Brothers Karamazov last summer, so I am due another does of Russian lit. I fear that if I start studying the 1812 Russian Campaign, I will be lured into the steppes and never return. Borodino alone beggars the imagination, and is probably more interesting than Waterloo.

      They say a little learning is a dangerous thing, but I feel that I know enough about the British side of things that I should expand a bit. I know nothing, really, about the German states in the period, except that the Brunswicker's wore black. One should know more than that.

      Whatever I do, I feel the need to stick to one thing and learn it inside and out, as you have obviously done with the Penninsular War.

      Thanks again, MP

  5. I'm not gonna be much help either I'm afraid???

  6. I wish I had the time to be a Napoleonic gamer.

  7. @ Ray - not helpful, no, but you're always good company, mate. :)

    @ Beccas - I wish I had the time to be any sort of gamer.

  8. 1/ I'll vote for Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon. A thick (literally) book (although now you have a "light" Kindle Edition.
    2/ Muir's Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon is a must for me.
    3/ I enjoyed a lot "Rifles" by Mark Urban

    4/As for other recommendations my suggestion, based on my own experience, is that you focus in a period within the Napoleonic Wars and search for realted materials. I own a lot of reading stuf on the Peninsular War (not difficult to guess given my nationality) and on Waterloo, for example.

    Hope this helps Padre

  9. And the sickness begins; come on Mike you know you want to go 28mm and Sharp Practice!

  10. Both titles are solid. Here are some other good titles I'd suggest (some are survey studies of the period while others are quite specific on a particular campaign, personality, etc.):

    "Swords Around a Throne" by John Elting
    "On the Napoleonic Wars" by David Chandler
    "Vienna, 1814" by David King
    "The Napoleonic Sourcebook" Philip Haythornethwaite
    "Who Was Who of the Napoleonic Wars" Philip Haythornethwaite
    "Seven Men from Gascony" RF Delderfield (In my opinion THE best piece of Napoleonic fiction)
    "Imperial Sunset" RF Delderfield
    "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars" John Elting and Vincent Esposito
    "The Peninsular War Atlas" Nick Lipscombe
    "1815 The Waterloo Campaign" Peter Hoffschroer
    "The Waterloo Companion" Mark Adkin
    "The Emperor's Last Victory" Gunther Rothenburg
    "1809, Thunder on the Danube" John Gill
    "Blundering to Glory" Owen Connelly

    Welcome to the madness. :)



Blog Archive