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Major Louis Joseph Vionnet’s memoirs of Napoleon’s disastrous 1812 campaign in Russia are readable, detailed, and full of personal anecdote and vivid glimpses into the life of the nineteenth-century soldier. His account concentrates in particular on the retreat from Moscow, but he was present at all the major actions and followed the entire course of the campaign from the opening moves in July 1812 to being chased through Prussia by bands of Cossacks in early 1813. He was present at the destruction of Smolensk, toured the battlefield of Borodino and witnessed the great fire in Moscow and the subsequent terrible retreat.
Vionnet was a major in the Fusiliers- Grenadiers, a regiment of the Imperial Guard, and his account provides a wonderful insight into the élan, morale and cohesion of this elite fighting force. He survived the retreat and, from notebooks kept at the time, wrote his memoirs after retiring from the military profession. Jonathan North has translated them for the first time for this English edition.
In addition to providing detailed explanatory notes, he quotes from the accounts left by other soldiers from the same regiment. This enables the reader to follow the ups and downs of this remarkable unit as a whole. Extracts from the memoirs of Lieutenant Jean-Théodore Serraris, Lieutenant Joseph Vachin, Sergeant Adrien Bourgogne and Sergeant Henri Scheltens and the letters of Corporal Michaud are included, and these give an insight into the rank and file’s perspective. Additional material comes from Captain Felix Deblais and General François Roguet, the commander of Vionnet’s division.
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