In 1795 – the year Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French army in Italy – the seventeen-year-old Jean-Nicolas-Auguste Noël entered the Artillery School at Châlons. A year later, with Napoleon proclaiming himself the liberator of Italy, Noël was appointed second lieutenant in the 8th Regiment of Horse Artillery. Written in 1850, With Napoleon’s Guns is his remarkable memoir of two decades in the Emperor’s service.
A trained artilleryman himself, Napoleon dramatically transformed the role of artillery from a cumbersome and tactically limited force into a fluid, independent and highly mobile trans d’artillerie. This new organisation required fresh, new officers who could act on their own initiative – officers such as Noël.
From the optimism of the early years in Italy , through the privations of the retreat from Moscow and the horrors of the Battle of Leipzig to the disillusionment of the Emperor’s defeat at Waterloo, Noël charts both his personal career and, at close hand, the rise and fall of the First Empire with frankness and percipience. Based on his journal he kept from his cadetship at Châlons, With Napoleon’s Guns is a revealing account of an officer at the heart of Napoleon’s army.
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