The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Book Review: Leipzig 1813

Europe Against Napoleon

Published on 14 JUL 2014 5:36am by Paul Robinson
  1. ground combat, background / research material, napoleonics, europe, buyer's guide, english

Produced by the French company Histoire & Collections this paperback forms part of their Men and Battles series.  This is the same company that produces the Officers and Soldiers series, mainly showing the uniforms of the French army from the Napoleonic Wars through to the Second World War.

The author Gilles Boue has certainly packed a lot into the book’s eighty three pages; covering not only this famous battle but also providing come commentary on its historical significance, relevance to different (modern) nations and where it fits in the change during the nineteenth century from pre-modern to modern warfare.

The Battle of Leipzig is a fascinating one in terms of the Napoleonic Wars.  To abuse Winston Churchill, for the French it marks the beginning of the end; for the Prussians the end of the beginning; the Russians a bit of both; and the Austrians merely the latest chapter in a long series of battles and campaigns against Napoleon.  As for the Swedes it was merely an opportunity to be shown to be on the winning side!

The book starts with an interesting commentary on what the battle means to modern Europeans and how it compares to Austerlitz (so famous that the French have a station named after it) and Waterloo (so famous that the British have a station named after it).  This in terms of size and numbers of troops engaged but also in the iconography of Britain, France and Germany.  Always nice to have your stereotypes poked and prodded from time to time.  This section also refers to how the battle pre-figured the massive (in terms of geography and numbers) and bloody encounters of later in the nineteenth century (Gravelotte and Plevna for example).  It is interesting that the author silently condemns the Battle of Waterloo two years later to a battle of much less significance.  It is a pity the book is too short for the author to fully explore that theme. 

Before getting into the Battle itself there is a brief exploration of the make-up, experience and training of the French, Russian, Prussian, Swedish and Austrian forces and this is followed by a brief description of the run up to the battle ie why did all these troops from all over Europe converge on a City in Saxony in the Autumn of 1813.  The battle itself is a complicated one with Allied troops converging on the French centrally positioned in and around Leipzig from virtually all points of the compass and with several key sub battles happening simultaneously.  Monsieur Boue does a credible job of narrating the reader through what could be a confusing series of clashes.  The intentions of the opposing commanders and the interplay of their forces are made clear throughout.  And I think he captures the correct level of detail, largely describing the action at no lower than a brigade or divisional level (and this sits with his belief that this represents one of the first mass battles of the nineteenth century).

After taking us through the various actions the author succinctly comments on two of the most famous (or infamous) aspects of the battle-the desertion of Napoleon’s Saxon allies (given the small numbers involved and the straightforward way in which the French plug the gap in their line it is not as big a deal as is often stated) and the blowing up of a key bridge in Leipzig during the French retreat (basically a good way for the French to lessen the impact of their defeat by blaming the “disaster” on a lowly Sous Officer of Sappers). 

The Author finishes the book with a short but detailed analysis of the mass cavalry encounter at Lieberwolkwitz (one of the biggest meetings of Cavalry so far in the nineteenth century-the Kursk/Operation Zitadelle of the its day) and the action at Probstheida to illustrate the importance of holding villages during this phase of the Napoleonic Wars. 

The book also packs a punch graphically.  There are numerous coloured and black and white paintings and engravings showing troops in action, their uniforms and commanders.  These range from contemporary to the classic “High Victorian” romantic action packed battle scene.  Also there are four double page spreads of modern artwork showing examples of the uniforms of the key combatant nations and their allies.  These are in a bright, modern, simple (but not simplistic) style that are perfect for the modeller or figure painter.  The colour of each bit of clothing, braiding or accoutrement is very easily discerned.  The figures show examples of French, Polish, Italian, Saxon and Wurttemburgers (both cavalry and infantry) from Napoleon’s forces and Prussians, Austrians, Russians, Swedes and British from the Allied forces (again both cavalry and infantry).  These are clearly only a very small sample but nevertheless are well executed.  Although even as a proud Brit I have to say that the one figure showing the British Rocket artilleryman somewhat over represents the British contribution to the battle!

There are also numerous maps which show the environs of Leipzig and the key villages featured in the narrative.  These, like the text, are mainly high level showing the broad movement of the forces during the battle.  There are a small number of more detailed maps showing some of the tactical arrangements for some key engagements.  Finally the book has numerous Orders of Battle and comparisons of the number of troops employed by both sides; useful information for those wishing to recreate the battle.

Overall I thought this is a decent overview of this key battle of the Napoleonic Wars; in such a short book it is impossible to fully do justice to such a complex battle but Monsieur Boue does decent job.  His clear text (translated by Elisa Doughty) combined with the artwork, illustrations, maps and varies Orders of Battle make this a very useful introduction to the battle and a good leaping off point for further research. 

“Leipzig 1813” is available now (in English) in paperback from Casemate Publishing, normal price £17.50 (ISBN 978235250285).

Link - http://www.casematepublishing.com/title.php?isbn=9782352502852