In the Legions of Napoleon - the Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain and Russia 1808-1813, Henrich von Brandt

In the Legions of Napoleon - the Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain and Russia 1808-1813, Henrich von Brandt

This is an English language translation of a memoir originally published in 1868 in German and then in an abridged version in French in 1877. This version is based on the 1877 edition, and covers Brandt’s experiences in Spain and Russia.

Brandt’s background was typically mixed. He was born into a German family living in Poland in the period between the First and Second Partitions, in an area that eventually went to Prussia when the country was destroyed in the third partition. He briefly served in the Prussian army, before joining the French army after the defeat of Prussia in 1806. He served with the French in Spain from 1808 until 1812, took part in the invasion of Russia and was wounded at Leipzig. After the Napoleonic Wars were over he rejoined the Prussian army, served as Gneisenau’s chief of staff during the Polish revolt of 1830, served on the Prussian General Staff and retired as a Major General! His views on the potential for Polish independence are thus perhaps rather less strident than might have been the case for some of his Polish colleagues.

The tone of the two sections is inevitably rather different. Although Brandt went through some difficult experiences in Spain, they were intermingled with more light-hearted moments and even with romantic interludes. In contrast his experiences in Russia were almost all rather grim, with the problems starting before the army had even left the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

One useful feature of the Spanish section is that Brandt didn’t come up against Wellington’s army. Instead he spent his entire time fighting the Spanish, both their field armies and the guerrillas. This gives us a very different view of the war than the one normally found in British publications, which tend to focus on Wellington’s men and their opponents. This account takes us into a different part of the war and different parts of Spain. Brandt took part in some of the famous sieges of the war, where the Spanish often proved to be at their best, several large field battles, where the French were almost always victorious and in the endless war against the guerrillas.

Brandt was withdrawn from Spain early in 1812, as Napoleon prepared for war with Russia. He took part in the entire campaign, fought at Borodino, was present in Moscow and then took part in the disastrous retreat, travelling just ahead of the army at first. The text stops when he reached safety back across the Russian border. The account of the retreat is particularly vivid, and benefits from Brandt’s slight sense of detachment from the mainstream of the French army.

 

Part I: In Spain
Part II: In Russia

Author: Henrich von Brandt
Translator: Jonathan North
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2017 edition of 1877 French abridged edition of 1868 German original


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