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With Napoleon's Guard in Russia (Paperback)

The Memoirs of Major Vionnet, 1812

Military > Pre-WWI > Napoleonic

By Jonathan North, Louis Joseph Vionnet
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
ISBN: 9781399020824
Published: 28th June 2022



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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.

The publishers are to be commended for making this classic memoir of napoleons disastrous 1812 campaign available for the first time in English.

The bulletin

Jonathan North adds a lot to the text he translated. In future, seeing his name on a memoir should be considered a major recommendation. This is an excellent book, providing you like memoirs.

The Napoleonic Historical Society Newsletter

Vionnet does not shy away from describing scenes of the utmost horror he experienced during the Russian campaign but by doing so in a somewhat matter of fact way leaves the reader appreciating the numbness of body and mind suffered by those taking part in a campaign fought in the most appalling conditions. Yet, at the same time, he is not immune to the acts of kindness he sees or the beauty that sometimes surrounds him...Did I enjoy this book? Yes I did, and I can only hope that more such memoirs become available to the English reader.

Napoleonic Association

A book I finished reading wanting more of the same. Jonathan North has written an excellent introduction, especially the Peninsular War background to the regiment, and there is an appropriate selection of maps and illustrations to support the text. With only a little imagination the reader will gain insight into the hell which engulfed and killed so many of Napoleon's troops in the retreat from Moscow and, crucially, how some of the surviviors survived.

Clash of Steel

About Jonathan North

Jonathan North is a historian specialising in Napoleonic history. His publications include With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber du Faur; In the Legions of Napoleon: The Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain and Russia, 1808-1812; Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam, 1812; With Napoleon’s Guard in Russia: The Memoirs of Major Vionnet, 1812; and Polish Eyewitnesses to Napoleon's 1812 Campaign.

About Louis Joseph Vionnet

LOUIS JOSEPH VIONNET, VICOMTE DE MARINGONÉ, was born in Longueville in 1769, the son of a peasant and a lacemaker.

He joined the artillery in 1793 and was promoted to captain in the line in 1794. He fought in Italy in 1796, in the line infantry in 1798 and the Guard grenadiers in 1806, and campaigned in Prussia, Poland and Spain. In 1809 he joined the Fusiliers of the Guard, fought again in Spain in 1811 and then, with the rank of major, he took part in the 1812 Russian campaign, which he survived. He retired in the 1830s and diedm in 1834.

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