With Napoleon in Russia by Wilhelm Faber du Faur, translated and edited by Jonathan North is one of the best memoirs of the ill-fated Russian campaign of 1812. This version is magnificent in that there are 93 full color paintings by the author, in addition to the written narrative, an eye-witness memoir of the campaign. This memoir is a gold mine of information, and covers it from muzzle to butt plate.
Faber du Faur was a lieutenant in the Württemberg artillery assigned to Ney's III Corps, in the Württemberg 25th Division. He was with the Grande Armee from the first, crossing the Nieman with his battery, through the long march to Moscow, fighting at Smolensk and Valutino, and on to Borodino. In Moscow, he saw all the bitterness of the fire (deliberately set by the half-insane mayor of the city before the French came in), the helpless plight of the Russian civilians, and the beginnings of the great and terrible retreat. He chronicles the dissolution of the army along its route of march out of Russia, and all the horror of the crossing of the Berezina.
He also notes with pride the successes the Grande Armee achieved, terming several of them 'glorious', as well as the problems encountered both on the way in and the retreat out of Russia. He also notes how the remnants of the Grande Armee fought their way out of the trap at the Berezina, the stern, greatly respected Eble building his bridges as the army fought its way through Tshitshagov's army on the other side of the river.
Faber du Faur's anecdotes and narrative are fascinating. Describing an artillery fight outside the walls of Smolensk, he describes the ricochet fire of the Russian artillery and how it was successfully dodged by the Württemberg gunners. What amazed them, and that hadn't been taken into account, was, because they had the city walls behind them, the roundshot bounced off the walls and came back at them, causing some casualties. The narrative of the Württemberg infantry fairly rescuing Murat and defeating the Russian cavalry at Borodino is dramatic and lively. The color plates that accompany these two descriptions are among the best of the collection.
The author's depiction of the French and allied troops is interesting. The French infantry is pictured in the pre-1812 uniforms, settling that long argument, and his depiction of horses and gun teams is also excellent, the detail of the horse harness particularly noteworthy. Two other interesting pictorials are of great interest. Napoleon is pictured no less than four times, and in no picture is he painted as being stout. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and Faber du Faur doesn't seem to be one to flatter unnecessarily. The other interesting picture is of a carabinier in campaign uniform, which is light blue instead of white, which was the undress uniform.
The paintings pull no punches, nor does the narrative. Losses are always described as heavy and debilitating (the death of the able, respected Gudin of Davout's I Corps is mentioned at the Battle of Valutino). The more gruesome side of warfare, death and civilian suffering, are also pictured throughout the text, the pictures of the aftermath of Borodino being particularly gruesome.
Another item is of great interest. In one of the paintings of the fighting in and around Smolensk there is an excellent rendering of troops fighting in skirmish order. The infantry are fighting in pairs, their officer and his drummer behind them controlling the action. This is textbook open order fighting and is interesting as both an observation and a testament.
This version of Faber du Faur's memoir is a true tour de force, and one that will remain a standard reference for years to come. It belongs on the bookshelves of all historians, wargamers, and modellers, as well as all students of this fascinating period. This volume has added greatly to our knowledge of the period and it is one of the best books on the Russian campaign available. This volume is enthusiastically recommended.