Napoleon and the Archduke Charles - A History of the Franco-Austrian Campaign in the valley of the Danube 1809, F. Loraine Petre

Napoleon and the Archduke Charles - A History of the Franco-Austrian Campaign in the valley of the Danube 1809, F. Loraine Petre

The Franco-Austrian War of 1809 was Napoleon’s last victorious campaign, and saw one of his great set-piece victories at Wagram, but this only came after he had suffered his first significant battlefield defeat at Aspern-Essling, and after a start to the campaign that didn’t see Napoleon at his best. This was also a rare example of Napoleon being forced into a war against his will. The Austrians even managed to catch Napoleon slightly by surprise, beginning the war earlier than he had expected. As a result Berthier was in command for the early part of the campaign, and proved not to be up to the task.  Once of the interesting features of this book is Petre’s attempts to work out how much of the blame for early French problems can be taken by Berthier and how much by Napoleon, and how the nature of Napoleon’s orders changed over time, making it increasingly difficult for his subordinates to follow them properly.

Although this book was originally published over a century ago, the events its described were already a century in the past at that point, and were very well documented, so there are no significant problems with Petre’s narrative. There are a few minor changes in terminology- the battle of Teugen-Hausen was then know as the battle of Thann (the name selected by Napoleon), although the author does suggest this change, and Essling-Aspern has become Aspern-Essling, but these are minor quibbles. A bigger problem is that the author deliberately chose to skip over most political events, so the account ends rather abruptly after the armistice of Znaim, leaving a bit of a blank. 

Petre was very willing to pass judgement on both Napoleon and the Archduke Charles, finding plenty to criticism on both sides. In Napoleon’s case one of the problems is the difference between what actually happened, and Napoleon’s official pronouncements, which were rarely accurate, and often painted an entirely erroneous picture of Napoleon’s actions (especially early in the campaign, when he misjudged the location of the main Austrian forces more than once, and after Aspern-Essling, when the nature of the defeat had to be hidden). The style of writing is inevitably a little dated, although it is still perfectly readable. The level of detail in the battle descriptions is about right - not so detailed that you lose the overall picture, but detailed enough to be able to follow the key points of the battle.

Despite its age, this is still a useful single volume history of this significant campaign, the last of Napoleon’s campaign victories. After his victory in 1809 Napoleon actually avoided taking direct command in Spain, so his next campaign was the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, followed by Germany in 1813, France in 1814 and the Waterloo campaign in 1815, all costly defeats.


1 - The Origin of the War
2 - The Armies and their Leaders
3 - Preparations on both sides to the end of March 1809
4 - The Theatre of War and the Plans of Campaign
5 - Events up to the 19th April
6 - The battle of Thann
7 - Abensberg
8 - Operations of the 21st April
9 - Eckmühl and Ratisbon
10 - The Strategy and Tactics of the Ratisbon Campaign
11 - On the March to Vienna
12 - The Battle of Ebelsberg and the Capture of Vienna
13 - Vienna
14 - The battle of Essling-Aspern
15 - Operations of the Armies of Italy, and in Poland and Germany
16 - From Essling to Wagram
17 - The Battle of Wagram
18 - The Pursuit to Znaim and the Armistice
19 - Concluding Remarks on the Second Half of the Campaign

Author: F. Loraine Petre
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2017 edition of 1909 original

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