| Some 600 kilometres south to Cairo, a little bit
beyond the First Cataract, is located the Philae
island, known for its complex of ancient Egyptian
temples. There, on the doorway of the first pylon of
the temple of Isis, a keen tourist can find the
de la république, le 12 Messidor, une armée
Française, commandée par Bonaparte, est
descendue à Alexandrie. L'armée ayant mis, vingt
jours après, les Mamelouks en fuite aux
pyramides, Desaix, commandant la première
division, les a poursuivis au delà des
cataractes, où il est arrivé le 13 ventôse de
(On 13 Messidor in year VI of the Republic, a
French army commanded by Bonaparte landed at
Alexandria. The army having, twenty days later,
put to flight the Mamelukes at the Pyramids,
Desaix, commanding the first division, pursued
them beyond the cataracts where he arrived on 13
Ventose of the year VII.)
And below, with different character style and
Les généraux de brigade Daoust, Friant
et Belliard, Donselot, chef de l'état-major,
Latournire, commandant, l'artillerie, Eppler,
chef de la 24e légère, le 13 ventôse an 7 de la
république, 3 Mars de J.-C. 1799. Gravé par
(Brigadier Generals Davout,
Friant, and Belliard, Donzelot, chief of staff,
Latournerie, commanding the artillery, Eppler,
head of the 21st brigade, 13 Ventose, year VII of
the Republic - March 3rd of the year of our Lord
1799. Graven by Casteix, sculptor.)
That is one of the remainders of the great storm
that ravaged Europe for almost a quarter of century
- from Valmy to Waterloo, and which engulfed almost
the whole Europe, as well as Middle East,
Caribbeans, southern Africa and European possessions
in the Indian Ocean.
On the battlefield of Borodino, some 60 kilometres
west to the walls of the Kremlin, on a granite
obelisque, erected in 1912 to commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the greatest battle of the epoque, a
modest inscription reads: Aux morts de la Grande Armée (To the dead soldiers
of the Great Army). Inside the Kremlin
itself, along the walls, on concrete
pedestals, rest dozens of bronze canons, which the
Great Army brought to Russia, and left behind in the
On the opposite end of Europe, in the plains
surrounding Cadiz, are scattered ramparts called
"French trenches" - the remnants of the siége laid
there for nearly two years under the command of
Marshal Nicolas Soult.
One of the chapels of the cathedral of Oliwa
contains the tomb of French Colonel Nicolas
Imrecourt, who was killed in 1807 when Marshal
François Joseph Lefebvre besieged Danzig.
On the battlefield of Austerlitz, on the slopes of
the Pratzen (Prace) Hills, which became the focal
point of the battle, has been erected a 26m-tall
Peace Memorial with the inscription "In the memory
of the soldiers fallen here on 2 December 1805" in
four languages: French, German, Russian, and Czech.
Inside the memorial there is an ossuary, which
contains bones of the killed French, Russians and
Austrians, whose remains are still being unearthed
every spring by the peasant plough.
Throughout the whole Europe one may spot numerous
houses with memorial plaques claiming that Napoleon
lived there, or stayed, or dined, od did something
else more or less important to the History, and all
that regardless whether Napoleon indeed had or had
not ever been in those places.
In the War History Museum in Vienna - the shrine of
the Austrian army - one can see an 8-pounder gun
with the inscription on the barrel made in Polish:
"Taken by Dąbrowski's soldiers at Tczew in 1807".
That Prussian gun, captured by the Poles, served
them till 1809 when it was used against the
Austrians. Captured once again in the battle of
Raszyn, nowadays testifies in an Austrian museum to
the amazing fates of a weapon that used to change
hands in that great historical turmoil that
Napoleonic wars were.
Another museum - Les
Invalides in Paris - exhibits a cuirass of
an officer of the 2nd Carabinier Rgt., or rather
what has remained of it. The officer was killed in a
charge in the battle of Waterloo as an English
canon-ball hit him right in the chest, and went
through his body, leaving in the steel plates two
orifices matching the calibre of a four-pounder gun.
Events small and great, epochal and meaningless, the
fates of the masses of the troops and human
individuals - all that is amalgamated in those
relics of the past, in the monuments and tombs, in
the banners exhibited in the musea, and pieces of
arms excavated in the battlefields.
The Great French Revolution and the First Empire
have rich literature. Many a historians treated
those events as a chain of military campaigns, full
of dramatic descriptions of the battles and
skirmishes, focused mainly on the personality of
Napoleon Bonaparte, his marshals, and more prominent
generals. Such a way of seeing that epoque dominated
so far, from the first monographies of the Moscow
campaign written by Eugene Labaume [Labaume E.
(2002).] and Georges de Chambray [Chambray G de
(1838).], to the multi-volume work of Adolphe
A. (1839).], to the almost modern ones of Henri Houssaye, Henry Lachouque, or Marian Kukiel.
The Great Army can be perceived as a certain society as well. One can
analyze it's social composition, place, and role in the society. One can
research the ways of making careers to individual officers, as well as
development of the officers' corps as a whole, the life of recruits, and
interaction between the army and the civilian life. There are fewer
works of such a nature, and they have been written relatively lately;
the most significant being the works of Jean Tulard, and Jean-Paul Bertaud.
Soldiers and officers of the Great Army were the bearers of new ideas.
Through their campaigns and victories they were instilling European
countries with revolutionary transformations, which happened earlier in
France. So, it is worth to have a closer look at the instrument of those
transformations: from the revolutionary armies composed of volunteers, to the perfect war machine that the Great Army was.
What was their organization, weapons, and uniforms? How were organized
marches and bivouacs? And the most important - how did they fight the
battles, and what were the factors on which their outcome depended?
It is worth analyzing, what were the merits of Napoleon himself in his
victories, and what did he owe to his marshals and generals, officers'
corps, and files and ranks. It is worth considering the contribution of
the foreigners, and analyzing if only the French won those battles, or
did they owe, and to what degree, their successes to other nations.
And finally, what is of great importance, it is worth discussing what
were the sources of the final defeat of the Great Army, and consequently
- temporary reversal of the of the fruits of the Great Revolution.
Apart from the political, economical, and social factors - what were the
military, "technical" factors embedded in the structures of the Great
Army, from its organization and the chain of command, to errors in
tactics and supplies, to the exhaustion of the human and materiel