The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier

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Overview


Eighteen-year-old German stonemason Jakob Walter served in the Grand Army of Napoleon between 1806 and 1813. His diary intimately records his trials: the long, grueling marches in Prussia and Poland, the disastrous Russian campaign, and the demoralizing defeat in a war few supported or understood. It is at once a compelling chronicle of a young soldier's loss of innocence and an eloquent and moving portrait of the profound effects of all wars on the men who fight them.

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DIARY OF A NAPOLEONIC FOOTSOLDIER

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Overview


Eighteen-year-old German stonemason Jakob Walter served in the Grand Army of Napoleon between 1806 and 1813. His diary intimately records his trials: the long, grueling marches in Prussia and Poland, the disastrous Russian campaign, and the demoralizing defeat in a war few supported or understood. It is at once a compelling chronicle of a young soldier's loss of innocence and an eloquent and moving portrait of the profound effects of all wars on the men who fight them.

Also included are letters home from the Russian front, previously unpublished in English, as well as period engravings and maps from the Russian/Soviet and East European collections of the New York Public Library.

"Vivid and gruesome … but also a story of human fortitude. … It reminds us that the troops Napoleon drove so mercilessly were actually more victims than victors—a side of Napoleon that should not be forgotten."
Chicago Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Of the half - million men who invaded Russia in Napoleon's army in June 1812, barely 25,000 survived. One who did was the author of this diary, Jakob Walter (1788-1864), a German private soldier from Westphalia. First conscripted in 1806, he was recalled to duty in 1809 and again in 1812. Walter's writing is unemotional and non-interpretive; he describes straightforwardly what he experienced. The account of the 1812 campaign--Napoleon's march on Moscow and inglorious retreat--takes up three-quarters of this short volume and constitutes its most interesting portion. In a chronicle of progressive demoralization, Walter observes how the instinct for self-preservation, under the pressure of Cossack attacks and treachery by erstwhile allies, leads to savagery among Napoleon's troops. The common-soldier perspective is rare among the mass of material left by veterans of the 1812 campaign and the book will be of interest to the general reader as well as the scholar. This edition includes six short letters home by other German soldiers in the Grand Army, all less interesting than Walter's diary. Raeff is professor of Russian studies at Columbia University. Illustrated. (Sept.)
Library Journal
More memoir than diary, this slim volume contains the reminiscences of a young German conscript into the army of Napoleon in the campaigns of 1806, 1807, 1809, and 1812-13. As such, it represents one of the few historical documents that portray the life and death of common soldiers of the period. As the army fought its way back and forth across Eastern Europe, young Walter encountered Poles, Russians, Jews, and other groups, and his descriptions of his interactions with these ``others'' illuminates attitudes and prejudices of German troops of the period. The firsthand description of the retreat of a starving army from Moscow and the attendant breakdown of discipline and morale will interest military historians as well. Walter's book is reminiscent of Guy Sajer's World War II memoir The Forgotten Soldier ( LJ 12/15/70) and should be popular with a similar audience; it belongs in libraries with Napoleonic history or fiction collections.-- Stanley Planton, Ohio Univ.-Chillicothe Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140165593
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 238,441
  • Product dimensions: 5.08 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author


Mark Raeff, the Boris Bakhmeteff Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at Columbia University, is a scholar of pre-revolutionary Russia. His books include Understanding Imperial Russia, Origins of the Russian Intelligentsia, The Well-Ordered Police State, and Russian Abroad.
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Table of Contents


Introduction

The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier:
Campaign of 1806 and 1807
Campaign of 1809
Campaign of 1812 and 1813

Historical Appraisal of Walter's Chronicle by Frank E. Melvin

Notes to the Diary

Writing Home: Six Letters

Notes to the Letters

About the Illustrations

Chronology

Place Names

Reading Suggestions

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2013

    one of the only accounts of its kind for that period in history.

    one of the only accounts of its kind for that period in history...almost all mail sent home from the front lines was intercepted by French officers under orders by Napoleon. a particularly literate recounting of life as a foot soldier in Napoleon's Army. could not put it down and read it all the way through

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