I’ve finished Dominic Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars; Lieven not only covers the whole period from the 1812 invasion (and its origins) to the Allied entry into Paris in 1814, he is apparently the first English-language historian to do so using the rich Russian sources. As he says, Russians tend (understandably) to focus on the 1812 campaign, with its dramatic defense of the fatherland (that’s where War and Peace ends, for example), and the history of 1813-14 tends to be written from the German point of view (which is why it’s often called the War of Liberation), but you can only get a useful perspective by viewing the campaign as a whole. In the process he does much to rescue the reputation of Tsar Alexander, and he is constantly drawing the reader’s attention to the vital role of supplies for soldiers and horses (and the dogged heroism of the people who got supplies from Russia to France in good condition and in time to make the final push to Paris possible). I’ll issue the ritual complaint about insufficient maps, but hell, in this age of the internet you can find all the detailed battle maps you want. It’s a superb history.
But this is not a history blog, and I’m just going to pass along a couple of tidbits of LH interest. The first is this, concerning the period in March 1814 when the Allies, approaching Paris, had to deal with the news that Napoleon had wheeled around and was attacking their lines of communication:
Now urgent orders went out to him from Barclay to take emergency measures to preserve Russian bases, supplies and treasuries. Oertel did well on this occasion and reported his arrangements to Barclay, a fellow Balt, in Latvian, a language which the commander-in-chief understood. If the orders were intercepted, it would be a very unusual Frenchman who could decipher them.
When the Allies entered Paris, Alexander stayed at Talleyrand’s residence, the hôtel de Saint-Florentin, on the street named for it, the rue Saint-Florentin. Naturally I looked it up in my font of information on Paris locales, Jacques Hillairet‘s magnificent two-volume Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris (my most treasured souvenir of my visit to the City of Light), and what I found was a series of inhabitants with some very un-French names. It was first occupied by Louis Phélypeaux de Saint-Florentin, whose name is merely weird, but who was apparently disliked enough to earn this sardonic epitaph:
Ci-gist, malgré son rang, un homme assez commun,
Ayant porté trois noms, il n’en laisse aucun.
[Here lies, despite his rank, a common enough man:
Having borne three names, he left behind not one.]
But after him come le duc de Fitz-James and la princesse de Salm-Salm, duchesse de l’Infantado, and after Talleyrand came the duchesse de Dino, the princesse de Liéven (née Dorothée-Christophorowna de Benckendorf, and presumably a distant relative of the author, like the various General Lievens he mentions), and James de Rothschild. What a motley collection!