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Book Review: Life In
Napoleon's Army

Life In Napoleon’s Army: The Memoirs of Captain Elzear Blaze , by Captain Elzear Blaze
Edited by Lt-Gen Charles James Napier
1995, Greenhill Books

Originally published in 1837, and published in English in 1850, this unusual volume is less a memoir and more a series of sketches of army life, sprinkled with anecdotes. Captain Blaze was a French infantry officer, joining the army through the Velite of the Imperial Guard.

The book is broken up in to 11 thematic chapters, such as Marches, A Day of Battle, and Military Executions. The first few chapters also have comments by the editor (brother to William Napier, author of the well known history of the Peninsular War). The chapters are relatively short, indeed the entire book is only 198 pages long, and consist primarily of sketches, observations and anecdotes. While these are very interesting and amusing, the book does tend to wander quite a lot. That said, however, Blaze has a keen eye and a natural storytelling ability. He relates in clear and entertaining prose the lot of an insignificant officer. On the march, never knowing what was going on. In camp, ever in search of food, women, and society.

Of particular interest to war gamers will be descriptions of the reality of army life, as compared to regulations. Consider the foot soldiers’ habit of divesting himself of every piece of unnecessary and inconvenient equipment:

    In garrison, the soldiers were obliged to keep all these things, upon pain of having to pay for others the next day. But, on taking the field, at the first bivouac, every one reduced his kit to the smallest possible dimensions, by ridding himself of all useless articles ... Any one going after the army at such a time with vehicles, finding a complete load at the first bivouac, might have returned next day with as many pairs of breeches as there were men in the ranks.

Overall this is a fast, amusing read, but not a title that will really add much to most Napoleonic war gamers’ understanding of the times.

Review Posted October, 2004

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