Review Corner: “Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns”

30 Sep

Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns. Owen Connelly. Rowman & Littlefield Publisher Inc. 3rd Edition. Lanham. Maryland. 2006.ISBN: 0-84202-7807-0 Maps. Index. Bibliography, Bibliography Essay. Pp. vii. 260. $24.95.

 Reviewed By Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns is a comprehensive academic analysis of Napoleon military conquest of Europe. The author, Dr. Owen Connelly senior faculty member at the University of South Carolina and has published numerous books on Napoleon-related topics and military history. Connelly draws his experience by serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Rangers and was an executive officer of the Rangers’ Amphibious and Jungle Warfare Training Camp in Florida before obtaining his Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

            Connelly’s thesis is to investigate the general conception of Napoleon as a military genius by emphasizing the fact the French general was an opportunist who was blessed with good fortune. This book gives an extensive look at the viciousness of Napoleon and persuasively demonstrates that Napoleonic conflict was more lethal, frequent, and merciless than prior conflict on the European continent since the Thirty Years’ War. It also builds on interesting notion of Napoleon’s lack of planning seem to be the Emperor’s trump card over his adversaries. This historical research offers an intelligent assessment of warfare during the Napoleonic era and Europe as a whole.

            The book begins with Connelly’s criticism on the common acceptance by most scholars on the notion of Napoleon military prowess. Connelly uses primary sources and findings to research and convince most well-educated readers of Napoleonic warfare in order to challenge the norm accepted by general readers. The author also uses a variety of historical examples like the Russian and Peninsular campaign in order to add an insightful interpretation on the Napoleonic Armies level of preparedness for conflict for a long period of time.

            The author dedicate the first chapter to Napoleon’s childhood in Corsica and the rest to his military campaign during his career as an officer, general, statesman, and Emperor. One has to keep in mind that Napoleon was not only a general but a politician who too often aware of the implication of public opinion. Therefore, Owen’s argument that Napoleon as an opportunist is valid due to his crucial dual role as a leader of the French Army and France herself played significantly to his attitude on the battlefield.

            This book also assesses the rudimentary but significant foundation on the necessity for Napoleon to exhibit grandeur tasks, constant, and regular warfare with Europe in order to sustain his regime and the ideals of French identity/nationalism. The need for power, prestige, and territory will compel any individuals in command to express an aggressive attribute in order to dominate and defeat its adversaries. There are some cases in history whereby the leadership will artificial introduce a mandate society in order to maintain power or unify a nation. One example was Nazi Germany, who recruited World War I veterans and the disgruntled workers to tackle and fight Communists or anti-Nazi political figures in order to maintain power (1933-38).

Owen’s the book analyzes Napoleonic warfare from region to region by dividing each chapter to the different campaigns such as Spain, Italy, Russia, and etc. There were few discrepancies which the author considered victories for Napoleon which is debatable since the British did some tactical maneuvers to outfight and outlast their numerically superior opponents. The author ends the book by leaving it to the reader to decide whether Napoleon was the greatest general or he played the hand of the fortunate till Waterloo.

            Owen’s book contains cited materials with a complete bibliography. The book contains maps that illustrate the difficulty in conducting combat operations during the Napoleonic Wars and also demonstrates Napoleon tactical command in facing his often impatient and overconfident adversaries. It also contains an index and bibliography essay section which makes great reference point for researchers and students alike. Also the general reader will find the bibliographies to be very helpful for further researching on the subject. Owen’s bibliography section demonstrates excellent used of primary and secondary historical research materials of Napoleon’s campaigns.

In my opinion, Owen ability to scholarly reveals that Napoleon military triumphs were due to his enormous army and the competency of his adversaries. Owen successfully conveys his thesis on Napoleon the opportunist rather than the common acceptance of Napoleon’s military brilliance. I strongly recommend Owen’s Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns to historians and enthusiasts in general.


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