Book Review: The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume II

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by Carl von Clausewitz, translated and edited by Nicholas Murray and Christopher Pringle

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2021. Pp. xviii, 325. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 0700630341

Bonaparte Restores French Fortunes

While Carl von Clausewitz’s On War is well known, widely read, and frequently quoted, albeit perhaps neither very well understood nor correctly quoted, the Baron, as he is sometimes called, also wrote a number of histories as part of his effort to analyses the art of war, and also wrote many letters to contemporaries discussing the nature of war. Surprisingly, these have not been very widely read, even by most scholars, yet are essential for a fuller understanding of his master work.

Over the past few years several of these histories have been made available in translation, such as Carl von Clausewitz: Two Letters on Strategy (1984), Carl von Clausewitz: Historical and Political Writings (1992), The Campaign of 1815: Strategic Overview (2010), and Napoleon's 1796 Italian Campaign (2018), this last translated and edited by the same able team that has produced this two-volume edition of The 1799 Campaign, dealing with some of the more obscure campaigns of the protracted “French Wars”.

The first volume, Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, examined why and how French gains in the Rhineland, Switzerland, and Italy that resulted from Bonaparte’s victories in 1797 that led to the Peace of Campo Formio over the following year, were lost during Bonaparte’s fruitless adventure in Egypt, due to overbearing French occupation policies, government disarray in Paris, and the work of able Allied commanders, who proved that, well led, traditional armies could defeat France’s new mass armies and innovative tactics.

This second volume address how Bonaparte abandoned his army in Egypt, returned to France, where he staged a coup, and began reorganizing the government and armies, which led to the victories in the Rhineland under Moreau and Italy under his own command.

This is a readable version of Clausewitz’s not necessarily sparkling original text, to which the editors have added annotations whenever Clausewitz uses terms or names or historical comparisons that are not likely to be familiar to modern readers.

Oddly, the editors do not comment on Clausewitz’s almost total neglect of the ferocious popular uprising that drove the French out of Naples, following their occupation of the country in early 1799, which gave a foretaste of the people’s war that later plagued the Napoleonic Empire, particularly in Spain..

The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns is an important read for those interested in the protracted French wars or in the development of Clausewitz’s military thought.

 

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Note: The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns is also available in hardcover and e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (www.nymas.org)

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   


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