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Forging Napoleon's Grande Armée: Motivation, Military Culture, and Masculinity in the French Army, 1800-1808, by Michael J. Hughes

New York: NYU Press, 2012. Pp. xii, 290. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 081473748X.

Creating the Army that Defined an Era

Prof. Hughes (Iona) examines “Systems of military motivation in the Napoleonic Empire”, and the remarkable range of techniques that Napoleon used to build his army. He makes an excellent case that in forming the Grande Armée Napoleon combed through military practices from ancient times through the reigns of the Bourbons and the chaos of the Republic, selecting some practices and rejecting others, while creating new ones as he saw useful, to forge the Grande Armée.

Hughes takes us through the complex mix of rituals, distribution of loot, titles, honors, and decorations (the “baubles” by which “men are led”), parades, pensions, personal interactions (e.g., “spotting” an old soldier in the ranks, not a spontaneous event, but a well-planned one with a very ancient history), social advancement, reviews festivals, and more, that molded the Grande Armée. These created the superb instrument that yielded Napoleon’s victories in 1805-1808, and, although Hughes ends his examination well before then, were used to help Napoleon to raise and field effective armies even in the aftermath of the disasters of the final years of his empire.

Although Hughes passes rather quickly over the fact that the forging of the Grande Armée benefitted greatly from the fact that France was essentially at peace on land for nearly five years, which permitted him to reorganize and thoroughly train his new army, Forging Napoleon’s Grande Armée, a volume in the NYU Press series “Warfare and Culture”, is a good read for anyone interested in the Napoleonic era, and also likely to be useful for anyone interested in the evolution of military training and in the military institutions of modern totalitarian states.

Note: Forging Napoleon’s Grande Armée is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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