Philippe-Paul de Ségur (1780–1873), the scion of an old French aristocratic family, was the son of Louis-Philippe de Ségur, a diplomat and historian who welcomed the Revolution and aligned himself with Napoleon. Sharing his father’s sympathies, the young Ségur enlisted in the French cavalry in 1800 and quickly rose to became a member of Napoleon’s personal staff. Ségur distinguished himself repeatedly in battle and supported the Emperor until the final defeat at Waterloo. His History of Napoleon and the Grande Armée in the Year 1812 was published in two volumes in 1824, and the book, a great success which sold out ten editions in three years, was widely translated. Effectively retired from the army during the Restoration, Ségur was promoted to lieutenant general and received a peerage after the establishment of the July Monarchy in 1830. He was enrolled in the French Academy in 1830 and received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1847. His other books include a History of Russia and Peter the Great as well as his posthumously published memoirs.
Ségur’s eye-witness account of what remains one of the greatest military disasters of all time is a masterpiece of military history and was an essential source for Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is also a reminder of the risks of imperial hubris.