|The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman* (Source)|
Having read even more about the battle since then, I spotted a few historical anomalies in those posts. I won't say "mistakes" (not out of vanity mind you) because the things I spotted which may be in error may not be. Two hundred years after such a momentous event and not every story has been told about that battle. Not every "fact" about the affair is generally agreed upon in the historical community, for as the great Duke himself wrote -
The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance. - Letter to John Croker (8 August 1815) from Sir Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington.I wasn't sure what to post about this famous battle this year, it seemed as if I had already covered just about everything in the past. But it's not an anniversary I have ever let pass without thinking of that event so long ago. It seems I have been reading about Waterloo since, well, since I learned to read.
This year I purchased a new book on Waterloo which had been recommended to me by my friend Geoff in the U.K. He said it was excellent and he really stressed just how good it was, so I did the research and sallied forth onto amazon.com and bought it. I am just now finishing it up and have to say this, Geoff wasn't lying as to how good this book is. If anything he undersold it! (Perhaps it's that classic British knack for understatement at work?) Here's the book...
Worth every ducat it is.
The story is primarily from the soldier's point of view, the privates, sergeants, and junior officers. The occasional colonel wanders in, but this isn't a book about what the generals saw. It's the gritty, nasty business of 19th century warfare down on the ground, in the mud if you will, for the battle was fought on rain-sodden fields. Very muddy it was.
Another superb book on the battle, at a somewhat higher level is this one...
Mr. Barbero has written a superb account of Waterloo and I would say this book is essential to really understanding the battle. I am somewhat miffed at the moment because my copy of the book is currently "missing in action." Can't seem to find it anywhere. No small chore as I have a lot of books.
Which The Missus Herself is always chiding me about. "What? Another book? We're going to have to add an addition onto the house to store all of your books! And you're buying more?!?!"
Here are a few (maybe a fifth, perhaps a third?) of the books I have on the Napoleonic era...
That book in the upper right of the photo, Swords Around A Throne by Col. John R. Elting is perhaps the best single volume history of Napoléon's army which I have ever read. It covers the troops, what sort of people they were, how they were trained, their equipment and the tactics they used.
Their enemies are also discussed and the attitudes of the French towards their enemies. Their are any number of amusing anecdotes as well. To include the many odd nicknames Napoléon's men referred to him by. (Le Tondu, "the shorn one" is a favorite. The Emperor's Guard tended to have long hair tied back in a queue. As the Emperor wore his hair short...)
The book by Bernard Cornwell (one of my absolute favorite authors) Waterloo, The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, is, to me, another must have to really understand the Battle of Waterloo. Mr. Cornwell is a brilliant storyteller, his descriptions of battle are unequaled.
If you're wondering, the answer is "No, one cannot have too many books about Waterloo." Maybe it's just me. When I was a kid a teacher asked me why I read so much about Waterloo, what was the point? My answer was that my goal was to know everything about the battle, even down to having a list of every single person who fought and died there.
She said that I would need a lot more time, and a lot more written material. Oh, and good luck with that.
Note above that I said "every single person" and not "man." That was intentional. Two stories of Waterloo have always resonated deeply with me. One, mentioned again in Barney White-Spunner's masterpiece Of Living Valour, is the dead tortoiseshell kitten seen on the field, remarked upon by more than one soldier. That kitten joined thousands of her animal brethren lying dead upon that field. Upwards of 10,000 horses died at Waterloo. The other involves a dead woman, said (of course) to be quite beautiful. The one woman, who has been mentioned in a few sources, but not in Of Living Valour, apparently died in action wearing the uniform of the Dragoons of the Imperial Guard** (one source says she wore a colonel's uniform!)
An estimated 55,000 men (and one woman) were killed or wounded at Waterloo. It was a bloody, decisive affair. One prays we don't see its like ever again.
Though I think we might...
The book on the bottom row, second from the right, The Battle of Waterloo, is the book which started it all. It is the very first book I ever read on the battle. Some years ago I managed to acquire an old, dog-eared copy. I probably paid too much for it, but I cherish that book. It is in no way the best book on Waterloo. But it was my first.
You never forget your first.
Dedicated to those who fought in the Waterloo Campaign of 1815: be they English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, Belgian, Hanoverian, Brunswickers, Nassauers, Germans, Prussians, Swiss, or French. And (at least) one Spaniard.
You fought hard, you fought well. We remember, we salute you across the centuries. May you rest in peace...
|The Battle of Waterloo by Clément-Auguste Andrieux (Source)|
* Because it's such an interesting painting, here's all the key figures in it - The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815. View of the battle field on the moment that the British commander Wellington receives the message that help from Prussian troops is underway. Bottom left the wounded Prince of Orange is being carried away. The commanders and other officers are depicted in the center on horseback. Bottom right a number of wounded and dead soldiers. In the background the battle is raging. The people portrayed include Lord Uxbridge, Sir Rowland Hill, Staff Colonel Sir William Delancey, Major-General George Cooke, Colonel Harvey, Colonel Campbell, lieutenant-general Don Miquel de Alava, lieutenant-colonel F.C. Ponsonby, Major William Thornhill, Jean Victor, baron De Constant de Rebeque, Colonel Sir John Elley, lieutenant-colonel Aberson, General-major A.K.J.G. d'Aubremé, Captain Aberson, Captain H. Roepel, Colonel H. Detmers, Major J.L.D. van der Smissen, Lieutenant-colonel A. van Thielen, Lieutenant-colonel Jhr. W.F. Boreel, Lieutenant-general D.H. Baron Chassé, Colonel Sir G.A. Wood, General Major J.B. Baon van Merlen, Lieutenant-general Ch. von Alten, Major General Sir Colin Halkett, Lieutenant-Colonel William George Harris, Captain C. Nepveu, Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, H.D. Graaf De Cruquenbourg, N.C. Ampt, General-Major Jhr. A.D. Trip, John William Fremantle, General-Major Graaf van Rheede, Major-General Lord Edward Somerset, Charles Gordon Lennox, Lord March, Colonel Dennis Pack, Major P.S.R. van Hooff, Major-general John Ormsby Vandeleur, Major Georg, Freiherr Baring, Colonel C. Von Ompteda, Colonel L.J.H.F. De Caylar and Général de Division Cambronne, Maréchal de Camp. The painting was done by Jan Willem Pieneman (1824) and is now on display at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
** Also known as Les Dragons de l'Impératrice (The Empress' Dragoons), in honor of Empress Joséphine,