Tuesday, March 21, 2023


The Road to Brussels
La Belle Alliance on the right.
To say that I'm obsessed with the Battle of Waterloo is something of an understatement. At the moment I am in the midst of reading yet another book about the battle, the fifth book in a set of twelve by the Andrew W. Field which I wrote about here. So two to go there.

To top it off, I bought yet another book about the battle, The Longest Afternoon, by Brendan Simms -

Said book details the fight of 400 German soldiers defending the farm shown below. (Yes, I've been there, more than once, but never inside. It's still a working farm.)

La Haye Sainte
Germans? What's that you say Sarge, dontcha mean Prussians?

No, I do not. Unbeknownst to many, the army which fought Napoléon on the 18th of June 1815 upon the field of Waterloo wasn't comprised of just British soldiers (and by British I mean English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh). Oh no, it also contained many Dutchmen and Belgians, also Germans of a number of varieties.

Embodied within the British Army were the units of the King's German Legion, soldiers from the state of Hanover (George III was not only the King of England, he was also the Elector of Hanover, Hannover auf deutsch) who had fled their homeland after it was overrun by the French Army and went to Britain to enlist in the fight against the French.

There were also later Hanoverian units formed after Napoléon's first abdication in Hanover proper. These were typically manned by very young and inexperienced soldiers.

Not to mention the soldiers of Brunswick (Braunschweig auf deutsch). These chaps also skipped out when the French overran their country (1806) and formed their own unit which fought in Spain with Wellington. Though that unit was disbanded, the Duke of Brunswick got the band back together (so to speak) after Napoléon abdicated the first time. The Duke fell at the Battle of Quatre Bras, two days before Waterloo. There is a monument which was placed near where he fell, leading his men in battle -

Monument to Friedrich Wilhelm, Herzog von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel
~  Kampf gefallen,
 16. Juni 1815¹ ~
The Duke's father was also killed fighting against Napoléon nine years previous to the son's death. His father, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand commanded the Prussian army at the Battle of Auerstädt in 1806. The father was wounded in action at that battle, dying of his wounds in November of 1806.

Within the army of the United Netherlands (which had had Belgium added to it, much to the dislike of many Belgians) there were units known as Nassauers, from Nassau, but not the one in the Bahamas. No, these guys were also Germans but their ruler apparently had ties with the Dutch. (The current Dutch royal family is the House of Orange-Nassau, which is why you hear Dutch football² fans chanting Oranje boven! at matches.)

So Wellington's army really was a mishmash of different nationalities and languages!

Many histories of Waterloo paint the redcoats as the guys who really did most of the fighting and give scant recognition to the "foreigners" among their ranks. (Many histories also go out of their way to paint the Hereditary Prince of Orange, son of the King of the Netherlands as a complete dunce. Which he really wasn't. Over-enthusiastic and inexperienced? Sure, but stupid he was not. He was also, some have suggested, overly brave.)

Every time I devour, er read, another book on Waterloo I learn something new and interesting

I also tend to go overboard with games about Waterloo, just found and bought a game which I had years ago. Originally put out by a company named Talonsoft, Matrix Games now carries it.

It was like catching up with an old friend ...

In game screenshot
Old but lots of fun to play. Originally sold separately, the bundle from Matrix Games ($29.99) now comes with Prelude to Waterloo, which covers the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny, and Napoleon in Russia which covers the massive battle of Borodino.

As an added bonus it also comes with Age of Sail, which, as you might gather, covers naval combat during the Napoleonic period.

In game screenshot
Much to keep me busy, I have. (As Yoda might put it.)

On a side note, a memory just popped up which tends to do so from time to time.

I took that opening photo and added a red arrow where I almost died. Yes. Died. Almost.

See that big truck speeding down the road (and believe me, they go like a bat out of Hell on that chaussée from Charleroi to Brussels), well ...

I was leading a couple of my sergeant buddies on a guided tour of the battlefield. I stumbled a bit and nearly fell into the roadway. One of my fellow NCOs was just turning around and saw me teetering and saw a giant-ass truck approaching.

Just about where the red arrow is pointing. There I almost became a statistic.
With a deft tug on the sleeve of my jacket he pulled me out of the road. I felt the "breath" of that behemoth as it passed by, within a foot of my mortal flesh. Bit of a close call that was.

So thanks Tom (or was it Ryan?). If y'all hadn't of saved my ass twenty-five years ago I wouldn't be writing about it today.

And you, my dear readers, would have to find something else to do as you drink your coffee!

Seriously though, I am somewhat obsessive when it comes to Waterloo (or La Belle Alliance as the Prussians would have it, or Mont St. Jean as the French would have it, if they talk about it at all). Can ya tell?

I am starting to get the urge to write again.

Baby steps, Sarge. Baby steps.

¹ Killed in action, 16 June 1815
² What the Yanks call soccer. I'm in the middle on that one, I usually just go with the German word, fußball.


  1. It will be nice to read your tales again, no matter which war you choose to write about.

  2. So you're telling me you came close to having your own monument on the battlefield? Time to step back Sarge.......... :) Oh, the battlefield photos are well done.

    1. Close enough to make me remember what it felt like having a big truck within inches going 60+ mph!

      I can't take credit for the photos, Google street view. A feature of Google I really enjoy.

  3. Sarge, the question of "Why do you need another book on X?" may have come up a time. To your point, there is always the opportunity to learn something new about something that interests or fascinates you.

    That said, not all books are created equal. To some extent (after years and years of reading) I have gotten reasonably good at picking through the "restating commonly available things that I have read before" and "Wow, this is something completely new".

    I did not know of the multi-lingual/multi-national force with Wellington- but it does not surprise me. This is the story of history throughout time; when over run or conquered, some group will go off to fight in some other method or fashion (Related to my own projects, some of the defeated Anglo-Saxons after William the Conqueror's conquest of England ended up in Constantinople, where Anglo-Saxon Thegns and Huscarls came to dominate the Varangian guard, which was previous made up of Scandinavian Rus).

    A question: What do you find so fascinating about it?

    1. The Hundred Days, Napoléon's return from exile on Elba up to the battle of Waterloo, marked the absolute end of the Napoleonic period. After that, Europe was relatively peaceful up until 1914, a span of 99 years. Yes, there were wars in Europe but they didn't involve the entire continent, not really peaceful but "more peaceful" than it had been prior to 1815.

      Napoléon is one of those historical figures that comes along maybe once in a hundred years, more a force of Nature than a human being in some ways. (The Code Napoléon forms the basis of many of the laws in Louisiana, or used to.)

      There's just something about the scale of those wars that I find fascinating. Waterloo ended it all. It was a catastrophic defeat for the French Army under Napoléon on that day. They really just fell apart.

      It's also one of the first battles I read about as a kid. I had a book with lots of pictures, many paintings which, as always, show war as some sort of glorious thing. They did convey the desperation of the French in trying to win it all and the desperation of Wellington's Army just trying to hang on.

      The campaign itself lasted roughly five days, less than a week, but it was decisive. The more I think about why it fascinates me, the fewer answers I seem to have. It's possible, if not likely, that I had ancestors who fought there, on both sides. Maybe it's in the blood, I don't know.

      So there you have it, not much of an answer but it's what I have.

    2. Thank you Sarge. I suppose there is never a "right" answer to such things, but it is always interesting to know why something has piqued someone's interest.

      Napoleon was the sort of person - Like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or Constantine - who changes things in such a way that there is definitely a "before" and "after". Fair to say that just through dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (neither Holy, nor Roman, nor much of an empire at that time, as the saying goes) he changed Europe significantly.

      I would probably not have had the years of interest and involvement in Japan that I have had my parents not taken us there for a tour and to visit my Aunt and Uncle when I was a [pre-teen It was a heady thing for a youngster and suddenly I could not get enough.

  4. Mom stepped off the curb in front of a bus once. My sister reached out and grabbed a handful of coat and pulled her back. it was as close as yours, but the speed was slower. Just the memory of close things like that still make me shiver.

  5. Just when I'm ready to scream and run away from FB (someone who's claiming to teach math using a calculator as his source book (I did not know calculators could be so wrong - headed, this is why I struggle in celestial nav, I'm going back to Free42)) you post this and FB is forgiven. Thank you.

  6. Just 100 days? I didn't realize that... Lot's of lives changed in that 100 days....
    That first picture of the farm? I noticed the wall around it, takes time & capital to put up a wall, any wall let alone one that looks like that. You have to really need the wall to do that!

    I live in a time/place where walls like that are not necessary (which is a good thing) but when I see that in the past it has been necessary for a LOT of people/places I feel a little tug on my brain saying "watch out, there is a reason for all the walls". Then I recall Selco's stories from the Balkan wars... there is a lot to be learned from someone who actually went thru all of this.

    Selco's stories in a single pdf that downloads when you click on it. https://ia801005.us.archive.org/34/items/TheSHTFAnthologySelco/The%20SHTF%20Anthology%20-%20Selco.pdf

    1. Civilization is just a thin veneer. The barbarians and criminals don't need much to set them off. Walls can be a good thing.

    2. Often Civilization works better than barbarians and criminals because Civilization has a deeper depth of just plain mean and nasty to dish out.

      My 'mongol' friend in the SCA used to try to gross people out by the 'horrors' that Ghengis/Chingis inflicted on his enemies. I could match him and exceed him by mentioning standard punishments in Europe at the same time. Even though Europe was 'more civilized.'

      Like that Star Trek episode where Kirk and some others travel to an 'evil' version of their universe. Easier for civilized man to act savage than a savage man to act civilized.

      Or something.

    3. Civilization is better organized.

  7. You learn new things every day. Sometimes they are important. Keep up the good work.

    It is often in battle that a small (in comparison to all the other troops) group provides an effect far larger, for better or worse, than they should have. Some group just digging in and holding fast. Some group punching through and overachieving. Some group that splatters like glass when hit (like at Hastings, when the Norman cavalry pulled their classic pump fake retreat and pulled a section of the Fyrd (Saxon levies) out and slaughtered them. That was the Schwerpunkt or turning point of the battle, what was a draw or a slow loss for the Normans became a winnable thing, which they did.) Sometimes it's some group that's not supposed to be there but is, or is supposed to be there or isn't. And, of course, there's always the military Hail Mary (like at Hastings, where a group of sailors armed with bows peppered the Huscarls and managed to dink Harold Godwinson (ya know, the Saxon king) in the eye which pretty much signaled the end of the battle which should have gone into the dark but didn't because Harold got an eyeful of wood and iron.)

    Small groups matter. And it's nice when the groups finally get recognition of their deeds. Hopefully it's right after it happens, not 100+ years later. Because, as Napoleon showed, immediate recognition of valor and heroism and fortitude has an effect on the awarded troops (and others, too) all out of proportion to the actual value of said recognition, though promotions and rewards monitarily and physically are nice, too.

    1. A little recognition can go a long way.

    2. Conversely, not recognizing achievement will lead to a cancer within the body, so to speak.

    3. "Small groups." Like the Combat Engineers at the Battle of the Bulge. By dropping trees and bridges they threw the entire German timetable off. I gave my Dad (USACE, 31 years) both a video and book on the 291st Engineers. https://www.ebay.com/itm/333413963518 and https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1536059
      As for Waterloo; I'm sure you've this book in your library but I mention it all the same.

    4. Yes, the "damned engineers" totally screwed up the Germans' timetable!

      I have that book by Cornwell, it's excellent!


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