I have just finished reading my third book recently published on the Battle of Waterloo. This one was by Robert Kershaw, titled; “24 Hours at WaterlooI have just finished reading my third book recently published on the Battle of Waterloo. This one was by Robert Kershaw, titled; “24 Hours at Waterloo”. The previous books were by Gordon Corrigan and Bernard Cornwell and each have been different in their approach in telling the story of this famous battle.
Robert Kershaw’s approach has been to tell the story by the use of first-hand accounts, his aim was to give a human and personal dimension to the battle and in this he succeeds admirably. This is a well told account of Waterloo, mainly narrated through the experiences of the officers and soldiers involved in the fighting. We hear from French, British, Prussian and the other allied nationals who made up 2/3rds of Wellington’s forces on the ridge.
The author’s use of these personal accounts are well placed within the narrative and never detracted from the story, in fact, they added to the telling and really drew me into the depiction of this horrendous battle, like this account of a wounded French prisoner in Brussels after the fighting around Quatre Bras: "I noticed one, a fine fellow, who had had one arm shot off; and though the bloody and mangled tendons were still undressed, and had actually dried and blackened in the sun, he marched along with apparent indifference, carrying a loaf of bread under his remaining arm and shouting 'Vive l'Empereur!'
'Prepare the soup' he recommended, because his friends would be arriving that evening in Brussels and would join them in the Grand Place. 'Don't believe him, sir,' a badly wounded Scotsman whispered, in agony. 'It's all right - I - assure you '- he haltingly gasped."
This from a soldier in the KGL: "Albrecht Heifer, in the King's German Legion, was bowled over by an enormous punch to his chest, which snatched his breath away and left him breathing with pain and difficulty. The flesh of his right breast had been torn away by a glancing blow from round shot, eviscerating fat, skin and muscle from the chest wall. Iron powder stained the skin area around the bright red gouge mark visible through his torn uniform breast coat. It was rare for soldiers to survive a direct hit on the torso, but Albrecht, remarkably would do so."
A French soldier about to advance with the massed infantry formations against the British held ridge: "When the 44-year-old Pierre Guillot had uncased the eagle of the 45th, he knew what to expect. He had suffered considerably in Spain, shot in the right foot in 1809, lanced in the left flank in 1811, and two years later he was wounded in the right thigh and captured by the British. His time had come again. As he hoisted the eagle, he may have briefly reflected that it was precisely one year since he had been released by the British. Ahead of the columns trotted voltigeur skirmishes, preceding a phalanx of bayonets, all moving in time with the menacing drumbeat that tapped out the pace. These were the veterans of battles from Austerlitz in Bohemia to Borodino in Russia, from Wagram in Germany to the final battles for France the year before. It was their first opportunity to prove themselves in this campaign, and now the sun emerged, bathing the ranks in glorious colour. 'All combined to make more majestic the terrible scene which was unfolding,' recalled Jacques Martin."
The author does not neglect the stories of those who had no voice in the battle: "Sitting erect on his horse 'Bijou' in the ranks was an old sergeant in the cavalry. He had originally captured Bijou from the Mamelukes at the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798 and since then the pair had been inseparable. The horse had saved the sergeant's live on 20 occasions and brought him out of Russia. 'Bijou only lacked speech,' the sergeant explained, and 'had all the intelligence and loyalty of a poodle dog'. They stood alongside other veteran campaigners, such as Private Melet with the Dragoons of the Imperial Guard and his horse 'Cadet'. Such combinations encapsulated Ney's hopes. Melet and Cadet had fought together since 1806, from Prussia to Poland, to Spain and Austria, back again to Spain then across the frozen wastes of Russia to Saxony until the dreadful days of the final campaign in France the year before..... Melet and Cadet had seen 12 major battles and 30 lesser ones. Small wonder Ney was hopeful. They formed part of a tightly knit group dedicated to the service of the Emperor, and the Emperor needed them once again."
Again, Captain Alexander Mercer highlighting the nature of warfare during this period: " ... 'A sickening sensation came over me,' he admitted, 'mixed with a deep feeling of pity.' The poor horse was pressing his panting body against the leaders of the ammunition wagon horse team just behind, 'as though eager to identify himself as their society.' The driver, 'a kind hearted lad', was trying to drive the horse away, horror written 'on every feature', but could not bring himself to strike the animal. Mercer saw why: 'a cannon ball had completely carried away the lower part of the animal's head, immediately below the eyes,' and his clear eye seemed to be imploring them not to chase him away. Price, the farrier, was ordered to put the beast out of its misery and he ran a sabre through its heart. 'even he', Mercer recalled, 'evinced feeling on this occasion'. "
The author does not fail to follow up on Bijoux and Cadet and their riders. In this case maybe I didn’t really want to know as this is what happened to them after the massed French cavalry charges against the British infantry squares: "Bijoux the horse carried his old cavalry sergeant back to the French lines. His master's left thigh was torn apart by a shell fragment. The sergeant's 'best friend' carried him with difficulty back to the Imperial Guard, Sergeant de Mauduit watched them approach. The horse had been riddled with case shot, 'parts of his entrails hanging out announced the gravity of his wound'. Bijoux had saved his master for the last time. The long partnership of Private Melet and his horse Cadet, with the Imperial Guard Dragoons, was also at an end. They had campaigned together since 1806 and now formed an anonymous part of the grisly debris covering the slopes of Mont St Jean. Melet, severely wounded, was barely clinging on to life."
The book is full of these harrowing and at times sad stories from the men on both sides who had to do the fighting and dying on this day. I enjoyed the author’s depictions of the fighting and could not notice any national bias in his account. In fact this book had numerous accounts and stories from Dutch, Hanoverian, German and Belgian sources that I had not read before.
If you really want to get a feel for this battle then this would be the book to read and I have no hesitation in recommending it for anyone who enjoys a good book on military history, this is the ‘blood and guts’ story of this famous battle. Of note, there are no photographs in this book and at the start of each chapter is a 3D representational map of the battle area with persons of interest highlighted. Overall a very good account and well worth the time to read. ...more
I have just finished read Gordon Corrigan’s latest military history book; Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies. I don’t think anythingI have just finished read Gordon Corrigan’s latest military history book; Waterloo: A New History of the Battle and its Armies. I don’t think anything much ‘new’ can be said about this battle, however Gordon Corrigan’s account does make much of what has been written before appear fresh and interesting. The author, a retired British Army officer, brings a slightly different perspective to this famous battle and his style of writing is very engaging and without any national bias although he does like to tweak a nose or two in the narrative or in his footnotes. Like this account taken from the Introduction in regards to the 150th anniversary of Waterloo held in 1965:
"In 1965 the Allies of 1815 were invited and contingents from Austria, West Germany, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal were on parade, as were the Russians, despite this being the height of the Cold War. As the occasion was officially, if not in reality, a commemoration rather than a celebration, the French too were invited. Not unnaturally they declined to attend, and the story doing the rounds was that their president, the Anglophobic General de Gaulle, had refused on the grounds that he was too busy preparing for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings the following year."
The author provides a very easy to read general overview of the Napoleonic wars and the events and people involved in the lead up to this climatic battle. I have read much of this before but I still enjoyed the details provided by the author and leant something new along the way in regards to the uniform of the Portuguese Cacadores: "For a long time this author assumed that the brown was a deliberate attempt at camouflage uniform, pre-dating khaki by nearly a century, until meeting the direct descendant of the officer who raised the first battalion of Cacadores, who explained that the only way his ancestor could obtain enough cloth to make identical uniforms for 600 men was to go into a monastery and requisition the monk's habits."
The author provides short but interesting biographies on all the major players from all the armies involved and some great details on the officers and men of those armies. For example, this account in relation to British colour sergeants: "The rank of colour sergeant was instituted in 1813, and he was the equivalent of today's company sergeant major and company quartermaster sergeant rolled into one. Although colour sergeants supposedly acted as escorts to the colours in battle, this task was more usually delegated to sergeants who had annoyed the sergeant major, as it was one of the more dangerous positions to hold in action."
I found the author to be very fair in his assessment of Napoleon, Wellington and Blucher and provides a soldiers view of what he believes occurred on the battlefield, using his military experience, his research of the numerous accounts available and what he picked up from walking the battlefield itself. I found a distinct lack of any national bias in his writing which was very refreshing.
There are ten general maps of Europe, France and the battlefield, all easy to follow and all placed within the book in the appropriate areas. There are two sections of colour plates within the book, mostly lovely paintings of the period and a few photographs of pivotal locations on the battlefield as they are today.
Overall this was a great story, easy to read and one that I would recommend to anyone who wanted to read one good book on the Battle of Waterloo ...more
I really enjoyed reading Mr Larpent’s journal that he kept during his time attached to the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters during the later stages oI really enjoyed reading Mr Larpent’s journal that he kept during his time attached to the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters during the later stages of the Peninsula campaign and the invasion of France (1812-1814). The journal is made up of his daily observations and letters back home and offer an interesting and enjoyable insight into the going-on’s of the British army on campaign.
Don’t expect accounts of dashing cavalry charges and hard-fought battles by lines of Redcoats, it’s not that sort of book and to be honest I was not too sure if I would enjoy reading of the daily doings of a Judge-Advocate but I did. His honest account of the final stages of the campaign in Spain was quite fun and offered some interesting views on things around him, like this:
“People here are all very sore about the Americans and our taken frigates. I think we deserve it a little. Our contempt for our old descendants and half brothers has always rather disgusted me, and with some English is carried so far as not to be bearable. This reverse may set matters right. The Americans have faults enough; we should allow them their merits. Our sailors all thought the Americans would not dare look them in the face. I think the army rather rejoice, and laugh aside at all this falling on the navy, as they bullied so much before.”
The author also highlights some of the mundane but also vitally important issues of some of the logistical problems associated with warfare during this period:
"Yesterday, the 2nd of August, our orders were to proceed again to Lezeca. We started, and got into all the baggage of head-quarters (three divisions) eight miles extent if loaded mules in a string. There was a halt of about four hours, and no one could move."
“The other day the Commissary-general told him [Wellington] that we had eaten nearly all the oxen in the country, that the cultivation of the lands in Portugal could not go on for want of them, and that he scarcely knew where to turn for a supply of beef, as there was this year no reserve store near Lisbon. Lord Wellington said, ‘Well then, we must now set about eating all the sheep, and when they are gone I suppose we must go.’ And General M____ added, ‘Historians will say that the British army came and carried on war in Spain and Portugal until they had eaten all the beef and mutton in the country, and were then compelled to withdraw.’ Without joking, I fear our Commissariat may have great difficulties next year.”
Another interesting observation in the journal was in regards to one of Wellington’s troublesome commanders, General Craufurd:
“On one occasion, near Guinaldo, he remained across a river by himself; that is, with his own division only, nearly a whole day after he was called in by Lord Wellington. He said he knew that he could defend his position. Lord Wellington, when he came back, only said, ‘I am glad to see you safe, Craufurd.’ To which the latter replied, ‘Oh, I was in no danger, I assure you.’ ‘But I was, from your conduct,’ said Lord Wellington. Upon which Craufurd observed, ‘He is d____ crusty to-day’.”
And this account of the sometimes civilized nature of warfare during this period:
"We carry on war in a very civilized manner, especially if a little anecdote related to me yesterday be correct. One of our officers, it seems, I believe Major Q____, was riding a troublesome horse close to the French pickets, and partly from the violence of his horse, and partly from his own inadvertence, he got close to a French sentinel. The latter called out several times that he was French, and ordered him off, and at last presented his bayonet. The horse still plunging on, and the officer apparently not understanding the man, the French sentry turned the horse the other way by the bridle, and sent him back without offering any harm to either beast or rider, though he might have killed or taken both."
Overall this is an enjoyable and fun book providing the reader with some insightful comments of this period of the Napoleonic wars but also a sort of travelogue of what the author saw and experienced in his travels through Spain and France. ...more