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 anything...moreI 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 (less)
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 o...moreI 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. (less)