As you may have seen in the past, my one or two book reviews have been just a few sentences. This one however is long, well the longest I’ve ever done, in fact It’s also one of my longest posts.
The book, Waterloo. The French perspective
by Andrew W Field, comes in the standard hardback size of 160x240 mm (6 ¼ by 9 ½ ). The illustrated pages are in black and white and are of the French personalities which include Napoleon, his marshals, some of his corps and divisional commanders and a few lesser mortals in colonels Crabbe, Bro, and Marbot. There is an illustration of a contemporary map of the area and one or two old photos of the significant buildings used in the battle. The rest of the pictures are of the usual well known engravings and paintings of the battle. There are 27 pictures in total.
Between pages 118 & 119, we have 8 colour pages of maps that were produced by the authors son, showing 11 important moments in the battle ‘Adkin can rest assured that his maps are still the tops’. On page 86 we have a black and white schematic example of Marcognet’s divisional ‘attack’ column and a not overtly detailed campaign map on page 24.
Of note is the listing of French sources in appendix 3 giving the name of the author of the account, their post/unit and what formation they were in. not all those listed were quoted in the book.
The run down of the books sections are:
Setting the scene:
(1) The French Army of 1815. Page 9
(2) Preliminary moves. Page 23
Prelude to Battle:
(3) The night before. Page33
(4) The morning of the battle - 1am to 11.30 am. Page44
11.30am to 1.30pm:
(5) First attacks on Hougoumont. Page 61
(6) The Grand Battery. Page 71
(7) The First sightings of the Prussians. Page 80
1.30pm to 3.30pm:
(8) Preparations for D’Erlon’s Attack. Page 84
(9) The First Assault on La Haye Sainte. Page 89
(10) The Attack on the Ohain Road. Page 97
(11) Counter Attack of the British Cavalry. Page 109
(12) Hougoumont. Page 123
(13) The Second Assault on La Haye Sainte. Page 131
3.30pm to 6.00pm:
(14) The Prussians Arrive on the Battlefield. Page 133
(15) The Great French Cavalry Attacks. Page 137
(16) The Prussian Pressure Begins to Mount. Page 164
6.00pm to 8.00pm:
(17) The Taking of La Haye Sainte and the Real Crisis. Page170
(18) The Defence of Planchenoit. Page 176
(19) The Attack of the Middle Guard. Page 184
(20) The Rout Begins. Page 205
(21) The Sacrifice of the Old Guard. Page 208
8.pm to 1.00am:
(22) The loss of Planchenoit. Page 213
(23) The Disintegration of the French Army. Page 216
(24) The Last Squares. Page 224
(23) The Road to Genappe. Page 233
Introduction. Page 239
Napoleon’s Attack Options. Page 239
Hougomount. Page 242
The Columns used in D’Erlon’s Attack. Page 244
French Cavalry Attacks. Page 249
French Cavalry Tactics at Waterloo. Page 252
The Sunken Lane Obstacle. Page 253
The Killing of Prisoners. Page 255
The Attack of the Middle Guard. Page 256
The Grenadier Guards. Page 260
Summary: The French Perspective
Introduction. Page 261
Hougoumont. Page 261
The Attack of D’Erlon’s Corps. Page 263
The Great Cavalry Charges. Page 264
The Fighting Around La Haye Sainte. Page 267
The Real Crisis. Page 268
The Fight Against the Prussians. Page 270
The Attack of the Middle Guard. Page 271
French Generalship. Page 273
Could the French Have Won the Battle? Page 276
Appendix 1: The French Army at Waterloo. Page 278
Appendix 2: Anecdotes. Page 281
Appendix 3: Eye-witnesses Consulted. Page 288
Notes. Page 291
Select Bibliography. Page 301
Index. Page 305
List of Maps
The cavalry attacks
Prussian attack on Planchenoit
Situation at 7.30pm
Attack of the Middle Guard
Repulse of the Middle Guard
The beginning and part of the Author’s preface:
I have been a soldier all my life. This work has been born out of my abiding interest in the Napoleonic wars and the Armies of Napoleon. Long hours of archive study are not conductive to a military career and family life, so I have indulged my hobby by acquiring as many of the memoirs and first-had accounts as possible. Those I have not been able to find on second-hand book websites (try www.abebooks.co.uk) or Ebay (French and Belgian sites), I have been delighted to access in the British library. As I have deliberately tried to present a fighter’s view of the battle, as far as possible I have avoided official reports from senior officers.
Virtually all French translations are my own and I take full responsibility for any errors. I have tried to retain the feel of authenticity of the original rather than to try and bring them into modern English parlance.
I do not have a long list of eminent Historians to thank, as both the research and the writing has been very much my own work…..
Then we have a full page quote by Sgt Hippolyte de Mauduit, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, of the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. So here is the faithful picture of the battlefield, chosen by Wellington….
His diatribe about the British and the Duke being defensive and including Salamanca in his list of said defensive British battles is all you need to know about this, though the rest of his quotes used are very interesting
The author goes on to explain in his introduction that he is “a rare breed“, being a British soldier (Officer) with “a fascination for Napoleon’s Grande Armee” and that “it would be incongruous to accuse me of being a Francophile“. I, and there must be many others in general and on this site, who serve and have served her majesty’s armed forces who also have a fascination for said Grande Armee.
He then says that:
in the hundred or so years following the great battle it would have been viewed as treasonous to suggest that the Duke of Wellington had not fought a perfect campaign that the French had come close to winning the battle, that the French army was anywhere near as brave or as capable as the British, that it was the Prussian intervention that was decisive or that, despite Wellington‘s army being only 25% British it was not down to them alone that the battle was won
All of course have no basis in reality. Of course people in general have a nationalistic bent towards the British/Dutch/Belgian/German during the campaign, but ever since on first reading the account as an ignorant snotty and spotty teen of the 70s, I, as well as those past and present, had been well aware of the contribution of our German, Belgian and Dutch allies. I recall reading about how the Dutch 27th jagers for example, lost about 350 of their 800 all ranks in the campaign. Now If I, a teen snotty could pick up on it I’m sure that the more educated would have seen ‘the light’ also.
Now we get to the nitty gritty.
The author goes on to say:
that the time is right to take a clear, objective view from the French perspective.
some French historians find it hard not to turn an account of the battle into an almost hysterical Anglophobic tirade, and it is some what strange that virtually all French accounts refer to the enemy as ‘English’, rather than ‘British’ or ‘Allied’, and making little or no reference to the many Dutch, Belgians and Germans that made up the majority of the allied army.
So what! Wasn’t it ‘and still is, what historians and accounts called those foreign contingents fighting within the Grande Armee; ‘blanket French!
most French accounts of Waterloo are every bit as jingoistic as subjective as many of those produced by the British. However, whereas British accounts were taken as the truth on the basis that they won and British officers did not stretch the truth or tell lies (!), the French accounts have been disregarded on the basis that they were poor losers
Where is the evidence for such claims that the British 'or French' stretched the truth or lied?
We have ‘what ifs’ from beginning to end of the book.
This is one of the quotes that made me cringe:
After two committed attacks, Milhaud’s cavalry, both horses and men, were exhausted. However, the allied cavalry did not have it all their own way when they sallied forth to push their French counterparts back. Although the British accounts portray these counter-attacks as largely one-sided, the facts seem to dispute this. Lieutenant Chevalier was a veteran of many campaigns and charged with the prestigious Chasseurs a Cheval of the Imperial guard Guard.
“The melee became terrible, it was a dreadful carnage, the ground was covered with dead or dying men and horses; it was the height of terror….as the Guard cavalry advanced, we were moving forward; when we saw rushing towards us, a regiment of English cavalry, which came to charge us. It could not tell our strength because we were in colonne serree par escaldron: ’Let them come’, said our generals, ’but do not use the edge of your blade, use the point, make good thrust with the point,’ They arrived on our position in their red jackets perched on their horses, drunk with their blades in their hands, slashing to the left with their poor sabres…. We opened up a little….they came in….and, in less than ten minutes, there were no red jackets still on horseback. I believe this fine regiment was of the Royal Guard and was completely wiped out.”
The above account remember is meant to be evidence of ‘fact
’ according to the author. Anyone know of any evidence to support that any Household/Guard or dragoon regiment were completely wiped out?. I’m not saying that the British counter-charges were all one sided, but this type of evidence is a very poor example.
Another on the same:
But it was not just the French that claimed to have roughly handled the Allied cavalry counter-attacks. The official History of the Kings German Legion tells us
“The remaining troops [of the 3rd KGL Hussars] were, at the same time led forward by Arenschild against the regiments of the enemy cavalry, but the contest was too unequal to admit of the hussar’s success, and although they drove back that part of the enemy’s line that was directly opposed them, they were soon outflanked and suffered severe loss….so great a number of men and horses had fallen, that on re-forming, the whole seven troops could not muster more than about sixty file [about 120 men]”
The 3rd KGL Hussars strength was 712 all ranks ( 622 were actually engaged and were the strongest Allied cavalry regiment at Waterloo) and lost 136 to artillery fire and in defending the squares.
There is also the accounts of British squares being broken.
A quote by De Brack is first used stating:
It has been said that the Dragoons and mounted Grenadiers to our left broke several squares ; personally I did not see it - and I can state that we lancers did not have the same luck, and we crossed our lances with the English bayonets in vain
Which is just one eye-witness account, though coming from that of a famous French cavalryman, from one part of a very smoke-filled and chaotic battlefield is no proof either way.
The author uses this account to support a claim that a British square was broken by cavalry:
Perhaps the most damning evidence comes from a British soldier describing the temporary breaking of a British square:
The next square to us, was charged at the same time and were unfortunately broken and retired in confusion, followed by Cuirassiers; but the lifeguards coming up, the French in their turn, were obliged to retrograde, where the 33rd and the 69th resumed their position in square….”
He left out “for the rest of the day” at the end of the above quote. The author ignores what Ensign George Ainsley of the 69th had to say in his candid account about the events surrounding their brief retirement and also why does Sergeant Morris of the 73rd, ‘who’s quote it is that is used above‘, not relate his own regiment and that of the 30th’s temporarily retirement? Macready of the 30th does, that the 30th/73rd temporarily panicked along with the 33rd/69th who got mixed up with them. This was not because of any cavalry assault but due to poor execution of a command to retire to a hedge line ‘probably due to the lack of officers‘, and being already shaken by incoming artillery and musket fire.
I had a funny feeling that selective accounts may be being used to try and fit an agenda.
There follows on the same subject of the British squares, this:
Whilst many might argue that this is purely mischief-making by a non-commissioned officer from one regiment against another, (in time honoured British tradition), this inter-regimental rivalry is not reflected in any other accounts of the battle and, as we have already discovered, as victors the British were quite prepared to suffer bouts of amnesia when it suited them; particularly amongst the officers.
Again where is the evidence for such statements above? Especially the ‘discovery of amnesia’ (a substitute for lying!) quote, (something the author doesn’t lay at the door of the French), he has blown his own ’objective view’ out of the water …
that the time is right to take a clear, objective view from the French perspective.
and what of his
that “it would be incongruous to accuse me of being a Francophile
Later in the book he tries without much conviction to show that 6 Colours were taken and one was an English flag.
However, given the four that the allies admitted to, Mauduit's claim of six may not be so hard to believe as a recipt, signed by an ADC to Marshal Grouchy, is reproduced in a book on General Delort, published in 1906. It reads, 'Receipt of a flag from the English at Waterloo taken by the 9th Cuirassier regiment, dated 26th June 1815.' In a postscript to General Milhauld's report on the battle he states, 'In the different charges the cuirassiers have taken six flags that have been taken to the Emperor and one taken by Lt Gen Delort to Marshal Grouchy.
7? It seems that we are getting close to the 10 that Napoleon said was captured
From what you have read above, you may think that I am slating this book. Well I am to the point but It is still a refreshing retelling of the Battle from the ‘opposite lines’ with many good French accounts that makes this book worth the space on the bookshelf. Just be aware that contrary to what the author says, his text is far from an objective view.
There is much more I could comment on but I just can't be arsed. Perhaps if some other of you reads the book and opens up a discussion I will be happy to participate.