The French at Waterloo. Eyewitness accounts, Napoleon, Imperial Headquarters and 1st Corps

The French at Waterloo. Eyewitness accounts, Napoleon, Imperial Headquarters and 1st Corps

Author
Andrew W. Field
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This is an interesting book complied by a known Napoleonic scholar and ex British Army Officer. Field has numerous previous book on the era and the Napoleonic Wars so is well qualified in this area.

It is basically exactly as it says on in the title, a collection of eye witness accounts from Napoleon himself, his staff at Imperial Headquarters and from those in 1st Corps. There is a second volume which will cover II and VI Corps, Cavalry reverse, Imperial Guard and medical services.

The author starts with an interesting discussion for the rationale behind this book, how do we known what happened in such large battles from long ago? Is it always written by the victor? Generals will have a very different view of a battle they have won to one that they have lost. Individual accounts from the front line will be restricted to what was within the visual range of the observer.

In the course of his research in the era, the author has collected all the contemporary accounts from French side known to exist, from those who were actually present on the battlefield. These are a mixture of letters, memoirs and rebuttals of others memoirs!

Each eyewitness has a short pen picture to give an idea of their background, it was amazing to read exactly how many major battles some of these French military had undergone in the previous decades leading up to Waterloo. As such many were highly experience warriors by this stage in their career.

Also discussed by the author is the relevance of how soon after an engagement an account is written, the sooner after that it has been written the more likely it is to be untainted by reading others accounts. This is especially true of those at Imperial Headquarters who accounts when written later often mirrored those of Napoleon's himself. There is also the interesting factor of pro and anti Napoleon feeling as well as those trying to shift blame and those defending the generals being blamed.

The accounts in the first section are in the main fairly repetitive, it rained, late start, II Corps went up the French left against Hougeoumount, I Corps then went up the middle against La Haye Saint, British cavalry charge, French cavalry counter attack, Bulow's Prussian's attach French Right, VI Corps realign to face Prussians. Guard make last advance up the middle, Blucher arrives and it's all over, the French flee in disarray.

The differences are minor, over things such as did Bulow take Napoleon by surprise or not, how much was Ney at fault, and where exactly was Grouchy. The slant each writer takes is often more reliant upon their own personal bias and career rather than anything else.

By the time the book reaches 1st Corps, it becomes far more junior accounts of the actual front line fighting and aftermath. I suspect that the second book will be much more of this.

I would recommend this book to anybody with an interest in Waterloo or the Napoleonic era.

Whilst the eye witness accounts are direct translations and thus affected by the style of the time, the authors own text is easy to read and follow. His summaries of each eyewitness is concise and relevant.

The book has few maps but a good collection of plates with good explanatory text.

A nice well laid out book as you would expect from Pen and Sword.

Although the cover price states £19.99 amazon currently has it listed at £26.40 on prime, (although other suppliers on amazon will sell it for £14 including postage). Kindle edition currently £8.99.

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