Waterloo The History of Four Days Three Armies and Three

Waterloo The History of Four Days Three Armies and Three Battles I was loaned this book a month or so back by a colleague who knows that I like reading about historyI’ve actually been to the site of Waterloo Many years ago I caught a train from Brussels to Braine l’Alleud and walked to the site from there That was over 30 years ago though so I don’t recall that much of my visit I would have also gotten out of it if I’d read a book like this beforehandWith an author like Bernard Cornwell you know you are guaranteed a great story even when he writes non fiction and a great story is exactly what he delivers The book was captivating and I finished the whole thing in just a few days The description of the charge of the British heavy cavalry on Count d’Erlon’s corps was as memorable as anything I’ve read as was the description of the last attack by Napoleon’s Imperial Guard Cornwell makes extensive use of first hand accounts and some of these are superbly elouent in describing the emotions of that day For those who were at Waterloo and survived the experience was the most intense of their lives something that set them apart from othersThe author comes to clear conclusions about the various commanders that day Napoleon seems to have played a surprisingly passive role largely leaving Ney to handle the battle I was left wondering whether Napoleon saw his role as strategic rather than tactical although that’s not the image generally projected of him Cornwell is uite critical of Ney’s tactics both at Waterloo and the earlier clash at uatre Bras By contrast Wellington is portrayed as competent but as someone who found it difficult to delegate Cornwell is most impressed by the Prussian commander Blücher who he describes as “a splendid man” although is he critical of Blücher’s Chief of Staff Gneisenau viewing him as an Anglophobe whose unwillingness to cooperate with the British could have wrecked the allianceI like an author who is clear about their conclusions but I suppose I would want to read another book about Waterloo before accepting those of a particular author I’ve learned over the years not set too much store by a single account This is a great read though and the hardback edition I read is superbly illustrated For a non fiction title this was a riveting and moving read that was not only not dry but actually managed to transport me like fiction to that shudderingly brutal time and place As much as there are various military terms and jargon that were confusing to me not surprisingly that didn’t take away the enthralling effect the book had on meCornwell’s lucid description of the terrain of the battlefield at the beginning gives a presentiment of what might later prove to be obstructive or facilitating to the BritishDutch army and the Prussian and French armies The actual battles were fought from July 15 Thursday to July 18 Sunday 1815 and the minute details of the armies’ strategies and engagements are mostly told from vivid eyewitness accounts interwoven with the author’s own views of “what ifs”One interesting observation the author makes is the similarity of natural circumstance between the Battle of Azincourt 1415 and the Battle of Waterloo 1815 that is the rainy weather that turns the battlefield into a big muddy uagmire in both cases Also as noted by the author in both of these fate changing battles for France and England the French Army’s outnumbering their enemy is of no help to the former implying superhuman valiance of the latter I happened to have earlier read Cornwell’s Azincourt and understood what he meant But I was well aware of the fact that history is written by the victorReading this book reminds me once again how little men had learned from history and how men had always tragically chosen animalistic violence over compromise and mediation in cases of disputes repeating their ancestors’ mistakes over and over again This is the second book of basically the same title written by Bernard Cornwell The first is #20 in the Richard Sharpe series Cornwell is one of the most respected writers of historical fiction But here he is a true historian looking at this pivotal battle in European history Unlike many of the Napoleonic Era battles Waterloo was basically a hastily constructed battle between Napoleon Bonaparte who desperately needed to his return to the French throne And the Allies led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Prince Blucher who could not let Napoleon clear Europe of the only forces that could hold him in check Albeit an extemporaneous battle Waterloo was a massive encounter using the three elements of that era’s military cavalry artillery and infantry In a world where millions can be killed by a single bomb it is hard to put the battle losses in proper perspective About 50000 soldiers were killed or wounded and the majority of these were in close fighting This was about 25% of all those engaged in the battle Cornwell is a master of the battle’s details and he is meticulous in responding to the previous military historians who have offered their opinions His take is not a uniue one but he marshals many facts in support of it Wellington is not an altogether sympathetic leader His connection with his troops was not an intimate one but it is one where his example was sufficient to inspire his troops to follow him anywhere There has been much criticism of Napoleon and an eual amount of rationalization Cornwell does as good a job as I have seen in winnowing the wheat from the chaff The same may be said of the wide variety of historian opinion about the Prussians under Blucher This is a book for the true battle nerd I am not sure I rise to that level Yet I wish I had read the book before actually touring the battlefield On the other hand I enthusiastically recommend Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Waterloo #20 a novel that captures the historical elements and weaves them into an exciting narrative With his first nonfiction book novelist Bernard Cornwell has done an admirable job of telling the story of the Napoleon’s ultimate defeat While breaking no new ground the author does an excellent job of telling the story of the campaign including the battles of uatre Bras and Ligny that were fought immediately prior to Waterloo In telling of the battle of uatre Bras Mr Cornwell does a good job of telling why uatre Bas was important and why Wellington decided to defend it It was a cross road that allowed uick communication between Wellington and Blucher He illuminates the mistakes the Napoleon and his field commander Marshal Ney made that allowed Wellington to successfully withdraw his forces to their positions at WaterlooIn his telling of Ligny I think Mr Cornwell does the weakest job of the three battles Even then he does a good job of explaining Napoleon’s mistakes and why his failure to pursue and destroy the defeated Prussian army enabled his subseuent defeat at WaterlooIn his telling of the battle of Waterloo itself I thought Mr Cornwell did an excellent job of explaining the RockPaperScissors nature of Napoleonic warfare and how that affected the flow of the battle He also does an excellent job of explaining the tactics and weaknesses of the various formations used by the armies In addition Mr Cornwell does a good job of highlighting the different leadership styles of Napoleon and Wellington Wellington kept on the move and always seemed to be where he was needed to buck up morale and provide the needed decisions and leadership Napoleon on the other hand stayed in the same spot the entire battle He also does a good job of expounding on the inadeuecies of the Dutch Crown Prince William of Orange who was Wellington's second in commandIn additon to the various generals I felt he author did an excellent job of telling the story of common soldiers who made up the armies He uses the diary accounts of the participants very well and gives good accounts of the main parts of the battle ie the battles for Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte the cavalry charges and the final assault by the Imperial GuardFinally the illustrations are fantastic There are 4 or 5 pages following each chapter and many are in full color I feel they are probably the highlight of the book almost coffee table book uality All in all I found this a very good one volume look at the battle that can reasonably be said changed history It certainly ended an era This was a solid 4 star read for me ‘Some battles change nothing Waterloo changed almost everything’Bestselling author Bernard Cornwell is celebrated for his ability to bring history to life Here in his first work of non fiction he has written the true story of the epic battle of Waterloo – a momentous turning point in European history – a tale of one campaign four days and three armiesHe focuses on what it was like to be fighting in that long battle whether officer or private whether British Prussian or French; he makes you feel you are present at the scene The combination of his vivid gripping style and detailed historical research make this his first non fiction book the number one book for the upcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of WaterlooIt is a magnificent story There was heroism on both sides tragedy too and much misery Bernard Cornwell brings those combatants back to life using their memories to recreate what it must have been like to fight in one of the most ghastly battles of history It was given extra piuancy because all of Europe reckoned that the two greatest soldiers of the age were Napoleon and Wellington yet the two had never faced each other in battle Both were acutely aware of that and aware that history would judge them by the result In the end it was a victory for Wellington but when he saw the casualty lists he wept openly ‘I pray to God’ he said ‘I have fought my last battle’ He had and it is a story for the ages An engaging and well paced book that has the hallmarks of Mr Cornwell's ability to construct stories against one of Europe's most famed and important battlesIn essence this is a book only about the battle the armies and the three battles over the four days The background and lead in is brief but enough for most readers who then are taken into the camps of the three armies and their movements as they build into clash of armiesFor the seasoned Waterloo student or Napoleonic expert Mr Cornwell's book probably adds little new However for readers such as myself who have only dipped in lightly this is a good starter s events characters and outcomes are all placed and described well I would also suggest for those who perhaps have little understanding or experience of military formations it is also easy to get to grips with as Mr Cornwell recognises not every reader will be a Sharpe aficionado or military buffFinally the publisher must also take great credit The colour prints almost all of paintings of the commanders men and battles as of superb uality This provides excellent visual material throughout at the endstart of each chapter but also allows one to then review scenes and passages the author has just deliveredIn short then if you are looking for a balanced informative and easy to read one volume account of this most notable of battles you will do well to start with Mr Cornwell's accountMy copy was the first edition hard back Only buy the hardback edition this is a gloriously handsome book with at least 50 color platesmaps Don't even think of buying in electronic formSuch Saxon Tales storytelling of a Napoleonic battle isn't for everyone marred upon occasion by over dramatic storytelling hardly necessary for the most conseuential land battle of the first half of the 19th Century and perhaps the entire Century But it is a good basic introduction with maps than most modern works provide and far color excuse me colour plates thirty three not counting maps than similar works Including this beauty though Cornwell explains it is inaccurate prior familiarity with Waterloo came in two or three bios of Napoleon So I'll have to read another to see whether the pattycake approach obscured fact For me the key insight was Cornwell's scissors paper stone analogy rock paper scissors in North America to Napoleonic land warfare cavalry could attack infantry whose defense was the suare which was vulnerable to artillery but to win the timing of the attack had to be perfect Napoleon's and Marshal Ney's wasn'tI have a feeling this book will annoy knowledgeable readers and I see Aussie Rick already found a factual error But a great into and a wonderful reference for those of us old enough to have bookcasesThey had expected a swift victory over the ragged armies of Revolutionary France but instead they sparked a world war which saw both Washington and Moscow burnedA few weeks before Waterloo the Duke of Wellington was walking in a Brussels park with Thomas Creevey a British parliamentarian who rather anxiously asked the Duke about the expected campaign A red coated British infantryman was staring at the park's statutes and the Duke pointed at the man 'There' he said 'there It all depends upon that article whether we do the business or not Give me enough of it and I am sureFrench officer Captain Pierre Cardon was summoned along with all the infantry regiment The stood in two ranks asking each other what was going on What was there In the end we were filled with worry Then his Colonel appeared holding in his hands what You would not guess in a hundred years Our eagle under which we had marched so many times to victory and which the brave Colonel had hidden inside the mattress of his bed At the sight of the cherished standard cries of 'Vive l'Empereur' could be heard; soldiers and officers all overwhelmed wanted not only to see but to embrace and touch it; this incident made every eye flow with tears of emotion we have promised to die beneath our eagle for the country and NapoleonSo Napoleon believed he could shove the Prussians further away then switch his attack to the British It was all going to plan and the Emperor would take breakfast in Brussels's Laeken Palace on Saturday morningExcept Ney had still not captured uatre BrasThe Emperor alarmed delays that attack until he can discover the identity of these newly arrived troops They are his own men but in the wrong place so a messenger rides to d'Erlon ordering him to turn northwards and assault the Prussian flanks but just then yet another courier arrives this one from Narshal Ney demanding that d'Erlon return to uatre Bras immediatelyD'Erlon assumes that Ney is in desperate trouble and so he turns his Corps around and sets off a second time for uatre Bras The Emperor has launched his great attack but by the time he realizes d'Erlon is not engaged the 1st Corps has vanished Thus did those 22000 men spend that Friday marching between two battlefields and helping at neither D'Erlon arrived at uarte Bras at sundown and his powerful Corps which could have swung either the battle at Ligny or the fighting at uatre Bras had achieved nothing It is the French euivalent of the Grand Old Duke of York except d'Erlon spend his day halfway between two fights neither up nor down and his prevarication denied Napoleon the crushing victory he expectedThe Duke of Wellington was not loved as Blücher was nor worshipped like Napoleon but he was respected He could be sharply witty; long after the wars were over some French officers pointedly turned their backs on him in Paris for which rudeness a woman apologized 'Don't worry Madame' the Duke said 'I've seen their backs before'At Ligny the Emperor had set a trap for Blücher hoping that Ney or d'Erlon would fall like a thunderbolt on the Prussian right flank The trap had failedBlücher had hoped that Wellington would come to Ligny and so attack the French left flank but that trap had also failedNow a third trap was set Wellington was the bait Napoleon the intended victim and Blücher the executionerIt was dawn on Sunday 18 June 1815Macdonell realized that the most important task was not to kill Legros the French Sous Lieutenant who axed open the door to Hougoumont and his companions but to close the gate so that no Frenchmen could enter He led a small group of men past the intruders and together the forced the big gates shut they heaved against the pressure from outside some men shot through the slowly closing gap and they ignored Legros's men who were fighting behind themWellington once remarked that closing the gates at Hougoumont was the decisive act of battle and later when an eccentric clergyman wanted to arrange an annuity for 'the bravest man at Waterloo' and reuested the Duke to make such a difficult judgement Wellington chose Macdonnell Macdonnell in turn insisted on sharing the money with Sergeant James Graham an Irishman who had been at his side in those decisive moments the pair did receive the annuity for two years before the generous clergyman lost his money but it is significant that Wellington forced to make a decision nominated Macdonnell and by association Graham Napoleon now faces a dilemma He has Wellington's army in front of him but he must have known that a heavy force of Prussians was approaching to his right He will be greatly outnumbered yet he still insisted that he had a good chance of winning the battle 'This morning we had ninety chances of winning' the Emperor told Soult 'we still have sixty'French cavalry threatened French infantry was on the ridge's crest and Marshal Soult was surely justified in thinking that victory was imminent Duthilt's men might have been in disorder but there were battalions stacked behind his and sheer weight of numbers would push the redcoats back And those redcoats were in line and infantry in line was red meat to cavalryman as the cuirasses had already proved on the Hanoverians whose slaughtered bodies lay thick close to La Haie Sainte The British battalions would have to form suare and while that would protect them from cavalry it would make them horribly vulnerable to French infantry volleys Scissors paper stoneAnd then the cavalry chargedOnly it was the British cavalryThat was the great disadvantage of the formation the French had chosen to use A column made of successive battalions in line looked magnificent and given the chance might have spread into a formidable line to give devastating volley fire but it would take a battalion in a three rank line a lot of time to form suareand they would be hammered by the battalions in front and behind while they did There was neither space nor time to form suare Major Frederick Clarke who charged with the Scotland Greys reckons the enemy was trying to form suare but 'the first and nearest suare had not time to complete their formation and the Greys charged through it' So the British heavy cavalry drove into the panicking columns and Louis Canler tells what happened ' A real carnage followed Everyone was separated from his comrades and fought for his own life Sabres and bayonets slashed at the shaking flesh for we were too close packed to use our firearms' There was no time to form suare so his unit was cut to ribbonsAt first Ordener probably thought Ney was doing the right thing because as his horse breasted the British Dutch ridge he saw 'the enemy baggage and massed fugitives hurrying along the road to Brussels' and he saw abandoned artillery through which the horsemen had passed 'like lightning' but then he saw something elseBritish suares The British were not running away Wellington was not disengaging and trying to withdraw his forces Yes there were men and wagons on the road but most of the British Dutch army was still on the ridge and they were ready to fight So it was horsemen against Infantry and every cavalryman must have known what Captain Duthilt had written that 'it is difficult if not impossible for the best cavalry to break infantry who are formed in suares' so while at first the cavalrymen seemed to have pierced the British Dutch line instead they were faced with the worst obstacle a horseman could encounter The wide plateau of the ridge top was packed with suares at least twenty of them in a rough cheuer pattern so that if a horseman rode safely past one suare he was immediately faced with another and then encountered beyond And each suare bristled with bayonets and spat musket fire'The best of all France possesses' General Foy said watching in amazement as the cavalry rode again and again to its doom 'I saw their golden breastplates' a French infantry officer said of the curassiers 'they passed me by and I saw them no 'Marshal Ney's cavalry assault had been brave and hopeless hurling horses and men against immovable suaresThose suares could have been broken by artillery if Ney had managed to bring guns close to the line or he could have destroyed them with infantry That was the scissors paper and stone reality of Napoleonic warfare If you could force an enemy to form a suare you could bring a line of infantry against it and overwhelm it with musket fire and very late in the afternoon Marshal Ney at last tried that tactic ordering 8000 infantry to attack the British suares Their task was to deploy into line and then smother the British suares with musketry but the British would only be in suare if the cavalry threatened and the French cavalry was exhausted They had charged again and again they had shown extraordinary courage and too many of them were now dead on the hillside There was no charge left in themBritish infantry firepower had again shown its effectiveness and again the line had overcome the column Eight thousand men had been defeated in seconds blasted off the ridge by concentrated musket volleys and shredded by canister The survivors fled down that terrible slope that was slick with blood thick with dead and dying horses and with dead and wounded men It was littered with breastplates discarded by unhorsed cuirassiers running for their lives and with scabbards because many of the French cavalry had pointedly thrown away their sword scabbards to show that they would not sheathe their blades until they had victoryMeanwhile a furious argument was raging between Lieutenant Colonel von Reiche one of von Zieten's staff officers and Captain von Schnarhorst Von Reiche wanted to obey the original orders and go to Wellington's assistance despite the report of the Duke's defeat but von Schnarhorst insisted that Blücher's new orders to turn south and join the main Prussian body must be obeyed 'I pointed out to him' von Reiche said ' that everything had been arranged with von Müffling that Wellington counted on our arrival close to him but von Schnarhorst did not want to listen to anything He declared that I would be held responsible if I disobeyed Blücher's orders' The troops had paused while this argument had raged but then General Steinmetz who commanded the advance guard of von Zieten's column came galloping up angry at the delay and brusuely told von Reiche that Blücher's new orders would be obeyed The column dutifully continued marching eastward looking for a smaller lane that led south towards Plancenoit but just then von Zieten himself appeared and the argument started all over again Von Zieten listened and then took a brave decision He would ignore Blücher's new orders and believing von Müffling's assurance that the Duke was not in full retreat he ordered his troops onto the British Dutch ridge The Prussian 1st Corps would join Wellington after allThe Imperial Guard was trying to deploy into line but once again as had happened so many times in the Peninsula they had left it too late The Brigade of Guards outnumbered and overlapped them the musket balls were coming in front and from the sides and when they tried to spread into a line they were beaten back by those steady relentless volleys Raw badly trained troops oft n opened fire at far too long a range and then had a tendency to shoot high but not the Brigade of Guards They were shooting at a range where a musket could hardly miss and their enemy if he wanted to reload had to halt and then the ranks behind pushed him on and so the Chasseurs fell into confusion and still those relentless volleys struck them and men died They were obstructed now by their own dead and wounded and the Bregade of Guards was still firing until Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Lord Saltoun shouted them forward 'Now's the time my boys' he shouted and the Guarde leveled bayonets and charged 'At that moment Captain Reeve' another Peninsular veteran recalled 'we charged them they went to the right about and fled in all directions'Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Colborne took the 52nd out of line Half Colborne's men were Peninsula veterans and they knew their business Sir John marched his battalion forward then wheeled it round so that his men faced the left flank of the Guard Chasseurs They began firing volleys into the French flank so that the Imperial Guardsman were being attacked from their front and from their left It was merciless The Unbeaten were being killed by the Unbeatable They did not just retreat they broke They had been beaten by British volleys and they fled that terrible musketry and when they fled so did the rest of the guardAnd when they broke so did the hopes of FranceWellington rode back towards the centre of his line Leeks had seen him just before the 52nd marched out of line to destroy and Emperor's dreams The Duke's clothes Leeke said 'consisted of a blue sur tout coat white kerseymere pantaloons and Hessian boots He wore a sword with a waist belt but no sash' The plain blue coat and black cocked hat made Wellington instantly recognizable to his men and now as the French began to flee he watched from the ridge's centre fro a few moments He saw an enemy in panic a retreating enemy that was dissolving into chaos He watched them then was heard to mutter 'In for a penny in for a pound' He took off his cocked hat and men say that just then a slanting ray of evening sunlight came through the clouds to illuminate him on the ridge he had defended all day He waved the hat towards the enemy He waved it three times and it was a signal for the whole allied army to advanceIt was about 10pm on June 21 in London when socialite Mrs Boehm 'walked up to the Prince and asked whether it was his Royal Highness's pleasure that the ball should open The first uadrille was in the act of forming and the Prince was walking up to the dias on which his seat was placed when I saw everyone without the slightest sense of decorum fishing to the windows which had been left wide open because of the excessive sultriness of the weather The music ceased and the dance was stopped; for we heard nothing but the vociferous shouts of an enormous mob who had just entered the suare and were rushing by the side ota post chaise and four out of whose windows were hanging three nasty French eagles In a second the door of the carriage was flung open and without waiting for the steps to be let down out sprung Henry Percy such a dirty figure with a flag in each hand pushing aside every one who happened to be in his way darting up stairs into the ball room stepping hastily up to the Regent dropping on to one knee laying the flags at his feet and pronouncing the words Victory Sir Victory Of course one was glad to think one had beaten those horrid French and all that sort of thing; but still I shall always think it would have been far better if Henry Percy had waited uietly till the morning instead of bursting in upon us as he did in such indecent haste'The battle of Waterloo was an allied victory That was how it was planned and that was how it turned out Wellington would never have made his stand if he thought for one moment that the Prussians would let him down Blücher would never have marched if he thought Wellington would cut and run It is true that the Prussians arrived later than Wellington hoped but that probably contributed to the battle's success If Blücher's forces had arrived two or three hours earlier then Napoleon might have disengaged his army and retreated but by the time that the Prussians intervened the French army was almost wholly committed to the fight and disengagement was impossible The Emperor was not just defeated he was routedAn easier uestion to answer than 'who won the battle' Is 'who lost the battle' and the answer must be Napoleon The Duke and Blücher both offered leadership but Napoleon left the conduct of the battle to Marshal Ney who though braver than most men did little than hurl troops against the most skillful defensive general of the age The French had the time and the men to break Wellington's line but they failed partly because the Duke defended so cleverly and partly because the French never coordinated and all arms assault on the allied line They delayed the start of the battle on a day when Wellington was praying for time They wasted men in a time consuming assault that lasted much of the afternoon And why Napoleon entrusted the battle's conduct to Ney is a mystery; Ney was certainly brave but the Emperor damned him as 'too stupid to be able to succeed' so why rely on him And when the French did achieve their one great success the capture of La Haie Sainte which enabled them to occupy the forward slope of Wellington's ridge the Emperor refused to reinforce the centre and so gave the Duke time to bring up his own reinforcements Finally when the Imperial Guard did attack it was too few and too late and by that time the Prussians were on the French flank and threatening their rear Reading as a buddy read with Hana We had both read An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer were keen to learn I loved this lavishly illustrated bookI've never read any fiction by Cornwall but I am certainly going to look for it nowCornwall's writing style is very readable approachable I'm not a historian so I like thisFor example regarding Slender Billy William of the Netherlands He wrote to his parentsWe had a magnificent affair against Napoleon today it was my corps which principally gave battle to which we owe the victory It is fairer to say the allied victory owed a great deal to the French skirmisher who managed to put a musket ball in the Prince of Orange's shoulder He also in mentions the scavengers that combed the battlefields robbing sometimes murdering wounded soldiersThere is also the touching like the letter Major Arthur Heyland wrote to his familyOf course this book is about Wellington Napoleon but Cornwall also lets Prussian Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher Fürst von Wahlstatt shine Who cannot admire a man who rode into battle at 72 years old when visiting London later on said What a city to sackWhat a guy If anyone can recommend a book about Blucher in English I'd be gratefulWatching the 2015 Waterloo re enactment on TV I was very struck by how small an area they fought in I found this picture from a 2009 re enactment that gives an idea of the scale Just a minor uibble As a big Georgette Heyer fan I was hoping to read again about both Johnny Kincaid Harry Smith The Spanish BrideBoth are in the book but only Kincaid is in the index Hopefully this will be fixed in later editions Some battles change nothing Waterloo changed almost everything Two hundred years ago this year three battles were fought that altered the course of European history For over 50 years Britain and France had fought each other for world dominance But this fight was different This time the European powers united in one of the first effective trans national coalitions The aim to defeat an aging Emperor who had come back from exile to wage a new warIt was a cliff hanger and right up until nightfall on that terribly long day June 18 1815 the outcome of the battle was in doubt Lord Wellington said itIt has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw in your lifeBernard Cornwell's popular history of this great horrible brutal near run battle is simply splendid brilliant storytelling balanced vivid first person testimony lucid analysis and characters major and minor who come alive and all too often die Cornwell's book is filled with helpful maps and battle diagrams glorious portraits and paintings of battle scenes and best of all meticulous absolutely clear descriptions of battle formations maneuvers and tactics Things that have always been a bit fuzzy in my brain suddenly came into focusWellington was a master of the 'reverse slope' Very simply that means he liked to conceal his troops behind a hill At Busaco the British objective was to hold the high hill but if Wellington had positioned his men on the crest or on the forward slope then they would have become targets for the deadly efficient French artilleryBy placing his troops just behind the crest or on the reverse slope Wellington kept them safe and invisible Cornwell is great at explaining why commanders on the field made the decisions they did; for example Ney fought Wellington at Busaco and Ney may well have hesitated to attack at uatre Bras because he incorrectly suspected hidden troops might be massed behind the hill at the crucial intersection And speaking of intersections and uatre Bras here is Cornwell making it all clear again with maps and this The Waterloo campaign is all about roads Roads and crossroads The armies needed the roads Cavalry and infantry could advance across country without roads though their progress would be painfully slow but guns and supply wagons had to have roadsOf course But I never uite got so completely before Thanks to Cornwell I now have a much better grasp not just of Waterloo but also much of European military history from the 18th century through to World War I The roles that skirmishers artillery cavalry and infantry played in battle are now crystal clear to me as are formations like columns lines and suares Cornwell takes the reader through it step by stepYet if a column was psychologically powerful if also had two weaknesses A column was desperately vulnerable to cannon fire and only the men in the outer two ranks and files could use their muskets If a column has seventeen ranks of thirty men each totaling 510 men then only sixty in the first two ranks and the two men on the outside of each rank can actually fire at the enemy fewer than one uarter in allBut it never got boring In fact I found the book hard to put down Cornwell has such a gift for setting the scene the torrential rain the vast impenetrable fields of rye taller than a man's head the horrors of artillery shells raining down on massed columns He builds the suspense with novelistic skill but also a keen sense of the moment and its significance'Despite the weather despite the darkness and despite the defeat they had suffered at Ligny the Prussian army was now just 12 miles from Wellington's They were difficult miles across streams and through steep hillsbut Blucher had promiseda third trap was set Wellington was the bait Napoleon the intended victim and Blucher the executioner It was dawn on Sunday 18 June 1815My Goodreads friend Carol and I read this together along with Georgette Heyer's excellent novel An Infamous Army Thank you Carol for the inspiration and the fun of sharing these two great books In the end I gave this one 4 Stars but it was touch and go for awhile I had to recalibrate my expectations of a Cornwell book This was his first non fiction book and I was expecting a telling of the battle like his awesome fictional tales The book was mostly a recounting of a very disjointed battle by participants Very hard to get a big picture of the battle But the accounts of the battle are excellent and the maps and illustrations are timely and outstanding Highly recommended but you may want to supplement with another account that tells the battle in a comprehensive manner


About the Author: Bernard Cornwell

Cornwell was born in London in 1944 His father was a Canadian airman and his mother who was English a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family who were members of the Peculiar People a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine After he left them he changed his name to his birth mother's maiden n


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