Napoleon Series Archive 2015

Soult's treason and the archives

On another forum, a member of this forum questioned the veracity of the research I presented in my diary of the Waterloo campaign that points an accusing finger at Soult. I am surprised that nothing was said here given the ample opportunity and data that was presented, but apparently this person required numbers in order to have the confidence to attack.

To make sure no one else shared these doubts, I thought I would simply revisit the sourcing.

After the campaign, the correspondence from the campaign was scattered. Grouchy had the order book, but it has never been seen. He eventually provided presented a copy that included from the evening of June 13th forward. Additional pieces of correspondence were shared in 19th century books and periodicals.

In the late 19th century through early 20th century, an effort was made to gather materials by the French archives. In some cases originals were received, in some cases copies of originals in family archives were made. The bottom line is that the materials in the archives are incomplete. In some cases, one can find a piece of correspondence that has several versions - though usually with only minor changes due to copying etc.

Arthur Chuquet then published several volumes of additional correspondence in early 20th century.

Lettow-Vorbeck wrote a detailed study of the 1815 campaign, and visited the archives. He found and published key correspondence, and went into detail on the orders/movements including Soult's acts that I documented. Some of what he has seen has since gone missing. (several very important pieces have gone missing)

Houssaye's did not comment on some of what Lettow-Vorbeck saw, and this is one of the criticisms of Houssaye.

Regnault did a study of the concentration, but likewise hid some of the materials that were most damaging to the story of a flawless concentration.

Callatay wrote an article (in English in First Empire #102, September/October of 2008) which did give a day by day account of the French concentration including all the problems. He believes that the previous hiding of Soult's acts were to protect military reputation. Note that Houssaye, in his footnotes, also defended Soult, though he likewise did not share the fact of rewritten orders.

Pierre de Wit has also documented every element of the concentration. ( though note, one does have to browse the relevant days and read the PDFs. Don't laugh - this was beyond at least one person's ability.)

And then there is correspondence that is in the archives.

From a collection of all known materials from/to Soult/Napoleon I made my analysis.

Am I the first to notice Soult's rewritten orders? Absolutly not, it is documented by Lettow-Vorbeck, Callatay, and de Wit, and generally known by experts of French operations. I am the first, to my knowledge, to publicly suggest that Soult may have had a roll in the delays of Gérard/IV Corps from Metz. That correspondence has disappeared; it is simply a hypothesis based on Soult's actions during the campaign, and because what Gérard executed was not consistent with Napoleon's orders to Soult. Gérard could have misunderstood a perfectly clear order. Lettow-Vorbeck presents a theory based on Gérard needing to wait to be relieved properly - but even with that explanation, it does not explain why Napoleon's intent could not have been met.

Am I the first to notice Napoleon's understanding of his left wing on June 15th/16th? Hard to say, it is one of the most talked about situations of the campaign, but the analysis typically focuses on d'Erlon's diversion to Ligny and Ney's delays at Quatre-Bras. However, I am the first, to my knowledge, to point out that in Napoleon's memoirs, and Gourgaud account, the disposition of the left wing does not match reality. Further, the order Soult sent late at night to d'Erlon to bring up his rear formations early on June 16th was NOT included in the copy of the Registre du Major Général. Finally, Napoleon's correspondence on June 16th strongly indicates he was never aware that d'Erlon was closer to Fleurus than to Ney, and thus the orders Napoleon intended Ney to execute were not feasible with 3 infantry divisions.

During the whole of the 19th century, the consensus was that the French concentration was a brilliant feat of arms. Part of this was due to fans of Napoleon looking to paint as positive a picture as possible on what was a decisive defeat. Considering the drama and other controversies of the campaign, very little is ever devoted to the French concentration. In Clayton's 2014 book, a very detailed one, the concentration barely merits a few paragraphs sprinkled here and there in the pre-June 15th material. Because the concentration reached factual status as a brilliant feat of arms, there has been little motivation to study it. During the campaign, the heavy focus has been on Ney/Quatre-Bras and Grouchy/pursuit, along with of course the events of June 18th.

If there are any questions on what I present as fact, I would be happy to answer them.

Final note, the theory of Soult being a traitor is not new. Many veterans believed it, including some with Napoleon in exile. The materials that demonstrate nefarious actions came to light after their deaths. I do believe had Mauduit has access to the materials we now have, he would have been able to publish quite a factual case during Soult's lifetime. As it was, Mauduit accused Soult in his work, and Soult/family remained silent like they have for 200 years - never responding to accusations of treason or incompetence.

The French correspondence for the 1815 campaign can be found online:

Porte-feuille de Buonaparte: pris à Charleroi le 18 juin 1815, The Hague, 1815.

Documents inédits sur la campagne de 1815, M. L. Ney, 1840.

Relation succincte de la campagne de 1815 en Belgique, Emmanuel Grouchy, 1843

Histoire des derniers jours de la Grande armé e, ou souvenirs, documents et correspondance iné dite de Napoléon en 1815, Hippolyte de Mauduit, 1847.
Volume 1 :
Volume 2 :

Napoléon a Waterloo, G. Pontécoulant, 1866.

Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, Volume 28, 1869.

1815, Henry Houssaye, 1900.

Napoleons untergang 1815, Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck, 1906.

Ordres et apostilles de Napoléon (1799-1815), Arthur Chuquet, 4 Volumes 1911-1912.

Inédits Napoléoniens, Arthur Chuquet, 2 Volumes 1913-1919
Volume 1 :
Volume 2:

Remaining are in archives, but can be found in Pierre de Wit's materials.

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Soult's treason and the archives
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