Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


Archive Sources

Official Histories

Contingent Histories

Authorities

Memoirs & Biographies


German Waterloo Sources

An Examination of Material in the German Language on the Campaign of 1815

By Peter Hofschröer

Due to lack of space in my recent publication 1815 - The Waterloo Campaign. Wellington, his German Allies and the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, I was unable to include a bibliographical essay on the relative merits and value of German source material on the Waterloo Campaign. It is hoped that this essay will go some way towards making up for that.

Archive Sources

  • Berlin Archives

    At one time, the Prussian War Archives were housed in Berlin. Some papers survived the Second World War and can be found in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv preußischer Kulturbesitz (GStA). The bulk of the collection is said to be held in the former KGB Special Archive in Moscow, but access remains very restricted, and it has not yet been possible to verify this.

    Blücher's Chief-of-Staff, Generallieutenant August Wilhelm Anton Graf Neidhardt von Gneisenau (1760-1832), never wrote his memoirs or an account of the Campaign of 1815. However, he did keep copies of a number of papers from the Prussian headquarters, which were at one time available in the estate of Sommerschenburg, the family home. These papers are now in the GStA under Rep. 92 (i.e. Carton 92). Included in this collection are a number of letters from Generalmajor von Müffling, the Prussian liaison officer in Wellington's headquarters in Brussels, in the vital days of June 1815. These letters are particularly interesting as the show the information that Wellington gave Müffling during the hours of crisis. Much of this information was misleading and led in part to Blücher's decision to fight at Ligny in unfavourable circumstances. It is interesting to note from Müffling's memoirs, examined below, how circumspect he was about these events and how selective his memory was.

  • Nassau Archives

    These can be found in the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Wiesbaden. Abteilungen 202 and 210 contain material relating to the Waterloo Campaign. Historians of the Campaign, including Pflugk-Harttung and De Bas, used certain of these documents in their works.

  • Hanoverian Archives

    The Niedersächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Hanover contains a collection of material relating to the Waterloo Campaign. The files of interest include:

    1. 38D - King's German Legion 1803-1816

      41 - Generalkommando und Militärakten der Londoner Kanzlei 1629-1864.

      38D includes a report on the Battle of Waterloo, while 41 includes the official after-action reports of various brigade, regiment, and battalion commanders of the Hanoverian forces at the Battle of Waterloo, casualty lists, copies of correspondence with Siborne on his Waterloo model, and sworn depositions on the capture of Général Cambronne at Waterloo. Much of this material was used by Pflugk-Harttung in his "Belle Alliance" (see below).

Official Histories

  1. The Prussian General Staff

    The Prussian General Staff produced a History of the Wars of Liberation, Plane der Schlachten und Treffen. The fourth volume, covering the 1815 Campaign, was published in Berlin in 1825. The author was named Wagner. This work was based on the after-action reports deposited in the War Archives. It has been translated into French, but not into English.

  2. The German General Staff

    The German General Staff also produced a History of the Wars of Liberation. The first volume on the Campaign of 1815, authored by Lettow-Vorbeck, appeared under the title Napoleons Untergang 1815, Erster Band Elba-Belle Alliance and covered the events up to and including the Battle of Waterloo. It was published in Berlin in 1904. It has been reprinted recently and is available from specialist booksellers.

    The second volume, by Voß, Napoleons Untergang 1815, Zweiter Band, Von Belle-Alliance bis zu Napoleons Tot, was published in Berlin in 1906. It covers the events after Waterloo such as the race to Paris, the fortress warfare and other theatres of the campaign. It has also been recently reprinted.

    The third useful work produced by the German General Staff, authored by Schwertfeger, covered the history of the Prussian army in 1815. Its title is Das preußische Heer in den Jahren 1814 und 1815. It was published in Berlin in 1914. It has also been recently reprinted.

Contingent Histories

  1. Brunswickers

    There are two standard works on this contingent. The first, by Wachholtz, a member of the corps, was published in Brunswick in 1816 under the title Geschichte des Herzoglich Braunschweigschen Armee-Corps. Further details can be found in Volume 2 of Kortzfleisch's History of the 92nd Infantry Regiment, published in Brunswick in 1898 under the title Geschichte des Herzoglich Braunschweigischen Infanterie-Regiments.

  2. Nassauers

    The standard work is Rößler's Geschichte der Herzoglich Nassauischen Truppen published in Wiesbaden in 1863. Various regimental histories add further details. These include Rößler's Geschichte des Königlich Preußischen 1. Nassauischen Infanterie-Regiments Nr. 87 (Berlin, 1882) and Geschichte des Herzoglich Nassauischen 2. Regiments (Berlin, 1891). Just published is the long awaited second volume in Wacker's History of the Nassau army, Das Herzoglich-Nassauische Militär 1813-1866 (Taunusstein, 1998).

  3. Hanoverians

    The standard work is Volume 5 of Sichart's Geschichte der Königlich-Hannoverschen Armee, published in Hanover and Leipzig in 1898.

  4. KGL

    Beamish's History has the advantage of having been written by a member of the Legion, both in German and English, and the English edition has recently been reprinted. Its title is History of the King's German Legion. This work is complemented by Schwertfeger's Geschichte der Königlich Deutschen Legion 1803-1816, published in two volumes in Hanover and Leipzig in 1907.

Authorities

There are several authoritative accounts of the campaign in German. These include:

  1. Clausewitz

    Clausewitz was chief-of-staff of the Prussian III Army Corps and later taught at the Prussian War Academy. He died from cholera before he had a chance to produced a set of memoirs. His widow however, had his teaching material published. One of the volumes covered the 1815 Campaign. This was published in Berlin in 1835 under the title Der Feldzug von 1815 in Frankreich. A French translation has been published, but the first Duke of Wellington had the publication of an English edition suppressed because certain of Clausewitz's revelations embarrassed the Duke. There are plans to publish this translation in the near future under the title On Waterloo.

  2. Damitz

    Using material supplied by Grolman, one of Blücher's senior staff officers in the Campaign, Damitz wrote a two-volume work entitled Geschichte des Feldzuges von 1815 in den Niederlanden und Frankreich. It was published in Berlin, Posen and Bromberg in 1837 and 1838.

  3. Hofmann

    Hofmann was second-in-command of the 1st Brigade of the Prussian I Army Corps under Zieten. As such, he saw much of the fighting at first hand. His account, Zur Geschichte des Feldzuges von 1815, was published in Berlin in 1851.

  4. Ollech

    A particularly useful account, Ollech based his work extensively on the Prussian War Archives. As these are now missing, presumably destroyed in the Second World War, his extensive quotations from original documents are very interesting. It was Ollech that first discovered the 'Frasnes Letter', starting off the controversy of Wellington's deception of Blücher. His Geschichte des Feldzuges von 1815 was published in Berlin in 1876.

  5. Pflugk-Harttung

    He was probably the most prolific Waterloo historian to have lived. Although he wrote several books and numerous articles on aspects of the campaign, the two most useful books are his Belle Alliance, published in Berlin in 1915, and his Vorgeschichte der Schlacht bei Belle-Alliance. Wellington, published in Berlin in 1903. The former consists of a collection of official after-action reports, sworn depositions used in various courts-martial, and eyewitness accounts taken from various German archives. As a substantial part of this material is no longer available, Belle Alliance is particularly useful. The Vorgeschichte is probably the most exhaustively researched examination of the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo written until the first volume of Hofschröer's 1815 ó The Waterloo Campaign.

  6. Plotho

    Plotho's work on the Waterloo Campaign, Der Krieg des verbündeten Europa gegen Frankreich im Jahre 1815, published in Berlin in 1818 was the first authoritative history of the Campaign written in German. It covers the entire campaign, including theatres other than the Low Countries, and contains extensive orders-of-battle.

Memoirs & Biographies

  1. Blücher

    Generalfeldmarschall Gebhard Lebrecht Fürst Blücher von Wahlstatt (1742-1819) commanded the Prussian 'Army of the Lower Rhine' in 1815. Although he did not produce his memoirs, Blücher did write many letters of which several collections have been published. These collections of letters contain little of relevance to the events of 1815. It is amusing to note the comment made by Lady Longford in her Life of Wellington that Blücher was supposedly 'illiterate.' For an 'illiterate' man, he wrote an awful lot! It is a shame that certain British writers find it necessary to make such unfounded and derogatory comments. There are also several biographies of Blücher, that by W. von Unger being one of the more useful. The volume covering 1815 was published in Berlin in 1908. The one biography of Blücher in English, that by Roger Parkinson, is flawed with several factual errors and his account of the Waterloo Campaign is clouded by anglophone mythology. As such, it is of limited use.

  2. Gneisenau

    As mentioned above, Gneisenau did not write his memoirs. In addition to the papers referred to above, there are several biographies of Gneisenau and quotations from his correspondence can be found in various works. Perhaps the most useful biography is that by Delbrück, Das Leben des Feldmarschalls Grafen Neidhardt von Gneisenau. The fourth volume, published in Berlin in 1880, covers the Campaign of 1815.

  3. Grolman

    Besides the history of the campaign compiled by Damitz from Grolman's papers, Conrady wrote a biography of this senior Prussian staff officer, Leben und Wirkung von Carl von Grolman. The second volume, published in Berlin in 1895, covers the Waterloo Campaign. Grolman did not write his memoirs.

  4. Müffling

    As his memoirs were translated into English, Müffling's account of his role in the Waterloo Campaign is among the better known. However, a comparison of his published record of certain events and the content of various papers held in the GStA in Berlin (see above) shows that Müffling's memory was rather selective in places, particularly on how he was duped by Wellington into giving Blücher false information. Müffling's My Life has recently been reprinted.

  5. Nostitz

    Nostitz, Blücher's ADC in 1815, kept a journal of the campaigns of 1813-1815. The German General Staff published it in Berlin in 1885 in the "Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften" series under the title Das Tagebuch des Generals der Kavallerie Grafen von Nostitz.

  6. Zieten

    Although Zieten's journal from the Campaign appears to be another one of the casualties of the Second World War, extracts from it were published in the magazine "Militärisches" in 1896 in Leipzig. Zieten commanded the Prussian I Army Corps.

  7. Thielemann

    His biography, published in 1894 in Leipzig, was written by Petersdorff and entitled "General Johann Adolph Freiherr von Thielmann [sic]." Thielemann commanded the III Prussian Army Corps in 1815.

  8. Bülow

    The commander of the Prussian IV Army Corps did not leave any memoirs either. However, Varnhagen von Ense wrote his biography, Leben des Generals Grafen Bülow von Dennewitz, published in Berlin in 1853.

  9. Reiche

    Reiche was chief-of-staff of the Prussian I Army Corps. Weltzien edited his Memoiren, the second volume of which, published in Leipzig in 1857, covered the Campaign of 1815. Reiche's memoirs are, as a whole, accurate and informative, but there is the occasional error, such as in certain details of his account of Gneisenau's decision to retreat after the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815.

  10. Dörnberg

    Dörnberg's reports and memoirs have never been published as such. However, several works contain reference to these. As commander of the Allied listening-post at Mons, his accounts are useful. Some of his letters and reports can be found in the papers of certain British officers, such as Wellington and Uxbridge. Pflugk-Harttung (see above) made extensive use of two documents in particular. One was then in the Prussian War Archives, the other can be found in the Hanover Archives. As the former is no longer available, one cannot be certain as to when it was written. However, it contains so many inaccuracies that it seems likely Dörnberg wrote it some years after the events. The latter was a report on the role of his Hanoverians in the Battle of Waterloo and was written in 1824.

  11. Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar

    His biography was published in Gotha in 1866. Written by Starklof, the second volume covers the Waterloo Campaign. The title is Das Leben des Herzogs Bernhard von Sachsen-Weimar.

  12. Thurn und Taxis

    Thurn und Taxis was the Bavarian representative in Blücher's headquarters. Although he never wrote his memoirs, he did keep a journal of his role in the Campaigns of 1812-1815. This diary was then deposited in the Vienna archives before being published in 1912 under the title Aus drei Feldzügen 1812 bis 1815. His insights into events in Blücher's headquarters, as a neutral outsider, are of particular use and this diary, kept while the events were in progress, can be taken as reliable.

 

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