Reviews: Biographical Books


The Waterloo Archive Volume II: German Sources

Glover, Gareth, ed. The Waterloo Archive, Volume II: German Sources. Barnsley, UK: Frontline Books, 2010. 271 pages. ISBN#  9781848325418. Hardcover. $50

 

The Waterloo Archive Volume II: German Sources

I collect memoirs.  My library has over 250 sets of memoirs and diaries.  Although the vast majority of them are British and I have a decent collection of French volumes, there is a huge hole when it comes to German material.  This volume of the Waterloo Archive helps to fill that gap.  Much of the material in Gareth Glover's new book comes from Belle-Alliance Reports and Information on the Participation of German Troops of Wellington’s Army in the Action at Quatre Bras and in the Battle of Belle-Alliance, which was published in 1915.  The editor of the book was Dr. Julus von Pflugk-Harttung, of the State Archive in Berlin.  His work consists of two types of reports:  after-action reports that were written sometimes within hours of the end of the battle and reports written ten to twenty years later, similar to Siborne’s Waterloo Letters.  It is fortunate for the researcher that Dr. von Pflugk-Harttung compiled these reports for the State Archive was destroyed during World War II.  In addition to this work, Mr. Glover also draws on other German archives, private collections, and other sources to provide material that has never been published in English before.

German Sources has 63 entries and the authors run the gamut from general officers to non-commissioned officers.  Most were written by the senior surviving officer in the unit.  There are 20 letters covering the King’s German Legion (KGL), 17 that deal with the Hanoverians, 15 from the Nassau contingent, 5 from the Brunswickers, and one from a Prussian artillery officer.  The entries for the KGL, the Hanoverians, the Brunswick, and some of the Nassau material are drawn from Belle-Alliance Report, and are after-action reports.  The others are from diaries, journals, and letters.

Many of the reports were written shortly after the battle and some immediately after it.  These reflect the pride and the exhaustion of the writer. My favorite has to be the report from Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Netherlands Division to his division commander, General Perponcher.  It was written at 9:00 p.m. on 15 June 1815 and goes into great detail on how he deployed his brigade at Frasnes to oppose the advancing French infantry and cavalry.  He described the terrain and how it influenced his deployment and the effect it had on his troops.  He also mentioned that he saw very few Prussian troops.  He goes on to assure his commander that “All necessary measures have been taken to protect us throughout the night.”[1] Then, almost as an afterthought, he informs General Perponcher that

“By the way, I need to confess to Your Excellency that I am too weak to hold out here for long.  The 2nd Battalion of Orange Nassau still has French muskets and is down to 10 cartridges per man. The Volunteer Jägers have carbines of four different calibres, and every man is likewise down to 10 cartridges.  I will defend the post entrusted to me as long as possible.  I expect to be attacked at daybreak.  The troops are in the best of spirits. The words ‘Wilhelm’ and ‘Wiesbaden’ I have issued as watchword and war cry.”

Colonel Bernhard then goes on to tell the general that “The artillery has no infantry cartridges.”[2]

Volume II is a goldmine of new material for researchers on Waterloo.  It goes a long way to dispel misconceptions and myths of the role of the German contingents in the Waterloo Campaign.  Particularly of interest is the information on the role the Nassau troops played in the defense of Hougoumont, which few British primary sources mention. 

The authors of the reports often wrote with a refreshing honesty that is missing in the British memoirs.  They were willing to praise other units or officers that did well. Yet unlike most British accounts, they were not afraid to provide names when someone was incompetent or was a coward.  For example, Colonel Best, commander of the 4th Hanoverian Brigade wrote on 22 June 1815 to the 6th Division Commander, that Major von der Decken of the Verden Battalion, “. . . as well his officers and men displayed the greatest bravery and sang-froid, and I therefore fell obligated to commend him to your particular consideration.  The sharpshooters also did their duty and quite early lost their leader, Lieutenant Jenish of the Osterode Battalion, who was severely wounded and died the next day.  The Verden Battalion, fighting in open order, lost Lieutenant Wegenere who was killed; Lieutenant von der Horst, Ensigns Plate and Kotzebue and several men were taken prisoner because they had mistaken French trailleurs for Brunswickers.”[3]

Later in his report Colonel Best noted that

“Captains Siegner and Ostwald of the Verden Battalion, claiming sickness on the 16th, went to the rear and allegedly, even as far as Antwerp. Captain von Rauschenplat of the Osterode Battalion also went back due to indisposition. Ensign Schwabe of the Osterode Battalion stayed with the baggage on his commander’s order even though the brigade had already given that assignment to Lieutenant Best. Lieutenant Kuhlmann, of the Munden Battalion, who is of a weak disposition, also went back, feeling unwell. Captain Jormin and Lieutenant Schneider of the Luneburg Battalion also went to the rear due to sickness, although the latter did return. The Quartermaster Sergeant of the Luneburg Battalion was the only one who stayed with his unit; all others had retreated with the baggage. Several NCOs and privates took advantage of an opportunity to retire with the baggage and went to Brussels and as far as Antwerp, and now return day by day. The disgraceful manner in which particularly the assistant and junior surgeons had failed to do their duty and left the senior surgeon unaided would justify appropriate punishment.”[4]

As usual, Mr. Glover does his normal superb job editing the letters.  He has provided 28 pages of footnotes (an amazing 455 footnotes!) that give additional information on individuals and places mentioned in the text.  This is extremely helpful, since many of the entries refer to junior officers and non-commissioned officers that most readers will not be familiar with.

As the title states, Volume II of the Waterloo Archive covers the German troops who fought in the Waterloo Campaign.  Yet it is a bit of a misnomer.  Although it covers the King’s German Legion, Hanoverian, Brunswick, and Nassau contingents, it has only one entry for the Prussian Army.  This is an observation, not a criticism.  That being said, this book will be a valuable addition to any Waterloo collection! The editor has told me at that two more volumes covering British sources will be published in 2011.  Hopefully there is also another German volume planned!

Reviewed by Robert Burnham
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2010

Notes:

[1] Page 147

[2] Page 148

[3] Page 119

[4] Pages 120-121

 

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