Reviews: Biographical Books

The Waterloo Archive Volume IV: British Sources

Glover, Gareth, ed. The Waterloo Archive: Volume IV British Sources. Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2012. 285 pages. 8 color plates. £25 ($33). ISBN# 9781848326552.

Gareth Glover continues to uncover little known or never been published primary sources in this fourth volume of The Waterloo Archive.  Over a third of the book covers the cavalry, with material from the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, the 1st Dragoon Guards, the 1st and 2nd Dragoons, the 11th and 13th Light Dragoons, and the 18th Hussars.  The selections include letters written by a general, several field grade and company officers, non-commissioned officers, and other ranks.  A wide range of topics are covered that I have never seen in any other source before, such as how one regiment had to force their horses to charge andand instances of friendly fire.[1] There is also a damning indictment of the British heavy cavalry by a squadron commander of the 1st Dragoon Guards, after the regiment took horrendous casualties because the regimental commander lost control of his regiment during a charge:  “Every other regiment of heavy cavalry engaged that day seem to have shown equal gallantry with as little judgement [sic].”[2]

Several of the accounts discussed the parade of British cavalry for the General Blucher and various foreign dignitaries in late May 1815.  One account was from the perspective of a hussar officer, while another was from a private in the 23rd Foot, whose regiment was one of the three infantry regiments tasked with filling in the holes and leveling the parade ground.  Surprisingly, the infantryman was quite complimentary of the cavalry!

Artillery accounts were also included in The Waterloo Archive.  There was a letter from the commander of the Royal Horse Artillery, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Augustus Frazer, written the day after the battle.  In it, he provided for each troop a list of officer and other ranks casualties, horses killed, damage to guns and caissons, and in some cases the number of rounds the troop fired that day.  The letter was addressed to another artillery officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Robe, and Sir Augustus informed him of the extent of his son’s wound.

The infantry is also well represented in this volume, with letters from several general officers, company officers, and privates.  There are letters from the 1st Foot Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the 23rd, 33rd, and the 69th Foot, as well as the 95th Rifles.

One of the first set of British memoirs I bought was George Simmons’ A British Rifleman.  It contains numerous letters written by Lieutenant Simmons while assigned to the 1st Battalion 95th Rifles from 1809 through Waterloo.  The majority of the book covers his five years in the Peninsula, while the final chapter covers the 1815 campaign, where he was seriously wounded.  This volume of The Waterloo Archive provides an expanded description of his time during the campaign. Lieutenant Simmons covers a variety of topics besides a vivid account of the Waterloo.  In it you will find how he served as the surgeon overseeing a flogging (something rare in a Rifles’ unit), how he used his experience as a campaigner to make life easier for himself during the torrential rain the night before the battle, and the camaraderie among the Peninsular veterans in the battalion.  Several times he dined with his battalion commander, Sir Andrew Barnard; while both Lieutenant Colonel Barnard and Sir Harry Smith arranged to have a family friend and a brother placed in his company so he could look after them. One surprising thing that came out was that his company commander, Charles Beckwith, who was Lieutenant Simmons friend and knowing that he lived on only his army pay, “. . . game me the payment of his company, he having done so during the Peninsular War, which made it incumbent on me to use my utmost zeal to keep it in good order.”[3]

I have read all four volumes of The Waterloo Archive and this is my favorite.  The material is much more focused on Quatre Bras and Waterloo than the other volumes.  Additionally, the quality of the writing is much better -- the writers of the letters are able to clearly describe in detail, the events they witnessed.  Gareth Glover, as usual, does a superb job editing the book and provides background information on individuals and places mentioned by the soldiers in their letters.  It is another welcomed addition to my Waterloo library.

Notes:

[1] P. 60

[2] P. 51

[3] P. 203

 

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2012

 

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