Reviews: Biographical Books

The Waterloo Archive Volume V: German Sources

Glover, Gareth (ed.). The Waterloo Archives Volume V: German Sources. London: Frontline Books, 2013. 255 pages. ISBN# 9781848326842. Hardcover. $50/£25

In 2010, Frontline Books published Volume Two of Gareth Glover’s Waterloo Archives. It’s subtitle was German Sources.  The primary focus of Volume Two was the King’s German Legion (KGL) – Germans who were integral part of the British Army. Less than 45% of the book covered the other German contingents which fought during the campaign. Mr. Glover addresses this imbalance in his latest volume of the Waterloo Archives.  Like Volume Two, Volume Five is about the Germans, but 80% of the book is about the non-KGL German troops in the Anglo-Allied Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington.  

The material in this volume is very different than what is found in volumes of the Archives[1] that are from British sources.  Those volumes tended to be letters and diaries and covered the whole Waterloo Campaign, from the buildup of the troops in the Low Countries, to the battles, the pursuit of the defeated French Army, to the subsequent occupation of Paris and France.  The latest volume is different because 95% of it covers the five key days of 15 – 19 June and the two major battles – Quatre Bras and Waterloo – fought during that time.  Most of the book is either after action reports by the commanders of the various battalions and brigades or letters home by junior officers, written immediately after the battle of Waterloo.

The battle of Quatre Bras receives quite a bit of attention because it was the Dutch and Germans who held the key crossroads until the British could arrive.  Many of the accounts are by junior officers who vividly describe the bitter fighting and the heavy casualties they took while they tried to delay the French until reinforcements arrived.

The Brunswick Corps is well represented with a report by Colonel Augustus von Herzberg, who was attached to the Brunswick headquarters, after serving as the commander of the Brunswick Oels during the Peninsular War.  It includes a detailed breakdown of the force, listing the commander of each infantry battalion and cavalry regiment and its strength. He also includes the supporting artillery, the military police, the staff and the aides-de-camp.  Furthermore he provides a description of the uniform of each unit.  Included in the report is a description of the horse each commander rode.  For example the Duke of Brunswick rode a light brown gelding[2], while Major Metzner, commander of the 1st Line Battalion rode a black English mare.[3]

Colonel von Herzberg, also on the Brunswick staff,  provides a detailed account of the fighting at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and includes a by unit listing of the casualties they took at Quatre BRas.  He also includes anecdotes of the bravery of different enlisted soldiers.  The Brunswick accounts also has two letters from Colonel Olfermann to the Brunswick Privy Council one written the night after Quatre Bras and the other the day after Waterloo.  These letters expand on Colonel von Herzberg’s account and include casualty lists for both battles, the names of Brunswick officers killed by unit, and soldiers who were recognized for extraordinary feats of heroism.

The Nassau and Hanoverian continents are well represented with 47 and 37 pages of material respectively. Here you will find reports and letters from brigade commanders, such as Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimer, the brigade commander of 2nd Nassau Regiment and the Regiment of Orange Nassau; Major General August von Kruse, who commanded the Nassau reserve; and  letters from a junior officer, a non-commissioned officer, and even a private!.  The Hanoverian Landwehr is also has a wide variety of material written not just on the infantry, but the cavalry and artillery.  Most were written by junior officers, but some were by senior officers.  Mr Glover continues to add to the wealth of information on the KGL with another 32 pages of material.

One of the most fascinating portions of the book was in the section on the Medical Services.   Twenty-three pages were devoted to a series of documents concerning the actions of the medical personnel of Colonel von Vincke’s 5th Hanoverian Brigade during the battle of Waterloo.  Apparently the medical staff could not be found and the brigade commander wanted to know why.  So he had the brigade’s surgeon and five assistant surgeons provide a report in writing on:

“Where he was during the battle on 18 June;
If he has been ordered by someone to retreat, and if so, where to;
On what day he has returned to the brigade;
What has kept him from returning earlier”[4]

What follows was a series of reports from the six officers, who abandoned their command, and their attempts to cover up their actions. If the commander did not like their answer, he would ask for clarification.  If the officer provided a name of someone to verify his report, Colonel Vincke then had those individuals interviewed and provide statements of what transpired.  The reports by the surgeons provide a detailed description of the chaos in the rear of the Allied forces during the late afternoon of the battle. Sprinkled throughout the pages are comments and observations by Colonel Vincke.  Unfortunately, the reader is left with just the reports and there is no indication whether the officers were court-martialed for their conduct.

Unlike the previous four volumes of the Waterloo Archives, Volume Five has five appendices.  The first appendix contains eyewitness accounts of Colonel Hugh Halkett’s capture of the French general Cambronne.  Appendix Two is a series of citations that accompanied the Guelphic Medal, awarded to “. . . non-commissioned officers and soldiers who have distinguished themselves in battle. . .”[5] These citations provide an insight into the heroics of the individual soldiers that are often overlooked in most histories.  The third appendix is a listing of every officer in the Brunswick Corps.  (This is a great source, but, unfortunately, the individual who compiled the list in 1837 did not provide the first names of the officers.) Appendix Four is a list of all the King’s German Legion (KGL) officers who were transferred to the Hanoverian Landwehr Battalions in April 1815.  The list is by brigade and for each battalion in the brigade the officer’s rank, family name, and which KGL battalion he came from.  As I read through the list I wondered what mechanism was set up to determine which officers would go.  How many of them volunteered and what was their motivation for volunteering? Did the senior officers of the KGL take the opportunity to purge their corps of the less competent and misfit officers?  The fifth appendix is a list, by unit of all officers in the Hanoverian Army in the Netherlands in 1815. There is not a date for when in1815 this list was valid.  A good indication would have been to see if the officers transferred from the KGL were listed, however some were and some were not.  Furthermore it contains officers who were killed at Waterloo. I suspect that the list was compiled from the archives.  The final appendix is a similar list, but for the Nassau contingent.

Once again Gareth Glover provides a treasure trove of information that has not been published in English before.  Volume Five of the Waterloo Archives is packed with primary source information, not only on the King’s German Legion, but many Hanoverian landwehr battalions, the Brunswickers, and the Nassau contingents.  It supplements the many accounts found in Volume Two of the Waterloo Accounts and between the two volumes the reader is left with a solid picture of the performance of the German troops that were part of the Anglo-Allied Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington.

Too often, the efforts of the German allies during the battle are denigrated in British accounts.  Inside of looking at all of their contributions, the Hanoverians in particular, are tarred by the poor performance and cowardice of one or two of their units. The accounts do not deny certain units or individuals deserted the battlefield,[6]  but the overall impression the reader is left from the numerous reports is that they did duty and often quite heroically.  This book will go a long ways to rehabilitating the German contingents in the minds of many readers.  I strongly recommend this volume not only for those who specialize in the Waterloo Campaign, but to all those interested in the Napoleonic Wars.

Notes:

[1] Volumes I, III, and IV

[2] Page 144

[3] Page 147

[4] Page 173

[5] Page 196

[6]  Lieutenant von Berckefeldt, the adjutant of the Münden Landwehr Battalion wrote that “. . . the Münden Battalion was not without individuals who had failed to do their duty. These included: a sergeant of No. 4 Company who had disregarded his duties and had brought back some wounded men and failed to return promptly; the supply sergeants of No. 1 and No 4 companies  and a corporal of No. 3 company who had been dispatched early in the morning to procure foodstuffs and did not return to the battalion until the 19th; moreover two train attendants, 11 musicians, and 13 privates, of whom it was proven that they had dishonourably left the battlefield.  All these men were punished appropriately.” Page 92

Reviewed by Robert Burnham

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2012

 

Reviews Index | Biographies Reviews Index ]



©1995 - 2017, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]