Reviews: Military Books


The Battle of Quatre Bras 1815

Robinson, Mike. The Battle of Quatre Bras 1815. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: History Press, 2009 (2010). Hardcover  ISBN: 9781862272903: 400 pages: £30.00. Paperback ISBN: 9780752457604: 416 pages [includes missing OOB]: £16.99

Cover: the Battle of Quatre Bras 1815

Mike Robinson started his long journey about eight years before this book was published. This detailed and comprehensive coverage brings together a huge amount of eye-witness evidence to the English-language reader as possible. There are many accounts written by British officers and men (especially from the Siborne collection) but little is known of the involvement of the Brunswick, French, Hanoverian, King’s German Legion, Netherlands and Nassau troops. This led to a distorted view of the battle and perpetuated several myths.

The scarcity of material, language barriers, research costs and accessibility to public records and private collections has long been obstacles to research. Further improvement in access to information has shown an upsurge of correspondence over the next few years will be welcome.

The perspective is from the Allied side which is interesting and rewarding to read as set out clearly in his forward. French material was to corroborate the evidence. The maps give an idea of the fog of war that I had never seen before other than when looking at old maps that said "Here be Monsters." In battle you do not know the precise disposition of the enemy just the direction and an impression of strength. The integration of the narratives of the eye witnesses is something that I have rarely read.

I can to this with strong recollections but not high hopes as I thought it was would be a collection of quotes that has become the common method of writing. I was wrong. It had the analytic form and integration that is prized in my profession of a scientist.

The lack of the army list was a pity for the Hardback and has been thankfully rectified for the paperback version. The former was an oversight by the publisher which I understand only too well.

The story of the micro-light view of the battlefield and the proper survey of the battlefield was fascinating when I met the author last year. The narrative shows the fog of war like few books that I have read. The plotting of the eye-witnesses and placing of events seems to be within tens of metres rather than the thousand metre broad brush of this much overlooked battle.

This is one of the few Waterloo Books that I would strongly recommend as it brings light to so many of the dark areas.

Reviewed by Dr Stephen Summerfield (Loughborough University).
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010

 

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