The French at Waterloo: Eyewitness Accounts Volume 1 – Napoleon, Imperial Headquarters, and 1st Corps
Pen & Sword (2020)
Hardback,154pp, 8 pages of B&W illustrations and 3 small diagrams for explanation
Andrew Field has rightly become renowned as an expert in the French sources from the 1815 campaign and has previously published three volumes covering the entire campaign from the French perspective. Here in the first of two planned follow-up volumes, Andrew now presents the complete testimony from each individual regarding the Battle of Waterloo, allowing the reader to fully establish the context in which their comments are made. The author greatly helps this process, by providing a lengthy statement of the service of everyone, their role at Waterloo and the time when it was produced.
This last factor, as Andrew Field so ably explains in his very informative foreword, has a great bearing on how the individual saw things and coloured often by their political leanings after the wars (pro or anti Napoleon – there does not appear to be anyone in the middle ground). He also shows clearly that many later accounts were heavily influenced by Napoleon’s own accounts (just as many in Britain were influenced by Siborne’s history) and he even shows two accounts by Marbot, one written soon after the battle and a second written many years later which had clearly been altered to agree with the account of his beloved Emperor.
For all that Andrew Field has made the French accounts his area of speciality, he clearly seeks to maintain an impartial view of the material and his comments regarding their inconsistencies, occasional clear bias and their statements on matters which they could not have possibly witnessed are invaluable in aiding the reader to fully comprehend them and understand their intentions.
Andrew Field provides three statements on the battle by Napoleon, which clearly shows how over time Napoleon, turned the blame for the defeat more and more on Ney and Grouchy. He has also highlighted several inconsistencies between the witness statements and the claims of Napoleon, which is something I have previously mentioned myself and remain interested in. Many witnesses claim that the arrival of the Prussians on the right wing was a complete surprise, which goes against Napoleon’s claims that he knew of the Prussian advance by 1pm. It is also interesting to note how many correspondents are confused between La Haye Sainte and Mont St Jean village when describing d’Erlon’s attack. I did however take note of two particularly interesting comments, one in which Napoleon states that the Red Lancers were involved against the British heavy cavalry following d’Erlon’s attack, something that is usually denied by historians, despite the fact that the Scots Greys often say that they faced red lancers. I also found Drouot’s statement, made before Napoleon’s version was published, confirming that the first attack by the Imperial Guard consisted of 4 battalions (rather than regiments) as Napoleon later stated.
If I have any little niggles with this book, it is a lack of maps, which would be essential for anyone not fully conversant with the layout of the area around the Waterloo battlefield. I would also have liked to see their complete comments on the 1815 campaign including their experiences at Ligny or Quatre Bras, but perhaps that is intended for further volumes in the future? I cannot recommend this book too highly for those who really wish to get a fully rounded picture of the events of this momentous battle and I for one look forward to the next volume.