The Waterloo Campaign in 100 Locations
John Grehan with Dominique Timmermans
Frontline Books (Pen & Sword) (2023)
Illustrations: 100 black & white
When I first picked up this book, I thought it was going to be another guide to the battlefield of Waterloo but was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is much more than that. The 100 locations chosen to tell the story of not only the military actions that took place during 1815, but those sites that had a political significance to the story of Napoleon’s last gamble for power.
The story begins with the Hofburg Palace in Vienna where representatives of the nations of Europe were discussing the future of the continent when they received news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Location 2 is the Villa dei Mulini, Portoferraio, Elba, where Napoleon lived when on the island. The locations then follow Napoleon’s landing on Golfe Juan on France’s Côte d’Azur, along the Route Napoleon and through Grenoble, his journey back to Paris, and thus back to power. Each section provides details of the location (address and map coordinates) plus a history of that place and its significance in the story of the events of 1815. The photographs show buildings and memorials relevant to each location.
Aside from detailing the locations relevant to each stage of the events of 1815, the author has provided historical narrative for the site and the events surrounding it. For example, the Tuileries, Paris, is one location illustrated as it was in its heyday, as Napoleon knew it when he arrived there in March. Following this location, Fort Napoleon, Ostend, is included as this fortress would have been familiar to those British troops disembarking to join Wellington’s Army.
The author shows us where Napoleon distributed the Imperial Eagles to the regiments of his army, where his forces assembled before marching to war, and where the Duke of Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army gathered in Brussels. The camera and narrative follow the initial encounters on the banks of the River Sambre and the manoeuvring of the French and Coalition forces leading to the first great battles of the campaign at Quatre Bras and Ligny. The key sites occupied by the opposing armies at these battles are investigated as are the routes of the withdrawal to Mont St Jean by Wellington’s army and to Wavre by Blücher’s Prussians.
The Waterloo battlefield and its associated buildings are examined in pictorial detail, as are the locations which marked the pivotal moments of the battle. The sites of the corresponding battle at Wavre are also shown, as well as the pursuit of the two wings of beaten French Army, including the sieges of the fortresses by the British army, before Paris was finally reached. The uprising in the Vendée and the last clashes of the campaign before Napoleon’s abdication are also included in the story. Decoster’s Cabarat, Hotel du Grand Turc (where Napoleon stopped for something to eat on his way back to Paris) through to Plymouth Sound (where Napoleon was on board HMS Bellerophon) are some of the many locations that are part of the story, some of which may not be so familiar to the reader.
The Waterloo Campaign in 100 Locations fulfils a number of functions. It is a travel guide for anyone who wishes to visit the sites associated with the events of 1815, often highlighting buildings and memorials that the visitor may not be aware of. It is also a detailed and informative read about the people, places and events of that year, so effectively complements any library of the Waterloo campaign. It is an impressive study that any traveller to the Waterloo region should include when planning their journey. Aside from this, I recognised many locations that the Waterloo Association’s excellent trips to the battlefield and its environs have taken us to over the years, and this book has added to my knowledge of those sites.
Examining a subject in 100 objects or locations is a popular genre these days, and this book has fulfilled that remit very successfully. This is a useful guide to anyone planning a visit to the area and is recommended reading.