Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


The West Wing: Bois de Bossu - Pierrepont

The East Wing: Gemioncourt & Pireaumontt



Quatre Bras: The Maps Use in Battleground Prelude to Waterloo Computer Wargame

By Hans Boersma


Talonsoft's Battleground 8: Prelude to Waterloo, designed by John Tiller and published in 1997, is at present the only computer wargame dealing with the battle of Les Quatre Bras (16 June 1815). The Battleground series offers a turn-based computerized combination of the classical tabletop and board wargames on battalion level. Although the series is outdated in terms of computer gaming, they are still being played quite intensively, largely because of the play by e-mail option it features. This has generated a number of online gaming clubs that are still very much alive today. Recently John Tiller, now working for HPS Simulations, has brought out a new Napoleonic title: Campaign Eckmuhl, based on the same game principles as the Battleground series. For more information about these games and the clubs devoted to them, see the links section at the end of this article.

Talonsoft, The Ferraris & Capitaine Maps and Hamilton-Williams 'The Maps used in the production of this game, were The Ferrais & Captaine [sic] Maps of Belgium 1797, used by all three Commanders in 1815. Comprising sheets 11-18. Kindly loaned by David C. Hamilton-Williams. Details of which, are reproduced in his book: Waterloo: New Perspectives, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994, 1995, 1996.'[1] 

Between 1770 and 1777 Comte Joseph de Ferraris, General and Commander of the Artillery in the Austrian Netherlands, [2]  produced a chorographical map of these regions, which was put in print in 1780. After revolutionary France had occupied the Austrian Netherlands in 1794, Louis Capitaine, First Engineer of the map of the French Republic, issued a new engraving of Ferraris' work. The division of the map over the various sheets was rearranged in such a way that it formed a unity with the already existing map of France by Cassini, as to portray the southern Netherlands as an integral part of that country.[3] Capitaine's map shows only a few minor revisions when compared to Ferraris'; these do not concern the area of Les Quatre Bras. The most notable difference is that Capitaine, naturally, omitted the feudal borders.


The fact that these two maps (or maps directly based on it) were used by Napoleon, Wellington, and Blcher tells us little about their quality as such. The years of their original production however show that in 1815 these maps were outdated by at least 25 years; and their scale (1:86,400) is hardly that of an ordnance map. As we will see further on, there are maps in existence that would have been more suitable for the production of the game map, both by scale and year of production.


First we must note that, at least as far as the battlefield of Les Quatre Bras is concerned, the designers reference to the Ferraris & Capitaine maps' becomes quite peculiar when we compare the game map (Plate 2) with De Ferraris' map (Plate 1). Given the apparent differences between the two, notably the presence of details on the game map which cannot be found on De Ferraris' (or Capitaine's) map, it becomes evident that the game designers must have used one or more other sources in addition. The shape of the Bois de Bossu does not seem to be based on De Ferrari's map at all.

Plate 1

Plate 1:'Carte Chorographique des Pays-Bas Autrichiens, planche n XIII: Nivelles-Namur. Excision from this map by Comte Joseph de Ferraris; 1780. Scale 1:86,400

It was this map, or maps directly based on it, over which the Commanders-in-Chief could dispose during the Waterloo campaign.  The crossroads are indicated as "Les 3 Bras".

In their map reference the game designers refer to David Hamilton-Williams and his book Waterloo New Perspectives. Comparison between the game map and a non-contemporary, rather schematic map displayed in that book (Plate 3) leads to suggest that the latter served as one of their additional sources. The resemblance is striking: the shape of the Bois de Bossu and the elevation contour lines produce a perfect match. However, this map does not show details displayed on the game map either, which means that at least one other map must have been used.[4]









Plate 2

Plate 2: From the game map from Talonsoft's Battleground Prelude to Waterloo; 1997. Scale approximately between 1:10,000 and 1:20,000.

A comparison with Ferraris' map shows that the game map is considerably more detailed than its alleged source. It shows a lot of secondary roads and paths not displayed on Ferraris' map; the chateau north of Pireaumont and the extended Pierrepont stream cannot be found on Ferraris' map either. Note the difference in shape of the Bois de Bossu.









The West Wing: Bois de Bossu - Pierrepont

Two Military Maps

In W.E.A. Wpperman's book on the formation of the Netherlands Army and its role in the Waterloo campaign[5] are included three maps of the battlefield of Les Quatre Bras. These maps, made for the occasion, are based on a

'Map of the battlefields of Waterloo and Quatre Bras. Recorded by order of Generaal-majoor Baron Van der Wijck, commanding the Brigade of Field Engineers dd. 1 October 1815 No. 17, under the direction of Kapitein Ingenieur Schuller by the 1ste Luitenant Ingenieurs Brade and Backer Seest.'[6] 

So there we have ordnance maps, based on maps which are the result of military survey executed four months after the battle; the most detailed of these three maps is 1:10,000 to scale. De Bas' and De Wommersom's study of the 1815 campaign   includes another fine military map of the area, scale 1:20,000. Its source reference is less precise;[7] it appears to be a Belgian military map made in 1906, on which objects such as the Bois de Bossu, which had been cut down shortly after the campaign, have been filled in, probably after referring to the same contemporary source used for Wpperman's map.

Below, in Plate 4 to 9, follows a close visual comparison between the Talonsoft game map and the two maps mentioned above. It will become apparent that the game map is inaccurate on several features. It is a pity that the designers apparently did not consult any Dutch or Belgian sources; which is peculiar, as it was their country in which the campaign took place. These maps are included in works that are by no means obscure and can be found, for instance, in the libraries of the Legermuseum [Army Museum] in Delft, of the Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis [Historical Section of the Netherlands Army Staff] in Den Haag, in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek [Royal Library] in the same city, and in the library of the Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis [Royal Museum of the Army and Military History] in Bruxelles.

Plate 3

PLATE 3 'Quatre Bras: Situation between 10 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. 16 June.' A map from David Hamilton Williams' book Waterloo New Perspectives; 1993. Scale approximately 1:30,000. Map section between p. 64 and 65; drawn by Malcolm Barnes.

When compared with the two previous maps, clearly this map shows more resemblance with the Talonsoft game map than De Ferraris' map does.  Especially the shape of the Bois de Bossu and the elevation contour lines are remarkably similar.  Note that objects like secondary roads, displayed on the game map and not on Ferraris' map, are not to be found here either.  The village of Hautain le Val is placed too far to the east; it should be off the map.


Plate 4

Plate 4  'Plan van het slagveld van Quatre Bras.' Excision from this map from Wpperman's book; 1900. Scale 1:10,000; elevation lines per 1-5 metres.

The difference in shape of the Bois de Bossu is clear to see, notably so regarding the southern parts of it. The hollow road extending in south-western direction from the south-eastern corner of the wood, the area between the farmhouses of Grand and Petit Pierrepont providing both visual and physical obstructions, and the wood itself extending until about only 200 to 400 metres behind this area, make the wood's suitableness for a strong flanking position apparent ' more so than the situation provided by the game map does (Plate 6). Note that the southern entrance to the wood, providing clear, unobstructed terrain, is only about 200 metres wide. Also note the embankments along the north-eastern edge of the wood. In the game the farm of Petit Pierrepont might deserve a chateau hex with three gate sides.


Plate 5

Plate 5  'Plan VII. Bataille des Quatre Bras. Situation de la 2e Division nerlandaise entre 2h. et 2h. 30 aprs midi.' This map from De Bas/De Wommersom's book; 1906. Scale 1:20,000; elevation lines per 1 metre.

The shape of the Bois de Bossu is very similar to its appearance on Wpperman's map; I have emphasized its outline with red markers.  We can observe some differences regarding items such as fields and roads, at least partly because this map is the result of survey done in 1906. It is clearly a more methodical map than Wpperman's; despite its larger scale it is more precise. Here the area between the Pierrepont farmhouses and the Bois de Bossu appears even more difficult to oversee.  The hollow road mentioned above has been shortened considerably. We can observe more (secondary) roads and paths cutting through the Bois de Bossu; I do not know if these were present in 1815. They may very well be projections of the 1906 situation, when the wood had by long disappeared; on the other hand, there are accounts that may lead to believe that there were indeed roads or paths running through the wood. The road shown cutting through the length of the wood in south-western direction still exists today.  Map kindly provided for reproduction by Sjaak Draak.



The East Wing: Gemioncourt & Pireaumont

Plate 6

Plate 6: From the game map from Talonsoft's Battleground Prelude to Waterloo; 1997. Scale approximately between 1:10,000 and 1:20,000; elevation lines per 10 metres, 'map contours' toggled on.

Apart from the wrong display of the Bois de Bossu, there seems to be no justification for the depression south of the south-eastern corner of the wood to be entirely enclosed by hedges (between hex coordinates 26,38 19,43 and 26,44).  In general we find much more hedges on the game map than we do on both preceding maps. The northern extension of the Pierrepont stream past the bridge (hex 17,42 or 18,41) appears to be fictional altogether.



Plate 7

Plate 7  'Plan van het slagveld van Quatre Bras.' Excision from this map from Wpperman's book. Scale 1:10,000; elevation lines per 1-5 metres. 

Note the hedge-lined paths that run over the hill south of the Gemioncourt farmhouse and the Materne pool, one of them providing a link with the Lairalle farmhouse. The stream between the Materne pool and the Namur road is quite wide (about 10 metres) and may deserve the status of creek (impassable) on the game map. Also important is that to the north of Pireaumont (Preaumont) there is no road directly linking this hamlet to the Namur road. All in all this means that the terrain offers a less open and better defendable position than the situation on the game map. There is no large farmhouse at Pireaumont. The Pireaumont stream is not forked.



Plate 8

Plate 8  'Plan VII. Bataille des Quatre Bras. Situation de la 2e Division nerlandaise entre 2h. et 2h. 30 aprs midi.' Excision from this map from De Bas/De Wommersom's book; 1906. Scale 1:20,000; elevation lines per 1 metre.

The 1906 situation shows the Pireaumont stream forked, but still no road leading directly up to the Namur road from that hamlet.  Part of the hedge lined paths on the hill south of Gemioncourt and the Materne pool have disappeared, but the path from Lairalle to the pool is still there.  The area north of the pool has become wooded, which is still the case today; the creek between the pool and the Namur road has been tamed considerably.  No large farmhouse at Pireaumont here either.

Map kindly provided for reproduction by Sjaak Draak.





Especially in its first stages, the battle of Les Quatre Bras was one dominated by the terrain it was fought on. On the present game map it is not possible to place a number of the units involved in their historical outset and environment, notably so regarding those that operated in the early stages of the battle, in the areas that we have looked at more closely. This means that players will often make tactical decisions that have less or even little relevance to the actual circumstances, although a game feature like the road movement bonus also plays a part in this. Especially in combination with the unsubstantiated road link between Pireaumont and the Nivelles-Namur road the simulation suffers a major disturbance, enabling a French player to conduct a swift and massive outflanking movement in 20th century style. 

Hence, Prelude to War's Quatre Bras game map could do with a revision. By improving the accuracy of the game map's depiction of the battlefield, the players would have to make choices more resembling those the historical commanders were facing. Thereby it would, in my opinion, generate an even more enjoyable game. 

Given its contemporary source Wpperman's map would be the first reference for a revision. De Bas/De Wommersom's map offers a valuable and detailed view regarding elevations, but the game map appears to be fairly accurate in this.

Looking at both military maps the question arises whether the entire area should be covered with tall fields. It should be noted however that, given their date of production, both maps apparently depict the terrain in autumn; the tall crops that are mentioned in several sources would not have been present then. On the other hand, as large parts of the tall crops were trampled by the troops during the affair, providing for some clear areas might be a good compromise.


de Bas, F. and J. de T'Serclaes de Wommersom. La Campagne de 1815 aux Pays Bas; d'aprs les rapports officiels nerlandais  Vol. I and Supplment: cartes et plans Bruxelles 1908
Hamilton-Williams, D. Waterloo; New Perspectives; The Great Battle Reappraised London 1993

Siborne, H.T. Waterloo Letters London; 1891.

Talonsoft Inc.  Battleground Prelude to Waterloo, Notes [helpfile], Chapter 3.0 Map Notes White Marsh 1997

Wpperman, W.E.A. De vorming van het Nederlandsche leger na de omwenteling van 1813 en het aandeel van dat leger aan den veldtocht van 1815 Breda 1900


A Review of Battleground Prelude to Waterloo

Talonsoft's Battleground Page

Napoleonic Wargame Pages

Napoleonic Wargaming Club

John Tiller's Wargame Pages

HPS's Campaign Eckmuhl Page


[1] Battleground Prelude to Waterloo Notes (Helpfile) Chapter 3.0

[2] 1715-1794; roughly comprising the current national territory of Belgium.

[3] This information about De Ferraris' and Capitaine's maps was kindly provided by geographer-librarian H. Lardinois of the Nationaal Geografisch Instituut, Bruxelles.

[4] The Plan of Quatre Bras' reproduced in H.T. Siborne's Waterloo Letters comes to mind.

[5] See Sources

[6] Wpperman, p. 6. We find Generaal-majoor van der Wijck in the General Staff of the Prince or Orange's I Corps as Adjudant-generaal to the Chief-of-Staff (Generaal-majoor de Constant-Rebecque) and Commander of the Genie te Velde (Field Engineers); De Bas, Vol. IV, p 1328.

[7] De Bas /De Wommersom, Plan VII: 'Institut cartographique militaire, novembre 1906' and Vol. I, p. XX: 'Archief der Genie (cartes, plans etc.)'.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2001

Military Index | Battles Index ]

Plate 9

Plate 9: From the game map from Talonsoft's Battleground Prelude to Waterloo; 1997. Scale approximately between 1:10,000 and 1:20,000; elevation lines per 10 metres, 'map contours' toggled on.

As we have seen, the road from Pireamont linking to the Namur road cannot be found on both preceding maps; as it is not present on a modern map either (NGI topographical map of Belgium nr. 39/7-8 Nivelles-Genappe, scale 1:25.000), nor indeed on any other map of the area that I have seen, we may conclude it to be fictional. This means that the northern extension of the road in question (between hex 43,37 and 44,30) should not be there. As noted, the stream between the Materne pool and the Namur road (hex 43,32'47,32 and perhaps further to the east as well) might deserve the status of creek (impassable). There is no apparent reason why there should be a chateau hex at Pireaumont. Following Wpperman's map, there should be a number of hedge lined paths between Gemioncourt, the Materne pond and Lairalle.

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