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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Le Chemin d'Ohain: Waterloo, 1815. Les Carnets de la Campagne: N°2 (series)

Bernard Coppens and Patrice Courcelle. Editions de la Belle Alliance, 1999

A few months ago, before the summer I reviewed Part One of this series (which should total 12 volumes) devoted to Hougoumont. This time the study focuses on the attack by the 1st Corps of the allied line and the counter-attack by Picton and then the heavy cavalry brigade. This is probably one of the most famous of the actions at Waterloo and, therefore an all-too-well-known subject

In my review of Part One, I insisted on how much the authors have managed to bring up new information on such an over-analyzed topic as Waterloo. Well, Part Two is no different and, actually, is probably even better. As in the previous part, the narrative abounds with eyewitness accounts from both sides. This means not only the "usual" Siborne Waterloo letters, but also excellent French statements and, even more interesting: Belgian and Dutch accounts, like that of Lieutenant Scheltens, former member of the Old Guard, fighting "on the other side" at Waterloo.

For me, the very best aspect is the study of various units engaged both from a historical or organizational standpoint as well as from a uniform standpoint. This is an absolute treat for the hobbyist. We get an in-depth treatment not only of well-known topics such as the Gordon Highlanders or Scots Greys (although expect to see some rarely shown peculiarities in both cases!), but all of Pack's, Kempt's and Bylandt's brigades are thus studied. And dear to my heart as being rarely shown: the French Line artillery. The somber, elegant dark blue dress of that corps is superbly represented, along with graphics representing the service of a 12-pounder etc.

In addition to all of these illustrations, the text is packed with either quality period graphics or splendid vignettes done by Patrice Courcelle and aimed at representing the battle. Patrice's vision of the assault of the 1st Corps, of Ponsonby's death or of a company of the 44th British line lying down in the wheat under heavy artillery fire will probably and hopefully inspire modellers.

Of course, the key drawback remains the use of the French language - this, I recognize is a fair hindrance - even though the illustrations by themselves are worth the price. Unfortunately, if you're not fluent in French you'll miss out on the text that does discuss the well-known issue of the over-dense attack formation of the 1st Corps. Another negative comment I have to make is the time this volume has taken to reach us. Of course, this is only partly negative, as writing and publishing such volumes is a true work of passion.

Le Chemin d'Ohain may be obtained from:

Tondeur Diffusion
9, av Fr. Van Kalken
1070 Bruxelles
Phone: (322) 555 02 18
Fax (322) 555 02 19

Reviewed by Yves Martin