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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Letters from the Battle of Waterloo

Glover, Gareth. Letters From The Battle of Waterloo. London, UK: Greenhill Books, 2004. 352 pages. ISBN# 1853675970. Hard Cover. 25 $35


Greenhill Publications has now released the long-awaited and much-anticipated missing "Siborne Letters" relating to the campaign in 1815. Subtitled the "Unpublished Correspondence by Allied Officers from the Siborne Papers," this book follows on with the correspondence first published by William Siborne's son in 1891 as the Waterloo Letters. Most of the correspondence comes from officers of the Allied Armies who actually served in 1815 and who responded to questions posed by William Siborne.

Many of the unpublished letters are additional correspondence from those who already had letters published in the 1891 work. For the first time, however, correspondence from the Hanoverian officers is now available, as well as some from the Prussian and French Staffs. The author notes that he discovered that there were a further 230 correspondents who had sent in a total of 310 letters not included in the published Waterloo Letters. All of this correspondence was used to construct Siborne's models of the battlefield and to write his History of the War in France and Belgium, in 1815.

The book has one illustration of Captain William Siborne and numerous maps provided by the correspondents detailing where specific units were during the battle. The author sets the stage by including a "Historical Background" and a copy of the circular letter first sent out by Siborne. Also included are "Appendix A," which deals with correspondence about the models and "Appendix B," which lists all of the remaining letters in the British Library's Siborne file, but which are not published in this book. They are briefly summarized for the reader. A short bibliography of the principal works is included.

The author does not shy away from some of the current controversies surrounding the making of the models and the details on the campaign contained in the history. He does not give opinions but lets the letters, etc. speak on the subjects. He does regret the lack of any correspondence from the Netherlands' forces.

The book layout follows the same format as in the Waterloo Letters and the letters are again grouped by Staff, Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry, etc. The author also cross-references letters where they are connected with those already published and this makes it very easy to follow along with the point being raised by the writers. The letters are very nicely annotated with additional information on the writers of the letters, as well as providing the identity of persons mentioned in the text, place names and other information on the letters.

Mr. Glover set himself three objectives with editing this book. One was that there were sufficient letters of real historical value to warrant producing this second volume of correspondence as a primary source of real value to serious students of the campaign. Another was to provide "uncompromising evidence as to the guilt or innocence" of the charges against the Siborne's that they had tampered with the correspondence and evidence presented to them when they published their works. Finally, that the new book would be "a great vibrant read" for the general reader who has an interest in military history and who can now get a sense of what it was like on that fateful day. You will have to read the book to see if you agree that these objectives are achieved.

But agree nor not, this new work deserves a place on the shelf along side of its older companion.

Reviewed by: Ron McGuigan
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2004