The focus in this entry in the Waterloo Archive is on letters written just before or after the battle of Waterloo, mainly by British soldiers, but with a smattering of civilians and members of the medical corps. The earliest letters come from the month or so before the campaign, with contemporary letters that take us as far as the occupation of Paris (and on one or two occasions a little further). A handful of accounts were written much later.
These letters illustrate the power of rumour in this period - an amazing array of different stories swept across the army before and after the battle, almost all about events on the French side. Generals who weren't even present are reported as leading charges, being killed or captured, a variety of fates are reported for Napoleon and hardly any of the pre-battle predictions came true. We also get an insight into the more mundane concern of the soldiers, with letters discussing family affairs, prospects for promotion, and requesting items from home.
The medical letters provide a very different view of events. Most of them are detailed discussions of medical cases, detailing treatments, survival rates and failures, often in quite gruesome detail. The earlier parts of the volume also contain sad letters from friends of the deceased, and plenty of examples of how costly the battle war (although attempts to claim it was worse than Leipzig or Borodino do ring rather hollow!).
This is an interesting entry in an impressive series, and casts a new light on several aspects of the campaign and battle.
The Staff of the Army
The Support Services
Not at Waterloo
Editor: Gareth Glover