The narrative begins in the aftermath of the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, twin battles with different results. At dawn Wellington was thus still in place at Quatre Bras, unaware that the Prussians were in full retreat from Ligny. We follow the three armies as they moved north, with the French failing to pursue with any urgency, allowing the Prussians to reform and Wellington to take up his planned defensive position. The bulk of the book covers the battle of Waterloo itself, following the standard division into five parts, adding in the Prussian advance and entry into the battle. We then follow the Allies all the way to Paris, Napoleon into exile and the campaign through to the eventual diplomatic agreement.
The author has chosen to base his work on the most recent research and conclusions, ignoring a number of long held ideas about the battle that have been disproved, making the narrative rather clearer than those that examine and then dismiss these issues. The author does study the many controversies remaining, supporting his arguments with a good examination of the sources (even looking at the different versions of letters and orders produced in various memoirs). This makes this a (if rather detailed) starting point for a study of the campaign.
The narrative follows the standard ‘five phase’ structure used for most accounts of Waterloo, but adds in the Prussian role as they advance towards the battle and increasingly distract Napoleon.
One theme of the book is an examination of the command decisions made by the senior leaders of all three armies, and how effectively they were implemented. The author is willing to be fairly judgemental in this section, but does a good job of justifying his comments, and doesn’t form simple judgements on even the most controversial of the leaders – for example Gneisenau’s conduct before and after the battle is critisied, but his conduct of the pursuit after the battle is praised. He is also willing to critisie Wellington, pointing out four big mistakes he made during the campaign as well as praising his general conduct of the fighting.
Unlike many accounts, the author actually credits Napoleon with a fairly sensible plan at Waterloo, and notes that on at least one occasion it came close to success. However he is less complemtary about Napoleon’s overall plan of campaign, which was unlikely to end in success even if he had managed to beat Wellington at Waterloo.
31 - The Allies - Dawn to Midday, 17 June
32 - Napoleon - Morning, 17 June
33 - Napoleon Pursues Wellington - Afternoon to Nightfall, 17 June
34 - Grouchy and the Prussians, Afternoon to Evening, 17 June
35 - Wellington and the Battleground, Overnight, 17/18 June
36 - Napoleon Plans his Battle, First Light to 11.30am, Sunday 18 June 1815
37 - Battle Commences - The Attack on Hougoumont
38 - The Second Act - d’Erlon’s Great Attack and its Defeat
39 - The Third Act - The Great Cavalry Attacks
40 - In Another Part of Brabant
41 - First Signs of the Prussian Advance, And Grouchy’s Decision
42 - The Fourth Act - La Haye Sante Falls, The Centre Begins to Crumble
43 - The Prussian Intervention - Bülow, Ziethen, Müffling
44 - The Fifth Act - Climax and Decision
45 - The Victory - The Reckoning
46 - The Aftermath of Battle - The Prussians and Grouchy, 19-20 June
47 - After the Battle - Wellington and his Army, 19-20 June
48 - France and the Problems of Napoleon - Return to Paris, the Abdication, the Danger
49 - The Allied Advance - And the Return of King Louis
50 - The Fall of Paris - And Napoleon’s Surrender
51 - The Settlement of 1815
52 - Retrospective
Author: John Hussey
Publisher: Greenhill Books