Waterloo, A Very Near Run Thing

Bow your heads in honor of the 47,000 brave men who fought and perished June 18, 1815, 192 years ago today at the Battle of Waterloo: 15,000 British, Belgian, Dutch and German soldiers; 7,000 Prussians; 25,000 French. Inconceivable numbers of men lost in a battle that changed history.

When I first decided to write Regency historicals, I immersed myself in as much of the history as I could. My library had a nice collection of audiobooks, and I used to listen to them driving to and from work. One of those books was Waterloo: Day of Battle by David Howarth (published in Great Britain under the title A Near Run Thing: The Day of Waterloo, 1968).

Waterloo: Day of Battle tells the story of Waterloo through the eyes of the soldiers who fought in it, making it a very personal story, very real and emotional. Howarth says the individual soldier experienced the battle “half-blinded by gunsmoke, half-deadened by noise, and either half-paralyzed by fright or driven to a kind of madness by exaltation and the hope of glory.” It is a wonderful book, available used on sites like Allbookstores.com

There are some good online sites that tell of the battle:
Waterloo for the Uninitiated – June 18th 1815
or more in depth
BritishBattles.com The Battle of Waterloo

From BritishBattles.com I’ll show some highlights of the battle memorialized in paintings. You can purchase some of these prints at Art.com

Early in the battle the British cavalry, including the Scots Greys shown here, charged the French, at first overwhelming the French, but intoxicated with their success, they advanced too far and did not hear or heed the bugles to retreat. French Cavalry, fresh in the battle, soon cut them off. The regiments were almost completely destroyed.

On the western side of the Allied line was the chateau and farm of Hougoumont, 3,500 men were charged with the defense of Hougoumont to protect the Allied forces from being outflanked by the French. Hougoumont was one part of the battlefield that Napoleon could see clearly and perhaps it is for that reason he poured many French resources in attempting to take it, unsuccessfully.

French General Ney ordered his cavalry to attack what he thought were retreating Allied troops, but he found instead solid British squares, and though his cavalry attacked again and again, the squares held. The movie Waterloo , starring Rod Steiger as Napoleon; Christopher Plummer as Wellington, shows an wonderful aerial recreation of this cavalry attack.

In spite of the brave, heroic, and stubborn British forces, the day might have gone to Napoleon had not the Prussians under General Blücher arrived in time.

After the battle, two square miles were covered with those 47,000 dead and dying, their shrieks and cries could be heard throughout the night as more horror assaulted them. Looters, primarily from the British and Prussian armies plundered the dead and killed the dying for their loot.

Throughout Howarth’s Waterloo: Day of Battle, he weaves a love story. Colonel Sir William De Lancey, on Wellington’s staff, had married Magdalene Hall three months earlier and she had followed him to Belgium. When word came to her that he was wounded, she searched for him and found him in a cottage near Mont St, Jean, no more than a hovel. She stayed by his side, nursing him for eleven days. At his request she lay next to him one night. The next day he died in her arms.

Read more about Lady de Lancey in Lady de Lancey at Waterloo by David Miller.

What are your favorite Waterloo books or websites?

There are some terrific fictional accounts of Waterloo, as well. What are your favorites?

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Tracy Grant
15 years ago

Such an eloquent reminder of an important day in history. When I was in 8th grade (a very long time ago :-), I wanted graduation to end up on June 18th because that was the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo (I think it ended up on the 16th or 17th). I was already fascinated by Waterloo from reading Georgette Heyer’s “An Infamous Army”. I’ve reread it many times since. I also love Bernard Cornwell’s “Waterloo” , a gritty account of the battle which takes up nearly the whole of the book. The book was one of those filmed in the Sharpe series. And the movie “Waterloo” with Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer is fabulous. I wrote a book (“Shores of Desire”) which spent several chapters on Waterloo and also dealt with Brussels before and during and Paris afterwards. One of my favorite primary sources is the “Journal of the Waterloo Campaign” by General Cavalié Mercer, which is also terrific for post-Waterloo Paris. Georgiana Lennox’s reminisences are also great for the Duchess of Richmond (her mother)’s ball and Brussells durin the battle. I used both books in
“Shores” and also in references back to Waterloo and post-Waterloo Paris in “Secrets of a Lady”. I keep meanin to order Lady DeLancey’s journal (I almost bought it when I was at Apsley House on my most recent trip to London, but my suitcase was already too full :-).

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Oh, Tracy! I love Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Waterloo. I must admit that An Infamous Army is not one of my favorite Heyer’s but her research is flawless. I think it was in Heyer’s biography that I read of her taking her son to see the Waterloo diorama and spectators stood fascinated while she explained every detail of the battle.
I have the book The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, which received good reviews but is on my TBR pile. Howarth used Mercer as one of the soldiers he followed in the battle. I wonder if I have Mercer’s reminiscences. I hope so..or that one’s going on my TBB (to be bought) pile
As are your two Waterloo books!

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Tracy already hit both of my favorites. I can’t even read Heyer’s description of the Scots marching out without tearing up. An Infamous Army is simply the best Waterloo book out there IMO.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Harlequin is doing a re-released of An Infamous Army later this year.

lacey kaye
15 years ago

I didn’t realize it was today. Thanks for such great resources, too.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

If you checked early in the day, you’ll have noticed the pictures were big–or missing. So I made them small . Go to Britishbattles.com to see them larger.

Deb Marlowe
15 years ago

I have several good Waterloo references, but of course they are out in my office, which purposely *does not* have internet access! 🙂 I’ll have to bring them in to post them.

Every time I research the battle, I wonder how the world would be different if not for those thousands of brave soldiers.

15 years ago

Ah, I hate to mention it, but the only thing about Waterloo I actually know is that it happened. Well, history class stuff. 🙂 I gotta get out more. 🙂


15 years ago

I like Sharpe’s Waterloo a lot, too. Cara keeps telling me that I should read An Infamous Army…which I should…but there are those million books in my to-be-read pile…

Elizabeth Longford’s first biography of Wellington (The Years of the Sword) ends with a very good account of the battle of Waterloo. I recommend that book highly to anyone who is interested in Wellington. (You’ve probably all read it already, I suppose.) Of course, didn’t Wellington himself say that one might as well write the story of a dance as of a battle?

I have often reflected that so many Regency heroes were at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo that it must have been like Woodstock. And Sharpe was there, too, briefly. 🙂


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