As an historian and enthusiast for all things Napoleonic I thought it would near impossible for an author to bring much new or interesting to the published record of the Waterloo campaign. However, this first volume of John Hussey’s coverage of the subject defied that perception and does indeed add depth and perspective to this well-known subject.
This first volume covers the period from Napoleon’s return from exile to the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, and as well as covering the well-known events it also focuses on the complex politics, and especially the relationship between the Prussians and the British. At the end of the day it was to be this relationship, sometimes strained but based, at the command level, on mutual trust, that led to the ultimate victory at Waterloo. Coverage of the crucial Allied meeting in Brussels, at which the tenets of the working relationship were determined, is followed by a review of Napoleon’s options, which despite the seeming joy at his return, were distinctly limited.
Napoleon had to act quickly and decisively before the Allied coalition could mobilize and position themselves to overwhelm the French armies. He also takes a close look at the Russian and Austrian attitude under the apt title of ‘all too quiet on the Eastern Front’. All of this, the author covers in easy to read detail in the first half of the book, using a range of sources to support his commentary. The latter part of the book focuses on the early part of June, and especially the 15th, and reaction of the British at Brussels on receiving word of Napoleon’s rapid advance and strategic positioning. In the post-war period, there was much debate between the British and the Prussians regarding how the news was shared and handled!
The final 200 or so pages of the nearly 600-page text, looks in detail at activities on the evening of the 15th and the 16th June, the two battles being covered in enough detail for the context of the book but perhaps less detailed than students of Napoleonic warfare would like.
This is without doubt a highly valuable addition to the bookshelves of Napoleonic fans and to any with an interest in military strategy. I am certainly looking forward to Volume 2!