Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and


Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles Some battles change nothing Waterloo changed almost everything Bestselling author Bernard Cornwell is celebrated for his ability to bring history to life Here, in his first work of non fiction, he has written the true story of the epic battle of Waterloo a momentous turning point in European history a tale of one campaign, four days and three armiesHe focuses on what it was like to be fighting in that long battle, whether officer or private, whether British, Prussian or French he makes you feel you are present at the scene The combination of his vivid, gripping style and detailed historical research make this, his first non fiction book, the number one book for the upcoming th anniversary of the Battle of WaterlooIt is a magnificent story There was heroism on both sides, tragedy too and much misery Bernard Cornwell brings those combatants back to life, using their memories to recreate what it must have been like to fight in one of the most ghastly battles of history It was given extra piquancy because all of Europe reckoned that the two greatest soldiers of the age were Napoleon and Wellington, yet the two had never faced each other in battle Both were acutely aware of that, and aware that history would judge them by the result In the end it was a victory for Wellington, but when he saw the casualty lists he wept openly I pray to God, he said, I have fought my last battle He had, and it is a story for the ages Some battles change nothing Waterloo changed almost everything Two hundred years ago this year three battles were fought that altered the course of European history For over 50 years Britain and France had fought each other for world dominance But this fight was different This time the European powers united in one of the first effective trans national coalitions The aim to defeat an aging Emperor who had come back from exile to wage a new war.It was a cliff hanger and right up until ni Some battles change nothing Waterloo changed almost everything Two hundred years ago this year three battles were fought that altered the course of European history For over 50 years Britain and France had fought each other for world dominance But this fight was different This time the European powers united in one of the first effective trans national coalitions The aim to defeat an aging Emperor who had come back from exile to wage a new war.It was a cliff hanger and right up until nightfall on that terribly long day, June 18, 1815, the outcome of the battle was in doubt Lord Wellington said it It has been a damned nice thing the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life Bernard Cornwell s popular history of this great, horrible, brutal, near run battle is simply splendid brilliant storytelling, balanced, vivid first person testimony, lucid analysis, and characters major and minor who come alive and all too often die Cornwell s book is filled with helpful maps and battle diagrams, glorious portraits and paintings of battle scenes, and best of all, meticulous, absolutely clear descriptions of battle formations, maneuvers and tactics Things that have always been a bit fuzzy in my brain suddenly came into focus.Wellington was a master of the reverse slope Very simply, that means he liked to conceal his troops behind a hill At Busaco the British objective was to hold the high hill, but if Wellington had positioned his men on the crest, or on the forward slope, then they would have become targets for the deadly efficient French artillery.By placing his troops just behind the crest, or on the reverse slope, Wellington kept them safe and invisible Cornwell is great at explaining why commanders on the field made the decisions they did for example, Ney fought Wellington at Busaco and Ney may well have hesitated to attack at Quatre Bras because he incorrectly suspected hidden troops might be massed behind the hill at the crucial intersection And speaking of intersections and Quatre Bras here is Cornwell making it all clear again with maps and this The Waterloo campaign is all about roads Roads and crossroads The armies needed the roads Cavalry and infantry could advance across country without roads though their progress would be painfully slow, but guns and supply wagons had to have roads.Of course But I never quite got so completely before Thanks to Cornwell, I now have a much better grasp not just of Waterloo, but also much of European military history from the 18th century through to World War I The roles that skirmishers, artillery, cavalry and infantry played in battle are now crystal clear to me, as are formations like columns, lines and squares Cornwell takes the reader through it step by step Yet if a column was psychologically powerful if also had two weaknesses A column was desperately vulnerable to cannon fire and only the men in the outer two ranks and files could use their muskets If a column has seventeen ranks of thirty men each, totaling 510 men, then only sixty in the first two ranks, and the two men on the outside of each rank, can actually fire at the enemy fewer than one quarter in all.But it never got boring In fact I found the book hard to put down Cornwell has such a gift for setting the scene the torrential rain, the vast impenetrable fields of rye taller than a man s head, the horrors of artillery shells raining down on massed columns He builds the suspense with novelistic skill, but also a keen sense of the moment and its significance Despite the weather, despite the darkness and despite the defeat they had suffered at Ligny, the Prussian army was now just 12 miles from Wellington s They were difficult miles, across streams and through steep hillsbut Blucher had promiseda third trap was set Wellington was the bait, Napoleon the intended victim and Blucher the executioner It was dawn on Sunday, 18 June 1815My Goodreads friend Carol and I read this together, along with Georgette Heyer s excellent novel, An Infamous Army Thank you, Carol, for the inspiration and the fun of sharing these two great books Cornwell does nothing new here And he even asks himself the essential question why another book on Waterloo His answer is simple he wants to tell the story himself There s no shortage of books written on it, and he has even written a fiction novel centred on it, but he wants to cast his voice out there to examine the facts Cornwell has previously written only historical fiction, no non fiction, so I was excited to see him try his hand and something a little bit different And it s a terrif Cornwell does nothing new here And he even asks himself the essential question why another book on Waterloo His answer is simple he wants to tell the story himself There s no shortage of books written on it, and he has even written a fiction novel centred on it, but he wants to cast his voice out there to examine the facts Cornwell has previously written only historical fiction, no non fiction, so I was excited to see him try his hand and something a little bit different And it s a terrify foray into the genre I d love to see him do it again, perhaps on Arthurian Britain I digress here, but the point is Waterloo was a terribly important battle that shaped much of the nineteenth century Imagine if Napoleon has won How different would the world have been It s an interesting concept So I really enjoyed reading about how close the battle was, how easily it could have been turned in Napoleon s favour or how he most certainly would have triumphed if the Prussian s didn t arrive to back the British I find Napoleon an immensely interesting historical figure, and I would have liked the narrative to focus on him a littlethough I think that s my own bias speaking Next year I intent to read Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts which I m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into Napoleon at Waterloo Cornwell s skill as a novelist came through when he was piecing together the narratives and journal entries of common soldiers together, told side by side with the larger scale details of the battle And as such it felt like a full image of the battle was captured here The illustrations are also fantastic and really help to bring everything to life It s a fantastic looking book, I recommend the hardback version because it looks and feels so much better So this is worth reading if you don t know much about the details of the battle like I didn t but I couldn t imagine that someone who knows a lot about it would find much interest here Unless they re looking for debate and discussion over the battle s possibilities, though I personally wouldn t want to read another book about the battle after reading this one Ones enough for me I was loaned this book a month or so back, by a colleague who knows that I like reading about history.I ve actually been to the site of Waterloo Many years ago I caught a train from Brussels to Braine l Alleud and walked to the site from there That was over 30 years ago though, so I don t recall that much of my visit I would have also gottenout of it if I d read a book like this beforehand.With an author like Bernard Cornwell, you know you are guaranteed a great story, even when he writ I was loaned this book a month or so back, by a colleague who knows that I like reading about history.I ve actually been to the site of Waterloo Many years ago I caught a train from Brussels to Braine l Alleud and walked to the site from there That was over 30 years ago though, so I don t recall that much of my visit I would have also gottenout of it if I d read a book like this beforehand.With an author like Bernard Cornwell, you know you are guaranteed a great story, even when he writes non fiction, and a great story is exactly what he delivers The book was captivating, and I finished the whole thing in just a few days The description of the charge of the British heavy cavalry on Count d Erlon s corps was as memorable as anything I ve read, as was the description of the last attack by Napoleon s Imperial Guard Cornwell makes extensive use of first hand accounts and some of these are superbly eloquent in describing the emotions of that day For those who were at Waterloo and survived, the experience was the most intense of their lives, something that set them apart from others.The author comes to clear conclusions about the various commanders that day Napoleon seems to have played a surprisingly passive role, largely leaving Ney to handle the battle I was left wondering whether Napoleon saw his role as strategic rather than tactical, although that s not the image generally projected of him Cornwell is quite critical of Ney s tactics, both at Waterloo and the earlier clash at Quatre Bras By contrast Wellington is portrayed as competent, but as someone who found it difficult to delegate Cornwell is most impressed by the Prussian commander Bl cher, who he describes as a splendid man although is he critical of Bl cher s Chief of Staff, Gneisenau, viewing him as an Anglophobe whose unwillingness to cooperate with the British could have wrecked the alliance.I like an author who is clear about their conclusions, but I suppose I would want to read another book about Waterloo before accepting those of a particular author I ve learned over the years not set too much store by a single account This is a great read though, and the hardback edition I read is superbly illustrated With his first nonfiction book, novelist Bernard Cornwell has done an admirable job of telling the story of the Napoleon s ultimate defeat While breaking no new ground, the author does an excellent job of telling the story of the campaign, including the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny that were fought immediately prior to Waterloo In telling of the battle of Quatre Bras, Mr Cornwell does a good job of telling why Quatre Bas was important and why Wellington decided to defend it It was a cros With his first nonfiction book, novelist Bernard Cornwell has done an admirable job of telling the story of the Napoleon s ultimate defeat While breaking no new ground, the author does an excellent job of telling the story of the campaign, including the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny that were fought immediately prior to Waterloo In telling of the battle of Quatre Bras, Mr Cornwell does a good job of telling why Quatre Bas was important and why Wellington decided to defend it It was a cross road that allowed quick communication between Wellington and Blucher He illuminates the mistakes the Napoleon and his field commander Marshal Ney made that allowed Wellington to successfully withdraw his forces to their positions at Waterloo.In his telling of Ligny, I think Mr Cornwell does the weakest job of the three battles Even then, he does a good job of explaining Napoleon s mistakes and why his failure to pursue and destroy the defeated Prussian army enabled his subsequent defeat at Waterloo.In his telling of the battle of Waterloo itself, I thought Mr Cornwell did an excellent job of explaining the Rock Paper Scissors nature of Napoleonic warfare and how that affected the flow of the battle He also does an excellent job of explaining the tactics and weaknesses of the various formations used by the armies In addition Mr Cornwell does a good job of highlighting the different leadership styles of Napoleon and Wellington Wellington kept on the move and always seemed to be where he was needed to buck up morale and provide the needed decisions and leadership Napoleon on the other hand stayed in the same spot the entire battle He also does a good job of expounding on the inadequecies of the Dutch Crown Prince, William of Orange who was Wellington s second in command.In additon to the various generals, I felt he author did an excellent job of telling the story of common soldiers who made up the armies He uses the diary accounts of the participants very well and gives good accounts of the main parts of the battle, ie the battles for Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte, the cavalry charges, and the final assault by the Imperial Guard.Finally, the illustrations are fantastic There are 4 or 5 pages following each chapter and many are in full color I feel they are probably the highlight of the book, almost coffee table book quality All in all I found this a very good one volume look at the battle that can reasonably be said changed history It certainly ended an era This was a solid 4 star read for me

  • Hardcover
  • 352 pages
  • Waterloo: The True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles
  • Bernard Cornwell
  • English
  • 20 April 2019
  • 000753938X

About the Author: Bernard Cornwell

Cornwell was born in London in 1944 His father was a Canadian airman, and his mother, who was English, a member of the Women s Auxiliary Air Force He was adopted and brought up in Essex by the Wiggins family, who were members of the Peculiar People, a strict Protestant sect who banned frivolity of all kinds and even medicine After he left them, he changed his name to his birth mother s maiden name, Cornwell.Cornwell was sent away to Monkton Combe School, attended the University of London, and after graduating, worked as a teacher He attempted to enlist in the British armed services at least three times but was rejected on the grounds of myopia.He then joined BBC s Nationwide and was promoted to become head of current affairs at BBC Northern Ireland He then joined Thames Television as editor of Thames News He relocated to the United States in 1980 after marrying an American Unable to get a green card, he started writing novels, as this did not require a work permit.As a child, Cornwell loved the novels of C.S Forester, chronicling the adventures of fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower during the Napoleonic Wars, and was surprised to find there were no such novels following Lord Wellington s campaign on land Motivated by the need to support himself in the U.S through writing, Cornwell decided to write such a series He named his chief protagonist Richard Sharpe, a rifleman involved in most major battles of the Peninsular War.Cornwell wanted to start the series with the Siege of Badajoz but decided instead to start with a couple of warm up novels These were Sharpe s Eagle and Sharpe s Gold, both published in 1981 Sharpe s Eagle was picked up by a publisher, and Cornwell got a three book deal He went on to tell the story of Badajoz in his third Sharpe novel, Sharpe s Company, published in 1982.Cornwell and wife Judy co wrote a series of novels, published under the pseudonym Susannah Kells These were A Crowning Mercy, published in 1983, Fallen Angels in 1984, and Coat of Arms aka The Aristocrats in 1986 Cornwell s strict Protestant upbringing informed the background of A Crowning Mercy, which took place during the English Civil War In 1987, he also published Redcoat, an American Revolutionary War novel set in Philadelphia during its 1777 occupation by the British.After publishing eight books in his ongoing Sharpe series, Cornwell was approached by a production company interested in adapting them for television The producers asked him to write a prequel to give them a starting point to the series They also requested that the story feature a large role for Spanish characters to secure co funding from Spain The result was Sharpe s Rifles, published in 1987, and a series of Sharpe television films staring Sean Bean.A series of contemporary thrillers with sailing as a background and common themes followed Wildtrack published in 1988, Sea Lord aka Killer s Wake in 1989, Crackdown in 1990, Stormchild in 1991, and Scoundrel, a political thriller, in 1992.In June 2006, Cornwell was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen s 80th Birthday Honours List.Cornwell s latest work, Azincourt, was released in the UK in October 2008 The protagonist is an archer who participates in the Battle of Agincourt, another devastating defeat suffered by the French in the Hundred Years War However, Cornwell has stated that it will not be about Thomas of Hookton from The Grail Quest or any of his relatives.


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