Waterloo: June 18, 1815: the Battle for Modern Europe

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June 18, 1815, was one of the most momentous days in world history, marking the end of twenty-two years of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. On the bloody battlefield of Waterloo, the Emperor Napoleon and his hastily formed legions clashed with the Anglo-Allied armies led by the Duke of Wellington -- the only time the two greatest military strategists of their age faced each other in combat.

With precision and elegance, Andrew Roberts sets the political, strategic, and historical scene, providing a breathtaking account of each successive stage of the battle while also examining new evidence that reveals exactly how Napoleon was defeated. Illuminating, authoritative, and engrossing, Waterloo is a masterful work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

John Lukacs
“A small masterpiece. Waterloo is a military history of a high order.”
Paul Johnson
“Andrew Roberts has produced the most convincing description of that fearsome day I have ever read.”
Kirkus Reviews
A deceptively slender, richly nuanced overview of the battle that, suggests British historian Roberts (Napoleon and Wellington, 2002, etc.), marks the beginning of the modern era. Though it took place well into the 19th century, Waterloo "was nonetheless an eighteenth-century phenomenon," Roberts writes-and not only in its deployment of brilliantly outfitted men in straight, easy-to-mow-down lines across wide fields of fire. It was resolutely modern, though, in its scale: Waterloo involved perhaps half a million soldiers distributed among the armies of France, England, Prussia, and lesser principalities and territories, and Napoleon Bonaparte seems to have nursed a born revolutionist's hope that victory against his enemies would inspire the Belgians to rise against the Dutch, the French to resume control of Europe, and the Tory government of England to collapse. A reasonable desire, perhaps, but in attempting to realize it Napoleon made some curious and even "strategically inept" errors that betrayed some of his carefully pronounced principles, dividing his forces and allowing the enemy to gain control of the high ground; "the topography across which Wellington had chosen to receive Napoleon's attacks could hardly have been better suited for infantry" against advancing artillery, cavalry, and ground forces, Roberts notes. Wellington made a few miscalculations himself. But, like Napoleon, and far from placing himself at a safe distance as some historians have maintained, Wellington was everywhere at once, keeping careful control over his side of the battle. The battle, Roberts insists, was never a foregone conclusion, and it could have turned decisively for Napoleon at many points; evenin failure, had he withdrawn just a bit earlier, Napoleon might have saved some of his army and with it resisted an invasion of France itself. But he didn't, and the carnage was fearful: taken together with satellite battles and skirmishes, Waterloo cost the lives of 120,300 men, a staggering figure that only raised the bar for subsequent slaughters. A vivid, thoughtful, and blessedly concise account of one of history's signal events.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060762155
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/27/2005
  • Series: Making History Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 626,840
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Roberts is the author of Masters and Commanders and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. His other books include Napoleon and Wellington, Eminent Churchillians, and Salisbury, which won the Wolfson History Prize. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he holds a PhD in history from Cambridge University and writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and The Daily Beast. He lives in New York City.

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First Chapter

June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe

Chapter One

The Campaign

The Waterloo Campaign began in earnest at 3.30 a.m. on Monday, 12 June 1815 when the Emperor Napoleon, exhibiting none of the torpor and lack of decisiveness that his supporters later claimed afflicted him, left Paris after a farewell dinner with his family and was quickly driven north in his carriage, crossing the Belgian border with an army of 124,000 men a mere three days later. He had only been in France for three months, having landed at Fréjus near Antibes from his island exile on Elba on 1 March.

Napoleon had initially hoped to regain his throne from the legitimate Bourbon monarch of France, King Louis XVIII, without a war, but on 13 March the rest of the European powers, then in congress at Vienna, had denounced him as an outlaw and a 'disturber of world repose'. Once Louis had fled Paris on 18 March and Napoleon had entered the Tuileries Palace the following day, it was perfectly clear to all that the Emperor would have to defeat at least four nations' armies to survive in power. Nor was time on his side.

Napoleon's strategy was really dictated to him by the fact that although vast enemy armies were being despatched towards France, they could only arrive at its borders piecemeal and so could, he hoped, be defeated one by one, through his employing the superior generalship that had allowed him to win all but ten of the seventy-two battles he had fought in his career.

Although it is very difficult to be accurate as to exact troop strengths throughout this period, Napoleon had roughly 20,000 troops under Marshal Davout in Paris, 85,000 guarding France's frontiers, 10,000 putting down the royalist revolt in La Vendée in western France, and 123,000 in the Armée du Nord. To add to these 238,000 effectives, around 115,000 French troops were either on leave or absent without leave, 46,000 conscripts were in training at depots, and there were National Guard units garrisoning border fortresses who could have been called upon were Napoleon to be granted more of his most precious commodity of all: time.

To march north quickly, defeat either the Anglo-Allied armies under the Duke of Wellington or the Prussian army under Marshal Gebhard von Blucher, Prince of Wahlstadt, would have the immediate effect of re-establishing la Gloire. As one historian has summarised Napoleon's plans: 'His object was to defeat one or the other before they had time to concentrate and then, forcing both back on their divergent communications, to enter Brussels as a conqueror. Thereafter... the Belgian common people would rise against the Dutch, the war-weary French take heart and unite behind him, the Tory government in London fall, and his Austrian father-in-law [Emperor Francis II], deprived of British subsidies, sue for peace.'

There were other factors that imparted a sense of urgency to Napoleon's actions, principally the knowledge that British regiments were on their way back from America, no fewer than 200,000 Russians were marching towards France along with 210,000 Austrians, and a Spanish! Portuguese force of around 80,000 might also take the field in the south. Napoleon therefore formulated a bold plan, as one might have expected from a commander who, though he had tasted catastrophic defeat in Russia in 1812, terrible reverses in 1813, and the humiliation of abdication in 1814, nonetheless remained one of the most formidable strategists of world history.

Even though over 700,000 Allied soldiers were being mobilised to defeat him, only a fraction of these were guarding Brussels roughly 116,000 under BlUcher and 112,000 under Wellington and the Emperor had crushed six enemy coalitions in the past. Furthermore Wellington needed to leave some of his troops garrisoning Brussels.

The logistical, supply and communications problems involved in coordinating the coalition's efforts would, Napoleon hoped, be exacerbated by certain political differences that had emerged between them in Vienna. Whatever the odds against him, he was certainly not about to give up the chance of ruling France again, and of one day handing on his throne to his beloved son Napoleon, the King of Rome.

France had been exhausted by almost continual warfare since 1792, and although she despised the Bourbons and failed to support them on Napoleon's return, only a quick victory would encourage the majority -- and especially the middle classes impoverished by twenty-three years of war -- to return to his standard. Accordingly he set the nation to work to prepare for the coming invasion. Parisian workshops had been busy throughout April, May and the first half of June turning out over 1,200 uniforms per day and manufacturing twelve million cartridges. Muskets were produced at the impressive rate of 12,000 a month, with another thousand a month being repaired and reconditioned.

By the time his Armée du Nord crossed the River Meuse and captured Charleroi on Thursday, 15 June, it was as fine and as well-equipped a force as Napoleon had commanded in years ...

June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe
. Copyright © by Andrew Roberts. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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