Napoleonic Era

Blame the Pandemic


Apparently, it was lice, not cannons, that defeated Napoleon in Russia.

I have also heard the theory about buttons--not sure if this is right or not. The theory has gone around that the greatcoats of the French infantry featured cost-cutting measures like buttons that would disintegrate and not hold the coat closed; for lack of brass or metal buttons, the French froze to death.

La Bataille de Waterloo

La bataille de Waterloo
The stacks upon stacks of historical paintings of the Battle of Waterloo could fill several libraries. There is no shortage of imagery and material, much of it very richly detailed and laboriously reconstructed from the historical record.

Clément-Auguste Andrieux painted La bataille de Waterloo in 1852. He had the ability, at that stage, to compare his work to the testimony of survivors. Although still very removed from the incident, it is a well-regarded depiction. Andrieux went on to illustrate the events of the Franco-Prussian War.

Silver medal of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Battle of Waterloo, by Emile Rogat


This is the commemorative medal issued by the English after Waterloo. The fallen eagle, depicted on the back, is surrounded by vultures, representing the British, Austrians, Russians and the Dutch armies. It was designed and engraved by a Frenchman, hoping to sell it on the British market.

Can it really be true that the 200th anniversary is a few months away?

The Red Cloak


The spoils of war go on display:
Items seized at the Battle of Waterloo including Napoleon's red cloak are to go on display at Windsor Castle to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle.
The ankle-length cloak was worn by Napoleon on the night before the French defeat and was looted from his carriage after the victory by Allied troops.
The embroidered red felt cloak has been in the Royal Collection since 1837.
A great deal of treasure was left on the battlefield, and then discarded during the retreat. How much of it ended up in private hands, I wonder.

Gamers Will Sustain History


I don't know what to vote for, but history isn't kept alive in books. It's kept alive in the popular culture--movies, music, art and now games.

Computer gaming is still in an infancy stage that requires a lot of imagination and suspension of disbelief. The games being played today will seem like the games of twenty years ago--and so on and so forth. As the sophistication level of gaming increases, so will the integration of history.

The Chappe Telegraph


The Chappe telegraph was yet another modern convenience that began during the French Revolution and then quickly died off when someone came along and "invented" the actual telegraph.

Claude Chappe's invention worked wonders:
Napoleonic semaphore was the world's first telegraph network, carrying messages across 19h-Century France faster than ever before. Now a group of enthusiastic amateurs are reviving the ingenious system. 
Before the web, before the computer, before the phone, even before Morse code, there was le systeme Chappe. 
Not for the first time or for the last, at the end of the 18th Century France made an important technological advance - only to see it overtaken by newer science. 
In this case, it was the world's first ever system of telegraphy.

In the event of the breakdown of technology and electronic communications, we could easily go back to this system:

Of course, no one is willing to actually learn how to use it, except for the people in France restoring the system. Brilliant.

History Repeating Itself Over and Over Again

Fouche, Napoleon's dreaded Chief of Police
All of this talk about being under surveillance and privacy--please. We are mere amateurs when it comes to keeping track of what people say and do.

Here are two wonderful pieces of history from Alan Forrest:

What recourse did anyone have under the rule of law? None. And America is the originator of evil in the world? They used to say that about Napoleon as well. His enemies were everywhere and he knew it.

The police state is over two hundred years old, and counting. It certainly did not begin with Napoleon, but his chief of police, the dreaded Fouche, is the predecessor of so many bad men of history that it is impossible to count them all.


And so, we must conclude that even the President is being spied upon. And, remember. Only Americans do bad things to their people.

Napoleon on PBS


I'm not a huge fan of the PBS method of making documentaries. This informal language, which is meant to be relatable and entertaining, is not really how you want to describe the Napoleonic era. It's fine if you're talking about America, or America's wars, but it doesn't carry any weight when it comes to describing the carnage of the wars in Europe from 200 years ago.

Anyway, this piece is about the Battle of Ulm, and it makes me wonder if they didn't actually put a Legoland where the battle was fought (probably not). This is a wonderful part of Germany, and I wish I had been able to visit the actual battlefield.

Another Napoleonic Era Artifact Disappears Into Private Hands


Yet another artifact from the age of Napoleon vanishes into the hands of a private collector. Will it ever be seen again? What else, out there in private hands, is there?

I don't know what value such a ring would be to the people of France; it's not as if every jewel from that era ended up in the hands of the state. Far from it--numerous items have been lost to history in the aftermath of the overthrow of Napoleon's government. How many treasures were carted away by the victors? We'll never know.

Don't Make This


Steven Spielberg's adaptation of AI ruined it; I hope they don't make this project.

Napoleon, and the era in which he lived, would be great fodder for untold numbers of stories and a miniseries and films and whatnot; the subject matter is definitely worth mining. Is there any enthusiasm for what Spielberg would accomplish here? I doubt it.

If Kubrick envisioned the project as a film, and if he had the scale of Barry Lyndon in mind, then any deviation from that will require padding and changes that would dilute his original intention. Add in Spielberg's penchant for melodramatic nonsense, and you have the makings of a ruined project that adds nothing of value. Of course, it could go the other way and be brilliant, but I doubt it. I probably won't ever see Lincoln simply because I cannot abide the historical stylings of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I'm probably alone in this sentiment.

Kubrick's vision should stay with his legacy. Who could possibly reinterpret his work properly?

The Importance of Little Details


Well, that's not a real cannon.

It's a picture of one taken at Disneyland Paris. You can see that it has been cast or fabricated to look real, but it isn't.

Or is it?

If you were going to go out and get a fake cannon, where would you go? And why wouldn't you just buy an old one and dress it up and make it look real.

This is the actual coat worn daily by Napoleon:



But, then again. What's genuine and what's fake?

The reason why this project has, literally, taken forever is that I have so much source material to go through and I'm doing this so that I can get most of this right.

Whose Slippers?


Scattered all throughout Europe are trunks and chests full of treasures; of this I am certain. When something like this is examined, the question I always want to know is, what's missing? What were the really valuable items that ended up being pawned off during the war (s) and what was filched out of there by a thieving relative?

Items from two or three hundred years ago are commonplace enough in small museums in Germany; really, you can go to any stadt museum and see excellent pieces. I'm sure it's that way throughout the continent; maybe not, but I suspect that there are trunks needing a good dusting all over. Perhaps that is oversimplified and overly romantic.

In America, if it's a hundred and twenty years old or more, people lose their mud over such an "antiquity." The American way is to tear it down, pave it over, get rid of it. We do not preserve much of anything in this country.

To call Napoleon's sister a princess is to acknowledge her marriage to a man of limited title who abandoned her for a mistress; she became Paulette when the family arrived in France and was loyal to her brother to the end of his days.



I think that the article should have reflected more of her status as a wholly created royal with the same commoner's blood as her brother. If you consider the painting above, someone had to have been cruelly inclined to give her too long of a neck. What an unflattering portrait.

A Threat Never Carried Out


Nothing could be more horrific to consider than the destruction of Napoleon's army in Russia; I have deliberately avoided researching it or going into it because I wanted to limit my focus to the last two battles of the Napoleonic era in Europe where we end it all at Waterloo.

It is interesting that this particular letter, concerning a threat that never happened, went for 150,000 euros. Did someone drive up the cost? Is it really worth that much?

My guess is that there are so few remaining privately held documents like this that it was worth every penny to whomever wanted to preserve it.

One Hundred Days by Alan Schom


This is one of the last books that I will read before The Chasseurs project is transitioned from a research project to a more proper blog about history and the Napoleonic Era (it's been in the works for long enough).

Alan Schom's book is brimming with excellent pieces and facts that are done in a very scholarly fashion. The quality of his details really rank up there with the best scholarship on this era. Gathering together the historical works on Napoleon would take a dozen blogs a dozen years; there's simply way too much that is way too good to ignore. There are hundreds of books written over a hundred years ago that are extremely valuable; Google Books is a good source for those.

What Schom does is follow the money and the trail of events. It's not enough to know what was happening when Napoleon landed in France after escaping Elba; he makes note of the messages that went back and forth between the panicked officials who were sensing, probably from the outset, that the new King of France, Louis XVIII, was simply going to run for the border (and, of course, he did).

It is an excellent read. I cannot proceed until I've finished it.


Another View of Napoleon's Retreat


Images like this were designed to further humiliate French military history and elevate the status of Britain's vaunted armed forces. Here is a fairly factual accounting of the retreat:

During their meeting at La Belle Alliance on 18 June 1815, Wellington and Blücher decided that the Prussian cavalry would pursue the French. The Prussian chief of staff, Gneisenau, would take command of this pursuit. The exhausted allied troops would remain on the battlefield for the night. The Prussian II Corps under General Pirch would march in the direction of Mansart around midnight to cut of Grouchy's line of retreat. General Bülow received orders to march on Genappe.

After taking refuge in the last square of the Guard for some time, Napoleon and some of his officers fled to Genappes where he found his coach. He was almost captured by the Prussians when his coach got stuck in the mass of fleeing French soldiers. The Prussian Major von Keller managed to "capture" Napoleon's hat, coat and sword but the Emperor escaped.

The Prussian cavalry pursuit lost more and more of its momentum as the night progressed and eventually Gneisenau halted just south of Frasnes. The Prussians had captured about 8,000 French.

On the morning of 19 June Marshal Grouchy was still unaware of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. At about 1030 Grouchy received word of the Emperor's defeat. After some confusing moments General Vandamme proposed to march on Brussels to free the prisoners, cut of the enemy's line of communication and then regain France via Valenciennes. Soult's messenger, however, had brought orders for Grouchy to retreat to the river Sambre. Grouchy decided to do so by way of Namur, Dinant and Givet. In order to do so the Namur bridges had to be captured as fast as possible.

At 1130 Grouchy ordered General Exelmans to advance with his cavalry to Namur to take the bridges over the Sambre. The rest of Grouchy's command would follow at once, covered by a rear guard composed of Pajol's cavalry and Teste's infantry division.
This retreat was unhindered by General Thielmann's Prussians, many of whom had been routed after Grouchy's victory at Wavre. But General Pirch II Corps was on it's way to cut of Grouchy's line of retreat. He arrived at Mellery at about 1100 on 19 June but his troops were so exhausted that he had to let them rest. He spent the rest of the day there.

Two regiments of French Dragoons captured the Namur bridges at about 1600. At about 1900 the rest of Exelmans' cavalry passed through the city of Namur while Grouchy and IV Corps (General Gérard) were only about 10 km behind. Vandamme's III Corps reached Gembloux around 2100.

On 20 June Pirch's Prussians overtook the French and began to appear everywhere but where repulsed. Pirch then attacked again while the French withdrew through Namur but Teste's rear guard was able to hold off the Prussians at the cost of 1,500 Prussian casualties. Blücher then recalled Pirch and Thielmann and the Prussian pursuit of Grouchy's right wing ended.
Late on 21 June 1815, Grouchy's undefeated troops entered Phillipeville. He had managed to escape destruction or capture with about 28,000 men, most of his wounded, all his artillery and most of his equipment.






The telling remark comes when the "defeat" of Napoleon is handed directly to Wellington. And, while it is true that his leadership was critical, the war was actually won in the ensuing actions detailed above. Most of that legwork was done by the Prussians, not the English.

Waterloo 2012 Scenes



It would appear that they had spectacular weather, and a very good turnout, for the 2012 reenactment of Waterloo.

I had considered going, but it just wasn't meant to be. June has been an extremely tough month, and there just wasn't any way to justify a 6 hour, one-way, car ride into Belgium and then back again.

Now, what about 2015? Who knows?