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?

Cavalry at Waterloo

In order to research the next phase of The Chasseurs, I have decided to rely heavily upon the academic work done by John Keegan in The Face of Battle.
If the story of Waterloo has a 'leitmotiv' it is that of cavalry charging square and being repulsed. It was not absolutely inevitable that horsemen who attempted to break a square should fail... The feat of breaking a square was tried by French cavalry time and again at Waterloo — there were perhaps 12 main assaults during the great afternoon cavalry effort — and always (though infantry in line or column suffered) with a complete lack of success. Practice against poorer troops had led them to expect a different result: a visible shiver of uncertainty along the ranks of the waiting musketeers which would lend the horsemen nerve for the last 50 yads, a ragged spatter of balls over their heads to signal the volley mistimed, then a sudden collapse of resolution and disappearance of order — regiment become drove, backs turned, heads hunched between shoulders, helot-feet flying before the faster hooves of the lords of battle: this, in theory, should have been the effect of such a charge. 
As Jac Weller has shown by careful analysis of formation-widths, the number of cavalrymen in an attacking line was always much lower than the number of infantrymen with whom their onset brought them face to face. If the average strength of a battalion was about 500, it would, formed four deep, present in square a face of about 60 feet across, opposing about 140 men to the approaching French cavalry. They, because of the greater bulk of their horses, could present no more than about 18 men on the same width of front, with another 18 immediately behind, and it was these 36 who would take the brunt of the square's fire... If the cavalry's moral power failed to disarm the infantry — as it always did at Waterloo — then each horseman theoretically became the target for 4 infantrymen. Viewed like this, "Here comes those damnded fools again", seems like an appropriate judgment on the character of the conflict.
These squares are vital for the visual and descriptive aspect of the story. I have a scene constructed so far where one of the dogs leaps up over the rifles and lands on a shoulder; he springs again and lands in the middle of the square and looks around, bewildered. After a volley, the smoke obscures him and he manages to wriggle out through the legs of the soldiers who are wondering where he came from and why he has a French tricolor rag tied around his neck.

More of this will follow; Keegan's work is the top of the line, as per usual.

French Light Infantry in Miniature

Here are some French light infantry, as rendered by Don Voss at the Lead Adventure Forum. This is some very spectacular work, and I really like the mismatched and hard-worn look that is rendered here.

The level of detail and the care for the material that you will find with any depiction of the Napoleonic Wars is breathtaking and humbling, it truly is.

Artillery Makes More than Just Noise

One of the elements that I don't want to ignore is the effect that artillery had on Waterloo. I think the story doesn't work without all of the elements at work--smoke, confusion, sound, and danger have to be all around.

I think the descriptions of things have to work as well. How would you describe something like this?

Two horses pulling a cannon--a smaller one. Is it a four pounder? An eight pounder? I'm sure that these omissions are fatal in storytelling, but how important are they, really?

Here's a wonderful article about artillery at Waterloo:

During the Waterloo Campaign in 1815 the raising of artillery was beset by some frustrating difficulties, and there was very little time. Napoleon rebuilt the artillery of the Guard but did little to the rest of the artillery. There was no lack of cannons, but trained gunners and horses were in short supply. Despite the poor shape the French artillery still was able to impress even the enemy.

In the beginning of the battle Reille's artillery kept firing on all cylinders and several guns had been brought up as far as the Nivelles Road. Almost all the British eyewitness accounts confirm that the British and German infantry massed on the high ground beyond Hougoumont came under fire and suffered a steady attrition that gradually began to wear on the men's nerves. Most of the British battalions behind Hougoumont-La Haye Sainte line were formed in column of companies (not a "thin red line"). It was a deep formation with all 10 companies lined up one behind the other. It was easy to maneuver battalions so deployed and therefore ideal formation for waiting troops; but it certainly wasn't suitable for withstanding artillery bombardement. 
To lessen their casulaties from artillery fire the British, Dutch and German infantry out on the ground. 
This way Wellington saved many lives. The cavalry in the second line also got under atyillery fire. Sergeant Wheeler of the British 51st Light writes, "A shell now fell into the column of the [British] 15th Hussars and bursted. I saw a sword and scabbard fly out from the column ... grape and shells were dupping about like hell, this was devilish annoying. As we could not see the enemy, although they were giving us a pretty good sprinkling of musketry ..." A British officer wrote that one of the French batteries "was committing great devastation amongst our troops in and near Hougoumont." Bull's howitzer battery also got under fire, suffered losses in men, wagons and horses, and exhausted their own ammunition to such a point that, no more than 2 hours after the beginning of the battle, they were compelled to abandon the line of fire. The fire of the French artillery distracted the British gunners. Instead of targeting the French columns they got involved in counter-battery fire. Wellington had expressely forbade it but it was ignored. (Napoleon explained: "When gunners are under attack from an enemy battery, they can never be made to fire on massed infantry. It's natural cowardice, the violent instinct of self-preservation ...") 
The British artillery was also effective. Some battalions of Reille's corps remained stretched out on the ground in hollows and sunken lanes. Other battalions received the fire standing firm. "Between 2 and 3 PM, a [French] battery drew up on the right side of the buildings and began to bombard them heavily with cannons and howitzers. It did not take long to set them all alight." (- Major Busgen, Nassau Battalion)
Those "sunken lanes" and places where the fighting took place are things that have to be included. I have two short pieces up, and I want to set a goal of solidifying the first few pieces before the month is out. August, being the month of vacation here in Europe, is probably going to be a slow and lazy month if I don't get out ahead of these things.

Another Great Example of Reenactors in Action

Now, that's a first--reenactors out in the snow.

I won't vouch for it, but there's a website dedicated to the art of reenacting history. A lot of what I stumble across when researching the various pieces that I'm finally able to put together shows the dedication and craft of reenactors all over the world.