War

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.

An Account of Napoleon at Waterloo

Evening of Waterloo by Ernest Crofts.

The French army is in a route, and Napoleon is urged to leave the Battle Field, while the Old Guards protect his carriage.

There are numerous accounts similar to this one:
Napoleon, left the Elysée at four o'clock on the morning of 12 June to join the army, passing by Laon, Avesnes, Beaumont, Charleroi and Fleurus, where the first battle between the French and Prussians was fought. Having reached Laon at six o'clock in the evening, he mounted his horse and made a tour of the town and the defenses: at eight o'clock he returned to the Prefecture where he lodged; at four o'clock on the morning of the 13th, he again set out for Avesnes, his general headquarters. He remained there on the 13th and on the 14th, he proceeded on horseback at 10 a.m. to Beaumont where he slept: he rose very early and walked upon the balcony, taking note continually of the weather and conversing with his brother Jerome. On the 15th he climbed the hill at Charleroi, after having driven back the enemy who only surrendered it towards three o'clock in the afternoon. There he made the whole army march past him in column. At seven in the evening he proceeded to the outposts, returning at ten o'clock to sleep at a citizen's house in the Place de Promenade at Charleroi. During the night various officers of the staff kept coming and going to give Napoleon accounts of the movements made by the different army corps. From their investigations they reported to him that General Bourmont had joined the enemy. Napoleon considered it necessary to make fresh plans, being pretty sure that this General from his treachery would give the enemy an exact account of the position of the French army. Napoleon, therefore, left Charleroi at ten a.m. on the 16th and visited one or two places where he found strong columns of the enemy's army. He continued his observations until a sufficient force had arrived to enable him to commence the battle. Towards three in the afternoon the firing began with much fury and lasted until nine o'clock in the evening when the Prussians were completely defeated. Napoleon spent the evening on the battlefield, until eleven o'clock, when he was assured on all sides that the position had been taken. He passed through the ranks in returning to a village (Ligny) towards Fleurus where he slept. There several of the brave men who had accompanied him from the Isle of Elba, said to him, “Sire, Your Majesty has here, far from Elba, the brave men of Elba.” He replied “I rely wholly upon you and the courage of the brave army.” On his return in the evening, an infantry Colonel who had just had his arm carried away said to the Emperor, “Sire, I have one arm less, the other remains at the service of Your Majesty.” The Emperor stopped and asked him what regiment he commanded; he replied, “The first Grenadier regiment of your Guard.” He was carried to the village with Napoleon's orders that the greatest care must be taken of him.
On the 17th of June, Napoleon left the village where he had slept, and visited the battlefield of the evening before as he always did on the day after a battle. He went very quickly up the hill to Genappes where he remained making observations on the movements of his advance guard; the cavalry attached to which several times charged the British cavalry as it passed out of the town. At this time a violent storm threw into confusion the whole French army which, owing to their many days of rapid marching, lack of provisions, and want of rest was in a most pitiable state. At last the courage of the French overcame the horrible weather. The troops struggled on with unparalleled valor; in the evening Napoleon visited the outposts in spite of the heavy rain and did his utmost to encourage the men. At seven o'clock, p.m. he took out his watch and said that the troops had need of rest, that they should take up their positions, and that the next day early, they would be under arms.
At this moment shouts were heard from the British army, Napoleon asked what these could be. Marshal Soult (then Chief of Staff) replied “It is certainly Wellington passing through the ranks that is the cause of the shouting.” At seven o'clock, Napoleon said he wished to bivouac; it was pointed out to him that he was in a ploughed field and in mud up to the knees, he replied to the Marshal, “Any kind of shelter will suit me for the night.” He retraced his steps at its height owing to the passing of the whole of the Imperial Guard which was hastening to seek shelter from the bad weather. Napoleon went into a kind of Inn out of which the troops, who had installed themselves in it, were turned, and here he fixed his General Headquarters, because he did not wish to go to the town of Genappes, which was only a league distant, saying that during the night he would here receive more readily reports from the army. At the same time everyone had found the best available quarters in which to pass the night. Generals Corbineau, La Bedoyere, Flahaut, aides-de-camp on Napoleon's staff, spent the night in riding between the various army corps and returning to him to give an exact account of the movements which were taking place. 
On the 18th Napoleon having left the bivouac, that is to say the village Caillou on horseback, at half-past nine in the morning came to take up his stand half a league in advance upon a hill where he could discern the movements of the British army.

There he dismounted, and with his fieldglass endeavored to discover all the movements in the enemy's line. The chief of the staff suggested that they should begin the attack; he replied that they must wait, but the enemy commenced his attack at eleven o'clock and the cannonading began on all sides; at two o'clock nothing was yet decided; the fighting was desperate. Napoleon rode through the lines and gave orders to make certain that every detail was executed with promptitude; he returned often to the spot where in the morning he had started, there he dismounted and, seating himself in a chair which was brought to him, he placed his head between his hands and rested his elbows on his knees. He remained thus absorbed sometimes for half-an-hour, and then rising up suddenly would peer through his glasses on all sides to see what was happening. At three o'clock an aide-de-camp from the right wing came to tell him that they were repulsed and that the artillery was insufficient. Napoleon immediately called General Drouet in order to direct him to hasten to reinforce this army corps which was suffering so heavily, but one saw on Napoleon's face a look of disquietude instead of the joy which it had shown on the great day of Fleurus. The whole morning he showed extreme depression; however, everything was going on as well as could be expected with the French, in spite of the uncertainty of the battle, when at 6 o'clock in the evening an officer of the mounted Chasseurs of the Guard came to Napoleon, raised his hand and said “Sire, I have the honor to announce to Your Majesty that the battle is won.”
“Let us go forward,” Napoleon replied, “We must do better still. Courage mes braves: Let us advance!” Having said this he rode off at a gallop close to the ranks encouraging the soldiers, who did not keep their position long, for a hail of artillery falling on their left ruined all. In addition to this, the strong line of British cavalry made a great onslaught on the squares of the guard and put all to rout.
It was at this moment that the Duke of Wellington sent to summon the Guard to surrender. General Kembraune replied that the Guard knew how to fight, to die, but not to surrender. Our right was crushed by the corps of Bülow who with his artillery had not appeared during the day but who now sought to cut off all retreat.
Napoleon towards eight o'clock in the evening, seeing that his army was almost beaten, commenced to despair of the success which two hours before he believed to be assured. He remained on the battlefield until half-past nine when it was absolutely necessary to leave. Assured of a good guide, we passed to the right of Genappes and through the fields; we marched all the night without knowing too well where we were going until the morning. Towards four o'clock in the morning we came to Charleroi where Napoleon, owing to the onrush of the army in beating a retreat, had much difficulty in proceeding. At last after he had left the town, he found in a little meadow on the right a small bivouac fire made by some soldiers. He stopped by it to warm himself and said to General Corbineau, “Et bien Monsieur, we have done a fine thing.” General Corbineau saluted him and replied, “Sire, it is the utter ruin of France.” Napoleon turned round, shrugged his shoulders and remained absorbed for some moments. He was at this time extremely pale and haggard and much changed. He took a small glass of wine and a morsel of bread which one of his equerries had in his pocket, and some moments later mounted, asking if the horse galloped well. He went as far as Philippeville where he arrived at mid-day and took some wine to revive himself. He again set out at two o'clock in a mail carriage towards Paris where he arrived on the 21st at 7 a.m. at the Elysée whence he departed on the 12th, in the same month.
Certified correct by me,
Jardin Ainé;
Equerry to the Emperor Napoleon

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Napoleon and his Carriage

Evening of Waterloo, Ernest Crofts

In the confusion of the end of Waterloo, what happened to the wounded? What happened to the men who could not retreat? What happened to the men who were mortally wounded (or in many cases, unable to walk)?

This aftermath is an interesting area of discussion. The French fled and the forces opposed to them were exhausted. In many cases, the troops had spent days on the march, trying to arrive at the battlefield as quickly as possible to deliver the maximum force necessary to knock each other out.

I love the details, the confusion, and the horror of it all is heartbreaking. What Crofts gets right is the haze and misery.

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.

The Aftermath of Waterloo

The Scots Greys Charging at Waterloo

The Chasseurs project crawls along at a rather slow pace. But, it does move along, so that's something to be happy about. Each and every element needs to fit together, and finding the pieces has been a long, drawn-out process.

The aftermath of Waterloo has always interested me. After the armies shattered themselves, the French abandoned the field. The chase was on; Napoleon fled before his forces and tried to find somewhere to go. He ended up surrendering himself to a British sea captain.

This excerpt has some great details:


It would make sense to me to depict this aftermath as a time of chaos and confusion. The staggering number of wounded would mean that The Chasseurs are stuck on the field and unable to retreat. This allows for scenes at the end to take place in a static setting, one that can be transitioned from quickly.

For Want of a Winter Horseshoe


The BBC has an interesting magazine piece about military logistics, and it touches on several key incidents in history. I took notice of this part of the story of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812:

This is the first I have heard of this issue. One of the oldest stories about the collapse of the Grand Armee in Russia has always centered around the cheap tin buttons on the greatcoats of the soldiers:


I would think that both facts had an impact on the fortunes of Napoleon's men.

The Daily Habits of Emperor Bonaparte


Having just visited Paris, I was surprised to learn that Napoleon used the Tuileries as his residence; I somehow had passed over that. In an event, I regret not going there. Oh well.

This was excerpted from a great piece about Napoleon's daily habits. I am now in the process of putting together a sequence for The Chasseurs where they will march to the first battle, and then on to Waterloo.