15 July 2019
chain of command
“Had it not been for the imbecility of Grouchy, I should have gained the day”.Thus spoke Napoleon after the battle of Waterloo. Author Andrew Field has trawled through letters, diaries, memoirs and orders to find out what really happened. This book is the third volume in a series of four exploring the Waterloo campaign from the French perspective and, as such, focuses on what Grouchy was up too before arriving too late at Waterloo.
The author lets the participants do most of the writing for him, only stepping in to provide clarification or a much-needed correction. Many French commanders were obviously eager to deflect potential blame from themselves, making their memoirs a bit unreliable at times. That said, some of them appear to relive the battle as they are writing about it: one can almost smell the gunpowder and hear the screams of the wounded. Of special interest are the original orders, as they give a good feel of how a corps was told what to do and when to do it. As they are all translated there is a particular document where the original French is the source of much confusion. Rather than showing the original text the author points out that two words look very similar in French but have very different meanings. Unfortunately, there appears to be a typo in French words but readers will quickly grasp what’s going on.
At regular times the text is broken up by small but functional maps of the area being discussed, but – unfortunately – without any troop movements. For example, there’s a map labelled ‘Pajol & Namur’ illustrating extracts from general Pajol’s memoirs. It clearly shows the roads, major forests and cities and villages but it won’t tell you which way Pajol & Co went. Speaking about Pajol, like Caesar he refers to himself in the third person making it occasionally a bit confusing to know whether it’s the author or Pajol that’s doing the explaining. There are also black and white portraits of the various commanders and colour perspective maps of the battles similar to those one can find in an Osprey book.
In any case, apart from wealth of historical insight that the details provided by the combined recollections of the participants and the author, fans of smaller Napoleonic games will find plenty of scenario ideas here, while having the actual orders and troop movements at hand will be a boon to Kriegspiel gamers. As can be expected in a book like this there is an index (organized so you can find commanders, places or even units), footnotes, a bibliography and full orders of battle right down to the number of battalions (and in many cases with the actual number of men is included).
While it is not done to recommend books that one has not read I will just say that, based on the strengths of this book, interested readers are likely to find the other volumes in the series much to their liking as well.
William De Prêtre
Andrew W. Field | Pen & Sword | 2017 | £25 | hardback | 320 pages | ISBN:1473856523 | www.pen-and-sword.co.uk
This article originally appeared in Miniature Wargames issue 418, February 2018