by Robert Kershaw
Philadelphia: Casemate, 2015. Pp. xxvi, 422. .
Illus., maps, chron., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 161200296X
First Hand Accounts of Napoleon’s Last Battle
Kershaw, a British military historian and former Para, has produced a fresh, and arguably very innovative look at Waterloo. He opens with a short introduction to set the stage, quickly giving the reader some background on how the battle came to take place. In his ten chapters he plunges us into an often minute-by-minute look at the events from midnight on the 17th-18th through midnight on the 18th-19th. Most of his chapters cover the events of just an hour or so, and one of just 25 minutes.
In this fashion, Kershaw carries us through the battle, strengthening his account with extensive use of first hand accounts drawn from the letters, diaries, reports, or memoirs of a very great number of participants, from individuals of every rank. So we hear from Wellington and Napoleon at the very top, but also right down to the common soldier, civilian, and even camp follower. Moreover, the voices are not just those of British, French, and Prussian participants, common enough in most accounts of the battle, but also quite literally include representatives of all the others who took part in or were affected by the battle, Dutch, Belgian, Nassauer Brunswicker, Hanoverian, and more, witnesses heard from much less often in virtually all accounts of the battle, though oddly Napoleon's fellow-Corsican and lifetime enemy, Carlo Pozzo de Borgo, present as Wellington's Russian aide, is not heard from. And while Kershaw integrates this testimony smoothly into his narrative, he also fills us in on each person’s background and role in the battle, following some through the day, some to their deaths on the field, and others even into their postwar lives.
This is a very valuable addition to the literature on Waterloo, as it adds a fresh perspective to many of the events.