Book Review: Operations of the Armée du Nord: 1815: The Analysis - Vol. V


by Stephen M Beckett, editor

Canton, Ga.: Mapleflower House Publishing, 2019. Pp. xl, 400. Illus, maps, tables, chon., appends, sources, indicies. $50.00 . ISBN:0986375764

Operations of the Armée du Nord: 1815, edited by Stephen M. Beckett II

Beckett, author of Waterloo Betrayed: The Secret Treachery That Defeated Napoleon (2015), has performed an immense service to scholars of the Napoleonic era in compiling and editing this impressive collection of hundreds of hitherto largely unpublished documents from the Corsican’s final campaign that culminated in the Battle of Waterloo.

The documents include letters between senior officers, reports on the state of troops and equipment, orders of battle, intelligence reports, logistical returns, and more. Many were “lost” to history because they were taken home by their recipients or other officers, or deposited in local archives rather than with the Ministry of War or other government archive. Others, albeit in official archives were deliberately ignored by earlier researchers for political reasons; early editions of Napoleon’s letters and papers, done under the aegis of his nephew Napoleon III, were notorious in this regard.

Beckett uses this extensive documentation to make several “revisionist” points, all worthy of further inquiry. For example, he argues that the concentration of Napoleon’s Armée du Nord, generally regarded as one of his most impressive maneuvers, was in fact “a demonstrable disaster” due to conflicting orders, poor reconnaissance, and recalcitrant – treacherous? – subordinates.

Beckett also makes a very good case that the accepted explanation for the belated movement of general Dominique Vandamme’s III Corps on June 15th - Marshal Soult’s dispatch of single messenger, who managed to get lost and then broke a leg, an explanation rejected even by some earlier historians - was not in fact, the reason. He also has some interesting things to say about the desertion of general Louis Bourmont, which is covered in some detail.

The work comprises four volumes of original documents in French, with some in translation or with annotation, and a fifth volume offering an account in English of the events on a day-by-day, even hour-by-hour basis, from the documents, over a hundred cited in translation. This is a critical work for those seriously interested in the campaign of Waterloo, and useful to anyone with an interest in the armies of the period.

Operations of the Armée du Nord: 1815, edited by Stephen M. Beckett II. Canton, Ga.: Mapleflower House, 2019. Five volumes. $350.00 the set.

· Vol. I: The Registries. Introduces the series and then includes correspondence and other documents by many senior officers, including Napoleon. Pp. x, 512. $100.00, ISBN 978-0-9863-7570-5.

· Vol. II: The Organization, May-June 4. Key daily correspondence from the appointment of Marshal Soult as chief-of-staff until the eve of the army’s concentration on the frontier. Pp. x, 496. $100.00, ISBN 978-0-9863-7571-2

· Vol. III: The Concentration, June 5-June 11. Daily correspondence as the several elements of the army concentrated in their staging areas and prepared for movement. Pp. x, 666. $100.00, ISBN 978-0-9863-7574-3.

· Vol. IV: The Invasion, June 12-June 17. Daily correspondence from the time the army advanced into Belgium through the Battles of Quatre-Bras and Ligny and the pursuit on June 17th. Pp. x, 472. $100.00, ISBN 978-0-9863-7574-3.

· The Analysis. A commentary by the editor on the events covered in the first four volume, and the Battle of Waterloo, with translations of critical documents. Pp. xl, 400. $50.00, ISBN 978-0-9863-7576-7.

Note: Each volume includes tables, sources, chronologies, and indices, and The Analysis has several appendices, some facsimile documents. and a number of useful maps.

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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