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A Voice from Waterloo

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A Voice from Waterloo
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Author(s): Edward Cotton
Date Published: 12/2007
Page Count: 316
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-347-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-348-8

Waterloo as told by one who fought and became one of its first historians

The title of this book is doubly appropriate. Cotton was a soldier of the 7th Hussars who had served in Spain and became part of Wellington's polyglot army sent to Belgium to stand between Napoleon and his ambitions to regain the Imperial throne of France. He was in an ideal position to view the battle as a participant and his own experiences fighting with the light cavalry are retold in detail. After the battle Cotton saw an opportunity to make his living from the most momentous battle of the age and following his army discharge returned to Mont St Jean to become a battlefield guide and hotelier. Cotton's hotel still stands and is now the Waxworks Museum and part of the modern visitors' centre. Years of telling the story of the Battle of Waterloo enabled Cotton to fine tune his narrative and as a consequence he has left us an even handed and highly entertaining account filled with anecdotes related to him by other participants-on both sides of the conflict-as they revisited the battlefield in the years after those bloody days of June 1815. A Voice from Waterloo-the words of a soldier and a storyteller-was once the most popular book on its subject. It is an invaluable addition to any library of the Napoleonic Wars and also provides-as a consequence of its inspiration-a perfect companion for the modern Waterloo visitor as, perhaps, its most authentic expert tells his story once again across time.

About nine o’clock, Napoleon threw himself, with a few of his staff, into a square of the 2nd chasseurs of the old guard, that had been under Cambronne; but upon the approach of our cavalry he galloped away. Wellington, with our advance brigades, reached the farm of Rossomme, between which and La Belle-Alliance some Prussian cavalry and our 18th exchanged blows, and some lives were lost. The 11th Light Dragoons and 1st German Hussars were also nearly coming in contact with each other, owing to the dimness of the twilight.<br>
An arrangement by communication had previously been made by Wellington and Blücher, that the allied army should halt here, and that the Prussians should pursue and harass the routed enemy. The Duke was now, with all his advance, a little beyond Rossomme, upon a particular knoll with a gap through it, which can be distinctly seen from most parts of the right of the allied position.
As the Prussians passed us, (for I had the honour and good fortune to be an actor in this scene,) I heard their bands play, “God Save the King,” which soul-stirring compliment we returned by hearty cheers.<br>
In the pursuit of the enemy from Rossomme to Genappe, the Prussian lance and sabre were busy in the work of death. Many a brave soldier, that had escaped the bloody field, fell that night beneath the deadly steel. In vain did the French make a feeble effort at Genappe to check the Prussians, by barricading its long and narrow street with their few remaining guns and tumbrels. So entirely had their defeat destroyed their discipline, that the Prussians, by the first sound of the trumpet, beat of drum, or their wild hurrah, overcame every obstacle, and, pressing on, they captured sixty pieces of cannon.
The Duke, after clearing the highroad and its left of the allied troops, in order to give full scope to the advancing Prussians, to whom he now relinquished the pursuit of the flying enemy, remained for some time on the right of Rossomme with his advanced troops, in conversation with General Vivian, Colonel Colborne and others; after which His Grace, promising to send the provisions up, turned his horse round and rode away.<br>
On returning leisurely towards Waterloo, about ten o’clock, at a short distance before reaching La Belle-Alliance, he, aided by a clouded moon, descried a group of mounted officers making towards the Genappe highroad from the direction of Frischermont; the Duke turned off to meet them: it proved to be Blücher and his staff; they most heartily congratulated each other on the glorious result of the contest in which they had been so intensely engaged. The conference lasted about ten minutes, when the veteran Blücher, promising to leave his inveterate foe no rallying time on this side of the frontier, shook hands with His Grace and proceeded to Genappe, sending forward to General Gneisenau, who led his advance-guard, orders to press and harass the enemy, and not suffer the grass to grow under their feet, or even allow them to take breath. Bülow’s corps, which led the pursuit, was supported by Zieten’s. Pirch’s corps received orders to turn round and strike across the country, and, if possible, to cut off Marshal Grouchy’s retreat.<br>
Our gallant chief returned over the field to Waterloo, and before reaching La Haye Sainte was obliged to quit the highroad, on account of its being completely blocked up with guns, many of which were upset and lying topsy turvy; whilst the frequent snort and start of the horses told but too clearly that the ground they trod was studded and strewed with the slain. His Grace, on regaining the highroad, was so affected by the cries of the wounded and moans of the dying, as to shed tears, and on his way did not exchange a word with any of his suite, composed only of five persons, one of whom, the late Sir Colin Campbell, was armed with a cuirassier’s sword.
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