Waterloo is arguably the most famous battle the world has known. Many books have been written about it and not a few military memoirs have included accounts of it by participants from both sides of the conflict. Commonly, accounts of warfare in the Napoleonic age have been the province of men so this book is decidedly different. Women have been caught up in the maelstrom of war in all ages and the defeat of Napoleon was no exception. Whilst Charlotte Eaton may have been a tourist her 'on the spot' impressions are no less important both as a female perspective and as a resource of information about the momentous events of 1815 regardless of gender. Magdalene De Lancey's book is far more poignant. Very recently married at the time of the battle, her husband William De Lancey was on Wellington's staff. He was tragically serious wounded and it fell to Magdalene to nurse him. Juana Smith, the famous Spanish bride of Harry Smith of the 95th Rifles as usual accompanied her own soldier husband to war and had her own Waterloo adventure which is included here. This is an unusual book of the Napoleonic Wars available from Leonaur in soft cover or hard back with dust jacket for collectors.
From morning till night the great Place de Maire was completely filled with people, standing under umbrellas, and eagerly watching for news of the battle; so closely packed was this anxious crowd, that, when viewed from the hotel windows, nothing could be seen but one compact mass of umbrellas. As the day advanced, the consternation became greater. The number of terrified fugitives from Brussels, upon whose faces were marked the deepest anxiety and distress, and who thronged into the town on horseback and on foot, increased the general dismay, while long rows of carriages lined the streets, filled with people who could find no place of shelter.<br>
Troops from the Hanseatic towns marched in to strengthen the garrison of the city in case of a siege. Long trains of artillery, ammunition, military stores, and supplies of all sorts incessantly poured in, and there seemed to be no end of the heavy wagons that rolled through the streets. Reports more and more gloomy reached our ears; every hour only served to add to the general despondency.<br>
On every side we heard that the battle was fought under circumstances so disadvantageous to the British, and against a preponderance of force so overpowering, that it was impossible it could be won. Long did we resist the depressing impression these alarming accounts were calculated to make upon our minds; long did we believe, in spite of every unfavourable appearance, that the British would be victorious. Towards evening a wounded officer arrived, bringing intelligence that the onset had been most terrible, and so immense were the numbers of the enemy, that he “did not believe it was in the power of man to save the battle.”<br>
To record the innumerable false reports we heard spread by the terrified fugitives, who continually poured into the town from Brussels, would be endless. At length, after an interval of the most torturing suspense, a wounded British officer of hussars, scarcely able to sit his horse, and faint from loss of blood, rode up to the door of the hotel, and told us the disastrous tidings, that the battle was lost, and that Brussels, by this time, was in the possession of the enemy.<br>
He said, that in all the battles he had ever been engaged in, he had never witnessed anything at all equal to the horrors of this. The French had fought with the most desperate valour, but, when he left the field, they had been repulsed by the British at every point with immense slaughter: the news of the defeat had, however, overtaken him on the road; all the baggage belonging to the army was taken or destroyed, and the confusion among the French at Vittoria, he said, was nothing to this.<br>
He had himself been passed by panic-struck fugitives from the field, flying for their lives, and he had been obliged to hurry forward, notwithstanding his wounds, in order to effect his escape. Two gentlemen from Brussels corroborated this dreadful account: in an agitation that almost deprived them of the power of utterance, they declared that when they came away, Brussels presented the most dreadful scene of tumult, horror, and confusion; that intelligence had been received of the complete defeat of the British, and that the French were every moment expected. The carnage had been most tremendous.
The Duke of Wellington, they said, was severely wounded; Sir Dennis Pack killed; and all our bravest officers killed, wounded, or prisoners. In vain we inquired, where, if the battle was lost) where was now, and what had become of the British army ? —“God alone knows,” was the answer. The next moment we heard from a gentleman who had just arrived, that before he left Brussels, the French had actually entered it; that he had himself seen a party of them; and another gentleman (apparently an officer) declared he had been pursued by them more than half way to Malines!<br>
Dreadful was the panic and dismay that now seized the unfortunate Belgians, and in the most piercing tones of horror and despair they cried out, that the French would be at the gates before morning. Some English people, thinking Antwerp no longer safe, set off for Breda, late as it was. Later still, accounts were brought (as we were told) by three British officers, confirming the dreadful tidings of defeat; it was even said that the French were already at Malines.<br>
We believed, we trusted that these reports of evil were greatly exaggerated; we did not credit their dreadful extent, but that some terrible reverse had befallen the British army it was no longer possible to doubt. During the whole of this dreadful night, the consternation, the alarm, the tumult, the combination of horrid noises that filled the streets, I shall never forget. The rapid rolling of the carriages, the rattle of artillery, and the slow, heavy motion of the large wagons filled with wounded soldiers, which incessantly entered the town, were the most dismal of all.