This anonymously written account tells of the experiences of a French soldier during the Waterloo campaign. It of course recounts the events of those momentous days from the raising of the French forces and their march to Belgium, to the Battle at Ligny, the conflict before Mont St. Jean (the author’s own name for the battle), the defeat and the rout that followed and led to the fall of Paris. The author’s recollections are concisely related and he is careful, perhaps, to give the reader few clues as to his identity or to the specific role he played. However, what makes this book particularly fascinating is the writers views on this moment in French history. He is no adoring disciple of the Emperor of the kind we often read about; nor yet is he a closet Royalist. He is an educated, intelligent, professional soldier marching to fight for a leader for whom he has no regard and for a cause in which he has no belief. French accounts are rare in the English language and though this one is not extensive it certainly provides the modern reader with valuable insights into the thoughts of at least some who marched under the tricolour during those fateful days of June 1815. The original publishers have augmented the authors text with the inclusion of several dispatches penned by notable participants after the battle. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket for collectors.
In a short time afterwards, whilst the conflict on our left and the English right was thus proceeding, our right likewise marched upon their left; they were received by the English with the same steadiness, and a combat of similar desperation accordingly ensued.<br>
The two wings being thus engaged upon both sides, our centre, advancing gradually to correspond with this movement of our wings, marched towards the English centre, so that the whole line on both sides was now engaged.<br>
It was now nearly two o’clock in the afternoon, and we had been engaged about an hour, when the English army, evidently yielding before the impetuous gallantry of the French, was sensibly retreating. The combat had indeed been murderous, and the cannonade and musquetry were but too well served on both sides. Our front lines advanced as the enemy retreated, and our year closed up towards it. The artillery was brought in advance along the whole line.<br>
Our troops were thus gradually all engaged, and were fighting in the midst of the greatest obstacles and difficulties; the soil under our feet having no tenacity, and the surface of it being hilly, abrupt, and intersected with dikes, ravines, and hollows, in the gorges and channels of which we were momentarily opposed by troops whose existence we did not suspect, and who were hidden in them till the moment in which they rose up to meet us. We had to make our way inch by inch. The enemy never yielded a spot till they had exhausted every means of defence. The most inconsiderable hillock, or hollow, was taken and retaken repeatedly. The fire, instead of relaxing, only increased to universality; both sides fought with the most inconceivable gallantry, and the defence was as obstinate as the attack was impetuous.<br>
It was now reported amongst us, that some strong columns were about to make a charge of bayonets upon the position of Mont St. Jean, whilst the cavalry was to make a charge upon some detached points which seemed to be little supported. We expected the result of this great movement, but it was foiled by the obstinate gallantry with which the English defended the farms of Hougemont and La Haye upon their wings. They every moment reinforced their battalions which were posted in these positions; our cavalry, increasing in the same proportion, made successive charges, but the English, like a flux and reflux wave, though one time receding, yet advanced again, and maintained their ground.<br>
Never did I behold a finer spirit of gallantry,—a more resolute and soldier-like steadiness. If for a moment these brave troops (for let them have what is due to them) were pushed from this position, it seemed only by the effect of our superior weight from our superior numbers brought against them; and the moment which restored the equality by the owning up of a reinforcement, restored at the same time the ground they had lost.<br>
The English artillery now made the most frightful havoc in our ranks; we stood in fact point-blank aim for them, and the balls perforated from front to rear through our columns and ranks. Our own artillery answered with the same vivacity, but the enemy were better covered from our fire by means of some eminences which sheltered them. The unbroken thunder of 600 pieces of cannon, all roaring at the same moment, the fire along both lines of at least one hundred thousand musquets, discharged twice or thrice in a minute; the bursting of shells, the blowing up of ammunition waggons,—the hissing of balls, and the groans of the dying, added to the heaps of wounded and killed (the mud being absolutely coagulated with blood), altogether composed a most horrible spectacle; and the more so as the stage upon which so many horrors were acted, was so narrow as to be wholly beneath the eye.