The Waterloo Archive Volume 2

The Waterloo Archive

Volume 2 – German Sources

Previously unpublished or rare journals and letters regarding the Waterloo campaign and the subsequent occupation of France

Published By Frontline Books Available in Hardback

Publication Date July 2010 from

Readers of Volume One of the Waterloo Archive will already be aware of the reasons why I have embarked upon this crusade to bring into the public domain such a mass of new material relating to the Waterloo campaign and the subsequent Occupation of France by the allied forces from 1815-18; however a short recap for new readers will not go amiss. 

A huge amount of material has been written regarding the Waterloocampaign, perhaps more than any other campaign before or since, so what can possibly be new, and is there anything more to learn? Having spent years surveying the existing material published over the last nearly two hundred years, the answer will perhaps be surprising to many, a resounding yes.   

In Volume One, I have explored the archives of Britain and those of our ex colonial brothers where much material including art works which have never previously been published were discovered, including some astonishing finds of truly historical significance and I will return to this treasure trove in Volume Three in due course. 

But what of Volume Two? This time it is the turn of the German troops, who actually formed the majority of the forces present at the Battle of Waterloo including the troops of Nassau, a small German state, some of whose troops actually served in the Dutch Army at the battle. Some record of the actions of the troops of the Kings German Legion, which was considered as an integral part of the British Army and thus partly officered by British citizens, has therefore been published in English, but to a very limited degree.  Herbert Siborne published two letters by Lieutenant Graeme; a few KGL officers had their memoirs published in English, such as Ompteda and Wheatley; and of course Ludlow Beamish included a small number of letters from officers in his history, including the famous (and often mis-quoted) account of the defence of La Haye Sainte by Major Baring. However this tiny portion of German material was virtually all that was available to students of this campaign who did not possess a high level of German language skills until very recently and it is therefore not very surprising that early British histories of the battle have largely sidelined the achievements of the German troops and this stance has been regurgitated by most that have followed. This situation did not change at all until the 1990’s when Peter Hofschroer published his two volume version of the campaign from the German perspective, which included numerous snippets of various German documents published for the first time in English to support his view of the campaign; but even this is not satisfactory as it left much more still to be translated and published and did not provide the whole document to allow further interpretation. There is therefore, still a great need to provide an English version of much of the original German source material to aid historians redress this imbalance.

Such a task is truly daunting, not just because of the scale of the task, but also the inordinate amount of time needed by a translator with the appropriate level of language skills and grasp of military history and terminology to produce a coherent, meaningful translation. I made a small venture into this area when I published Letters from the Battle of Waterloo in 2004, when publishing the remaining Siborne letters, having cause to obtain translations of the numerous German letters in the files. I experimented with various means but all had their problems; professional translators proved extortionately expensive; charitable organisations which one still felt honour bound to recompense or friends and acquaintances who required no fee but forced me to accept interminable delays were all unsatisfactory. I was therefore perhaps understandably not very keen to venture into translation work again.

That is, until I had the luck to begin a correspondence with Martin Mittelacher, who is of German extraction, living in retirement in the United States of America and an expert on the Waterloo campaign. He had previously liaised with Peter Hofschroer on his translation work which also gave me great confidence in his abilities. Having had the audacity to ask him if he would consider translating the vast amount of German material that I was able to obtain from obscure sources and explaining the project, I was overjoyed to hear of his acceptance. Since then Martin has worked tirelessly and diligently to translate all of this material and our combined expertise has been utilised to edit the material and provide learned footnotes.

Much of the German material is derived from Belle-Alliance, Reports and Information on the Participation of German Troops of Wellington’s Army in the Action at Quatre Bras and in the Battle of Belle-Alliance by Dr. Julius von Pflugk-Harttung, Privy Archive Councillor at the State Archive in Berlin, published in German in 1915.  This book is a veritable gold mine of primary source material from German units, particularly as many of these records were then unfortunately destroyed during the Second World War. It is truly amazing and a great loss to many historians that it has never previously been published to any great extent in the English language. However, this volume is not intended to merely form a translation of Pflugk-Harttung’s book and although his material will eventually be published in total, it will span both German volumes of the Waterloo Archive and will not be published in exactly the same format. Pflugk-Harttung broke up the reports into sections of his work covering Quatre Bras, the Retreat and the Battle of Waterloo [Belle Alliance]. For ease of use I have joined these various portions back together to form one coherent report, but have clearly annotated each with the numbers of the letters they come from in his work. 

The material has been set out in a very similar format to Siborne’s Waterloo Letters and the editor’s Letters from the Battle of Waterloo, for ease of use and all cross references are annotated in the notes virtually making all of these works one huge reference source on the Waterloo campaign.

These reports and letters do bring some aspects of the accepted history of the Waterloo campaign into question; such as the role of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar at Quatre Bras; it is clear from these sources that the credit for retaining the crossroads on the 15th may have more to do with the orders of Major Normann and it is certainly clear that they had no love of the prince, with his later statements often drawing an acrimonious correspondence from his officers. Further correspondence provides information on the apparent retreat of Kielmannsegges Brigade which ultimately led to his arrest after the battle, an incident that seems to have been lost for the last two centuries. Primary material from the Nassau contingent reminds us of their valuable but forgotten contribution in the stubborn defence of Hougoumont and confirms that some of their troops were in the front line from the commencement of the battle, but are not so represented on maps of the initial deployment of the troops at Waterloo. British accounts of the defence of Hougoumont rarely mention the 1st Battalion 2nd Nassau Regiment (or mention them only cursorily), who initially were the only defenders of the actual buildings and certainly did not retire soon after, as usually represented, but remained throughout the battle, gallantly repelling all French assaults, and provide clear evidence of the French making a second break-in to the farm complex, which has seemingly been missed by all previous historians. 

These German Reports are also noticeably much more frank and open with regard to their failings, honestly describing mistakes or errors of deployment that led to losses and even name and shame both officers and men who failed to perform their duties, something that must have happened in every unit involved in such carnage, but such honesty is virtually unknown in contemporary British accounts.

I am therefore very proud to present this volume of German primary source material of which only small parts have ever to my knowledge been published in the English language before, for both the use of eminent historians and those who are simply interested in gaining a greater understanding of that whirlwind campaign nearly two hundred years ago.