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In reading the Waterloo Day of Battle by David Howarth, it feels more like you’re examining a medley of personal journals than reading an actual history book. David Howarth has re-created the Battle of Waterloo and has achieved a far more distinct and inclusive account of the battle than any one could have given at the actual time. The book follows the fortunes of the men and women involved on both sides and it goes into their own feelings and thoughts during this bloody engagement. As you move from the early dawn of the battle to the late night of its end, you feel as if you have experienced the hopes and fears of all the men on the battlefield as well as those waiting for their return. Through his own narrative and collection of sketches, paintings and drawings, you can feel the pain of the soldiers through the heat and noise of battle as well as the sustaining hope of glory each man held within his heart. David Howarth brings you through an experience of The Battle of Waterloo like no other written account could.

David Howarth was born in London and lives in the south of England. After he graduated from Cambridge University, he was employed by the television pioneer John Logie Baird, and then joined the British Broadcasting Corporation. He served as a radio war correspondent in the early part of World War II. He then joined the Navy and became involved in smuggling saboteurs and weapons into occupied Norway. This experience would provide him the material for his first two books, Across to Norway (15) and We Die Alone (155). He also published other books, including The Sledge Patrol (157), D Day (15), The Desert King (164) and Panama (166).

It was the dawn of Sunday, 18 June, 1815. Here we find ourselves among 67,000 soldiers who knew nothing about their situation except for the simple fact that the French were coming and Napoleon himself was leading them. The Duke was in command. Under his lead, his infamous army as he called it had always beaten the French and they would do it again. Europe was united to prevent Napoleon and his partisans from coming back into power, overrunning Europe and terrorizing it once again. The general feeling toward the French though was one of admiration for their martial skills and even admiration for Napoleon as well. These were the general feelings of the men who now waited casually in bored discomfort for what the day would bring. If one thing was sure that early morning, it was that Napoleon had to be stopped.

The order to fight was given by the Duke in the early morning. He knew that the ground he was to fight on would be two and half miles south of the village of Waterloo. He decided it would be the best defensive position on the road to Brussels. On the opposite side of the valley, the French army began to amass. By that time, eleven o’clock in the morning, both armies were waiting for Napoleon’s decision. Napoleon had captured an illness from before and it was questionable whether he could have battled efficiently that day. But the battle could not be avoided or postponed, and it was unthinkable that he should say he was ill and delegate the command to anyone else. At last he gave an order which was an opening diversion against the outpost in the chateau of Hougoumont. Far on the left of the French line, artillery opened fire against this target and at half past eleven, the Battle of Waterloo had begun.

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As the British artillery on the ridge above Hougoumont replied with fire, the Napoleon generals realized they had not taken the precaution of drawing up the troops on sheltered ground. The belief was that the French could advance along the Hougoumont valley and outflank the ridge but it remained under British control. Then from a hollow where they had sheltered near La Belle Alliance, the entire remaining force of Napoleon’s cuirassiers came streaming down the valley between the Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. This was considered a preemptive maneuver and would have fatal results in the course of the day.

During the evening of the battle, the British forces were all but gone. They would only need to be hit by one more blow and the French would break through. But the French had nothing left to deliver the blow. They would need the fourteen regiments that had been in reserve near the Emperor’s post at Rossomme all day, not even in cannon range. Napoleon, in barely a state to fight a battle, made the decision to not supply the men and missed his big chance. Soon after the Prussians arrived and the French were forced to retreat. Napoleon now stood as the ultimate symbolism of pride and downfall.

Waterloo Day of Battle was unlike any other history account I had ever read before and I believe that that was its foremost strength. The fact that it was able to give a detailed description of the battle but at the same time enrich it with personal stories made it a much more interesting read. You felt as if you really knew the people that stood upon the battlefield that day. It was almost as if David Howarth pried open their innermost feelings and emotions and used them to explain why a person did what he or she did. In doing this he created a stronger bond between these historical figures and the reader making you actually care whether the person lived or not. I felt more like I was reading a thrilling non-fiction than some historical novel.

The fact that the battle was so detailed in the book made it a very narrow account and left out the surrounding details of what led to the fight and the aftermath. I felt this weakened the novel unless you were already aware of what happened before and after the Battle of Waterloo. Instead of just covering the stories and personal events during the battle, it should have had accounts of the important people from before and after the battle, so the reader could have a greater appreciation for the importance of the conflict. It is almost like watching an extremely good movie that has no beginning or ending. It leaves you wanting more. The fact that I actually want to learn more about the effects of the battle after reading this book also goes to show you how much I enjoyed it.

If you are in search of just the factual information of the Battle of Waterloo, than this novel is not for you. This book is for true fans of history who not only want to learn what events took place but want to understand the people that were involved in these events and why they made the decisions that led up to them. I believe this is a concept of history that should replace the ho-hum historical texts that only feed us the information and make us gag on its factual tedium. Historical novels bring the human emotion and feeling into the past events making them an intelligible and worthwhile read at the same time.

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