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"Abel on Dawson, 'Waterloo: The Truth At Last: ..." Topic


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431 hits since 13 Jun 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2018 12:37 p.m. PST

…Why Napoleon Lost the Great Battle'

"Paul L. Dawson's provocatively titled Waterloo: The Truth at Last: Why Napoleon lost the Great Battle seeks to provide a new narrative of the event and to weigh in on the many historiographical controversies, large and small, that continue to roil the field of Waterloo studies. This builds on Dawson's previous works, including Napoleon and Grouchy (2017) and Marshal Ney at Quatre Bras (2017), completing a trilogy. Dawson's approach relies on primary-source documents and archival material to craft his argument, especially muster rolls and casualty reports from the latter. The resulting work falls somewhere between a data book and a narrative, providing valuable statistical information to the specialist while attempting to entice the generalist with novel arguments and conclusions.

Dawson's stated purpose is to demonstrate that "despite a plethora of books on the subject, the hard strategic reality is that Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte were sideshows compared to the French and Prussian combats at Plancenoit and Papelotte" (p. ix). He thus dedicates much of the work to the gritty urban combat around the villages of Papelotte and Frischermont as the French, British, and Prussian armies traded possession of them. These chapters illuminate his main thesis, that the battle-deciding action took place on the French right with the Prussians and only a portion of the British forces. He concludes with the oft-repeated argument that the failures of Marshal Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy, to contain the Prussians provide a major explanation for the French defeat.

A secondary theme of Waterloo: The Truth at Last, as the name suggests, is contributing to historiographical debates of the much-analyzed battle. The chapter "Legros, Bouche, or Bonnet" debates the identity of the French soldier, perhaps mythical, who smashed the gates at Hougoumont. Similarly, a portion of "Defeat" analyzes the role of General Pierre Cambronne and his infamous mot. These arguments, as well as the time-worn debates over the competencies of Grouchy; Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d'Erlon; Marshal Michel Ney; General Honoré Reille; and Napoleon himself are likely unavoidable in any work on Waterloo, and Dawson's opinions continue to stoke their historiographical fires…."
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Amicalement
Armand

Gazzola13 Jun 2018 2:53 p.m. PST

Armand

I read this review because I was interested in purchasing the title at some point, especially since some readers suggest it covers the Prussian involvement in the battle. However, the review seems to suggest it offers nothing new and is certainly not the so called 'truth' but merely another author's viewpoint, as if we don't have enough of them already. (My own Waterloo titles collection can vouch for that!)

I can't comment too much because I have not bought or read the title, but if the review is anything to go by (and indeed other reviews), the title is nothing more than a gathering of already known theories, viewpoints and accounts, plus a lot of casualty details. I think someone also commented that the book contains no maps, battle plans or Orders of Battle. If so, this is a step backwards in terms of publication and what books describing battles should hopefully contain. And it would certainly suggests you might need other titles covering the action that did contain maps and Orders of Battle at hand in order to follow the author's narrative and conclusions?

So far, I have not read a review yet that states yes, this title does reveal the truth about Waterloo? It would be interesting to hear the opinions of those who have read it? Truth or just another text to add to the Waterloo mass many of us already own?

MaggieC70 Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2018 3:51 p.m. PST

About as much "truth"

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2018 10:54 a.m. PST

I have to read it first to any comment my friend… but sounds interesting…

Amicalement
Armand

Gazzola16 Jun 2018 7:21 a.m. PST

Armand

I will look forward to hearing what you think, along with anyone else who intends to read it or has already done so.

Stephen Beckett18 Jun 2018 3:09 p.m. PST

The archival analysis is dry but extremely important.

But, consider this:
"Après Waterloo, il s'était retiré dans la propriété qu'il avait achetée quelques années plus tôt à Neidenfels, dans le Palatinat. C'est là qu'il mourut des suites de ses blessures.
Il n'a laissé aucun souvenir écrit. Cependant, les fonctions qu'il occupait l'amenèrent à rédiger de nombreux comptes-rendus, rapports, lettres diverses que l'on découvre au hasard des archives. Et, au-delà du style officiel et dépouillé propre à ce genre de documents, il est passionnant, et pourquoi ne pas le dire, émouvant, de voir se dessiner peu à peu le reflet d'une personnalité.
Il devient alors tentant de replacer cette personnalité dans son temps et de la remettre dans le situations et les événements qu'il a vécus, la littérature et l'histoire fournissant une matière abondante pour cette période.
Peut-être l'auteur de ces lignes sera-t-il taxé d'outrecuidance d'avoir osé faire parler ainsi son ancêtre. Il invoquera pour excuse qu'il ressent, après tant de recherches, et depuis tant d'années qu'il vit avec lui, l'impression forte d'en être devenu un familier, au point que parfois, en rédigeant ces carnets, il éprouvait la curieuse sensation de n'être pas tout à fait seul maître de son écriture.
S'il s'est permis d'introduire dans ce récit des réflexions, des propos, des détails, et de faire décrire par Jean Louis de Crabbé tel ou tel fait, tel ou tel discours ou exprimer telle ou telle remarque, il précise cependant que rien n'est inexact historiquement et que tout est, là encore, plausible. Si tel ou tel détail a été ajouté "gratuitement", il ne change en rien la trame des événements réellement survenus. En bref, si tout ne s'est pas passé exactement comme cela, c'est ainsi que tout aurait pu se passer!
La descendance de Jean Louis de Crabbé est nombreuse. Elle est aujourd'hui florissante. Il semble cependant que plus se multiplient ses descendants, plus s'estompe dans la mémoire familiale le souvenir de cet ancêtre.
C'est pourquoi, l'auteur n'a eu d'autre ambition en rédigeant ce récit que de contribuer à lui rendre vie et se trouvera comblé s'il est parvenu si peu que ce soit à le remettre à la place qui lui est due dans l'histoire de sa famille."

Quoted from the preface to Françoise Hue's "Jean-Louis de CRABBÉ Colonel d'Empire"

This book is quoted in key passages, and has been in several books of the last decade.

Yet… its fiction?

A huge hint of this would be the entry for March 25, 1815:
"Le Maréchal Davout est nommé Ministre de la Guerre, et le Maréchal Soult devient Major Général…."

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