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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Stephen Beckett04 Sep 2018 12:17 p.m. PST

This fall, I am releasing a reference on the Operations of the Armée du Nord in 1815.
Volume 1 : The Registries
Volume 2 : Organization, May – June 4
Volume 3 : Concentration, June 5 – June 11
Volume 4 : Invasion, June 12 – June 18

Over 2000 transcriptions of French military correspondence
The registries includes 2 from Soult (not counting Grouchy's), 1 from d'Erlon, and the most important, Bertrand's personal notes/registry from 1815 – though April through late May remains in an unknown private collection, including 90 some odd pages of Napoleon's dictations which are undated… and hence, could be from June as well.

I would like to find 2 highly motivated/highly interested individuals who can read French, or at the very least deduce the proper names from the transcription, and double check accuracy. Minor personalities and places often are a guess for the transcriber – the source handwriting varies from perfectly clear to elephant scribble.

If interested, please email:

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

What a challenge that must be.

Illegible script, an evolving language, place names that may well be misspelt or even erroneous, place names that have changed over the last 200 years.

Sounds a fascinating project. Good luck

Stephen Beckett04 Sep 2018 5:18 p.m. PST

The transcriptions are done, and I am quite confident in the major personalities. But the volume of material is great, and this is beyond normal editing/proofing. Thus, I seek those with some familiarity who can notice mistakes.

One good example – an officer of d'Erlon created a diary of I Corps – gives great minor details to events of June 18.

Here is a passage on ordering d'Erlon's attack. I am sure those familiar with the battle will note several misspellings – my transcribers are experts in reading old French, but not 1815, and Nosthorra is Moskowa. This passage has been cleaned up – this is a good example of the challenge. But the fun thing is – at least according to this staff officer, it was Napoleon who ordered the attack formation.

Vers 11 heures L'Empereur vint reconnaitre la position il laissa son Etat Major et sa suite en arriere de la Bonne alliance et se porta avec le Cte d'Erlon, le Cte Bertrand, Le Prince de la [Nosthorra] et quelques seulement sur la ligne de Nos Vedettes, à droite ce soit près de la grande route ; il ordonna au Cte d'Erlon de faire ses dispositions pour attaquer l'Ennemi par la gauche, de former à cet effet chacune de ses divisions en Colonne par Bataillon et de les faire marcher en Echelon, en dirigeant Celui de droite de maniere a attaquer la gauche de L'Ennemi vers Smohain, en ayant soin de masquer aussi longtems qu'il serait possible le mouvement ; La don de Cavalerie légère du Gal [Lubervée] [tue] jointe à celle du Gal [Jacquimot] les deux divisions se porterent par la droite trois pièces d' legere avec [eux foit] bat.on d'Entrée pour observer et reconnaitre le terrein entre [très Nemour] et l'Abbaye d'[Ayusiean] ce 1e endroit etait occupé par de l' aussi.

von Winterfeldt04 Sep 2018 11:39 p.m. PST

interesting, instead of Belle Alliance – Bonne alliance – gal instead of gen.

MaggieC7005 Sep 2018 4:34 a.m. PST

"Gal" is the typical French abbreviation for "general" in period manuscripts. The G is capitalized, the "al" is superscripted.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP05 Sep 2018 6:08 a.m. PST

Out of interest, if the original did say "Bonne Alliance" do you leave it as such, do you add a (sic) to preserve the original, however misunderstood, or do you change it to the correct form?

Stephen Beckett05 Sep 2018 10:14 a.m. PST

The abbreviations, which are numerous, are expanded. This can be difficult with registries – the formal letters are typically verbose. For example, Bertrand was famous for his shorthand, and we see its beginnings in his notes/personal registry for 1815, and there are many times we have no clue and notate that – and I hope future readers and help bang that into shape.

sic was only added for extreme cases. Grammar, accents, spelling, abbreviations, short-hand… I started this with the intention of it being 100% the same as the original, but that became so overwhelming that I decided to focus on content. I spoke to a Palaeographer who is well known in that field and his point was anyone pursuing that study would need originals, so transcriptions should focus on content.

Words, even if "wrong", are kept. Spelling is corrected for names at times. This is one area of consistency that needs to be improved – Charleroy/Charleroi are frequently used. Wrong is relative – we may know something as X today, but on that day, before history agreed on a label, what mattered is what those men referred to things as.

In another document, an officer gives a retelling of Vandamme's actions on the morning of June 15. It has dynamite details, and an explanation for the delay which is most consistent with the record. In this document, Domon is said to be in charge of the 6th division of cavalry. Is this wrong? The fact is, Guilleminot still referred to Domon and the 6th as late as June 5 – the cavalry reorganization changed this, but the orders were probably in transit. But did that change register with every staff officer? Clearly not this one.

Back to Bertrand – at some point, probably after 1880, someone wrote this on his materials: Elles paraissent être de peu d'intérêt.

In fact, this is the most important new material we have found. It includes Napoleon's dictations for the final concentration, explains a tremendous amount, yet reveals even more mysteries. Awesome.

One of the big things it reveals is a huge mistake that has generally gone unnoticed. On June 11/12, Soult stayed in Avesnes despite Napoleon's orders to return to Laon. This singular mistake would prove to be devastating. Without all the new materials, one would not see that Napoleon issued all the orders to Laon – had officers stationed there waiting to distribute more orders, etc. When Soult was not there, it appears to have taken an extra day and a half for the orders to reach him. This wasn't a question of distance, it was a question of confusion and the limits of human endurance. And that, more than anything, delayed the campaign until the 15th.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2018 5:28 a.m. PST

Was Soult's decision to stay in Avesnes a "mistake" or does this fit in with the theory expounded in "Waterloo Betrayed"?

Whatever one's views on the conclusion regarding Soult and treachery, the research that went into that was quite superb. Looking forward to this.

Stephen Beckett06 Sep 2018 9:36 a.m. PST

Based on this new research, I no longer believe Soult actively betrayed. I'm still digesting these hundreds (literally) new pieces of Soult correspondence, and seeking more, and trying to withhold conclusions/judgement – though impossible not to have theories.

Soult did not mangle Napoleon's June 12 orders without cause. There was a letter from Bertrand that outlined the moves Soult made. Further, the III Corps' officer's account of Vandamme's delay now makes sense, and the orders to Gérard and its delays are reconstructed without any signs of malfeasance.

Soult's character and motivations are still clear – hence, we can still ask if he performed his best.

Soult disobeyed a direct order. Senecal reports Napoleon's wrath with Soult in Laon. But once the campaign was delayed, Napoleon returned to the task at hand, and it didn't appear any damage was done (the damage would happen late on the 14th.)

And that highlights _the_ challenge. I have identified hundreds of more pieces in private collections – some that are profound!!! How many more remain unknown?

The goal of this project is to access those materials. I hope that by providing this work, collectors will be motivated to contribute scans of their pieces for transcription. To fill in the puzzle with the pieces they have. The response has been encouraging – big trip back to Europe this fall with at least one potential blockbuster piece identified.

Here is an example of the benefits of this project. SHD has 4 batches of Soult/staff's notes for June 12 with no indication of order/context. Using the registry (newly found) we can reconstruct those notes, and combined with d'Erlon's registry (newly found), and correspondence, boom, June 12 is finally given structure, and it tells a compelling story.

Stoffel said, in 1905, that gathering all the correspondence is necessary before writing about a military action. With Waterloo Betrayed, I made the mistake, as every other author of a work on French operations in 1815, of not doing this. I didn't realize how much was in private hands or filed away in obscure locations. Obviously, it is an impossible standard to say, "never write an opinion without all the data" because we'll never know when we have all the data. BUT – Stoffel's notes from over 100 years ago are basically what you see in a modern day Waterloo work. The last 100 plus years – not much added, until now.

If one is reading this thread and finds it interesting – help!

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP06 Sep 2018 10:48 a.m. PST

I cannot ever recall any author suggesting the slightest possibility of having made a mistake…….until now.

Waterloo Betrayed I have now read twice. I find its description of the opening moves of the brief campaign quite superb and, until Hussey Vol I, almost unique.

How I wish I had the skills to contribute. Now, if you wanted your tonsils out, your nasal septum straightened, or a new eardrum, I might be of more use!

Stephen Beckett06 Sep 2018 11:49 a.m. PST

deadhead – to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, one should never argue with reality. We have all seen authors defend positions after new primary sources are found that are in direct refutation – what I will say is that it is because of Waterloo Betrayed that we now have such awesome new information. What looked like nothing short of an intentional act is now explained – but mysteries still remain! There are _2_ Bertrand letters to Soult. I have a theory as to why – but that will need to wait…

I don't consider anything of Waterloo Betrayed a mistake. There was a collection of data – the analysis I still feel is sound. I have debated with colleagues who didn't agree – but not once did anyone produce any piece of data in refutation. New data has been found as a direct result of WB's publication. The new data has absolutely answered outstanding questions. For over 100 years, Soult forgot Grouchy in Laon. No, not at all. Soult appears to have immediately sent orders to Grouchy once Soult received them. The issue was, Soult was not in Laon. This fact has been known but it wasn't appreciated until we had the full record and could see what was coming out of Paris and what Napoleon's expectations were. This is not a minor point. Was Soult competent? Did he betray? Was the senior leadership burnt out? The analysis of this campaign is all over the map – but its been based on a fraction of the record. My passion is that I want to know the truth.

Hussey was definitely influenced by me, but not quite enough to avoid quoting fiction and rushing to his publisher at the first moment I shared something with him – see Appendix in Vol. 2. (he is not alone at quoting Hue, fyi)

But I shared 1 letter of over 40 unique items related to June 10/June 12… had he remained engaged, he could have really stolen my thunder. So I guess I'm pleased…

Its clear you are interested in this subject. While ideally one would be fluent in 19th century French, it is not necessary. Email me and I am certain you would find the text not so difficult that you couldn't spot proper names, identify when they are wrong (a known personality the transcriber didn't know), or if one is unknown to you, a quick google to see who it might be. Flag those that don't resolve.

I have done this – over 2000 pages. I have over 8000 original scans. Almost continuously since July of 2015 when the first new registry was acquired. And yet – I pick up the proof printing of Volume 1 and can instantly find a mistake. Quite simply, the job is big, and those of us who have been too close to it are now immune to these errors.

deadhead – email me, send me an address, and I'll send you proof prints and the final combined set for no other reason than your kind words and to hear your feedback no matter how limited you may think it is.

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