One of the enduring controversies of the Waterloo campaign is the conduct of Marshal Grouchy. Given command of a third of Napoleon s army and told to keep the Prussians from joining forces with Wellington, he failed to keep Wellington and Blücher apart with the result that Napoleon was overwhelmed at Waterloo. Grouchy, though, was not defeated. He kept his force together and retreated in good order back to France. Many have accused Grouchy of intentionally holding back his men and not marching to join Napoleon when the sound of the gunfire at Waterloo could clearly be heard, and he has been widely blamed for Napoleon s defeat. This is a subject which is generally overlooked by British historians, who tend to concentrate on the actions of Wellington and Napoleon, simply because Wellington and red coats were at the battle. What happened at Wavre had a direct impact on Waterloo, the battles were tied together by fate. French historians choose not to look at too closely at Wavre for fear that it might reflect badly upon their hero Napoleon, and Grouchy s already the villain.
Despite the mass of books written on Waterloo, this book is a genuinely unique and ground breaking contribution to this most famous campaign. This book is certain to fuel debate and prompt historians to re-consider the events of June 1815. It is the first in a trilogy of books looking at the fateful June days of 1815.
Drawn from archive sources, many of which have never been used to study the controversial mission of Grouchy, the book presents a critical assessment of both men. Rather than judging Grouchy with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, we judge him on what he knew on those fateful days.
Now, for the first time, Grouchy s conduct during the Waterloo campaign is analysed in fine detail, drawing principally on French sources not previously available in English. The author, for example, answers questions such as whether key orders did actually exist in 1815 or were they later fabrications to make Grouchy the scapegoat for Napoleon s failures? Did General Gérard really tell Grouchy to march to the sound of the guns ? Why did Grouchy appear to move so slowly when speed was essential? Only by walking in the tracks of Grouchy can one get a feel of what obstacles he faced. Putting people and places and things back into history is so important if we are to fully understand the historical record. We cannot assess Grouchy unless we have been where he was, under stood the limitations of the terrain using historical maps and field work. As an archaeologist, with 20 years experience, reading the landscape is second nature, and is a vital tool that can be applied to historical research to get us closer to what Grouchy was thinking based on what he observed, or could not have observed.
The result of this re-assessment is probably controversial to some.