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The Battle of Waterloo

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Meeting of the generals Wellington and Blucher, after the conclusive Battle of Waterloo, at the farm La Belle Alliance. 1816. European Division.

(The following is a guest post from Taru Spiegel, reference specialist in the Library’s European Division.)

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the history-changing Battle of Waterloo in 1815. This engagement ended in the conclusive defeat of Napoleon and his French generals and was a costly victory for the Anglo-Dutch, Belgian and German forces. The expression “to meet one’s Waterloo,” or to face a final defeat, refers to this event.

Scholars have presented many reasons for the importance of this fight. Among others, it has been argued that a victory by Napoleon might have resulted in a much earlier united and liberal Europe.

Napoleon. Prints and Photographs Division.
Napoleon. Prints and Photographs Division.

Napoleon, the revolutionary turned Emperor of the French, was forced to abdicate in 1814 and was exiled after 23 years of warfare and conquest of Europe. However, he made a stunning comeback in 1815. The “dancing” Congress of Vienna (so called because of the lavish balls and social events that took place while the ambassadors of the European states were in the city to restore order after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars), busily re-dividing Europe after Napoleon, had barely concluded business when the Battle of Waterloo was fought nine miles south of Brussels. Both sides incurred devastating losses. In the words of one of the victors, the Duke of Wellington, it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

The Library of Congress has hundreds of works in several languages pertaining to or inspired by the Battle of Waterloo. These range from historical accounts to memoirs, novels, poems, photographic prints, music and maps.

One notable and generously illustrated work in the Library’s collections was published in 1816, a year after the battle. This early work on Waterloo by Jan Scharp, “Gedenkzuil van den Nederlandschen krijgsroem in Junij 1815” (“Memorial column of the Netherlands military glory in June 1815”) is a depiction of the history of the battle from the Dutch-Belgian point of view. In the manner of the time, the book notes in detail the role of the Dutch royal family in the war effort and subsequent commemorations and the fact that the Prince of Orange himself was wounded in the battle.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Orange with his arm in a sling after being wounded in the battle of Waterloo.  1816. European Division.

The book was a gift to correspondent L. Boyer from Frederica Luise Wilhelmine, the Dowager Duchess of Braunschweig (aka Brunswijk or Brunswick), who was closely related to two of Napoleon’s adversaries, Prince Willem of the Netherlands and Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Braunschweig.

A variety of works on Napoleon himself can also be found in the Library’s collections, including music, photographic prints, books, manuscripts and this film from 1909 depicting various events in the life of the French leader, including Waterloo.

And, if you are curious about how Napoleon handled mining rights in France – of importance because the French military needed large quantities of iron, lead and other resources while fighting in the Napoleonic Wars – you can learn more with this blog post from the Law Library of Congress.

It’s also important to note that the United States acquired Louisiana from France in 1803 during the time that Napoleon ruled. This presentation tells the story through a selection of materials in the Library.

Comments (3)

  1. Weather,miss judgment,fatigue,and terrain were the main contributors here.

  2. Terrain, Grouchy, weather, emperor´s egolatry, the whole Europe against him. Discussion about the battle will never end. There are more than 200.000 titles about Napoleon, napoleonic wars and, of course, about Waterloo.
    And this bicentennial has fueled more books about. My favourite: an image book that is a permanent exhibition about the battle entitled “Seventy images for hundred days” and an spanish book about the operations of the last armies that fought against Napoleon in the basque Pyrenees, “El Waterloo de los Pirineos”.
    At least they areq uite original!!

  3. I personally think that Wellington , did rather well considering the troops he had were a mixture of different nations , you have to consider the logistics of this the different languages , communications etc . However I also think the French were unlucky ie, grouchy in my opinion messed up ,he should of communicated better with the Emporer especially when he herd the sound of the guns . I also think that Ney was mad a bit of a scapegoat, however he should not of orders the massive cavalry charge without infantry support . The British cavalry , although very brave but reckless through lack of discipline once again paid a very heavy price for it , (the Scots greys ) and were routed

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