Hofschröer, Peter. Wellington's Smallest Victory. London: Faber and Faber, 2004. ISBN 0-571-21768-0.
Wellington's victory over Napoléon at Waterloo in 1815 not only inspired Beethoven's worst musical composition, but a veritable industry of histories, exhibitions, and re-enactments in Britain. The most spectacular of these was the model of the battlefield which William Siborne, career officer and author of two books on military surveying, was commissioned to build in 1830. Siborne was an assiduous researcher; after surveying the battlefield in person, he wrote to most of the surviving officers in the battle: British, Prussian, and French, to determine the precise position of their troops at the “crisis of the battle” he had chosen to depict: 19:00 on June 18th, 1815. The responses he received indicated that Wellington's Waterloo Despatch, the after-action report penned the day after the battle was, shall we say, at substantial variance with the facts, particularly as regards the extent to which Prussian troops contributed to the victory and the time at which Wellington was notified of Napoléon's attack. Siborne stuck with the facts, and his model, first exhibited in London in 1838, showed the Prussian troops fully engaged with the French at the moment the tide of battle turned. Wellington was not amused and, being not only a national hero but former Prime Minister, was a poor choice as enemy. For the rest of Siborne's life, Wellington waged a war of attrition against Siborne's (accurate) version of the events at Waterloo, with such success that most contemporary histories take Wellington's side, even if it requires believing in spyglasses capable of seeing on the other side of hills. But truth will out. Siborne's companion History of the Waterloo Campaign remains in print 150 years after its publication, and his model of the battlefield (albeit with 40,000 figures of Prussian soldiers removed) may be seen at the National Army Museum in London.

June 2004 Permalink