John Hussey’s Waterloo, The Campaign of 1815 Volume I, from Elba to Ligny and Quatre Bras, is an outstanding addition to the body literature on Waterloo and the Hundred Days. Waterloo constitutes well-trod ground, actually and metaphorically examined by writers almost from the moment the cannons ceased firing. Readers may understandably ask what an author hopes to achieve by penning another volume on Waterloo. Hussey himself asks that very question in the preface. He spends the remainder of the book ably demonstrating the value of a fresh perspective on the battle.
Hussey’s work is much more than a battle study. He describes to his readers the strategic situation in Europe that convinced Napoleon that he could regain his throne after his exile to the island of Elba. He addresses the effects of Napoleon’s European conquests and reverses from 1797-1814 and highlights the difficulties coalition partners experienced in forging a peace following Napoleon’s abdication. Only an existential threat could bring Austria, Prussia, Russia, Great Britain, and their smaller European allies together in 1815. A resurgent Napoleon provided that threat. Hussey details the Emperor’s escape from Elba and return to France, and the formation of the Seventh Coalition in response. He expertly shifts from discussions of strategic considerations to analyses of operational matters. He examines the logistics of sustaining the large armies forming in Belgium and France the spring of 1815, the movement of Russian and Austrian forces westward from Central Europe, and the intricacies of coalition warfare. As the narrative begins to focus on the movement of Napoleon’s army northward that June, Hussey turns to a tactical discussion of the actions at Ligny and Quatre Bras, without ever losing sight of the larger strategy involved. This volume ends on the evening of June 16th, 1815, with the contest still hanging in the balance and the reader looking forward to Hussey’s second volume on the campaign.
Hussey succeeds in providing readers with a fresh perspective on thinking about Waterloo and its impact on the course of European diplomacy for the remainder of the nineteenth century. His writing is clear, entertaining and enhanced with an abundance of maps, tables, and detailed endnotes. I highly recommend Waterloo, The Campaign of 1815 Volume I, from Elba to Ligny and Quatre Bras to experienced students of the Napoleonic Wars and to novices alike.