Cover image for The longest afternoon : the 400 men who decided the battle of waterloo
The longest afternoon : the 400 men who decided the battle of waterloo
Simms, Brendan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Basic Books, 2015.

Physical Description:
xvii, 186 pages : maps ; 22 cm
Prelude -- For King and Fatherland -- A Tragedy of Errors -- Bolting the Barn Door -- Inferno -- Hand to Hand -- "Heat and centre of the strife" -- Legacy: A "German Victory"?.
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DC242 .S56 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In 1815, the deposed emperor Napoleon returned to France and threatened the already devastated and exhausted continent with yet another war. Near the small Belgian municipality of Waterloo, two large, hastily mobilized armies faced each other to decide the future of Europe--Napoleon's forces on one side, and the Duke of Wellington on the other.

With so much at stake, neither commander could have predicted that the battle would be decided by the Second Light Battalion, King's German Legion, which was given the deceptively simple task of defending the Haye Sainte farmhouse, a crucial crossroads on the way to Brussels. In The Longest Afternoon , Brendan Simms recounts how these 400-odd riflemen beat back wave after wave of French infantry until finally forced to withdraw, but only after holding up Napoleon for so long that he lost the overall contest. Their actions alone decided the most influential battle in European history. Drawing on previously untapped eye-witness reports for accurate and vivid details of the course of the battle, Simms captures the grand choreography and pervasive chaos of Waterloo: the advances and retreats, the death and the maiming, the heroism and the cowardice. He describes the gallant fighting spirit of the French infantrymen, who clambered over the bodies of their fallen comrades as they assaulted the heavily fortified farmhouse--and whose bravery was only surpassed by that of their opponents in the Second Light Battalion. Motivated by opposition to Napoleonic tyranny, dynastic loyalty to the King of England, German patriotism, regimental camaraderie, personal bonds of friendship, and professional ethos, the battalion suffered terrible casualties and fought tirelessly for many long hours, but refused to capitulate or retreat until the evening, by which time the Prussians had arrived on the battlefield in large numbers.

In reorienting Waterloo around the Haye Sainte farmhouse, Simms gives us a riveting new account of the famous battle--an account that reveals, among other things, that Napoleon came much closer than is commonly thought to winning it. A heroic tale of 400 soldiers who changed the course of history, The Longest Afternoon will become an instant classic of military history.

Author Notes

Brendan Simms is a professor in the History of International Relations and fellow at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. The author of Europe , shortlisted for the Lionel Gelber Prize, he lives in Cambridge, England.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

For history readers who appreciate grainy, detailed battle accounts, this fine book concerns the carnage, heroism, and occasional stupidity that occurred around a single Belgian farmhouse at the center of the battlefield at Waterloo during a few hours in 1815. Normally, images of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington are conjured when thinking of that conflict-when the deposed French emperor tried to retake his imperial throne after a triumphal return from Elba. But as usual, these historical giants had much less to do with the battlefield than their soldiers, many of whom on the British side hailed from the German kingdom of Hanover. With the aid of astonishingly-preserved and vivid contemporary accounts, Simms (Europe), of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, brings these soldiers' actions brilliantly alive. From battlefield records two centuries old, he's extracted moving scenes of their courage, bravery, and initiative. In the end, there's no question that the shape and history of 19th-century Europe owes a debt to these 400-odd warriors, who withstood repeated waves of French forces and prevented Napoleon's breakthrough. It's a remarkably detailed book, which is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Nevertheless, Simms shows that without these troops, Great Britain and the German states would have been deeply imperiled. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. There are times when a relatively small number of men can make a difference. Napoleon's armies routed Prussian forces before the critical battle of Waterloo (1815) but Prussian general Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher-in support of British solider Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington-refused to concede. Blucher rallied his troops and guided them back to battle. His return was the decisive moment in the final defeat of the French army. Before Blucher's reappearance though, French pressure on the line of the Duke of Wellington threatened to overwhelm the Allies. That is, until the battle for farmhouse-compound La Haye Sainte where, in the middle of the battle line, 400 Hanoverians fended off repeated attacks from French troops for five hours, buying Blucher enough time to reengage and attack. It can be easy to forget that history started as telling stories and that good stories explain things, imposing order on and assigning significance to the chaos of contingent events. Simms (history, Cambridge Univ.; Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present) has done an admirable job of showing that stories do still count. VERDICT This thoroughly engrossing account will thrill all history lovers.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsp. x
Acknowledgementsp. xi
Prefacep. xv
1 Preludep. 1
2 For King and Fatherlandp. 9
3 A Tragedy of Errorsp. 21
4 Bolting the Barn Doorp. 33
5 Infernop. 55
6 Hand to Handp. 77
7 'Heat and centre of the strife'p. 101
8 Legacy: A 'German Victory'?p. 111
Appendicesp. 129
Bibliographyp. 135
Notesp. 147
Indexp. 175