Reporting Deaths in the Aftermath of Waterloo

 One of my favorite Regency series comes from Mary Balogh. In the Bedwyns Saga’s book 5, entitled Slightly Sinful, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn is wounded at Waterloo. A woman who is stripping the bodies of their clothing in order to sell them finds him. His injury causes him what we who write romances call “romance amnesia.” Therefore, his death is reported to his family, when he is still alive. So, over the years since reading Ms. Balogh’s book, I have been more than curious regarding the procedure to inform the families. What happened to the dead after the Battle of Waterloo? 

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117 Lady Butler Scotland Forever.
A soldier’s first hand account of the most decisive moment at the Battle of Waterloo which left the British swords ‘reeking with French blood’ has been unearthed after 200 years.
Corporal Richard Coulter described the ‘glorious’ charge of the household ‘heavy’ brigade that involved 2,000 British cavalryman attacking Napoleon’s troops who had been gaining the upper-hand in the battle.
The letter has now emerged for sale at Bonhams in London.

If the deceased was a member of Wellington’s staff, or a senior officer, the family may have gotten a personal letter from Wellington within days. Wellington wrote many on June 19, four days after the battle. Likewise, the most reliable news often came to the family from officers and soldiers serving with a soldier who was killed or wounded and there are many examples of such letters being written to families and loved ones of the fallen on the 19th and 20th of June. 

Otherwise, lists of dead and wounded were published in the London Gazette. However, not all lists were made out and sent at the same time, i.e., different regiments. News dribbled in. In some cases, it took a week before missing officers/soldiers were found, either wounded or dead. It was chaos. The senior officers of the regiments themselves were not certain who had been killed and who survived for many hours, if not a few days, after the battle. 

Add to that the fact that many mistakes were made in those initial lists. There are numerous examples of various soldiers named Jackson, Smith, Brown, etc., being confused with each other at first. 

There were no dog tags. Many of the dead, on both sides, were plundered of their belongings and clothes on the battlefield. By the time the burying parties came around, there was no way to identify many of the bodies, which were placed in communal graves. Therefore, it could take anywhere from a week to a month before all returns were in and published. 

As the first official journal of record and the newspaper of the Crown, The Gazette became an authoritative and reliable source of news, and this served the purposes of both the Crown and the Executive well.

The state already held incomparable sources of information from overseas: during peacetime, the various British embassies could be relied on to relay strategic and political news back home and, in times of war, the dispatches of the British generals served a similar purpose – both sources acting effectively as the foreign correspondents of their day.

These varying dispatches continued to be used to good effect as The Gazette developed its profile. Indeed, when the newly launched Times newspaper halted its presses to carry the report of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, it was merely to reproduce in full the dispatch which had already been previously published as a ‘Gazette Extraordinary’ (Gazette issue 17028).

The Gazette was also the bearer of official War Office and Ministry of Defence events, including listing those ‘Mentioned in dispatches’ (MIDs), where notable individuals are recognised for their activities in the theatre of war. 

The Gazette even ultimately produced its own terminology for those appearing in its reports: whether when they were appointed to a new military post, or for committing acts of particular gallantry, an individual was said to have been “gazetted” when their name reached the pages of The Gazette.

An easing of publishing restrictions, and the general success of The Gazette in providing reliable official information, led to the creation of two further journals, enabling a more detailed focus on material of particular relevance to Scotland and Ireland.

More on The Gazette below. And you’ll see by following this link that Wellington’s Waterloo Dispatch wasn’t published until June 22nd. www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/17028/page/1213

All senior officers had their own staff, usually paid out of their own pockets. Wellington had a butler, a cook, a valet,  two grooms, a guy in charge of his pack of hunting dogs and a washerwoman, in addition to his Aide-De-Camps.

It would not have taken long for a senior officer’s effects to be returned to England. There was a dedicated supply route from England to Ostend and Ghent, then on to Paris and Brussels. The Royal Navy had ships standing by at Ostend and Ghent to facilitate movements of the army, also to transport the walking wounded, as well as French prisoners. 

After Alexander Gordon died, Wellington wrote to his brother, Lord Aberdeen, to tell him of the death. The PS of that letter is heartbreaking – “I have your brother’s horse here with me and will keep it until you let me know what is to be done with it.” So, personal effects, trunks, horses could all be sent to England with no problem or loss of time. Such is one of the plot points of my upcoming story “Courting Lord Whitmire.” 

If you care to read more of these tragic events, try these two books: 

The Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo ensured British dominance for the rest of the nineteenth century. It took three days and two hours for word to travel from Belgium in a form that people could rely upon. 

This is a tragi-comic midsummer’s tale that begins amidst terrible carnage and weaves through a world of politics and military convention, enterprise and roguery, frustration, doubt and jealousy, to end spectacularly in the heart of Regency society at a grand soiree in St James’s Square after feverish journeys by coach and horseback, a Channel crossing delayed by falling tides and a flat calm, and a final dash by coach and four from Dover to London.

At least five men were involved in bringing the news or parts of it to London, and their stories are fascinating. Brian Cathcart, a brilliant storyteller and historian, has visited the battlefield, travelled the messengers’ routes, and traced untapped British, French and Belgian records. This is a strikingly original perspective on a key moment in British history.

Waterloo is probably the most famous battle in military history. Thousands of books have been written on the subject but mysteries remain and controversy abounds.

By presenting more than 200 previously unpublished accounts by Allied officers who fought at the battle, this collection goes right back to the primary source material. In the letters the Allied officers recount where they were and what they saw. Gareth Glover has provided historical background information but lets the officers speak for themselves as they reveal exactly what happened in June 1815.

Originally sent to, and at the request of, Captain W Siborne, then in the process of building his famous model of the battle, these letters have remained unread in the Siborne papers in the British Library. A small selection was published in Waterloo Letters in 1891 but much of vast historical significance did not see the light then and has remained inaccessible until now. Glover now presents this remarkable collection which includes letters here by Major Baring, George Bowles, Edward Whinyates, John Gurwood and Edward Cotton as well as letters by Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers.

This is a veritable treasure trove of material on the battle and one which will mean that every historian’s view of the battle will need correcting.

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In case you are interested in the book I mentioned above, here is the book blurb. Trust me. Read the series from beginning to end. You will not be disappointed. Slightly Married, Book 1; Slightly Wicked, Book 2; Slightly Scandalous, Book 3; Slightly Tempted, Book 4; Slightly Sinful, Book 5; and Slightly Dangerous, Book 6. [Note! Part of Slightly Tempted deals with Alleyne’s sister Morgan’s desperate search for him in Belgium after Waterloo. You might also find those insights interesting.] Not all deal directly with the war, but all are worth the read. 

Meet the Bedwyns—six brothers and sisters—men and women of passion and privilege, daring and sensuality….Enter their dazzling world of high society and breathtaking seduction…where each will seek love, fight temptation, and court scandal…and where Alleyne Bedwyn, the passionate middle son, is cut off from his past—only to find his future with a sinfully beautiful woman he will risk everything to love.

As the fires of war raged around him, Lord Alleyne Bedwyn was thrown from his horse and left for dead—only to awaken in the bedchamber of a ladies’ brothel. Suddenly the dark, handsome diplomat has no memory of who he is or how he got there—yet of one thing he is certain: The angel who nurses him back to health is the woman he vows to make his own. But like him, Rachel York is not who she seems. A lovely young woman caught up in a desperate circumstance, she must devise a scheme to regain her stolen fortune. The dashing soldier she rescued from near-death could be her savior in disguise. There is just one condition: she must pose as his wife—a masquerade that will embroil them in a sinful scandal, where a man and a woman court impropriety with each daring step…with every taboo kiss that can turn passionate strangers into the truest of lovers.

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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2 Responses to Reporting Deaths in the Aftermath of Waterloo

  1. ForeverHis says:

    Very interesting post. The terrible carnage left by that battle would have been more than I could have handled–brings tears just thinking of it. I too, have read the Bedwyn series; Mary Balogh has a true gift for writing. Thank you for your research and post on this subject.

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