The other day I pulled a book out of my bookshelf, and noticed a scruffy little green cover peering at me from the shadows at the back of the shelf. I reached in and pulled it out, and was overjoyed to see that I had at last re-found my long-lost antique map of Waterloo, the oldest print item I own.
Quite a few years ago, some British friends of my mother-in-law visited New Zealand. They knew of my interest in military history, so presented me with this lovely bound map of Waterloo. I placed it on my bookshelf, where it eventually fell behind some other books. For years I’d thought I had somehow lost the map.
So it was with great pleasure this Waterloo bicentenary year to find it again!
At the time I was presented with this map, I knew little about it, other than it was by a Sergeant-Major Edward Cotton, and published in 1854. But finding it again has spurred me into a doing some research on the internet.
According to family historian Gordon Childs:
Sergeant Major Edward COTTON was born on Isle of Wight around 1792 and served at Waterloo in the ranks of the 7th Hussars which was part of General Grant’s brigade – the 5th British Cavalry Brigade. Fortunately, Edward Cotton survived the carnage of the battle on that fateful day of 18 June 1815, in which there were over 50,000 casualties of the some 150,000 troops engaged, to become a local hero.
He particularly distinguished himself by saving fellow hussar Gilmoure as he lay trapped under his wounded horse in front of the main battle line. Cotton could see the French cuirassiers coming on again and, knowing that they rarely spared a foe outside of the protection of the infantry squares, he sprang from his horse and rushed to extricate Gilmoure and to bring him back to safety as the army of French horsemen came up to Wellington’s line.
After leaving the army, Cotton lived at Mont St Jean village (where the battle was centred) where he soon gained a reputation as a fine battlefield guide. In 1845, the Naval and Military Gazette described him as an intelligent, active and good looking man of fifty-three and the very cut as a Hussar. From the many fellow Waterloo veterans who visited the battlefield, Cotton built up a formidable knowledge of the battle and published a book called ‘A Voice from Waterloo’. His collection of memorabilia occupied a building at the base of the Lion Mound, but has now been dispersed.
“I sincerely hope,” wrote veteran, Lieutenant-General Sir Hussey Vivian, to Cotton in 1839, “that occupation which you have undertaken, you will derive the means of passing the remainder of your days in competence and comfort; and thus heap the rewards of your intelligence, on a field where you had proved your courage.”
Edward Cotton died on 24 June 1849. He had been ill for some time but had soldiered on and, only two days before his death, he had shown an English family around the battlefield. He was buried in the gardens of Hougoumont, and rested there until the 18 August 1890 when he was disinterred for reburial at Evere Cemetery in the north-east suburbs of Brussels.
Handy pocket-sized maps like this one would have been carried by his visitors to the battlefield. This particular edition was printed a few years after his death, and was drawn from his 1846 book ‘A Voice from Waterloo’. I wonder if a 19th century visitor carried my actual map in his or her hands as they tramped over the battlefield.
Opening the green linen cover with its gold-embossed title, you first come to a small overview map of the Belgian countryside over which the Waterloo campaign took place.
It is a bit confusing, though, that this map places north at the bottom of the page instead of the more usual top.
The main page unfolds to display a beautiful hand-tinted map of the field of Waterloo as it was towards sunset. The Allies are shown in red, Prussians in yellow, and the French in blue.
Extensive information is provided in the keys on each side, which link to the exact location for each brigade and military group, including Napoleon’s positions and places where certain officers were killed. For the modern reader, following the Roman numerals is quite onerous, however!
An inset table gives the number of men and guns available to each side. A narrative also recreates the final hours of the battle.
Again, north is at the bottom.
Here’s a close-up of central area of the battlefield. Click on the picture to expand it to a size where you can see the amazing detail and the sheer beauty of this wonderful old map.
I’m really pleased to be re-united with this treasure. I’m thinking I might place it in a box-frame to preserve it, and to give it some more prominence than being stuffed down the back of my bookshelf!