Sources of Research for the Battle of Waterloo and the War of 1812



Currier and Ives print of the Battle of Waterloo; Image Credit: Library of Congress LC-USZC2-1969

The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo prompted me to search for digitized resources on the battle, only to be brought up short by the following statement on the UK National Archives website:

“There are no significant collections of records on the subject of the Napoleonic Wars available online.”

Gulp. Was this a dead end? But after settling down to some heavy-duty searching, I found some websites that have free digitized content, which historical novelists may find useful when writing a novel set during the Napoleonic Wars.


The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith


Lion’s Mound, Waterloo battlefield monument in Belgium; Image Credit: “Waterloo, Belgium”, by Luc B CC BY-NC-SA

The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith site is an online edition of The Autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, edited by G.C. Moore Smith, from the John Murray 1903 edition. Smith was a noted participant in the Battle of Waterloo, and later served in India and South Africa as Governor of Cape Colony. The book provides an officer’s point of view of the war under Wellington in the Peninsula. It was used as source material by Georgette Heyer for her novel, The Spanish Bride, which slightly fictionalizes the story of the 1812 battlefield marriage between Smith and Juana, a 14-year-old convent-educated Spanish girl. Juana then accompanied her husband in the army’s train through most of the campaign, including Waterloo.


A Collection of English Ballads

This is a subsection of a collection of English ballads offered by the National Library of Scotland, one that gathers together ballads on the Napoleonic wars, many on Waterloo: “Britons Unconquerable,” “Loss of One Hero on the Plains of Waterloo,” and “Surrender of Buonaparte.”  If your novel is set during the aftermath of the battle, your characters might be singing or listening to ditties like these.


Objects Relating to Waterloo


Image Credit: “Waterloo re-enactment – Wellington’s forces” by David O’Leary CC-BY-NC-ND

The National Army Museum offers a Waterloo page that collects digitized objects relating to Waterloo, some of them rather macabre: the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse Marengo, a set of dentures made with teeth extracted from the battlefield dead, a bone with a musket ball embedded, and a French cuirass with a cannon ball hole. Novelists needing less grisly images to aid their research will also find examples of uniform accessories, portraits, bagpipes played during the battle, and a camp bed.

If you drop-down on the Themes tab to Science and Technology, you can watch a video of a simulated amputation, and a demonstration of how to fire a Brown Bess musket. The Soldiers section offers stories of individual soldiers’ experiences in the battle.


Royal Collections


Cloak seized from Napoleon’s baggage train after Waterloo; Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The Royal Collections website has a page on a Waterloo at Windsor 1815-2015 exhibit, which shows a selection of digitized objects from its collection, such as Napoleon’s cloak, a sabre, and portraits of participants.













“Merry Making on the Regents Birth Day, 1812,” by George Cruikshank; Image Credit: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-04317

Here are some possibly obscure book resources that novelists writing about the Waterloo era may not know about, since they were published 47-plus years ago.







Pageant of Georgian England, by Elizabeth Burton.  New York: Scribner, 1967.

This book provides an overview of England under the Georges, with chapters on homes, food, farming, medicine, amusements, personal adornment, and gardening, among others. Burton includes a bibliography, using period sources such as Defoe, Goldsmith, Lennox, and Smollett. Felix Kelly provides black-and-white drawings of everyday objects, such as plows, garden ornaments, a cheese press, and furniture.

Age of Elegance, 1812-1822, by Arthur Bryant.  London:  Collins, 1950.

Bryant’s preface says: “I tried to trace the course of our ancestors’ long struggle against the French Revolution and Napoleon.” The first section of the book covers the campaign against Napoleon from 1812. The second part covers “the impact of the bewildering economic, social and ideological phenomena of the time on victorious Britain.” It includes a bibliography.


Social England under the Regency, by John Ashton.  London: Chatto & Windus, 1899 (reprinted in Detroit, Mich. by Singing Tree Press)

Ashton “sketch[es] the men and manners of the Regency…my aim being more to delineate the social condition of England and her people.” Ashton’s sources refers to period newspapers in the text, but he gives no bibliography.



Louisiana plantation used as British headquarters during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815; Image Credit: LA – Chalmette: De La Ronde Ruins by Wally Gobetz CC BY-NC-ND

Coinciding with the last few years of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe was the War of 1812 in North America, the last battle of which concluded in January 1815. Harry Smith was among the British soldiers who fought in both hemispheres. Here are some websites that provide historical documents on that war.







Image Credit: Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

The Lilly Library at Indiana University has an extensive collection of digitized material about the war: books, broadsides, prints, sheet music, maps, and manuscripts. The sub-section The War – 1815 contains documents on the Battle of New Orleans, and the Peace. After the War contains stories of war veterans, and documents on the “Star Spangled Banner”.





Library and Archives Canada has made some of its War of 1812 microfilmed collection available here, including: Lower Canada Nominal Rolls and Paylists and Board of Claims for Losses. But the explanation page states that the offerings are not a database and therefore not searchable by keyword.



Image Credit: Thayendanegea, The Great Captain of the Six Nations [1836] (Archives of Ontario, I0009164, RG 2-344-0-0-28)

The Archives of Ontario offers an online exhibit of some of the highlights of its War of 1812 documents. They include manuscripts of prisoners of war, messages between officers, treason cases, and letters on sickness and desertion among the troops. Some complete documents are reproduced, but in other cases, only excerpts. Some audio files are also offered.








Piccadilly Circus, London, ca.1890; Image Credit: Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsc-08577

While not connected to the Napoleonic Wars, I couldn’t resist including this link to a video offered by “Yestervid,” directed by Al Paton, which is supposed to be the oldest known film footage taken of the city of London, starting in 1890. The most interesting part is where side-by-side clips of London street views today are compared with the old footage.  Someone setting a novel in 1890s London would find this video clip valuable.



About the contributor: B.J. Sedlock is Metadata and Archives Librarian at Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio. She writes book reviews and articles for The Historical Novels Review, and has contributed to The Sondheim Review.

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