Refighting the Battle of Waterloo

Refighting the Battle of Waterloo Royal Doulton Napoleon and Wellington character mugs.

Refighting the Battle of Waterloo Royal Doulton Napoleon and Wellington character mugs.

In this fluff-filled run-up to the 200th anniversary to the Battle of Waterloo, I offer a fanciful excerpt from Camille Flammarion’s Lumen, which features an alien soul, capable of flitting across time, space, and eternity, engaging in Socratic dialogue with a tiresomely earnest citizen of earth. After much chatter about the speed of light, stars, planets, reincarnation, and the nature of time, all well above my pay grade, we come to the following story:

Lumen: The first circumstance is connected with the battle of Waterloo.

Quaerens: No one remembers that catastrophe better than I do. I received a ball in my shoulder there, in the neighbourhood of Mont Saint-Jean, and a sabre-cut on my right hand from one of Bluchers blackguards.

Lumen: Well, my old comrade, in taking part in this battle again, I found it quite different from what it was in the past, as you may judge from what I will relate to you. When I had recognised the field of Waterloo, to the south of Brussels, I distinguished first a considerable number of dead bodies lying on the ground indiscriminately. Far off, through the mist, I perceived Napoleon walking backwards, holding his horse by the bridle. The officers who accompanied him were marching backwards also. The cannon began to boom, and from time to time I saw the lurid gleam of their flashes. When my sight was sufficiently habituated to the scene, I perceived some soldiers coming to life out of the eternal night, and by a single effort standing up. Group after group, a considerable number, were thus resuscitated. The dead horses revived like the dead cavaliers, and the latter remounted them. As soon as two or three thousand men had returned to life, I saw them form unconsciously in line of battle. The two armies took their places fronting one another, and began to fight desperately with a fury that one might have taken for despair. As the combat deepened on both sides, the soldiers came to life more rapidly. French, English, Prussians, Germans, Hanoverians, Belgians— grey coats, blue uniforms, red tunics, green, white—arose from the field of the dead and fought. In the centre of the French army I espied the Emperor, a battalion in square surrounded him; the Imperial Guard was resuscitated. Their immense battalions advanced from the two camps and engaged in a fierce onslaught; from the left and from the right, squadrons advanced. The white manes of the white horses floated in the wind. I remembered the strange picture by Raffet, and the spectral epigram of the German poet Sedlitz:—

“La caisse sonne, étrange,

Fortement elle retentit.

Dans leur fosse ressuscitent

Les vieux soldats péris.”

And this other:—

“C’est la grande revue,

Qu’àl’heure de minuit

Aux Champs-Elysées

Tient César décédé.”

It was really Waterloo, but a Waterloo beyond the tomb, for the combatants were raised from the dead. Besides, in this singular apparition they marched backwards one against the other. Such a battle had a magical effect, and impressed me more forcibly, because I foresaw the event itself, and this event was strangely transformed in its counterpart image. Not less singular was the fact, that the longer they fought, the more the number of combatants increased; at each gap made by the cannon in the serried ranks a group of resuscitated dead filled up the gaps immediately. When the belligerents had spent the whole day in tearing one another to pieces with grape-shot, with cannons and bullets, with bayonets, sabres, and swords— when the great battle was over, there was not a single person killed, no one was even wounded; even uniforms that before it were torn and in disorder were in good condition, the men were safe and sound, and the ranks in correct form. The two armies slowly withdrew from one another, as if the heat of the battle and all its fury had no other object than the restoration to life, amid the smoke of the combat, of the two hundred thousand corpses which had lain on the field a few hours before. What an exemplary and desirable battle it was!

Assuredly it was the most singular of military episodes, and the moral aspect of it far surpassed the physical, when I found that this battle resulted not in the defeat of Napoleon, but in placing him upon the throne. Instead of losing the battle, it was the Emperor who gained it; instead of a prisoner, he became a sovereign. Waterloo was an 18th Brumaire! . . .

Lumen, Camille Flammarion, A. A. M., 1887

A very evocative picture of the battlefield dead rising, but a touch of wishful thinking/revisionist history on the part of the author.

Oddly enough, another astronomer–an anti-Spiritualist American clergyman–also wrote of a rematch between Wellington and Napoleon. After some startling revelations from the séance room about spirit courtship, balls and dances, “spirits like gin,” and card-parties in the afterlife, we are told that the two great commanders have met and collided.

A Battle in the Spheres

Since the death of the Duke of Wellington, the spirits assert that he and Napoleon have met somewhere in the spheres, and that they do not agree at all. Napoleon asserts that the battle of Waterloo was not fairly fought; while Wellington contends that the battle was won in the most scientific manner, and that he could do just so again, if he had the same army to command and the same foe to conquer. To settle the matter, it is agreed that they will wait till the few old pensioners of their respective armies that remain on earth come to the spheres; when they will call the roll, and fight the battle over again; and the results in this case shall be final.

Spirit Rapping Unveiled!: An Expose of the Origin, History, Theology, and Philosophy of Certain Alleged Communications from the Spirit World, Rev. Hiram Mattison, A.M., 1853

Given the normal tenor of Spiritualist literature and the banal revelations which preceded this,  we might have expected to find Wellington and Napoleon heartily shaking hands, then sharing a glass or two of excellent wine over a dish of chicken Marengo. Perhaps the Summerland isn’t as peaceful as we have been led to believe. All those gin-drinkers and whist-players stirring up trouble, no doubt.

See this post for another story of the Battle of Waterloo refought and its ghosts.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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