I`ve only been to two classic battlefields: Waterloo and Gettysburg.
Waterloo is fascinating in its compactness, and in the drama of the two greatest generals of the age finally squaring off. It also had the great advantage of being the last battle of it age.
Napoleon`s escape from Elba is one of the wildest yarns ever. The following headlines are said to have appeared in the French newspaper Moniteur in March of 1815.
March 9 The Monster has escaped from his place of banishment.
March 10 The Corsican Ogre has landed at Cape Juan
March 11 The Tiger has shown himself at Gap. The Troops are advancing on all sides to arrest his progress. He will conclude his miserable adventure by becoming a wanderer among the mountains.
March 12 The Monster has actually advanced as far as Grenoble
March 13 The Tyrant is now at Lyon. Fear and Terror seized all at his appeaance.
March 18 The Usurper has ventured to approach to within 60 hours` march of the capital.
March 19 Bonaparte is advancing by forced marches, but it is impossible he can reach Paris.
March 20 Napoleon will arrive under the walls of Paris tomorrow.
March 21 The Emperor Napoleon is at Fountainbleau
March 22 Yesteday evening His Majesty the Emperor made his public entry and arrived at the Tuileries. Nothing can exceed the universal joy.
As General Georges le Paton said, "The French, we love a winner!"
But there`s also a sense of exhaustion about Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The best British troops were returning from the War of 1812 in America, so Wellington fought his usual defensive tactics, sheltering his troop on the reverse slope of a low ridge, not asking more of them than he could expect. The French troops fought well, but they had been winnowed by two decades of war.
Napoleon`s initial strategy of driving a wedge between the British and the Prussians, so he could destroy each army separately, had somehow come to fruition, leaving him about 12 desperate hours to beat Wellington and then turn on Blucher. For once, though, Napoleon seemed too tired to seize the initiative, puttering away the morning before finally launching the battle.
As for Gettysburg, the War Nerd says, "But not Gettysburg. The more you know about it, the finer, cleaner, more goddamn magnificent it was."