I was recently shown the transcript of a letter written after the Battle of Waterloo by John Leworthy, a private soldier in Wellington’s army, to his father. In a very matter-of-fact way he describes the mayhem of the battle, “…one of the severest engagements ever recorded in history…”, yet his own part in the proceedings is nicely understated. You can read the complete letter here, along with some details of the man himself.
Sept. 6th 1815
I trust your goodness will excuse my long silence as it is not occasioned by any kind of neglect on my part but merely through the extreme hurry and fatigue I have gone through since I left England as there is nothing on earth can give me greater satisfaction than a correspondence with you that am [sic] so near and dear to me. Herewith I have the pleasure to transmit to you a detail of our proceedings.
Subsequent to our departure from England which took pace on 5th April, we landed at Ostend and marched to a place called De…[illeg.] in Flanders where we stayed until 16th June when we commenced our march. On that day we marched between 30 and 40 miles and in the evening came into action with the enemy who had secured themselves in an extensive wood. At that time our number being small it was impossible to get them out of it. In this affair I am sorry to say we lost a great number of officers and men, but however, we maintained our ground on that day till night at last put a period to the conflict. On the next day we made a retreat of about six miles to the Plains of Waterloo in order to draw the enemy out of the aforesaid wood which had the desired effect, the French following us up with all the rapidity possible.
On the 18th in the morning, there commenced one of the severest engagements ever recorded in history – the history of human events cannot find its parallel. It was a day of glory and of carnage. The result of the transendant [sic] affair it is needless for me to comment upon; you no doubt have seen it in newspapers. I have the pleasure to say that our Regiment was instrumental particularly on this glorious occasion, being nearly the whole of the day in solid square receiving the charges of the enemy’s cavalry which she repeated seven or eight times with dreadful impetuosity, we repulsed them each time with great slaughter. Their finding their cavalry could do no good with us, brought Buonaparte’s Imperial Guards against us and we gave them as complete a drubbing as ever they had in their lives. After the action was over we followed up our career of glory in pursuit of the enemy, taking from them 234 pieces of cannon and leaving 50,000 dead in the field. Our Regiment alone being selected for a particular service, marched by cross country roads to a considerable town in France called Perrone, the Duke of Wellington being with us in person. Our brave fellows, headed by that excellent officer, General Maitland, like lions more than men, entered it and took it at the point of the bayonet. After this we did not relax in our labours. The next day we commenced our march in pursuit of the enemy till we arrived within four miles of the City of Paris. A cessation of hostilities taking place, put us in possession of all the enemy’s works we ultimately entered Paris. Thus hath the Tyrant of Europe been stript [sic] of all his laurels and all his diabolical plans been annihilated. This has been a short but severe conflict and has cost a great number of lives.
Peace to the heroic remains of those that fell at this transendant [sic] affair. Our children will read and smile at our work in ages to come and latest posterity will with admiration bless our apertions [?]. Paris is at present a very gay place. Here are the Emperors of Austria and Russia, Prince of Orange, Prince Blucher, King of Prussia, Duke of Wellington, and a great many noblemen besides, too many for me to insert here.
It is not in my power to send you any news at present as all the news we get here we are indebted to the English newspapers for which it is a rarity for us to get a sight at all.
As we are in camp under the walls of Paris the major part of the French army are still for Buonaparte whom they call the Emperor and those that wear the Cockade of the House of Bourbon wear it through interest rather than affection
Through the whole of the conquest I have been in it pleased God in his goodness to protect me to whom I offer up my prayers late and early. I have the pleasure to inform you that I am in good health , and I hope this will find you and my dear boy the same.
Please give my kind respects to all enquiring friends. I have nothing further to add at present, dear Father so conclude, wishing you all the happiness this terrestrial world can afford you and in the next may you find that happiness which God in his goodness hath promised to all good men.
So I remain,
Your dutiful son,
PS Please direct to me as follows:
Jno. Leworthy, Private Soldier,
Colonel Hanbury’s Company,
3rd Battn. Greanadier Guards,
British Army, FRANCE
N.B. I forgot to tell you our Regiment lost 1134 Private men, 36 Sergeants, 34 Officers, on the 16th and 18th June
John Leworthy, the man:
Born in 1773 in the parish of Charles, Barnstaple, Devon
Enlisted 24th October 1799 age 26, 1st Foot Guards, at Porchester Castle, for unlimited service.
Served 19 years, 10 days, plus 2 years allowed for Waterloo, his entire service as a Private soldier.
Discharged at Windsor 2nd November 1818.
Reason for discharge given as asthma
Conduct noted as “good”.
At the time of his discharge he was 45 years old, 5ft 7inches tall, his hair was dark brown, his eyes were grey, and he had a dark complexion.
His trade is given as a cordwainer
He was awarded a pension of one shilling per day.
The 1851 census lists him as living at Chelsea Hospital, and he is described as “married”.