Some years ago, in Miss Wonderful, I had a hero suffering from what’s now called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was a result of my sticking him in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo and subjecting him to something very like the ordeal that Colonel Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, against all odds, survived.
Since, over the years, Colonel Ponsonby turned up more than once in my reading, I can’t say exactly when or in what book he first caught my attention. In Richard Rush’s A Residence at the Court of London, a gentleman “tall but limping” is identified thusly: "Colonel Ponsonby; he was left for dead at Waterloo; the cavalry it was thought had trampled upon him.” Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: The Years of the Sword, summed up in a few unforgettable lines what Ponsonby endured: “Frederick Ponsonby, desperately wounded first by French sabres and then by Polish lances, ridden over and tossed by the Prussians, robbed, used as a musket-rest by a tirailleur and as a place to die on by a mortally wounded soldier, but later found alive by a British infantryman who mounted guard over him till morning...”
I added a bit of another officer's experience to my hero’s, and made up my own account of how he survived injuries that should have killed him several times over (no antibiotics!!!—he'd been stabbed all over the place, & the doctors treated him by bleeding him some more!!!)—but the great kernel of truth is there, and the credit belongs to Colonel Ponsonby (later a General and Sir Frederick), one tough gentleman.
Ye of the Nerdy History persuasion can easily imagine how thrilled I was recently to find, not a summary of his experience in a book by or about someone else, but his very own account—all thanks to the magic of Google books— in Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, fashions of 1817. You can read the whole story here.
I think the just-the-facts, ma'am approach makes it all the more poignant, and conveys in a powerful way the experience of being in the middle of that battle. What with the rumors flying about who was winning, who was losing, who was dead, who wasn’t, I wondered all the more how anybody knew what the devil was going on anywhere.