Battlefields on Google Maps.

Battlefields on Google Maps.

 One of the most fun aspects of the technology afforded us by Google maps is its street view ability. It’s very useful for planning trips, and many other things besides, because of Street view I was able to give accurate directions through a major city because I have a more than passing acquaintance with the layout of the roads from the Belgian border from Charleoi to Brussels I was able to drive (within the parameters of Street View’s roaming) around the battlefield of Waterloo.

 Now I’m not saying that this cyber walk replaces actual feet on the ground investigation but for those who want a basic look at terrain and contour, even colour and weather to a point, this is could be the best gadget to come into a History enthusiast’s hands since you put down your last book, all you need is a map from a history book and an interent connection, so here’s a post that will tell you how I used it recently.


 1: Waterloo.

The ground of Waterloo has suffered since the battle. The Great monument that know identifies it as the famous field of Napoleon’s defeat raised by the Dutch to mark the spot where the Prince of Orange was wounded, scraped away the original ridge line prompting the Duke of Wellington to famously snap “They have ruined my Battlefield” making it almost impossible to get a clear picture of the ground as it was. The place is now strewn with memorials in a rough diamond shape from Hougoumont to Plancenoit, and more will be cropping up by the 200th anniversary in 2015. There is nothing wrong with that of course; such a great event in history needs memorials,  however despite the righteous destruction of the most famous field in European history, the bare bones still exist. I found the red roof of La Belle Alliance, Napoleon’s command post and the scene of the final act of the battle where Wellington met Marshal Blucher. Being well aquainted with the layout of the field I moved up the Brussels road and, passing the low ridge that the 80 gun grand battery bombarded the ridge of Mont St Jean, now only a slight rise in the distance, and quickly came up with the Farm of La Haye Sainte, scene of heroic fighting by the Kings German Legion who held it for half of the day. As I progressed the road became much more sunken and is still very much so at the crossroads where Wellington had his command post. To the left I saw the iconic Lion mound and passing some pizzeria’s on my right I was able to move right across the Allied right flank, through the Lion Hamlet where the visitor centre is, and along the ground that the Imperial Guard was repulsed on and Wellingon ordered the Entire Line to advance. I stopped here, this being the most unspoiled view, and tried to look around a bit more, but failed to find a road to Hougoumont, though doubtless you could get to Plancenoit if you tried.

2: Rorkes Drift.

Some say Africa is a timeless place, and you only have to see a picture of the jutting crag of iSandlwana to understand the potency of the land. If you know where to look its not hard to find it, though I was hoping for a street view there are no streets near the sight of the great Zulu victory of the 22nd January 1879. Disappointed I shifted my screen down to the crossing of Rorkes Drift and let the pin fall on the road that follows the Mzinyathi River towards the sea. To my surprise it registered a street view and eagerly I went in. Once on the ground so to speak I tried to head for the river, passing a curious cow on my left and numerous clumps of children, to find the sight of the Battle, forgetting that though the battle is called “Rorke’s Drift”, this VC laden fight actually occurred a little back from the riverside and the crossing that gave it its name at a place the Zulus called kwaJim (Jim’s Place). The street view drivers had not turned north towards the Mzinyathi but had carried on east, and so I followed the prompts, and very soon spied a hill in the distant screen, the profile of which I remembered from pictures in books. Those not familiar with the actual facts of the battle that gave the movie Zulu its plot, will not find the name Shiyane  familiar, but anyone who has looked a little deeper will know its significance. And I felt a great satisfaction as I saw the road signs confirm what I thought, and I followed its distinctive blunt peak past the recreated Zulu homestead on the right of the road and up to the gates of Rorkes Drift. The view from the road shows dramatically what a good vantage point Shianye was for Zulu snipers during the battle. It rises up domineeringly over the red roof’s of the cluster of buildings that make up the visitor cenre and museum with a Union Jack flying outside it and a bus tour parked in front of the picnic benches to the left. And it was great to put the whole picture together as I pushed on the road towards Fugitives Drift, and then rose back to map view.

 So far I have identified the following Battlefields on Google Maps:

Blenheim, Bavaria 1704 (Found on Map)

The Breach at Seringapatam India 1799 (Found on Map)

Assaye India 1803 (Found on Map)

Vimeiro Portugal 1808 (Found on Map)

Salamanca Spain 1812 (Found on Map & seen on Street View)

Vitoria Spain 1813 (Found on Map)

Waterloo Belgium 1815 (Found on Map & seen on Street View)

iSandlwana kwaZulu Natal SA 1879 (Found on Map)

Rorkes Drift kwaZulu Natal SA 1879. (Found on Map and seen on Street View)


And there will be hundreds more. The usefulness of these finds, especially if they have a street view option which some don’t have, is that instead of a single picture to give you a hint of the ground and terrain, you get a zoomable 360 span of the whole which gives you colour, depth, distance and height, a totally new perspective. If you haven’t started utilising this tool then I advise you to do so, not just for battlefields but for historic landmarks and buildings too, places where, even on a computer screen thousands of miles away, you can just imagine the pulse of history beating.



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