Battles in literature
Paradise Lost, by John Milton The battle between the good and the bad angels in Milton's epic is both momentous and absurd, as none of those involved can be permanently harmed by the other side. So the Archangel Michael manages to stab Satan: the sword "Pass'd through him, but th' Ethereal substance clos'd / Not long divisible . . . " Eventually, the Son of God appears in his "fierce Chariot" and drives the baddies into the abyss.
Waverley, by Walter Scott The hero Edward Waverley joins the Jacobite Rebellion and fights his former masters at the famous Battle of Prestonpans, where the Jacobites defeated the forces of George II. Scott has to make sure that his hero doesn't actually kill anyone (as the Jacobite cause is controversial), but instead has him nobly save the life of a relative who is fighting for his enemy.
The Battle of Marathon, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning The young poet retold in rhyming couplets the story of how a small Athenian army, commanded by the cunning Miltiades, destroyed the huge Persian force of King Darius at Marathon. "The Persian hosts, behold their bulwark die / Fear chills their hearts, and all their numbers fly". Lots of blood and democracy triumphs.
The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal Stendhal pitches his naive hero Fabrice del Dongo into the Battle of Waterloo. He finds himself surrounded by mud, smoke and the cries of dying men, and is delighted. "'I have seen shots fired!' he repeated with a sense of satisfaction. 'Now I am a real soldier.'" Stendhal does great justice to the confusion and occasional farce of warfare; his soldiers even use obscene language.
The Luck of Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray Thackeray's anti-hero, an 18th-century soldier of fortune, recalls his involvement in the Battle of Minden. He clubs to death "a poor little ensign, so young, slender, and small, that a blow from my pigtail would have despatched him . . . ", and bayonets a French officer before butchering a further four.
Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo Part two of Hugo's huge novel includes a full account of the Battle of Waterloo, complete with lengthy explanations of military tactics. We end on the battlefield at night, with the corpses preyed on by a stooping figure who resembled "those crepuscular figures that haunt ruins". He is the villainous Thénardier, whom we will meet again . .
War and Peace, by Tolstoy Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is badly wounded fighting with the Russian army at the Battle of Austerlitz. As he lies injured he gazes up at the sky and begins to understand the pointlessness of the struggle in which he is involved.