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The beginning of the battle of Waterloo is usually described as a French diversionary attack (of Jérôme Bonaparte's 6th Division) on the allied position at the walled farm of Hougoumont (on Wellington's right flank). A diversionary attack is typically characterized as an attack of a relatively small force on a target other than the main target for the purpose of drawing enemy defences away from the main target. In this case, it was intended to cause Wellington to move reserves to his threatened right flank and then break through the allied centre (near La Haye Sainte).
Wellington had recognized the importance of Hougoumont. (It is said that Wellington's reply to officers who asked him about his instructions in case he was killed was “hold Hougoumont”.) This was emphasized by the fact that Wellington assigned some of his very best troops to its defence.
After the initial assault by Bauduin's 1st Brigade failed, Jérôme immediately ordered Soye's 2nd Brigade to join a second attack. The battle escalated further and drew in more and more French forces, in total about 14 000 troops. The allied force maintained the occupation of Hougoumont until the end of the battle. It probably never exceeded 3 000 troops.
Thus, the French diversionary attack had the exact opposite effect to that intended.
Why did the French army continue the attacks and throw so many troops into the battle for Hougoumont? Who was responsible for this development? Did Jérôme continue and enlarge the attacks on his own decision, or was he following orders from his superior (Reille) or even Napoléon? (Jérôme's 6th Division only had about 6 000 infantry. The attacks on Hougoumont involved nearly the entire II Corps of Reille.)
South wall of Hougoumont
It's a mistake to consider this a diversionary attack. Hougoumont overlooked a narrow valley which was sheltered from the British artillery fire. If the French had taken Hougoumont, they would have been able to get round the adjacent flank of Wellington's army in safety. In fact, the ridge Wellington had chosen to defend was untenable if Hougoumont fell, and this had been clear to Napoleon as well as Wellington.
So Wellington had to hold it, which was why the Foot Guards were there in strength, and had been through the previous night, preparing to defend it.
One can argue that the French should have given up on trying to take the position, but that's not clear for most of the battle. Wellington's troops on the ridge grew gradually weaker as they fought off French attacks, so rolling them up from the flank became more and more practical, if Hougoumont could be taken.
Source: The Battle of Waterloo, David Howarth, p53.
The Battle Of Waterloo Finally Explained
In 1814, a Russo-Prussian-Austrian coalition defeated Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Leipzig and forced the emperor into captivity on the tiny Italian island of Elba. Undeterred, Napoleon escaped exile a year later and found his way back to Paris, where he mustered his old veterans into a new army to confront the inevitable coalition that would rise to oppose him before he could consolidate his position. Nearly all of Europe opposed Napoleon, but only Britain, Prussia, the Netherlands, and a few small German states mustered to fight him. The two sides met in Belgium near a village called Waterloo.
Despite his confidence and the fact that he was in possession of an elite army, almost everything that could go wrong for Napoleon did. Yet, he pushed his enemies to their breaking point and nearly defeated them, the key word being "nearly." This is the Battle of Waterloo finally explained.
An even fight
Waterloo was an evenly matched struggle. Napoleon could have blasted Wellington’s allied army off their ridge and marched on Brussels before the Prussians caught him in the famous pincer that ended his dreams of an empire reborn.
If Napoleon’s subordinates had been as reliable as Massena, Davout and Berthier had been in past campaigns, if the allied centre had collapsed under the massive cavalry assault of Marshal Ney, ‘bravest of the brave’, if the Imperial Guard had managed to punch through the thin red line late in the day.
Doomed At Waterloo: These Mistakes Caused Napoleon To Lose His Final Battle
The world of Napoleon, with its multiple great powers, shifting alliances, realpolitik, and need for battlefield skills more closely resembles the modern world than World War II or the Cold War.
Here's What You Need To Remember: The timing Napoleon chose for Waterloo is also thought to have been a major mistake. Instead of attacking British forces in the early morning, he waited several hours to commence the battle, reportedly breakfasting leisurely. He underestimated the skill of Wellington’s forces, despite knowing of their experience during the Peninsular War in Spain.
June 18 marks the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s great defeat at Waterloo, the battle in today’s Belgium that ended his career. Waterloo has since become a byword for a final crushing defeat. Waterloo and the Napoleonic Wars were an important watershed in history and there is renewed interest in this period today.
The world of Napoleon, with its multiple great powers, shifting alliances, realpolitik, and need for battlefield skills more closely resembles the modern world than World War II or the Cold War. Therefore, a study of Napoleon is very relevant for today’s policymakers.
Napoleon was one of history’s greatest tacticians, though his abilities as a grand strategist and statesman were perhaps more limited—or at least subordinate to his ambition, that double-edged sword that both spurs men toward glory but also snatches it away from them. For a few years, from around 1805 to 1812, he was the undisputed master of Europe, yet by 1815, he was exiled to an isolated British island in the South Atlantic, having narrowly escaped being shot by the Prussians.
What happened? How did this genius end up on the path to downfall?
Here are five mistakes that doomed Napoleon.
Napoleon insults Talleyrand
Although Napoleon understood diplomacy and statecraft, he was definitely more adept as a soldier and administrator. Napoleon faired well diplomatically during the early period of his rule, however, this was due mostly to the skills of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.
Talleyrand was considered one of the most adept, skilled diplomats in European history—in 1815, he secured a peace for France that was extremely lenient considering the history of the previous two decades—but was also known for holding a grudge. Under his watch, and Napoleon’s military prowess, France was able to excel geopolitically because Talleyrand managed to prevent all of Europe’s powers from allying against France and got many countries to throw their lot in with Napoleon.
Napoleon, however, began to shut Talleyrand out of power because the latter was corrupt and grew rich through war related speculation (these charges were true). He also began to oppose Napoleon’s adventures in Spain and his harsh treatment of defeated Prussia and began “counseling” the Tsar and other foreign leaders. However, Talleyrand really turned against Napoleon sometime around 1808-1809 when Napoleon, suspecting him of treason, publically berated him, calling him a “shit in a silk stocking,” adding that he could “break him like a glass, but it's not worth the trouble.”
Surprisingly, Napoleon thought this was the end of the matter and continued seeking the services of Talleyrand, even restoring him to full power by 1813. During this time, Talleyrand passed information to the Russians and Austrians, among others. Strangely enough, he was never caught and Napoleon seemed unaware of these activities, especially since Talleyrand had a personal reason to see Napoleon gone. Talleyrand continued to serve a number of French regimes and foreign powers for the rest of his life.
Napoleon embarks on the Peninsular War in Spain
Napoleon embarked on the Peninsular War in Spain—a long, unnecessary, guerilla struggle—that wore down his forces from 1808 to 1814. The Peninsular War marked the point where many of his enemies, both internally and externally, began to realize that Napoleon was overstretching and started working to bring him down. The Peninsular War led individuals such as Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Talleyrand, and the British general the Duke of Wellington to all realize that Napoleon did not know when to stop.
By 1807, France was at peace with all her neighbors minus the British, having defeated the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians, coming to favorable terms with all of them. Napoleon was the master of Europe but he failed to convert this into a lasting peace.
The Peninsular War began initially because Napoleon wished to invade Portugal to prevent it from trading with Britain. As with the invasion of Russia, this was hardly necessary and cost far more than it was worth. In the process of invading Portugal, Napoleon also became involved in a succession issue between the Spanish king and his son and ended up placing his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Spanish throne—an action that completely lacked foresight, failed to take the conditions and wishes of the Spanish into consideration, and smacked of nepotism from a man famed for promoting meritocracy.
Inexplicably, Napoleon would continue to promote and place members of his largely incompetent family on thrones throughout Europe, alienating many countries and bringing him little benefit. In Spain itself, French troops fought brutally against armed bands and civilian populations, leading to its estrangement from the population. Ultimately, hundreds of thousands of French troops that could have been used elsewhere were bogged down in guerilla warfare against Spanish insurgents aided by British troops under Wellington for seven years.
Napoleon invades Russia
As is widely known today, invading Russia with a large army from the west is generally not a good idea. This was not as widely known in 1812, however, and having defeated the Russians in numerous pitched battles in Germany, Napoleon was confident of victory in Russia.
Napoleon’s first mistake was invading Russia at all: it was totally unnecessary. One of the primary reasons for the invasion was to enforce the Continental System, a blockade aimed at preventing the British from trading in any ports across the continent. Yet, the invasion of Russia strengthened the British position by providing it with an ally willing to openly trade with it. And the French goals were not nearly important enough to justify the invasion, which was overreach and hubris.
One he commenced his invasion of Russia with the 600,000-men strong Grande Armée, Napoleon failed to achieve the conditions required for a typical Napoleonic victory—utilizing his tactical genius to defeat his enemies in a pitched battle. Russian armies kept on retreating and refused to fight until the Battle of Borodino, near Moscow, which was indecisive.
Afterwards, Napoleon occupied Moscow but failed to take into account that the Russian way of waging war did not conform to his expectations. He thought that occupying Moscow would force the Russians to come to terms instead the Russians burnt down Moscow. Napoleon simply could not cope with the combination of logistical challenges and issues of scale on a territory geographically and culturally distinct from the conditions he had mastered.
As a result, the normally goal-oriented Napoleon could not achieve his aims and was instead forced to retreat from a ruined Moscow in winter. A combination of weather, disease, desertion, and attacks reduced his army to less than 80,000 troops by the time they left Russia. To summarize the totality of Napoleon’s mistakes during the Russian Campaign: he was unable to adapt his brilliant thinking beyond the localized context of the battlefield.
Napoleon leaves Elba
After his first defeat and abdication in 1814, Napoleon was offered fairly generous terms for one who had earned the enmity of the other great powers of Europe. Napoleon was exiled to Elba, off the coast of Italy, but he was confirmed as the sovereign of that island, and had contact with many of his friends, family, and supporters throughout Europe. This was a much better deal than execution or his eventual fate as a semi-prisoner on St. Helena in 1815.
However, his fate was sealed when he escaped from Elba and returned to France, ensuring that he would not get such a deal again, as other European powers decided that he was too close for comfort and stability.
Napoleon should have never left Elba the conditions for future victories were minimal, and he knew it. He took a big risk in returning to France, but he succeeded in regaining power there. However, even if he had won at Waterloo, it is doubtful he could have lasted in power for long because all the other powers of Europe were arrayed against him and had sworn to remain at war until his defeat. The armies of Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia were all amassed on France’s borders, boxing Napoleon in. Napoleon’s prior victories were won when he took the initiative, striking away from France and when all his enemies were not coming at him at once.
Additionally, his enemies had adapted their tactics accordingly to defeat Napoleon and his Marshals and knew to go after the French armies without Napoleon at their head.
Historian Andrew Roberts argues in his recent book Napoleon: A Life that Waterloo was a battle that Napoleon could have easily won—the younger Napoleon at least.
Napoleon is thought to have made multiple errors during the course of and run-up to Waterloo that sealed his fate. Napoleon left his best general, Louis-Nicolas Davout back in Paris to head the War Department instead of bringing him along to fight. Davout had single-handedly defeated the main Prussian army in 1806 at Auerstedt with only one corps, 28,000 French soldiers against 63,000 Prussian soldiers.
Free Example of The Battle of the Waterloo Essay
This battle was fought on 18 th June 1815 between the French (Napoleon&rsquos) Army and the forces that were commanded by the Duke of Wellington that comprised that of the British, Dutch, Belgian and German forces. The battle occurred near Waterloo in Belgium. The French forces were under the leadership of Michael Ney and Napoleon Bonaparte. This battle went down in the world&rsquos history as one of the famous and most decisive events in the world. It marked the end point of an extremely problematic period in the region it put an end to the tyrant rule of Napoleon. It also marked the end of exile for Napoleon. In 1789, the French Empire had destroyed the old order of the king and the church, all in the disguise of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. The revolution was soon immersed in in-fighting and terror. King Louis XVI was killed and the monarchs of Europe invade France given that they felt horrified at what the revolution would mean to them. This prompted Napoleon Bonaparte, a young army commander to take charge of defending France. He seized power in 1799 and crowned himself the Emperor in 1804.
Napoleon had a modernizing influence in France though he was also a conqueror. At his peak, he invaded and occupied major parts of Europe. The Napoleonic wars were fought until 1814 when he met resistance from the armies of Europe. He was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, the French Royals were restored. Peace was restored and the older order was returned though they never considered the fact that Napoleon was able to make a comeback. Some time prior to napoleon&rsquos arrival in Paris, the authority of the Congress of Vienna declared him persona non grata. Several forces from Prussia, Austria, Russia and the United Kingdom were assembled with the plan to attack and force Napoleon&rsquos empire out of Europe. Well aware of the plans, he mobilized his own tactical move of making a surprise attack before the accomplishing of the plans to mobilize the various forces. He had plans of destroying the existing forces that were in the South of Brussels before they had a central command and plan how to drive the British forces to the sea and defeat the Prussians.
On 26 th February 1815, he escaped from Elba and sailed to France and troops were sent to arrest following an order from King Louis XVI but he tactically appealed to the king to let him join them, which they did. He quickly assembled a new army within a period of about one hundred days. During this time, Europe also assembled the Seventh Coalition to invade them. Interestingly, only two European armies were willing to face Napoleon and his forces. These were the British-allied forces under the leadership of Wellington and that of the Prussian army also under the leadership of Blucher and were both based in Belgium. Napoleon arrived at the noble idea of being the first to strike. First Wellington had the idea of gathering all armies of the Coalition in order to deal with this threat from Napoleon. He wanted to transfer his base to the Southwest of Brussels through Mons. This move had some disadvantage to hi since his communication was cut and also brought him very close to the army of Blucher. Napoleon took advantage of this and the fact that Wellington had fear in losing his supply chain with false intelligence from the channel ports. To deal with this, Wellington decided to divide his army into two wings, the right under the stewardship of Marshal Grouchy, and the left under Marshal Ney. He preserved a separate reserve army for himself.
On 15 th June, Napoleon&rsquos army was only 30 miles south of Brussels. His rapid advance took Blucher by surprise. Funnily, Wellington was actually attending a ball when news reached him. Napoleon had tactfully struck to catch his opponents before they united. Wellington assembled his army in a hurry and commanded them to focus on Quatre Bras where they held a vague position against the other left wing forces under the stewardship of Marshal Ney. At the scene were the Prince of Orange and the brigade of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Marshal Ney issued orders to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras hoping to later move eastwards and strengthen the forces of Napoleon. On the 16 th , the French attacked Wellington at Quatre Bras and also Blucher at Ligne. Napoleon bloodied both forces but decided not to destroy them. On 17 th , Wellington retreated to the slopes of Mont St Jean near the village of Waterloo of which Napoleon&rsquos forces followed them. Unfortunately he assumed that the Prussians had retreated towards Germany but actually they had moved north. This marked the end of preliminary fight and the ushering in of the major contest between the forces.
In the morning, after a wet night, different sets of forces comprising about 70,000 men attacked each other in approximately 1000 yards distance between them. The battle field was rectangular, three miles long from east to west and about one and a half miles deep from north to south. Each end was obscured by woods and villages. The French forces were on the south while to the north were the Wellingtons, though they were also present in several fortified farmhouses like Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. The battlefield had some fairly undulating landscape that was punctuated with cornfields. Wellington knew that the Prussians were off to the east though Napoleon wasn&rsquot. His strategies were centralized around holding the French off and wait for the Prussians to arrive and attack the French forces on the right flank. He positioned his troops on the ridge in order to protect them from the artillery and hide their numbers. On the other side, Napoleon&rsquos strategy and plan was more of a frontal one, assaulting right through the Allied lines.
Each army had a set of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The foot soldiers (infantry) were mainly armed and equipped with muskets these guns proved to be inaccurate over ten yards and consequently had to fired in co-ordinated volleys. Once closer to the enemies&rsquo camp, they used bayonets. The artillery&rsquos main weapon was the cannonball which actually flew through the air and bounced, tearing anything and anyone in its way. The other battalion was composed of the horse cavalry which fought with sabres and lances. In spite of the uniforms that were colored, the existence of flags and bands, the war and combat at waterloo was very brutal and bloody. The battle itself had to be segmented into phases totaling to about five phases. The initial phase surprised many given that napoleon did not attack at dawn as was widely anticipated. So many ideas were formed into why he did not strike perhaps illness, the desire to let mud dry up given that it had rained, the case of hemorrhoids that eventually affected his judgment. Eventually the battle kicked off at around 11.30am after the firing of the Hougoumont farmhouse by the French forces. The realization by Napoleon that the Prussian was actually much closer than he had thought prompted the start of the second phase. He had to now battle both proper timing and wellington on the other side. He decided to launch an assault to the Allied right wing where approximately sixteen thousand troops marched for the assault but they were met with fierce counter-attack from the British 5 th Division. This attack boosted the morale of the British units and also helped in filling the gaps in the Anglo-Allied lines that had been caused by the high number of casualties from the time of infantry formation. The attack itself proved to be costly at the long run for the Anglo-Allied forces. The rendered service proved to be costly too, given that there was close combat with the French cavalry, infant musketry and the carbine fire. At some point the French forces hesitated and this gave the Allied Cavalry that included the famous Scots Grays chance to charge the French infantry which eventually broke down and ran.
After some time the third phase began at around 4pm when napoleon attacked the other Allied strongholds like the La Haye Sainte. Due to some error and confusion, the French cavalry that was now heavily armed the charged towards the center of the Allied line. The French cavalry went round for close to two hours with bayonets but were eventually kept at bay and the Prussians arrived from the east. Around this time, the French had captured La Haye Sainte and this prompted the beginning of the fourth phase as Napoleon pushed artillery up to the Allied right and attacked them. This was the whole drama of the battle of the Waterloo. In the fifth phase he sent his elite troops towards the unwavering Allied line. They were surprised to find the British 1 st Foot Guards and this eventually killed the last card of Napoleon and he eventually fled signaling the end of the battle of Waterloo. This marked the end of Napoleon Empire and the beginning and eventual expansion of the British Empire, and the actual start of the period of arch conservatism.
At the Battle of Waterloo, why did the French army throw so many troops into the fight for Hougoumont? - History
By Eric Niderost
In the early morning of June 16, 1815, the city of Brussels awoke to the shriek of bagpipes and the throbbing tattoo of drums. The Anglo-Dutch army under Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was assembling to combat French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s lightning invasion of Belgium. As the red-coated British soldiers got into ranks, Brussels citizens looked on with growing excitement. Even stolid Belgian peasants bringing in vegetables from outlying farms could not help but stop their wagons and gaze in awe.
Lieutenant Colonel Basil Jackson of the Royal Staff Corps had returned to Brussels about 4 am after delivering a dispatch to Wellington’s cavalry headquarters 15 miles away. Jackson rode down the Rue de la Madeleine at a leisurely pace until he came to the city’s magnificent Place Royale. There was a park nearby, and the noise of gathering soldiers stirred the colonel’s curiosity. His timing was perfect. At just that moment, General Sir Thomas Picton was reviewing his 5th Division. After the review, they would leave the city via the Porte de Namur gate.
Jackson drew rein, watched for a moment, then relocated outside the Hotel Bellevue to watch the division march past. The colonel recalled how fine the green-coated 94th Rifles and 28th Foot looked. But it was the Scottish Highlanders who made the most indelible impression. The 42nd Highlanders, celebrated in song and story as the Black Watch, came first, followed by the 79th Cameron Highlanders and the 92nd Gordons. To Jackson, the Scots embodied all the “pomp and circumstance of glorious war.”
The tough Highlanders were wearing their trademark kilts as they trudged through Brussels’ cobblestone streets. They did not wear sporrans, their distinctive goat’s hair purses, because sporrans were not allowed on active campaign. But diced “hummel” bonnets were perched on every head, festooned with black ostrich feathers. Jackson marveled that the 42nd Highlanders marched so steadily that the plumes of their bonnets scarcely vibrated as they stepped.
The Rebellious Highlanders
The Scots had a long history in the British Army. The 1st Regiment of Foot, or Royal Scots, was the oldest regiment in the king’s forces, with origins dating back to the 1630s. In fact, the 1st Foot had such seniority that it was nicknamed “Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard.” But Scottish Highlanders were quite a different matter. Fierce, independent, and tough as the land that bred them, the Highlanders were loyal only to their clan chiefs. And all too often, the clan chiefs were loyal to the exiled Stuart dynasty. In 1715, there was an abortive uprising in Scotland to restore James, the Old Pretender, to the British throne.
The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, the Black Watch, in camp. Enlisted men in kilts attend an officer wearing more formal trousers.
The “Fifteen,” as it was called, failed, but in 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart, son of the Old Pretender, landed in Scotland, raised his standard, and called out the Highland clans again. Not all responded to his summons, but for a few months Charles—later celebrated in song and legend as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”—enjoyed spectacular success. Skirling bagpipes and the wild “Highland charge,” with claymore swords glittering in the sun, became known and feared throughout England.
The 1745 rising ended in defeat on the wind-swept, boggy fields of Culloden, where the Highlanders were slaughtered by massed musketry and cannon fire. Medieval weapons could not stand up to modern guns, even when wielded with strength and courage. The very name “Highlander” became associated with rebellion and treason. For a time, even the Highlanders’ kilts and bagpipes were outlawed.
The Highlanders Fight For Britain
Six years before Bonnie Prince Charlie, a Scottish regiment was formed that would give Highland soldiers a place in the regular British establishment. The 43rd Regiment of Foot—later renumbered the 42nd Highlanders—would become the famous Black Watch. By contrast, the 92nd Foot (Gordon Highlanders) was raised by Alexander, Duke of Gordon, as a patriotic gesture in 1794. Great Britain was just beginning its long struggle with France, and regiments were being raised all over Britain. Gordon took his first recruits from his own estates at Badenoch, Lochaber, and Strathspey, with a good portion hailing from Aberdeen.
After a time, the duke was having trouble filling the ranks. The year before, many men from his estates had joined the Gordon Fencibles, and finding new recruits was not easy. But Jean, Duchess of Gordon, came to the rescue. A handsome woman, she also had several beautiful grown daughters. They traveled throughout Scotland, going to fairs where men were certain to gather. Bedecked in regimental coats and feathered headdresses, the bevy of aristocratic beauties offered the equivalent of one day’s pay and a kiss for men who came forward and enlisted. The Gordon Highlanders soon had 1,000 men in the ranks.
The 79th Regiment of Foot (Cameron Highlanders) was founded by Alan Cameron of Erracht in 1793. Originally, most of his men came from the area around Inverness, but as the war against Revolutionary France turned into the Napoleonic wars, Cameron took in lowlanders as well. All the regiments had to compromise because as the war went on there were the inevitable losses to battle and disease.
As the Napoleonic wars dragged on, more Highland regiments were raised, including the 78th Rosshire, 97th Strathspey, 98th (later 91st) Argyllshire, and the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. In the early days, a Highlander joined a regiment in part to serve his clan chief. But with the inevitable dilution of real Highlanders in the ranks, bounties were offered to attract recruits. As a result, Highland regiments had not only Highlanders but lowlanders, English, Welsh, and even Irish members. Some regiments had a higher proportion of real Highlanders than others, but the main qualification was that a man act like a Highlander—brave, loyal, and resourceful in battle. Those attributes would serve them well in the coming days.
“Napoleon Has Humbugged Me, by God!”
Ahead of Wellington’s army lay Quatre Bras, a small but strategically located hamlet where two major roads crossed, the Charleroi-Brussels and Nivelles-Sombreffe thoroughfares. The intersection gave the village its name. (Quatre Bras means “four arms” in French.) A few hours earlier, Wellington had issued orders for the army to concentrate there. Much depended on his Prussian allies under Field Marshal Gebhard von Blucher, who were operating farther to the east. Wellington was anything but confident of Blucher’s abilities. “We shall not stop him there,” said Wellington of Napoleon, “and if so, we’ll fight him here.” The duke put his thumb on a map position marked “Waterloo.”
Napoleon’s plan for the 1815 campaign showed that he had lost none of his strategic brilliance. He concentrated his Armee du Nord, around 123,000 men, on the Franco-Belgian border just south of the junction point of Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army and Blucher’s Army of the Lower Rhine. If all went well, the French would smash through the thin screen of pickets and drive a wedge between the two Allied armies before they could unite. It was in keeping with Napoleon’s celebrated catchphrase, “Toujours l’audace [Audacity always].”
Once he gained momentum, Napoleon hoped to defeat Wellington or Blucher—his plan was still flexible—before pouncing on whichever one remained. Wellington was slow at first to realize what the French were doing. The duke was worried about his right flank and the line of communications that stretched to the seacoast and ultimately back to Britain. He was so concerned, in fact, that he had left 17,000 men at Hal to guard against a French move in that area.
But Wellington quickly took stock of the situation. “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God!” he exclaimed when the facts became clear. “He gained 24 hours’ march on me!” That was why Picton’s 5th Division, which included the Highland regiments, found itself trudging south toward Quatre Bras. Wellington’s reputation, not Allied numbers, maintained a tenuous hold on Quatre Bras. The crossroads was held by 7,000 Dutch-Belgian troops under the local command of General Prince Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. They were opposed by the French army’s left wing under the celebrated Marshal Michel Ney, Napoleon’s “Bravest of the Brave.” Ney’s spearhead was the II Corps under General Honore Reille: 19,000 men, 3,500 cavalry, and 64 guns. General Jean Drouet, Count d’Erlon, and the I Corps were coming up from behind, adding another 20,000 men to the total.
The Battle of Quatre Bras
Ney received orders from Napoleon to occupy the crossroads and prepare to push on to Brussels. Since there was nothing in the missive to indicate urgency, the marshal let his men cook and eat breakfast first. But there was more to it than that. Ney’s usually fiery disposition was dampened by caution. There were thick woods in the area, leafy screens that easily could hide enemy troops. Fields of corn and rye stood almost as tall as a man, perfect for concealment.
Besides crops and trees, there was also a ridge behind the Nivelle road that would be perfect for a Wellington-style defense position. The Iron Duke was known to place his troops behind reverse slopes, in part to shield against French artillery fire. In the end, Ney decided to wait until more troops could come up, a decision that was seconded by Reille. The experienced Reille, who had fought in the Peninsular War, agreed that it might be a battle, as in Spain, where Wellington would conceal many of his troops until the last moment.
Because of Ney’s excessive caution, the French lost a golden opportunity. The Battle of Quatre Bras began around 2 pm, and throughout the sweltering afternoon more and more Allied units entered the fray. After a time, Wellington arrived to take command, fresh from a conference with Blucher.
The Highlanders Join the Battle
Private Dixon Vallance of the 79th “Cameron” Highlanders was one of the sturdy Celts who made the march from Brussels to Quatre Bras, some 20 miles away. The Highlanders were in fine fettle, but the weather turned hot by midday. Once a brief halt was called, Vallance took out his spare shirts—washed that morning but still wet—and placed them on the ground to dry. He then took the time to read a few Bible verses. The weary march resumed, but the pace—and Vallance’s pulse—quickened at the distant sounds of battle.
Scottish Highlanders advance through the heavy woods at Quatre Bras. The fighting was so intense that the Cameron Highlanders in the 79th Regiment had to lie down to minimize casualties from French artillery.
The 79th was part of the 8th Brigade, commanded by General Sir James Kempt. The brigade consisted of the 28th Foot, 32nd Foot, and six companies of the green-jacketed 95th Rifles. General Sir Denis Pack headed the 9th Brigade, which included the 1st Foot (Royal Scots), 44th Foot, and two Highland regiments—the 42nd (Black Watch) and 92nd (Gordons). The battle was confusing, the situation extremely fluid. The French probed all along the Allied line, seeking a weakness to exploit. Ney seemed on the verge of a breakthrough several times only to have his hopes dashed by the arrival of fresh British troops like the Highlanders.
Private Vallance and his comrades soon found themselves under heavy French fire. Cannonballs plowed through the rye and musket balls peppered the 79th’s ranks. At one point the fire was so heavy that the regiment was ordered to lie down in the trampled rye, a move designed to minimize casualties. The 79th hunkered down, but the hail of lead and iron was still intense. A French musket ball embedded itself in Vallance’s knapsack, and another cut his belt as it streaked by. Yet, the young Scotsman was fortunate a nearby companion was hit in the forehead and killed instantly. When French infantry approached, the 79th rose as one and delivered volley after volley into the packed blue ranks. Vallance recalled, “My face, hands, and clothes and belts were bespattered with the blood of my killed and wounded companions.”
Not far away, the 42nd Highlanders also joined the battle, bagpipes sounding over the roar of cannon and musketry. The 42nd’s progress was impeded by the tall stalks of rye that grew over five feet tall. Blinded by the stalks, they could hear the sounds of battle but could not tell where the enemy might be. The swaying rye was up to the tops of the men’s bonnets. The average Highlander was muscular and compact, but not very big. The average height for a 92nd Highlander, for example, was 5 feet 6 inches tall—and some were shorter.
The sweating Black Watch managed to trample down most of the rye and found themselves on the edge of an uncultivated field. There a terrible drama played out before their eyes. Allied Belgian soldiers were on the run, pursued by French infantry. The Belgians sought safety wherever they could find it, even worming their way through the Black Watch’s kilted ranks. The French infantry, startled at the sudden emergence of Highlanders from behind a wall of rye, paused and withdrew. The Brunswick Hussars had moved forward to pursue the French only to be decimated by French volleys when they caught up with their prey. A few minutes earlier on another part of the field, gallant Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick, had been mortally wounded while trying to rally his troops.
Lancers Strike the Black Watch
The Brunswick Hussars flew past the 42nd, which was deployed in line. To many Highlanders the cavalry was just a black-clad blur of falling hooves and tall shakoes. As the mass of riders thundered past the Black Watch, the terrible truth dawned: many of the horsemen were not Brunswickers, but French lancers from General Honore Pire’s 2nd Cavalry Division, men of the 5th and 6th Chevaux-Legers-Lanciers.
Sensing an opportunity, the French lancers broke off their pursuit of the hapless Brunswickers and swung around to hit the Black Watch while it was still in line. The 42nd began to form squares, but the lancers hit the regiment before the two flank companies could close the four-rank defensive box. For several breathless moments all was chaos, with numbers of lancers penetrating the embryonic square. Lances thrust into red-jacketed bodies, but the Highlanders responded with bullets and bayonets. Horses reared and plunged and muskets flared with flame and acrid powder smoke.
The Gordon Highlanders of the 92nd Regiment charge a French position at Quatre Bras. At one point, they pursued the fleeing enemy for half a mile before stopping for breath.
Colonel Sir Robert Macara, commander of the 42nd, was killed when a lance thrust punctured his chin and drove into his brain. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Dick assumed command, but his tenure was brief. Within a few minutes he was wounded in the hip and arm and forced to relinquish command to Brevet Major George Davidson. Davidson, in turn, was mortally wounded at the end of the day.
The Black Watch was severely mauled but managed to close the square and repel the French cavalry attack with well-aimed volleys that emptied many saddles. The Scots made short work of the lancers who still remained in their square, but by then the regiment had suffered severely, with the 42nd losing about half its effective fighting strength at Quatre Bras. The Black Watch had begun the day with a little over 600 officers and men by nightfall, there were 338 survivors. The French lancers, aided by muskets and cannons had proven to be formidable foes.
Taking Cover in a Ditch
On another part of the field, the 92nd Gordon Highlanders also found themselves in the thick of the fighting. They had the misfortune of being near the actual crossroads, with their right resting at the hamlet of Quatre Bras, where they were subjected to a heavy cannonade by well-served French artillery. Wellington and his staff dismounted and placed themselves a few yards to the regiment’s left. A 92nd officer recalled how cool the duke was under fire, calmly surveying the scene and issuing orders as cannonballs plowed the ground nearby. In fact, Wellington’s presence was a mixed blessing as the French gunners plainly saw the British commander in chief and threw repeated rounds into their ranks in an effort to take him out.
The French artillery fire made the position uncomfortable, but the Camerons still were able to find humor in their predicament. One hurtling cannonball knocked off a private’s plumed bonnet. The now bareheaded Highlander seemed unhurt, although he had probably sustained a concussion. It was said that he had a wild look and that his brains were addled for a day or two after the incident. Finally, the cannon fire grew so heavy that Wellington ordered the 92nd to seek shelter in a ditch and behind an embankment by the road. The battle-savvy duke knew the difference between being brave and being foolhardy—he and his staff took shelter in the same ditch.
The 92nd as relatively safe from cannonballs, but shells were another matter. When one shell landed among the troops, fuse glowing, an officer in the regiment recalled dryly, “A ludicrous scramble took place for the honor of being undermost in the ditch.” Soon some French cuirassiers appeared on the scene, giving the Highlanders something else to think about. Wellington took command, and as the regiment rose to its feet he shouted, “Ninety-second, don’t fire until I tell you!” When he gave the command, a well-aimed volley sent the armored horsemen packing. More British units were arriving, and the Camerons welcomed them with rousing cheers. But the French were pressing hard, with two infantry columns approaching from the Charleroi road and the Bossu wood.
About 200 yards from Quatre Bras, there was a two-story house beside the Nivelles road. In the rear was a hedge that ran into a field. Not far from the 92nd’s ditch there was also a garden surrounded by a thick hedge. The French soldiers occupied the house, garden, and hedge area and poured a deadly rain of musket lead into the British position. “Now, Ninety-second,” Wellington ordered, “you must charge these two columns of infantry!” The Highlanders leapt over the ditch and ran toward the enemy positions, led by their intrepid colonel, John Cameron of Fassiefern. French fire was so heavy that the regimental color-bearer was shot through the heart and the flagstaff was shattered in six pieces by three musket balls.
As the Highlanders neared the two-story house, Cameron was struck in the groin by a musket ball fired from the second floor. Badly wounded, he lost control of his mount and pitched headlong onto the ground. The sight of their stricken commander enraged the Camerons, and once their blood was up nothing could stop them. The Highlanders took the house, seeking immediate and violent revenge for their fallen commander with bayonets and musket butts. When some nearby French soldiers refused to budge, the 92nd broke into a full-fledged bayonet charge, their progress marked by pipers playing their battle song, “Cameron’s Gathering,” over the din of battle. The blue-clad Frenchmen gave way, pursued by the Scotsmen for a full half-mile before finally being permitted to make good their escape.
The Battle of Quatre Bras was so fluid that no one knew who was winning the contest. Allied deserters, camp followers, and wounded straggled away from the battlefield, spreading defeatist rumors that grew more exaggerated with every passing mile. Captain Cavalie Mercer of G Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, was hurrying down the road to battle when he encountered some Belgian wounded. He was disgusted to note that each genuine casualty had “ten or even more attendants”—men who had obviously lost all stomach for the fight. “Monsieur!” they cried, “tout est perdu! [All is lost!].” Mercer refused to believe it. A wounded Highlander from the 92nd appeared, limping badly from a knee wound. The captain asked him if Wellington had been defeated, as these stragglers insisted. “Na, na, Sir,” the Scot reported. “It’s a damned lee [lie]!” Mercer chose to believe the Scotsman over the Belgians.
Prelude to Waterloo
The fighting ended by around 9 pm. The Battle of Quatre Bras was technically a draw, but a defeat in terms of Napoleon’s overall strategy. The crossroads had not been taken, and Wellington had merely been checked, not defeated. Some eight miles away, Napoleon had won a major but not decisive victory at Ligny over Blucher’s Prussians. And because of a series of mistakes, miscalculations, and confusing orders, General Jean Baptiste Drouet of d’Erlon’s I Corps had marched back and forth between Ligny and Quatre Bras most of the day without even firing a shot.
The Duke of Wellington tips his hat in recognition of a raised-sword salute from Scottish cavalrymen at Quatre Bras. He hoped to link up with Prussian field marshal Gebhard von Blucher the next day at Waterloo.
The next morning, June 17, both the Anglo-Allied army and its French counterpart rose, ate breakfast, and licked their wounds. The Highlanders had been decimated, but they were in good spirits because they knew they had performed well. When issued a ration of beef, the Scotsmen improvised by using French cuirassier breastplates as cooking pots. Private Vallance remembered with typical soldier’s humor, “They suited our purpose well, only we lost a little of the gravy by the holes that our bullets had made.” When some Belgians saw the Highlanders cooking steaks in the breastplates, they thought—given the Highlanders’ fierce reputation—that the Scots were grilling pieces of dead Frenchmen.
When Wellington realized Blucher had been defeated, he ordered his army to fall back a few miles to a defensive position along the ridge of Mount Saint Jean. It was here that the Battle of Waterloo was going to be fought. Napoleon, who had rigorously pursued Wellington, was confident he would win a decisive victory against the hated British.
Under Fire From the Grand Battery
The night of June 17-18, the heavens opened up, impartially drenching all soldiers in a torrential downpour. Fires were lit, but for most troops it was a miserable night. The rain was cursed by the shivering British soldiers, but in the end it proved a blessing in disguise. The precipitation had turned the ground into a sea of mud. Napoleon’s cannons—his vaunted “petite belles”—would be hard to maneuver in the soupy muck. And once the artillery did begin to fire, cannonballs would become stuck in the viscous ground and shells would fail to detonate when their fuses were extinguished.
Picton’s 5th Division, which included the Highlanders of the 8th and 9th Brigades, was sheltering behind the reverse slope of the ridge that fronted the Anglo-Allied position. A road that ran along the ridge was locally called the Chemin d’Ohain. The edge of the road was lined by thick, thorny hedges, and in a few spots the Chemin d’Ohain actually sank below the ridge line in a few places. Virtually all of Picton’s division was hidden behind the ridge’s reverse slope.
The space between was occupied by General W.F. Count van Bijlandt’s brigade from the 2nd Netherlands Infantry Division. These were green troops, about half of them militia, although they had given a good account of themselves at Quatre Bras. For some reason, Bijlandt’s luckless men had been placed on the forward slope of the ridge, which exposed them to the full fury of Napoleon’s artillery. Through no fault of their own they became the weak link. If they fell back or were overwhelmed, there would be a large, potentially fatal gap in Wellington’s defensive line.
By late morning Napoleon had assembled a “Grand Battery” of 80 guns whose main mission was to soften up the Allied line in preparation for French infantry attacks. It was a formidable array, including mammoth 12-pounders and 40 8-pounders belonging to d’Erlon’s I Corps. The bombardment commenced shortly after noon with a deafening roar that could be heard for miles. In the end it was all sound and fury—signifying nothing. The terrible noise might have frightened some young Allied soldiers or encouraged some French ones, but the bombardment failed in practical terms. Wellington’s wise use of reverse slopes, coupled with the muddy ground, effectively neutralized the Grand Battery.
About 1:30 in the afternoon, d’Erlon’s I Corps was ordered to begin the main assault against Wellington’s line. There would be four divisions, three of them massed in tightly packed, phalanx-like columns. Each battalion would have about 200 men in the front rank, with the battalions stacked up, one after another, to a depth of between 24 and 27 ranks. The I Corps first marched in files, snaking its way through the jumble of artillery horse teams, caissons, limbers, and wagons that were part of the Grand Battery. When the gun line itself was reached, the battery ceased fire. Once the corps got out into relatively open land fronting the French artillery, the men sorted themselves out and formed into their attack columns.
Ney and d’Erlon rode ahead of the columns accompanied by their staffs. The French soldiers were in fine fettle, cheerful and hungry for action. Drummer boys clutched drumsticks, beating a lively tattoo, their martial music punctuated by shouts of “En avant!” and “Vive l’empereur!” French officers promised that the emperor would reward those who advanced first.
The four columns advanced in a staggered fashion, with some columns a few minutes ahead of others. Joachim Quiot’s 1st Infantry Division stepped off to the attack. Then, in succession, came General François-Xavier Donzelot’s 2nd Division, General Pierre-Louis Marcognet’s 3rd Division, and General Joseph-Francois Durutte’s 4th Division. The massive columns lumbered forward, trampling bountiful fields full of rich crops. In some cases, the soldiers’ shoes were pulled off by the clinging mud’s powerful grasp.
Bijlandt’s brigade had been exposed to the full fury of Napoleon’s Grand Battery and suffered accordingly. When Donzelot’s division appeared, a solid wall of blue and white coming through the artificial clouds of powder smoke, Bijlandt’s men held firm, trading volleys with the French column at close range—so close that when a Belgian officer was wounded by a musket ball in the arm the paper wad from the cartridge paper was left smoking in his sleeve. Eventually, it was more than the young, inexperienced soldiers could stand. They broke and headed for the rear, although one unit, the 7th Belgian Line, stubbornly held its ground. Nevertheless, a large and exploitable gap had been torn in Wellington’s line.
The 42nd Highlanders had originally been sheltering behind the hedge that bordered the Chemin d’Ohain. They rose and advanced to the hedge but would not go through it. One Highlander explained that they were hesitant to plunge into the thorny hedge because they were barelegged under their kilts. Marcognet’s column was in the process of crossing the Chemin d’Ohain when the Frenchmen realized they were only a few yards from the Highlanders. They began to deploy but were hit by a hail of lead from the Black Watch. The column staggered but recovered and unleashed a volley that momentarily disordered the 42nd. It was much the same for the nearby 92nd Highlanders. The Gordons leveled their muskets and fired when Marcognet’s men were only about 30 feet away. The lead ranks were shredded, but the French recovered and replied with their own volleys.
Picton, commanding the British 5th Division, personally witnessed the carnage. Rough and foul-mouthed, the eccentric general was dressed in ordinary civilian clothes and a top hat. He was ordering a Scottish bayonet charge when he was hit in the head and killed by a French bullet that passed right through his top hat.
It seemed as if Napoleon’s columns, already on the crest of the ridge, were about to achieve a great breakthrough. Most of Bijlandt’s brigade had fallen back, and even Kempt’s and Pack’s sturdy Highlanders were wavering. But at precisely the right moment, General Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge, ordered the Allied cavalry to mount a charge—one of the most famous and iconic charges in British history. The Union Brigade, taking part in the celebrated advance, included units from different areas of the British Isles. There were the 1st Royal Dragoons (English), 6th Inniskilling Dragoons (Irish), and the 2nd North British Dragoons (Scots Greys). The regiments had to pass through their own infantry, advance up the muddy reverse slope, break through or jump the thorny hedges, and cross a sunken road. Under the circumstances, a brisk trot was about as fast as most could manage. The Scots Greys actually walked their horses into combat.
A depiction of the charge of the Union Brigade at Waterloo. The cavalry attack, one of the most famous in British history, foundered against Napoleon’s Grand Battery, but not before capturing an eagle standard from the French.
The pleasure of seeing their countrymen advancing on horseback was too much for the 92nd Gordons. Some Highlanders joined the attack by grabbing the stirrups of the Scots Greys troopers, the cry of “Scotland Forever!” on their lips. All along the line the Union Brigade sabered French soldiers almost at will. Some enemy soldiers surrendered, while others turned tail and fled—only to collide with files who were trying to advance. Between 2,000 and 3,000 of d’Erlon’s men were taken prisoner. Sergeant Charles Erwart of the Greys captured the eagle standard of the 45th of the Line. It was one of only two taken at Waterloo. The cavalry, always impetuous, attacked the Grand Battery. In the end, French cavalry counterattacks destroyed them as a fighting force.
The Highlanders of the 42nd and 92nd Regiments went forward, bayonets leveled at the fleeing enemy. The Black Watch still mourned their colonel, and the mood was one of revenge, not mercy. “Where’s Macara?” the kilted warriors shouted as their bayonets thrust into Frenchmen who had thrown away their weapons and tried to surrender.
The 92nd (Gordons) also had their blood up, but their fury was tempered by humanity. French infantrymen, some of them wounded, yelled “Prisoner!” or “Quarter!” when they saw the feather-bonneted Celts approach. “Well,” one Highlander was heard to say, “Go to the rear, damn ye!”
The Squares of Waterloo
It was now about 3:30 in the afternoon, and there was a brief lull in the battle, although the French cannons started firing again. Marshal Michel Ney, the celebrated “Bravest of the Brave,” was to all intents and purposes the tactical commander at Waterloo. Napoleon, obese and ill, was largely passive through much of the day. When Wellington drew back some of his troops to better defensive positions, Ney mistook the movement as a general retreat.
Hoping to turn this “retreat” into a rout, Ney ordered a cavalry attack. General Count Edouard Milhaud’s IV Reserve Cavalry Corps would spearhead his assault, eight regiments of armored cuirassiers, around 3,000 men in all. Milhaud thought it was madness because the Allied infantry was unbroken, and there would be no French infantry support. Nevertheless, orders were orders, so Milhaud asked for additional support, which was supplied in the form of light cavalry chasseurs a cheval and lancers. Altogether nearly 4,000 horsemen formed up and advanced to the sound of brassy cavalry trumpets and thundering hooves.
The Anglo-Allied army formed squares, the standard infantry defense against cavalry of the period. In each square two ranks knelt, presenting their bayonet-tipped muskets outwardly in a kind of hedgehog formation. Two other ranks stood close behind, ready to pour a steady stream of hot lead into the French ranks. The Highland regiments followed the same pattern, the bare knees of the first ranks sinking deep into the glutinous mud.
The cuirassier advance was a magnificent spectacle, a tidal wave of steel and horseflesh that impressed even the oldest veteran. Private Vallance later recalled, “They made furious attacks on us, but were often repulsed by our impregnable barrier of British steel.” Impeded by mud and a natural instinct to avoid the bayonet ramparts that circled the squares, the French horses would not charge home.
Discipline Under Artillery Fire
Determined Scots volleys emptied many saddles, and the French cavalry reluctantly withdrew. Yet this was only the first of many great cavalry charges that took place that bloody afternoon—so many that even eyewitnesses don’t agree on their number. But between cavalry attacks French artillery—some of it unlimbered horse artillery—tore into the British squares with savage impunity.
Round shot plowed into packed Highland ranks, and shells exploded all around. Some men were decapitated, while others were horribly eviscerated, or lost an arm or leg. Earlier that day, young and inexperienced Highlanders were shivering with the cold frissons of fear coursed through their bodies. Regiments like the 79th Foot had fought well since Quatre Bras, but there is a limit to human endurance, even among sturdy Celts.
General Michel Ney’s French cavalry made countless counterattacks against the British squares at Waterloo, only to be turned away by well-timed volleys from the Highland regiments.
It was clear the 79th was wavering and very near the end of its tether. Piper Kenneth MacKay decided that the regiment needed something to bolster its courage, so he stepped up and out. Mackay deliberately left the square and began playing “Cogathd na Sithd” (“War or Peace”) on his bagpipes. As his pipes sounded, Mackay proudly marched around the square, refusing to take cover even when the French cavalry attacked. The classic Gaelic tune struck a responsive chord with the men of the 79th, and the piper’s obvious contempt for death renewed their own courage. Piper MacKay stayed outside the square the rest of the day, yet emerged that evening completely unscathed.
The 92nd Gordons were ordered to move to the center of Wellington’s line, to a position just left of the main road and not far from the gravel pit near La Haye Sainte farmhouse. The French had taken La Haye Sainte, and now the Anglo-Allied line was in jeopardy. With the center almost fatally weakened, Wellington needed every man to prevent Napoleon from achieving a breakthrough.
As the Gordons marched in column, a shell fell into their midst. Without orders, the ranks just behind the sputtering shell reversed direction, walked out of range, and then paused until the missile detonated. They then rejoined the rest of the column. It was an example of how disciplined the Highlanders were even after the severe strains of battle.
Final Defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte
By early evening Napoleon was ready for his last throw of the dice, ordering his legendary Imperial Guard grenadiers and chasseurs to advance on Wellington’s position. The Guard went forward with its usual élan, but its progress was blunted by steady British volleys. It was around this time that Sergeant David Robertson of the 92nd Highlanders was told by a Scottish skirmisher that “something extraordinary” was going on in the enemy ranks.
Robertson trained a telescope on the French lines—only to see what appeared to be two groups of blue-clad troops firing at each other. Did part of the French army mutiny? Just then, an aide-de-camp galloped up with welcome news—those “mutineers” were actually Prussians. Marshal Blucher had finally arrived in force.
Dirty and disheveled, numb with battle fatigue and general weariness, Robertson could scarcely believe his ears. He later commented, “Never was reprieve more welcomed to a death-doomed criminal.” Probably most of Wellington’s troops would have echoed his sentiments. This was more than a reprieve—it was victory.
Wellington waved his hat, a signal for a general advance. The Anglo-Allied army went forward, including what remained of the Scots in the 5th Division. Private Vallance, so lucky through most of the campaign, was hit by a musket ball in the cheek, a wound that also tore out his right eye. Stunned and in great pain, he fell to the ground.
After a long night on the corpse-strewn field, the young Scot finally received first aid. He survived and was discharged in 1816 with a pension of nine pence a day. Individual soldiers like Vallance soon faded into obscurity, but as the years passed the overall Scots contribution to the Waterloo campaign was well remembered in histories and commemorated in art. It is a story that still resonates today.
At the Battle of Waterloo, why did the French army throw so many troops into the fight for Hougoumont? - History
Waterloo. A name we have all heard at least once but why ? Why is it so famous ? How Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the best military strategist who existed, could have been beaten ?
Did British forces manage on their own to beat down the most feared and powerful army in the world at that era ? Time has come to hear muskets and guns sounds once again !
Yet ! To understand Waterloo, we have to begin with Napoleon’s background.
For 10 years, Napoleon Bonaparte has dominated Europe, under his military genius, France set up one the biggest empires through History, still, he was defeated by the seventh coalition led by his enemies and exiled on the island of Elba, no sooner had Napoleon returned than he overthrew the government in place, however, news gave out quickly and soon all major European countries rose their armies once again to oppose to
Napoleon, as a consequence, the French emperor had to react rapidly, his plan was to crush both British and Prussian armies which were the nearest to him, by doing so, the coalition would be severely weakened thereby the french emperor would be in a position of strength to negotiate peace. Here’s how things happened :
On the 15th of June 1815, Napoleon’s army invades the kingdom of Netherlands where are camping his opponents, Emperor’s forces are a match for either Coalition army on its own but he’ll be heavily outnumbered if they’re able to join forces, consequently, he must keep them apart, and defeat each in turn. He first targets the British army, under the command of Duke Wellington, by sending his army left wing under Marshal Ney to clash with the Duke’s army who repels the French attacks waves after waves, they just succeeds in holding their position. Meanwhile, Napoleon with his main force, attacks Prince Blücher’s prussian army, heralding the battle of Ligny where the French are victorious, contriving Blücher to withdraw, then Napoleon chooses to divide his main force in two so as to keep repulsing the Prussians and helping Ney’s forces to get rid of the British army, Wellington doesn’t know about Blücher’s defeat so he decides to retreat
in the village of Waterloo which gifts of defensive terrains to him, yet, even though he’s army is equal in size, many of his troops have never seen combat before unlike French veteran troops.
On Sunday, the 18th of June 1815, around 11am, the battle of Waterloo begins, radiant sun and clear sky are in, Napoleon orders his left side to thrust forward with the sole purpose to wipe out the elite British forces whom entrenched themselves into fortified houses, hoping that Wellington will commit his reserves over there, making vulnerable his army centre where the main blow would fall, but he doesn’t. At 1.30pm, after ordering his canons to fire down on British infantry lines, Napoleon sends his main force to take on Wellington’s one but they are received by heavy rank fires and a charge of cavalry, forcing them to back up, yet, British cavalry charges too far and Napoleon, seeing the opportunity, orders his own cavalry to counter-charged, destroying the whole British cavalry. Around 4pm, Marshal Ney thinks the British are beating a retreat, consequently, he leads a massive cavalry charge but he’s wrong, British have strengthened their grounds and have formed a square formation, still the French veteran cavaliers manage to inflict heavy losses as well as getting out of this trap alive, in the meantime, Prussian army has finally succeeded in escaping from the French marshal Grouchy. What Napoleon wanted to avoid has happened ! Both armies have joined forces and French army is now flanked on its right wing. Nevertheless, British army is also in despair as around 6pm, French troops achieved capturing the fortified houses allowing them to settle their artillery, which wreaked havocs amongst the British squares as they couldn’t miss those closely-packed formations, Wellington’s situation is very bad and Napoleon knows he can’t deal with both armies and he’s lacking of men to throw against the Duke due to Blücher’s arrival, thus, at 7pm, he sends the most feared troops in Europe, the Elite Imperial Guard, Wellington asks to his redcoats to rise to meet them, after an intense fight, the redcoats finally won out over Napoleon’s elite troops, heralding the French army flight, only the Elite Imperial Guard stayed on the battlefield, forming a last defensive line, they all died in their glory.
“The guard dies but doesn’t surrender”
General Cambronne, Commander of the Elite Imperial Guard
SCOTS GREYS AT WATERLOO
The Duke of Wellington was never pleased with his cavalry. In Spain he condemned them for “charging at everything”, getting cut up in the process or finding themselves on a distant part of the battlefield, horses blown, at the very moment they were needed elsewhere: “They never consider the situation, never think of manoeuvring before an enemy and never keep back or provide a reserve.” So at Waterloo the Iron Duke intended to keep the mounted arm on a tight rein.
It was, after all, the first time he would actually face Napoleon in the field, and the situation was not auspicious. He had been taken by surprise. He famously learnt of the sudden appearance of the French on the border with the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on 15 June. “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God!” The following day his Prussian allies were worsted at Ligny. Hs own troops, rushed forward to nearby Quatre Bras, were badly mauled. He was on the back foot.
But his capacity to anticipate setbacks paid dividends. Some weeks earlier he had chosen a piece of ground on which to make a stand if the French were to come. The ridge of Mont St Jean, a mile south of the village of Waterloo athwart the main road from Charleroi to Brussels. The ridge ran north-east to south-west for about three miles, two-thirds of which Wellington was able to occupy with infantry and artillery. To support these he would post two brigades of light cavalry on the left (east) flank and three on the right. Two brigades of heavy cavalry, including the Scots Greys or, as they were then more properly known, the 2nd Royal (North British) Dragoons, would be in the centre. And to each of the cavalry brigadiers, as well as to the Earl of Uxbridge (later Marquess of Anglesey), the commander of the Allied cavalry and his second in command, Wellington gave strict instructions not to leave their positions without his express order.
The Duke was essentially a general who preferred to choose his ground, make the enemy attack him and then use the superior musketry of his infantry to defeat them. He intended Waterloo to be just such a battle. In addition, for the first time he had the benefit of a strong force of heavy cavalry inclusing the Scots Greys – bigger men, bigger swords, bigger horses – to counter the French heavy cavalry or break up an assault that threatened to overwhelm his infantry. And, indeed, the charge of these two brigades, best known perhaps for Lady (Elizabeth) Butler’s 1881 painting Scotland Forever! depicting the Scots Greys galloping wildly at the French, would be one of the critical actions of the battle, even, some argue, its turning point.
Was the charge of the Scots Greys the turning point of the Battle of Waterloo?
Napoleon Bonaparte left his signature in the 19th century. Few commanders since and before have fought and won as many battles and wars under different conditions as Napoleon. At the time, Napoleon Bonaparte did no man alive thought it was possible: conquering almost all of Europe. Napoleon was a short guy, and was always stressed with his height (allegedly wearing shoes that make him higher). However, what he lacked in physical appearance, Napoleon more than made up in brilliance, genius and military tactics. Once it became evident that General Bonaparte wanted to conquer all of Europe and make it entirely French, the most powerful countries forged an alliance against him. The alliance included the British, as well as Austria, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and many other smaller countries. Napoleon’s understanding of war, mass warfare and raising armies completely changed and revolutionized the modern warfare. However, as every great General, he made one mistake that cost him the war.
Modernization of the army
One of the biggest reasons why Napoleon was so successful was the modernization of his French army. He owed a great part of his success to modernization of artillery tactics. Before Napoleon, the cannon had been used as a support for the infantry. The cannon served as a supporting fire, but Napoleon completely changed the cannon’s role. He used cannons as an own attack unit that is fairly mobile. Bonaparte’s mobile attack units struck in small group of up to 20 cannons. After firing for 30 minutes, Napoleon displaced and moved his cannons to another position on the field. That kind of mobility is what helped the General have success on the battlefield.
Aside from modernization of the army, a huge aspect of his success was his brilliant mind, tactics and genius on the battlefield. Before the battle, the General considered all the possible options in his mind. He identified a clear objective: destroy the enemy’s army. Whenever enemies tried to escape from battle, Napoleon dragged them into the battlefield with a threat to the capital city of the enemy. Whenever Napoleon was outnumbered, he managed to maneuver and with swift marching to throw all of his army into a portion of the enemy’s army. That enabled Napoleon to be stronger in the decisive points of the battle. During battles, Napoleon never depended on his big army to win the battle. Instead, he relied heavily on speed, aggressive maneuver and mass to win.
Napoleon developed two strategic systems. The first one was used when facing a superior enemy by the numbers. In this case, his strategy was to split the enemy into separate parts, focusing on the central position. Once he managed to split the central position, Napoleon used swift maneuvering to destroy one wing at a time. When Napoleon was superior in numbers, he managed to trick the opponent and pin his attention with a detachment of the army. The bulk of Napoleon’s army then marched towards the hostile lines of communication. Sometimes, Bonaparte merged the two strategies.
One formation that Napoleon frequently used was the “battalion square”. He often used different combinations of the formation, but the essence remained the same: light cavalry riding ahead and locating the enemy. After the cavalry located the enemy, it reported back to Napoleon. Then, the General ordered one of his wings, or sometimes both wings to engage the nearest force the enemy has placed on the ground. He always had reserves in his sleeve, made out of heavy cavalry and Imperial Guards. All of the troops in the formation marched in a close distance of one another, enabling them to support different formations at any given moment.
Napoleon’s dilemma and mistake
Both Napoleon and Wellington knew that the wild card of the battle is Blucher’s Prussian Army. Napoleon knew that he will have troubles defeating both the British and the Prussians. Wellington knew as well, that if the Prussian Army does not come to rescue them, they will be defeated.
But Napoleon was faced with a dilemma and forced to make a tough decision. Two days before Waterloo, Napoleon won another battle. But his cavalry and infantry were tired, and the night before the battle, there was rain. Napoleon was faced with a decision to wade his army through mud and tire them during the early stage of the battle, or wait another day for the ground to try out. Waiting one more day meant risking Prussian reinforcement for the British Army.
In hindsight, his decision to wait was what cost him the battle, and the War eventually. After Waterloo, Napoleon never managed to regroup, as the defeat signaled the end of his era.
Today, many experts believe that Bonaparte lost the edge with the return to Europe after unsuccessful invasion of Russia. The second mistake, and the crucial one was waiting too long in the morning of June 18, 1815. Had Napoleon Bonaparte marched an attack earlier in the morning, the Prussian army would not have made it to the battleground. The 50,000 men under the command of Marshal Blucher turned the tides during the battle. While Napoleon nearly broke through the enemy lines, he was defeated at the end.
The Battle of Waterloo
The Battle was fought on Sunday, June 18th in 1815. The battle was fought near Waterloo, a municipality in present day Belgium. At the time, Waterloo was part of the Netherlands. The battle was fought between the French Army commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte, and the allied armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher. Wellington commanded the British Army, while Blucher came to help with reinforcements from the Prussian Army.
Two days before the battle, Napoleon defeated Blucher at the Battle of Ligny. He couldn’t destroy the Prussian Army, and continued to march towards Waterloo. At the beginning of the Battle, Napoleon had 72,000 soldiers under his command, while the British Army under Wellington accounted for 68,000 soldiers. But the tides were turned after the Prussian Army of 50,000 soldiers came to the rescue.
Before the Battle, Wellington and Napoleon positioned themselves on opposite sides. Wellington positioned his army at a Waterloo inn, and Napoleon was three miles south from the inn. The men slept out as rain was falling through the night. Napoleon was confident he can defeat Wellington before the Prussian reinforcements come to the rescue.
At 9 in the morning, both commanders made their first tactical move. Wellington established a defensive position, determined to hold ground and block the road to Brussels while he waits for reinforcement. Napoleon was waiting for the ground to dry out.
At 11:30, Napoleon began the battle with an Attack on Hougoumont. The French Army outnumbered the Allied army 5,000 to 1,500. Hougoumont was the best defended garrison of Wellington. Napoleon was attacking the point all day, and his army broke open the gates at 12:30. However, the British army quickly closed the French.
While Wellington was defending Hougoumont, Napoleon used his tactic to split the enemy’s troops. He seized the opportunity and launched an attack to the center. An army of 18,000 infantry took the farm of Papelpotte and the area around La Haye Sainte. However, at this time, Napoleon spotted a movement in the east side of the battlefield and ordered his cavalry to investigate.
At 14:20, Wellington spotted the Prussian Army, but knew he has to hold ground for more than several hours. In a desperate move, he sent reinforcement to the La Haye Sainte and drove back the French Army. While Napoleon’s men were advancing towards the center of the British line, the British Cavalry hit the French infantry and sliced through the soldiers. Both Napoleon and Wellington suffered in the attack, as the French line was weakened, but the British left flank was damaged as well. That left Wellington in a tough position, unable to launch an attack before he gets reinforcement.
At 15:30, the Prussian Army made it to the battlefield. While they couldn’t break to the main battle, they managed to attack Napoleon’s army at the Plancenoit, a village located east of the battlefield. The Prussians forced Napoleon to send troops there, and start fighting on two fronts. Napoleon was stretched, fighting on both the west and east side.
At 16:00, Napoleon decided to focus his attention to the central stronghold, the La Haye Sainte. For two hours, the French army was launching attacks on the stronghold.
At 18:15, Napoleon finally seized La Haye Sainte. This enabled Napoleon to bring his artillery and attack the Allied centre. At 19:00, Napoleon sent his army across the field, marching between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte.
When the French Army advanced and reached the ridge at 19:15, Wellington gave the order to stand firm and fire. Firing at point blank range, Wellington forced the French army back. With Blucher’s army arriving, the Allied Army managed to march an attack. The arrival of the Prussians turned the tide, and Napoleon was defeated.
Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles – Book Review
Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. Bernard Cornwell. Harper, 2014. 342 pages of text, 38 pages of illustrations (many in color), 12 maps, and 4 pages of bibliography. Hardback. $35.00.
June 2015 marks the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo. A very readable version of the campaign and battle is Bernard Cornwell’s Waterloo. Cornwell wrote this book because “The battles of 16 June and 18 June 1815 make for a magnificent story. History is rarely kind to historical novelists by proving a neat plot with great characters who act within a defined time-period, so we are forced to manipulate history to make our own plots work. Yet when I wrote Sharpe’s Waterloo my plot almost entirely vanished to be taken over by the great story of the battle itself. Because it is a great story, not only in its combatants but in its shape. It is a cliffhanger. No matter how often I read accounts of that day, the ending is full of suspense. The undefeated Imperial Guard climbs the ridge to where Wellington’s battered forces are almost at the breaking the point. Off to the east the Prussians are clawing at Napoleon’s right, but if the Guard can break Wellington’s men then Napoleon still has time to turn against Blücher’s arriving troops. It is almost the longest day of the year, there are two hours of daylight left and time enough for one or even two armies to be destroyed. We might know how it ends, but like all good stories it bears repetition.”
Each of the twelve chapters starts with a map showing the area being described in the chapter. I really appreciated the clarity and appropriate level of detail in the map. Every place mentioned in the chapter can be found on one of the chapter maps, which is too often a rarity even with military history books.
Each chapter focuses on what happened for a specific time period, shifting the point-of-view between the three forces and especially the four leaders: Napoleon, Wellington, Blücher and his chief of staff, Gneisenau. The chapter titles make more sense after you read the chapter. For example the 6th chapter is entitled “A cannon ball came from the Lord knows where and took the head off our right-hand man”. That chapter describes the evening before and the early morning of the Waterloo battle with that phrase in one of the descriptions of the fighting.
Chapter 1 starts with a bored Napoleon in exile at Elba, angry over the French king Louis XVIII’s broken promises. When the British Commissioner watching Napoleon left with his blockading force to visit his mistress in Italy, Napoleon sailed for France, taking with him his 1,000 troops including the old Imperial Guard and Polish lancers. Cornwell takes this well-known story, enriching it with details such as the information that the British Embassy in Paris used to belong to Napoleon’s sister or that violets representing the emperor spreading throughout Paris in the color of women’s dresses. A French newspaper described Napoleon’s return to France and journey to Paris:
The Tiger has left his den.
The Ogre has been three days at sea.
The Wretch has landed at Fréjus.
The Buzzard has reached Antibes.
The Invader has arrived at Grenoble.
The Tyrant has entered Lyon.
The Usurper has been glimpsed fifty miles from Paris.
Tomorrow Napoleon will be at our gates!
The Emperor will proceed to the Tuileries today.
His Imperial Majesty will address his loyal subjects tomorrow.
Chapter 2 covers Napoleon stealing a march on Wellington and the confusion over where Napoleon is really headed. Wellington had concerns that Napoleon would head west and cut him off from the sea. The British and Prussians had to spread out over 100 miles, because they had to avoid exhausting the local supplies and because the allied intelligence was blinded by Napoleon closing the borders. It didn’t help the allies that “the local population, all French-speaking, was either sympathetic to Napoleon or sullenly apathetic.”
An unusual aspect of the campaign was that “officially, the allies were not at war with France, only with Bonaparte.” This had the unexpected consequence of prohibiting allied scouting parties from entering French territory, adding to the allies uncertainty to what Napoleon was doing.
The battles of Ligny and Quatre-Bras are covered in chapters 3 through 5, from the morning of June 16 through the afternoon then evening.
Napoleon had decided to focus on the Prussians at Ligny, with Marshal Ney being sent to secure Quatre-Bras to prevent the British from reinforcing the Prussians. Quatre-Bras ended up being a story of missed opportunities for the French as Ney did nothing for a long time then moved too little, too late. Cornwell says Ney “could have captured the crossroads any time that morning with little effort … Ney knew he was facing the British-Dutch army that was commanded by the Duke of Wellington … He had been at Busaco in 1810 when 65,000 French troops had attacked Wellington’s 50,000 and been bloodily repulsed … Ney, south of the crossroads, could not see what awaited him at Quatre-Bras … His experience in Spain, and his knowledge that he faced Wellington, could well have convinced him that the innocent-looking landscape actually concealed the whole of the British-Dutch army. This was a moment when Wellington’s reputation served him well.”
While Ney waited, a small force of Nassau troops from Wellington’s army, disobeyed orders to march to Nivelles to protect the British army’s route to the sea and instead marched east to Quartre-Bras, closer to the Prussians. By the time the French started moving, they had to fight instead of marching into an empty town. The Nassau troops held off the slow French attack, giving Wellington time to concentrate more of his army there.
In the meantime, Wellington met with Blücher near Ligny and said he would send troops if he wasn’t attacked at Quartre-Bras.
Ney finally did attack, but only after Wellington gathered a large part of his army at Quatre-Bras.
At Ligny Napoleon, though outnumbered (58,000 French soldiers vs. 76,000 Prussian soldiers) “was not dismayed at the disparity of numbers … the Emperor had troops in reserve, primarily a strong Corps of 22,000 men under the command of Count d’Erlon,”… and “Napoleon also fully expected that Ney’s massive force would fall like a hammer on the Prussian right.” Unexpectedly, neither reserve would take part at Ligny because of Ney.
The rest of the book, chapters 6 through 12, detail the events at Waterloo and Wavre on June 18.
Cornwell brings up an interesting “what if” with what happened the morning of June 17, right after the battles of Quatre-Bras and Ligny.
“Then [around 2am] Napoleon heard that Wellington’s army … was still at Quatre-Bras … (H)e saw his opportunity and sent orders for Ney to hold Wellington in place while the Emperor brought 69,000 men to fall on the Duke’s exposed left flank. Meanwhile Napoleon detached a quarter of his army … under Marshal Grouchy, and ordered them to pursue the Prussians.
This was the morning when Napoleon could have won the campaign. He had Ney’s men close to Wellington and the rest of his army within an hour’s march of the British-Dutch forces. If Napoleon attacked at dawn Wellington would surely be doomed, but the Emperor had let the morning go to waste, and when he did reach Quatre-Bras in the early afternoon he found the last units of the British-Dutch army just leaving, undisturbed by Ney’s troops, who were cooking meals in their bivouacs.”
Napoleon and Ney both were slow to act at many times during the campaign, passing up opportunities for victory. The downpour during the evening through to the morning of the 18th did little to make the French speed up their pursuits of the British-Dutch and Prussian armies. In fact, Grouchy lost contact with the Prussians and did not know which way they went.
The battle started with the attack at Hougoumont, led by Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme. “Relations between the two were often fraught, because Jérôme was a spendthrift wastrel. He was thirty-one years old in 1815, but his troubles with his brother began much earlier when, aged nineteen, he had met and married an American, Elizabeth Patterson from Baltimore. The marriage drove Napoleon into a fury. He needed his siblings to marry for dynastic reasons, not for something as trivial as love, and so he forbade Elizabeth to enter France and insisted his brother divorce her.”
Even with animosity between them, Napoleon appointed Jérôme “the leadership of the largest division of infantry … Now Jérôme had something to prove. He wanted to show his brother that he was not base, cowardly and spoiled by stupidity and, ordered to attack Hougoumont, he was determined to capture it.
Nothing wrong with that, except … Napoleon wanted it besieged … to persuade Wellington to reinforce the château’s garrison … weakening Wellington’s line.”
The Napoleon of 1805 or even 1812, would have reigned in unruly subordinates, but the Napoleon of 1815 seemed unable or unwilling to exert himself to make Ney, Grouchy, or even Jérôme follow his orders. Consequently, once Napoleon released a commander or force, he didn’t intervene, leading to disjointed attacks. Even so, Wellington was close to defeat until the Prussians showed up, diverting French forces. This made Ney’s mishandling of the French cavalry a disaster, as the Imperial Guard was committed to attack Wellington’s center without proper reconnaissance, leading to their repulse by three of Wellington’s strongest units.
“They were on the reverse slope, so the French, marching up the slope, saw no enemy infantry. They saw the flash of gunfire from blackened cannon muzzles, saw the smoke billow thick, saw their own ranks fall as the roundshot slashed through, and as they got closer the gunners switched to double-shot, loading canister over roundshot, and the carnage got worse, but it was never enough to stop the Guard. They were the Immortals and they were marching to destiny.
“It is strange that this climatic clash between the Imperial Guard and Wellington’s infantry is still wrapped in mystery…The fight that ensued is one of history’s most famous passage of arms, we have eyewitness accounts, thousands of men took part and many retold their experiences, yet still we do not know exactly what happened. There is even disagreement about who should take the victor’s honours, yet perhaps none of that is surprising. No one on either side was taking notes … And the men who were there, the men who made history, could only see a few yards around them, and what they saw was obscured by thick smoke, and their ears were assailed by the buzz of musket balls, the crash of cannons firing, the cries of the wounded, the clamour of officers and sergeants shouting, the explosions of shells, the incessant hammering of musket volleys, the pounding of more distant guns, the drums beating and trumpets screaming.”
The confusion extended to which force the British were facing: “the whole (British) Brigade of Guards (believed), that they faced the Grenadiers of the [French] Middle Guard, when in truth they were facing the Chasseurs of the Guard, and that mistake is why to this day (the British army has) a regiment called the Grenadier Guards. The 1st Foot Guards were honoured with the name of their enemy …
“And when they [the French Imperial Guard] broke, so did the hopes of France … The morale of the French troops collapsed, panic set in, men saw the undefeated Guard fleeing in defeat and they fled too. Even Napoleon admitted it.”
Cornwell wrote at the end of the book that “It is impossible to tell the story of a battle, because there are too many stories woven together and no one can unpick the strands.” And yet, he did a good job at doing the impossible in telling the story of the Waterloo campaign.
This a good book for someone who is not familiar with Napoleonic battles, because Cornwell provides good introductory explanations on formations, tactics, and personalities, such as this explanation of how a column works.
“(T)he preferred method of advancing men across open country was to form a column. That is a slightly misleading term, suggesting a long thin block of men advancing like a spear shaft towards the enemy line. In fact the column was short and squat. A French battalion of around 500 men arrayed in column … might have a frontage of one or two companies. If the 30th of the Line closed on Ligny in a column just one company wide, then the Prussian defenders would have seen thirty men in the French front rank, and seventeen other ranks behind them….
“The column had three advantages over the line. It was much easier to manoeuvre over rough ground, it was much less vulnerable to cavalry because there is no weak point that can be overwhelmed, and the very density of the formation was good for morale … Half-trained men could be marched into battle easily, and enemies were often over-awed by the sheer size of the attacking columns …
“Yet if the column was psychologically powerful it also had two weaknesses. A column was desperately vulnerable to cannon fire, and only the men in the outer two ranks and files could use their muskets … fewer than a quarter can shoot their muskets. If they are approaching a line then they will be massively outgunned, because every man in the line can fire.”
While Cornwell is British, he does give the French their due, as in his description of the medical services. “The French tended their wounded far better than their enemies, or at least attempted to, mainly through the influence of Dominique Jean Larrey, Chief Surgeon to the Imperial Guard. Larrey realized that treating men as soon as possible after they are wounded produced far better results than leaving them to suffer, and so he invented the ‘flying ambulance,’ a lightweight vehicle, well-sprung, with a swiveling front axle to make it manoeuvable on a battlefield crowed with corpses and wreckage, and with a floor which could be rolled out of the rear to make an operating table or help load the wounded.”
This is a very readable book on the campaign and the three battles. I recommend this book for everyone who has an interest Waterloo, especially if you enjoyed Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Rifles or Saxon Tales books.
Steven M. Smith has been an Armchair General contributor since 2010. He has a life-long interest in history especially the Napoleonic and Victorian periods. He was the owner of The Simulation Corner gaming retail outlet in Morgantown, West Virginia, until 1983. He is currently a member of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society and works for Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, Maryland.