Battle of Waterloo
For 26 years, Napoleon Bonaparte , destabilised Europe. He was the bête noire noir of the early 19th Century, the agent provocateur of Western Europe. An Allied victory at Waterloo stopped all that; Napoleon was exiled on the British garrisoned island of Saint Helena. Napoleon’s final years , captured poignantly by Francios-Joseph Sandmann’s portrait, were spent in the loneliness of the mid-Atlantic. How he must have regretted his failure at Waterloo.
The Battle Of Waterloo was fought just a few miles south of Brussels. The French were under the command of Napoleon himself, Michel Ney and Marshal Grouchy. Countering the vast French army was an allied coalition of British, Dutch and German forces, under the command of Wellington, and the considerable might of the Prussian Army under Gebhard Von Blücher. The French Army numbered 72,000, and was outnumbered by the combined forces of Wellington and Blücher’s forces. But while Wellington’s men – particularly the British element – were largely inexperienced soldiers, Napoleon’s French soldiers were a fierce rank of battle-hardened veterans.
In the spring of 1815, Napoleon returned to Paris and power, dethroning Louis XVIII and again rattling his sabre, strutting with imperial intent. By the summer, he was looking to drive the British back across the channel, and send the Prussians eastwards.
Waterloo was a defensive position for the Duke Of Wellington . Stationed on the Northeastern border of France, all allied guns were trained south. The Napoleonic school of war would not entertain such notions of a vast allied army invading sovereign France: Napoleon went on the attack. On June 15th 1815, Napoleon’s men when steaming through coalition forces at Charleroi, leaving the Prussians to the east and Wellington’s men to the west. Napoleon could be content with this strategic manouevre; he wanted to separate his enemy, divide them. With Ney commanding his left flank, Grouchy his right; Napoleon’s Armée du Nord formed the spine of the French thrust. Wellington was unaware until nigh-on the eve of battle, that Napoleon’s coupe de grace was still to come.
The following day, over 25,000 were dead and wounded at the Battle Of Ligny, when French and Prussian troops collided in brutal fashion. With 14,000 falling on the Prussian side, victory was Napoleon’s, the momentum France’s.
Ligny, however, did not disable the Prussians. Their strategic retreat left the French bemused, and themselves bloodied but unbroken. Desultory clashes ensued as Wellington’s men surrendered territory, stabbing northwestwards from Quatre Bas, towards the ridge of Mon Saint Jean. Lying just to the south of Waterloo, and with panoramic views over the Brussels Road, Wellington had scouted a fine territorial position. Napoleon’s men marched on through a summer downpour and waited for conditions to improve. The speed of his artillery and cavalry on a treacherous, sodden surface worried Napoleon; Grouchy’s failure to head the Prussians off at Wavre would cause him greater damage.
On the 18th June 1815, Napoleon launched an attack on Wellington’s positions from Rossomme Farm, attacking Hougoumont. The Chateau Hougoumont was a pivotal moment in the Battle Of Waterloo, becoming a metaphor for allied resistance in the face of an onslaught. Wellington fortified the town in expectance of an attack; when it came it was relentless. The French under Prince Jerome drove the allied Nassauer troops back and laid seige to the village. A stern British defence was put up by Coldstream and 3rd Guards under Colonel MacDonnell of the 3rd Guards, and Sergeant Graham of Coldstream. 500 were dead or wounded after defending Hougoumont. The British fought through smoke and fire; Hougoumont did not fall.
Meanwhile the artillery of Napoleon’s Grand Batterie opened fire on the allies. The theatre of conflict was now encompassing cavalry and infantry engagements; La Haye Sante saw Ney conduct a massive cavalry charge allied positions to the north. La Haye Sante fell as the French overpowered the German’s position.
At the British occupied ridge, the French met an impasse. The British stood firm, returning the French offensive in kind, through cavalry charges by the Royal Scots Greys. Ney’s response was more cavalry. Having taking La Haye Sante, he wanted to drive on past the ridge. His cavalry charges diminished in their effectiveness. British artillery and infantry regiments prevailed. As the evening approach, the battle turned. The support promised by Blücher appeared from the south-east. The Prussians attack on Plancenoit distracted the French. Wellington girded his troops for the end game.
The French Guard’s final advance to the ridge ended in retreat and, ultimately, defeat. Outflanked and outfought, they were chased back by the allies, only to be met by the Prussians. Napoleon’s army fell at dusk. Surrounded and heavily outnumbered, the remnants of the French Guard fought desperately at La Belle Alliance. Napoleon escaped, but abdicated a week later. Louis XVIII was restored to the French throne. Waterloo became a by-word for defeat. Wellington entered the pantheon of British heroes.
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1 Response to Battle of Waterloo
From asseem on 18th November 2009
I think it was a pretty good article with all useful stuff in it.But i would be glad to know about the soldiers of Britain in the battle of waterllo.For example,George spencer.
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