The Battle of Waterloo takes place near the Waterloo, Belgium on June 18, 1815. In this battle, the forces of the French Empire under the leadership of Michael Ney and Napoleon Bonaparte were defeated by the Seventh Coalition and a Prussian Army, which was commanded by Gebhard Von Blucher. The forces were also defeated by an Anglo-Allied Army commanded by the Duke of Wellington.
The Battle of Waterloo puts an end to the tyrant rule of Napoleon as the emperor of France. It had also marked the end of the hundred days of Napoleon from exile return. The battle was regarded as an influential battle of all time marking the Bonaparte’s last and Waterloo Campaign.
When Napoleon was returned to power in 1815, plenty of states had opposed his comeback. Since then, the Seventh Coalition was formed and armies began to mobilize. There are two huge forces assembled near the northeast border of France. These forces were under the command of Blucher and Wellington. Napoleon had planned to attack the said forces before they can unite with the other members of the Coalition in coordination of France invasion. The three-day engagement of the Waterloo Campaign happened in the Battle of Waterloo on June 16-19, 1815. The Battle of Waterloo was quoted by Wellingtons as the “nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”.
Until noon of June 18, 1815, Napoleon delayed granting of the battle to let the ground get dry. The army of Wellington had positioned across the Brussels Road along the Mont St Jean escarpment. Repeated attacks by French take place along the road until evening but the army remained standing. The army of Prussians arrived in full force and eventually broke through the right border of Napoleon. During the breakage of the Prussians army towards Napoleon’s border, the British made a counter-attacked, which drove the French army in chaos from the field. The forces of the Seventh Coalition have successfully entered France and reinstate Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon resigned from the throne and surrender to the British government. In 1821, he was exiled to die at Saint Helena.
The battlefield where the Battle of Waterloo takes place is located in the present-day Belgium. It is about 8 miles or 12 kilometers SSE of Brussels and about one mile or 1.6 kilometers from the Waterloo town. Today, the exact location of the battlefield is dominated by a huge bundle of earth called the Lion’s Hillcock. Apparently, the original scenery of the battlefield has not been preserved.
Six days (March 13, 1815) prior Napoleon had reached Paris, the authority of the Congress of Vienna had declared him an outlaw. Four days, after the declaration, the mobilized armies of Prussia, Austria, Russia, and United Kingdom had planned an attack to defeat Napoleon. Napoleon was aware that once his attempts to attack one or more of the allies of the Seventh Coalition in France invasion, his only chance of retaining his power is to attack first before the mobilization of all the armies of the Coalition happened. His goal is to destroy the existing forces of the Coalition that are in the south of Brussels before they are commanded. Once this happened, Napoleon might be able to drive back the British army to the sea and defeat the Prussians army in the battle.
The initial disposition of Wellington was to deal with the threat of Napoleon’s attack of gathering all armies of the Coalition. Part of his disposition is to transfer to the southwest of Brussels through Mons. With this transfer, the communications of Wellington with his base at Ostend have been cut. However, the transfer had made his army closer to the army of Blucher. On the contrary, Napoleon took advantage of the fear of Wellington in losing his supply chain with false intelligence from the channel ports. He divided his army into two wings, the right wing under the command of Marshal Grouchy and the left wing under the command of Marshal Ney. He also had his own reserved army that falls under his commands. Before dawn on June 15, the armies of Napoleon have crossed the frontier near the Charleroi and they rapidly overran the outposts of the Seventh Coalition. The crossing had garnered Napoleon a favorable central position between the armies of Blucher and Wellington.
It was already late night of June 15 when Wellington become certain that the attacks made at the Charleroi came from the main French thrust of Napoleon’s armies. On the morning of June 16 while Wellington was at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, he received a notice from the Prince of Orange that Napoleon speedily attacked in advanced again. He hurriedly commanded his army to focus on the Quatre Bras wherein a vague position is being held against the soldiers of the left wing of Marshal Ney. Present at the position are the Prince of Orange together with the brigade of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. The orders commanded by Marshal Ney were to secure the crossroads of Quatro Bras. In this way, he could later moved to east and strengthen the forces of Napoleon.
The next move of Napoleon focused more on the army of Prussian. He decided to prioritize the Prussians. On June 16, he succeeded to defeat the Prussian army of Blucher at the Battle of Ligny with the help from his reserved right wing. The heavy assaults of French troops gave way to the Prussian centre but the border held their ground. Meanwhile, Ney discovered that the crossroads of Quatre Bras were being managed by the Prince of Orange. At first, Quatre Bras was able to repel the initial attacks of Ney’s wing successful but gradually it was driven back due to vast numbers of French troops.
After the first strengthenments of Napoleon’s wings and the Prussian army of Blucher as well as the French troops and the Quatre Bras, Wellington personally arrived at the battlefield. He took the command of the armies of the Coalition and drove Ney back. However, Ney’s wing was able to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras during the early evening and it is too late for the Coalition to send help to the Prussian’s army, thus resulting to defeat of the Prussian’s army at the Battler of Ligny. The defeat of the Prussian army made the position of Wellington at Quatre Bras unsustainable. Because of this, he withdrew towards north the very next day. Before Wellington had acquired his defensive position, he had personally scouted the low ridge of Mont St Jean the previous year. The mont was a south village of the Waterloo and Forest of Soignes.
The French seems unnoticed the uninterrupted refuge of the Prussian army. Again, the French had completely ignored the entire rearguard units of the Prussian, which had held their position until midnight. Some of element in the units even held their position until the next morning, which the French still ignored. Apparently, the Prussian army did not abandon to the east as well as their own communication lines. Instead, the army went back northwards, which is parallel to the march line of Wellington and still within the supporting distance. Thereinafter, the Prussian army had rallied towards the corps of Von Bulow’s IV, which is not connected at Ligny instead in a strong position in South Wavre.
Along with the reserves, Napoleon was able to join Ney in Quatre Bras on June 17 in attacking the army of Wellington. The attack started at 13:00 however the position was found empty. Wellington was pursued by French however the result was only a brief troop battle in Genappe.
Before Napoleon had left Ligny, he ordered for Grouchy who is the commander for the right wing, to follow up 33,000 men to the refugeing Prussian army. However, Napoleon was uncertain about the direction taken by the Prussian army as well as the vagueness of orders given to him by Grouchy. It was too late to prevent for Napoleon to prevent Prussian army from reaching Wavre as well as to support Wellington. Before the day ends on June 17, the army of Wellington had arrived at its Waterloo’s position along with the army of Napoleon. The army of Blucher began to gather as well around Wavre for about eight miles to the east.
There are three armies involved in the Battle of Waterloo namely the Prussian army under the command of Blucher, the multinational army under the command of Wellington, and the army of Napoleon known as Armee de Nord.
The French army consisted around 69,000 soldiers with 250 guns, 7,000 artilleries, 14,000 cavalries, and 48,000 infantries. To fill in the ranks of the French army throughout the rule, Napoleon had used conscription but he did not conscript men for the campaign in 1815. All of the troops in the French army were veterans and had been already involved in one or more campaign already. The cavalries of the French army were both formidable and numerous. It also include 7 highly versatile lancers and 14 regiments of heavy and armored cavalry. Meanwhile the armies under the Coalition only had armored troops and Wellington only had a handful of lancers.
Wellington admitted that he had inexperienced, ill-equipped, very weak, and infamous staffs in his army. His troops only consisted of 67,000 soldiers with 150 guns, 6,000 artilleries, 11,000 cavalries, and 50,000 infantries. 24,000 of the soldiers in the troop were British and another 6,000 were from the King’s German Legion. All of the British soldiers in the troops were regular soldiers wherein 7,000 of there where veterans of the Peninsular War. In addition to Wellington’s army there were 3,000 soldiers from Nassau, 6,000 from Brunswick, 11,000 from Hanover and 17,000 Dutch troops.
In 1815, the armies in the Coaltion were re-established after the defeat of Napoleon. Most of the professional soldiers in the armies have spent their careers in Napoleonic regimes and French armies except for some that came from the troops of Brunswick and Hanover, and those who fought with the army of British in Spain. Most of the troops that belonged to the continental armies were inexperienced soldiers. Wellington had experienced shortage of heavy cavalries since his army only had 3 Dutch and 7 British regiments. Because of this, the Duke of York had impose most of his staff officers to Wellington that also include the Earl of Uxbridge, the second in command of the Duke.
Uxbridge had commanded the cavalries from Wellington and had carte blanche as well. At Halle, Wellington stationed 17,000 troops further about 8 miles away to the west. The troops were not recalled to participate in the battle, they only served as a reserved position in case the battle is about to lose. The troops mostly composed of Dutch troops under the command of William, the Prince of Orange. William was a younger brother to Prince Frederick of Netherlands.
The Prussians were in the throes of re-organization. In 1815, the foremer volunteer formations of Freikorps, Legions, and Reserve regiments from the wars of 1813 to 14 were in the process of being absorbed in the line along with the other regiments of the Landwehr military. The soldiers of Landwehr military were mostly unequipped and untrained when they arrived in Belgium, which is same state with cavalries of the Prussian army. The artilleries of the Landwehr military was also re-organizing and was not giving its best performance. Despite this, war equipment and guns continue to arrive during and after the battle.
Apparently, the army of Prussian did not have its general staff organization, and professional and excellent leadership. The officers of the Prussian army came from four schools who were only developed and worked for a common standard of training. Obviously, the system of the Prussian army was contradicting to the vague orders of the French army. On the contrary, the staff system of the Prussian army was concentrated for battle within a notice of 24 hours. It had ensured the three-quarters of the army are ready before the Ligny. Although the Prussian army got defeated in the Ligny, it had able to realign its supply train and re-organize itself. The army had also intervene decisively on the Battle of Waterloo within 48 hours.
There were 48,000 men or two and half Prussian army corps engaged in the Battle of Waterloo. There are two brigades in the battle. The first one was under Friedrich von Bulow, commander of the IV Corps who attacked Lobau at 16:30. The second one was the combined corps of Zieten’s I and Georg von Pirch’s II, which both attacked at 18:00.
The battle position in the Waterloo was considered a strong one. It consisted of a long ridge running towards east, west perpendicular to, and bisected by the main road towards Brussels. Along the crest ridge is the Ohain road, a deep sunken lane. A large elm tree was rougly located in the center of Wellington’s position just near the crossroads in Brussels road. The tree served as the commmand post of Wellington during the battle.
Just behind the crest of the ridge, Wellington had deployed his infantry in a line towards the Ohain road. With the use of reverse slope, Wellington is nowhere to be seen by the French army except for his artilleries and skirmishers. The front length area of the battlefield was relatively short comprising of just 4 kilometers. Despite this length size, Wellington allowed his forces in depth to draw up both in the center and the right area towards the village of Braine-1’Alleud. With these styles, Wellington expected that the Prussian army would strengthen the battle during the day.
In the front are of the ridge, there were three positions that are prepared. The extreme right of the ridge, the orchard, garden, and chateu of Hougoumon are found. The Hougoumon was a huge and well-built country house that is initially hidden behind the trees. It is faced along the sunken and covered lane in the north. The extreme left of the ridge was the hamlet of Papelotte. Both the Papelotte and Hougoumon were garrisoned and fortified, thus anchoring the borders of Wellington securely.
Papelotte ordered the road towards Wavre that the Prussian army had used to send strengthenments to position Wellington. The west side of the main road where the rest of the line of Wellington is positioned, the orchard and farmhouse of La Haye Sainte is found. La Haye Sainte was garrisoned with 400 light infantries from the King’s German Legion. The opposite side of the road was a disused sand quarry where the 95th rifles were posted as sharpshooters were positioned. It presented the formidable challenge to an attacker. Any attempt to turn the right of Wellington would entail taking the entrenched position of Hougoumon. Any attack made on the right center of Wellington means that attackers have to march between the enfilading fire of La Haye Sainte and Hougoumon. Meanwhile, any attack made on the left center of Wellington would also have to march between the enfilading fire of La Haye Sainte and its adjoining sandpit. Laslty, any attempt made on the left border of Wellington would entail fighting through the hedgerows and streets of Papelotte or some wet grounds.
The French army had formed another ridge to the south on slopes. Since Napoleon could not see the positions of Wellington, he drew forces up symmetrically towards the Brussels road. On th right of his forces was I Corps, which is under the command of d’Erlon with a 4,700 cavalry reserves, 1,500 calvaries, and 16,000 infantries. On the left of his forces was II Corps, which is under the command of Reille with 4,600 cavalry reserves, 1,300 cavalry, and 13,000 infrantries.
In the center of the south road in the battlefield was the inn of La Belle Alliance, which was also a reserve included in the Lobau’s VI Corps with 2,000 cavalry reserves, 13,000 infantries of the Imperial Guard, and 6,000 men. The substantial village of Plancenoit was in the rear right of the French position while the Bois de Paris wood was at the extreme right. Early in the afternoon after moving to a position near La Belle Alliance, Napoleon initially commanded the battle from Rossomme farm where he could see the entire area of the battlefield. He then delegated the command on the battlefield to Ney.
In the morning of June 18, Wellington rose early and wrote lettters until dawn time. He wrote a letter to Blucher stating that he would give battle at Mont St. Jean if Blucher will provide him a corps otherwise he would surrender to Brussels instead. Blucher read Wellington’s letter during a late night council with his chief of staff named August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. Despite Gneisenau’s doubts on Wellington’s motives, Blucher still convinced him to join the march of Wellington’s army. The next morning after reading the letter, Blucher send three corps to Wellington’s army.
While Wellington was out supervising the deployment of his forces from Blucher, the Prusssian IV Corps, which is under the command of Bulow was ordered to lead the march towards the Waterloo. The Corps was at its best shape since they have not been involved in the Battle of Ligny. The Prussian IV Corps did not take any casualties but been marching for two days already just to cover the refuge of the other three corps of the Prussian army from the Ligny’s battlefield. They had been posted farther from the battlefield yet the progress is still very slow.
The roads of battlefield were in poor condition because of the heavy rain from the previous night. Because of this, the men of Bulow hve to pass through the congested streets of Wavre together with the 88 pieces of corps artilleries. Apparently, the fire that had broken out in the streets of Wavre is not helping instead it had blocked the streets of the intended route of Bulow. Because of this, the last batch of the corps left at 10:00, which is 6 hours after the leading elements have moved out to Waterloo. The men of Bulow were followed in Waterloo by II Corps and I Corps.
Napoleon have had his silver breakfast at Le Caillou, which is also the same place where he had spent his entire night. Soult suggested Napoleon that Grouch should be recalled to join the main force. With this suggest, Napoleon said the “Just because you have all been beaten by Wellington, you think he’s a good general. I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad troops and this affair is nothing more than just eating breakfast”.
Jerome told his brother Napoleon that the Prussian army was to march over from Wavre. This is the gossip between the officers of the British army that a waiter in Genappe overheard during a lunch time in King of Spain Inn. Because of this, Napoleon declared that the Prussian army will require two days to recover and deal with Grouchy.
The start of the battle was delayed by Napoleon because he was waiting for the sodden ground since manouvering the artilleries and cavalries would be difficult in the battle. In addition most of his forces have bivouacked well towards the south of the La Belle Alliance. At 10:00, Napoleon sent a dispatch to Grouchy ordering him to head towards the Wavre in order to draw near Napoleon’s army. This dispatch is a response to Grouchy’s dispatch of six hours earlier.
At 11:00, Napoleon had drafted his general order which is to attack the village of Mont Saint Jean by the d’Erlon’s Corps on the right and the Reille’s Corps on the left. He also ordered the corps to keep abreast of one another. This order of Napoleon had assumed that the battleline of Wellington was in the village and not in a more forward position along the ridge. To enable this order, the corps of Jerome would make an intial attack to Hougoumont, which Napoleon believed to withdraw from Wellington’s reservers. He also expected that Hougoumont to loss communication with the sea.
A grand batterie of the reserve artilleries of I, II, and VI Corps went to attack the cental Wellington’s position. D’Erlon’s Corps is target to attack the Wellington’s left and breakthrough from west to east. In his memorabilia, Napoleon had written that his intention for the attack was to separate the army of Wellington from the Prussian army and then drive it back to the sea.
According to the recorded dispatches of Wellington, Napoleon commenced a furious attack at 10:00 upon the post at Hougoumont. Some sources say that the attack began around 11:30. According to the notes of the historian Andrew Roberts “It is a curious fact about the Battle of Waterloo that no one absolutely is certain when it actually began”.
The house of Hougoumont and its surrounding environment were defended by four light cmpanies of Guards and park and wood of Hanoverian Jager. The initial attack of the brigade of Bauduin had emptied the wood and park but it was driven back by heavy British artillery fire that cost the life of Bauduin.
The second attack was made by Soye’s brigade where the British guns were distracted by a duel with French artilleries. The attack had made the Bauduin’s success to reach the north gate of the house of Hougoumont. Apparently, some French troops have managed to enter the courtyard of the house of Hougoumont. There are also 2/3rd Foot Guards and 2nd Goldstream Guards that have arrived and repulsed the attack.
All afternoon, fighting round the house of Hougoumont continued. The surroundings of the house were heavily invested by the light infantry of the French troops. There are also coordinated attacks that take place against the troops behind the Hougoumont. The army of Wellingtong defended Hougoumont and continued north of it. In the afternoon, Napoleon had ordered the Hougoumont to be burned down on fire. But the fire resulted into the destruction of the entire surrounding areas of Hougoumont except for the chapel.
The brigade of Du Plat from King’s German Legion had brought forward to defend the hollow way but this time they need to do it without the senior officers. They were relieved by a Scottish infantry regiment, the 71st Foot. The brigade of Adam was further strengthend by the 3rd Hanoverian Brigade of Hugh Halkett. It was successfully repulsed further cavalry and infantry attacks sent by Reille. Eventually, Hougoumont was held out entil the battle ended.
This is what Wellington had to say after the battle ended: “I had occupied that post with a detachment from General Byng’s brigade of Guards, which was in position in its rear; and it was some time under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonald, and afterwards of Colonel Home; and I am happy to add that it was maintained, throughout the day, with the utmost gallantry by these brave troops, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of large bodies of the enemy to obtain possession of it”.
Meanwhile this what Major Macready, 30th British Regiment, Halkett’s Brigade had to say in his battle experience: “When I reached Lloyd’s abandoned guns, I stood near them for about a minute to contemplate the scene: it was grand beyond description. Hougoumont and its wood sent up a broad flame through the dark masses of smoke that overhung the field; beneath this cloud the French were indistinctly visible. Here a waving mass of long red feathers could be seen; there, gleams as from a sheet of steel showed that the cuirassiers were moving; 400 cannon were belching forth fire and death on every side; the roaring and shouting were indistinguishably commixed – together they gave me an idea of a labouring volcano. Bodies of infantry and cavalry were pouring down on us, and it was time to leave contemplation, so I moved towards our columns, which were standing up in square”.
The battle at Hougoumont had been characterized by historians as the diversionary attack to withdraw the reserves of Wellington but then continued to an all-day battle, which resulted to drawing back of French reserves instead. As a matter of fact, both Wellington and Napoleon had concluded that Hougoumont was the key to the battle. Hougoumont had been on the clear vision of Napoleon as part of the battlefield that is why he continued to send resources towards it as well as its surrounding areas all afternoon. He had sent 14,000 troops and 33 battalions in all.
Just the same over the course of the afternoon, Wellington also send 21 battalions which is equivalent to 12,000 troops towards the Hougoumont since it never contained a huge number of troops. This is to keep the hollow way open that will allow fresh ammunition and troops for the house of Hougoumont. Wellington even moved his several artillery batteries from his hard-pressed center to support Hougoumont. But then he stated that the success of the battle in Hougoumont turned up to be closing the gates of Hougoumont.
The First French Infantry Attack
Map of the Battle
The units of Napoleon are represented in blue color, the Wellington’s is in red, and Blucher’s is in grey. The 80 guns of the grande batterie of Napoleon drew up in the center. According to Lord Hill, commander of the Anglo-Allied II Corps, the fire opened at 11:50 while other sources the fire start between 12:00 and 13:30. It was to far too aim the grand batterie accurately and the only other troops that can be seen were those of the Dutch Division. Some of these troops even adopted the idea of Wellington on reverse slope defence.
Moreover, the soft ground of the battlefield prevented the cannon balls from bouncing so far and French gunners covered the entire deployment of Wellington therefore the density of hits was so low. Apparently, the idea was not to cause any huge amount of physical damage but in the words of Napoleon’s orders “to astonish the enemy and shake his morale”, it greatly shows for physical damage.
Napoleon saw the first columns of the Prussian army around the village of Chapelle St. Lambert for about 4-5 miles away from his right border. It was about 13:00 then. Immediately, Napoleon react to send message to Grouch ordering to come towards the battlefied and attack the arriving Prussian army with sword against his back towards Wavre. This order was too far in reaching Waterloo. Grouchy had been previously executing the orders of Napoleon but this time he listened to the advise of his subordinate, Gerard, to march towards the sound of guns. He got stuck in his own orders to engage the Prussian III Corps rear guard. The Corps was under the command of Lieutenant-General Baron Johann Von Thielmann from the Battle of Wavre.
Past 13:00, the I Corps began to attack. Just like Ney, D’Erlon had already encountered Wellington in Spain so he was aware of the favored tactics of the Brisith commanders in using massed short-range musketry in driving off infantry columns. Instead of using the usual nine-deep French columns, they had deployed abreast of each other wherein each division is advanced in closely spaced battalion lines behind one another. This formation had allowed them to focus on their fire but did not leave enough room for them to change formation.
At first the formation was effective. Apparently, the leftmost division, which is under the command of Donzelot had advanced towards the La Haye Sainte. The battalion engaged in the front defenders and the following battalions of either side along with the support of the two brigades of cuirassiers had succeeded in isolating the farmhouse. The La Haye Sainte had been cut offf and the Prince of Orange saw this and he tried to strengthen it by sending the Hanoverian Luneberg Battalion next in line. The Cuirassiers concealed and fold in the ground as they got caught and destroyed in mniutes. They rode on past La Haye Sainte up to the crest of the ridge where they covered the left border of d’Erlon. Through this, d’Erlon’s border attack developed.
In about 13:30, d’Erlon started to advance his three other divisons with 14,000 men on the front. The divisions were just about 1,000 meters from the weak left wing of Wellington. It had faced 6,000 men consisted of the Dutch 2nd Division, the British troops, and the Hanoverian troops that are under the command of Sir Thomas Picton. All troops have suffered badly at the Quatre Bras. The Dutch Brigade that is under the command of Bijlandt posted towards the center of the battlefield. It was ordered to deply on the forward slope and been exposed to the artillery battery. Without receiving any orders from their commander, the Dutch Brigade had remained to be in this dangerous position.
The brigade of Bijlandt had withdrawn to the sunken lane as the French army advanced. Most of the officers were dead and wounded, and the brigade left the battlefiled as the 7th Belgian batallion. The men of D’Erlon’s army began to move towards the slope as they did so, the men of Picton’s army stood up and opened the fire. Eventually, the French infantry returned the fire and successful pressured the troops of Wellington. The attack faltered at the center position of Wellington, thus the left wing started to crumble. In the attack, Picton was killed and Hanoverian and British troops began to give way under the pressure of numbers.
Changes of the British Heavy Cavalry
Wellington stated that: “Our officers of cavalry have acquired a trick of galloping at everything. They never consider the situation, never think of manoeuvring before an enemy, and never keep back or provide a reserve”.
During the crucial changes of the British heavy cavalry, Uxbridge ordered his two brigades to form the unseen behind the ridge and charge in support of the hard-pressed infantry. The First Brigade was known as the Household Brigade and commanded by Major-General Edward Somerset or Lord Somerset. It was consisted of guards regiments, the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, the Royal Horse Guards or the Blues, and the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards. The Second Brigade was called the Union Brigade and commanded by Major-General Sir William Ponsonby. It was consisted of regiments of heavy dragoons namely the English or the Royals, the Scottish or the Scots Greys, and the Irish or Inniskilling. The two brigades have more combined field strength of about 2,000 and charged with little reserves and a 47-year old leader named Uxbridge.
It was more than 20 years of warfare that had passed throughout different suitable mounts available within the continent of Europe. Because of this, the British heavy cavalry entered the 1815 campaign with the finest horses and contemporary cavalry arm. They have also received excellent mounted swormanship training. However, they were inferior to the French when in comes to maneouvering larger formations and cavalier attitude. Most likely, the French have more scant experience when it comes to ware compared to infantry. According to Wellington, the had little tactical abiliy or nous.
The Household Brigade was charged down the hill in the center of the battlefield. The French Brigade of Cuirassiers that guard the left border of d’Erlon was dispersed and swept away over the deeply sunken main road and eventually routed. The sunken lane acted as as trap that funnelled the flight of the French cavalry on their own right and away from the British cavalry. Some of the cuirassiers have found themselves hemmed in by the slope sides of the sunken lane. There were various troops pressing them from behind such as the Somerset’s heavy cavalry, the 95th Rifles firing at them from the north side of the lane, and a confused mass of their infantry in front. British cavalry men were impressed on the novelty of fighting with armored foes and this was recored by the commander of the Household Brigade. Lord Somerset stated that: ” The blows of the sabres on the cuirasses sounded like braziers at work”.
As the attack continued, the left squadrons of the Household Brigade had destroyed the Aulard’s Brigade. Despite the several attempts of recalling them, they still continued towards the La Haye Sainte and found themselves at the bottom of the hill with blow horses facing the squared form of Schmitz’s Brigade.
On their lef, the Union Brigade suddenly swept away through the infantry lines that give rise to the legend of the 92nd Gordon Highland Regiment. From the leftward center, the Royal Dragoons had destroyed the brigade of Bourgeois as it captured the eagle of the 105th Ligne. The Greys destroyed most of the Nogue’s Brigade as it captured the eagle of the 45th Ligne while the Inniskillings routed the other Brigade of the Quoit’s Division. On the extreme left of Wellington, which is the Durutte’s Division had time to fend off groups and formd squares of Grey.
At the Household Cavarly, the officers of the Inniskillings and Royals found it very difficult to rein back their troops that lost all cohesions. The commander of the Greys, James Hamiltion had ordered the continuation of the charge to the French grande batterie, which was originally to form a reserve. Though the Greys have the means of disabling the cannons and carry them off, they still implemented their tactics out of actions as they fled to the battlefield with gun crews.
Napoleon had promptly responded by ordering a counter-attack to the I Corps Light Cavalry Division. He had sent cuirassier brigades of the Travers and Farine along with two lander regiments of Jaquinot. This result to heavy losses for the British cavalry.
All quoted figures for the losses of the cavalry brigades from this charge are just estimates. The casualties were only noted down after the day of the battle and not from the entire battle event. Some historians belived that official rolls discovered from the sites tend to overestimate the quantiry of cavalrymen present in the squadrons on the actual battlefield. Proportionate losses were just results and believed to be considerably higher than the numbers reflected and suggested on the papers and books.
The Union Brigade had heavily lost since many officers and men are killed from them including its commander, William Ponsonby as well as Colonel Hamilton of the Scots Greys. Some of them were even seriously wounded. The King’s Dragoon Guards and 2nd Life Guards have also lost heavily wherein Colonel Fuller was also killed. Fuller was the commander of the King’s Dragoon Guards. Apparently, the Blues and the 1st Life Guards had only suffered with fewer casuatlies even if they had kept their cohesion and formed a reserve. A counter-charge was made by the Dutch and British light dragoons and hussars on the Dutch carabiniers in the center as well as the left wing whereas the French cavarly repelled back to their positions.
Plenty of popular histories suggested that the British heavy cavarly were destroyed as a viable force following the epic and first charge. Based on the examination of the eyewitnesses, they revealed that the cavalry had provided valuable services, which is far from being ineffective.
The British heavy cavalry counter-charged the French cavarly in encounted numerous times and halted combined infantry and cavalry attck at the Household Brigade only. The attacks used to bolster the morale of the units in the vicinity during times of crisis. It had also filled the gaps in the Anglo-Allied lines caused by high casualties from infantry formations. The service was rendered at very expensive cost, which is close combat with the French cavalry, infant musketry, and carbine fire. And more deadly of all these is the artillery fire that is steadily eroded the number of effecive within the two brigades.
At the end of the battle of the two brigades, it was concluded that both had only few composite squadrons. There were 20,000 French troops that committed to the attack. The attack gave way to failure cost for Napoleon not only for heavy casualties but also 3,000 prisoners were taken. Apparently, in less time, the Prussian army now began to appear on the battlefield at Napoleon’s right. Because of this Napoleon sent his reserve Lobau’s VI Corps along with other two cavalry divisions and 15,000 troops to hold them back. As the attack continues, and Napoleon committed all of his infantry reserves except for the Guards. With this, Napoleon was able to defeat Wellington very quickly and in inferior quantity.
The French Cavalry Attack
Before 16:00, Ney noticed an apparent exodus from the center of Wellington. He misunderstood the movement as casualties preparing to rear at the beginning of the refuge. He sought to exploit it.
The defeat of the d’Erlon’s Corps followed and Ney had few infantry reserves left since most of the reserves were committed to the futile Hougoumont attack to defend the French fright. Ney tried to break soley the center of Wellington with cavalry. Initially, the reserve cavalry corps of cuirassiers and the light cavarly division of the Imperial Guard, the Lefebvre-Desnoettes along with other 4,800 sabres were committed by Milhaud. When these were repulsed the heavy cavaly of the Guard and the heavy cavalry corps of Kellermann were added to the massed assault with a total of around 9,000 cavalry in 67 squadrons.
The army of Wellington responded by forming squares of hollow box formation in four ranks deep. The squares were much tinyer than the usual depicted in the battle paintings. Every square composed of 500-man battalion and more than 60 feet in side length. Since the formed squares were vulnerable to infantry and artillery, they appear deadly to the cavalry as they stood on the ground. They cannot outbordered since the hourses cannot charge into a hedge of bayonets. Wellington ordered his artillery crews to take shelter within the squares as the cavalry approached. He also ordered to return their guns and resume fire as they refugeed.
Witnesses of the British infantry recorded that there were 12 assaults that took place that include a number of general assaults and successive waves of the same general attack. Kellerman had recognized the futility of the attacks and tried to reserve the elite carabinier brigade from joining in. Eventually Ney had spotted them and insisted on their involvement.
According to a British eyewitness (Captain Rees Howell Gronow, Foot Guards) of the first French cavalry attack, he recorded his impressions very lucidly and somewhat poetically as: ” About four P.M. the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after life the awful grandeur of that charge. You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host. One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting “Vive l’Empereur!” The word of command, “Prepare to receive cavalry”, had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers”.
This type of massed cavalry attack relied mostly on the psychological shock for effect. The close artillery support could not disrupt the infantry squares since it allowed the cavalry to penetrate. In Waterloo, the cooperation between the French artillery and cavaly was not impressive.
The French artillery did not get close enough to the Anglo-Allied infantry when it comes to decisive numbers. The artillery fire between the charges did not produce mounting casualties but instead most of this fire was relatively long range and was often indirect at targest beyond the ridge. The cavalry on their own could do very minimal damage especially if the infantry being attacked held firmed in their square defensive formations and does not panicked.
The French cavalry attacks were repeatedly repelled by the steadfast infantry squares. As the French cavalry recoiled down the slopes to regroup, the harrying fire of British artillery continues along with the decisive counter-charges of Wellington’s light cavalry regiments, the Dutch heavy cavalry brigade, and the remaining effectives of the Household Cavalry.
During the actual charges, Captain Cavalie Mercer had disobeyed the order of Wellington in seeking shelter at the adjacent squares of the formation. He was the artillery officer that command the G Troop and the Royal Horse Artillery. He concluded that the Brunswick troops on both sides are shaky that made him disobey Wellington’s order. All throughout against the cavalry, he kept his battery of 6 nine-pounders in action. He stated that: ” I thus allowed them to advance unmolested until the head of the column might have been about fifty or sixty yards from us, and then gave the word, “Fire!” The effect was terrible. Nearly the whole leading rank fell at once; and the round shot, penetrating the column carried confusion throughout its extent … the discharge of every gun was followed by a fall of men and horses like that of grass before the mower’s scythe”.
The French cavarly was spent after several useless attacks at Mont St Jean Ridge. Their casualties are can be hardly estimated. Most of the senior officers in French cavalry most particulary the generals have experienced heavy losses. There were four wounded divisional commanders, nine wounded brigadiers, and one killed. They were recognized for their courage and leadership as battle frontliners. Houssaye illustratively reports that there were 796 ranks numbered at Grenadiers a Cheval on June 15 but on June 19 there were only 462. Over the same period, the Empress Dragoons lost 416 out of 816. Overall, the Guyot’s Guard heavy cavalry division had lost 47 percent of its strength.
Eventually, with the French cavalry alone, it achieves little and this became very obvious event to Ney. Lately, he organized a combined-arms attack using the Tissot’s regiments of Foy’s Division from Reille’s II Corps and Bachelu’s division along with other French cavalry men that remained in a fit state to fight. The attack was directed along the same route used by other heavy cavalry attacks. It was halted by a charge of the Household Brigade cavalry commanded by Uxbridge.
The British cavalry were not able to destroy the French infantry therefore they fell back with losses from the musketry fire. Based on his reocords, Uxbridge tried to lead the Dutch Carabiniers under the command of Major-General Trip. Uxbridge tried renewing the attack but the Dutch Carabiniers had refused to follow him. Other members of the British cavalry commented on this occurrence. Apparently, there is no supporting evidents that this incident occurred either from Belgian or Dutch sources.
The men of Tissot and Bachelu as well as their cavalry supports were being hit hardly by the fire coming from the artillery of Adam’s infantry brigade but eventually fell back themselves. The French cavalry had caused few direct casualties to Wellington’s center and artillery fire towards his infantry squares casued plenty of casualties. The Anglo-Allied cavalry had been committed to fight and take significant losses except for brigades of Sir Hussey Vivian and Sir John Vandeleur. The situation reflects depression for the Cumberland Hussars, thus they fled out of the field all the way to Brussels with spreading alarm. The Cumberland Hussars was the only Hanoverian cavarly regiment present in the battlefield.
At approximately the same time, Ney assault with combined-arms the center right of Wellington’s line. He rallied with the elements of D’Erlon’s I Corps and spearheaded by the 13th Legere. He renewed the attack on La Haye Sainte that became successul during that time. The success was partly because the ammunition of the defenders ran out. Ney then moved to the horse artillery towards the center of Wellington. In there, he bgean to pulverize the infantry squares at a short range with canister. With this, the 27th Regiment or the Inniskilling was destroyed while the 30th and 73rd regiments suffered with heavy losses.
Edward Cotton of the 7th Hussars stated that: ” The banks on the road side, the garden wall, the knoll and sandpit swarmed with skirmishers, who seemed determined to keep down our fire in front; those behind the artificial bank seemed more intent upon destroying the 27th, who at this time, it may literally be said, were lying dead in square; their loss after La Haye Sainte had fallen was awful, without the satisfaction of having scarcely fired a shot, and many of our troops in rear of the ridge were similarly situated”.
A tiny detail in this unsuccessful cavalry unpleasant is that, contrary to their habit, the French Cavalry under Marshal Ney, did not bring headless nails with them. When the British guns were captured, the Cavalry did not find them usable even if inserted with tiny headless nail into the priming tube. If they had done so, the British could not have used them so devastatingly against the French Infantry after they recaptured them a short while later. If the French infantry had remained intact until they came into contact with British Forces they might have won, and the Imperial Guard would never have been deployed and, possibly, the outcome of the Battle would have been different.
Arrival of the Prussian IV Corps: Plancenoit
Bulow’s IV Corps was the first Prussian Corps to arrive at Plancenoit. His objective was Plancenoit, which the Prussians intended to use as a springboard into the rear of the French positions. With the use of the Bois de Paris Road, Blucher intended to secure his right army upon Frichermont. Since 10:00, Blucher and Wellington had been exchanging communcations and both agreed to advance in Frichermont once the Wellington’s cente got under attack.
General Bulow started his way to Plancenoit and about 16:30 he reached the place. Concurrently, the French cavalry attack in full force wherein the 15th Brigade IV Corps was sent to connect with the Nassauers of Wellington’s left border in Frichermont. Meawhile in La Haie area, the brigade’s artillery battery and additional brigade artillery were deployed to its left in support.
Napoleon sent Lobau’s corps to interrupt the rest of Bulow’s IV Corps before proceeding to Plancenoit. The 15th Brigade threw Lobau’s troops out of Frichermont with a resoluted bayonet accusation, then proceeded up the Frichermont heights, battering French Chasseurs with 12-pounder artillery fire, and pushed on to Plancenoit. This sent Lobau’s corps into refuge to the Plancenoit area, and in effect drove Lobau past the back of the Armee Du Nord’s right border and directly threatened its only line of refuge. Hiller’s 16th Brigade also pushed forward with six battalions against Plancenoit.
Napoleon had send off all eight battalions of the Young Guard to strengthen Lobau, who was now seriously pressed. The Young Guard counter-attacked and, after very hard battle, secured Plancenoit, but were themselves counter-attacked and driven out. Napoleon sent two battalions of the Middle/Old Guard into Plancenoit and after intense bayonet battle, they did not agree to fire their muskets instead the force recaptured the village. The dogged Prussians were still not defeated, and with approximately 30,000 troops of IV and II Corps, under the commands of Bulow and Pirch, they attacked Plancenoit again. It was defended by 20,000 Frenchmen in and around the village.
Zieten’s Border March
Throughout the late afternoon, Zieten’s I Corps had been arriving with full force in the area just north of La Haie. General Muffling, the Prussian army liaison to Wellington, journeyed to meet I Corps. Zieten had by this time brought up his 1st Brigade, but had become concerned at the sight of stragglers and casualties coming from the Nassau units on Wellington’s left and from the Prussian 15th Brigade as well. These troops appeared to be withdrawing, and Zieten, fearing that his own troops would be caught up in a general refuge, was starting to move away from Wellington’s border and towards the Prussian main body near Plancenoit area. Muffling saw this movement away and persuaded Zieten to support Wellington’s left border.
Zieten resumed his march to support Wellington directly, and the arrival of his troops allowed Wellington to strengthen his collapsing centre by moving cavalry from his left. The I Corps proceeded to attack the French flocks before Papelotte and by 19:30. Meanwhile, the French position was bent into a rough horseshoe shape. The ends of the line were now based on Hougoumont on the left, Plancenoit on the right, and the centre on La Haie.
Durutte had taken the positions of La Haie and Papelotte in a series of attacks, but now refugeed behind Smohain without opposing the Prussian 24th Regiment as it retook both. The 24th advanced against the new French position, was repelled, and returned to the attack supported by Silesian Schutzen or the riflemen and the F/1st Landwehr. The French initially fell back before the renewed attack, but now began seriously to dispute ground, attempting to regain Smohain and hold on to the ridgeline and the last few houses of Papelotte.
The 24th Regiment linked up with a Highlander battalion on its far right and along with the 13th Landwehr regiment and cavalry support threw the French out of these positions. Further attacks by the 13th Landwehr and the 15th Brigade drove the French from Frichermont. Durutte’s division, finding itself about to be accused by the massed squadrons of Zieten’s I Corps cavalry reserve that refuged from the battlefield. I Corps then advanced to the Brussels road, whichh is the only line of refuge available to the French.
Attack of the Imperial Guard
Meanwhile, with Wellington’s centre exposed by the fall of La Haye Sainte, and the Plancenoit front temporarily stabilized, Napoleon committed his last reserve, the undefeated Imperial Guard. This attack, started at around 19:30, was intended to break through Wellington’s centre and roll up his line away from the Prussian army. Although it is one of the most celebrated passages of arms in military history, it is unclear which units actually participated in the attack. It appears that it was mounted by five battalions of the Middle Guard, and not by the Grenadiers or Chasseurs of the Old Guard as other sources stated.
Marshal M. Ney Stated that: “… I saw four regiments of the middle guard, conducted by the Emperor, arriving. With these troops, he wished to renew the attack, and penetrate the centre of the enemy. He ordered me to lead them on; generals, officers and soldiers all displayed the greatest intrepidity; but this body of troops was too weak to resist, for a long time, the forces opposed to it by the enemy, and it was soon necessary to renounce the hope which this attack had, for a few moments, inspired.”
Three Old Guard battalions did move forward and formed the second line attack, though they remained in reserve and did not directly attack the Anglo-allied line. Marching through an acclaimed of flask and skirmisher fire, the 3,000 or so Middle Guardsmen advanced towards the west of La Haye Sainte, and in so doing, separated into three distinct attack forces. First, consisting of two battalions of Grenadiers, defeated Wellington’s first line of British, Brunswick and Nassau troops and marched on. Second is the Chasse’s relatively fresh Dutch division was sent against them and its artillery fired into the victorious Grenadiers’ border. This still could not stop the Guard’s advance, so Chassé ordered his first brigade as the third distinct attack forces to charge the outnumbered French army, who faltered and broke.
Extendedly to the west, there were 1,500 British Foot Guards under Maitland lying down to protect themselves from the French artillery. As two battalions of Chasseurs approached, the second spike of the Imperial Guard’s attack, Maitland’s guards emerge and overwhelmed them with point-blank volleys. The Chasseurs organized to answer the fire, but began to tremble. A bayonet charge by the Foot Guards then destroyed them. The third spike was a fresh Chasseur battalion, now came up in support. The British guardsmen left with these Chasseurs in search, but the latter were arrested as the 52nd Light Infantry controlled in line on their border and poured an overwhelming fire into them and then rushed. Under this assault they too broke.
The last of the Guard retreated headlong. A wave of panic passed through the French lines as the astounding news spread: “La Garde recule. Sauve qui peut!” which means “The Guard refuges. Save yourself if you can!”. Wellington now stood up in Copenhagen’s commotions, and waved his hat in the air to signal a general progress. His army rushed forward from the lines and threw themselves upon the retreating French army.
The surviving Imperial Guard rallied for the last stand on their three reserve battalions, however some sources say the battlions were four, just south of La Haye Sainte. A charge from the Adam’s Brigade and the Hanoverian Landwehr Osnabruck Battalion, including the Vivian’s and Vandeleur’s fresh cavalry brigades to their right, threw them into confusion. Those left in semi-cohesive units retreat towards the La Belle Alliance. It was during this refuge that some of the Guards were invited to encouragely surrender the famous retort “La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!” which means “The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”
Capture of Plancenoit
At about the same time, the Prussian 5th, 14th, and 16th Brigades were starting to push through Plancenoit, in the third assault of the day. The church was by now on fire, while its graveyard – the French centre of resistance – had corpses strewn about “as if by a whirlwind” Five Guard battalions were deployed in support of the Young Guard, virtually all of which was now committed to the defence, along with remnants of Lobau’s corps The key to the Plancenoit position proved to be the Chantelet woods to the south. Pirch’s II Corps had arrived with two brigades and strengthend the attack of IV Corps, advancing through the woods.
The 25th Regiment’s musketeer battalions threw the 1/2e Grenadiers (Old Guard) out of the Chantelet woods, outbordering Plancenoit and forcing a refuge. The Old Guard refugeed in good order until they met the mass of troops refugeing in panic, and became part of that rout. The Prussian IV Corps advanced beyond Plancenoit to find masses of French refugeing from British pursuit in disorder. The Prussians were unable to fire for fear of hitting Anglo-allied units. This was the fifth and final time that Plancenoit changed hands. French forces not refugeing with the Guard were surrounded in their positions and eliminated, neither side asking for nor offering quarter. The French Young Guard Division would report 96 percent casualties, and two-thirds of Lobau’s Corps ceased to exist.
Despite their great courage and stamina, the French Guards fighting in the village began to show signs of wavering. The church was already on fire with columns of red flame coming out of the windows, aisles and doors. In the village itself, still the scene of bitter house-to-house fighting, everything was burning, adding to the confusion. However, once Major von Witzleben’s manoeuver was accomplished and the French Guards saw their border and rear threatened, they began to withdraw. The Guard Chasseurs under General Pelet formed the rearguard. The remnants of the Guard left in a great rush, leaving large masses of artillery, equipment and ammunition waggons in the wake of their refuge. The evacuation of Plancenoit led to the loss of the position that was to be used to cover the withdrawal of the French Army to Charleroi. The Guard fell back from Plancenoit in the direction of Maison du Roi and Caillou. Unlike other parts of the battlefield, there were no cries of “Sauve qui peut!” here. Instead the cry “Sauvons nos aigles!” (“Let’s save our eagles!”) could be heard – Official History of the 25th Regiment, 4 Corps
The French right, left, and centre had all now failed. The last cohesive French force consisted of two battalions of the Old Guard stationed around La Belle Alliance, the final reserve and personal bodyguard for Napoleon. Napoleon hoped to rally the French army behind them but as refuge turned into rout, they too were forced to withdraw, one on either side of La Belle Alliance, in square as protection against Coalition cavalry. Until persuaded that the battle was lost and he should leave, Napoleon commanded the square to the left of the inn. Adam’s Brigade charged and forced back this square, while the Prussians engaged the other.
As dusk fell, both squares withdrew in relatively good order, but the French artillery and everything else fell into the hands of the allies. The refugeing Guards were surrounded by thousands of fleeing, broken French troops. Coalition cavalry harried the fugitives until about 23:00, with Gneisenau pursuing them as far as Genappe before ordering a halt. There, Napoleon’s abandoned carriage was captured, still containing diamonds left in the rush. These became part of King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia’s crown jewels, one Major Keller of the F/15th receiving the with oak leaves for the feat. By this time 78 guns and 2,000 prisoners had also been taken, including more generals.
Marshal M. Ney stated that: “There remained to us still four squares of the Old Guard to protect the refuge. These brave grenadiers, the choice of the army, forced successively to retire, yielded ground foot by foot, till, overwhelmed by numbers, they were almost entirely annihilated. From that moment, a retrograde movement was declared, and the army formed nothing but a confused mass. There was not, however, a total rout, nor the cry of sauve qui peut, as has been calumniously stated in the bulletin”.
General Gneisenau recorded: “In the middle of the position occupied by the French army, and exactly upon the height, is a farm called La Belle Alliance. The march of all the Prussian columns was directed towards this farm, which was visible from every side. It was there that Napoleon was during the battle; it was thence that he gave his orders, that he flattered himself with the hopes of victory; and it was there that his ruin was decided. There, too, it was, that by happy chance, Field Marshal Blucher and Lord Wellington met in the dark, and mutually saluted each other as victors”.
Historian Peter Hofschroer had written that Wellington and Blucher meeting at Genappe around 22:00 signifying the end of the battle. Other sources have recorded that the meeting took place around 21:00 near Napoleon’s former headquarters at La Belle Alliance. Waterloo cost Wellington around 15,000 dead and wounded, and Blucher some 7,000 (810 of which were suffered by just one unit), the 18th Regiment, which served in Bulow’s 15th Brigade, fought at both Frichermont and Plancenoit, and won 33 Iron Crosses. Napoleon lost 25,000 dead or injured, with 8,000 taken prisoner.
This what the record of Major W. E Frye After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815-1819 states:
“June 22. This morning I went to visit the field of battle, which is a little beyond the village of Waterloo, on the plateau of Mont St Jean; but on arrival there the sight was too horrible to behold. I felt sick in the stomach and was obliged to return. The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the Allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and waggons with them, formed a spectacle I shall never forget. The wounded, both of the Allies and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state”.
At 10:30 on 19 June General Grouchy, still following Napoleon’s orders, defeated General Thielemann at Wavre and withdrew in good order though at the cost of 33,000 French troops that never reached the Waterloo battlefield. Wellington, Blucher and other Coalition forces advanced upon Paris. Napoleon announced his second abdication on 24 June 1815. In the final skirmish of the Napoleonic Wars, Marshal Davout, Napoleon’s minister of war, was defeated by Blucher at Issy on 3 July 1815.
Allegedly, Napoleon tried to escape to North America, but the Royal Navy was blockading French ports to forestall such a move. He finally surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon on 15 July. There was a campaign against French fortresses that still held out; Longwy capitulated on 13 September 1815, the last to do so. The Treaty of Paris was signed on 20 November 1815. Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France, and Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
According to the translated letter of surrender sent by Napoleon to the Prince of Regent, he stated that: “Royal Highness, – Exposed to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the great Powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career; and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality (m’asseoir sur le foyer) of the British people. I claim from your Royal Highness the protections of the laws, and throw myself upon the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies”.
Maitland’s 1st Foot Guards, who had defeated the Chasseurs of the Guard, were thought to have defeated the Grenadiers; they were awarded the title of Grenadier Guards in recognition of their feat, and adopted bearskins in the style of the Grenadiers. Britain’s Household Cavalry likewise adopted the cuirass in 1821 in recognition of their success against their armoured French counterparts. The effectiveness of the lance was noted by all participants and this weapon subsequently became more widespread throughout Europe; the British converted their first light cavalry regiment to lancers in 1816.
Waterloo was a decisive battle in more than one sense. It definitively ended the series of wars that had convulsed Europe, and involved many other regions of the world, since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. It also ended the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest commanders and statesmen in history. Finally, it ushered in almost half a century of international peace in Europe; no major conflict was to occur until the Crimean War.
A French View of the Reasons for Napoleon’s Defeat
General Baron Jomini, one of the leading military writers on the Napoleonic art of war had a number of very cogent explanations of the reasons behind Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
In my opinion, four principal causes led to this disaster: The first, and most influential, was the arrival, skilfully combined, of Blucher, and the false movement that favored this arrival; the second, was the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sang-froid and aplomb of its chiefs; the third, was the horrible weather, that had softened the ground, and rendered the offensive movements so toilsome, and retarded till one o’clock the attack that should have been made in the morning; the fourth, was the inconceivable formation of the first corps, in masses very much too deep for the first grand attack.
The Battlefield Today
Some portions of the terrain on the battlefield have been altered from their 1815 appearance. Tourism began the day after the battle, with Captain Mercer noting that on 19 June “a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field”.In 1820, the Netherlands’ King William I ordered the construction of a monument on the spot where it was believed his son, the Prince of Orange, had been wounded. The Lion’s Hillock, a giant mound, was constructed here, using 300,000 cubic metres (392,000 cubic yards) of earth taken from other parts of the battlefield, including Wellington’s sunken road.
Victor Hugo of Les Miserables stated that: “Every one is aware that the variously inclined undulations of the plains, where the engagement between Napoleon and Wellington took place, are no longer what they were on June 18, 1815. By taking from this mournful field the wherewithal to make a monument to it, its real relief has been taken away, and history, disconcerted, no longer finds her bearings there. It has been disfigured for the sake of glorifying it. Wellington, when he beheld Waterloo once more, two years later, exclaimed, “They have altered my field of battle!” Where the great pyramid of earth, surmounted by the lion, rises to-day, there was a hillock which descended in an easy slope towards the Nivelles road, but which was almost an escarpment on the side of the highway to Genappe. The elevation of this escarpment can still be measured by the height of the two knolls of the two great sepulchres which enclose the road from Genappe to Brussels: one, the English tomb, is on the left; the other, the German tomb, is on the right. There is no French tomb. The whole of that plain is a sepulchre for France”.
However, other terrain features and notable landmarks on the field have remained virtually unchanged since the battle. These include the rolling farmland to the east of the Brussels-Charleroi Road as well as the buildings at Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte, and La Belle Alliance.
Apart from the Lion Mound, there are several more conventional but noteworthy monuments scattered throughout the battlefield. A cluster of monuments at the Brussels-Charleroi and Braine L’Alleud-Ohain crossroads mark the mass graves of English, Dutch, Hanoverian and KGL troops. A monument to the French dead entitled The Wounded Eagle (L’aigle Blessé) marks the location where it is believed one of the French guard units formed square during the closing moments of the battle. A monument to the Prussian dead is located in the village of Placenoit on the site where one of their artillery batteries took position.