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The 15th of June had scarcely dawned before the French army was in motion for the decisive campaign, and crossed the frontier in three columns, which were pointed upon Charleroi and its vicinity. The French line of advance upon Brussels, which city Napoleon resolved to occupy, thus lay right through the centre of the cantonments of the Allies.
Much criticism has been expended on the supposed surprise of Wellington's army in its cantonments by Napoleon's rapid advance. These comments would hardly have been made if sufficient attention had been paid to the geography of the Waterloo campaign; and if it had been remembered that the protection of Brussels was justly considered by the allied generals a matter of primary importance. If Napoleon could, either by manoeuvring or fighting, have succeeded in occupying that city, the greater part of Belgium would unquestionably have declared in his favour; and the results of such a success, gained by the Emperor at the commencement of the campaign, might have decisively influenced the whole after-current of events. A glance at the map will show the numerous roads that lead from the different fortresses on the French north-eastern frontier, and converge upon Brussels; any one of which Napoleon might have chosen for the advance of a strong force upon that city. The Duke's army was judiciously arranged, so as to enable him to concentrate troops on any one of these roads sufficiently in advance of Brussels to check an assailing enemy. The army was kept thus available for movement in any necessary direction, till certain intelligence arrived on the 15th of June that the French had crossed the frontier in large force near Thuin, that they had driven back the Prussian advanced troops under General Ziethen, and were also moving across the Sambre upon Charleroi.
Marshal Blucher now rapidly concentrated his forces, calling them in from the left upon Ligny, which is to the north-east of Charleroi. Wellington also drew his troops together, calling them in from the right. But even now, though it was certain that the French were in large force at Charleroi it was unsafe for the English general to place his army directly between that place and Brussels, until it was certain that no corps of the enemy was marching upon Brussels by the western road through Mons and Hal. The Duke therefore, collected his troops in Brussels and its immediate vicinity, ready to move due southward upon Quatre Bras, and co-operate with Blucher, who was taking his station at Ligny: but also ready to meet and defeat any manoeuvre, that the enemy might make to turn the right of the Allies, and occupy Brussels by a flanking movement. The testimony of the Prussian general, Baron Muffling, who was attached to the Duke's staff during the campaign, and who expressly states the reasons on which the English general acted, ought for ever to have silenced the "weak inventions of the enemy" about the Duke of Wellington having been deceived and surprised by his assailant, which some writers of our own nation, as well as foreigners, have incautiously repeated. [See "Passages from my Life and Writings," by Baron Muffling,
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon of the 15th, that a Prussian officer reached Brussels, whom General Ziethen had sent to Muffling to inform him of the advance of the main French army upon Charleroi. Muffling immediately communicated this to the Duke of Wellington; and asked him whether he would now concentrate his army, and what would be his point of concentration; observing that Marshal Blucher in consequence of this intelligence would certainly concentrate the Prussians at Ligny. The Duke replied--"If all is as General Ziethen supposes, I will concentrate on my left wing, and so be in readiness to fight in conjunction with the Prussian army. Should, however, a portion of the enemy's force come by Mons, I must concentrate more towards my centre. This is the reason why I must wait for positive news from Mons before I fix the rendezvous. Since, however, it is certain that the troops MUST march, though it is uncertain upon what precise spot they must march, I will order all to be in readiness, and will direct a brigade to move at once towards Quatre Bras." [Muffling, p. 231.]
Later in the same day a message from Blucher himself was delivered to Muffling, in which the Prussian Field-Marshal informed the Baron that he was concentrating his men at Sombref and Ligny, and charged Muffling to give him speedy intelligence respecting the concentration of Wellington. Muffling immediately communicated this to the Duke, who expressed his satisfaction with Blucher's arrangements, but added that he could not even then resolve upon his own point of concentration before he obtained the desired intelligence from Mons. About midnight this information arrived. The Duke went to the quarters of General Muffling, and told him that he now had received his reports from Mons, and was sure that no French troops were advancing by that route, but that the mass of the enemy's force was decidedly directed on Charleroi. He informed the Prussian general that he had ordered the British troops to move forward upon Quatre Bras; but with characteristic coolness and sagacity resolved not to give the appearance of alarm by hurrying on with them himself. A ball was to be given by the Duchess of Richmond at Brussels that night, and the Duke proposed to General Muffling that they should go to the ball for a few hours, and ride forward in the morning to overtake the troops at Quatre Bras.
To hundreds, who were assembled at that memorable ball, the news that the enemy was advancing, and that the time for battle had come, must have been a fearfully exciting surprise, and the magnificent stanzas of Byron are as true as they are beautiful; but the Duke and his principal officers knew well the stern termination to that festive scene which was approaching. One by one, and in such a way as to attract as little observation as possible, the leaders of the various corps left the ball-room, and took their stations at the head of their men, who were pressing forward through the last hours of the short summer night to the arena of anticipated slaughter.
[There was a sound of revelry by night, And Belgium's capital had gather'd then Her Beauty and her chivalry, and bright The lamps shone o'er fair women and brave men; A thousand hearts beat happily; and when Music arose with its voluptuous swell, Soft eyes look'd love to eyes which spake again, And all went merry as a marriage bell; But hush! hark! a deep sound strikes like a rising knell,
Did ye not hear it?--No; 'twas but; the wind, Or the car rattling o'er the stony street; On with the dance! let joy be unconfined; No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet-- But, hark!--that heavy sound breaks in once more, As if the clouds its echo would repeat; And nearer, clearer, deadlier than before! Arm! Arm! it is--it is--the cannon's opening roar!
Within a window'd niche of that high hall Sate Brunswick's fated chieftain; he did hear That sound the first amidst the festival, And caught its tone with Death's prophetic ear; And when they smiled because he deem'd it near, His heart more truly knew that peal too well Which stretch'd his father on a bloody bier, And roused the vengeance blood alone could quell; He rush'd into the field, and, foremost fighting, fell.
Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro, And gathering tears, and tremblings of distress, And cheeks all pale, which but an hour ago Blush'd at the praise of their own loveliness; And there were sudden partings, such as press The life from out young hearts, and choking sighs Which ne'er might be repeated; who could guess If ever more should meet those mutual eyes, Since upon night so sweet such awful morn could rise!
And there was mounting in hot haste: the steed, The mustering squadron, and the clattering car, Went pouring forward with impetuous speed, And swiftly forming in the ranks of war; And the deep thunder peal on peal afar; And near, the beat of the alarming drum Roused up the soldier ere the morning star; While thronged the citizens with terror dumb, Or whispering, with white lips--"The foe! They come! they come!"
And Ardennes waves above them her green leaves, Dewy with nature's teardrops, as they pass, Grieving, if aught inanimate e'er grieves, Over the unreturning brave,--alas! Ere evening to be trodden like the grass Which now beneath them, but above shall grow In its next verdure, when this fiery mass Of living valour, rolling on the foe And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.
Last noon beheld them full of lusty life, Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay, The midnight brought the signal-sound of strife, The morn the marshalling in arms,--the day Battle's magnificently stern array! The thunder-clouds close o'er it, which when rent The earth is covered thick with other clay, Which her own clay shall cover, heaped and pent, Rider and horse,--friend, foe,--in one red burial blent.
Napoleon's operations on the 16th had been conducted with signal skill and vigour; and their results had been very advantageous for his plan of the campaign. With his army formed in three vast columns, [Victoires et Conquetes des Francais, vol. xxv. p. 177.] he had struck at the centre of the line of cantonments of his allied foes; and he had so far made good his blow, that he had affected the passage of the Sambre, he had beaten with his left wing the Prussian corps of General Ziethen at Thuin, and with his centre he had in person advanced right through Charleroi upon Fleurus, inflicting considerable loss upon the Prussians that fell back before him. His right column had with little opposition moved forward as far as the bridge of Chatelet.
Napoleon had thus a powerful force immediately in front of the point which Blucher had fixed for the concentration of the Prussian army, and that concentration was still incomplete. The French Emperor designed to attack the Prussians on the morrow in person, with the troops of his centre and right columns, and to employ his left wing in beating back such English troops as might advance to the help of their allies, and also in aiding his own attack upon Blucher. He gave the command of this left wing to Marshal Ney. Napoleon seems not to have originally intended to employ this celebrated General in the campaign. It was only on the night of the 11th of June, that Marshal Ney received at Paris an order to join the army. Hurrying forward to the Belgian frontier, he met the Emperor near Charleroi. Napoleon immediately directed him to take the command of the left wing, and to press forward with it upon Quatre Bras by the line of the road which leads from Charleroi to Brussels, through Gosselies, Frasne, Quatre Bras, Genappe, and Waterloo. Ney immediately proceeded to the post assigned him; and before ten on the night of the 15th he had occupied Gosselies and Frasne, driving out without much difficulty some weak Belgian detachments which had been stationed in those villages. The lateness of the hour, and the exhausted state of the French troops, who had been marching and fighting since ten in the morning, made him pause from advancing further to attack the much more important position of Quatre Bras. In truth, the advantages which the French gained by their almost superhuman energy and activity throughout the long day of the 15th of June, were necessarily bought at the price of more delay and inertness during the following night and morrow, than would have been observable if they had not been thus overtasked. Ney has been blamed for want of promptness in his attack upon Quatre Bras; and Napoleon has been criticised for not having fought at Ligny before the afternoon of the 16th: but their censors should remember that soldiers are but men ; and that there must be necessarily some interval of time, before troops, that have been worn and weakened by twenty hours of incessant fatigue and strife, can be fed, rested, reorganized, and brought again into action with any hope of success.
Having on the night of the 15th placed the most advanced of the French under his command in position in front of Frasne, Ney rode back to Charleroi, where Napoleon also arrived about midnight, having returned from directing the operations of the centre and right column of the French. The Emperor and the Marshal supped together, and remained in earnest conversation till two in the morning. An hour or two afterwards Ney rode back to Frasne, where he endeavoured to collect tidings of the numbers and movements of the enemy in front of him; and also busied himself in the necessary duty of learning the amount and composition of the troops which he himself was commanding. He had been so suddenly appointed to his high station, that he did not know the strength of the several regiments under him, or even the names of their commanding officers. He now caused his aides-de-camp to prepare the requisite returns, and drew together the troops, whom he was thus learning before he used them.
Wellington remained at the Duchess of Richmond's ball at Brussels till about three o'clock in the morning of the 16th, "showing himself very cheerful" as Baron Muffling, who accompanied him, observes. [Muffling, p. 233.] At five o'clock the Duke and the Baron were on horseback, and reached the position at Quatre Bras about eleven. As the French, who were in front of Frasne, were perfectly quiet, and the Duke was informed that a very large force under Napoleon in person was menacing Blucher, it was thought possible that only a slight detachment of the French was posted at Frasne in order to mask the English army. In that event Wellington, as he told Baron Muffling, would be able to employ his whole strength in supporting the Prussians: and he proposed to ride across from Quatre Bras to Blucher's position, in order to concert with him personally the measures which should be taken in order to bring on a decisive battle with the French. Wellington and Muffling rode accordingly towards Ligny, and found Marshal Blucher and his staff at the windmill of Bry, near that village. The Prussian army, 80,000 strong, was drawn up chiefly along a chain of heights, with the villages of Sombref, St. Amand, and Ligny in their front. These villages were strongly occupied by Prussian detachments, and formed the keys of Blucher's position. The heads of the columns which Napoleon was forming for the attack, were visible in the distance. The Duke asked Blucher and General Gneisenau (who was Blucher's adviser in matters of strategy) what they wished him to do, Muffling had already explained to them in a few words the Duke's earnest desire to support the Field-Marshal, and that he would do all that they wished, provided they did not ask him to divide his army, which was contrary to his principles. The Duke wished to advance with his army (as soon as it was concentrated) upon Frasne and Gosselies, and thence to move upon Napoleon's flank and rear. The Prussian leaders preferred that he should march his men from Quatre Bras by the Namur road, so as to form a reserve in rear of Blucher's army. The Duke replied, "Well, I will come if I am not attacked myself," and galloped back with Muffling to Quatre Bras, where the French attack was now actually raging.
Marshal Ney began the battle about two o'clock in the afternoon. He had at this time in hand about 16,000 infantry, nearly 2,000 cavalry, and 38 guns. The force which Napoleon nominally placed at his command exceeded 40,000 men. But more than one half of these consisted of the first French corps d'armee, under Count d'Erlon; and Ney was deprived of the use of this corps at the time that he most required it, in consequence of its receiving orders to march to the aid of the Emperor at Ligny. A magnificent body of heavy cavalry under Kellerman, nearly 5,000 strong, and several more battalions of artillery were added to Ney's army during the battle of Quatre Bras; but his effective infantry force never exceeded 16,000.
When the battle began, the greater part of the Duke's army was yet on its march towards Quatre Bras from Brussels and the other parts of its cantonments. The force of the Allies, actually in position there, consisted only of a Dutch and Belgian division of infantry, not quite 7,000 strong, with one battalion of foot, and one of horse-artillery. The Prince of Orange commanded them. A wood, called the Bois de Bossu, stretched along the right (or western) flank of the position of Quatre Bras; a farmhouse and building, called Gemiancourt, stood on some elevated ground in its front; and to the left (or east), were the inclosures of the village of Pierremont. The Prince of Orange endeavoured to secure these posts; but Ney carried Gemiancourt in the centre, and Pierremont on the east, and gained occupation of the southern part of the wood of Bossu. He ranged the chief part of his artillery on the high ground of Gemiancourt, whence it played throughout the action with most destructive effect upon the Allies. He was pressing forward to further advantages, when the fifth infantry division under Sir Thomas Picton and the Duke of Brunswick's corps appeared upon the scene. Wellington (who had returned to Quatre Bras from his interview with Blucher shortly before the arrival of these forces) restored the fight with them; and, as fresh troops of the Allies arrived, they were brought forward to stem the fierce attacks which Ney's columns and squadrons continued to make with unabated gallantry and zeal. The only cavalry of the anglo-allied army that reached Quatre Bras during the action, consisted of Dutch and Belgians, and a small force of Brunswickers, under their Duke, who was killed on the field. These proved wholly unable to encounter Kellerman's cuirassiers and Pire's lancers; the Dutch and Belgian infantry also gave way early in the engagement; so that the whole brunt of the battle fell on the British and German infantry. They sustained it nobly. Though repeatedly charged by the French cavalry, though exposed to the murderous fire of the French batteries, which from the heights of Gemiancourt sent shot and shell into the devoted squares whenever the French horseman withdrew, they not only repelled their assailants, but Kempt's and Pack's brigades, led, on by Picton, actually advanced against and through their charging foes, and with stern determination made good to the end of the day the ground which they had thus boldly won. Some, however, of the British regiments were during the confusion assailed by the French cavalry before they could form squares, and suffered severely. One regiment, the 92d, was almost wholly destroyed by the cuirassiers. A French private soldier, named Lami, of the 8th regiment of cuirassiers, captured one of the English colours, and presented it to Ney. It was a solitary trophy. The arrival of the English Guards about half- past six o'clock, enabled the Duke to recover the wood of Bossu, which the French had almost entirely won, and the possession of which by them would have enabled Ney to operate destructively upon the allied flank and rear. Not only was the wood of Bossu recovered on the British right, but the inclosures of Pierremont were also carried on the left. When night set in the French had been driven back on all points towards Frasne; but they still held the farm of Gemiancourt in front of the Duke's centre. Wellington and Muffling were unacquainted with the result of the collateral battle between Blucher and Napoleon, the cannonading of which had been distinctly audible at Quatre Bras throughout the afternoon and evening. The Duke observed to Muffling, that of course the two Allied armies would assume the offensive against the enemy on the morrow; and consequently, it would be better to capture the farm at once, instead of waiting till next morning. Muffling agreed in the Duke's views and Gemiancourt was forthwith attacked by the English and captured with little loss to its assailants. [Muffling, p. 242.]
Meanwhile the French and the Prussians had been fighting in and round the villages of Ligny, Sombref, and St. Armand, from three in the afternoon to nine in the evening, with a savage inveteracy almost unparalleled in modern warfare. Blucher had in the field, when he began the battle, 83,417 men, and 224 guns. Bulow's corps, which was 25,000 strong, had not joined him; but the Field-Marshal hoped to be reinforced by it, or by the English army before the end of the action. But Bulow, through some error in the transmission of orders, was far in the rear; and the Duke of Wellington was engaged, as we have seen, with Marshal Ney. Blucher received early warning from Baron Muffling that the Duke could not come to his assistance; but, as Muffling observes, Wellington rendered the Prussians the great service of occupying more than 40,000 of the enemy, who otherwise would have crushed Blucher's right flank. For, not only did the conflict at Quatre Bras detain the French troops which actually took part in it, but d'Erlon received orders from Ney to join him, which hindered d'Erlon from giving effectual aid to Napoleon. Indeed, the whole of d'Erlon's corps, in consequence of conflicting directions from Ney and the Emperor, marched and countermarched, during the 16th, between Quatre Bras and Ligny without firing a shot in either battle.
Blucher had, in fact, a superiority of more than 12,000 in number over the French army that attacked him at Ligny. The numerical difference was even greater at the beginning of the battle, as Lobau's corps did not come up from Charleroi till eight o'clock. After five hours and a half of desperate and long-doubtful struggle, Napoleon succeeded in breaking the centre of the Prussian line at Ligny, and in forcing his obstinate antagonists off the field of battle. The issue was attributable to his skill, and not to any want of spirit or resolution on the part of the Prussian troops; nor did they, though defeated, abate one jot in discipline, heart, or hope. As Blucher observed, it was a battle in which his army lost the day but not its honour. The Prussians retreated during the night of the 16th, and the early part of the 17th, with perfect regularity and steadiness, The retreat was directed not towards Maestricht, where their principal depots were established, but towards Wavre, so as to be able to maintain their communication with Wellington's army, and still follow out the original plan of the campaign. The heroism with which the Prussians endured and repaired their defeat at Ligny, is more glorious than many victories.
The messenger who was sent to inform Wellington of the retreat of the Prussian army, was shot on the way; and it was not until the morning of the 17th that the Allies, at Quatre Bras, knew the result of the battle of Ligny. The Duke was ready at daybreak to take the offensive against the enemy with vigour, his whole army being by that time fully assembled. But on learning that Blucher had been defeated, a different course of action was clearly necessary. It was obvious that Napoleon's main army would now be directed against Wellington, and a retreat was inevitable. On ascertaining that the Prussian army had retired upon Wavre, that there was no hot pursuit of them by the French, and that Bulow's corps had taken no part in the action at Ligny, the Duke resolved to march his army back towards Brussels, still intending to cover that city, and to halt at a point in a line with Wavre, and there restore his communication with Blucher. An officer from Blucher's army reached the Duke about nine o'clock, from whom he learned the effective strength that Blucher still possessed, and how little discouraged his ally was by the yesterday's battle. Wellington sent word to the Prussian commander that he would halt in the position of Mont St. Jean, and accept a general battle with the French, if Blucher would pledge himself to come to his assistance with a single corps of 25,000 men. This was readily promised; and after allowing his men ample time for rest and refreshment, Wellington retired over about half the space between Quatre Bras and Brussels. He was pursued, but little molested, by the main French army, which about noon of the 17th moved laterally from Ligny, and joined Ney's forces, which had advanced through Quatre Bras when the British abandoned that position. The Earl of Uxbridge, with the British cavalry, covered the retreat of the Duke's army, with great skill and gallantry; and a heavy thunderstorm, with torrents of rain, impeded the operations of the French pursuing squadrons. The Duke still expected that the French would endeavour to turn his right, and march upon Brussels by the high road that leads through Mons and Hal. In order to counteract this anticipated manoeuvre, he stationed a force of 18,000 men, under Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, at Hal, with orders to maintain himself there if attacked, as long as possible. The Duke halted with the rest of his army at the position near Mont St. Jean, which, from a village in its neighbourhood, has received the ever-memorable name of the field of Waterloo.
Wellington was now about twelve miles distant, on a line running from west to east, from Wavre, where the Prussian army had now been completely reorganised and collected, and where it had been strengthened by the junction of Bulow's troops, which had taken no part in the battle of Ligny. Blucher sent word from Wavre to the Duke, that he was coming to help the English at Mont St. Jean, in the morning, not with one corps, but with his whole army. The fiery old man only stipulated that the combined armies, if not attacked by Napoleon on the 18th, should themselves attack him on the 19th. So far were Blucher and his army from being in the state of annihilation described in the boastful bulletin by which Napoleon informed the Parisians of his victory at Ligny. Indeed, the French Emperor seems himself to have been misinformed as to the extent of loss which he had inflicted on the Prussians. Had he known in what good order and with what undiminished spirit they were retiring, he would scarcely have delayed sending a large force to press them in their retreat until noon on the 17th. Such, however, was the case. It was about that time that he confided to Marshal Grouchy the duty of pursuing the defeated Prussians, and preventing them from joining Wellington. He placed for this purpose 32,000 men and 96 guns under his orders. Violent complaints and recriminations passed afterwards between the Emperor and the marshal respecting the manner in which Grouchy attempted to perform this duty, and the reasons why he failed on the 18th to arrest the lateral movement of the Prussians from Wavre to Waterloo. It is sufficient to remark here, that the force which Napoleon gave to Grouchy (though the utmost that the Emperor's limited means would allow) was insufficient to make head against the entire Prussian army, especially after Bulow's junction with Blucher. We shall presently have occasion to consider what opportunities were given to Grouchy during the 18th, and what he might have effected if he had been a man of original military genius.
But the failure of Grouchy was in truth mainly owing to the indomitable heroism of Blucher himself; who, though he had received severe personal injuries in the battle of Ligny, was as energetic and ready as ever in bringing his men into action again, and who had the resolution to expose a part of his army, under Thielman, to be overwhelmed by Grouchy at Wavre on the 18th, while he urged the march of the mass of his troops upon Waterloo. "It is not at Wavre, but at Waterloo," said the old Field-Marshal, "that the campaign is to be decided;" and he risked a detachment, and won the campaign accordingly. Wellington and Blucher trusted each other as cordially, and co- operated as zealously, as formerly had been the case with Marlborough and Eugene. It was in full reliance on Blucher's promise to join him that the Duke stood his ground and fought at Waterloo; and those who have ventured to impugn the Duke's capacity as a general, ought to have had common-sense enough to perceive, that to charge the Duke with having won the battle of Waterloo by the help of the Prussians, is really to say that he won it by the very means on which he relied, and without the expectation of which the battle would not have been fought.
Napoleon himself has found fault with Wellington for not having retreated further, so as to complete a junction of his army with Blucher's before he risked a general engagement. [See Montholon's Memoirs, vol. iv. p. 44.] But, as we have seen, the Duke justly considered it important to protect Brussels. He had reason to expect that his army could singly resist the French at Waterloo until the Prussians came up; and that, on the Prussians joining, there would be a sufficient force united under himself and Blucher for completely overwhelming the enemy. And while Napoleon thus censures his great adversary, he involuntarily bears the highest possible testimony to the military character of the English, and proves decisively of what paramount importance was the battle to which he challenged his fearless opponent. Napoleon asks, "IF THE ENGLISH ARMY HAD BEEN BEATEN AT WATERLOO, WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE USE OF THOSE NUMEROUS BODIES OF TROOPS, OF PRUSSIANS, AUSTRIANS, GERMANS, AND SPANIARDS, WHICH WERE ADVANCING BY FORCED MARCHES TO THE RHINE, THE ALPS, AND THE PYRENEES?" [Ibid.]
The strength of the army under the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo was 49,608 infantry, 12,402 cavalry, and 5,645 artillerymen with 156 guns. [Siborne, vol. i. p. 376.] But of this total of 67,655 men, scarcely 24,000 were British, a circumstance of very serious importance, if Napoleon's own estimate of the relative value of troops of different nations is to be taken. In the Emperor's own words, speaking of this campaign, "A French soldier would not be equal to more than one English soldier, but he would not be afraid to meet two Dutchmen, Prussians, or soldiers of the Confederation." [Montholon's Memoirs, vol. iv. p. 41.] There were about 6,000 men of the old German Legion with the Duke; these were veteran troops, and of excellent quality. Of the rest of the army the Hanoverians and Brunswickers proved themselves deserving of confidence and praise. But the Nassauers, Dutch, and Belgians were almost worthless; and not a few of them were justly suspected of a strong wish to fight, if they fought at all, under the French eagles rather than against them.
Napoleon's army at Waterloo consisted of 48,950 infantry, 15,765 cavalry, 7,232 artillerymen, being a total of 71,947 men, and 246 guns. [See Siborne, UT SUPRA.] They were the flower of the national forces of France; and of all the numerous gallant armies which that martial land has poured forth, never was there one braver, or better disciplined, or better led, than the host that took up its position at Waterloo on the morning of the 18th of June, 1815.
Perhaps those who have not seen the field of battle at Waterloo, or the admirable model of the ground, and of the conflicting armies, which was executed by Captain Siborne, may gain a generally accurate idea of the localities, by picturing to themselves a valley between two and three miles long, of various breadths at different points, but generally not exceeding half a mile. On each side of the valley there is a winding chain of low hills running somewhat parallel, with each other. The declivity from each of these ranges of hills to the intervening valley is gentle but not uniform, the undulations of the ground being frequent and considerable. The English army was posted on the northern, and the French army occupied the southern ridge. The artillery of each side thundered at the other from their respective heights throughout the day, and the charges of horse and foot were made across the valley that has been described. The village of Mont St. Jean is situate a little behind the centre of the northern chain of hills, and the village of La Belle Alliance is close behind the centre of the southern ridge. The high road from Charleroi to Brussels (a broad paved causeway) runs through both these villages, and bisects therefore both the English and the French positions. The line of this road was the line of Napoleon's intended advance on Brussels.
There are some other local particulars connected with the situation of each army, which it is necessary to bear in mind. The strength of the British position did not consist merely in the occupation of a ridge of high ground. A village and ravine, called Merk Braine, on the Duke of Wellington's extreme right, secured his flank from being turned on that side; and on his extreme left, two little hamlets called La Haye and Papelotte, gave a similar, though a slighter, protection. Behind the whole British position is the extensive forest of Soignies. As no attempt was made by the French to turn either of the English flanks, and the battle was a day of straightforward fighting, it is chiefly important to ascertain what posts there were in front of the British line of hills, of which advantage could be taken either to repel or facilitate an attack; and it will be seen that there were two, and that each was of very great importance in the action. In front of the British right, that is to say, on the northern slope of the valley towards its western end, there stood an old-fashioned Flemish farm-house called Goumont, or Hougoumont, with out-buildings and a garden, and with a copse of beach trees of about two acres in extent round it. This was strongly garrisoned by the allied troops; and, while it was in their possession, it was difficult for the enemy to press on and force the British right wing. On the other hand, if the enemy could take it, it would be difficult for that wing to keep its ground on the heights, with a strong post held adversely in its immediate front, being one that; would give much shelter to the enemy's marksmen, and great facilities for the sudden concentration of attacking columns. Almost immediately in front of the British centre, and not so far down the slope as Hougoumont, there was another farm-house, of a smaller size, called La Haye Sainte, [Not to be confounded with the hamlet of La Haye at the extreme left of the British line.] which was also held by the British troops, and the occupation of which was found to be of very serious consequence.
With respect to the French position, the principal feature to be noticed is the village of Planchenoit, which lay a little in the rear of their right (I.E. on the eastern side), and which proved to be of great importance in aiding them to check the advance of the Prussians.
Napoleon, in his memoirs, and other French writers, have vehemently blamed the Duke for having given battle in such a position as that of Waterloo. They particularly object that the Duke fought without having the means of a retreat, if the attacks of his enemy had proved successful; and that the English army, if once broken, must have lost all its guns and MATERIEL in its flight through the Forest of Soignies, that lay in its rear. In answer to these censures, instead of merely referring to the event of the battle as proof of the correctness of the Duke's judgment, it is to be observed that many military critics of high authority, have considered the position of Waterloo to have been admirably adapted for the Duke's purpose of protecting Brussels by a battle; and that certainly the Duke's opinion in favour of it was not lightly or hastily formed. It is a remarkable fact (mentioned in the speech of Lord Bathurst when moving the vote of thanks to the Duke in the House of Lords), [Parliamentary Debates, vol. xxxi. p. 875.] that when the Duke of Wellington was passing through Belgium in the preceding summer of 1814, he particularly noticed the strength of the position of Waterloo, and made a minute of it at the time, stating to those who were with him, that if it ever should be his fate to fight a battle in that quarter for the protection of Brussels, he should endeavour to do so in that position. And with respect to the Forest of Soignies, which the French (and some few English) critics have thought calculated to prove so fatal to a retreating force, the Duke on the contrary believed it to be a post that might have proved of infinite value to his army in the event of his having been obliged to give way. The Forest of Soignies has no thicket or masses of close-growing trees. It consists of tall beeches, and is everywhere passable for men and horses. The artillery could have been withdrawn by the broad road which traverses it towards Brussels; and in the meanwhile a few regiments of resolute infantry could have held the forest and kept the pursuers in check. One of the best writers on the Waterloo campaign, Captain Pringle, [See the Appendix to the 8th volume of Scott's Life of Napoleon.] well observes that "every person, the least experienced in war, knows the extreme difficulty of forcing infantry from a wood which cannot be turned." The defence of the Bois de Bossu near Quatre Bras on the 16th of June had given a good proof of this; and the Duke of Wellington, when speaking in after years of the possible events that might have followed if he had been beaten back from the open field of Waterloo, pointed to the wood of Soignies as his secure rallying place, saying, "they never could have beaten us so, that we could not have held the wood against them." He was always confident that he could have made good that post until joined by the Prussians, upon whose co- operation he throughout depended." [See Lord Ellesmere's Life and Character of the Duke of Wellington, p. 40.]
As has been already mentioned, the Prussians, on the morning of the 18th, were at Wavre, which is about twelve miles to the east of the field of battle of Waterloo. The junction of Bulow's division had more than made up for the loss sustained at Ligny; and leaving Thielman with about seventeen thousand men to hold his ground, as he best could, against the attack which Grouchy was about to make on Wavre, Bulow and Blucher moved with the rest of the Prussians through St. Lambert upon Waterloo. It was calculated that they would be there by three o'clock; but the extremely difficult nature of the ground which they had to traverse, rendered worse by the torrents of rain that had just fallen, delayed them long on their twelve miles' march.
An army indeed, less animated by bitter hate against the enemy than was the Prussians, and under a less energetic chief than Blucher, would have failed altogether in effecting a passage through the swamps, into which the incessant rain had transformed the greater part of the ground through which it was necessary to move not only with columns of foot, but with cavalry and artillery. At one point of the march, on entering the defile of St. Lambert, the spirits of the Prussians almost gave way. Exhausted in the attempts to extricate and drag forward the heavy guns, the men began to murmur. Blucher came to the spot, and heard cries from the ranks of--"We cannot get on." "But you must get on," was the old Field-Marshal's answer. "I have pledged my word to Wellington, and you surely will not make me break it. Only exert yourselves for a few hours longer, and we are sure of victory." This appeal from old "Marshal Forwards," as the Prussian soldiers loved to call Blucher, had its wonted affect. The Prussians again moved forward, slowly, indeed, and with pain and toil; but still they moved forward. [See Siborne, vol. ii. p. 137.]
The French and British armies lay on the open field during the wet and stormy night of the 17th; and when the dawn of the memorable 18th of June broke, the rain was still descending heavily upon Waterloo. The rival nations rose from their dreary bivouacs, and began to form, each on the high ground which it occupied. Towards nine the weather grew clearer, and each army was able to watch the position and arrangements of the other on the opposite side of the valley.
The Duke of Wellington drew up his army in two lines; the principal one being stationed near the crest of the ridge of hills already described, and the other being arranged along the slope in the rear of his position. Commencing from the eastward, on the extreme left of the first or main line, were Vivian's and Vandeleur's brigades of light cavalry, and the fifth Hanoverian brigade of infantry, under Von Vincke. Then came Best's fourth Hanoverian brigade. Detachments from these bodies of troops occupied the little villages of Papelotte and La Haye, down the hollow in advance of the left of the Duke's position. To the right of Best's Hanoverians, Bylandt's brigade of Dutch and Belgian infantry was drawn up on the outer slope of the heights. Behind them were the ninth brigade of British infantry under Pack; and to the right of these last, but more in advance, stood the eighth brigade of English infantry under Kempt. These were close to the Charleroi road, and to the centre of the entire position. These two English brigades, with the fifth Hanoverian, made up the fifth division, commanded by Sir Thomas Picton. Immediately to their right, and westward of the Charleroi road, stood the third division, commanded by General Alten, and consisting of Ompteda's brigade of the King's German legion, and Kielmansegge's Hanoverian brigade. The important post of La Haye Sainte, which it will be remembered lay in front of the Duke's centre, close to the Charleroi road, was garrisoned with troops from this division. Westward, and on the right of Kielmansegge's Hanoverians, stood the fifth British brigade under Halkett; and behind, Kruse's Nassau brigade was posted. On the right of Halkett's men stood the English Guards. They were in two brigades, one commanded By Maitland, and the other by Byng. The entire division was under General Cooke. The buildings and gardens of Hougoumont, which lay immediately under the height, on which stood the British Guards, were principally manned by detachments from Byng's Brigade, aided by some brave Hanoverian riflemen, and accompanied by a battalion of a Nassau regiment. On a plateau in the rear of Cooks's division of Guards, and inclining westward towards the village of Merk Braine, were Clinton's second infantry division, composed of Adams's third brigade of light infantry, Du Plat's first brigade of the King's German legion, and third Hanoverian brigade under Colonel Halkett.
The Duke formed his second line of cavalry. This only extended behind the right and centre of his first line. The largest mass was drawn up behind the brigades of infantry in the centre, on either side of the Charleroi road. The brigade of household cavalry under Lord Somerset was on the immediate right of the road, and on the left of it was Ponsonby's brigade. Behind these were Trip's and Ghingy's brigades of Dutch and Belgian horse. The third Hussars of the King's German Legion were to the right of Somerset's brigade. To the right of these, and behind Maitland's infantry, stood the third brigade under Dornberg, consisting of the 23d English Light Dragoons, and the regiments of Light Dragoons of the King's German Legion. The last cavalry on the right was Grant's brigade, stationed in the rear of the Foot-Guards. The corps of Brunswickers, both horse and foot, and the 10th British brigade of foot, were in reserve behind the centre and right of the entire position. The artillery was distributed at convenient intervals along the front of the whole line. Besides the Generals who have been mentioned, Lord Hill, Lord Uxbridge (who had the general command of the cavalry), the Prince of Orange, and General Chasse, were present, and acting under the Duke.
[Prince Frederick's force remained at Hal, and took no part in the battle of the 18th. The reason for this arrangement (which has been much cavilled at), may be best given in the words of Baron Muffling:--"The Duke had retired from Quatre Bras in three columns, by three chaussees; and on the evening of the 17th, Prince Frederick of Orange was at Hal, Lord Hill at Braine la Leud, and the Prince of Orange with the reserve, at Mont St. Jean. This distribution was necessary, as Napoleon could dispose of these three roads for his advance on Brussels. Napoleon on the 17th had pressed on by Genappe as far as Rossomme. On the two other roads no enemy had yet shown himself. On the 18th the offensive was taken by Napoleon on its greatest scale, but still the Nivelles road was not overstepped by his left wing. These circumstances made it possible to draw Prince Frederick to the army, which would certainly have been done if entirely new circumstances had not arisen. The Duke had, twenty-four hours before, pledged himself to accept a battle at Mont St. Jean if Blucher would assist him there with one corps, of 25,000 men. This being promised, the Duke was taking his measures for defence, when be learned that, in addition to the one corps promised, Blucher was actually already on the march with his whole force, to break in by Planchenoit on Napoleon's flank and rear. If three corps of the Prussian army should penetrate by the unguarded plateau of Rossomme, which was not improbable, Napoleon would be thrust from his line of retreat by Genappe, and might possibly lose even that by Nivelles. In this case Prince Frederick with his 18,000 men (who might be accounted superfluous at Mont St.Jean), might have rendered the most essential service."--See Muffling, p. 246 and the QUARTERLY REVIEW, No. 178. It is also worthy of observation that Napoleon actually detached a force of 2,000 cavalry to threaten Hal, though they returned to the main French army during the night of the 17th. See "Victoires at Conquetes des Francais," vol. xxiv. p 186.]
On the opposite heights the French army was drawn up in two general lines, with the entire force of the Imperial Guards, cavalry as well as infantry, in rear of the centre, as a reserve.
The first line of the French army was formed of the two corps commanded by Count d'Erlon and Count Reille. D'Erlon's corps was on the right, that is, eastward of the Charleroi road, and consisted of four divisions of infantry under Generals Durette, Marcognet, Alix, and Donzelot, and of one division of light cavalry under General Jaquinot. Count Reille's corps formed the left or western wing, and was formed of Bachelu's, Foy's, and Jerome Bonaparte's divisions of infantry, and of Pire's division of cavalry. The right wing of the second general French line was formed of Milhaud's corps, consisting of two divisions of heavy cavalry. The left wing of this line was formed by Kellerman's cavalry corps, also in two divisions. Thus each of the corps of infantry that composed the first line had a corps of cavalry behind it; but the second line consisted also of Lobau's corps of infantry, and Domont and Subervie's divisions of light cavalry; these three bodies of troops being drawn up on either side of La Belle Alliance, and forming the centre of the second line. The third, or reserve line, had its centre composed of the infantry of the Imperial Guard. Two regiments of grenadiers and two of chasseurs, formed the foot of the Old Guard under General Friant. The Middle Guard, under Count Morand, was similarly composed; while two regiments of voltigeurs, and two of tirailleurs, under Duhesme, constituted the Young Guard. The chasseurs and lancers of the Guard were on the right of the infantry, under Lefebvre Desnouettes; and the grenadiers and dragoons of the Guards, under Guyot, were on the left. All the French corps comprised, besides their cavalry and infantry regiments, strong batteries of horse artillery; and Napoleon's numerical superiority in guns was of deep importance throughout the action.
Besides the leading generals who have been mentioned as commanding particular corps, Ney and Soult were present, and acted as the Emperor's lieutenants in the battle.
English military critics have highly eulogised the admirable arrangement which Napoleon made of his forces of each arm, so as to give him the most ample means of sustaining, by an immediate and sufficient support, any attack, from whatever point he might direct it; and of drawing promptly together a strong force, to resist any attack that might be made on himself in any part of the field. [Siborne, vol. i. p. 376.] When his troops were all arrayed, he rode along the lines, receiving everywhere the most enthusiastic cheers from his men, of whose entire devotion to him his assurance was now doubly sure. On the northern side of the valley the Duke's army was also drawn up, and ready to meet the menaced attack.
Wellington had caused, on the preceding night, every brigade and corps to take up its station on or near the part of the ground which it was intended to hold in the coming battle. He had slept a few hours at his headquarters in the village of Waterloo; and rising on the 18th, while it was yet deep night, he wrote several letters to the Governor of Antwerp, to the English Minister at Brussels, and other official personages, in which he expressed his confidence that all would go well, but "as it was necessary to provide against serious losses; should any accident occur, he gave a series of judicious orders for what should be done in the rear of the army, in the event of the battle going against the Allies. He also, before he left the village of Waterloo, saw to the distribution of the reserves of ammunition which had been parked there, so that supplies should be readily forwarded to every part of the line of battle, where they might be required, The Duke, also, personally inspected the arrangements that had been made for receiving the wounded, and providing temporary hospitals in the houses in the rear of the army. Then, mounting a favourite charger, a small thorough-bred chestnut horse, named "Copenhagen," Wellington rode forward to the range of hills where his men were posted. Accompanied by his staff and by the Prussian General Muffling, he rode along his lines, carefully inspecting all the details of his position. Hougoumont was the object of his special attention. He rode down to the south- eastern extremity of its enclosures, and after having examined the nearest French troops, he made some changes in the disposition of his own men, who were to defend that important post.
Having given his final orders about Hougoumont, the Duke galloped back to the high ground in the right centre of his position; and halting there, sat watching the enemy on the opposite heights, and conversing with his staff with that cheerful serenity which was ever his characteristic in the hour of battle.
Not all brave men are thus gifted; and many a glance of anxious excitement must have been cast across the valley that separated the two hosts during the protracted pause which ensued between the completion of Napoleon's preparations for attack and the actual commencement of the contest. It was, indeed, an awful calm before the coming storm, when armed myriads stood gazing on their armed foes, scanning their number, their array, their probable powers of resistance and destruction, and listening with throbbing hearts for the momentarily expected note of death; while visions of victory and glory came thronging on each soldier's high-strung brain, not unmingled with recollections of the home which his fall might soon leave desolate, nor without shrinking nature sometimes prompting the cold thought, that in a few moments he might be writhing in agony, or lie a trampled and mangled mass of clay on the grass now waving so freshly and purely before him.
Such thoughts WILL arise in human breasts, though the brave man soon silences "the child within us that trembles before death," [See Plato, Phaedon, c. 60; and Grote's History of Greece, vol.
Not only to those who were thus present as spectators and actors in the dread drama, but to all Europe, the decisive contest then impending between the rival French and English nations, each under its chosen chief was the object of exciting interest and deepest solicitude. "Never, indeed, had two such generals as the Duke of Wellington and the Emperor Napoleon encountered since the day when Scipio and Hannibal met at Zama." [See SUPRA, p. 82.]
The two great champions, who now confronted each other, were equals in years, and each had entered the military profession at the same early age. The more conspicuous stage, on which the French general's youthful genius was displayed, his heritage of the whole military power of the French Republic, the position on which for years he was elevated as sovereign head of an empire surpassing that of Charlemagne, and the dazzling results of his victories, which made and unmade kings, had given him a formidable pre-eminence in the eyes of mankind. Military men spoke with justly rapturous admiration of the brilliancy of his first Italian campaigns, when he broke through the pedantry of traditional tactics, and with a small but promptly-wielded force, shattered army after army of the Austrians, conquered provinces and capitals, dictated treaties, and annihilated or created states. The iniquity of his Egyptian expedition was too often forgotten in contemplating the skill and boldness with which he destroyed the Mameluke cavalry at the Pyramids, and the Turkish infantry at Aboukir. None could forget the marvellous passage of the Alps in 1800, or the victory of Marengo, which wrested Italy back from Austria, and destroyed the fruit of twenty victories, which the enemies of France had gained over her in the absence of her favourite chief. Even higher seemed the glories of his German campaigns, the triumphs of Ulm, of Austerlitz, of Jena, of Wagram. Napoleon's disasters in Russia, in 1812, were imputed by his admirers to the elements; his reverses in Germany, in 1813, were attributed by them to treachery: and even those two calamitous years had been signalised by his victories at Borodino, at Lutzen, at Bautzen, at Dresden, and at Hanau. His last campaign, in the early months of 1814, was rightly cited as the most splendid exhibition of his military genius, when, with a far inferior army, he long checked and frequently defeated the vast hosts that were poured upon France. His followers fondly hoped that the campaign of 1815 would open with another "week of miracles," like that which had seen his victories at Montmirail and Montereau. The laurel of Ligny was even now fresh upon his brows. Blucher had not stood before him; and who was the Adversary that now should bar the Emperor's way?
That Adversary had already overthrown the Emperor's best generals, and the Emperor's best armies; and, like Napoleon himself, had achieved a reputation in more than European wars. Wellington was illustrious as the destroyer of the Mahratta power, as the liberator of Portugal and Spain, and the successful invader of Southern France. In early youth he had held high command in India; and had displayed eminent skill in planning and combining movements, and unrivalled celerity and boldness in execution. On his return to Europe several years passed away before any fitting opportunity was accorded for the exercise of his genius. In this important respect, Wellington, as a subject, and Napoleon, as a sovereign, were far differently situated. At length his appointment to the command in the Spanish Peninsula gave him the means of showing Europe that England had a general who could revive the glories of Crecy, of Poictiers, of Agincourt, of Blenheim, and of Ramilies. At the head of forces always numerically far inferior to the armies with which Napoleon deluged the Peninsula;--thwarted by jealous and incompetent allies;--ill-supported by friends, and assailed by factious enemies at home; Wellington maintained the war for several years, unstained by any serious reverse, and marked by victory in thirteen pitched battles, at Vimiera, the Douro, Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes d'Onore, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, the Bidassoa, the Nive, the Nivelle, Orthes, and Toulouse. Junot, Victor, Massena, Ney, Marmont, and Jourdain,--marshals whose names were the terrors of continental Europe--had been baffled by his skill, and smitten down by his energy, while he liberated the kingdoms of the Peninsula from them and their Imperial master. In vain did Napoleon at last despatch Soult, the ablest of his lieutenants, to turn the tide of Wellington's success and defend France against the English invader. Wellington met Soult's manoeuvres with superior skill, and his boldness with superior vigour. When Napoleon's first abdication, in 1814, suspended hostilities, Wellington was master of the fairest districts of Southern France; and had under him a veteran army, with which (to use his own expressive phrase) "he felt he could have gone anywhere and done anything." The fortune of war had hitherto kept separate the orbits in which Napoleon and he had moved. Now, on the ever memorable 18th of June, 1815, they met at last.
It is, indeed, remarkable that Napoleon, during his numerous campaigns in Spain as well as other countries, not only never encountered the Duke of Wellington before the day of Waterloo, but that he was never until then personally engaged with British troops, except at the siege of Toulon, in 1793, which was the very first incident of his military career. Many, however, of the French generals who were with him in 1815, knew well, by sharp experience, what English soldiers were, and what the leader was who now headed them. Ney, Foy, and other officers who had served in the Peninsula, warned Napoleon that he would find the English infantry "very devils in fight." The Emperor, however, persisted in employing the old system of attack, with which the French generals often succeeded against continental troops, but which had always failed against the English in the Peninsula. He adhered to his usual tactics of employing the order of the column; a mode of attack probably favoured by him (as Sir Walter Scott remarks) on account of his faith in the extreme valour of the French officers by whom the column was headed. It is a threatening formation, well calculated to shake the firmness of ordinary foes; but which, when steadily met, as the English have met it, by heavy volleys of musketry from an extended line, followed up by a resolute bayonet charge, has always resulted in disaster to the assailants. [See especially Sir W. Napier's glorious pictures of the battles of Busaco and Albuera. The THEORETICAL advantages of the attack in column, and its peculiar fitness for a French army, are set forth in the Chevalier Folard's "Traite de la Colonne," prefixed to the first volume of his "Polybius," See also the preface to his sixth volume.]
It was approaching noon before the action commenced. Napoleon, in his Memoirs, gives as the reason for this delay, the miry state of the ground through the heavy rain of the preceding night and day, which rendered it impossible for cavalry or artillery to manoeuvre on it till a few hours of dry weather had given it its natural consistency. It has been supposed, also, that he trusted to the effect which the sight of the imposing array of his own forces was likely to produce on the part of the allied army. The Belgian regiments had been tampered with; and Napoleon had well- founded hopes of seeing them quit the Duke of Wellington in a body, and range themselves under his own eagles. The Duke, however, who knew and did not trust them, had guarded against the risk of this, by breaking up the corps of Belgians, and distributing them in separate regiments among troops on whom he could rely. [Siborne, vol. i. p. 373.]
At last, at about half-past eleven o'clock, Napoleon began the battle by directing a powerful force from his left wing under his brother, Prince Jerome, to attack Hougoumont. Column after column of the French now descended from the west of the southern heights, and assailed that post with fiery valour, which was encountered with the most determined bravery. The French won the copse round the house, but a party of the British Guards held the house itself throughout the day. The whole of Byng's brigade was required to man this hotly-contested post. Amid shell and shot, and the blazing fragments of part of the buildings, this obstinate contest was continued. But still the English were firm in Hougoumont; though the French occasionally moved forward in such numbers as enabled them to surround and mask it with part of their troops from their left wing, while others pressed onward up the slope, and assailed the British right.
The cannonade, which commenced at first between the British right and the French left, in consequence of the attack on Hougoumont, soon became general along both lines; and about one o'clock, Napoleon directed a grand attack to be made under Marshal Ney upon the centre and left wing of the allied army. For this purpose four columns of infantry, amounting to about eighteen thousand men, were collected, supported by a strong division of cavalry under the celebrated Kellerman; and seventy-four guns were brought forward ready to be posted on the ridge of a little undulation of the ground in the interval between the two principal chains of heights, so as to bring their fire to bear on the Duke's line at a range of about seven hundred yards. By the combined assault of these formidable forces, led on by Ney, "the bravest of the brave," Napoleon hoped to force the left centre of the British position, to take La Haye Sainte, and then pressing forward, to occupy also the farm of Mont St. Jean. He then could cut the mass of Wellington's troops off from their line of retreat upon Brussels, and from their own left, and also completely sever them from any Prussian troops that might be approaching.
The columns destined for this great and decisive operation descended majestically from the French line of hills, and gained the ridge of the intervening eminence, on which the batteries that supported them were now ranged. As the columns descended again from this eminence, the seventy-four guns opened over their heads with terrible effect upon the troops of the Allies that were stationed on the heights to the left of the Charleroi road. One of the French columns kept to the east, and attacked the extreme left of the Allies; the other three continued to move rapidly forwards upon the left centre of the allied position. The front line of the Allies here was composed of Bylandt's brigade of Dutch and Belgians. As the French columns moved up the southward slope of the height on which the Dutch and Belgians stood, and the skirmishers in advance began to open their fire, Bylandt's entire brigade turned and fled in disgraceful and disorderly panic; but there were men more worthy of the name behind.
In this part of-the second line of the Allies were posted Pack and Kempt's brigades of English infantry, which had suffered severely at Quatre Bras. But Picton was here as general of division, and not even Ney himself surpassed in resolute bravery that stern and fiery spirit. Picton brought his two brigades forward, side by side, in a thin, two-deep line. Thus joined together, they were not three thousand strong. With these Picton had to make head against the three victorious French columns, upwards of four times that strength, and who, encouraged by the easy rout of the Dutch and Belgians, now came confidently over the ridge of the hill. The British infantry stood firm; and as the French halted and began to deploy into line, Picton seized the critical moment. He shouted in his stentorian voice to Kempt's brigade: "A volley, and then charge!" At a distance of less than thirty yards that volley was poured upon the devoted first sections of the nearest column; and then, with a fierce hurrah, the British dashed in with the bayonet. Picton was shot dead as he rushed forward, but his men pushed on with the cold steel. The French reeled back in confusion. Pack's infantry had checked the other two columns and down came a whirlwind of British horse on the whole mass, sending them staggering from the crest of the hill, and cutting them down by whole battalions. Ponsonby's brigade of heavy cavalry (the Union Brigade as it was called, from its being made up of the British Royals, the Scots Greys, and the Irish Inniskillings), did this good service. On went the horsemen amid the wrecks of the French columns, capturing two eagles, and two thousand prisoners; onwards still they galloped, and sabred the artillerymen of Ney's seventy-four advanced guns; then severing the traces, and cutting the throats of the artillery horses, they rendered these guns totally useless to the French throughout the remainder of the day. While thus far advanced beyond the British position and disordered by success, they were charged by a large body of French lancers, and driven back with severe loss, till Vandeleur's Light horse came to their aid, and beat off the French lancers in their turn.
Equally unsuccessful with the advance of the French infantry in this grand attack, had been the efforts of the French cavalry who moved forward in support of it, along the east of the Charleroi road. Somerset's cavalry of the English Household Brigade had been launched, on the right of Picton's division, against the French horse, at the same time that the English Union Brigade of heavy horse charged the French infantry columns on the left.
Somerset's brigade was formed of the Life Guards, the Blues, and the Dragoon Guards. The hostile cavalry, which Kellerman led forward, consisted chiefly of Cuirassiers. This steel-clad mass of French horsemen rode down some companies of German infantry, near La Haye Sainte, and flushed with success, they bounded onward to the ridge of the British position. The English Household Brigade, led on by the Earl of Uxbridge in person, spurred forward to the encounter, and in an instant, the two adverse lines of strong swordsmen, on their strong steeds, dashed furiously together. A desperate and sanguinary hand-to-hand fight ensued, in which the physical superiority of the Anglo- Saxons, guided by equal skill, and animated with equal valour, was made decisively manifest. Back went the chosen cavalry of France; and after them, in hot pursuit, spurred the English Guards. They went forward as far and as fiercely as their comrades of the Union Brigade; and, like them, the Household cavalry suffered severely before they regained the British position, after their magnificent charge and adventurous pursuit.
Napoleon's grand effort to break the English left centre had thus completely failed; and his right wing was seriously weakened by the heavy loss which it had sustained. Hougoumont was still being assailed, and was still successfully resisting. Troops were now beginning to appear at the edge of the horizon on Napoleon's right, which he too well knew to be Prussian, though he endeavoured to persuade his followers that they were Grouchy's men coming to their aid.
Grouchy was in fact now engaged at Wavre with his whole force, against Thielmam's single Prussian corps, while the other three corps of the Prussian army were moving without opposition, save from the difficulties of the ground, upon Waterloo. Grouchy believed, on the 17th, and caused Napoleon to believe, that the Prussian army was retreating by lines of march remote from Waterloo upon Namur and Maestricht. Napoleon learned only on the 18th, that there were Prussians in Wavre, and felt jealous about the security of his own right. He accordingly, before he attacked the English, sent Grouchy orders to engage the Prussians at Wavre without delay, AND TO APPROACH THE MAIN FRENCH ARMY, SO AS TO UNITE HIS COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE EMPEROR'S. Grouchy entirely neglected this last part of his instructions; and in attacking the Prussians whom he found at Wavre, he spread his force more and more towards his right, that is to say, in the direction most remote from Napoleon. He thus knew nothing of Blucher's and Bulow's flank march upon Waterloo, till six in the evening of the 18th, when he received a note which Soult by Napoleon's orders had sent off from the field of battle at Waterloo at one o'clock, to inform Grouchy that Bulow was coming over the heights of St. Lambert, on the Emperor's right flank, and directing Grouchy to approach and join the main army instantly, and crush Bulow EN FLAGRANT DELIT. It was then too late for Grouchy to obey; but it is remarkable that as early as noon on the 18th, and while Grouchy had not proceeded as far as Wavre, he and his suite heard, the sound of heavy cannonading In the direction of Planchenoit and Mont St. Jean. General Gerard, who was with Grouchy, implored him to march towards the cannonade, and join his operations with those of Napoleon, who was evidently engaged with the English. Grouchy refused to do so, or even to detach part of his force in that direction. He said that his instructions were to fight the Prussians at Wavre. He marched upon Wavre and fought for the rest of the day with Thielman accordingly, while Blucher and Bulow were attacking the Emperor.
[I have heard the remark made that Grouchy twice had in his hands the power of changing the destinies of Europe, and twice wanted nerve to act: first when he flinched from landing the French army at Bantry Bay in 1796 (he was second in command to Hoche, whose ship was blown back by a storm), and secondly, when he failed to lead his whole force from Wavre to the scene of decisive conflict at Waterloo. But such were the arrangements of the Prussian General, that even if Grouchy had marched upon Waterloo, he would have been held in check by the nearest Prussian corps, or certainly by the two nearest ones, while the rest proceeded to join Wellington. This, however, would have diminished the number of Prussians who appeared at Waterloo, and (what is still more important) would have kept them back to a later hour.--See Siborne, vol i. p. 323, and Gleig, p. 142.
There are some very valuable remarks on this subject in the 70th No. of the QUARTERLY in an article on the "Life of Blucher," usually attributed to Sir Francis Head. The Prussian writer, General Clausewitz, is there cited as "expressing a positive opinion, in which every military critic but a Frenchman must concur, that, even had the whole of Grouchy's force been at Napoleon's disposal, the Duke had nothing to fear pending Blucher's arrival.
"The Duke is often talked of as having exhausted his reserves in the action. This is another gross error, which Clausewitz has thoroughly disposed of. He enumerates the tenth British Brigade, the division of Chasse, and the cavalry of Collaert, as having been little or not at all engaged; and he might have also added two brigades of light cavalry." The fact, also, that Wellington did not at any part of the day order up Prince Frederick's corps from Hal, is a conclusive proof that the Duke was not so distressed as some writers have represented. Hal is not ten miles from the field of Waterloo.]
Napoleon had witnessed with bitter disappointment the rout of his troops,--foot, horse, and artillery,--which attacked the left centre of the English, and the obstinate resistance which the garrison of Hougoumont opposed to all the exertions of his left wing. He now caused the batteries along the line of high ground held by him to be strengthened, and for some time an unremitting and most destructive cannonade raged across the valley, to the partial cessation of other conflict. But the superior fire of the French artillery, though it weakened, could not break the British line, and more close and summary measures were requisite.
It was now about half-past three o'clock; and though Wellington's army had suffered severely by the unremitting cannonade, and in the late desperate encounter, no part of the British position had been forced. Napoleon determined therefore to try what effect he could produce on the British centre and right by charges of his splendid cavalry, brought on in such force that the Duke's cavalry could not check them. Fresh troops were at the same time sent to assail La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, the possession of these posts being the Emperor's unceasing object. Squadron after squadron of the French cuirassiers accordingly ascended the slopes on the Duke's right, and rode forward with dauntless courage against the batteries of the British artillery in that part of the field. The artillery-men were driven from their guns, and the cuirassiers cheered loudly at their supposed triumph. But the Duke had formed his infantry in squares, and the cuirassiers charged in vain against the impenetrable hedges of bayonets, while the fire from the inner ranks of the squares told with terrible effect on their squadrons. Time after time they rode forward with invariably the same result: and as they receded from each attack the British artillerymen rushed forward from the centres of the squares, where they had taken refuge, and plied their guns on the retiring horsemen. Nearly the whole of Napoleon's magnificent body of heavy cavalry was destroyed in these fruitless attempts upon the British right. But in another part of the field fortune favoured him for a time. Two French columns of infantry from Donzelot's division took La Haye Sainte between six and seven o'clock, and the means were now given for organizing another formidable attack on the centre of the Allies.
["On came the whirlwind--like the last
But fiercest sweep of tempest blast--
On came the whirlwind--steel-gleams broke
Like lightning through the rolling smoke;
The war was waked anew,
Three hundred cannon-mouths roar'd loud, And from their throats, with flash and cloud, Their showers of iron threw.
Beneath their fire in full career, Rush'd on the ponderous cuirassier, The lancer couch'd his ruthless spear, And hurrying as to havoc near,
The cohorts' eagles flew.
In one dark torrent, broad and strong, The advancing onset roll'd along, Forth harbinger'd by fierce acclaim, That, from the shroud of smoke and flame, Peal'd wildly the imperial name.
"But on the British heart were lost
The terrors of the charging host;
For not an eye the storm that view'd
Changed its proud glance of fortitude,
Nor was one forward footstep staid,
As dropp'd the dying and the dead.
Fast as their ranks the thunders tear,
Fast they renew'd each serried square;
And on the wounded and the slain
Closed their diminish'd files again,
Till from their line scarce spears' lengths three,
Emerging from the smoke they see
Helmet, and plume, and panoply,--
Then waked their fire at once!
Each musketeer's revolving knell, As fast, as regularly fell,
As when they practise to display Their discipline on festal day. Then down went helm and lance,
Down were the eagle banners sent, Down reeling steeds and riders went, Corslets were pierced, and pennons rent; And, to augment the fray,
Wheeled full against their staggering flanks, The English horsemen's foaming ranks Forced their resistless way.
Then to the musket-knell succeeds The clash of swords--the neigh of steeds-- As plies the smith his clanging trade, Against the cuirass rang the blade; And while amid their close array The well-served cannon rent their way, And while amid their scatter'd band Raged the fierce rider's bloody brand, Recoil'd in common rout and fear, Lancer and guard and cuirassier, Horseman and foot,--a mingled host, Their leaders fall'n, their standards lost."--SCOTT.]
There was no time to be lost--Blucher and Bulow were beginning to press hard upon the French right. As early as five o'clock, Napoleon had been obliged to detach Lobau's infantry and Domont's horse to check these new enemies. They succeeded in doing so for a time; but as larger numbers of the Prussians came on the field, they turned Lobau's right flank, and sent a strong force to seize the village of Planchenoit, which, it will be remembered, lay in the rear of the French right.
The design of the Allies was not merely to prevent Napoleon from advancing upon Brussels, but to cut off his line of retreat and utterly destroy his army. The defence of Planchenoit therefore became absolutely essential for the safety of the French, and Napoleon was obliged to send his Young Guard to occupy that village, which was accordingly held by them with great gallantry against the reiterated assaults of the Prussian left, under Bulow. Three times did the Prussians fight their way into Planchenoit, and as often did the French drive them out: the contest was maintained with the fiercest desperation on both sides, such being the animosity between the two nations that quarter was seldom given or even asked. Other Prussian forces were now appearing on the field nearer to the English left; whom also Napoleon kept in check, by troops detached for that purpose. Thus a large part of the French army was now thrown back on a line at right angles with the line of that portion which still confronted and assailed the English position. But this portion was now numerically inferior to the force under the Duke of Wellington, which Napoleon had been assailing throughout the day, without gaining any other advantage than the capture of La Haye Sainte. It is true that, owing to the gross misconduct of the greater part of the Dutch and Belgian troops, the Duke was obliged to rely exclusively on his English and German soldiers, and the ranks of these had been fearfully thinned; but the survivors stood their ground heroically, and opposed a resolute front to every forward movement of their enemies.
On no point of the British line was the pressure more severe than on Halkett's brigade in the right centre which was composed of battalions of the 30th, the 33d, the 69th, and the 73d British regiments. We fortunately can quote from the journal of a brave officer of the 30th, a narrative of what took place in this part of the field. [This excellent journal was published in the "United Service Magazine" during the year 1852.] The late Major Macready served at Waterloo in the light company of the 30th. The extent of the peril and the carnage which Halkett's brigade had to encounter, may be judged of by the fact that this light company marched into the field three officers and fifty-one men, and that at the end of the battle they stood one officer and ten men. Major Macready's blunt soldierly account of what he actually saw and felt, gives a far better idea of the terrific scene, than can be gained from the polished generalisations which the conventional style of history requires, or even from the glowing stanzas of the poet. During the earlier part of the day Macready and his light company were thrown forward as skirmishers in front of the brigade; but when the French cavalry commenced their attacks on the British right centre, he and his comrades were ordered back. The brave soldier thus himself describes what passed:
"Before the commencement of this attack our company and the Grenadiers of the 73d were skirmishing briskly in the low ground, covering our guns, and annoying those of the enemy. The line of tirailleurs opposed to us was not stronger than our own, but on a sudden they were reinforced by numerous bodies, and several guns began playing on us with canister. Our poor fellows dropped very fast, and Colonel Vigoureux, Rumley, and Pratt, were carried off badly wounded in about two minutes. I was now commander of our company. We stood under this hurricane of small shot till Halkett sent to order us in, and I brought away about a third of the light bobs; the rest were killed or wounded, and I really wonder how one of them escaped. As our bugler was killed, I shouted and made signals to move by the left, in order to avoid the fire of our guns, and to put as good a face upon the business as possible.
"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. Our regiment and 73d formed one, and 33d and 69th another; to our right beyond them were the Guards, and on our left the Hanoverians and German legion of our division. As I entered the rear face of our square I had to step over a body, and looking down, recognised Harry Beers, an officer of our Grenadiers, who about an hour before shook hands with me, laughing, as I left the columns. I was on the usual terms of military intimacy with poor Harry--that is to say, if either of us had died a natural death, the other would have pitied him as a good fellow, and smiled at his neighbour as he congratulated him on the step; but seeing his herculean frame and animated countenance thus suddenly stiff and motionless before me (I know not whence the feeling could originate, for I had just seen my dearest friend drop, almost with indifference), the tears started in my eyes as I sighed out, 'Poor Harry!' The tear was not dry on my cheek when poor Harry was no longer thought of. In a few minutes after, the enemy's cavalry galloped up and crowned the crest of our position. Our guns were abandoned, and they formed between the two brigades, about a hundred paces in our front. Their first charge was magnificent. As soon as they quickened their trot into a gallop, the cuirassiers bent their heads so that the peaks of their helmets looked like vizors, and they seemed cased in armour from the plume to the saddle. Not a shot was fired till they were within thirty yards, when the word was given, and our men fired away at them. The effect was magical. Through the smoke we could see helmets falling, cavaliers starting from their seats with convulsive springs as they received our balls, horses plunging and rearing in the agonies of fright and pain, and crowds of the soldiery dismounted, part of the squadron in retreat, but the more daring remainder backing their horses to force them on our bayonets. Our fire soon disposed of these gentlemen. The main body re-formed in our front, and rapidly and gallantly repeated their attacks, In fact, from this time (about four o'clock) till near six, we had a constant repetition of these brave but unavailing charges. There was no difficulty in repulsing them, but our ammunition decreased alarmingly. At length an artillery wagon galloped up, emptied two or three casks of cartridges into the square, and we were all comfortable.
"The best cavalry is contemptible to a steady and well-supplied infantry regiment; even our men saw this, and began to pity the useless perseverance of their assailants, and, as they advanced, would growl out, 'Here come these fools again!' One of their superior officers tried a RUSE DE GUERRE, by advancing and dropping his sword, as though he surrendered; some of us were deceived by him, but Halkett ordered the men to fire, and he coolly retired, saluting us. Their devotion was invincible. One officer whom we had taken prisoner was asked what force Napoleon might have in the field, and replied with a smile of mingled derision and threatening, 'Vous verrez bientot sa force, messieurs.' A private cuirassier was wounded and dragged into the square; his only cry was, 'Tuez donc, tuez, tuez moi, soldats!' and as one of our men dropped dead close to him, he seized his bayonet, and forced it into his own neck; but this not despatching him, he raised up his cuirass, and plunging the bayonet into his stomach, kept working it about till he ceased to breathe.
"Though we constantly thrashed our steel-clad opponents, we found more troublesome customers in the round shot and grape, which all this time played on us with terrible effect, and fully avenged the cuirassiers. Often as the volleys created openings in our square would the cavalry dash on, but they were uniformly unsuccessful. A regiment on our right seemed sadly disconcerted, and at one moment was in considerable confusion. Halkett rode out to them, and seizing their colour, waved it over his head, and restored them to something like order, though not before his horse was shot under him. At the height of their unsteadiness we got the order to 'right face' to move to their assistance; some of the men mistook it for 'right about face,' and faced accordingly, when old Major M'Laine, 73d, called out, 'No, my boys, its "right face;" you'll never hear the right about as long as a French bayonet is in front of you!' In a few moments he was mortally wounded. A regiment of light Dragoons, by their facings either the 16th or 23d, came up to our left and charged the cuirassiers. We cheered each other as they passed us; they did all they could, but were obliged to retire after a few minutes at the sabre. A body of Belgian cavalry advanced for the same purpose, but on passing our square, they stopped short. Our noble Halkett rode out to them and offered to charge at their head; it was of no use; the Prince of Orange came up and exhorted them to do their duty, but in vain. They hesitated till a few shots whizzed through them, when they turned about, and galloped like fury, or, rather, like fear. As they passed the right face of our square the men, irritated by their rascally conduct, unanimously took up their pieces and fired a volley into them, and 'many a good fellow was destroyed so cowardly.'
"The enemy's cavalry were by this time nearly disposed of, and as they had discovered the inutility of their charges, they commenced annoying us by a spirited and well-directed carbine fire. While we were employed in this manner it was impossible to see farther than the columns on our right and left, but I imagine most of the army were similarly situated: all the British and Germans were doing their duty. About six o'clock I perceived some artillery trotting up our hill, which I knew by their caps to belong to the Imperial Guard. I had hardly mentioned this to a brother officer when two guns unlimbered within seventy paces of us, and, by their first discharge of grape, blew seven men into the centre of the square. They immediately reloaded, and kept up a constant and destructive fire. It was noble to see our fellows fill up the gaps after every discharge. I was much distressed at this moment; having ordered up three of my light bobs, they had hardly taken their station when two of them fell horribly lacerated. One of them looked up in my face and uttered a sort of reproachful groan, and I involuntarily exclaimed, 'I couldn't help it.' We would willingly have charged these guns, but, had we deployed, the cavalry that flanked them would have made an example of us.
"The 'vivida vis animi'--the glow which fires one upon entering into action--had ceased; it was now to be seen which side had most bottom, and would stand killing longest. The Duke visited us frequently at this momentous period; he was coolness personified. As he crossed the rear face of our square a shell fell amongst our grenadiers, and he checked his horse to see its effect. Some men were blown to pieces by the explosion, and he merely stirred the rein of his charger, apparently as little concerned at their fate as at his own danger. No leader ever possessed so fully the confidence of his soldiery: wherever he appeared, a murmur of 'Silence--stand to your front--here's the Duke,' was heard through the column, and then all was steady as on a parade. His aides-de-camp, Colonels Canning and Gordon, fell near our square, and the former died within it. As he came near us late in the evening, Halkett rode out to him and represented our weak state, begging his Grace to afford us a little support. 'It's impossible, Halkett,' said he. And our general replied, 'If so, sir, you may depend on the brigade to a man!'"
All accounts of the battle show that the Duke was ever present at each spot where danger seemed the most pressing; inspiriting his men by a few homely and good-humoured words; and restraining their impatience to be led forward to attack in their turn.-- "Hard pounding this, gentlemen: we will try who can pound the longest," was his remark to a battalion, on which the storm from the French guns was pouring with peculiar fury. Riding up to one of the squares, which had been dreadfully weakened, and against which a fresh attack of French cavalry was coming, he called to them: "Stand firm, my lads; what will they say of this in England?" As he rode along another part of the line where the men had for some time been falling fast beneath the enemy's cannonade, without having any close fighting, a murmur reached his ear of natural eagerness to advance and do something more than stand still to be shot at. The Duke called to them: "Wait a little longer, my lads, and you shall have your wish." The men were instantly satisfied and steady. It was, indeed, indispensable for the Duke to bide his time. The premature movement of a single corps down from the British line of heights, would have endangered the whole position, and have probably made Waterloo a second Hastings.
But the Duke inspired all under him with his own spirit of patient firmness. When other generals besides Halkett sent to him, begging for reinforcements, or for leave to withdraw corps which were reduced to skeletons, the answer was the same: "It is impossible; you must hold your ground to the last man, and all will be well." He gave a similar reply to some of his staff; who asked instructions from him, so that, in the event of his falling, his successor might follow out his plan. He answered, "My plan is simply to stand my ground here to the last man." His personal danger was indeed imminent throughout the day; and though he escaped without injury to himself or horse, one only of his numerous staff was equally fortunate.
["As far as the French accounts would lead us to infer, it appears that the losses among Napoleon's staff were comparatively trifling. On this subject perhaps the marked contrast afforded by the following anecdotes, which have been related to me on excellent authority, may tend to throw some light. At one period of the battle, when the Duke was surrounded by several of his staff, it was very evident that the group had become the object of the fire of a French battery. The shot fell fast about them, generally striking and turning up the ground on which they stood. Their horses became restive and 'Copenhagen' himself so fidgetty, that the Duke, getting impatient, and having reasons for remaining on the spot, said to those about him, 'Gentlemen we are rather too close together--better to divide a little.' Subsequently, at another point of the line, an officer of artillery came up to the Duke, and stated that he had a distinct view of Napoleon, attended by his staff; that he had the guns of his battery well pointed in that direction, and was prepared to fire. His Grace instantly and emphatically exclaimed, 'No! no! I'll not allow it. It is not the business of commanders to be firing upon each other.'--Siborne, vol. ii. p. 263. How different is this from Napoleon's conduct at the battle of Dresden, when he personally directed the fire of the battery which, as he thought, killed the Emperor Alexander, and actually killed Moreau.]
Napoleon had stationed himself during the battle on a little hillock near La Belle Alliance, in the centre of the French position. Here he was seated, with a large table from the neighbouring farm-house before him, on which maps and plans were spread; and thence with his telescope he surveyed the various points of the field. Soult watched his orders close at his left hand, and his staff was grouped on horseback a few paces in the rear. ["Souvenirs Militaires," par Col, Lemonnier-Delafosse, p. 407. "Ouvrard, who attended Napoleon as chief commissary of the French army on that occasion, told me that Napoleon was suffering from a complaint which made it very painful for him to ride." --Lord Ellesmere, p. 47.] Here he remained till near the close of the day, preserving the appearance at least of calmness, except some expressions of irritation which escaped him, when Ney's attack on the British left centre was defeated. But now that the crisis of the battle was evidently approaching, he mounted a white Persian charger, which he rode in action because the troops easily recognised him by the horse colour. He had still the means of effecting a retreat. His Old Guard had yet taken no part in the action. Under cover of it, he might have withdrawn his shattered forces and retired upon the French frontier. But this would only have given the English and Prussians the opportunity of completing their junction; and he knew that other armies were fast coming up to aid them in a march upon Paris, if he should succeed in avoiding an encounter with them, and retreating upon the capital. A victory at Waterloo was his only alternative from utter ruin, and he determined to employ his Guard in one bold stroke more to make that victory his own.
Between seven and eight o'clock, the infantry of the Old Guard was formed into two columns, on the declivity near La Belle Alliance. Ney was placed at their head. Napoleon himself rode forward to a spot by which his veterans were to pass; and, as they approached, he raised his arm, and pointed to the position of the Allies, as if to tell them that their path lay there. They answered with loud cries of "Vive l'Empereur!" and descended the hill from their own side, into that "valley of the shadow of death" while the batteries thundered with redoubled vigour over their heads upon the British line. The line of march of the columns of the Guard was directed between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte, against the British right centre; and at the same time the French under Donzelot, who had possession of La Haye Sainte, commenced a fierce attack upon the British centre, a little more to its left. This part of the battle has drawn less attention than the celebrated attack of the Old Guard; but it formed the most perilous crisis for the allied army; and if the Young Guard had been there to support Donzelot, instead of being engaged with the Prussians at Planchenoit, the consequences to the Allies in that part of the field must have been most serious. The French tirailleurs, who were posted in clouds in La Haye Sainte, and the sheltered spots near it, picked off the artillerymen of the English batteries near them: and taking advantage of the disabled state of the English guns, the French brought some field-pieces up to La Haye Sainte, and commenced firing grape from them on the infantry of the Allies, at a distance of not more than a hundred paces. The allied infantry here consisted of some German brigades, who were formed in squares, as it was believed that Donzelot had cavalry ready behind La Haye Sainte to charge them with, if they left that order of formation. In this state the Germans remained for some time with heroic fortitude, though the grape-shot was tearing gaps in their ranks and the side of one square was literally blown away by one tremendous volley which the French gunners poured into it. The Prince of Orange in vain endeavoured to lead some Nassau troops to the aid of the brave Germans. The Nassauers would not or could not face the French; and some battalions of Brunswickers, whom the Duke of Wellington had ordered up as a reinforcement, at first fell back, until the Duke in person rallied them, and led them on. Having thus barred the farther advance of Donzelot, the Duke galloped off to the right to head his men who were exposed to the attack of the Imperial Guard. He had saved one part of his centre from being routed; but the French had gained ground and kept it; and the pressure on the allied line in front of La Haye Sainte was fearfully severe, until it was relieved by the decisive success which the British in the right centre achieved over the columns of the Guard.
The British troops on the crest of that part of the position, which the first column of Napoleon's Guards assailed, were Maitland's brigade of British Guards, having Adams's brigade (which had been brought forward during the action) on their right. Maitland's men were lying down, in order to avoid as far as possible the destructive effect of the French artillery, which kept up an unremitting fire from the opposite heights, until the first column of the Imperial Guard had advanced so far up the slope towards the British position, that any further firing of the French artillerymen would have endangered their own comrades. Meanwhile the British guns were not idle; but shot and shell ploughed fast through the ranks of the stately array of veterans that still moved imposingly on. Several of the French superior officers were at its head. Ney's horse was shot under him, but he still led the way on foot, sword in hand. The front of the massive column now was on the ridge of the hill. To their surprise they saw no troops before them. All they could discern through the smoke was a small band of mounted officers. One of them was the Duke himself. The French advanced to about fifty yards from where the British Guards were lying down when the voice of one of the group of British officers was heard calling, as if to the ground before him, "Up, Guards, and at them!" It was the Duke who gave the order; and at the words, as if by magic, up started before them a line of the British Guards four deep, and in the most compact and perfect order. They poured an instantaneous volley upon the head of the French column, by which no less than three hundred of those chosen veterans are said to have fallen. The French officers rushed forwards; and, conspicuous in front of their men, attempted to deploy them into a more extended line, so as to enable them to reply with effect to the British fire. But Maitland's brigade kept showering in volley after volley with deadly rapidity. The decimated column grew disordered in its vain efforts to expand itself into a more efficient formation. The right word was given at the right moment to the British for the bayonet-charge, and the brigade sprang forward with a loud cheer against their dismayed antagonists. In an instant the compact mass of the French spread out into a rabble, and they fled back down the hill, pursued by Maitland's men, who, however, returned to their position in time to take part in the repulse of the second column of the Imperial Guard.
This column also advanced with great spirit and firmness under the cannonade which was opened on it; and passing by the eastern wall of Hougoumont, diverged slightly to the right as it moved up the slope towards the British position, so as to approach nearly the same spot where the first column had surmounted the height, and been defeated. This enabled the British regiments of Adams's brigade to form a line parallel to the left flank of the French column; so that while the front of this column of French Guards had to encounter the cannonade of the British batteries, and the musketry of Maitlands Guards, its left flank was assailed with a destructive fire by a four-deep body of British infantry, extending all along it. In such a position all the bravery and skill of the French veterans were vain. The second column, like its predecessor, broke and fled, taking at first a lateral direction along the front of the British line towards the rear of La Haye Sainte, and so becoming blended with the divisions of French infantry, which under Donzelot had been assailing the Allies so formidably in that quarter. The sight of the Old Guard broken and in flight checked the ardour which Donzelot's troops had hitherto displayed. They, too, began to waver. Adams's victorious brigade was pressing after the flying Guard, and now cleared away the assailants of the allied centre. But the battle was not yet won. Napoleon had still some battalions in reserve near La Belle Alliance. He was rapidly rallying the remains of the first column of his Guards, and he had collected into one body the remnants of the various corps of cavalry, which had suffered so severely in the earlier part of the day. The Duke instantly formed the bold resolution of now himself becoming the assailant, and leading his successful though enfeebled army forward, while the disheartening effect of the repulse of the Imperial Guard on the rest of the French army was still strong, and before Napoleon and Ney could rally the beaten veterans themselves for another and a fiercer charge. As the close approach of the Prussians now completely protected the Duke's left, he had drawn some reserves of horse from that quarter, and he had a brigade of Hussars under Vivian fresh and ready at hand. Without a moment's hesitation he launched these against the cavalry near La Belie Alliance. The charge was as successful as it was daring: and as there was now no hostile cavalry to check the British infantry in a forward movement, the Duke gave the long-wished-for command for a general advance of the army along the whole line upon the foe. It was now past eight o'clock, and for nearly nine deadly hours had the British and German regiments stood unflinching under the fire of artillery, the charge of cavalry, and every variety of assault, which the compact columns or the scattered tirailleurs of the enemy's infantry could inflict. As they joyously sprang forward against the discomfited masses of the French, the setting sun broke through the clouds which had obscured the sky during the greater part of the day, and glittered on the bayonets of the Allies, while they poured down into the valley and towards the heights that were held by the foe. The Duke himself was among the foremost in the advance, and personally directed the movements against each body of the French that essayed resistance. He rode in front of Adams's brigade, cheering it forward, and even galloped among the most advanced of the British skirmishers, speaking joyously to the men, and receiving their hearty shouts of congratulation. The bullets of both friends and foes were whistling fast round him; and one of the few survivors of his staff remonstrated with him for thus exposing a life of such value. "Never mind," was the Duke's answer;--"Never mind, let them fire away; the battle's won, and my life is of no consequence now." And, indeed, almost the whole of the French host was now in irreparable confusion. The Prussian army was coming more and more rapidly forwards on their right; and the Young Guard, which had held Planchenoit so bravely, was at last compelled to give way. Some regiments of the Old Guard in vain endeavoured to form in squares and stem the current. They were swept away, and wrecked among the waves of the flyers. Napoleon had placed himself in one of these squares: Marshal Soult, Generals Bertrand, Drouot, Corbineau, De Flahaut, and Gourgaud, were with him. The Emperor spoke of dying on the field, but Soult seized his bridle and turned his charger round, exclaiming, "Sire, are not the enemy already lucky enough?" [Colonel Lemonnier-Delafosse, "Memoires," p. 388. The Colonel states that he heard these details from General Gourgaud himself. The English reader will be reminded of Charles I.'s retreat from Naseby.] With the greatest difficulty, and only by the utmost exertion of the devoted officers round him, Napoleon cleared the throng of fugitives, and escaped from the scene of the battle and the war, which he and France had lost past all recovery. Meanwhile the Duke of Wellington still rode forward with the van of his victorious troops, until he reined up on the elevated ground near Rossomme. The daylight was now entirely gone; but the young moon had risen, and the light which it cast, aided by the glare from the burning houses and other buildings in the line of the flying French and pursuing Prussians, enabled the Duke to assure himself that his victory was complete. He then rode back along the Charleroi road toward Waterloo: and near La Belle Alliance he met Marshal Blucher. Warm were the congratulations that were exchanged between the Allied Chiefs. It was arranged that the Prussians should follow up the pursuit, and give the French no chance of rallying. Accordingly the British army, exhausted by its toils and sufferings during that dreadful day, did not advance beyond the heights which the enemy had occupied. But the Prussians drove the fugitives before them in merciless chase throughout the night. Cannon, baggage, and all the materiel of the army were abandoned by the French; and many thousands of the infantry threw away their arms to facilitate their escape. The ground was strewn for miles with the wrecks of their host. There was no rear-guard; nor was even the semblance of order attempted, an attempt at resistance was made at the bridge and village of Genappe, the first narrow pass through which the bulk of the French retired. The situation was favourable; and a few resolute battalions, if ably commanded, might have held their pursuers at bay there for some considerable time. But despair and panic were now universal in the beaten army. At the first sound of the Prussian drums and bugles, Genappe was abandoned, and nothing thought of but headlong flight. The Prussians, under General Gneisenau, still followed and still slew; nor even when the Prussian infantry stopped in sheer exhaustion, was the pursuit given up. Gneisenau still pushed on with the cavalry; and by an ingenious stratagem, made the French believe that his infantry were still close on them, and scared them from every spot where they attempted to pause and rest. He mounted one of his drummers on a horse which had been taken from the captured carriage of Napoleon, and made him ride along with the pursuing cavalry, and beat the drum whenever they came on any large number of the French. The French thus fled, and the Prussians pursued through Quatre Bras, and even over the heights of Frasne; and when at length Gneisenau drew bridle, and halted a little beyond Frasne with the scanty remnant of keen hunters who had kept up the chace with him to the last, the French were scattered through Gosselies, Marchiennes, and Charleroi; and were striving to regain the left bank of the river Sambre, which they had crossed in such pomp and pride not a hundred hours before.
Part of the French left wing endeavoured to escape from the field without blending with the main body of the fugitives who thronged the Genappe causeway. A French officer, who was among those who thus retreated across the country westward of the high-road, has vividly described what he witnessed and what he suffered. Colonel Lemonnier-Delafosse served in the campaign of 1815 in General Foy's staff, and was consequently in that part of the French army at Waterloo, which acted against Hougoumont and the British right wing. When the column of the Imperial Guard made their great charge at the end of the day, the troops of Foy's division advanced in support of them, and Colonel Lemonnier- Delafosse describes the confident hopes of victory and promotion with which he marched to that attack, and the fearful carnage and confusion of the assailants, amid which he was helplessly hurried back by his flying comrades. He then narrates the closing scene, [Col. Lemonnier-Delafosse, "Memoires," pp. 385-405. There are omissions and abridgments in the translation which I have given.]:
"Near one of the hedges of Hougoumont farm, without even a drummer to beat the RAPPEL, we succeeded in rallying under the enemy's fire 300 men: they were nearly all that remained of our splendid division, Thither came together a band of generals. There was Reille, whose horse had been shot under him; there were D'Erlon, Bachelu, Foy, Jamin, and others. All were gloomy and sorrowful, like vanquished men. Their words were,--'Here is all that is left of my corps, of my division, of my brigade. I, myself.' We had seen the fall of Duhesme, of Pelet-de-Morvan, of Michel--generals who had found a glorious death. My General, Foy, had his shoulder pierced through by a musket-ball: and out of his whole staff two officers only were left to him, Cahour Duhay and I. Fate had spared me in the midst of so many dangers, though the first charger I rode had been shot and had fallen on me.
"The enemy's horse were coming down on us, and our little group was obliged to retreat. 'What had happened to our division of the left wing had taken place all along the line. The movement of the hostile cavalry, which inundated the whole plain, had demoralised our soldiers, who seeing all regular retreat of the army cut off, strove each man to effect one for himself. At each instant the road became more encumbered. Infantry, cavalry, and artillery, were pressing along pell-mell: jammed together like a solid mass. Figure to yourself 40,000 men struggling and thrusting themselves along a single causeway. We could not take that way without destruction; so the generals who had collected together near the Hougoumont hedge dispersed across the fields. General Foy alone remained with the 300 men whom he had gleaned from the field of battle, and marched at their head. Our anxiety was to withdraw from the scene of action without being confounded with the fugitives. Our general wished to retreat like a true soldier. Seeing three lights in the southern horizon, like beacons, General Foy asked me what I thought of the position of each. I answered, 'The first to the left is Genappe, the second is at Bois de Bossu, near the farm of Quatre Bras; the third is at Gosselies.' 'Let us march on the second one, then,' replied Foy, 'and let no obstacle stop us--take the head of the column, and do not lose sight of the guiding light.' Such was his order, and I strove to obey.
"After all the agitation and the incessant din of a long day of battle, how imposing was the stillness of that night! We proceeded on our sad and lonely march. We were a prey to the most cruel reflections, we were humiliated, we were hopeless; but not a word of complaint was heard. We walked silently as a troop of mourners, and it might have been said that we were attending the funeral of our country's glory. Suddenly the stillness was broken by a challenge,--'QUI VIVE?' 'France!' 'Kellerman!' 'Foy!' 'Is it you, General? come nearer to us.' At that moment we were passing over a little hillock, at the foot of which was a hut, in which Kellerman and some of his officers had halted. They came out to join as Foy said to me, 'Kellerman knows the country: he has been along here before with his cavalry; we had better follow him.' But we found that the direction which Kellerman chose was towards the first light, towards Genappe. That led to the causeway which our general rightly wished to avoid I went to the left to reconnoitre, and was soon convinced that such was the case. It was then that I was able to form a full idea of the disorder of a routed army. What a hideous spectacle! The mountain torrent, that uproots and whirls along with it every momentary obstacle, is a feeble image of that heap of men, of horses, of equipages, rushing one upon another; gathering before the least obstacle which dams up their way for a few seconds, only to form a mass which overthrows everything in the path which it forces for itself. Woe to him whose footing failed him in that deluge! He was crushed, trampled to death! I returned and told my general what I had seen, and he instantly abandoned Kellerman, and resumed his original line of march.
"Keeping straight across the country over fields and the rough thickets, we at last arrived at the Bois de Bossu, where we halted. My General said to me, 'Go to the farm of Quatre Bras and announce that we are here. The Emperor or Soult must be there. Ask for orders, and recollect that I am waiting here for you. The lives of these men depend on your exactness.' To reach the farm I was obliged to cross the high road: I was on horseback, but nevertheless was borne away by the crowd that fled along the road, and it was long are I could extricate myself and reach the farmhouse. General Lobau was there with his staff, resting in fancied security. They thought that their troops had halted there; but, though a halt had been attempted, the men had soon fled forwards, like their comrades of the rest of the army. The shots of the approaching Prussians were now heard; and I believe that General Lobau was taken prisoner in that farmhouse. I left him to rejoin my general, which I did with difficulty. I found him alone. His men, as they came near the current of flight, were infected with the general panic, and fled also.
"What was to be done? Follow that crowd of runaways? General Foy would not hear of it. There were five of us still with him, all officers. He had been wounded at about five in the afternoon, and the wound had not been dressed. He suffered severely; but his moral courage was unbroken. 'Let us keep,' he said, 'a line parallel to the high road, and work our way hence as we best can.' A foot-track was before us, and we followed it.
"The moon shone out brightly, and revealed the full wretchedness of the TABLEAU which met our eyes. A brigadier and four cavalry soldiers, whom we met with, formed our escort. We marched on; and, as the noise grew more distant, I thought that we were losing the parallel of the highway. Finding that we had the moon more and more on the left, I felt sure of this, and mentioned it to the General. Absorbed in thought, he made me no reply. We came in front of a windmill, and endeavoured to procure some information; but we could not gain an entrance, or make any one answer, and we continued our nocturnal march. At last we entered a village, but found every door closed against us, and were obliged to use threats in order to gain admission into a single house. The poor woman to whom it belonged, more dead than alive, received us as if we had been enemies. Before asking where we were, 'Food, give as some food!' was our cry. Bread and butter and beer were brought, and soon disappeared before men who had fasted for twenty-four hours. A little revived, we ask, 'Where are we? what is the name of this village?'--'Vieville.'
"On looking at the map, I saw that in coming to that village we had leaned too much to the right, and that we were in the direction of Mons. In order to reach the Sambre at the bridge of Marchiennes, we had four leagues to traverse; and there was scarcely time to march the distance before daybreak. I made a villager act as our guide, and bound him by his arm to my stirrup. He led us through Roux to Marchiennes. The poor fellow ran alongside of my horse the whole way. It was cruel, but necessary to compel him, for we had not an instant to spare. At six in the morning we entered Marchiennes.
"Marshal Ney was there. Our general went to see him, and to ask what orders he had to give. Ney was asleep; and, rather than rob him of the first repose he had had for four days, our General returned to us without seeing him. And, indeed, what orders could Marshal Ney have given? The whole army was crossing the Sambre, each man where and now he chose; some at Charleroi, some at Marchiennes. We were about to do the same thing. When once beyond the Sambre we might safely halt; and both men and horses were in extreme need of rest. We passed through Thuin; and finding a little copse near the road, we gladly sought its shelter. While our horses grazed, we lay down and slept. How sweet was that sleep after the fatigues of the long day of battle, and after the night of retreat more painful still! We rested in the little copse till noon, and sate there watching the wrecks of our army defile along the road before us. It was a soul-harrowing sight! Yet the different arms of the service had resumed a certain degree of order amid their disorder; and our General, feeling his strength revive, resolved to follow a strong column of cavalry which was taking the direction of Beaumont, about four leagues off. We drew near Beaumont, when suddenly a regiment of horse was seen debouching from a wood on our left. The column that we followed shouted out, 'The Prussians! the Prussians!' and galloped off in utter disorder. The troops that thus alarmed them were not a tenth part of their number, and were in reality our own 8th Hussars, who wore green uniforms. But the panic had been brought even thus far from the battle-field, and the disorganized column galloped into Beaumont, which was already crowded with our infantry. We were obliged to follow that DEBACLE. On entering Beaumont we chose a house of superior appearance, and demanded of the mistress of it refreshments for the General. 'Alas!' said the lady, 'this is the tenth General who has been to this house since this morning. I have nothing left. Search, if you please, and see.' Though unable to find food for the General, I persuaded him to take his coat off and let me examine his wound. The bullet had gone through the twists of the left epaulette, and penetrating the skin, had run round the shoulder without injuring the bone. The lady of the house made some lint for me; and without any great degree of surgical skill I succeeded in dressing the wound.
"Being still anxious to procure some food for the General. and ourselves, if it were but a loaf of ammunition bread, I left the house and rode out into the town. I saw pillage going on in every direction: open caissons, stripped and half-broken, blocked up the streets. The pavement was covered with plundered and torn baggage. Pillagers and runaways, such were all the comrades I met with. Disgusted at them, I strove, sword in hand, to stop one of the plunderers; but, more active than I, he gave me a bayonet stab in my left arm, in which I fortunately caught his thrust, which had been aimed full at my body. He disappeared among the crowd, through which I could not force my horse. My spirit of discipline had made me forget that in such circumstances the soldier is a mere wild beast. But to be wounded by a fellow-countryman after having passed unharmed through all the perils of Quatre Bras and Waterloo!--this did seem hard, indeed. I was trying to return to General Foy, when another horde of flyers burst into Beaumont, swept me into the current of their flight, and hurried me out of the town with them. Until I received my wound I had preserved my moral courage in full force; but now, worn out with fatigue, covered with blood, and suffering severe pain from the wound, I own that I gave way to the general demoralisation, and let myself be inertly borne along with the rushing mass. At last I reached Landrecies, though I know not how or when. But I found there our Colonel Hurday, who had been left behind there in consequence of an accidental injury from a carriage. He took me with him to Paris, where I retired amid my family, and got cured of my wound, knowing nothing of the rest of political and military events that were taking place."
No returns ever were made of the amount of the French loss in the battle of Waterloo; but it must have been immense, and may be partially judged of by the amount of killed and wounded in the armies of the conquerors. On this subject both the Prussian and British official evidence is unquestionably full and authentic. The figures are terribly emphatic.
Of the army that fought under the Duke of Wellington nearly 15,000 men were killed and wounded on this single day of battle. Seven thousand Prussians also fell at Waterloo. At such a fearful price was the deliverance of Europe purchased.
By none was the severity of that loss more keenly felt than by our great deliverer himself. As may be seen in Major Macready's narrative, the Duke, while the battle was raging, betrayed no sign of emotion at the most ghastly casualties; but, when all was over, the sight of the carnage with which the field was covered, and still more, the sickening spectacle of the agonies of the wounded men who lay moaning in their misery by thousands and tens of thousands, weighed heavily on the spirit of the victor, as he rode back across the scene of strife. On reaching his head- quarters in the village of Waterloo, the Duke inquired anxiously after the numerous friends who had been round him in the morning, and to whom he was warmly attached. Many he was told were dead; others were lying alive, but mangled and suffering, in the houses round him. It is in our hero's own words alone that his feelings can be adequately told. In a letter written by him almost immediately after his return from the field, he thus expressed himself:--"My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions, and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost, can be half so melancholy as a battle won; the bravery of my troops has hitherto saved me from the greater evil; but to win such a battle as this of Waterloo, at the expense of so many gallant friends, could only be termed a heavy misfortune but for the result to the public."
It is not often that a successful General in modern warfare is called on, like the victorious commander of the ancient Greek armies, to award a prize of superior valour to one of his soldiers. Such was to some extent the case with respect to the battle of Waterloo. In the August of 1818, an English clergyman offered to confer a small annuity on some Waterloo soldier, to be named by the Duke. [Siborne, vol. i. p. 391.] The Duke requested Sir John Byng to choose a man from the 2d Brigade of Guards, which had so highly distinguished itself in the defence of Hougoumont. There were many gallant candidates, but the election fell on Sergeant James Graham, of the light company of the Coldstreams. This brave man had signalised himself, throughout the day, in the defence of that important post, and especially in the critical struggle that took place at the period when the French, who had gained the wood, the orchard, and detached garden, succeeded in bursting open a gate of the courtyard of the chateau itself, and rushed in in large masses, confident of carrying all before them. A hand-to-hand fight, of the most desperate character, was kept up between them and the Guards for a few minutes; but at last the British bayonets prevailed. Nearly all the Frenchmen who had forced their way in were killed on the spot; and, as the few survivors ran back, five of the Guards, Colonel Macdonnell, Captain Wyndham, Ensign Gooch, Ensign Hervey, and Sergeant Graham, by sheer strength, closed the gate again, in spite of the efforts of the French from without, and effectually barricaded it against further assaults. Over and through the loopholed wall of the courtyard, the English garrison now kept up a deadly fire of musketry, which was fiercely answered by the French, who swarmed round the curtilage like ravening wolves. Shells, too, from their batteries, were falling fast into the besieged place, one of which set part of the mansion and some of the out-buildings on fire. Graham, who was at this time standing near Colonel Macdonnell at the wall, and who had shown the most perfect steadiness and courage, now asked permission of his commanding officer to retire for a moment. Macdonnell replied, "By all means, Graham; but I wonder you should ask leave now." Graham answered, "I would not, sir, only my brother is wounded, and he is in that out-building there, which has just caught fire." Laying down his musket, Graham ran to the blazing spot, lifted up his brother, and laid him in a ditch. Then he was back at his post, and was plying his musket against the French again, before his absence was noticed, except by his colonel.
Many anecdotes of individual prowess have been preserved: but of all the brave men who were in the British army on that eventful day, none deserve more honour for courage and indomitable resolution than Sir Thomas Picton, who, as has been mentioned, fell in repulsing the great attack of the French upon the British left centre. It was not until the dead body was examined after the battle, that the full heroism of Picton was discerned. He had been wounded on the 16th, at Quatre Bras, by a musket-ball, which had broken two of his ribs, and caused also severe internal injuries; but he had concealed the circumstance, evidently in expectation that another and greater battle would be fought in a short time, and desirous to avoid being solicited to absent himself from the field. His body was blackened and swollen by the wound, which must have caused severe and incessant pain; and it was marvellous how his spirit had borne him up, and enabled him to take part in the fatigues and duties of the field. The bullet which, on the 18th, killed the renowned loader of "the fighting Division" of the Peninsula, entered the head near the left temple, and passed through the brain; so that Picton's death must have been instantaneous.
One of the most interesting narratives of personal adventure at Waterloo, is that of Colonel Frederick Ponsonby, of the 12th Light Dragoons, who was severely wounded when Vandeleur's brigade, to which he belonged, attacked the French lancers, in order to bring off the Union Brigade, which was retiring from its memorable charge. [See p. 361, SUPRA.] The 12th, like those whom they rescued, advanced much further against the French position than prudence warranted. Ponsonby, with many others, was speared by a reserve of Polish lancers, and left for dead on the field. It is well to refer to the description of what he suffered (as he afterwards gave it, when almost miraculously recovered from his numerous wounds), because his fate, or worse, was the fate of thousands more; and because the narrative of the pangs of an individual, with whom we can identify ourselves, always comes more home to us than a general description of the miseries of whole masses. His tale may make us remember what are the horrors of war as well as its glories. It is to be remembered that the operations which he refers to, took place about three o'clock in the day, and that the fighting went on for at least five hours more. After describing how he and his men charged through the French whom they first encountered, and went against other enemies, he states:--
"We had no sooner passed them than we were ourselves attacked before we could form, by about 300 Polish lancers, who had hastened to their relief; the French artillery pouring in among us a heavy fire of grape, though for one of our men they killed three of their own.
"In the MELEE I was almost instantly disabled in both arms, losing first my sword, and then my reins, and followed by a few men, who were presently cut down, no quarter being allowed, asked or given, I was carried along by my horse, till, receiving a blow from a sabre, I fell senseless on my face to the ground.
"Recovering, I raised myself a little to look round, being at that time, I believe, in a condition to get up and run away; when a lancer passing by, cried out, 'Tu n'est pas mort, coquin!' and struck his lance through my back. My head dropped, the blood gushed into my mouth, a difficulty of breathing came on, and I thought all was over.
"Not long afterwards (it was impossible to measure time, but I must have fallen in less than ten minutes after the onset), a tirailleur stopped to plunder me, threatening my life. I directed him to a small side-pocket, in which he found three dollars, all I had; but he continued to threaten, and I said he might search me: this he did immediately, unloosing my stock and tearing open my waistcoat, and leaving me in a very uneasy posture.
"But he was no sooner gone, than an officer bringing up some troops, to which probably the tirailleur belonged and happening to halt where I lay, stooped down and addressed me, saying, he feared I was badly wounded; I said that I was, and expressed a wish to be removed to the rear. He said it was against their orders to remove even their own men; but that if they gained the day (and he understood that the Duke of Wellington was killed, and that some of our battalions had surrendered), every attention in his power would be shown me. I complained of thirst, and he held his brandy-bottle to my lips, directing one of the soldiers to lay me straight on my side, and place a knapsack under my head. He then passed on into action--soon, perhaps, to want, though not receive, the same assistance; and I shall never know to whose generosity I was indebted, as I believe, for my life. Of what rank he was, I cannot say: he wore a great coat. By- and-by another tirailleur came up, a fine young man, full of ardour. He knelt down and fired over me, loading and firing many times, and conversing with me all the while." The Frenchman, with strange coolness, informed Ponsonby of how he was shooting, and what he thought of the progress of the battle. "At last he ran off, exclaiming, 'You will probably not be sorry to hear that we are going to retreat. Good day, my friend.' It was dusk," Ponsonby adds, "when two squadrons of Prussian cavalry, each of them two deep, came across the valley, and passed over me in full trot, lifting me from the ground, and tumbling me about cruelly. The clatter of of their approach and the apprehensions they excited, may be imagined; a gun taking that direction must have destroyed me.
"The battle was now at an end, or removed to a distance. The shouts, the imprecations, the outcries of 'Vive l'Empereur!' the discharge of musketry and cannon, were over; and the groans of the wounded all around me, became every moment more and more audible. I thought the night would never end.
"Much about this time I found a soldier of the Royals lying across my legs: he had probably crawled thither in his agony; and his weight, his convulsive motions, and the air issuing through a wound in his side, distressed me greatly; the last circumstance most of all, as I had a wound of the same nature myself. "It was not a dark night, and the Prussians were wandering about to plunder; the scene in Ferdinand Count Fathom came into my mind, though no women appeared. Several stragglers looked at me, as they passed by, one after another, and at last one of them stopped to examine me. I told him as well as I could, for I spoke German very imperfectly, that I was a British officer, and had been plundered already; he did not desist, however, and pulled me about roughly.
"An hour before midnight I saw a man in an English uniform walking towards me. He was, I suspect, on the same errand, and he came and looked in my face. I spoke instantly, telling him who I was, and assuring him of a reward if he would remain by me. He said he belonged to the 40th, and had missed his regiment; he released me from the dying soldier, and being unarmed, took up a sword from the ground, and stood over me, pacing backwards and forwards.
"Day broke; and at six o'clock in the morning some English were seen at a distance, and he ran to them. A messenger being sent off to Hervey, a cart came for me, and I was placed in it, and carried to the village of Waterloo, a mile and a half off, and laid in the bed from which as I understood afterwards, Gordon had been just carried out. I had received seven wounds; a surgeon slept in my room, and I was saved by excessive bleeding."
Major Macready, in the journal already cited, [See SUPRA.
There was another brave general of the French army, whose valour and good conduct on that day of disaster to his nation should never be unnoticed when the story of Waterloo is recounted. This was General Polet, who, about seven in the evening, led the first battalion of the 2d regiment of the Chasseurs of the Guard to the defence of Planchenoit; and on whom Napoleon personally urged the deep importance of maintaining possession of that village. Pelet and his men took their post in the central part of the village, and occupied the church and churchyard in great strength. There they repelled every assault of the Prussians, who in rapidly increasing numbers rushed forward with infuriated pertinacity. They held their post till the utter rout of the main army of their comrades was apparent, and the victorious Allies were thronging around Planchenoit. When Pelet and his brave chasseurs quitted the churchyard, and retired with steady march, though they suffered fearfully from the moment they left their shelter, and Prussian cavalry as well as infantry dashed fiercely after them. Pelet kept together a little knot of 250 veterans, and had the eagle covered over, and borne along in the midst of them. At one time the inequality of the ground caused his ranks to open a little; and in an instant the Prussian horseman were on them, and striving to capture the eagle. Captain Siborne relates the conduct of Pelet with the admiration worthy of one brave soldier for another:--
"Pelet, taking advantage of a spot of ground which afforded them some degree of cover against the fire of grape by which they were constantly assailed, halted the standard-bearer, and called out, "A moi chasseurs! sauvons l'aigle ou mourons autour d'elle!" The chasseurs immediately pressed around him, forming what is usually termed the rallying square, and, lowering their bayonets, succeeded in repulsing the charge of cavalry. Some guns were then brought to bear upon them, and subsequently a brisk fire of musketry; but notwithstanding the awful sacrifice which was thus offered up in defence of their precious charge, they succeeded in reaching the main line of retreat, favoured by the universal confusion, as also by the general obscurity which now prevailed; and thus saved alike the eagle and the honour of the regiment."
French writers do injustice to their own army and general, when they revive malignant calumnies against Wellington, and speak of his having blundered into victory. No blunderer could have successfully encountered such troops as those of Napoleon, and under such a leader. It is superfluous to cite against these cavils the testimony which other continental critics have borne to the high military genius of our illustrious chief. I refer to one only, which is of peculiar value, on account of the quarter whence it comes. It is that of the great German writer Niebuhr, whose accurate acquaintance with every important scene of modern as well as ancient history was unparalleled: and who was no mere pedant, but a man practically versed in active life, and had been personally acquainted with most of the leading men in the great events of the early part of this century. Niebuhr, in the passage which I allude to, [Roman History, vol. v. p. 17.] after referring to the military "blunders" of Mithridates, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Pyrrhus, and Hannibal, uses these remarkable words, "The Duke of Wellington is, I believe, the only general in whose conduct of war we cannot discover any important mistake." Not that it is to be supposed that the Duke's merits were simply of a negative order, or that he was merely a cautious, phlegmatic general fit only for defensive warfare, as some recent French historians have described him. On the contrary, he was bold even to audacity when boldness was required. "The intrepid advance and fight at Assaye, the crossing of the Douro, and the movement on Talavera in 1809, the advance to Madrid and Burgos in 1812, the actions before Bayonne in 1813, and the desperate stand made at Waterloo itself, when more tamely-prudent generals would have retreated beyond Brussels, place this beyond a doubt." [See the admirable parallel of Wellington and Marlborough at the end of Sir Archibald Alison's "Life of the Duke of Marlborough." Sir Archibald justly considers Wellington the more daring general of the two.]
The overthrow of the French military power at Waterloo was so complete, that the subsequent events of the brief campaign have little interest. Lamartine truly says: "This defeat left nothing undecided in future events, for victory had given judgment. The war began and ended in a single battle." Napoleon himself recognised instantly and fully the deadly nature of the blow which had been dealt to his empire. In his flight from the battle-field he first halted at Charleroi, but the approach of the pursuing Prussians drove him thence before he had rested there an hour. With difficulty getting clear of the wrecks of his own army, he reached Philippeville, where he remained a few hours, and sent orders to the French generals in the various extremities of France to converge with their troops upon Paris. He ordered Soult to collect the fugitives of his own force, and lead them to Laon. He then hurried forward to Paris, and reached his capital before the news of his own defeat. But the stern truth soon transpired. At the demand of the Chambers of Peers and Representatives, he abandoned the throne by a second and final abdication on the 22d of June. On the 29th of June he left the neighbourhood of Paris, and proceeded to Rochefort in the hope of escaping to America; but the coast was strictly watched, and on the 15th of July the ex-emperor surrendered himself on board of the English man-of-war the Bellerophon.
Meanwhile the allied armies had advanced steadily upon Paris, driving before them Grouchy's corps, and the scanty force which Soult had succeeded in rallying at Laon. Cambray, Peronne, and other fortresses were speedily captured; and by the 29th of June the invaders were taking their positions in front of Paris. The Provisional Government, which acted in the French capital after the Emperor's abdication, opened negotiations with the allied chiefs. Blucher, in his quenchless hatred of the French, was eager to reject all proposals for a suspension of hostilities, and to assault and storm the city. But the sager and calmer spirit of Wellington prevailed over his colleague; the entreated armistice was granted; and on the 3d of July the capitulation of Paris terminated the War of the Battle of Waterloo.
In closing our observations on this the last of the Decisive Battles of the World, it is pleasing to contrast the year which it signalized with the year that is now [Written in June 1851.] passing over our heads. We have not (and long may we be without) the stern excitement of martial strife, and we see no captive standards of our European neighbours brought in triumph to our shrines. But we behold an infinitely prouder spectacle. We see the banners of every civilized nation waving over the arena of our competition with each other, in the arts that minister to our race's support and happiness, and not to its suffering and destruction.
"Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than War;"
and no battle-field ever witnessed a victory more noble than that which England, under her Sovereign Lady and her Royal Prince, is now teaching the peoples of the earth to achieve over selfish prejudices and international feuds, in the great cause of the general promotion of the industry and welfare of mankind.
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