Random Facts about the Battle of Waterloo
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO
The battle of Waterloo was fought June 18, 1815, between the allied British, Netherland and German troops under Wellington and the French under Napoleon. On June 16 Napoleon had attacked the Prussians under Blucher at Ligny and forced them to retreat toward Wavre, and Marshal Noy at the same time attacked the British and Dutch forces at Quatre Bras, but was forced to retire after an engagement of five hours. Napoleon's object, however, which was to prevent a union of the Prussians with Wellington's main army, was partially gained. The latter commander, having learned the next morning of Blucher's repulse, moved on to Waterloo expecting that the Prussian commander, according to previous arrangement, would join him there as speedily as possible. On June 17 Napoleon also moved toward Waterloo with the main body of his army, having directed Marshal Grouchy with 34,000 men and ninety-six guns to pursue Blucher's command toward Wavre. Both armies bivouacked on the field of Waterloo, and the next morning Napoleon, confident that Grouchy would prevent the arrival of the Prussians, delayed attack until the ground should become dry, a heavy shower having fallen on the day previous. The forces under Wellington occupied a semi-circular ridge a mile and a half in length, and the French were on an opposite ridge, the two being separated by a valley about 500 yards wide. The plan of Napoleon was to turn the allied left, force it back upon center, and gain possession of the enemy's line of retreat. To draw off Wellington's attention to his right, French troops were sent about 11 o'clock to attack the chateau of Houguemont, which the English had fortified. After a fight of more than two hours this was still in the possession of its defenders. About 1 o'clock a Prussian corps under Bulow was seen approaching on the French right, and Napoleon, finding it necessary to send 10,000 men to check their advance, was obliged to change the plan of battle. He therefore ordered a fierce attack upon the allied center. Wellington massed his troops there, and the battle was obstinately maintained for five hours, with varying success to the participants, both commanders hourly expecting re-enforcements. Wellington was waiting for Blucher and Napoleon for Grouchy. The French at last were gaining ground; the allied troops in the center were wavering under Ney's impetuous onslaughts, General Durutte had forced back the left, and Bulow's troops on the right had been forced to yield the position they had taken. Now, however, there were rumors that Blucher's army was approaching and the allies again rallied. At 7 o'clock Napoleon, despairing of the approach of Grouchy, determined to decide the day by a charge of the Old Guard, which had been held in reserve. At this stage the advance of Prussian horse on the allied left forced back General Durutte's troops, and the Old Guard formed in squares to cover this retreat. Ney's division surrounded, made a gallant struggle--their brave leader still unwounded, though five horses had been shot under him, heading them on foot, sword in hand--but were forced to give way. The Old Guard held their ground against overwhelming numbers. Finally, when five squares were broken, the Emperor gave the order to "fall back." The cry "The Guard is repulsed" spread consternation through the French army and threatened to turn retreat into precipitate flight. Napoleon, seeing this, reformed the Guard in order to give a rallying point for the fugitives. Failing in this, he declared that he would die within the square, but Marshal Soult hurried him away. The heroic band, surrounded, was bidden to surrender. "The Old Guard dies, but never surrenders" is the reply popularly attributed to General Cambronne, and with the cry of "Vive l'Empereur!" the remnant of the Guard made a last charge upon the enemy and perished almost to a man. The forces of Blucher being now upon the field, the rout of the French was complete, and the Prussians pursued the fleeing troops, capturing guns and men. There is no doubt that the failure of Grouchy to come upon the field caused Napoleon to lose his last great battle. It was subsequently asserted that this marshal was bribed, but there seems to be no real foundation for so base a charge. The trouble was that he had been ordered by Napoleon to follow the Prussians toward Wavre and thought it necessary to follow the strict letter of his instructions. Before he reached the village the main body of the Prussian force was on its way to Waterloo, but one division had been left there to occupy his attention. Engaged in skirmishing with this, he paid no attention to the advice of his subordinate generals who, hearing the terrible cannonading at Waterloo, besought him to go to the aid of the army there. Napoleon believing that he was either holding back Blucher's forces or was hotly pursuing them, did not recall him to the main army, and the decisive battle was lost. Grouchy was summoned before a council of war, but the court declared itself incompetent to decide his case, and nothing further came of it.