Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Saturday, June 17, 1815

After the defeat at Ligny, the Prussians retreated in good order to Wavre and by Saturday, June 17th a large part of the Prussian army had reached that town.

Meanwhile, Wellington had massed his forces on the ridge south of Mont St. Jean and he was fortifying the farm at Hougoumont on his right and the village of Papelotte on his left. In addition, he placed a garrison in La Haye Sainte, a farm right in front of his center on the main road to Brussels. As usual, most of Wellington's troops were posted on the reverse slope of the ridge where they could not be easily seen by the advancing French army and they were partially protected from cannon fire.

The map on the right (above) shows the positions of the armies on each day. As you can see, the Prussians were well-positioned to come to the aid of Wellington by advancing troops from Wavre toward the battlefield at Mont St. Jean (Waterloo). Wellington and Blücher were in touch during this day of preparation and Blücher promised to attack the French right on the following day.

The map on the right (above) shows Grouchy marching off to the East but this is not accurate. Grouchy did keep in touch with the Prussians retreating down the road to Wavre and there was a battle at Wavre the next day. However, Grouchy did not press the Prussians as hard as he should have and he did nothing to prevent them from coming to the aid of Wellington the next day. All historians agree that this failure on the part of Grouchy played a major role in Napoleon's defeat. The second map is a bit better.

Napoleon joined Ney at Quatre-Bras and pursued the Anglo-Dutch army down the road to Brussels. The French were not able to bring up their forces very quickly so they were not in position to attack on the 17th.

By that evening the French had amassed 48,000 infantry, 14,000 cavalry, and 250 guns. Wellington's force consisted of 50,000 infantry, 11,000 cavalry, and 150 guns. The Prussians committed 48,000 men out of a force twice that size.

There was a heavy rain that evening. The men huddled in their tents knew that the decisive battle would be fought the next day and thousands of them would never live to see another night.


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