Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sunday, June 18, 1815

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The diagram on the right shows the initial disposition of the Anglo-Dutch army under Wellington (red) and the French Army under Napoleon (blue). You can see how they got there by reading my earlier posts [Thursday, June 15, 1815 , Friday, June 16, 1815 , and Saturday, June 17, 1815 ].

There are many detailed descriptions of the battle online so I'm not going to bother with details. The French armies had to eliminate the fortified positions at Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte, and Papelotte. They succeeded at La Haye Saint and Papelotte but the British held on to Hougoumont. This is one of the decisive skirmishes of the battle. The French committed far too many troops to the attack on Hougomount and wasted far too much time.

The diagram on the left shows the situation late in the day when the Imperial Guard is attacking Wellington's center. That attack was driven back and the retreat of the elite Imperial Guard triggered a general retreat of all French forces. Wellington signaled a general advance that didn't stop until the allies reached Paris.

Note the Prussians attacking from the East (right) the French corps under Grouchy had not prevented Blücher from carrying out his promise to support Wellington. The French were doomed as long as Wellington held out until the end of the day and that's what happened.

I've been to the battlefield twice. Here's a photo from 2010 when I went with my daughter, son-in-law, and newly born granddaughter. The big hill behind them was made for tourists so they could get an overview of the battlefield from the top. Most people think it ruined the site.

There are monuments to various military leaders all over the battlefield. Most of the thousands of men who died that day have no monuments to mark where they fell. One of Ms. Sandwalk's distant cousins, Isabella Hood, was married to John Whyte of the British Dragoons. He died at Waterloo. His wife moved to Canada.


  1. My great-great grandfather was in Napoleon's Imperial Guard at Waterloo. I use him as an example of the arbitrary nature of fitness.

    1. There was a certain Antoni Gąsiorowski in the 1st Polish Light Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard. As far as I know, he did not take part in the Battle of Waterloo, though. The regiment was disbanded in 1814 except for an elite squadron of volunteers (commanded by Paweł Jerzmanowski) which accompanied Napoleon to his exile in Elba as part of his personal guard. During the Hundred Days the Elba Squadron were the only foreigners allowed to serve in the Imperial Guard, and of course they fought at Waterloo. I'm sorry to say it, but they were mostly deployed against the British.

  2. If Napoleon had sent the Imperial Guard against Wellington's line at 4 pm, which was in some disarray after the fall of Hougoumont, it is likely that he would have won the battle and scattered the latter's troops. However, the 1st Prussian corps had arrived on his right so Napoleon held the Guard back in case it would be needed to repulse the Prussians. As it turned out, it was not needed so Napoleon advanced it 2 hours later. Unfortunately for him, he gave Wellington 2 hours to reorganize his line and they were prepared to receive the Guard's advance and were able to repulse it. Wellington then threw caution to the winds and ordered his troops to fix bayonets and advance against the retreating French, who were retreating in good order. The French retreat then became disordered and the appearance of the 2nd Prussian corps and the Prussian cavalry turned the disorderly retreat into a rout. Napoleon was whisked off the battlefield by his personal guard and surrendered 2 days later to a british contingent to avoid capture by the Prussians, who would probably have hung him from a suitable tree limb.

  3. Wikipedia places Napoleon's surrender on 15 July 1815 in Rochefort, almost four weeks after the battle.

    There's a great story about his exile on St. Helena. One day he and his followers went out riding, and returned along a path which led through the British military camp. Word spread that Napoleon was coming. The British soldiers poured out of their tents, hastily buttoning their uniforms, forming up neatly, and were reviewed by Napoleon. Meanwhile their officers were screaming at them that there had been no order to form up, and that they should go back to their tents. These orders were ignored.

  4. Re Felsenstein

    Correct. Napoleon abdicated 4 days after the battle which I confused with his eventual surrender.

  5. The soldiers should of respected their killed, murdered, fellow soldiers and not saluted napoleon or a different salute.

    I wish i could find on the internet eyewitness accounts of the battle.
    the two lines I remember were Wellington's , can't quote but, IT WAS A NEAR RUN THING! I think thats it. revealing.
    Another was Wellingtons letter to the German general, can't quote, FOR GODS SAKE HURRY UP!
    In saying this he shows the german general he doesn't exalt his leadership and troops in taking on the battle. Its a admittance that he needs help and these things motivate the helper when seeing such humbleness. I think important when dealing with prideful generals in different armies of different peoples.
    I'm grateful of this important battle being recognized on this forum and the regards to the common soldier on the good guys side that is. there is moral cause here.

    1. Wellington would probably have done a lot better if most of his soldiers had been Protestants from New England like your ancestors. :-)

    2. The actual quote from Wellington made to Blucher after the battle was, that was the nearest run thing that you ever saw in your life. Wellington well knew how close he had come to losing.

      Especially after the desertion of the Belgian contingent, Wellington was heavily outnumbered by Napoleon's forces. It was the mistakes made by Napoleon that cost him the battle. In war, most battles are lost, not won.

    3. My biological ancestors are not from New England at all. Its just me canadian people are and i'm canadian not my british ancesters. its a line of reasoning about identity.

      Actually he probably would of done better on a curve.
      Yet I was complimenting Wellington for seeing his need for german help and articulating it very well and humbly and saying this is very needed in circles where one deals with top dogs/ psychology. i wasn't being anti German or anti english.

  6. Since this is a blog largely about evolution, I'll take the liberty of pasting a description of an ancounter between Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Napoleon, in which Napoleon causes Lamarck to break down in tears. Taken from Francois Arago's "History of My Youth".


    The members of the Insititute were always presented to the Emperor after he had confirmed their nominations. On the designated day, reunited with the presidents and the secretaries of the four classes and with the academics who had particular publications to offer to the head of the State, they arrived in one of the salons of the Tuileries. When the Emperor returned from Mass he performed a sort of review of these men of learning, of these artists, of these writers in green clothes.

    I must declare that the spectacle I witnessed the day of my presentation didn't edify me. I even felt a real displeasure upon seeing the eagerness with which the members of the institute hoped to be noticed.

    [snipped section]

    The Emperor [...] passed on to another member of the Institute. This one wasn't a newcomer: He was a naturalist known for his beautiful and important discoveries, it was M Lamarck. The old man presents a book to Napoleon.

    "What's this?, the latter says. It's your absurd Metereology, this work in which you contradict Matthieu Lansberg, this publication which dishonors your old age; Do natural history, and I will receive your productions with pleasure. This volume, I will take only out of consideration for your white hair. —Take this!" And he passed the book to one of his aids.

    The poor M Lamarck, who, at the end of each of the Emperor's brusque and offensive sentences had uselessly tried to say: "This is a book on natural history, which I present to you," had the weakness to burst into tears.

    Immediately after this the Emperor found a more energetic jouster in the person of M Lanjuinais. This latter had come forward with a book in hand; Napoleon said to him while snickering,

    "Must the whole Senate then become part of the Institute?

    —Sire, replied Lanjuinais, it's the head of the State who has the most time to read literature"

    The Emperor, displeased with this answer, brusquely left the civil uniforms and went to mingle with the big epaulettes filling the salon.

  7. The last veteran of Waterloo:

    Fascinating and poignant.