Battle of waterloo

6 June 2017

The Battle of Waterloo was fought thirteen kilometres south of Brussels between the French, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington from Britain and General Blucher from Prussia. The French defeat at Waterloo drew to a close 23 years of war beginning with the French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing with the Napoleonic Wars from 1803. There was a brief eleven-month respite when Napoleon was forced to abdicate, exiled to the island of Elba.

However, the unpopularity of Louis XVIII and the economic and social instability of France motivated him to return to Paris in March 1815. The Allies soon declared war once again. Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo marked the end of the Emperor’s final bid for power, the so-called ‘100 Days’, and the final chapter in his remarkable career. The Protagonists Napoleon Bonaparte had always been driven by his desire to make France a European empire and was an experienced warlord and leader.

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He had carried out a coup against the government of the First Republic of France (the ‘Directory’) in 1799 and established himself as ruler and First Consul, eventually to declare himself First Consul for life and Emperor in 1804. In 1802 the French Republic was officially ecognised and the Peace of Amiens signed. Napoleon had higher ambitions and pursued his desire to make France the most powerful country in Europe by conquering other countries including Britain.

In 1803, Britain declared war on France and the ensuing ‘Napoleonic Wars’ were fought between France and various Allied coalitions over the next 1 1 years. The Allies successfully invaded in 1814 and forced Napoleon to abdicate at the Treaty of Fontainbleau. The European powers were meeting in Vienna to re-establish the territorial balance in Europe when news came of Napoleon’s escape from Elba on 1st March 181 5 and is re-entry into Paris on 20th March. The powers immediately renewed their declaration of war on Napoleon and the 7th Coalition between Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia was formed on 25th March.

They began assembling their troops in readiness for war, intending to attack along the French borders and march on Paris from different directions with enough strength to crush the French. In the event, only the armies of Wellington and Blucher were in place in Belgium. The Austrians and Russians arrived after Napoleon had been defeated. The Allied army under the Duke of Wellington was a coalition of British, Dutch, Belgian and German oldiers. Napoleon described Britain as ‘the most powerful and most constant of my enemies’.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had never been beaten by the French and had a reputation as a talented coalition general. He came to prominence in India and then successfully directed the Peninsular Campaign of 1811 when the British went to support Portugal and Spain against Napoleon. He was made a duke at the end of that war and appointed ambassador to the restored Bourbon court in 1814. Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher was the commander of the Prussian army. He was 72 at the time ot the Battle ot Waterloo and he only man to nave beaten Napoleon more than once.

Age and experience meant that Blucher was less afraid of Napoleon than any other commander. His self-confidence and career record had a positive effect on his army, helping to keep morale amongst the Prussians high. Strategies After his return to France, Napoleon developed his strategy to defeat the Allies. He re-established himself in Paris and began building up his army in preparation for an invasion of Belgium, his goal was to capture Brussels. His battle plan was to mount an offensive attack on the Allied troops gathering in Belgium and to destroy them.

In order to do this he wanted to divide the armies before defeating them separately, forcing Wellington’s army to retreat back to the Belgian coast in the west and the Prussians to retreat to the east. With speed he deployed his army along the French border and centred his headquarters at Beaumont Just across the border from Belgium. He was ready to attack on 15th June 1815. In order to separate Wellington and Blucher’s troops, Napoleon ordered Marshal Ney to advance on Quatre-Bras, a crossroads on the roads between Brussels and Charleroi and Nivelles and Namur.

Allied Dutch-Belgium troops under Prince William of Orange were already positioned around the area and succeeded in holding off the French attack until reinforcements arrived. They continued to hold their ground, resulting in stalemate on 16th June. The result may have been a coincidence of timing. Had Marshal Ney attacked Quatre-Bras earlier the outcome could have been very different as, until the reinforcements arrived, the French army greatly outnumbered the Allies and their chances of victory were good.

If the Allies had been defeated, they may have retreated completely rather than regrouping at Mont St Jean, a few kilometres north of Quatre-Bras. Wellington admitted surprise at the direction of the French attack; ‘Napoleon has humbugged me’, he declared. At Ligny, the Prussian army occupied strongholds of walled gardens, stone houses and farmhouses and lined up on the forward slope of the Ligny Brook with the right guarding the villages of St Armand and St Armand Haye. Heavvy fghting ensued with casualties on both sides, but the Prussians were forced to commit more and more troops.

Although the French were victorious, they failed to totally destroy the Prussian army. They were able to retreat, albeit with numerous injured and dead, north to Wavre (about 18 kilometres east of Waterloo) Napoleon had succeeded in his aim of keeping the two Allied armies apart but mistakenly believed the Prussians were defeated. He was confident that Wellington could also be defeated. Preparing for battle On the morning of 18th June 181 5, Wellington was occupying the ridge of Mont St Jean, Just south of Waterloo, and Napoleon that of La Belle Alliance across the valley.

The corps were divided into three under the commands of Lord Hill, Prince William of Orange and Sir Thomas Picton. Wellington was short of well-trained infantry and the cavalry were inexperienced, but he believed in the use of carefully deployed firepower. They had some 156 cannon and the standard gun for the infantry, a smoothbore mus et k titted with a bayonet on a socket over the barrel ot a gun Observing that his troops were outnumbered by the French, Wellington decided that his best plan was to stand firm until the Prussians could come to his aid.

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