Battle of Waterloo

1815 battle during the War of the Seventh Coalition

The Battle of Waterloo was a battle that was fought between the French on one side and the British and the Prussians on the other.

Battle of Waterloo
Part of the Hundred Days

Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford.
Date18 June 1815
Waterloo, present-day Walloon Brabant in Belgium south of Brussels
Result Decisive Coalition victory
France French Empire Seventh Coalition:
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Dutch Republic United Provinces
Province of Hanover Hanover
Commanders and leaders
France Napoleon Bonaparte United Kingdom Duke of Wellington
Kingdom of Prussia Gebhard von Blücher
72,000 [1] Anglo-allies: 68,000 [1]
Prussians: 50,000 [2]
Casualties and losses
25,000 killed and wounded
7,000 captured
15,000 missing[3]
15,000 British and allies killed and wounded
7,000 Prussians killed and wounded [3] Wellington's army: 3,500 dead; 10,200 wounded; 3,300 missing.
Blücher's army: 1,200 dead; 4,400 wounded; 1,400 missing.

Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor of France and had started and lost the Napoleonic Wars. He had built an empire that stretched from Spain to the Russian border. Defeated at the Battle of Leipzig and elsewhere, he accepted exile on the island of Elba in 1814.

In February 1815, he returned to France and again took control of the French Army. He attacked his enemies in what is now Belgium and was defeated at Waterloo. It was the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars.

Prelude change

In earlier days, Napoleon seemed unstoppable until two separate campaigns failed. He gathered a huge army to invade and to conquer Russia in 1812. His army was caught by the Russian winter and destroyed. The countries of Eastern Europe, led by Austria and Prussia, began to ally against him, forcing his troops back towards France. Meanwhile, a small army in Portugal and Spain, led by Arthur Wellesley, who later became Duke of Wellington, began to push Napoleon’s troops out of Spain.

By 1814, Napoleon faced total defeat, with invasions from all sides. A peace treaty was arranged. in which he would abdicate (give up the throne) and live on a small Mediterranean island, Elba, with a small army. He was replaced as ruler of France by Louis XVIII, a brother of Louis XVI.

Hundred Days change

On Elba, Napoleon was not content. He had been promised money by the new French government, but it did not keep its promise. His wife, an Austrian princess, and his sons were forbidden to visit him.

Messages from France showed that his enemies were quarreling. He seized his opportunity, went by ship in February 1815 and landed in France again. His welcome was very mixed. Many French were tired of war and the death and suffering that it made. However, others wanted a return to the power and glory of the old days and saw Napoleon as their best hope.

His first days were tense but his personal leadership and persuasion gained the support of the army. When Louis XVIII panicked and fled the country, there was little to stop Napoleon returning to Paris and being emperor again.

Waterloo Campaign change

What Napoleon needed now was a period of time to organise himself and the French army. The allies were caught completely by surprise, and their only chance to stop him lay with two small armies in Belgium: a British and Dutch army commanded by the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army, commanded by Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher .

Napoleon decided on a further gamble. He gathered an army and prepared a surprise attack on Wellington and Blücher and hoped to catch them unprepared. His plan was successful at first, and he crossed the Belgian border before Wellington and Blücher could join forces.

Ligny and Quatre Bras change

His first battle was at Ligny, and after a fierce day of fighting, he defeated the Prussian army, forcing it to retreat. Thinking that Blücher would retreat back to Prussia, Napoleon turned his attention towards Wellington. There was already a small battle at Quatre Bras, as Wellington tried to delay the French advance. That gave Wellington enough time to prepare a full defensive position across the road leading to Brussels near the village of Waterloo.

The French army advanced towards them and set up their camp on a ridge facing the combined British and Dutch army. Heavy rain caused delays and confusion, and both sides settled down for the night in the mud to await the dawn and the forthcoming battle.

Napoleon’s army faced Wellington’s Anglo-Dutch army near Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Wellington’s troops were deployed behind a low ridge, which partially protected them from the French massed artillery.

Phase 1 – Attack on Hougoumont change

At around 11:00, Napoleon ordered his guns to open fire. The French infantry began an attack against the Château of Hougoumont, defended by the British Foot Guards. That was intended to draw Wellington’s reserves away from the centre, where Napoleon’s main attack would fall. According to records, Hougomont was considered to be vital to winning the battle.

Phase 2 – French infantry attacks change

At 13:30, Napoleon launched an infantry attack against Wellington’s centre. Men of the King’s German Legion resolutely defended the farm of La Haye Sainte,[4] which disrupted the French attack. The British artillery and musketry succeeded in checking the French assault, and the British Household and Union heavy cavalry brigades charged after the wavering Frenchmen. Excited by their success, the British cavalry pursued their enemy too far and in turn suffered terrible casualties at the hands of the French lancers and light cavalry.

Phase 3 – French cavalry attacks change

At 15.00, the Anglo-Dutch army appeared to be retreating (moving back) after the heavy bombardment that it had received all day and so General Marshal Michel Ney led a massed French cavalry attack against Wellington’s centre. However, the British infantry had been retreating only to regroup and to tend the wounded, and it formed squares to defend itself from the cavalry attack. The French took terrible casualties, as they circled the solid formations of infantrymen.

The situation further deteriorated for Napoleon as Blücher's Prussian troops launched an attack at Plancenoit to his rear at 16.30.

Phase 4 – Prussians begin to increase pressure change

By early evening, the French attack at Hougoumont, which was intended as a diversion, had the opposite effect. The French committed more and more troops to the bitter fighting around the château, which was held by only a small force of British Guardsmen. More French reserves were being sent to meet the Prussian threat to the rear of Napoleon’s army at Plancenoit. However, the French had at last succeeded in capturing the farm of La Haye Sainte, only a short distance from Wellington’s centre.

Phase 5 – Attack by Imperial Guard change

At approximately 19.30 Napoleon committed his last reserves in a final effort to obtain victory. As the Prussians arrived to bolster Wellington’s flank, veterans of the French Imperial Guard advanced to finish the job. The British infantry, exhausted from the continuous heavy gunfire that it had had received all day, rose to meet them. The musketry of the British Guards Brigade defeated Napoleon’s finest troops, who fled. The whole French army joined those troops in retreat. Wellington ordered his entire line to advance, and the French were driven from the field.

References change

  1. 1.0 1.1 Hofschröer, Peter 1999. 1815: The Waterloo Campaign. The German Victory. vol 2, London: Greenhill Books, ISBN 978-1853673689
  2. Chesney, Charles C. 1907. Waterloo Lectures: a study of the campaign Of 1815. London: Longmans, Green. ISBN 1-4286-4988-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Barbero, Alessandro 2005. The Battle: a new history of Waterloo. Atlantic Books, 419/20. ISBN 1-84354-310-9
  4. Beamish, N. Ludlow 1995. [1832], History of the King's German Legion. Dallington: Naval and Military Press, ISBN 0-952201-10-0

Further reading change

  • Bonaparte, Napoleon (1869), "No. 22060", in Polon, Henri; Dumaine, J. (eds.), Correspondance de Napoléon Ier; publiée par ordre de l'empereur Napoléon III (1858), vol. 28, Paris H. Plon, J. Dumaine, pp. 292, 293.
  • Battle of Waterloo -Citizendium