The Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815; the battle that ended the dominance of the French Emperor Napoleon over Europe; the end of an epoch
The previous battle of the Napoleonic Wars is the Battle of Quatre Bras
The next battle in the British Battles series is the Battle of Ghuznee
War: Napoleonic Wars
Date of the Battle of Waterloo: 18th June 1815
Place of the Battle of Waterloo: South of Brussels in modern Belgium
Combatants at the Battle of Waterloo: British, Germans, Belgians, Dutch and Prussians against the French Grande Armée
Commanders at the Battle of Waterloo: The Duke of Wellington, Marshal Blücher and the Prince of Orange against the Emperor Napoleon
Size of the armies at the Battle of Waterloo: 23,000 British troops with 44,000 allied troops and 160 guns against 74,000 French troops and 250 guns.
Winner of the Battle of Waterloo: The British, Germans, Belgians, Dutch and Prussian allies
Uniforms, arms, equipment and training at the Battle of Waterloo:
The British infantry wore red waist jackets, grey trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The two rifle regiments wore dark green jackets.
British heavy cavalry wore red tunics and roman-style crested helmets. The British light cavalry wore either the light blue of light dragoons or hussar uniforms of shabrach, dolman and busby.
The Royal Horse Guards and Royal Artillery wore blue tunics.
The Royal Horse Artillery wore blue uniforms with the old light dragoon style crested helmet.
Highland regiments wore the kilt with red tunics and tall black ostrich feather caps.
The King’s German Legion (KGL) was the Hanoverian army in exile. The KGL owed its allegiance to King George III of Great Britain, as the Elector of Hanover, and fought with the British army. The KGL comprised both cavalry and infantry regiments. KGL uniforms mirrored the British, as did the regiments of the re-constituted Hanoverian army.
Belgians and Dutch wore dark blue.
The Brunswickers wore black uniforms.
The French army wore a variety of uniforms. The basic infantry uniform was dark blue.
The French cavalry comprised Cuirassiers, wearing heavy burnished metal breastplates and crested helmets, Dragoons, largely in green, Hussars, in the conventional uniform worn by this arm across Europe, and Chasseurs à Cheval, dressed as hussars.
The Grenadiers of the Guard wore the characteristic tall bearskin that the British Foot Guards were to adopt after the battle.
The French foot artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery wore hussar uniforms.
The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the muzzle-loading musket. The musket could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet for hand-to-hand fighting, which fitted the muzzle end of his musket.
The British rifle battalions (60th and 95th Rifles) carried the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.
Field guns fired a ball projectile, of limited use against troops in the field unless those troops were closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented and was highly effective against troops in the field over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, yet in their infancy. were of particular use against buildings. The British were developing shrapnel (named after the British officer who invented it) which increased the effectiveness of exploding shells against troops in the field, by exploding in the air and showering them with metal fragments.
Throughout the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign, the British army was plagued by a shortage of artillery. The Army was sustained by volunteer recruitment and the Royal Artillery was not able to recruit sufficient gunners for its needs.
Napoleon exploited the advances in gunnery technology of the last years of the French Ancien Régime, to create his powerful and highly mobile artillery. Many of his battles were won using a combination of the manoeuvrability and fire power of the French guns, with the speed of French columns of infantry, supported by the mass of French cavalry.
Provided the infantry were able to form square, they were largely impervious to cavalry attack, as neither the British nor the French cavalry horses could be brought to ride through an unbroken infantry line and the infantry could not be attacked in flank.
While the French conscript infantry moved about the battle field in fast moving columns, the British trained to fight in line. The Duke of Wellington reduced the number of ranks to two, to extend the line of the British infantry and to exploit fully the firepower of his regiments.
British Regiments present at the Battle of Waterloo:
Royal Horse Artillery
1st Life Guards now the Life Guards
2nd Life Guards now the Life Guards
Royal Horse Guards now the Blues and Royals
King’s Dragoon Guards now the Queen’s Dragoon Guards
Royal Dragoons now the Blues and Royals
Royal Scots Greys now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
6th Inniskilling Dragoons later the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards
7th Hussars later the Queen’s Own Hussars and now the Queen’s Royal Hussars
10th Hussars later the Royal Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars
11th Hussars later the Royal Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars
12th Light Dragoons now the 9th/12th Lancers
13th Light Dragoons later the 13th/18th King’s Royal Hussars and now the Light Dragoons
15th Light Dragoons later the 15th/19th Hussars and now the Light Dragoons
16th Light Dragoons later the 16th/5th Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers
18th Light Dragoons later the 13th/18th King’s Royal Hussars and now the Light Dragoons
23rd Light Dragoons (disbanded)
1st Foot Guards now the Grenadier Guards
2nd Coldstream Guards
3rd Foot Guards now the Scots Guards
1st Foot later the Royal Scots now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
4th King’s Own Regiment of Foot later the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment
14th Foot later the West Yorkshire Regiment later the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire now the Yorkshire Regiment
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers now the Royal Welsh
27th Foot, the Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
28th Foot later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment now the Rifles
30th Foot later the East Lancashire Regiment later the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment
32nd Foot later the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry
33rd Foot the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment now the Yorkshire Regiment
40th Foot later the South Lancashire Regiment later the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment
42nd Highlanders later the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment) now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
44th Foot later the Essex Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
51st Light Infantry later the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry later the Light Infantry now the Rifles
52nd Light Infantry later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry later the Royal Green Jackets now the Rifles
69th Foot later the Welsh Regiment and now the Royal Regiment of Wales
71st Highland Light Infantry later the Royal Highland Fusiliers now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
73rd Highlanders the Black Watch now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
79th Highlanders later the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, later the Queen’s Own Highlanders now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
92nd Highlanders the Gordon Highlanders now the Royal Regiment of Scotland
95th Rifles later the Rifle Brigade later the Royal Green Jackets now the Rifles
Allied Order of Battle at the Battle of Waterloo:
The Duke of Wellington
Prince Willem of Orange
Lieutenant General Sir William Hill
Lieutenant General Prince Frederick, Duke of Brunswick
Quartermaster General: Major General Sir George Murray
Adjutant General: Major General Sir Edward Barnes
The Cavalry: commanded by the Earl of Uxbridge:
Royal Horse Artillery:
The Rocket Troop
Household Brigade: Major General Lord Somerset
1st Life Guards
2nd Life Guards
Royal Horse Guards
King’s Dragoon Guards
Union Brigade: Major General Sir William Ponsonby
1st Royal Dragoons
2nd Dragoons, Royal Scots Greys
6th Inniskilling Dragoons
3rd Cavalry Brigade: Major General Dornberg
1st Light Dragoons, King’s German Legion
2nd Light Dragoons, King’s German Legion
23rd Light Dragoons (British)
4th Cavalry Brigade: Major General Sir John Vandeleur
11th Light Dragoons (British)
12th Light Dragoons (British)
16th Light Dragoons (British)
5th Cavalry Brigade: Major General Grant
15th Hussars (British)
7th Hussars (British)
13th Light Dragoons (British)
6th Cavalry Brigade: Major General Sir Hussey Vivian
10th Hussars (British)
18th Hussars (British)
1st Hussars, King’s German Legion
7th Cavalry Brigade: Colonel Ahrentschildt
2nd Hussars, King’s German Legion
Netherlands Cavalry Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Baron de Collaert
Heavy Brigade: Major General Trip
1st Carabinier Regiment
2nd Carabinier Regiment
3rd Carabinier Regiment
1st Light Brigade: Major General Baron de Ghigny
4th Light Dragoon Regiment
8th Hussar Regiment
2nd Light Brigade: Major General van Merlen
6th Hussar Regiment
4th Light Dragoon Regiment
2nd Hussar Regiment
Duke of Cumberland Hussar Regiment
1st Foot Guards Division: commanded by Major General Cooke
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Maitland
2nd Battalion 1st Foot Guards
3rd Battalion 1st Foot Guards
2nd Brigade: Major General Byng
2nd Battalion 2nd Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards
2nd Battalion 3rd Foot Guards
2nd Division: commanded by Major General Sir Henry Clinton
3rd Brigade: commanded by Major General Adam
1st Battalion 52nd Light Infantry
1st Battalion 71st Highland Light Infantry
2nd Battalion 95th Rifles
1st Brigade, King’s German Legion: commanded by Colonel de Plat
1st Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
2nd Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
3rd Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
4th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
3rd Hannover Brigade: commanded by Colonel Halkett
4 Landwehr battalions
3rd Division: commanded by Major General Alten
2nd Brigade, King’s German Legion: commanded by Colonel Baron Ompteda
5th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
8th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
1st Light Infantry, King’s German Legion
2nd Light Infantry, King’s German Legion
5th Brigade: commanded by Major General Sir Colin Halkett
2nd Battalion, 30th Foot
1st Battalion, 33rd Foot
2nd Battalion, 69th Foot
2nd Battalion, 73rd Foot
1st Hannover Brigade: commanded by Major General Kielmannsegge
2 Light Infantry Battalions
Company of Jaegers
4th Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Colville
4th Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell
1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, 23rd Foot
3rd Battalion, 14th Foot
1st Battalion, 51st Light Infantry
5th Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton
8th Brigade: commanded by Major General Kempt
1st Battalion, 28th Foot
1st Battalion, 32nd Foot
1st Battalion, 79th Highlanders
1st Battalion, 95th Rifles
9th Brigade: commanded by Major General Pack
2nd Battalion, 44th Foot
3rd Battalion, 1st Foot, the Royal Regiment
1st Battalion, 92nd Highlanders
1st Battalion, 42nd Highlanders
5th Hannover Brigade: commanded by Colonel von Vincke
Landwehr Battalion Hameln
Landwehr Battalion Gifhorn
Landwehr Battalion Hildesheim
Landwehr Battalion Peine
6th Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Lowry Cole
10th Brigade: commanded by Major General Lambert
1st Battalion, 40th Foot
1st Battalion, 27th Foot
1st Battalion, 4th Foot, King’s Own Royal Regiment
4th Hannover Brigade: commanded by Colonel Best
Landwehr Battalion Osterode
Landwehr Battalion Minden
Landwehr Battalion Luneburg
Landwehr Battalion Verden
Brunswickers: commanded by Colonel Olferman
Leib Light Infantry Battalion
1st Light Infantry Battalion
2nd Light Infantry Battalion
3rd Light Infantry Battalion
1st Line Battalion
2nd Line Battalion
3rd Line Battalion
Nassauers: commanded by Major General von Kruse
1st Battalion, 1st Line Infantry
2nd Battalion, 1st Line Infantry
2nd Netherlands Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Baron Perponcher-Sedlnitzky.
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Graf van Bijlandt
7th (Belgian) Line Regiment
7th (Dutch) Militia
8th (Dutch) Militia
27th (Dutch) Jaeger Regiment
5th (Dutch) Militia
2nd Nassau Brigade: commanded by Major General Prince Bernard of Saxe-Weimar
3 battalions of the 2nd Nassau Regiment
2 battalions of the 28th Ober Nassau Regiment
Jaegers of the 28th Ober Nassau Regiment
3rd Netherlands Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Baron Chasse
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Detmers
35th (Belgian) Jaeger
2nd (Dutch) Line Regiment
4th (Dutch) Line Regiment
6th (Dutch) Line Regiment
19th (Dutch) Militia
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General d’Aubreme
12th (Dutch) Line Regiment
13th (Dutch) Line Regiment
3rd (Dutch) Militia
10th (Dutch) Militia
3rd (Belgian) Jaeger
36th (Belgian) Jaeger
French Order of Battle at the Battle of Waterloo:
The Emperor Napoleon
Imperial Guard Corps: commanded by General Mortier
1st Division (Old Guard): commanded by General Friant
1st Grenadiers à Pied
2nd Grenadiers à Pied
1st Chasseurs à Pied
2nd Chasseurs à Pied
2nd Division (Middle Guard): commanded by General Morand
3rd Grenadiers à Pied
4th Grenadiers à Pied
3rd Chasseurs à Pied
4th Chasseurs à Pied
3rd Division (Young Guard): commanded by General Duhesme
Grenadiers à Cheval
Chasseurs à cheval
1st Corps: commanded by Marshall D’Erlon
3rd Chasseurs à Cheval
1st Division: commanded by General Allix
54th Regiment of the Line
55th Regiment of the Line
28th Regiment of the Line
105th Regiment of the Line
2nd Division: commanded by General Donzelot
13th Light Regiment
17th Regiment of the Line
19th Regiment of the Line
51st Regiment of the Line
3rd Division: commanded by General Marcognet
21st Regiment of the Line
46th Regiment of the Line
25th Regiment of the Line
45th Regiment of the Line
4th Division: commanded by General Durutte
8th Regiment of the Line
29th Regiment of the Line
85th Regiment of the Line
95th Regiment of the Line
2nd Corps: commanded by General Reille
1st Chasseurs à Cheval
6th Chasseurs à Cheval
5th Division: commanded by General Bachlu
2nd Light Regiment
61st Regiment of the Line
72nd Regiment of the Line
108th Regiment of the Line
6th Division: commanded by General Prince Jerome Bonaparte
1st Light Regiment
3rd Regiment of the Line
1st Regiment of the Line
2nd Regiment of the Line
7th Division commanded by General Girard
11th Light Regiment
82nd Regiment of the Line
12th Light Regiment
4th Regiment of the Line
9th Division: commanded by General Foy
92nd Regiment of the Line
93rd Regiment of the Line
100th Regiment of the Line
4th Light Regiment
3rd Corps: commanded by General Vandamme
4th Chasseurs à Cheval
9th Chasseurs à Cheval
12th Chasseurs à Cheval
8th Division: commanded by General Lefol
15th Light Regiment
23rd Regiment of the Line
37th Regiment of the Line
64th Regiment of the Line
10th Division: commanded by General Habert
11th Regiment of the Line
34th Regiment of the Line
22nd Regiment of the Line
77th Regiment of the Line
2nd Swiss Infantry
11th Division: commanded by General Berthezène
12th Regiment of the Line
56th Regiment of the Line
33rd Regiment of the Line
86th Regiment of the Line
6th Corps: commanded by General Mouton
19th Division: commanded by General Zimmer
5th Regiment of the Line
11th Regiment of the Line
27th Regiment of the Line
84th Regiment of the Line
20th Division: commanded by General Jeannin
5th Light Regiment
10th Regiment of the Line
47th Regiment of the Line
107th Regiment of the Line
21st Division: commanded by General Teste
8th Light Regiment
40th Regiment of the Line
65th Regiment of the Line
75th Regiment of the Line
1st Cavalry Corps: commanded by General Pajol
11th Chasseurs à Cheval
3rd Cavalry Corps: commanded by General Kellerman
4th Cavalry Corps: commanded by General Milhaud
Background to the Battle of Waterloo:
In 1814, twenty-five years of war came to an end with the surrender of the Emperor Napoleon and his banishment to the Mediterranean island of Elba. The European powers began the task of restoring their continent to normality and peace. The Bourbons resumed their interrupted reign in France with King Louis XVIII.
On 1st March 1815, Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed in France. Nineteen days later, Napoleon was in Paris and resumed his title of Emperor. Napoleon’s army rallied to him. The many French soldiers, captured during the years of fighting up to 1814 and now released, enabled Napoleon to reform his powerful Grande Armée.
The European allies reassembled their armies and prepared to resume the war to overthrow the Emperor yet again.
Napoleon resolved to attack the British, Prussian, Belgian and Dutch armies before the other powers could come to their assistance. He marched into the area that is now Belgium.
Napoleon defeated the Prussians, under Marshall Blücher, at the Battle of Ligny on 16th June 1815, driving the Prussians away to the east.
On the same day, Marshal Ney fought the Battle of Quatre Bras against troops of the Duke of Wellington’s allied army, forcing Wellington to fall back towards Brussels.
Napoleon sent Marshal Grouchy in pursuit of the Prussians, while he advanced on Wellington’s army.
Assured by Blücher that the Prussians would join him for the conclusive battle against Napoleon, Wellington, on the afternoon of 17th June 1815, halted his army to give battle to the French.
The Duke of Wellington took up a position on the Brussels road, where it emerges from the woods of Soignies, south of the village of Waterloo. The road crosses a low ridge, behind which Wellington positioned his army facing south, and descends into a valley before rising on the other side to a further ridge. In the valley, below the first crest, lay La Haye Sante Farm and on the road at the southern side of the valley, below the second crest, stood La Belle Alliance Farm.
During most of the Battle of Waterloo, the Germans occupied La Haye Sante and the French used La Belle Alliance as a headquarters.
To the north of the first crest, the Namur road crossed the Brussels road. The main British, German, Belgian and Dutch positions lay along the Namur road, behind the first crest. The French approach to the battle was from the country to the South of La Belle Alliance and across the valley.
In the valley to the front of the right wing of the Allied line, stood Hougoumont Farm, the key to Wellington’s right flank. Held by the light companies of the British Coldstream and Third Guards, there would be fighting around Hougoumont all day during the battle.
Lying by the road leading to the centre of Wellington’s position, the capture of La Haye Sante was a crucial goal for the French army.
To the east of the Duke’s army lay Papelotte, another farm that would be the centre of a ferocious struggle, particularly as the Prussian Army appeared on the field at the end of the battle.
In the Duke’s centre stood the farm of Mont St Jean, used as a headquarters and hospital.
It rained heavily during the night of 17th June 1815. The French artillery commanders insisted to Napoleon that the French attack did not begin until the ground had dried out sufficiently for the guns to manoeuvre without sticking in the mud.
The French attack began at 11am on 18th June 1815.
Account of the Battle of Waterloo: The morning and afternoon of the 18th June 1815:
At 11am the French bombardment of Hougoumont Farm, on the extreme right of the Allied line, began the battle. The British artillery on the ridge behind the farm replied, cannonading the French infantry massed for the attack on the far side of the valley.
At midday, Prince Jerome ordered the assault on Hougoumont and the French infantry columns of his division moved forward to begin the day long struggle around the farm buildings.
At about 1.30pm, Marshal Ney brought forward 74 French guns over the ridge opposite La Haye Sante, followed by the 17,000 infantry of D’Erlon’s corps, to begin the attack on the Duke of Wellington’s centre and left.
The French cannonade began and was later described by Allied veterans as the heaviest they had experienced. The Duke ordered his infantry battalions to move back behind the ridge and to lie down. This had the effect of shielding them from the worst of the cannonade. Only Bilandt’s Belgian-Dutch Brigade was left on the exposed slope and suffered heavily.
After half an hour, the barrage stopped, giving way to the roar of drums as Ney’s columns advanced to the attack.
The French infantry passed La Haye Sante and marched up to the crest of the ridge, where Picton’s 5th division was positioned.
As part of the French advance, a furious assault began on La Haye Sante, held by the King’s German Legion, which was to continue intermittently for the rest of the day, until the German troops ran out of ammunition and were finally overwhelmed.
As the French infantry approached the hedge at the top of the ridge, the line of British infantry stood up, fired a volley and charged, driving back the massed French columns.
Allied Cavalry formations, mostly British regiments, were ordered to charge in support of the infantry attack; the Household Brigade (1st and 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards), the Union Brigade (Royals, Scots Greys and Inniskillings) and Vivian’s Hussar Brigade (10th and 18th Hussars and 1st Hussars, King’s German Legion).
It is notoriously difficult to pull up cavalry committed to a charge, and the British regiments did not readily respond to recall orders. The Union Brigade continued to attack across the valley. These regiments charged up to the French gun line on the far ridge, where they were in turn overwhelmed by French cavalry.
General Ponsonby, commanding the Union Brigade was killed. It is of note that, of the three regiments in the Union Brigade, two, the Greys and Inniskillings, had not served in the Peninsular War and lacked battle experience.
The time was 3pm and there was a lull in the battle, the only active fighting being the continuing attack on Hougoumont at the western end of the line, sucking in more and more of Reille’s French corps.
The battle began slowly to swing in the Allies’ favour as Blücher’s Prussian Army arrived on the field in the south-east.
Napoleon ordered Ney to capture La Haye Sante, considering the farm to be the key to the Allied position. Ney launched this assault with two battalions he found to hand and, during the operation, formed the view that the Allied army was withdrawing. It is likely that the movements he saw were casualties or prisoners moving to the rear.
It was on this impetuous assumption that Ney launched his massive cavalry attack on the Allied line.
Initially the attacking force was Milhaud’s French Cavalry Corps of Cuirassiers.
Before the French could reach the Allied line, the infantry formed squares interlaced with artillery batteries. The French cuirassiers flowed around the squares, but were unable to penetrate them.
During the next three hours, some twelve French cavalry attacks were made up to the ridge and back.
Napoleon, while deprecating the initial attack as premature, felt bound to commit increasing numbers of cavalry to support the assault.
At around 5.30pm, Ney launched the final French cavalry charge. There were too many regiments, fresh mingled with exhausted. The attack failed yet again.
Ney now launched the sustained infantry assault on La Haye Sante, which was overwhelmed.
This success was too late to change the outcome of the battle, as the Prussian assault in the south-east, on Plancenoit, was seriously threatening the French position.
Sure that the Allied line was at breaking point, Ney sent desperately to the Emperor for more troops to attack.
Napoleon was at this point deploying the Guard, to drive the Prussians back from Plancenoit. Once this had been achieved, Napoleon resolved to launch the Guard at the main Allied line.
By the time the Guard was available to carry out the attack on the ridge, Wellington had reorganised his forces, and the opportunity, that Ney had this time correctly identified, had passed.
As the Guard began its advance on the ridge, a deserting French cavalry officer galloped up to the Allied line and warned of the Guard’s approach.
The Guard marched up to La Belle Alliance, where Napoleon stood aside and left the command of the attack to Ney.
Ney led the five battalions up the left-hand side of the Brussels road. As they climbed the ridge, the columns came under fire from a curve of Allied batteries assembled to meet them.
The Middle Guard threw back the British battalions of Halkett’s Brigade, but were assaulted by the Belgian and Dutch troops of General Chassé and Colonel Detmers, who drove them back down the hill.
The 3rd Regiment of Chasseurs approached the ridge opposite Maitland’s Brigade of Foot Guards (2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Foot Guards). Wellington called to the brigade commander ‘Now Maitland. Now’s your time’. One authority had Wellington saying ‘Up Guards, ready’. The 1st Foot Guards stood, fired a volley and charged with the bayonet, driving the French Guard back down the hill.
The last of the French Guard regiments, the 4th Chasseurs, came up in support as the British Guards withdrew over the ridge.
Sir John Colborne brought the 52nd Foot round to outflank the French column, as it passed his brigade, fired a destructive volley into the left flank of the Chasseurs and attacked with the bayonet. The whole of the Guard was driven back down the hill and the French army began a general retreat to the cry of ‘La Garde recule’.
Within fifteen minutes, Wellington appeared on the skyline and waved his hat to give the signal for a general attack in pursuit of the French troops. The British, Belgian, Dutch and German troops poured forward and the French retreat became a route.
Three battalions of the Old Guard fought to the end, to enable the Emperor to escape from the battlefield, as the Allied troops including the Prussians closed in. General Cambronne is reputed to have answered a call to surrender with the words ‘The Guard dies but does not surrender’.
The Battle of Waterloo ended with an historic meeting between the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Blücher, who had kept his promise to Wellington to come to his assistance.
The Battle of Waterloo: Hougoumont Château
The small château of Hougoumont stood before the extreme right of the Allied position. The Duke of Wellington formed the view that the château was the key to his flank, and garrisoned it with the light companies of the Coldstream and 3rd Foot Guards under Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell of the Coldstream Guards. Nassauers and guardsmen held the woods to the front of the building.
The British troops took over the range of château buildings on 17th June 1815 and spent the night fortifying them, building fire steps and loop holing the walls. All the gates were blocked, other than the main gate on the northern side to provide access.
At 11am on 18th June, Prince Jerome’s division began the battle with his attack on Hougoumont, the French driving the Nassauers out of the woods and attacking the château.
The French surged around the buildings and charged the main gate, in the face of a rush of British guardsmen, headed by Colonel MacDonnell, to keep them out. The entrance was damaged and there ensued a struggle by the British to shut the gate and by the French to force it open.
Colonel MacDonnell and his party of officers and sergeants forced the gate shut and Sergeant Graham of the Coldstream Guards put the bar in place. The few French soldiers who had penetrated the entrance were hunted through the farm buildings.
During the rest of the day, Hougoumont was subject to sustained attack by Jerome’s troops, with assistance from a further French division. The château garrison was reinforced with more companies from the two Foot Guards battalions of Byng’s Guards Brigade, 2nd/2nd and 2nd/3rd Guards.
When, during the afternoon the supply of ammunition in the château became critically low, Sergeant Fraser of the 3rd Guards went to the main line and returned with a wagon of cartridges, thereby enabling the defence to continue.
By the end of the battle, the château had been set ablaze by howitzer shells and the buildings were heaped with British casualties. The French were unable to capture Hougoumont, and their casualties filled the woods and fields around it.
The two battalions that defended Hougoumont suffered 500 dead and wounded out of a strength of 2,000 men.
Some years after the Battle of Waterloo, an English clergyman bequeathed £500 to be given to the bravest Briton from the battle. The selection was referred to the Duke of Wellington, who nominated Lieutenant Colonel McDonnell of the Coldstream Guards, for his defence of the Château of Hougoumont. Colonel McDonnell gave half the sum to Sergeant Graham, the soldier who put the gate bar in place.
Annually, the Coldstream Guards celebrate the defence of Hougoumont, with the ceremony of the hanging of the brick.
The Battle of Waterloo: La Haye Sante Farm
The farm of La Haye Sante stands on the west side of the main Brussels road, beneath the ridge, two hundred metres in front of the centre of the Allied position. As the Emperor Napoleon urged on Marshal Ney, La Haye Sante was the key to the Allied line and had to be taken at all costs.
The garrison, to whom it fell to resist the French attack, that began soon after D’Erlon’s assault, was from Major Baring’s 2nd Light Battalion of Colonel Baron Ompteda’s 2nd King’s German Legion Brigade.
The King’s German Legion expected only to spend the night in the farm, and did not discover until the morning that they were required to hold it for the battle. By then, the main gates had been burnt on the soldiers’ camp fires and little could be done to put the farm in a state of defence in the short time before the battle began.
The KGL soldiers of the farm garrison were largely spectators as D’Erlon’s attack swept past and up the ridge to the main Allied position, to be pursued back to their lines by the British cavalry counter-attack.
It was then that Ney’s attack on the farm was launched, on the orders of the Emperor Napoleon. From that moment, the King’s German Legion troops fought for their lives until late in the afternoon, when, with their ammunition finished and the farm in flames, the garrison was annihilated or driven out. 39 of some 360 soldiers survived the battle.
Casualties at the Battle of Waterloo:
The British, Belgians, Dutch and Germans lost 15,000 casualties or 1 in 4 engaged. The Prussians lost 7,000. The casualties in the French army are estimated at 25,000 dead and wounded, 8,000 prisoners and 220 guns lost.
Follow-up to the Battle of Waterloo:
Waterloo decisively saw the end of 26 years of fighting between the European powers and France. The French star was eclipsed and the German began its ascendancy.
For Britain, Waterloo is not just a battle. It is an institution (as well as a station).
Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Waterloo:
- The Royal Dragoons captured the eagle of the French 105th of the Line, in the charge of the Union Brigade, and subsequently adopted the eagle as its badge. The eagle is now worn as an arm badge by the Blues and Royals, the successor regiment. As with the Greys the regiment was given the nickname of the ‘Bird catchers’.
- After the Battle of Waterloo, the 1st Foot Guards was given the title ‘the Grenadier Guards’, to commemorate the regiment’s role in overthrowing the French Grenadiers of the Old Guard. All ranks were given the bearskin cap to wear.
- 14th Foot: The 3rd Battalion of the regiment fought at Waterloo. The battalion had been newly raised and was awaiting disbandment, having seen no service, when Napoleon escaped from Elba. The battalion crossed to Belgium and won the battle honour for the regiment. Most of the soldiers were under 20 years of age.
- The Emperor Napoleon, some years before Waterloo, presented to each of his marshals a silver snuff box. Marshal Ney’s snuffbox was looted from his carriage after the battle by a British officer. Some years later the snuffbox was presented to the officers of the 19th Foot, the Green Howards, who used it in their mess for formal occasions.
- The 27t Inniskilling Fusiliers, in the course of Ney’s cavalry attacks, was bombarded by a French horse artillery battery. By the end of the battle, the battalion had suffered 478 casualties from a pre-battle strength of 750. An officer from a nearby battalion, Captain Kincaid, commented that the 27th seemed to be lying dead in its square. Kincaid, a veteran of the Peninsular War, said ‘I had never thought there would be a battle where everyone was killed. This seemed to be it.’
- The 71st Highland Light Infantry captured a French cannon and fired the last shot of the Battle of Waterloo at the retreating French army.
- The Duke of Wellington spent his early army service as the lieutenant colonel of the 33rd Foot. After the Duke’s death, Queen Victoria permitted the 33rd to adopt the title ‘the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment’, a fitting attribution for one of the army’s most persistently successful regiments of foot.
- 79th Cameron Highlanders: As the French cavalry approached for the attack, the regiment formed square. Piper Mackay marched around the square playing the pibroch ‘Peace or War’. The King subsequently presented Mackay with silver mounted pipes as a reward.
- In spite of their presence in the film ‘Waterloo’, the 88th Foot, Connaught Rangers, was not present at Waterloo. They were on the far side of the Atlantic fighting the Americans.
- The 95th had three battalions at Waterloo. After the battle the regiment was given the title of the ‘Rifle Brigade’ in place of its number, which was reallocated to a newly raised infantry regiment.
- In the closing moments of the battle, a cannon ball struck the Earl of Uxbridge as he rode with the Duke of Wellington. The Duke said ‘By God you’ve lost your leg.’ The Earl said ‘By God, so I have.’ The remains of the leg were amputated in a house nearby and the owner of the house buried the leg in his garden, a place of interest for some years.
- Every year after 1815, the Duke of Wellington held a ‘Waterloo’ banquet for his officers. The banquet is still held.
- Umbrellas at the Battle of Waterloo: Captain Mercer of the British Horse Artillery described the miserable night he and his troop spent on the field of Waterloo before the battle: ‘My companion (the troop’s second captain) had an umbrella, which by the way afforded some merriment to our people on the march, this we planted against the sloping bank of the hedge, and seating ourselves under it, he on the one side of the stick, me on the other side, we lighted cigars and became-comfortable’.
- The Duke, who was indifferent to the way his officers chose to dress, drew the line at umbrellas. ‘At Bayonne, in December 1814,’ wrote Captain Gronow of the 1st Foot Guards, ‘His Grace, on looking round, saw, to his surprise, a great many umbrellas, with which the officers protected themselves from the rain that was then falling. Arthur Hill came galloping up to us saying, Lord Wellington does not approve of the use of umbrellas during the enemy’s firing, and will not allow the ‘gentlemen’s sons’ to make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the army.’ Colonel Tynling, a few days afterwards, received a wigging from Lord Wellington for suffering his officers to carry umbrellas in the face of the enemy; His Lordship observing, ‘The Guards may in uniform, when on duty at St. James’, carry umbrellas if they please, but in the field it is not only ridiculous but unmilitary.’ Standing orders for the army in the Peninsula and in the Waterloo campaign stated categorically ‘Umbrellas will not be opened in the presence of the enemy.’ However, the surgeon of Captain Mercer’s troop of Horse Artillery was seen to be sheltering under the forbidden item during the early part of the Battle of Waterloo.
References for the Battle of Waterloo:
History of the British Army by John Fortescue Volume 10
British Battles on Land and Sea by James Grant Volume 2
A Near Run Thing by David Howarth
Wellington by S.G.P. Ward
The Waterloo Campaign: The German Victory by Peter Hofschröer
The Bloody Fields of Waterloo (account of the medical services at the battle and the circumstances of many individuals in the battle) by M.K.H. Crumplin
A Surgeon Artist at War: The Paintings of Sir Charles Bell by M.K.H. Crumplin and Captain P.H. Starling
The previous battle of the Napoleonic Wars is the Battle of Quatre Bras
The next battle in the British Battles series is the Battle of Ghuznee