Battle of Waterloo

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Battle of Waterloo
Part of the War of the Seventh Coalition
Wellington at Waterloo Hillingford.jpg
Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford.
Date 18 June 1815
Location Waterloo, present-day Walloon Brabant in Belgium south of Brussels
Result Decisive Coalition victory
Participants
France French Empire Seventh Coalition:
United Kingdom United Kingdom
 Prussia
Dutch Republic United Provinces
Province of Hanover Hanover
Flagge Herzogtum Nassau (1806-1866).svg Nassau
Flagge Herzogtum Braunschweig.svg Brunswick
Commanders and leaders
France Napoleon Bonaparte United Kingdom Duke of Wellington
Kingdom of Prussia Gebhard von Blücher
Strength
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[4]

The Battle of Waterloo was a battle that was fought mostly between French and British forces. Napoleon was crowned as Emperor of France in 1804. Then he launched many of successful attacks on the other countries of Europe. France soon had an empire that stretched from Spain to the Russian border. The only country that was still not captured was Great Britain. The Royal Navy had many ships, so invasion was not possible. However, Great Britain was not strong enough to stop Napoleon and his army from taking over most of mainland Europe.

History[change | edit source]

Napoleon seemed unstoppable until two separate campaigns caused his empire to fall apart. He gathered a huge army to invade and conquer Russia once and for all in 1812. However, he did not think that he would have very many difficulties and it turned out he did. His army was caught by the Russian winter and destroyed by the weather and lack of food.

Now that Napoleon was much weaker, the countries of Eastern Europe, led by Austria and Prussia, began to ally against him, forcing his troops back towards France. Meanwhile, a small British army in Portugal and Spain, led by Arthur Wellesley (later to become Duke of Wellington) began to win victories over the French armies and to push Napoleon’s troops out of Spain.

By 1814, he faced total defeat, with the Austrians and Prussians invading from the east and the Duke of Wellington and the British army in the west. A peace treaty was arranged. Napoleon would abdicate (give up the throne) and be exiled to a small Mediterranean island called Elba, with a small army. He was replaced as ruler of France by Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI.

The 100 Days[change | edit source]

Once he was on the island of Elba, Napoleon was really not happy. He had been promised money by the new French government, but the money did not come. His wife (an Austrian princess) and his sons were forbidden to visit him.

Messages from France showed that the new French King was unpopular because he was trying to ignore many events that had taken place during the revolution. The allies that had united against Napoleon were arguing in Vienna over the lands that they had recaptured. He seized his opportunity, going by ship in February 1815 and landing in France again. His welcome was very mixed. Many French were tired of war and the death and suffering that it led to. However, there were others who 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, by personal leadership and persuasion, Napoleon managed to gain the support of the army. When the king panicked and fled the country, there was little to stop Napoleon returning to Paris and resuming his title of Emperor.

The Waterloo Campaign[change | edit source]

What Napoleon needed now was a period of time to organize 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 (German) army commanded by Prince Blucher.

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

Ligny and Quatre Bras[change | edit source]

His first battle was at Ligny and, after a fierce day’s fighting, he defeated the Prussian army, forcing it to retreat. Thinking that Blucher would retreat back to Prussia, Napoleon turned his attention towards Wellington. There had already been a small battle at Quatre Bras, as Wellington tried to delay the French advance. This had given 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 (Anglo-Dutch) army. Heavy rain caused delays and confusion and both armies settled down for the night in the mud to await the dawn and the forthcoming battle.

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

Phase 1 – The Attack on Hougoumont[change | edit source]

At 11.00 Napoleon ordered his guns to open fire. French infantry began an attack against the Château of Hougoumont, defended by the British Foot Guards. This was intended to draw Wellington’s reserves away from the centre, where Napoleon’s main attack would fall. And according to records this battle was considered to be a vital key to who will win the Battle Of Waterloo.

Phase 2 – The French Infantry Attacks[change | edit source]

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, serving to disrupt the French attack. British artillery and musketry succeeded in repulsing the French assault and the British Household and Union heavy cavalry brigades charged after the retreating Frenchmen. Elated by their success, the British cavalry pursued their enemy too far and in turn suffered terrible casualties at the hands of the French lancers.

Phase 3 – The French Cavalry Attacks[change | edit source]

At 15.00 Marshal Ney, believing the Anglo-Dutch army to be retreating after the heavy bombardment they had received all day, led a massed French cavalry attack against Wellington’s centre. However, the British infantry, forming squares to defend themselves from cavalry attack, held firm. The French took terrible casualties as they circled these impregnable formations of infantrymen. The situation further deteriorated for Napoleon as Blucher's Prussian troops launched an attack at Plancenoit to his rear at 16.30.

Phase 4 – The Prussians begin to increase pressure[change | edit source]

By early evening the French attack at Hougoumont, intended as a diversion, was now having 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 – The Attack by the Imperial Guard[change | edit source]

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

Notes[change | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Hofschröer, pp. 72–73
  2. Chesney, p. 4
  3. Barbero 2005, p. 420.
  4. Barbero 2005, p. 419.
    Wellington's army: 3,500 dead; 10,200 wounded; 3,300 missing.
    Blücher's army: 1,200 dead; 4,400 wounded; 1,400 missing.

References[change | edit source]