Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo Part 1

About the battle of Waterloo between the French Empire led by Napoleon and the Prussian and English armies led by Marshal Blucher in 1815.


Napoleon, commanding only 124,000 men, hoped to defeat the Anglo-Dutch Army of 93,000, led by Wellington, and the Prussian Army of 120,000, led by Marshal Blucher, by attacking them separately before they could combine forces. The French Emperor's initial thrust was made at Charleroi, where the 2 independent allied armies, spread out across 100 mi. of Belgium, touched each other. His plan counted upon an allied withdrawal--Wellington to Ostend and Blucher back to Germany--which would further separate the allied armies.

The French right flank commander, Grouchy, was sent to attack the Prussians under General Zieten. Simultaneously, Marshal Ney, leading Napoleon's left flank, was ordered to advance along the road to Brussels, to engage Wellington's Belgian-Dutch division. Grouchy succeeded in driving back Zieten, provoking Blucher to bring his troops forward and mass them at Sombreffe. The Prussian confidently expected to defeat Napoleon alone, and did not advise Wellington of his intention. In a bloody clash, the Prussians were sent reeling back to Wavre, 16 mi. to the north. By pure chance, they fell into a regrouping position that was roughly parallel to Wellington's own line. Napoleon, out of contact with Ney and uncertain of progress there, declined to pursue the fleeing Prussians until the next day, when Grouchy was ordered to follow them. The inexperienced field commander did so, but spread out his forces so thinly that Napoleon, later in the battle, lost Grouchy's divisions as an effective reserve when they were vitally needed.

Ney, meanwhile, had halted before taking the vital crossroads at Quatre-Bras, bluffed into stopping at Gosselies, 10 mi. south, by contact with a minor allied force under Perponcher. Both Perponcher and his superior, Baron Jean de Constant-Rebecque, ignored Wellington's 1st orders to defend Mons, some 30 mi. to the west, on the duke's mistaken belief that the French attack would come there, a compliance which would have been disastrous. Instead, they brought up reinforcements to hold Quatre-Bras. When Wellington, attending the Duchess of Richmond's ball in Brussels, learned of the clash at Quatre-Bras, he ordered his men forward to meet the French, planning for a withdrawal to a stronger position at Mont-Saint-Jean, immediately south of Waterloo.

Unaware that each had initiated a major confrontation, both Ney and Napoleon needed reserves badly. Napoleon, believing that Ney, with 50,000 men, faced only 20,000 at Quatre-Bras, gave orders for D'Erlon's division, supporting Ney's advance, to join him for the final assault on Blucher. General d'Erlon, on Ney's left wing, complied, wheeling east toward Ligny. Ney, discovering he'd lost D'Erlon, sent a messenger to bring them back. Napoleon countermanded the order, but not before D'Erlon had futilely marched all day in both directions without firing a shot.

Leaving Grouchy, Napoleon returned to Ney, to learn that the marshal was standing by while Wellington completed an orderly withdrawal to Mont-Saint-Jean. Furious, he ordered an immediate attack, but it came too late, bogged down by drenching rains that had begun, turning the fields into quagmires.

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