June 18 1815: Battle of Waterloo

“The Battle of Waterloo has been too often described, and nonsense enough written about the Crisis, for me to add to it. Every moment was a crisis, and the controversialists had better have left the discussion on the battle-field. Every Staff officer had two or three (and one four) horses shot under him. I had one wounded in six, another in seven places, but not seriously injured. The fire was terrific, especially of cannon.”

— Sir Henry (Harry) Smith George Wakelyn Smith, The autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.

“THE DUKE OF Wellington strongly disapproved of all attempts to turn the battle of Waterloo either into literature or history. His own account of it in his official dispatch was almost dismissive and he advised a correspondent who had requested his help in writing a narrative to ‘leave the battle of Waterloo as it is’. The Duke’s attitude rested in part on his disdain for sensationalism, in part on a well-founded doubt about the feasibility of establishing a chain of cause and effect to explain its outcome. ‘The history of the battle’, he explained, ‘is not unlike the history of a ball! Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle lost or won; but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.”

— John Keegan from the The Face Of Battle by John Keegan


1:00 a.m.

“Napoleon later told Las Cases that he reconnoitred with Bertrand at 1 a.m. to check that Wellington’s army was still there, which (despite there being no corroboration of it) he might have done.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

2:00 a.m.

“He  [Napoleon] was woken at 2 a.m. to receive a message from Grouchy, written four hours earlier, in which he reported being in contact with the Prussians near Wavre. Grouchy thought it might be the main Prussian force, whereas in fact it was only Blücher’s rearguard.

Napoleon didn’t reply for another ten hours, despite knowing by then that Wellington was going to defend Mont Saint-Jean later that morning. It was an extraordinary error not to have brought Grouchy back to the battlefield immediately, to fall on Wellington’s left flank. ‘Ah! Mon Dieu!’ Napoleon told General Gourgaud the next year, ‘perhaps the rain on the seventeenth of June had more to do than is supposed with the loss of Waterloo. If I had not been so weary, I should have been on horseback all night. Events that seem very small often have very great results.’ He felt strongly that his thorough reconnoitring of battlefields such as Eggmühl had led to victory, but the real significance of the rain was that his artillery commander, General Drouot, suggested waiting for the ground to dry before starting the battle the next day, so that he could get his guns into place more easily and the cannonballs would bounce further when fired. It was advice Drouot was to regret for the rest of his life, for neither he nor the Emperor knew that, having eluded Grouchy, Blücher had reiterated his promise to Wellington that same morning that at least three Prussian corps would arrive on the battlefield that afternoon. Indeed, Wellington decided to fight there only on the understanding that this would happen.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

3:00 a.m.

“Wellington rose at around at three in the morning and wrote letters until the sun rose.”

— June 18 1815 BBC Timeline #waterloo1815

6:00 a.m.

Wellington is in the field supervising the deployment of his forces.

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

“About six o’oclock that chilly and damp morning, the duke put on his blue coat, his blue cloak, and his boots, high up on the leg. With his hat in hand, which he typically wore front-back as opposed to Napoleon, who wore it side to side, Wellington walked over to his small charger, the chestnut Copenhagen, stepped into the iron stirrup, and vaulted into the stiff hussar saddle with the high pommel in front. He rode off to be everywhere at once. Allied soldiers arrived exhausted onto the plateau around Mont-Saint-Jean. Many regiments had marched forty to fifty miles in the previous two days, each soldier carrying some fifty to sixty pounds of equipment. They slept in fields, soaked by the continuous hard rains, and not everyone had a tent. Water had poured down that night like “buckets emptying from the heavens,” and “ran in streams from the cuffs of jackets.” Many awoke with wet clothes still clinging to their body, and “petrified with cold.” The lucky ones had breakfast, even if it was only the “half mouthful of broth and a biscuit” given to the soldiers of the Fifty-second Light Infantry.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Vienna, 1814 by David King)

8:00 a.m.

“Meanwhile, about eight o’clock that morning, at a small whitewashed farmhouse two miles south on the Charleroi-Brussels road, Napoleon was eating breakfast with several senior commanders. After the meal, the imperial silver was removed and maps were spread out on the table. “We have…ninety chances in our favor, and not ten against us,” Napoleon said, calculating the odds of success that day. Marshal Ney, however, was troubled, fearing that Wellington would sneak away in a retreat and the French would miss the opportunity for a decisive victory. Napoleon rejected the possibility outright. Britain could no longer leave the scene, he said. “Wellington has rolled the dice, and they are in our favor.” Marshal Soult, the recently appointed chief of staff, was also concerned, though for a different reason. Soult had fought Wellington in Spain several times, without success—the British infantry was the devil himself, as he had once put it. Perhaps Napoleon should recall Marshall Grouchy and the thirty-three thousand men whom he had dispatched the previous day to pursue the Prussians. Napoleon bluntly dismissed the suggestion: “Because you have been beaten by Wellington, you consider him a great general.” “Wellington is a bad general,” Napoleon continued, “the English are bad troops, and this will be like eating breakfast.” “I earnestly hope so,” Soult replied. In truth, Napoleon probably did not believe his harsh indictment of Wellington’s ability as a commander; the emperor often spoke with such dash on the eve of battle, mainly as a tactic to bolster morale, and morale in war, Napoleon said, was everything.

Still, the French emperor was probably not too impressed with Wellington so far in the campaign. In the last three days, the British general had been caught by surprise by Napoleon’s invasion route, been forced to retreat from Quatre Bas, and now found himself trapped like prey. All morning, generals, staff officers, and couriers kept coming and going from French headquarters. General Honoré Reille, who would command the Second Corps on the far left or western flank, had just arrived, and on account of his experience fighting in Spain, fielded Napoleon’s follow-up question about the British infantry. Reille’s answer was not reassuring. The British infantry was fierce, he said, and if they were attacked from the front, “I consider the English infantry to be impregnable.” At the same time, Reille noted that the British could be defeated by striking at their flanks. Their infantry was “less agile, less supple, less expert in maneuvering than ours.” Other generals at French headquarters emphasized the importance of attacking on either flank, rather than launching a direct frontal assault on the Allied center. General Maximilien Sébastien Foy, another veteran of the Spanish campaign, pointed out an additional reason why the British were so difficult to defeat: The crafty Duke of Wellington “never shows his troops.” Indeed, Wellington had defeated no fewer than eight of Napoleon’s marshals in Spain, and many other generals, including several who would take the field later that day.

Prince Jérôme, Napoleon’s youngest brother and once widely castigated as the spoiled brat of the Bonaparte family, informed the emperor of a rumor he had heard the previous night at the inn Roi d’Espagne in Genappe. According to a waiter, one of Wellington’s aides-de-camp had been boasting, indiscreetly, that the Prussians would return to the field later that day and join the British-led Allies. “Nonsense,” Napoleon snapped, remembering how soundly he had defeated the Prussians two days before. They would require at least two days of hard marching, he added, naturally assuming that the Prussians had retreated north to their supply lines at Wavre. Besides, “the Prussians have Grouchy on their heels.” It was at this morning strategy session that Napoleon’s former governor of Elba, Marshal Drouot, advised the emperor to delay the attack a few hours to allow the soggy ground to dry so that they could move and fire artillery more effectively. The emperor agreed. He also knew that his army, which had camped over a large area, needed more time to be in a position for the attack. By the end of the morning, Napoleon had decided on a general strategy. The French would not concentrate on turning one of the weaker flanks, as several generals plainly hoped, but instead launch a direct frontal assault on the Allied center. The emperor would rely on power, not finesse—a quick strike at the enemy defenses without elaborate feints or maneuvers, which he probably figured would have been useless anyway given the wet ground. Besides that, the small size of the battlefield, barely three miles in width, was not conducive to such grand sweeping maneuvers (Austerlitz, by contrast, was seven miles; Wagram, twelve; and Leipzig, twenty-one). As the emperor’s valet Louis Marchand remembered the scene, Napoleon then suddenly rose from the table. “Gentlemen,” he concluded confidently, “if my orders are carried out well, tonight we shall sleep in Brussels.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Vienna, 1814 by David King)

9:00 a.m.

Wellington is outnumbered – approximately 68,000 to Napoleon’s 72,000. Wellington takes a defensive position, blocking the road to Brussels in order to stop Napoleon’s advance towards the capital. The allies are placed behind a ridge and three farms. On his left the farm of Papelotte, Le Haye Sainte in front and Hougoumont to his right. Wellington’s plan: his men must hold their position, until the Prussians arrived, or they will be destroyed.

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

He is a bad general and the English are breakfast!

  Napoleon on Wellington, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

“Napoleon’s mind was also on the terrain. It was sodden from the night’s rainfall, making it difficult to move his men and guns into position. Napoleon decided to delay his first major attack until the ground had dried out. It was a dangerous strategy – it could allow time for Blucher’s Prussian army to arrive and join Wellington on the ridge. Yet, having the French infantry and cavalry wade through mud risked tiring them out in the early stages of the battle. For now, Napoleon decided to draw out the British and make a dent in their defensive position. He launched a diversionary attack on Hougoumont farm.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 BBC Timeline

9:30 a.m.

“At 9.30 a.m. Napoleon left Le Caillou, in his orderly Jardin Ainé’s recollection, ‘to take up his stand half a league in advance on a hill where he could discern the movements of the British army. There he dismounted, and with his field-glass endeavoured to discover all the movements in the enemy’s line.’ He chose a small knoll near the La Belle Alliance inn, where he spread his maps on the table while his horses stood saddled nearby.95 ‘I saw him through my glass,’ recalled Foy, ‘walking up and down, wearing his grey overcoat, and frequently leaning over the little table on which his map was placed.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

11:00 a.m.

“The battle of Waterloo started around 11 a.m. with the guns of Reille’s corps preparing the way for the diversionary attack on Hougoumont by Jérôme’s division, followed by Foy’s. The attack on the farmhouse failed, and was to draw in more and more French troops as the day progressed. For some unknown reason they did not try to smash in the farmhouse’s front gates with horse artillery. Wellington reinforced it during the day and Hougoumont, like La Haie Sainte, became an invaluable breakwater that disrupted and funnelled the French advances. Jérôme fought bravely, and when his division was reduced to a mere two battalions Napoleon summoned him and said: ‘My brother, I regret to have known you so late.’This, Jérôme later recalled, was balm to the ‘many repressed pains in his heart’.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

“Napoleon chose to attack about eleven o’clock against the Chateau of Hougoumont, which was garrisoned by the Foot Guards. This, the first of five phases into which historians conventionally divide the battle, was intended as a diversion, to draw reserves from Wellington’s centre where he meant to make his main attack. The Guards, however, proved capable of holding the Chateau – an immensely strong building – without assistance; while the French commander entrusted with the assault quite forgot his diversionary role and committed greater and greater numbers of soldiers in an attempt to capture it outright. The fight for Hougoumont thus became, as ‘territorial’ struggles often do, a battle within a battle, which continued to rage until the French attackers were forced to break it off by the general retreat of their army from the field.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

“Had Napoleon started his attack at sunrise, 3.48 a.m. on Sunday, June 18, instead of after 11 a.m., he would had more than seven extra hours to break Wellington’s line before Bülow’s corps erupted onto his right flank.90* Although Napoleon ordered Ney to have the men properly fed and their equipment checked ‘so that at nine o’clock precisely each of them is ready and there can be a battle’, it was to be another two hours before the fighting started. By then Napoleon had held a breakfast conference of senior officers in the dining room next to his bedroom at Le Caillou. When several of the generals who had fought Wellington in Spain, such as Soult, Reille and Foy, suggested that he should not rely on being able to break through the British infantry with ease, Napoleon replied, ‘Because you’ve been beaten by Wellington you consider him to be a good general. I say that he’s a bad general and that the English are bad troops. It will be a lunchtime affair!’ A clearly unconvinced Soult could only say, ‘I hope so!’ These seemingly hubristic remarks completely contradicted his real and oft-stated views about Wellington and the British, and must be ascribed to his need to encourage his lieutenants just hours away from a major battle.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

“At the breakfast conference, Jérôme told Napoleon that the waiter at the King of Spain inn at Genappes where Wellington had dined on June 16 had overheard an aide-de-camp saying that the Prussians would join them in front of the Forest of Soignes, which was directly behind Mont Saint-Jean. In response to this (ultimately devastatingly accurate) information, Napoleon said, ‘The Prussians and the English cannot possibly link up for another two days after such a battle as Fleurus [that is, Ligny], and given the fact that they are being pursued by a considerable body of troops.’ He then added, ‘The battle that is coming will save France and will be celebrated in the annals of the world. I shall have my artillery fire and my cavalry charge, so as to force the enemy to disclose his positions, and when I am quite certain which positions the English troops have taken up, I shall march straight at them with my Old Guard.’93 Napoleon could be forgiven for not altering his entire strategy on the basis of a waiter’s report of the conversation of an over-loquacious aide-de-camp, but even his own explanation of the tactics he was about to adopt betrays their total lack of sophistication.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

11:30 a.m.

Battle of Waterloo begins with the attack by Napoloen on Hougoumont. Large barrage of artillery open the battle. Jérôme, Napoleon’s brother, leads about 5,000 troops in an attack on Hougoumont. British have only about 1,500 at Hougoumont farm.

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

12:00 p.m.

Napoleon writes to Grouchy ordering him to rejoin him immediately.

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

12:30 p.m.

 At 12:30 French troops break open the gates of  Hougoumont. The British counterattack and close the gate. Forty troops are caught inside, and killed. An eleven year old drummer is spared.

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

1:00 p.m.

Napoleon’s troops advanced on Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. Napoleon pounds the British centre. Some 18,000 troops are sent forwards, capturing the farm of Papelpotte and the area around La Haye Sainte. Victory is within his grasp, but clouds appear on the east.  Napoleon looks out with his telescope. PRUSSIANS HAVE ARRIVED!

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

1:00 p.m.

 Napoleon writes again to Grouchy ordering him to rejoin him immediately. TOO LATE. — 13:00: June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

1:30 p.m.

“At about 1.30 p.m. the first of three Prussian corps started to appear on Napoleon’s right flank. He had been warned that this might happen by a Prussian hussar who had been captured by a squadron of French chasseurs between Wavre and Plancenoit, and had been moving men off to the right flank for the better part of half an hour. He now ordered that the army be told the dark-coated bodies of men on the horizon were Grouchy’s corps arriving to win the battle. As time wore on this falsehood was gradually revealed, with a corresponding drop in morale.

Napoleon unleashed his major infantry attack at 1.30 p.m. when d’Erlon’s corps assaulted Wellington’s centre-left through muddy fields of breast-high rye, marching past La Haie Sainte on their left in the hope of smashing through and then rolling up each side of Wellington’s line, rather as they had the Austro-Russians at Austerlitz. It was the correct place to attack, the weakest part of Wellington’s position, but the execution was faulty. D’Erlon launched his entire corps with all the battalions deployed in several lines 250 men wide at the start of his assault, presumably to increase the firepower on contact with the enemy, but violating all the established French models of manoeuvring in column before deploying into line. This left the whole formation unwieldy, difficult to control and extremely vulnerable.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)


“The second phase of the battle, d’Erlon’s infantry attack, had therefore to be launched against the British centre unweakened at any rate by any withdrawal of men. It had however been subjected to the fire of a ‘grand battery’ of about eighty guns for over half an hour when, at about quarter to two, four French divisions began crossing the shallow valley which separated the two armies. Two important outworks of the British line were quickly captured – Papelotte and ‘The Sandpit’, used by the British riflemen as a skirmishing-place – but La Haye Sainte, though by-passed, did not fall. As the French, in thick columns, approached the crest of the ridge, however, a Dutch-Belgian brigade, which had suffered heaviest from the cannonading, ran away. A counter-attack by British infantry, led by General Picton, restored the line and a charge by two brigades of British heavy cavalry – the Heavy and Union Brigades – then drove the French off in disorder.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)


2:20 p.m.

Napoleon had spotted the Prussians but they were still far off. A desperate Wellington sent reinforcements to La Haye Sainte, driving back the French

Prussians have appeared on the field but still not in numbers as to be decisive.

“Napoleon had spotted the Prussians but they were still far off. A desperate Wellington sent reinforcements to La Haye Sainte, driving back the French. Lord Uxbridge, Wellington’s cavalry commander, had two brigades of cavalry over the ridge. With Napoleon’s men advancing towards the British line, now was their moment – the cavalry charged and hit the French infantry, slicing through the soldiers on the ground. Napoleon’s line had been brutally weakened but Wellington’s left flank was also damaged – he couldn’t afford to launch another attack without reinforcements.” — June 18 1815 BBC Timeline. #waterloo1815

 3:00 p.m.

At 3 p.m., once the British cavalry had been driven away from the Grand Battery in the wake of d’Erlon’s retreat, Napoleon joined General Jean-Jacques Desvaux de Saint-Maurice, commander of the Guard artillery, for a closer look at the battlefield. With the Emperor riding beside him, Desvaux was cut in half by a cannonball.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

3:30 p.m.

The Prussians at Plancenoit

Napoleon’s troops attack La Haye Sainte. He sent another battalion to meet the Prussians in the east. — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

“Napoleon’s cavalry at last reach Blucher’s troops near Plancenoit, a village 5 miles east of the battlefield. The Prussians soon captured the high ground north east of the village. They attacked the French hard: Napoleon was forced to commit more troops over the course of the afternoon as the territory changed hands several times. Although Blucher was unable to reach Wellington at the main battle, his efforts meant the French were under pressure and had to split their resources. Wellington could hear the cannon fire in the distance – he knew Blucher had formed his own formidable front line, as promised.”

— June 18 1815, BBC Timeline #waterloo1815

We must give air to the English army! —General Blucher, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

“I should observe that just before this charge the duke entered by one of the angles of the square, accompanied only by one aide-de-camp; all the rest of his staff being either killed or wounded. Our commander-in-chief, as far as I could judge, appeared perfectly composed; but looked very thoughtful and pale. He was dressed in a grey great-coat with a cape, white cravat, leather pantaloons, Hessian boots, and a large cocked hat a la Russe.”

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815


4:00 p.m.

French Calvary Charge

“A series of massive cavalry charges totalling 10,000 men, the largest since Murat’s charge at Eylau, was launched under Ney against Wellington’s centre-right at around 4 p.m., although it is still unclear quite who – if anyone – had ordered it, since both Napoleon and Ney denied it afterwards.107 ‘There is Ney hazarding the battle which was almost won,’ Napoleon told Flahaut when he saw what was happening, ‘but he must be supported now, for that is our only chance.’ Despite thinking the charge ‘premature and ill-timed’, Napoleon told Flahaut to ‘order all the cavalry [he] could find to assist the troops which Ney had thrown at the enemy across the ravine’.109 (Today one can see at theGordon Monument how deep the road was, but it is no ravine.) ‘In war there are sometimes mistakes which can only be repaired by persevering in the same line of action,’ Flahaut later said philosophically.Unfortunately for Napoleon, this was not one of them. Wellington’s infantry now formed thirteen hollow squares (in fact they were rectangular in shape) to receive the cavalry. A horse’s natural unwillingness to charge into a wall of bristling bayonets made them near-impregnable to cavalry, though Ney had broken the squares of the 42nd and 69th Foot at Quatre Bras and French cavalry had broken squares of Russians at Hof in 1807 and of Austrians at Dresden in 1813. Squares were particularly vulnerable to artillery and infantry formed in line, but this cavalry attack was unsupported by either, confirming the suspicion that it had started as an accident rather than from a deliberate order by Napoleon or Ney. Not one of the thirteen squares broke. ‘It was the good discipline of the English thatgained the day,’ Napoleon conceded on St Helena, after which he blamed General Guyot, who commanded the Heavy Cavalry, for charging without orders. This was unfounded as Guyot only rode in the second wave.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

“The third phase, which began about four o’clock, consisted of a series of French cavalry charges against the section of the British centre that had not been attacked by d’Erlon. The decision to charge was made by Ney, Napoleon’s battlefield commander, who had misinterpreted movement behind the British line to mean that it was giving way. In fact the section of the British line which the French cavalry struck was well-prepared to receive them. It formed square and drove off charge after charge. The horsemen who survived this hour eventually retired, pursued by British cavalry, with whom they entered into a running fight. Napoleon, aware that the vanished Prussians were now approaching the battlefield, hastily sent Ney the armoured cavalry of the Imperial Guard and two other divisions of cuirassiers. They also were beaten by the British and Hanoverian squares, as too were some infantry, launched into the battle as an afterthought about six o’clock. The artillery of both armies had played a vital attritional role in the second and third phases.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

“About four p.m., the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance.”

— Captain Rees Howell Gronow, Foot Guards, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

Not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after life the awful grandeur of that charge.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

 In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting “Vive l’Empereur!”

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

The word of command, “Prepare to receive cavalry”,  had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.

— Captain Rees Howell Gronow, Foot Guards, June 18 1815. #Waterloo1815

 … the discharge of every gun was followed by a fall of men and horses like that of grass before the mower’s scythe.

— Captain Cavalié Mercer, June 18 1815 #Waterloo1815

We saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after life the awful grandeur of that charge.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host.

One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. — Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting “Vive l’Empereur!”

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

The word of command, “Prepare to receive cavalry,”

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

“Every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.”

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

 Among the fallen we perceived the gallant colonel of the hussars lying under his horse, which had been killed, All of a sudden two riflemen of the Brunswickers left their battalion, and after taking from their helpless victim his purse, watch, and other articles of value, they deliberately put the colonel’s pistols to the poor fellow’s head and blew out his brains. “Shame! shame!” was heard from our ranks, and a feeling of indignation ran through the whole line; but the deed was done: this brave soldier lay a lifeless corpse in sight of his cruel foes, whose only excuse perhaps was that their sovereign, the Duke of Brunswick, had been killed two days before by the French.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

When we received cavalry, the order was to fire low; so that on the first discharge of musketry the ground was strewed with the fallen horses and their riders, which impeded the advance of those behind them and broke the shock of the charge. It was pitiable to witness the agony of the poor horses, who really seemed conscious of the dangers that surrounded them: we often saw a poor wounded animal raise its head, as if looking for its rider to afford him aid. There is nothing perhaps amongst the episodes of a great battle more striking than the debris of a cavalry charge, where men and horses are seen scattered and wounded on the ground in every variety of painful attitude. Many a time the heart sickened at the moaning tones of agony which came from man and scarcely less intelligent horse, as they lay in fearful agony upon the field of battle.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

 4:00 p.m.

Battle for La Haye Sainte

Napoleon was increasingly stretched – his men were fighting on both the west and east sides of the battlefield. He ordered Marshal Ney to capture La Haye Sainte, Wellington’s central stronghold. For the next two hours, wave after wave of heavily armoured French soldiers on horseback charged at the Allied line. In response, the Allied line changed formation into squares. They fended off the 4000-strong French cavalry but their new formation made them vulnerable to Napoleon’s heavy artillery fire. One British battalion, the 27th Regiment, lost nearly 500 of its 747 men.”

— June 18 1815 BBC Timeline #waterloo1815

By God, those fellows deserve Bonaparte. They fight so nobly for him!

— British soldier, being charged by the French cavalry June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

4:20 p.m.

The charge of the French cavalry was gallantly executed; but our well-directed fire brought men and horses down, and ere long the utmost confusion arose in their ranks. The officers were exceedingly brave, and by their gestures and fearless bearing did all in their power to encourage their men to form again and renew the attack. The duke sat unmoved, mounted on his favourite charger. I recollect his asking the Hon. Lieut.-Colonel Stanhope what o’clock it was, upon which Stanhope took out his watch, and said it was twenty minutes past four. The Duke replied, “

The battle is mine; and if the Prussians arrive soon, there will be an end of the war.”

—  Wellington, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

 5:00 p.m.

It was at this moment the Duke of Wellington gave his famous order for our bayonet charge, as he rode along the line: these are the precise words he made use of – “Guards, get up and charge!” We were instantly on our legs, and after so many hours of inaction and irritation at maintaining a purely defensive attitude – all the time suffering the loss of comrades and friends – the spirit which animated officers and men may easily be imagined. After firing a volley as soon as the enemy were within shot, we rushed on with fixed bayonets, and that hearty hurrah peculiar to British soldiers.

— Captain Gronow, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

6:15 p.m.

“Crisis.Wellington loses La Haye Sainte. Wellington on the ridge, with a view over the battlefield. Napoleon brings the French artillery forward and attacks the Allied centre.  Wellington’s men fall behind ridge and wait for the Prussians. All Wellington could do was defend from behind the ridge and hope for the Prussians.”

— June 18 1815, BBC Timeline #waterloo1815

“The artillery of both armies had played a vital attritional role in the second and third phases. The fourth phase, however, was almost wholly an affair of infantry. It was quite brief and stands out as a separate episode because it centred on a clear-cut French success – the first of the day. This was the capture of La Haye Sainte, abandoned by its King’s German Legion garrison because they had run out of ammunition. Its loss put the section of British line behind it in great danger and Ney almost succeeded in breaking through with another infantry attack. But he was now running out of soldiers, the reserve being fully committed against the Prussians, while Wellington, a thriftier commander, could still produce sufficient to reinforce the threatened front. Soon after half past six the situation in the centre was restored.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

“Instead, sometime after 6 p.m., Ney succeeded in capturing La Haie Sainte and the nearby excavation area known as the Sandpit in the centre of the battlefield, and brought up a battery of horse artillery at 300 yards’ range, allowing him to pound Wellington’s centre with musketry and cannon, to the extent that the 27th Inniskilling Regiment of Foot, formed in square, took 90 per cent casualties. This was the crisis point of the battle, the best chance the French had of breaking through before the sheer weight of Prussian numbers crushed them. Yet when Ney sent his aide-de-camp Octave Levasseur to beg Napoleon for more troops to exploit the situation, the Emperor, his cavalry exhausted and his own headquarters now within range of Prussian artillery, refused. ‘Troops?’ he said sarcastically to Levasseur. ‘Where would you like me to find them? Would you like me to make them?’

In fact at that point he had fourteen unused Guards battalions. By the time he had changed his mind half an hour later, Wellington had plugged the dangerous gaps in his centre with Brunswickers, Hanoverians and a Dutch–Belgian division.”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

7:00 p.m.

Napoleon sends 6000 men  across the field up towards Wellington on the ridge, between Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. On the left, they suffered fire from the British-held garrison of Hougoumont but those on the right, facing the French-held garrison of La Haye Sainte, made it up over the ridge unhindered.— June 18 1815 BBC Timeline, #waterloo1815

“It wasn’t until around 7 p.m., once he had ridden right along the battlefront, that Napoleon sent the Middle Guard up the main road towards Brussels in a column of squares. The Imperial Guard’s attack in the latter stages of Waterloo was undertaken by only about one-third of its total battlefield strength, the rest being used either to recover Plancenoit from the Prussians or to cover the retreat. Napoleon ordered Ney to support it, but when the Guard was brought up, one infantry division had not been drawn out of the wood of Hougoumont, nor had a cavalry brigade been called over from the Nivelles road. So the Guard ascended the slope towards Wellington’s line, now well-defended once more, without a regiment of cavalry protecting its flanks and with only a few troops from Reille’s corps in support. Only twelve guns took part in the attack, out of the total of ninety-six available to the Guard artillery. The forlorn nature of this attack might be judged from the fact that the Guard took no eagles with it, although 150 bandsmen marched at its head, playing triumphant parade-ground marches.  Napoleon placed himself in the dead ground south-west of La Haie Sainte, at the foot of the long slope heading up towards the ridge, as the Guard marched past him cheering ‘Vive l’Empereur!’116 They started off with eight battalions, probably fewer than 4,000 men in all, escorted by some horse artillery, but dropped off three battalions along the way as a reserve. The harder ground was better for Wellington’s artillery and soon, as Levasseur recalled, ‘Bullets and grapeshot left the road strewn with dead and wounded.’ The sheer concentration of firepower – both musketry and grapeshot – that Wellington was able to bring to bear broke the will of the Imperial Guard, and it fell back, demoralized. The cry ‘La Garde recule!’ had not been heard on any battlefield since its formation as the Consular Guard in 1799. It was the signal for a general disintegration of the French army across the entire front. Although Ney was to deny having heard it when he made a speech about Waterloo in the Chamber of Peers a few days later, the cry ‘Sauve qui peut!’ went up at about 8 p.m., as men threw down their muskets and tried to escape before darkness fell. When it was clear what was happening,”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

 7:15 p.m.

“The French retreat as Wellington’s troops advance, joined by the Prussians arriving from the east. As the French Imperial Guard advanced, swords drawn, Wellington’s men waited in the long grass behind the ridge.  At last, the French had broken through the Allied front line. When they reached the ridge, Wellington gave the order to stand and fire. His men fired at almost point blank range – muskets tore through the French soldiers, forcing them back. At last, Blucher’s forces were now arriving on Wellington’s left. The Allied army advanced, pursuing the Imperial Guard. Wellington had a chance to kill Napoleon but ordered his men to hold fire. The Emperor was shielded by his men as they fled.”

— BBC Timeline, June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

8:00 p.m.

“At around 8 pm on June 18, 1815, as the day was turning to blood red dusk, Wellington gave the signal for a general advance of the victorious Allied line. Lord Uxbridge, an outstanding cavalry commander, was riding forwards alongside the Duke just beyond La Haye Sainte farm, when he was struck on the right knee by a stray volley of grapeshot.
According to tradition, Uxbridge turned and exclaimed to the Duke, “By God, Sir! I’ve lost my leg” to which he supposedly replied, “By God Sir! So you have.”

—  June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (“Why we must remember the bloody cost of Waterloo” by Joe Shute in the Telegraph)

8:00 p.m.

“The crisis now shifted to the French side. Napoleon was heavily engaged on two fronts and threatened with encirclement by the advancing Prussians. He had only one group of soldiers left with which to break the closing ring and swing the advantage back to himself. This group was the infantry of the Imperial Guard. At about seven it left its position at the rear of the battlefield and ascended the slope just to the east of Hougoumont. The British battalions on the crest fired volleys into its front and flank – the flank fire of the 52nd Light Infantry was particularly heavy and unexpected – and, to their surprise, saw the Guard turn and disappear into the smoke from which it had emerged. On the Duke of Wellington’s signal, the whole line advanced, behind the charging horses of the remaining British cavalry. The battle of Waterloo was over, almost – the Prussians were still locked in combat with the French on the east flank – and Napoleon had been beaten.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

‘Sauve qui peut!’  — French troops throw down muskets and tried to escape before darkness.

—June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

“Although Ney was to deny having heard it when he made a speech about Waterloo in the Chamber of Peers a few days later, the cry ‘Sauve qui peut!’ went up at about 8 p.m., as men threw down their muskets and tried to escape before darkness fell.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

“Two squares of the Old Guard on either side of the Charleroi–Brussels road covered the army’s pell-mell retreat. General Petit commanded the square of the 1st Battalion of the 1st Grenadiers à Pied some 300 yards south of La Belle Alliance, among which Napoleon took refuge.* ‘The whole army was in the most appalling disorder,’ Petit recalled. ‘Infantry, cavalry, artillery – everybody was fleeing in all directions.’ As the square retreated steadily, the Emperor ordered Petit to sound the stirring drumroll known as the grenadière to rally guardsmen ‘caught up in the torrent of fugitives. The enemy was close at our heels, and, fearing that he might penetrate the squares, we were obliged to fire at the men who were being pursued … It was now almost dark.’”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

Wellington’s order to the commander of the 52nd, ‘Go on, Colborne! Go on! They won’t stand. Don’t give them a chance to rally’, demonstrated his recognition that the disintegration of Napoleon’s last reserve sealed his victory.

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

“But the reduction of the Guard to a fugitive crowd was also the reversal of the most powerful current in recent European history. The Revolution had made itself manifest by the Parisian crowd’s defeat or subversion of the royal army in July, 1789; the metamorphosis of the Guard into a crowd, its spirit crushed, its solidarity broken, its militancy extinct, its only motive self-preservation, its only purpose flight, marked, as effectively as anything else we can point to, the restitution of power to its former owners.”

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (The Face Of Battle by John Keegan)

Napoleon took an unnamed general by the arm and said: ‘Come, general, the affair is over – we have lost the day – let us be off.’

 — June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)

Late in the day, when the enemy had made his last great effort on our centre, the field was so enveloped in smoke that nothing was discernible. The firing ceased on both sides, and we on the left knew that one party or the other was beaten. This was the most anxious moment of my life. In a few seconds we saw the red-coats in the centre, as stiff as rocks, and the French columns retiring rapidly, and there was such a British shout as rent the air. We all felt then to whom the day belonged. It was time the “Crisis” should arrive, for we had been at work some hours, and the hand of death had been most unsparing. One Regiment, the 27th had only two officers left–Major Hume, who commanded from the beginning of the battle, and another–and they were both wounded, and only a hundred and twenty soldiers were left with them.

At this moment I saw the Duke, with only one Staff officer remaining, galloping furiously to the left. I rode on to meet him. “Who commands here?” “Generals Kempt and Lambert, my lord.” “Desire them to get into a column of companies of Battalions, and move on immediately.” I said, “In which direction, my lord?” “Right ahead, to be sure.” I never saw his Grace so animated. The Crisis was general, from one end of the line to the other.

— Sir Henry (Harry) Smith George Wakelyn Smith, The autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.

8:30 p.m.

“Napoleon is defeated. Blucher and Wellington celebrate their victory over Napoleon. After the last decisive Prussian assault, the field was strewn with tens of thousands of bodies. Many were dead, others badly wounded and left to die.— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815

I had been over many a field of battle, but with the exception of one spot at New Orleans, and the breach of Badajos, I had never seen anything to be compared with what I saw. At Waterloo the whole field from right to left was a mass of dead bodies. In one spot, to the right of La Haye Sainte, the French Cuirassiers were literally piled on each other; many soldiers not wounded lying under their horses; others, fearfully wounded, occasionally with their horses struggling upon their wounded bodies. The sight was sickening, and I had no means or power to assist them. Imperative duty compelled me to the field of my comrades, where I had plenty to do to assist many who had been left out all night; some had been believed to be dead, but the spark of life had returned. All over the field you saw officers, and as many soldiers as were permitted to leave the ranks, leaning and weeping over some dead or dying brother or comrade. The battle was fought on a Sunday, the 18th June, and I repeated to myself a verse from the Psalms of that day–91st Psalm, 7th verse: “A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee.” I blessed Almighty God our Duke was spared, and galloped to my General, whom I found with some breakfast awaiting my arrival.

— Sir Henry (Harry) Smith George Wakelyn Smith, The autobiography of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, baronet of Aliwal on the Sutlej, G.C.B.

“Waterloo was the second costliest single-day battle of the Napoleonic Wars after Borodino. Between 25,000 and 31,000 Frenchmen were killed or wounded, and huge numbers captured.121 Wellington lost 17,200 men and Blücher a further 7,000. Of Napoleon’s sixty-four most senior generals who served in 1815, twenty-six were killed or wounded that year. ‘Incomprehensible day'”

— June 18 1815 #waterloo1815 (Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts)



I have created this time out of my reading on Waterloo. If there is an event, where the time is uncertain, I have placed it where I think it might have fallen. I found the BBC Timeline so useful that I have quoted it extensively above.  Telegraph’s feature on Waterloo is also full of gorgeous detail. The Battle of Waterloo is also expertly discussed in a number of posts on Adventures in Historyland. .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s