August 16 1815: Napoleon Discusses Waterloo

“He said that he did not lose any soldiers from desertion, on his march, but that his officers were constantly leaving him. The General then paid a compliment to the lower orders of people in France, at the expense of those in more elevated stations. He considered the former class as the most sincere, and firm, and at the same time of the finest disposition; and thought, that in proportion as the condition of the people of that country rose, their character became worse.

Above the Bourgeois, he thought they were too fickle, and too volatile to be at all depended upon. They had one principle for to-day, and another for to-morrow, according to the circumstances of the moment; and he attributed, solely, to the disaffected officers of his army, his Waterloo disasters. ,

The statement of General Gourgaud, respecting his having mistaken the Prussians for General Grouchy’s division, he contradicted, and assured me, he knew early in the day, that the Prussians were closing on his flank; that tIlls, however, gave him little or no uneasiness, as he believed that General Grouchy would also close with him at the same time. He had, moreover,ordered a sufficient force to oppose these Prussians. They were in fact already checked, and he added, that he considered the battle to have been, upon the whole, rather in his favour than otherwise, throughout the day; but that after dark, the disaffected officers, to whom he had alluded, promulgated the cry, of ‘ Sauve qui pent.’
This spread such confusion and alarm throughout his whole line, that it became impossible to counteract it, or to rally his troops, situated as they were. Had it been daylight, he was positive the result would have been very different. Then it would have been only necessary to have placed himself in a conspicuous situation, in front, to have insured the rallying of all his troops around him; but as it was, treachery and darkness combined, rendered his ruin unavoidable.

He said that on the morning of the 18th of June, he did not entertain the most distant idea, that the Duke of Wellington would have willingly allowed him to have brought the English army to a decisive battle; and had therefore been the more anxious to push on, and if possible to force it, for he thought nothing else could offer him a chance of surmounting the difficulties with which he was surrounded. But he added that if he could have beaten the English army, their situation was such, that he was positive that hardly any of the English forces would have escaped. The Russian army, having been already beaten on the 16th, would (upon any decided disaster to the English) have been forced to make a precipitate retreat, and perhaps have been dispersed, certainly entirely disorganized; and he might then have pushed on by forced marches to meet the Austrians, before any junction could have taken place between them and the Russians. In such circumstances, success in his efforts would have been probable, even if hostilities had been obstinately persevered in. However, in the state of things at that time, he had relied mainly he said, rather upon the idea, that a victory over the English army in Belgium, with its immediate consequences, would have been sufficient to have produced a change of administration in England, and have afforded him a chance of concluding an immediate general truce. and to the feelings of our Allies on the continent. I therefore observed to him, that with this view of the subject, I had been surprized at his not retiring, in preference, to Austria, where his connexion with the Emperor would have afforded him so strong a claim to a more distinguished reception.
A cessation of hostilities was really his first object, for France was hardly equal to the effort she was then making ; and it was impossible for her to think of opposing any adequate resistance to the numerous forces of the Allies, if once united and acting in concert against him.

Circumstances, however, having taken the turn they did, and having forced him to act as he had done, he thought Great Britain had not pursued the wisest policy, in refusjng to receive him in a friendly manner. He would have given his word of honor, not to have quitted the kingdom, nor to have interfered in any manner, directly or indirectly, in the affairs of France, or in politics of any sort, unless especially requested so to do, by our Government. The General believed, that the influence he had over the minds of the people of every description in France, would have enabled him to keep them quiet, under whatever terms it might have been thought necessary, for the future security of Europe, to have imposed upon that nation. And it was his opinion, that if conditions at all repugnant to the vanity of the French nation, should be acquiesced in by the Bourbons, it would render them, if possible, even more unpopular than they were at present; and that the people of France would only await a favorable crisis, to rise in a body for their destruction. The disbanding of the French army, he considered of no great consequence, as the whole nation was now military, and could always form into an army at a given signal.

In answer to all this, I told him very fairly, that however conscious he might be of his own integrity; and how sacredly soever he might observe any stipulations, to which he had pledged his word of honor, it was perhaps natural for him at the moment to feel as he spoke; yet that I did not think, after the events of latter years, the Government of Great Britain could he supposed to have sufficient reliance in him, to allow him to take up his abode in England, in conformity with his request, due reference being had to the present state of France,

He said, that if he had gone there, he had no doubt he would have been received with every attention, but that he could not bring himself to submit to receive any favors from the Emperor of Austria, after knowing the manner in which he had taken part against him, notwithstanding his former professions of affection, and his close connexion with him.”

.— Sir George Cockburn on the HMS Northumberland writes in his diary for August 16 1815.

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