June 18, 1815
Napoleon't disasterous invasion of Russia in 1812 led to the end of his
dominance of Europe. By spring of 1814, France itself was invaded
and Napoleon exiled to the island of Elba of the coast of Italy.
Popular frustration with the restored Bourbons gave Napoleon an
opportunity. Evading naval forces, Napoleon landed in the south
of France in March 1815. A force under Marshal Ney sent to crush
him instead joined him. Louis XVIII fled the country, and
Napoleon took power once again. A large coalition immediately
formed to invade France and remove the 'Corsican Ogre' from power.
Among the first to assemble were the Prussians under Blucher and
the British under Wellington with their German allies and the army of
the newly formed and short lived union of The Netherlands and Belgium.
Knowing that France could not defend against invasions from all the
great nations of Europe, Napoleon decided to take the initiative,
forming an army in the north and invading Belgium - crossing the Sambre
at Charleroi near the border of Blucher and Wellington's armies.
While holding off Wellington at Quatre Bras, Napoleon defeated
Blucher at Ligny. Leaving a force under Marshal Grouchy to pursue
the Prussians, Napoleon turned on Wellington, who withdrew from Quatre
Bras and assembled his army near Mont St Jean south of Waterloo.
Arriving opposite the allied army on the evening of June 17th,
Napoleon planned to attack the next day.
This panorama is from the commemorative mound built where the Prince of
Orange was wounded in battle. Unfortunately, dirt from the ridge
that the battle was fought on was used for construction of the mound, forever altering
the topography. Like the battles in Spain, Wellington would use
the tactics he was known for. Skirmishers were pushed out into
the fields of grain high enough to hide a man. On the
ridge was the artillery. On the reverse slope, hidden from view
and with some protection from enemy artillery was the main line of
infantry with cavalry behind. The line extended from the left
flank beyond the modern convent through the intersection and the modern
buildings on the left of the panorama, then pivoted forward following
the ridge along the lane on the right side of the panorama. In
front of the line, Wellington would place troops in defensible
buildings like in the area of Smohain on the left, at La Haye Sainte in
the center, and at Hougomont on the right. If Wellington could
hold out into the afternoon, Blucher promised to come to his aid.
Napoleon's army deployed that morning on either side of the tavern
called La Belle Alliance. With all the recent rains, Napoleon
waited to form a Grand Battery from his heavy artillery to bombard the
allies. Knowing that Wellington was concerned about maintaining
communication with the coast, Napoleon ordered a division of Reille's II Corps commanded by his
brother, Prince Jerome, to make a diversion at Hougomont at around
11am. At 1pm, the right wing of Napoleon's army, D'Erlon's I Corps, would
attack with the destination from the intersection to beyond the modern
French Cavalry Attacks
Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill