Where Napoleon Fought Against Fate—And Wellington
The Star of France had fallen; the day of the Corsican had waned. Napoleon had been sent to Elba to spend the night that followed the splendour of a glorious day. And Europe knew peace.
But once again the day dawned, and the war clouds hovered low. Napoleon had escaped from Elba. Landing at Cannes on March 1st, 1815, he pushed his way through France to the capital, gathering in his veterans as he went. Paris was reached on the 19th, the day on which Louis XVIII. had fled to Ghent. Napoleon had returned for a last throw with Fate for the Empire which his genius had won. The nations joined with Fate, and England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia vowed not to lay down the sword until the Corsican was broken.
Napoleon knew what was before him, but felt secure in the knowledge that the men who had fought, and so often won, beneath his standard would once more fight; whether they would win was on the knees of the gods. Europe was up in arms against him—a million men lay between him and final victory, and to oppose them he had but some two hundred and fourteen thousand.
He harangued them as he loved to do; inspired them with the memories of past victories, minced not his words as he showed them what lay before, and urged them on to conquer or to die.
"Vive l'Empereur! Vive l'Empereur
From rank to rank, from corps to corps, the shout of loyalty rang again and again, and, in the spirit that meant to conquer or die, the men of France marched after their Emperor.
He was going "to measure himself with Wellington." And Wellington was in Belgium, with one hundred thousand men, from England, Hanover, Holland, Brunswick, Belgium, Nassau. Blucher, "the favourite hero of the Prussian soldiery, and the deadliest foe of France," was in command of the Army of the Lower Rhine, which was to join forces with Wellington. The Austrians and Germans of the Confederated States formed the Army of (he Upper Rhine, the Russians, under Barclay de Tolly, that of the Middle Rhine. Napoleon knew that the latter army must be longer in coming than the others, and he determined by forced marches to encounter Wellington and Blucher independently, and so avoid the unequal conflict which would be inevitable if the two armies met and opposed him. Blucher kept guard on the Belgian frontier, stretching along the banks of the Sambre and the Meuse, from Liege to Charleroi; Wellington covered Brussels, his left almost at Charleroi, his right at Courtrai and Tournay.
Napoleon's objective was Brussels, and as a preliminary he advanced on Charleroi, drove in the Prussian outposts, sent Ney to attack the English at Quatre Bras, and himself marched on Ligny to oppose Blucher. Wellington had been at the Duchess of Richmond's ball in Brussels when the news came that the outposts had been engaged; he hurried on to Quatre Bras, beat Ney off, and when he learned that Blucher had been compelled to retire on Wavre, decided that instead of following up his own victory, it would be necessary to fall back towards Brussels.
On the 17th, therefore, he began to retreat, followed by the French, who did but little damage. He "sent word to the Prussian commander that he would halt in the position of Mont St. Jean, and accept a general battle with the French, if Blucher would pledge himself to come to his assistance with a single corps of twenty-five thousand men. This was readily promised."
The retreat was made under difficulties, for the rain poured down in bucketfuls, and the route was turned almost into a marsh. Soaked to the skin, shivering with cold, the army halted at La Haye Sainte to pass a miserable night, and to await the day of battle.
Wellington had chosen the position at Mont St. Jean (a village in the vicinity gave its name to the battle, Waterloo) because it lay directly in the path of Napoleon's intended march on Brussels. The battlefield is a valley of some two or three miles long, and about three-quarters of a mile in width at some places; the road to Brussels cuts right through this valley, and is in turn bisected near La Haye Sainte by the sunken road of Ohain, which, in some cases eight or ten feet below the surface, was bordered on both sides by hedges.
As regards the positions of the opposing armies, it would require a considerable amount of space to go into these in detail; suffice it to say that while Napoleon's army stretched from Papelotte and Ter La Haye, on the right, to Hougoumont on the left, in the form of a crescent, Wellington had arranged his army in a similar formation, taking care to keep his wings well guarded in order that they might not be turned. His first line lay along the sunken road of Ohain, La Haye Sainte being somewhat in advance of the centre, and well garrisoned by German troops. The second English line was the cavalry.
The French were on a ridge some distance to the south, Napoleon's headquarters being at La Belle Alliance.
Sunday, June 18th, broke. The rain still came down in torrents, but gradually ceased. Between nine and ten o'clock Wellington went out on his charger, Copenhagen, to inspect his line, making his way to Hougoumont, a most vital point, seeing that it guarded his right and acted as a buffer to the French left. It was held by the light companies of the Foot Guards, while the woods surrounding it were filled with Hanoverians, Nassauers, and Luneberg riflemen. Hougoumont was all right, but the woods—well, it is said that as Wellington rode off some "bullets went whistling after him!" The foreign troops were not at all pleased with their position. "How can they expect me to win a battle with troops like those?" Wellington asked.
Soon after Wellington had left Hougoumont, the battle began with an attack by Prince Jerome on that chateau. A heavy fire was poured into the wood, and then Jerome sent column after column of light infantry to attack the defenders, drove them in after a terrible fight, and a short time after supporting columns of French hastened up to the chateau grounds, to be met by the fire of a German battery. The Hanoverians and Lunebergers fell back, but the Guards, rallied again in a hollow near by, charged with bayonets fixed, and won back the orchard. Almost directly afterwards the enemy was driven into the wood through a gate at the corner of the wall surrounding the garden. The French cavalry then advanced, but through the loopholes which had been bored in the wall, and from the scaffolds which had been erected behind the walls, the Guards poured in such a destructive fire that the cavalry was compelled to fall back.
Then the French infantry once more went to the attack; they passed through the wood, reached the loopholed walls, men dropping at every yard covered through that inferno of bullets. Those who did reach the walls fought as Frenchmen had never fought before, grabbing the bayonets sticking through the loopholes, and freely using their own clubbed guns when the battle became too fierce to allow of reloading. Time after time they hurled themselves forward; time after time were they hurled back.
The Guards found themselves outflanked on the right, and to avoid being cut off entirely, they quickly fell back and passed through the north gate of the chateau. This they tried to block up, but, so deep were the piles of dead, that they found it impossible to do so before the French threw themselves upon them. Leaving their work at the gate, the Guards turned to meet the foes, fought them with bayonets, bullets and clubbed muskets, fought them till well nigh every Frenchman who had come near was killed or wounded, and then, with a last bold sally, thrust the remainder off and kept them at bay while the gate was got into working order.
The shells which had been falling incessantly did great damage, setting fire to the outbuildings, and burning many a wounded man alive.
So did the fight for Hougoumont continue throughout nearly all that dreadful day, and though, says Colonel Mackinnon, "the enemy were undaunted in their attacks, Hougoumont was defended with a calm and stubborn gallantry, that alone could have enabled so small a force to resist the repeated and fierce assaults of nearly thirty thousand men of whom the second French corps was composed. . . . The Guards, at no time exceeding two thousand men, exclusive of 1,100 Germans, maintained the post amid the terrible conflagration within, and the murderous fire of the enemy without."
But there were other places where the fight was being, waged, and we must now leave Hougoumont and hie away to La Haye Sainte in the British left centre, where Ney and D'Erlon were concentrating for attack. Ney had posted his battery of seventy-four guns on the right to the rear of the farm, and D'Erlon, under cover of a tremendous cannonade, moved forward eighteen thousand infantry and a strong body of cavalry under Kellerman. It was a concerted movement, La Haye Sainte and Papelotte being attacked simultaneously, for it was determined to try to turn the British left flank, push through and capture La Haye Sainte and Mont St. Jean, and so cut off Wellington's communications with Brussels and Blucher.
Blucher was a thorn in Napoleon's side. Everything depended upon Wellington being defeated before Blucher could arrive, and at the moment that the attack on the British left and centre was timed, the Emperor saw in the distance a large body of troops. Who were they? Soult thought they were Grouchy's column which was marching to Wavre, but any doubt was set at rest by the capture of a Prussian hussar, bearer of a letter from Bulow to Wellington. The hussar informed Napoleon that Bulow was marching on Waterloo with thirty thousand men—the column in the distance was the advanced guard. Bulow was going to fall on the French right flank; Napoleon immediately sent off to Grouchy instructing him to attack Bulow's flank instead. Grouchy, however, did not receive the message in time to act upon it, and busied himself with attacking Wavre—according to a note which he had previously sent to Napoleon.
The Emperor saw that it was time to make his great attack. D'Erlon's infantry, therefore, moved forward—four divisions, in closely packed battalions. One of them, under Durutte, went against Papelotte, to hold the left in check, the others under Alix, Marcognet, and Dozelot, against Bylandt, Kempt, and Pack.
Papelotte was soon taken, but La Haye Sainte fought long and hard, though at last the French reached the top of the ridge before the English line; and there before them were Picton's men, waiting for the word which should send them on a mad charge into the ranks of the foe.
Marcognet sent his men across the road; Picton immediately placed himself at the head of his Highlanders, yelled the word at them, and, with a volley and a cheer, they were off.
With bayonets leveled they hurled themselves at the Frenchmen, burst in upon them with a shock that shook the line from end to end, scrambled and thrust, yelled and cheered, worked their cold steel in the good old Highland way.
"Charge! Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!" cried Picton as he led them against the blazing French line; then without another sound he tumbled from his horse—shot through the temple. On went his men, over their fallen leader, infuriated, like wild beasts let loose, bent on avenging the death of the man they had looked on to lead them on to glory. And glory they found, revenge they took, for up the hill they raced at the foe, down the hill they forced them, plying clubbed musket and leveled bayonet with deadly effect. It was a tangled, shapeless, struggling mass that fought on the death-strewn slope; it was a broken panic-stricken crowd that fled before the British bayonets, pursued by Highlanders whose Scottish blood was up.
As they fled Ponsonby's Union Brigade followed after them. Royals, Irish Inniskillings, Scots Greys, dashed into the retreating ranks, and in a moment there was a melee dear to British hearts; sabres flashed, bayonets swept along in a solid line, horses plunged, men fell in heaps; to be trampled beneath iron-shod hoofs. And the French were beaten back in dire disorder, leaving three thousand prisoners behind them and a couple of their much-prized eagles.
The 32nd nearly lost their colours, for a French mounted officer laid his sacrilegious hands upon it. The bearer immediately grabbed the silk, seeking to wrench it away from the foe. Meanwhile, Colour-Sergeant Switzer dashed into the fray, thrust his pike through the Frenchman, and so saved the flag.
"Save the brave fellow!" cried Major Toole, of the 32nd, as he saw the courage of the officer; but the cry came too late, for hardly had Switzer plucked his pike out, than Private Lacy leveled his musket and sent a bullet through the Frenchman's brain.
While the Union Brigade had been thus busy against the infantry, Lord Uxbridge at the head of the House-hold Cavalry had not been at all idle. Kellerman had sent his Cuirassiers down the left side of La Haye Sainte to support the infantry. But Uxbridge was ready. So far the 1st and 2nd Lifeguards, and the 1st Dragoons, had been silent onlookers, waiting for their turn. It came. The trumpets sounded, horses were mounted, the order was given, and away went the Household Cavalry at the speeding Cuirassiers, who had just reformed after attacking the Luneberg battalion at the farm, and compelling them to retreat into the buildings.
Down the slope of the ridge went the British troopers, and crash! the two forces met. Weight and freshness told; there was no withstanding the Britishers; a few moments' fierce hand-to-hand encounter, and then, with ringing cheers, the Household Brigade was through, riding down the fleeing Cuirassiers as they tried to escape the whirlwind of plunging horses and far-reaching sabres.
In all directions the Cuirassiers scattered, the Guards chasing them. On went the Royals with a cheer that told of deeds to come; on went the Greys, with a "Scot-land for Ever!" that brought the echoes of the Highlands; while the Inniskillings went into the battle with a yell that set the blood a-tingling.
The 92nd had stood their ground like brave men, three hundred of them remaining to face three thousand. "Ninety-second, you must charge, for the troops on your right and left have given way," roared Sir Denis Pack, as he saw the French making progress; and with three ringing cheers the Highlanders burst down upon the French column. Four deep they went, sent in a volley, then brought their bayonets into play.
"While the regiment was in the act of charging," says the War Office Record, "the Scots Greys came trotting up in the rear of its ranks, when both corps shouted 'Scotland for Ever!' "The Highlanders opened out for the horses to pass them, some clinging to stirrup straps to enter the charge with them, and "the column was instantly broken, and in its flight the cavalry rode over it. The result of this dash, which occupied only a few minutes, was a loss to the enemy of two eagles and two thousand prisoners. . . . After this brilliant affair, Sir Denis Pack rode up to the regiment and said, 'You have saved the day, Highlanders, but you must return to your position; there is more work to be done.'"
"Those beautiful Grey horses!" said Napoleon as he saw the Greys gallop down upon his column;" but they must give way." They did not. They gave the Frenchmen beans instead, and took their eagles from them.
Regarding the capture of one of these, Sergeant Ewart wrote: "It was in the charge I took the eagle from the enemy. He and I had a hard contest for it. He made a thrust at my groin; I parried it off, and cut him down through the head. After this a lancer came at me; I threw the lance off by my right side, and cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next a foot-soldier fired at me, and then charged me with his bayonet, which I also had the good luck to parry, and then I cut him down through the head. Thus ended the contest."
Thus did the Greys force back Marcognet's column; the Inniskillings and the Royals doing the same with Donzelot's. Yet were they not satisfied; on they went, making for Ney's artillery. Joining forces with the 2nd Lifeguards and the Dragoons, who had broken through the French infantry, they dashed down on the guns, sabred the gunners, killed the horses, cut the traces, spiked the guns, and so completely wrecked fifteen of them that they were of no more use during the battle.
They had done well, but it had cost much; scores of men had fallen in the fray, and Sir William Ponsonby himself had been slain. They had charged to glorious victory, but they had gone too far—they had overridden themselves, and do what their officers would, they could not reform them in time to get them away from Traver's Brigade of Milhaud's Cuirassiers and Jacquinot's Lancers, who bore down upon them and wrought terrible execution in their already thinned ranks. Vandeleur and his light cavalry quickly came to their assistance, and after a terrible hand-to-hand struggle the French were driven off, and the British cavalry fell back on their position.
Meanwhile the conflict round La Haye Sainte had been raging in terrible fury. The Germans had been forced out of the orchard into the buildings, round which shot and shell fell as fast as the guns could be fired. Flames burst forth ever and anon, only to be quenched by the brave Germans, who stuck to their post with a tenacity that caused the French to retire time and time again. Three times did the French attack them, only to be driven back by the galling fire; then came a fourth charge. This time it was more successful, for, ammunitionless as they now were, the Germans had to wait until the foe burst in through the door, and climbed on to the roof. Then they used their bayonet; but it was a handful of men fighting against an army, and at last they had to surrender the farm, and they who remained alive fell back on the ridge.
Napoleon now saw that, although La Haye Sainte had been captured, his infantry charge had been futile to break through the British position, and he determined to bring his cavalry to bear.
While his cavalry, which consisted of forty squadrons (nearly five thousand men), were preparing for the charge, Napoleon massed his batteries, and these poured a dreadful fire into the English infantry, now in squares behind the ridge. Lying down as they were the shrieking shells of the French guns were far less effective than they might otherwise have been; as it was, they wrought fearful havoc among the battalions, sweeping through them like a scythe, and ploughing up the rain-sodden ground and half blinding the men.
Then on came the French cavalry, the Cuirassiers leading the way through a terrific fire of grape, canister and shrapnel which the British artillery poured in upon them. Double-shotted were the guns, and worked as quickly as they could be loaded. Men and horses stumbled and fell with a crash on the sodden ground; but still the Cuirassiers came on, confident of carrying the day—believing as they did, that, once past the artillery, they would find the British infantry in full retreat. Right up to the gun muzzles they rode, and then the gunners fled to the shelter of the British squares. Still on and on came the French, mounting the ridge then the gallop was sounded, and the cavalry charged down the slope—bang into a galling fire from the infantry which they had fondly imagined was retreating
Grim, determined, and watchful, the Allied ranks awaited the word to fire; up to within thirty paces the cavalry was allowed to come, and then: "Fire!" Both lines of infantry opened up, and the Cuirassiers were crumpled up, were scattered like chaff before the wind. They fell back; the English gunners immediately rushed to their guns again, and poured in another cannonade, before which the Cuirassiers recoiled, the light cavalry, which by now had crossed the ridge, taking their place. They met with the same reception, and the Cuirassiers, who had quickly reformed, bravely returned to the attack. But the solid squares of British soldiers refused to be broken; as each wave of charging cavalry dashed down upon them, they poured in their relentless fire, wilting it and sending it back beyond the ridge, where the artillery immediately turned their guns upon them.
Finding that this first cavalry attack had been unsuccessful, Ney resolved to send yet a stronger force against the serried ranks below the ridge. Seventy-seven squadrons were therefore called up; Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Carabiniers, Heavy Cavalry and Horse Grenadiers.
"Like waves following in quick succession," says Siborne, "the whole mass now appeared to roll over the ridge (more to the westward, this time); and as the light curling smoke arose from the fire which was opened by the squares, and by which the latter sought to stem the current of the advancing host, it resembled the foam and spray thrown up by the mighty waters, as they dash on isolated rocks and beetling crags; and as the living mass separated and rushed in every direction, completely covering the interior slope, it bore the appearance of innumerable eddies, and counter-currents, threatening to overwhelm and engulf the obstructions by which its onward course had been opposed. The storm continued to rage with the greatest violence, and the devoted squares seemed lost in the midst of the tumultuous onset. In vain did the maddening mass chafe and fret away its strength against the impregnable barriers, which, based upon the principles of honour, discipline, and duty, cemented by the ties of patriotism and the impulse of national glory, stood proudly unmoved and inaccessible. Disorder and confusion, produced by the commingling of corps and by the scattering fire from the faces of the chequered squares, gradually led to the retreat of parties of horsemen across the ridge; and at length the retrograde movement became general. Then the Allied Dragoons, who had been judiciously kept in readiness to act at a favourable moment (Ney had kept no reserve, by the way), darted forward to complete the disorganisation of the now receding masses of French cavalry."
"Four times were our guns in possession of the French cavalry," says an eye-witness, "and as often did the bayonets of our infantry rescue them. For upwards of an hour our little squares were surrounded by the elite of the French cavalry; they gallantly stood within forty paces of us, unable to leap over the bristling line of bayonets, unwilling to retire, and determined never to surrender. Hundreds of them were dropping in all directions from our murderous fire, yet as fast as they dropped others came up to supply their places. Finding at last it was vain to attempt to break our determined ranks, they swept round to our rear, and, rushing into the Nivelle road, attempted to cut their way back to their own lines; but the whole road was lined with our infantry on the sides, and the advanced part of it was an almost impassable barricade of fallen trees."
Twelve times did Ney send his cavalry at the charge; and twelve times were they repulsed, leaving well nigh two-thirds of their number on the field.
What of the Duke of Wellington? From the account given above it would appear that he had been only a silent onlooker, but far from that, he had been the directing genius of the British part of the battle. From square to square he rode in the face of a hot fire, encouraging his men in their courageous stand against the onrushing foes. "Hard pounding, this, gentlemen," he said to one square; "we will try who can pound the longest!" "Wait a little longer," he said to an Irish regiment which had got tired of doing nothing, "and you shall have your wish!" "Stand firm, my lads!" to another; "what will they say of us in England?" "My plan," he said in reply to an officer who asked for orders in case His Grace should fall—for he refused to seek safety out of the line of fire—"my plan is simply to stand my ground here to the last man!"
And Napoleon—what of him? He had seen the futility of his infantry attack; had watched the unavailing courage of his cavalry; had replied to Ney, when the Marshal asked for more infantry, "Where can I get them? Do you wish me to make them?" and saw that there was but one hope now—and that was the Old Guard. Therefore the Old Guard, which had till now taken no part in the battle, was called up; but before we follow them on Napoleon's last grand attack at Waterloo we must look at the Prussian force.
Napoleon knew that they were coming; he knew that Grouchy could not stop them, and the battle had to be won or lost—before they could arrive.
At one o'clock they should have been on the scene; but the roads were bad, there had been a fire at Wavre which had had to be extinguished before the ammunition wagons could be trusted through the streets; and Blucher's Chief of Staff, Von Gneisenau, doubted Wellington's good faith, being under the impression that the Duke had not supported him at Ligny. It was not until twelve o'clock, therefore, when the sounds of the heavy cannonade at Waterloo reached Gneisenau and convinced him that Wellington was in earnest, that he resolved to bring up his whole strength.
At hall-past four, then, instead of at one o'clock, Bulow's Corps appeared on the French right on the nearer side of the wood of St. Lambert, and Napoleon instantly dispatched a column of infantry and another of horse to hold them in check. For awhile they managed to do this, but the Prussians came on in overwhelming numbers, turned the right flank of the infantry, and then pressed on to Planchenoit in the rear of the French right, in the line of Napoleon's retreat. The Emperor, of course, realised the importance of keeping this village, and therefore sent the Young Guard to defend it. Bravely they did their duty, hurling back the masses of Prussians who came against them time after time.
Then it was that Napoleon had made his fourth attack, which resulted, as we have seen, in the capture of La Haye Sainte. Quickly the place was freshly loopholed, artillery massed in front of it, and a heavy fire was sent into the British line at sixty paces. The Highlanders formed in position on the main line in front of La Haye Sainte, suffered terribly, but bravely stood to their post until they had laid the gunners low. The French skirmishers then "crept on their stomachs along the ditches and farm-banks, over which they fired from time to time with deadly effect; so it was resolved to attack them with the bayonet. For this purpose, Colonel Ompteda led on the 5th Germans, before whom they fled round the garden hedge, while a line of Cuirassier cavalry dashed upon their pursuers, every officer of whom was put to death, save one, who escaped by the speed of his black horse. Our 95th, who were anxious to succour the unfortunate Germans, suspended their fire for fear of destroying them; but the moment their slaughter was over, they let fly a deadly volley and swept the whole front."
Meanwhile, the Prussians were pressing forward. The time had come for the fifth and last attack from La Belle Alliance, where Napoleon had spent the day with his plans and maps, directing the operations that had proved so futile. Now, however, the moment had come when a last mighty attempt must be made by the Old Guard which had done him such service in the past. Down into the valley below La Belle Alliance they went, passing their Emperor on the way; earnestly he exhorted them—though the noise of cannon and the screams of the dying made it impossible to hear him; still, he pointed the way, and "Vive L'Empereur! Vive L'Empereur!" rang out above the din of battle.
They were a forlorn hope.
They were men who had fought and won the Emperor's battles in the heyday of his power; they were going to a trial of strength with men who had done deeds as great as they.
On they went, down between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, both scenes of valour and of doughty deeds; down on to the right of Wellington's army, while at Hougoumont itself and on the British left the attack was being kept up.
It was across a death-strewn ground they went, through a shell-filled air they pressed—into the jaws of death; yet without a waver in their two long lines. From behind them, their own guns boomed, hurling shot and shell into the opposing English ranks. Soon it ceased, but the Guard still went on, and the English artillery, double-shotted, still belched forth its death-laden messengers. Up to within fifty yards of Halkett's brigade and the Foot Guards, they went, led by Ney himself; but they got no farther; the cannons kept them off, and then, at the word of command—oh, would that it were true that Wellington had said "Up, Guards, and at 'em!" the Guards and the 33rd and 69th sent in one volley, and then went for them, bayonets leveled.
Then it was thrust against thrust, man against man, life for life, red-coat against blue. They met, those heroes of two gallant nations; they fought, and fought, and fought again, and ever the red-coats won. The Old Guard could not stand against the men from across the Channel—and the first line of Napoleon's forlorn hope melted away before the steel of Wellington's Guard.
But the second was there, behind them, waiting for the moment when they, too, could come to grips. That moment came. The Guards had reformed after their victory, and they, with the batteries, at once opened on the left of the advancing second column, while the 52nd poured in as wilting a fire on the front and flank.
Four deep on the slope the 52nd stand, and then, after their volleys, down they come.
"Halt! Mark time!"
It is the preliminary to the charge.
"Charge! 52nd, Charge!" cried Sir John Colborne, and with three ringing cheers which drown the "Vivas!" of the Old Guard, the 52nd charge.
Down the slope they go, gripping their muskets, leveling their bayonets, eager to meet the foe. They met them—met them in the good old British style—met them with steel and hearts that failed not, met them with arms that knew well how to wield the weapon that had carried Britain to glory many a time before.
They failed not this time. Through and through the ranks of the Old Guard they went.
"Surrender!" was the cry.
"The Guard dies, but never surrenders!" yells brave Michel, and dies as he says it.
And the conflict goes on, until the Guard breaks up and falls back, followed by the triumphant, cheering, thrusting Britishers, who will not let them go till they have taken full tally.
Then, "The whole line will advance!" cries the Duke, waving his hat above his head; and the army moves forward. The Prussians had come up and completed Wellington's left; and the time was ripe to take the offensive.
Napoleon still had some battalions in reserve at La Belle Alliance, and with these and the remnants of the first column of the Guard, he endeavoured to collect a sufficient body to make a defence. Wellington sent Vivian and his Hussars at them; some French guns open fire on them—they stagger, but hold on their way. By Napoleon's side is his brother Jerome, who has just said, "It were well for all who bear the name of Bonaparte to die here!" For answer the Emperor cries, as he seems about to lead a charge:
"Here must we die on the field of battle!"
But Marshal Soult catches hold of his bridle, crying:
"They will not kill you—they will take you prisoner!" and Napoleon is forced to turn his horse—and flee the field where he had hoped to regain the prestige he had lost, and assume once more the role of Conqueror.
The battle is lost and won, and is now turned into a retreat, nay, a rout and a chase, though here and there a rallying square turned its face. to the foe, and now and again some heroes of the Old Guard fought rather than flee, and the Young Guard put up a valiant fight against the Prussians who by now had arrived in full force.
Then the darkness of night fell; the last shot was fired, and Napoleon, making post haste for Paris, had fought his last battle.
And the field of conflict? One prefers to leave it to imagination; thirty thousand of the Allies, and forty thousand Frenchmen bit the dust at Waterloo and the battles that preceded it. All for the ambition of one man, who went from Waterloo to Paris, and abdicated; from Paris to the Northumberland; from the man-of-war to the lonely rock of St. Helena. Such was the rapid sequence of events following the trial of strength on the field of Waterloo.