On came the whirlwind—like the last
But fiercest sweep of tempest blast
On came the whirlwind—steel gleams broke
Like lightning through the rolling smoke;
The war was waked anew,
Three hundred cannon-mouths roar'd loud,
And from their throats with flash and cloud,
Their showers of iron threw.
Beneath their fire, in full career,
Rushed on the ponderous cuirassier;
The lancer couch'd his ruthless spear,
And hurrying as to havoc near,
The cohorts' eagles flew.
In one dark torrent, broad and strong,
The advancing onset roll'd along,
Forth harbinger'd by fierce acclaim
That, from the shroud of smoke and flame,
Peal'd wildly the imperial name.
The congress of emperors, kings, princes, generals and statesmen, had assembled at Vienna to remodel the world after the overthrow of Napoleon, the mighty conqueror. At this time they had not a thought but that Napoleon had passed away forever from the great drama of European politics. However, before they had yet completed their triumphant festivities and their diplomatic toils, Talleyrand, on the 11th of March, 1815, rose up among them, and announced that the famous soldier-statesman had escaped from Elba, and what was more, was once again Emperor of France.
Unable at first to credit such a statement, the delegates laughed disbelievingly. But the jest was a bitter one, as each and every member of the body soon found out, and it was not long before they were busily engaged in anxious deliberations as to the best method for meeting and tying up the hands of their old arch-enemy.
On the 13th of March, the ministers of the seven powers—Austria, Spain, England, Russia, Portugal, Prussia and Sweden—signed a manifesto by which they declared Napoleon an outlaw. This denunciation was immediately followed up by a treaty between England, Austria, Prussia and Russia, to which other powers soon acceded. By this they bound themselves to enforce the outlaw decree, and to press the war until Napoleon should be driven from the throne of France, and rendered incapable of ever again disturbing the peace of Europe.
The Duke of Wellington was England's representative at the conference, and was at once sought for advice on a tentative plan of military operations against France. It was obvious that Belgium would provide the first battle-field, in the Duke's opinion, to which the other members of the congress as a whole agreed. Accordingly Wellington proceeded thither to assemble an army from the contingents of Dutch, Belgian and Hanoverian troops which were available, and from the English regiments which his own country was hastening to send over.
Truly gigantic were the exertions which the Allied powers made at this crisis to grapple promptly with the threatened danger. At the same time never was the genius and activity of Napoleon more signally displayed than in the celerity and skill by which he brought forward all the military resources of France, which the reverses of the three preceding years had greatly diminished and disorganized. By the end of May he had an army assembled in the northeast, for active operations under his own hand, which approximated one hundred and thirty thousand men, including a superb park of artillery. His soldiers were in the highest state of efficiency and discipline, and unusually well equipped considering the short time in which they had been mobilizing.
The approach to the Rhine of the multitudinous Russian, Austrian, Bavarian, and other foes of the French, was necessarily slow; but the two most active corps of the Allied powers had already occupied Belgium while Napoleon was organizing his forces. One of these corps, under Marshal Blucher, consisted of one hundred and sixteen thousand Prussians; the other, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, was not more than ten thousand less.
Napoleon determined to attack these enemies in Belgium without delay. The disparity of numbers, to his disadvantage, was indeed great, but he knew that delay would only serve to make the odds against him still greater. He felt that he was favored by the fact that each of the Allied corps in Belgium was composed of soldiers from a different nation whose feelings and interest must obviously be at more or less variance, and with commanders of the same type, intense co-operation was not to be expected.
The Emperor's own army was composed, on the other hand, entirely of Frenchmen, most of whom were veterans well acquainted with their officers and with each other, and filled to the brim with enthusiastic confidence in their leader. If he could work his old scheme of separating the divisions of the enemy, so as to attack each one separately, he felt sanguine of success—not only against these, the most resolute of his many adversaries, but also against the hordes that were laboring toward his eastern dominions.
Behind the triple chain of strong fortresses, which the French possessed on the Belgian frontier, Napoleon was able to concentrate his army. These erections acted as a mammoth curtain, and would thoroughly screen his movements from the enemy till the very moment he wished to make some certain line of attack.
The Allies were less fortunate in this respect. Both Blucher and Wellington were obliged to canton their troops along a strip of open country of considerable length, so as to be on the lookout for the expected outbreak of Napoleon. Blucher occupied the banks of the Sambre and the Meuse, from Liege, on his left, to Charleroi on his right. The Duke of Wellington covered Brussels, his cantonments being partly in front of that city and between it and the French frontier, and partly on its west. The extreme right of both armies reached to Courtray and Tournay, while the left approached Charleroi and communicated with the Prussian right.
It was upon Charleroi that Napoleon resolved to level his attack, in hopes of severing the two Allied corps from each other.
The situation of the French elements at this time was as follows: The First Corps d'Armée, commanded by Count d'Erlon, was stationed in and around the city of Lille. The Second Corps, under Count Reille, was at Valenciennes, to the right of the first one. The Third Corps, commanded by Count Vandamme, was at Mezières. The Fourth, under Count Gerard, had its head-quarters at Metz; and the Sixth, headed by Count Lobau, was at Laon. Four corps of the reserve cavalry, led by Marshal Grouchy, were also near the frontier, between the rivers Aisne and Sambre.
On the 14th of June, Napoleon arrived among his troops. Great was their exultation at the celerity with which he had organized and placed his divisions in position. This enthusiasm was still more excited by the issuance of his "Order of the Day," in which he thus appealed to them:
"Napoleon, by the Grace of God, and the Constitution of the Empire, Emperor of the French, &c., to the Grand Army.
|"At the Imperial Headquarters,|
|Avesnes, June 14th, 1815.|
"Soldiers! this day is the anniversary of Marengo and of Friedland, which twice decided the destiny of Europe. Then, as after Austerlitz, as after Agram, we were too generous. We believed in the protestations and in the oaths of princes, whom we left on their thrones. Now, however, leagued together, they aim at the independence and the most sacred rights of France. They have commenced the most unjust of aggressions. Let us, then, march to meet them. Are they and we no longer the same men?
"Soldiers! at Jena, against these same Prussians, now so arrogant, you were one to three, and at Montmirail one to six!
"Let those among you who have been captives to the English, describe the nature of their prison-ships, and the frightful miseries they endured.
"The Saxons, the Belgians, the Hanoverians, the soldiers of the Confederation of the Rhine, lament that they are compelled to use their arms in the cause of princes, the enemies of justice and of the rights of all nations. They know that this coalition is insatiable! After having devoured twelve millions of Poles, twelve millions of Italians, one million of Saxons, and six mil-lions of Belgians, it now wishes to devour the states of the second rank in Germany.
"Madmen! one moment of prosperity has bewildered them. The oppression and the humiliation of the French people are beyond their power. If they enter France they will there find their grave.
"Soldiers! we have forced marches to make, battles to fight, dangers to encounter; but, with firmness, victory will be ours. The rights, the honor, and the happiness of the country will be recovered!
"To every Frenchman who has a heart, the moment is now arrived to conquer or to die!
|"The Marshal Duke of Dalmatia,|
The 15th of June had scarcely dawned before the French army was in motion for the decisive campaign. It crossed the frontier in three columns which were pointed straight at Charleroi and its vicinity. Their line of advance upon Brussels, which Napoleon resolved to occupy, lay straight through the center of the cantonments of the Allies. The French leader felt certain that if he could take Brussels the greater part of Belgium undoubtedly would declare in his favor, and such a condition thus early in the campaign would exert a most powerful influence to his credit in events to follow.
On the 15th of June certain intelligence, however, reached the Allies that the French had crossed the frontier in large force near Thuin, that they had driven back the Prussian advanced troops under General Ziethen, and were also moving across the Sambre upon Charleroi.
Marshal Blucher now rapidly concentrated his forces. Wellington also marshaled his own troops in Brussels and its immediate vicinity, ready to move due southward upon Quatre Bras and cooperate with Blucher, who was taking his station at Ligny. In his present position Wellington thought he could defeat any maneuver the enemy might suddenly make to turn off to the right and occupy Brussels by a flanking action.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon that a Prussian officer reached Brussels with word from General Ziethen to General Muffling, informing the latter of the French advance upon Charleroi. Muffling at once informed the Duke of Wellington who said that he would be in the utmost readiness.
That night a ball was given in Brussels by the Duchess of Richmond, and the Duke and General Muffling attended with hundreds of others. They stayed only a few hours, however, stealing quietly away from the festal scene in the early morning, and rode hard to overtake a brigade of their men who had been ordered on to Quatre Bras. It was a strange and incongruous situation, this one of the two officers first indulging in the light-hearted gaieties of the ballroom, and then deliberately leaving at a pre-arranged hour to guide their men in an expected bloody slaughter! But such is war.
By this time Napoleon had advanced right through Charleroi upon Fleurus, inflicting considerable loss. His right column with little opposition had moved forward as far as the bridge of Chatelet.
Napoleon had thus a powerful force immediately in front of the point upon which Blucher had fixed for the concentration of the Prussian army, and that concentration was still incomplete. He gave the command of his left wing to Marshal Ney, who had marched toward Quatre Bras along the road that leads from Charleroi to Brussels, through Gosselies, Frasne, Quatre Bras, Genappe and Waterloo. Before ten o'clock on the night of the 15th, Ney had occupied Gosselies and Frasne, driving out the weak forces of Belgians holding these places. Before proceeding on to Quatre Bras, Ney thought it best to rest his tired soldiers. He also wished to obtain some information about the commanders of the enemy.
In the meantime Wellington and Baron Muffling, who had been in attendance at the Duchess of Richmond's ball at Brussels, arrived at Quatre Bras with their men about eleven o'clock of the night Ney entered Frasne. Noting that the French about Frasne were very quiet, and thinking their numbers far smaller than they were, Wellington and Mining went on to the wind-mill near Bry, with the purpose of offering to reinforce Blucher, who they heard was menaced at that point by a very large force under Napoleon.
When Wellington and Muffling reached their destination, they found the Prussian army, eighty thousand strong, drawn up chiefly along a chain of heights, with the villages of Sombref, St. Amand and Ligny in their front. These villages were also strongly occupied with Prussian detachments, and formed the keys of Blucher's position.
The heads of the columns which Napoleon was forming for the attack were visible in the distance.
The Prussian leaders said they would be glad to have the assistance of Wellington's and Muffling's corps, and asked that they be marched from Quatre Bras along the Namur road, so as to form a reserve in the rear of Blucher's army. Replying that he would see to this if he were not attacked at Quatre Bras himself, the Duke and his companion galloped back to rejoin their command.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when Marshal Ney began the battle with about sixteen thousand infantry, two thousand cavalry and thirty-eight guns. The force which Napoleon nominally placed at his command exceeded forty thousand, but more than half of these consisted of the First Corps d'Armee, under Count d'Erlon, and Ney was deprived of the use of this corps at a time when he most needed it, in consequence of its receiving orders to march to the aid of the Emperor at Ligny.
The force of the Allies in Quatre Bras was something less than ten thousand, mostly Dutch and Belgian infantry, commanded by the Prince of Orange. A wood, called the Bois de Bossu, stretched along the right (or western) flank, a farmhouse and building called Gemiancourt, stood on some elevated ground in front, and to the left (or east) were the enclosures of the village of Pierremont.
The Prince of Orange endeavored to secure these posts, but Ney carried both Gemiancourt and Pierremont, and gained occupation of the southern part of the Wood of Bossu. Ranging his artillery on the high ground of Gemiancourt, he played upon the Allies a most destructive fire. Fresh troops of the Allies were brought forward, and the engagement became very hot. The Dutch and Belgian infantry finally gave way before Kellermann's cuirassiers and Pire's lancers, and the whole brunt of the battle fell on the British and German infantry. They sustained it nobly. Though repeatedly charged by the French cavalry, though exposed constantly to the murderous fire of the French batteries on the heights, they not only repelled their assailants, but Kempt's and Pack's brigades, led on by Picton, actually advanced against their foes, and with stern determination made good to the end of the day the ground which they had thus boldly won.
However, some of the British regiments suffered greatly, one—the Ninety-second—being almost wholly destroyed by the fierce cuirassiers.
The arrival of the English Guards about half-past six o'clock, enabled the Duke of Wellington to recover the Wood of Bossu. When night really set in the French had been driven back on all points toward Frasne, but they still held the farm of Gemiancourt in front of the Duke's center. A few hours later this was also taken with little loss to the English.
The Battle of Waterloo.
Meanwhile the sound of firing had been heard all the afternoon from the direction of Ligny, and it was rightly presumed that Blucher had been engaged by Napoleon's forces in that locality. Here Blucher had a superiority of more than twelve thousand men. After five hours and a half of desperate struggle, Napoleon succeeded in breaking the center of the Prussian line, and forcing his obstinate antagonists off the field. They retreated towards Wavre, where they could maintain their communication with Wellington's army. A messenger was sent to inform Wellington of the defeat, but was shot on the way, and it was not until the morning of the 17th that the Allies at Quatre Bras knew of the result of the fight at Ligny.
Fearing that Napoleon's main army would now be directed against him at Quatre Bras, Wellington evacuated and marched his men back towards Brussels, intending to halt at a point in line with Wavre and there restore his broken communication with Blucher. Near Mont St. Jean he paused.
Wellington was now about twelve miles from Wavre, where the Prussian army had been completely reorganized, and where it had been joined by Bulow's troops, which, through conflicting orders, had marched and counter-marched between Ligny and Quatre Bras during the engagements in those positions, and had taken no part at all in the actual fighting, strange as it may seem.
Blucher sent word that he was coming in the morning to help the English at Mont St. Jean, bringing his entire army, and that if Napoleon himself failed to attack by the 18th, they should open up on him on the morning of the 19th.
Much pleased at the prospect of this great addition to his force, the Duke of Wellington immediately set about strengthening his position for the battle which was to become world famous.
If you would see one of the most historic, most ideal, battle-grounds in the world's history, come with me for a few minutes till I show you the field of Waterloo, just as it looked on the memorable 18th day of June, 1815.
Standing here on this low hill, we look down into a beautiful green valley stretching, in varying widths of from one-quarter to one-half mile, for a distance of two or three miles. Along each side of this refreshing vale runs a winding chain of moderate hills, similar to the one from whose crest we gaze about us. The slopes of the hills, leading to the valley below, are of gentle angle, inviting a climb at almost any point. Here and there, scattered most haphazardly, rise up frequent undulations along the slopes, affording admirable natural shelters to infantry storming the valley or opposite heights. And each of these facing chains of hills now hide and protect such a body of soldiery as they had never before dreamed of, each body set upon destroying the other with the quickest and most effective dispatch.
The English army occupies the northern ridge; the French army, the southern ridge. A little behind the center of the northern chain of hills lies the village of Mont St. Jean; in a similar position back of the southern heights, nestles the village of La Belle Alliance. We wonder where the town of Waterloo touches the scenery. It does not. Although there is such a town at a neigh-boring distance from Mont St. Jean, it is far out of vision. Just why this famous battle-to-be should have been later tagged with the name "Waterloo" is not quite clear unless we attribute the reason to the fact that Waterloo was the nearest settlement of size, isolated battles often being titled on this basis.
The high road from Charleroi to Brussels runs through both Mont St. Jean and La Belle Alliance, thus bisecting the positions of each opposing army. This road, which is a broad, paved causeway, was the line of Napoleon's intended advance on Brussels, as stated previously.
In front of the British right—that is to say, on the northern slope of the valley towards its western end—there stands an old-fashioned Flemish farm-house called Goumont, with out-buildings and a garden, and with a copse of beech trees around it. This is strongly garrisoned by the Allied troops, and as long as it stands in their possession it will be difficult for the French to press on and force the British right wing. On the other hand, if the French should take it, the British troops quartered therein must probably evacuate the heights—a very serious situation.
Almost immediately in front of the British center, and not so far down the slope as Goumont, there stands still another farm-house, but of a smaller size, called La Haye Sainte, which is also held by the British troops.
With respect to the French position, the principal feature we notice is the village of Planchenoit. This lies a little in the rear of their right—or eastern side—and later proved of great importance in helping the French to check the advance of the Prussians.
The French and British armies lie on the open field, behind their respective heights, during the wet and stormy night of the 17th; and when the dawn of another morning comes there is no welcome sunshine, but a continued clouded sky and water-leaking heavens. The rival armies rise from their dreary bivouacs, and begin to form for that terrible struggle which now has gone too far in the way of preparation for prolonging a single hour, be it wet or be it dry.
The Duke of Wellington draws up his army in two lines, the principal one being stationed near the crest of the ridge of hills already described, and the other arranged along the slope in the rear of his position. The artillery is distributed at convenient intervals along the front of the whole line.
On the opposite heights the French are also drawn up in two general lines, with the entire force of the Imperial Guards, cavalry as well as infantry, in the rear of the center, as a reserve. English military critics have highly eulogized the admirable arrangement which Napoleon made of the various units of his forces, which made it possible for him to sustain any of them by a quick and efficient support should the enemy suddenly assail one or another.
When his troops are all arrayed Napoleon rides along the lines, receiving everywhere the most enthusiastic cheers from his men, of whose entire devotion to him his assurance is now doubly strong.
The Duke of Wellington has passed the night at his headquarters in the village of Waterloo. He has slept but little, and rising on the morning of the 18th, while it is still dark, he writes several letters. Among these is one to the Governor of Antwerp and the English Minister at Brussels, to whom he expresses his confidence in the outcome of the imminent struggle. After this he makes arrangements for the proper distribution of ammunition to his army, and the care of the wounded. Then mounting a favorite charger, he rides forward to the range of hills where his men are posted. With Baron Muffling and his staff he visits his lines, gives a few orders and returns to the high ground in the right center of his position. Halting here he sits watching the enemy on the opposite heights, and converses with his staff with that cheerful serenity which was ever Wellington's characteristic in the hour of battle.
And across that little green valley, also astride his mettlesome charger, sits the short, stern figure of Napoleon Bonaparte, fully as calm as his arch-enemy commander. All is hushed. Only the plaintive bleat of a stray sheep, browsing on the tender grasses among the undulations of the valley side, reaches a soldier ear. The brazen, grim bark of the cannon, which the day before had shattered the peace of the surroundings at desultory intervals, is now stilled, as if ashamed to disrupt the soothing quiet. All the world about this little green valley seems wrapped in a blanket of contentedness and brooding happiness. The hillsides and valley levels are decked with the rare beauty of hundreds of gently-waving red poppy heads, struggling for supremacy among the delicate emerald grasses.
But it is all a horrible deceit, a sham of mammoth proportions, a pretense that covers the most dreadful plans for a discordant tumult of heart-wrenching sounds, and a sickening vision of sights to make the beholder shudder. It is the awful calm before the coming of the awful storm. Soon the grasses themselves—aye, and the earth where barrenness prohibits their growth—will be running wet with a stain fully as crimson as the poppy heads—a nauseating stain that comes from human death, wrought by hate and violence.
Napoleon and Wellington both had often seen such pictures as this. Doubtless now, as they sit on their steeds, silently awaiting that which must come, they do so not without vague inward shudders and a feeling of guilt hard to shut out by argument of conscience. Well may we hope that many a soldier spirit sought aid from a higher and holier source that Sunday morning (the battle of Waterloo was fought on a Sunday) and asked forgiveness of the God of Battles for any life or lives that he might take before the setting of another sun, which must be over a landscape far changed!
The two great champions of the battle-field who now confront each other on opposite elevations are about equals in years; each had entered the military profession at the same early age. In this circumstance, it is quite remarkable that Napoleon, during his numerous campaigns in Spain as well as in other countries of Europe not only has never encountered the Duke of Wellington before the day of Waterloo, but that he has never until now been personally engaged with British troops, except at the siege of Toulon, in 1793, which was the very first incident of his military career. Yet both generals know full well the strong caliber of the other, for with them are many officers on their staffs who have personally fought against each chieftain and who are not 10th to describe his strong character and brilliant military attainments.
It is almost noon of the 18th before the action commences. This delay is due to the fact that the rains of the preceding day and night have rendered the ground too moist and miry for the use of cavalry or artillery, and a few hours' drying has seemed essential to both leaders.
At last, about half-past eleven o'clock, Napoleon began the eventful battle by directing a powerful force from his left wing, under his brother, Prince Jerome, to attack Goumont. Column after column of the French now descended from the west of the southern heights, and assailed that post with fiery valor. The onslaught, however, was met by the British with the most determined bravery. Before long the French took the wood surrounding the house, but Byng's brigade of Guards held the house throughout the day. Amid shot and shell, and the blazing fragments of part of the buildings, this obstinate contest was continued.
The cannonading, which commenced at first between the British right and the French left in consequence of the attack on Goumont, soon became general along both lines. About one o'clock Napoleon directed Marshal Ney to make a grand attack upon the center and left wing of the enemy. For this purpose Ney had with him four columns' of infantry, amounting to about eighteen thousand men, and seventy-four guns. He hoped to force the left center of the British position, to then take La Haye Sainte, and then the farm of Mont St. Jean, when he would be able to cut the mass of Wellington's troops off from their line of retreat upon Brussels, completely severing them from any Prussian troops that might be approaching.
Ney's command descended majestically from the French line of hills, and gained the ridge of the intervening eminence, on which were ranged the batteries that supported them. As the columns went down again from the last-named eminence, the seventy-four guns opened over their heads with terrible effect upon the troops of the Allies stationed on the heights to the left of the Charleroi road. One column kept to the east, and attacked the extreme left of the enemy; the other three continued to move rapidly forward upon the left center of the Allied position.
The front line of the Allies here was composed of Bylandt's brigade of Dutch and Belgians. As the French columns moved up the southward slope of the height on which the Dutch and Belgians stood, the skirmishers ahead began to open up their fire. At this Bylandt's entire brigade turned and fled in disgraceful and disorderly panic.
But there were soldiers more worthy of the name behind. In this part of the line of the Allies were posted Pack's and Kempt's brigades of English infantry, which had suffered severely at Quatre Bras. Picton was here as general-of-division. Not even the formidable veteran Ney himself surpassed in resolute bravery that stern and fiery spirit.
Picton brought forward his two brigades, side by side, in a thin, two-deep line. They were not quite three thousand strong, but with them Picton had to make head against the three victorious French columns, which were more than four times his strength, and which, encouraged by the easy rout of the Dutch and Belgians, now came confidently over the ridge of the hill.
The British infantry stood firm, and as the French halted and began to deploy into line, Picton seized the critical moment.
"A volley, and then charge!" he shouted in his stentorian voice to Kempt's brigade.
At a distance of less than thirty yards that volley was poured upon the first sections of the nearest French column. And then, with a fierce hurrah, the British dashed in with the bayonet.
Picton was shot dead as he rushed forward, but his men pushed on with the cold steel shoved just before them.
The French reeled back in consternation and confusion. Pack's infantry had checked the other two French columns, and now down came a whirl-wind of British horse on the whole mass of French, sending them staggering from the crest of the hill, and cutting them down by whole battalions. On went the horsemen amid the wrecks of the French columns, capturing two eagles and two thousand prisoners. Onward still they galloped, sabering the artillerymen of Ney's seventy-four gun battery; then, severing the traces, and cutting the throats of the artillery horses, they damaged the guns so that the French could use them no more that day.
While thus engaged at the cannon, they were suddenly charged by a large body of French lancers, who drove them back with severe losses, until Vandeleur's light cavalry came to their aid, and beat off the French lancers in turn.
Fully as unsuccessful had been the efforts of the French cavalry, who had moved forward in support of the advance of the infantry, along the east of the Charleroi road. Against the French horse had been sent Somerset's British cavalry of the Household Brigade. This brigade, led by the Earl of Uxbridge, spurred forward to the encounter as they saw the French cavalry coming over the ridge in front of them, near La Haye Sainte.
In an instant the two adverse lines of strong swordsmen, on their sturdy animals, dashed furiously together, each anxious for the combat. The sanguinary hand-to-hand fight that followed was extremely desperate. The air was filled with flashing steel, striking, clashing and dealing death on every side. Finally the French retreated, and after them, in hot pursuit, spurred the English Guards. Their impetuosity carried them a little too far; the fleeing Frenchmen were soon joined by comrades who dealt out a heavy retribution to the rash Englishmen, and the latter scurried back to their own lines.
Napoleon's grand effort to break the English center had thus completely failed, and while he had inflicted considerable loss in men upon his adversary, his own right wing had been seriously weakened by the death of many of his soldiers.
Napoleon had witnessed with bitter disappointment the rout of his troops—foot, horse and artillery. He now caused the batteries along the line of high ground held by him to be strengthened, and for some time an unremitting and most destructive cannonading raged across the valley.
About half-past three, Napoleon sent fresh troops to assail La Haye Sainte and Goumont. Squadron after squadron of French cuirassiers rode forward with dauntless courage against the British artillery in that part of the field. The artillerymen were driven from their guns, and the cuirassiers cheered loudly at their supposed triumph. But the Duke had formed his infantry in squares, and when the cuirassiers threw themselves upon the hedges of bristling bayonets, they found them impenetrable, the fire from the inner ranks of the squares telling with terrible effect upon them. Time after time they persisted in trying to break through, but it was useless. Nearly the whole of Napoleon's magnificent body of heavy cavalry was destroyed in these fruitless attempts upon the British right.
And now, to add to the French commander's troubles, a new menace loomed up. This came in the form of strong reinforcements for the English under Blucher and Bulow, who had come over the heights of St. Lambert and executed a skillful flanking movement upon the Emperor's right.
Knowing that he must not let the new arrivals take Planchenoit, for fear that his retreat to Brussels would be cut off, Napoleon dispatched his Young Guards to occupy that village. Three times did the Prussians fight their way into Planchenoit, and as often did the French drive them out. The contest was maintained with the fiercest desperation on both sides, such being the animosity that quarter was seldom asked or given.
Other Prussian troops were now appearing on the field nearer to the English left. These Napoleon kept in check by forces which he detached for that purpose. Thus a large part of the French army was now thrown back on a line at right angles with the line of that portion which still confronted and assailed the British position. Owing to the gross misconduct of the greater part of the Dutch and Belgian troops, the Duke was compelled to rely almost entirely on his English and German soldiers, and the ranks of these had been fearfully thinned. But the survivors stood their ground heroically, presenting a resolute front to the forward movements of the enemy.
On no point of the British line was the pressure more severe than on Halkett's brigade, in the right center. To show more lucidly the nature of this strenuous combat, I will quote from the journal of the late Major Macready, who served at Waterloo in the light company of the Thirtieth, one of the three battalions engaged under Halkett. The extent of the peril and carnage en-countered may be judged by the fact that this light company marched into the field with three officers and fifty-one men, and came out of it with but one officer (Major Macready) and ten men! During the earlier part of the day Macready and his men were thrown forward as skirmishers, but when the French cavalry commenced their attacks they were ordered to fall back. The brave soldier thus describes what he saw and felt:
"Before the commencement of this attack our company and the Seventy-third Grenadiers were skirmishing briskly in the low ground, covering our guns and annoying those of the enemy. The line of tirailleurs opposed to us was not stronger, but on a sudden they were reinforced by numerous French bodies, and several guns began playing on us with cannister.
"Our poor fellows dropped very fast, and Colonel Vigoureux, Rumley and Pratt, were carried off badly wounded in about two minutes. I was now commander of our company—so unexpectedly it almost shocked me. We stood under the hurricane of shot till Halkett sent an order for us to come in, and I brought away about a third of the light bobs; the rest were killed or wounded, and I really wonder how one of them escaped.
"As our bugler was killed I shouted and made signals for my men to move to the left, in order to avoid the fire of our own guns farther back. When I reached Lloyd's abandoned guns, I stood near them for a minute to contemplate the scene. It was grand beyond description. Goumont and its wood sent up a broad flame through the dark masses of smoke that overhung the field. Beneath this cloud the French were distinctly visible. Here a waving mass of long red feathers could be seen; there, gleams as from a sheet of burnished steel showed that the cuirassiers were moving. Four hundred cannon were belching forth fire and death on every side. The roaring and shouting were indescribably mixed; together they gave me the idea of a laboring volcano. Bodies of infantry and cavalry were pouring down on us. I saw it was high time to leave off such peaceful pursuits as contemplation; so I moved towards our columns, which were now standing up in square formation.
"As I entered the rear face of our square I had to step over a body. On looking down I recognized Harry Beere, an officer of our Grenadiers. Less than an hour before he had shook hands with me, laughing, as I left the columns. I had been on the usual terms of military intimacy with Harry—that is to say, if either of us had died a natural death, the other would have pitied him as a good fellow and smiled to think he had missed a worse fate—but seeing his herculean frame and once animated countenance thus suddenly stiff and motionless before me (I know not whence the feeling could have originated, for I had just seen my dearest friend drop, almost with indifference), the tears started in my eyes, and I sighed out, 'Poor Harry!'
"The tear was not dry on my cheek when poor Harry was no longer thought of. In a few minutes the enemy's cavalry galloped up and crowned the crest of our position. Our guns were abandoned, and they formed between the two brigades, about a hundred paces in our front.
"Their first charge was magnificent. As soon as they quickened their trot into a gallop, the cuirassiers bent their heads so that the peaks of their helmets looked like visors, and they seemed cased in armor from plume to saddle. Not a shot was fired till they were within thirty yards. Then the word was given, and our men fired away at them.
"The effect was magical. Through the smoke we could see helmets falling, cavaliers starting from their saddles with convulsive springs, horses plunging and rearing in the agonies of fright and pain, crowds of soldiery quickly dismounting, other crowds in wild retreat a-foot and a-horse.
. . . . "The main body reformed in our front, and gallantly repeated their attack, but we repulsed them. In fact, from four until six o'clock we endured a constant repetition of these brave but unavailing charges. The devotion of the Frenchmen was admirable. One officer, whom we had taken prisoner, was asked what force Napoleon might have in the field. He replied with a smile mingled with threat and derision, 'Vous verrez bientot sa force, messieurs.' A private cuirassier was wounded and dragged into the square. His only cry was, 'Tuez donc, tuez, tuez moi, soldats!' and as one of our men dropped dead close to him, he seized his bayonet and forced it into his own neck; but this not dispatching him, he raised up his cuirass, and plunging the steel into his stomach, kept working it about till he ceased to breathe.
"Though we constantly thrashed our steel-clad opponents, we found more troublesome customers in the round shot and grape which all this time played on us with terrible effect and fully avenged the cuirassiers. . . . A body of Belgian cavalry advanced to aid us, but on passing our square they stopped short. A few shots whizzed through them, and they turned about and galloped like fury. As they passed our square the men, irritated by their cowardly conduct, unanimously took hold of their pieces and fired a volley into them!
"About six o'clock I perceived some artillery trotting up our hill which I knew by their caps to belong to the French Imperial Guard. I had hardly mentioned this to a brother officer when two of their guns unlimbered within seventy paces of us, and at their first discharge of grape, blew seven of our men into the center of the square. They . . . continued to reload and fire. It was noble to see our fellows fill up the gaps after every discharge. I was much distressed, and ordered up three of my light bobs. Hardly had they taken their stations when two of them fell, horribly lacerated. One of them looked up in my face, and uttered a sort of reproachful groan, and I involuntarily exclaimed, 'I couldn't help it.' We would willingly have charged these guns, but had we deployed the cavalry that flanked them would have made an example of us.
"The glow which fires one upon entering into action had ceased. It was now to be seen which side had most bottom and would stand killing the longer. The Duke visited us frequently at this momentous period. He was coolness personified. . . . No leader ever possessed more fully the confidence of his soldiery. Wherever he appeared a murmur of 'Silence—stand to your front—here's the Duke,' was heard, and then all was steady as on a parade. . . ."
All accounts of the battle go to confirm this report of Major Macready's concerning the conduct of the Duke of Wellington. The great British leader was ever present at each spot where danger seemed the most threatening, inspiriting his men by his boldness, encouraging them by a few homely and good-humored words, and restraining their impatience to be led forward to attack. His personal danger was great throughout the day. Although he escaped without injury to himself or horse, only one of his numerous staff was equally fortunate.
Napoleon had stationed himself during the battle on a little hillock near La Belle Alliance, in the center of the French position. Here he was seated before a large table which had been taken from the neighboring farm-house before him. On the table maps and plans were spread, and with a telescope he surveyed the various distant parts of the field. His staff was grouped on horseback a few paces in the rear, while Soult watched his orders close at his left hand.
Here Napoleon remained till near the close of the day, preserving the appearance at least of calmness no matter how he may have felt at some of his reverses. But now that the crisis of the battle was evidently approaching, he mounted his white Persian charger, which it was his wont to ride in action because his troops could more easily recognize him by the horse's unusual color.
The Emperor's Old Guard had thus far taken no part in the engagement. Under cover of it he might easily have withdrawn his shattered forces and retired upon the French frontier, but this would only have given the English and Prussians the opportunity of completing their junction, besides which he knew that other enemy armies were fast coming up to aid them in their march upon Paris, and a retreat now would therefore only invite another fight later on where he would be no better situated to meet it than here.
Between seven and eight o'clock Napoleon had the Old Guard formed in two columns on the declivity near La Belle Alliance. Ney was placed at their head. Napoleon himself rode forward to a spot by which his veterans were to pass, and as they approached he raised his arm and pointed to the position of the Allies, as if to tell them that their path lay there. They answered with loud cries of "Vive l'Empereur!" and descended the hill from their own side into that "valley of the shadow of death," while the batteries thundered with redoubled vigor over their heads upon the British line.
Against the British right center, between Goumont and La Haye Sainte, the Old Guard hurled themselves impetuously, bent upon redeeming the day. The French tirailleurs, who were posted in groups in La Haye Sainte and the sheltered spots near it, picked off the artillerymen of the English batteries near them. Field-pieces were then brought up, and these belched a terrible rain of grape into the allied infantry at a distance of less than a hundred yards. Great holes were torn in the squares of the German infantry, but they gamely held on.
Meanwhile the Old Guard was coming to assail Maitland's brigade of British Guards. Maitland's men were lying down, to avoid as much as possible the destructive fire of the French artillery. At the same time the British guns were far from idle, and shot and shell ploughed fast through the ranks of the stately array of French veterans who still came imposingly on.
Several of the French superior officers were at its head. Ney's horse was shot from under him, but he still led the way on foot, sword in hand. r The British could not but admire the gallantry of the unflinching soldiers as they rapidly drew nearer, leaping over the bodies of their constantly falling comrades.
The front of the French column now was on the ridge of the hill. To their surprise they saw no troops before them. All they could discern through the haze of smoke was a small band of mounted officers. One of these was the Duke himself.
The French advanced a little farther, when suddenly one of the enemy officers was heard calling, as if to the ground before him:
"Up, men, and at them!"
It was the Duke who gave the order. At the words, as if by magic, from out of the long grass less than fifty yards in front of the Old Guards, arose an immense line of the British Guards. Four deep were they, in most compact and perfect order. Even as they straightened up, they poured a terrific volley into the front ranks of the oncoming French, and more than three hundred of these magnificent veterans went down like autumn leaves before a windstorm.
Their officers sprang forward and bravely tried to rally their men into fighting order. But the British sent in another destructive volley, and another, and another, finally charging with the bayonet, at which the remnant of Old Guards fled in great disorder.
During this time the second column of the French Guards had advanced by the eastern wall of Goumont, then diverged slightly to the right, approaching the British position very near to the spot where the first column of their brethren had being repulsed. Adam's British brigade formed a line parallel to their left flank, and aided by Maitland's Guards, attacked the French with such fury that all their bravery and resistance was futile, and they, too, broke and fled back to their surviving comrades.
The Duke of Wellington now instantly formed the resolution of becoming himself the assailant. As the close approach of the Prussians now completely protected the Duke's left, he drew some reserves of horse from that quarter and added them to a brigade of Huzzars under Vivian. Without hesitation he launched these against the French cavalry near La Belle Alliance.
The charge was as successful as it was daring. As the French horse retreated under the severe punishment, Wellington gave the long-wished-for command for a general advance of the army upon the foe along the whole line.
As the Allies joyously sprang forward against the discomfited masses of the French the setting sun broke through the clouds, which had obscured the sky during the greater part of the day. Its bright rays glittered on the bayonets of the charging soldiers until the whole area they covered was dazzlingly lighted. With wild cries and mad cheers they poured down the hillside and into the valley, then up towards the heights occupied by the French.
Foremost in the advance was the Duke himself. He rode in front of Adams' brigade, cheering it forward, and even galloped up to the foremost British skirmishers to give them a friendly word of encouragement. Around him whistled the bullets of both friend and foe. When one of the few survivors of his staff remonstrated with him, on one occasion, for thus exposing a life so valuable, he quickly retorted, "Never mind, never mind; let them fire away. The battle's won, and my life is of no consequence now!"
And, indeed, the battle did seem to be won. The French host was now in irreparable con-fusion. Some regiments of the Old Guard endeavored in vain to form in squares and stem the current. They were swept away and totally wrecked by the flying waves of Prussians. The daylight was now entirely gone. But the young moon had risen, and the light which it cast, aided by the awesome glare from scores of burning buildings in the line of the fleeing French, enabled Wellington, standing grimly on an elevation formerly occupied by his enemy, to understand that he had won the day.
Quite exhausted themselves from the long day's fight, the British allowed the Prussians alone to take up the pursuit of the vanquished. In merciless chase throughout that night they drove the French, giving them no chance to rally. Behind them the fugitives left a broad and heart-rending trail of wounded and dead. Crippled cannon, pieces of baggage—even small arms—lay scattered here and there along the moonlit way. As one survivor afterward wrote: "It was a hideous spectacle. The disorder and panic were indescribable. The mountain torrent that uproots and whirls along with it every infinitesimal obstacle, is a feeble image of that heap of fear-driven men, maddened horses, reeling equipage, gathering before the least object which dams up their way for a few seconds, only to scatter it like a straw as their numbers grow to sufficient strength. Woe to him whose footing failed him in that deluge of rushing humanity! He was crushed, trampled to death! It was every man for himself!"
The French were pursued by the relentless Prussians through Quatre Bras, and even over the heights of Frasne. Finally they regained the left bank of the Sambre, which they had crossed in such pomp and splendor not a hundred hours before.
During the first few minutes of the rout, Napoleon did everything with his generals to reform his panic-stricken men. He succeeded in getting a portion of his Old Guard into a square. With him were Marshal Soult and Generals Bertrand, Drouot, Corbineau, De Flahaut and Gourgaud. The Emperor spoke of dying on the field. But Soult seized his bridle and turned his charger around, exclaiming, "Sire, are not the enemy already lucky enough?"
At this Napoleon consented to join the fugitives. Only by the utmost exertion of his devoted officers did he succeed in getting through their disorderly ranks alive. He first halted at Charleroi, but the approach of the pursuing Prussians, who slew those they overtook, drove him onward before he had had an hour's rest. With difficulty he cleared the wrecks of his own army and made his way to Philippeville. Here he remained a few hours, and sent orders to the French generals in the various extremities of France to converge with their troops upon Paris. He also sent word to Soult to collect the fugitives of his own force, and lead them to Laon. He then hurried on to Paris, where he arrived ahead of the news of his defeat.
But the stern truth soon came out. At the demand of the Chamber of Peers and Representatives, he abandoned the throne by a second and final abdication on June 22nd. And on the 29th he left Paris and proceeded to Rochefort in the hope of escaping to America. But the coast was closely watched, and on the 15th of July the ex-Emperor surrendered himself on board the English man-of-war Bellerophon.
Meanwhile the Allied armies had advanced steadily upon Paris, driving before them Grouchy's corps and the scanty force which Soult had managed to rally at Laon. Cambray, Peronne, and other fortresses, were speedily taken, and by the 29th of June the invaders were before Paris. Another battle was prevented by the Provisional Government of France signing articles of capitulation on the third day of July.
No returns were ever made by the French of their loss in the battle of Waterloo, but, compared with the British reports, it must have been immense. Of the army that fought under the Duke of Wellington nearly fifteen thousand were killed or wounded. In addition, seven thousand Prussians also fell.
At such a fearful price was the deliverance of Europe purchased in the war that began and ended in a single battle. By none, perhaps, was the severity of the British loss more keenly felt than by the Duke of Wellington himself. In a letter written almost immediately after his return from the field, he thus expresses himself:
"My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in the death of many of my old friends and companions, and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won. The bravery of my troops has saved me from the greater evil; but to win such a battle as this of Waterloo, at the expense of so many gallant friends, could only be termed a heavy misfortune except for the result to the public."