The Battle of Waterloo

You're reading The Battle of Waterloo, posted on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 at 12:36 am in Wars, on BrainBloggers at the History Lessons blog. More after the jump.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo, Belgium. The forces of the French Empire led by Emperor Napoleon I and Michel Ney were vanquished by the Seventh Coalition including an Anglo-Allied army led by the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian led by Gebhard von Blücher. It is considered the defining battle of the Waterloo Campaign and was the last battle led by Napoleon. This crushing defeat meant an end to Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French, and in additionrepresented the conclusion of his Hundred Days of return from exile.

Once Napoleon returned to power in 1815, several states that were against his reign formed the Seventh Coalition and started mobilizing armies. Two great forces under Wellington and von Blücher assembled near the northeastern border of France. Napoleon opted to attack hoping to vanquish them before they could execute a fully coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. The historical conflict of this three-day Waterloo Campaign lasted from the 16 June – 19 June 1815. Wellington said the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Napoleon delayed going to battle until noon on 18 June deciding to give the ground some time to dry. Wellington’s army was positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment and did not falter after repeated attacks by the French. By evening, the Prussians joined the battle and broke through Napoleon’s right flank. At that instance, Wellington’s Anglo-allied army counter-attacked and subdued the French fighters who were thrown into chaos. The Coalition forces were then able to enter France and restore Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon was left with no choice and surrendered to the British following which he was exiled to Saint Helena where he would stay until his death in 1821.

General Baron Jomini, one of the well known military writers on the Napoleonic art of war had a number of very feasible explanations for Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.

In my opinion, four principal causes led to this disaster:

The first, and most influential, was the arrival, skilfully combined, of Blücher, and the false movement that favoured this arrival; the second, was the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sang-froid and aplomb of its chiefs; the third, was the horrible weather, that had softened the ground, and rendered the offensive movements so toilsome, and retarded till one o’clock the attack that should have been made in the morning; the fourth, was the inconceivable formation of the first corps, in masses very much too deep for the first grand attack.

Some areas of the terrain on the battlefield have since then been modified from their 1815 appearance. Tourism started the day following the battle. Captain Mercer stated that on 19 June “a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field”.

The battlefield existsin present-day Belgium, an estimated eight miles (12 km) SSE of Brussels, and about a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is in presently home to a large monument: the Lion Mound.