Book title
 • Mobile Compatible • 

From: Carl von Clausewitz and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. On Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow., 2010. ISBN-10: 1453701508. ISBN-13: 9781453701508. 318pp. List price: $18.00.


by the Duke of Wellington

Readers of this internet version may find it useful to reference the maps included in our "Internet Extras" section.

24th Sept. 1842[1]


In discussing the Battle of Waterloo, and the military movements previous thereto, it is necessary to advert to the state of Europe at the moment, and the military position of the Allies on the one hand, and of Buonaparte and France on the other.

The Powers of Europe had, in 1814, made peace with France, governed by Louis XVIII. A Congress was assembled at Vienna, composed of ministers from the principal Powers engaged in the previous war, and from His Most Christian Majesty, to regulate and settle various points left unsettled by the treaties of peace, not only as between France and the Powers engaged in the war, but questions affecting the relative interests of all, arising out of the long and extensive warfare, the consequence of the French Revolution.

Buonaparte having abdicated his power, and having retired to the island of Elba under the sanction of a treaty, returned to France early in March, 1815, with a detachment of his Guard which had attended him to the island of Elba, arrived at Paris on the 20th of March, and overturned the government of King Louis XVIII., who fled to Lille, and subsequently to Ghent, in the Netherlands; when Buonaparte usurped the government of France.

Whatever we may think of the settlement of the government of France, of the state of possession of the different parts of Europe and of the world, as fixed by the treaties of peace, and by the subsequent diplomatic transactions at Vienna, at that moment completed, they constituted at the time the public law of Europe, and the state of possession of the several Powers, under authority thereof. This must never be lost sight of in the consideration of this subject.

From the moment at which Buonaparte drove Louis XVIII from Paris and usurped his throne, it was obvious that the war would be renewed; and the first thing that was done by the ministers of the Allies at Vienna, upon learning the invasion of France by Buonaparte, his march upon Paris, and his usurpation of the Government, was to renew, and to render applicable to the circumstances of the moment, their former treaty of alliance, concluded at Chaumont in the month of March, 1814.

Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington being the plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty at the Congress at Vienna at that period, having concluded and signed the treaty of alliance on the 25th of March, and all the arrangements connected with that instrument, and having been appointed to command the Allied army assembled in the Netherlands, set out from Vienna and reached Bruxelles in the first days of April.

The treaty of peace of 1814 had rendered necessary the occupation of the provinces, commonly called the Belgian provinces, by an army composed of British, Hanoverian, and Dutch troops, under the command of His Royal Highness the Hereditary Prince of Orange; the German provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, extending from the province of Loraine to the Junction of the Rhine with the Meuse, by Prussian troops; the Italian provinces, forming what had been called the Kingdom of Italy, by the Austrian army (indeed this Austrian army was at about this time engaged in the active operations of war with Murat, King of Naples); the provinces in Poland, forming the kingdom of Saxon Poland, by the Russian army.

Thus then the armies of the Allies were distributed over Europe, while the greater part of that of England had been detached to North America; and notwithstanding that the treaty of peace had been concluded at Ghent, on the 24th of December, 1814, between His Britannic Majesty and the United States, sufficient time had not elapsed to enable His Britannic Majesty's ministers to bring back the troops to Europe.

On the other hand, Buonaparte found an army in France completely organized, consisting of not less than 250,000 men, with cannon, and all that was required to render them efficient for the field. There were besides many old soldiers available for the service, who had been prisoners of war in England, in Russia, and elsewhere, besides the men discharged from the corps of the Imperial Guard.

It is obvious that the first measures of the Generals commanding the armies of the Allies must have been defensive. Those in the Belgian provinces, and those on the left bank of the Rhine, must have been strictly and cautiously formed upon these principles. Their forces were weak in comparison with the French force opposed to, or which might be brought against them. The latter enjoyed other advantages in the nature and strength of their frontier.

These Allied troops were at the outpost. They were destined to protect the march of the other armies of the Allies to the countries which were intended to be the basis of the operations to be carried on against the enemy, for which the treaty of the 25th March had made provision.

The army in the Belgian provinces, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, from the first days of April, had particular interests to attend to, as each of the other armies had, each in the districts under its charge, besides the general operations of the war. That army, composed of British, Dutch, and Hanoverian troops, had to preserve the communications with England, Holland, and Germany. It was connected with the Prussian army by its left, the communication of which with Germany was absolutely necessary.

The Prince Sovereign, afterwards King of the Netherlands, to whose government the Belgian provinces had been ceded by the Congress of Vienna, had fixed its seat at Bruxelles; and the King Louis XVIII., having found himself under the necessity of withdrawing from France altogether, had determined to reside at Ghent.

Buonaparte had great advantages, whether for an offensive operation on the positions of the Allies, or for the defence of his own, in the number, the position, and the strength of the fortresses on the north-east frontier of France. He might fix and organize his armies within these, out of sight, and almost without the knowledge, of the Allied Generals, even to the last moment previous to an attack; and it was impossible for the Allies to attempt to carry on an offensive operation against the French position which should not include the means of carrying on one or more sieges, possibly at the same moment.

The inconveniences, difficulties, and disadvantages of this defensive system were aggravated by the uncertainty of the length of time which it might last: that is to say, till the Austrian armies, having terminated their operations in Italy against Murat, should have reached the Upper Rhine, and there formed a junction with the armies of Bavaria and Wurtemberg, and the Russian armies should have retrograded from Poland, should have crossed Germany, and have formed upon the Rhine, the Maine, and the Moselle.

It is complained of by the Prussian historian Clausewitz that he had never been able to obtain the sight of a return of the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington made up in the form of what is called "a line of battle." This at best is the complaint of a want of a return made up in a particular form; and it would not have been noticed here if it were not desirable to draw the attention of the reader to the general temper and tone of this History.

The reputation of its army, and above all of the Generals commanding the same, is an object of the greatest importance to any nation; and we find the historians of all nations, not excepting, as we see, those of the British, too ready to criticize the acts and operations not only of their own Generals and armies, but likewise of those of the best friends and allies of their nation, and even of those acting in co-operation with its armies. This observation must be borne in mind throughout the perusal of Clausewitz's History.

In respect to the return mentioned, it is forgotten by General Clausewitz that the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington was not, like that under the command of Marshal Prince Blücher, composed of the troops of all arms, and establishments of and belonging to one nation, but they belonged to several, the infantry, cavalry, and artillery in some cases belonging each to different nations; that the several corps of troops composing the Allied army in question were not of uniform strength of numbers, whether considered by nations, by battalions, by brigades, or by divisions; that the discipline and military qualities of the several corps of troops, and, above all, their efficiency and military experience in the field, were very various. The greatest part of some of the corps composing the army was composed of men lately recruited. The whole of the Hanoverian army was a militia, excepting some battalions of the Hanoverian Legion, which properly belonged to the British army, and had served under the command of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington in Spain.

It was necessary to organize these troops in brigades, divisions, and corps d'armée with those better disciplined and more accustomed to war, in order to derive from their numbers as much advantage as possible. But these arrangements in allied armies, formed as this one was, are not matters of course. The same national feeling respecting its armies, even in the least powerful nation, which has been already adverted to as having an influence over the critical morality of the historian, is not without its influence in the formation of such arrangements of organization. No troops can be employed in an allied army excepting each corps and detachment is under the immediate command of its own national officer.

The organization and formation of corps to serve together, and under the command and superior direction of what officer, become therefore, and became in this case, a matter which required great attention and labour, and of great difficulty. To these considerations was to be added, that some of the troops were fit only for garrison duties; while, on the other hand, the importance of the fortresses was so urgent as to require for their garrisons a proportion at least of the very best troops.

This statement will serve to show that the formation of a return of the army under the command of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, as "a line of battle," was not very easy.

The two Allied armies, the one in the Netherlands, the other in the provinces on the left bank of the Rhine, were, as has been already shown, necessarily on the defensive. They were waiting for the junction of other large armies to attain by their co-operation a common object. But their defensive position and immediate objects did not necessarily preclude all idea or plan of attack upon the enemy. The enemy might have so placed his army as to render the attack thereof advisable, or even necessary.

In that case the Allied Generals ought, and in all probability would, have taken the initiative. But in the case existing in 1815 the enemy did not take such a position as is thus supposed. On the contrary, he took a position in which his numbers could be concealed, his movements protected, and his designs supported by his formidable fortresses on the frontier, up to the last moment.

The Allies could not attack this position without being prepared to attack a superior army so posted: they could not therefore have the initiative of the operations in the way of attack.

They had the option of taking the initiative in the way of defensive movement. But such defensive movement, or alteration of the well-considered original position taken up by each of the Allied armies, must have been founded on a conviction that such positions were faulty, and might be improved, or upon an hypothesis of the intended movements of attack by the enemy. There was no reason to believe that the first was the case; and it must never be lost sight of, that to found upon an hypothesis which might, and probably would, prove erroneous, considering what the advantages were of the position of the enemy on the frontier, the alteration of the position of the Allied armies might have occasioned what is commonly called a false movement; and it must be observed, that whatever may be thought of Buonaparte as a leader of troops in other respects, there certainly never existed a man in that situation, in any times, in whose presence it was so little safe to make what is called a false movement.

The initiative then rested with the enemy; and the course to be pursued by the Allied Generals respectively was to be prepared to move in all directions, to wait till it should be seen in what direction the attack should be made, and then to assemble the armies as quickly as possible to resist the attack, or to attack the enemy with the largest force that could be collected.

There is a good deal of discussion in the History of General Clausewitz upon the expediency of the maintenance of the defensive position taken up by the Allied armies, particularly by that under the command of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington; and that even for the attainment of the objects in view for the position of the last mentioned, it would have been best to occupy a position in the country having for its sole object the early junction of the two Allied armies, with a view to fight a great battle with the enemy under the command of Buonaparte.

It is not difficult to criticize the particular positions occupied by any army, which positions were never, as in this case, the object of actual attack. It is not so easy a task, first to define precisely a particular object for the operations of a defensive nature for any army, taking into consideration not only political objects and views, but likewise those of a merely technical and military nature: such as, in this case, the preservation of the communications of the army with England, with Holland, and with Germany; and next to define the positions to be occupied by two armies in order to carry on such operations.

Bruxelles, Ghent, the communications with Holland and Germany, according to the view of the historian, ought to have been given up, and the armies united, or prepared to unite, in order to fight a general battle with the enemy, as the best mode of securing all the objects of their respective defensive positions. But it is not stated, or even hinted, where each was to be posted, where they were to unite, nor where was to be the great battle on which the contest was to be decided. It is obvious that the historian could not indicate such positions: he was too wise to make the attempt.

He could not but be aware that when the Allies should have abandoned their defensive positions in the Netherlands, and should have left in the power of the enemy to occupy, with his hussars and light troops, Bruxelles and Ghent, the communications with England and Holland through Antwerp, and with England through the towns on the Lys and Ostend, they would not have been nearer the attainment of the object of fighting a general battle than while in the positions having for their objects to maintain and secure these advantages.

The initiative for such general battle must still have been in the hands of Buonaparte. He might have avoided it by merely remaining with his main body within the French frontier; while with his hussars and light troops he would have possessed Bruxelles and Ghent and the communications with England and Holland, and with Germany through Holland.

The historian shows in more than one passage of his History that he is not insensible of the military and political value of good moral impressions resulting from military operations. He is sensible of the advantage derived by the enemy from such impres­sions.[2] He is aware of the object of Buonaparte to create throughout Europe, and even in England, a moral impression against the war, and to shake the power of the then existing administra­tion in England. He is sensible of and can contemplate the effect of the moral impression upon the other armies of Europe, and upon the governments in whose service they were, resulting from the defeat or even want of success of the Allied armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blücher. But he is not sensible of, and cannot calculate upon, or even consider the effect of, the moral impression resulting from the loss of Bruxelles and Ghent, the flight of the King of the Netherlands, and of the King Louis XVIII., the creatures of the treaties of peace, and of the acts of the Congress of Vienna; and this with the loss of the communications of the army under the Duke of Wellington with England, Holland, and Germany, without making the smallest effort to save any of these objects.

If this historian had, however, inquired, in England or elsewhere, he would have found that the feeling upon such events would have been as strong as he admits it would have been in case of the want of success of the operations of the Allied armies whose operations are under discussion. In England in particular these supposed events would have been severely felt. But let us consider whether the abandonment of all the objects which the Allies had in view in maintaining any position in the Netherlands would have enabled the Generals of the Allied armies the better to fight a great battle with the enemy.

The enemy would have had the option whether to fight the battle or not, and the initiative of the movements preparatory to it, after having had all the advantages placed in his hands, and the Allied Generals having thus given up those objects the possession[3] of which alone, in a political or even a military point of view, could justify their fighting a battle at all, at least till they should be in a state of co-operation with the other armies of Europe.

The enemy having the initiative would have moved across the communications of the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. In the possession of the great towns, of all the roads, and of the resources of the Belgian provinces, he would have had to decide whether he would, or not, force the two Allied armies to retire from the Meuse. But in the hypothesis that the enemy would fight a battle for such an object, why should the Allies? The Duke of Wellington would have lost all for which as the commander of an army he ought to desire to contend; and neither his position, nor that of the army under Prince Blücher, could have been improved by a great battle, even under the hypothesis that the result would have been a great victory.

Such a one would not have restored to the Duke of Wellington the advantages which he enjoyed in the state of preparation of the army under his command for the advance into France, in co-operation with the other Allied armies when they should have taken their stations, and should have been prepared to advance.

The restoration of the communications with England, Holland, and Germany, which would have been the result of such successful battle, would not have immediately restored and replaced his magazines not located in fortresses, and which would have fallen into the enemy's hands by the supposed change of position with a view to fight this great battle. After all, the initiative of this battle must have rested with the enemy; and there could be no military reason for fighting it, or political reason, excepting the moral impression throughout the world of its successful result.

It is useless to speculate upon supposed military movements which were never made, and operations which never took place, or the objects of the several chiefs of Generals opposed to each other.

But although it was not desirable that the Duke of Wellington should break up his defensive positions in the Belgian provinces with a view to take one with the army under his command having solely in view the object of fighting a great battle in cooperation or in conjunction with the Prussian army, it was still desirable that he should occupy this defensive position in such manner, and take such precautionary measures, as would enable him to assemble at the latest period of time the largest disposable force at his disposition, after providing for the defence and security of his military communications with England, Holland, and Germany, and of the objects entrusted to his care and protection under the treaty of peace and acts of the Congress, and by the Allied ministers in conference at Vienna. He accordingly from the moment at which he arrived in the Netherlands in the beginning of April turned his attention to the strengthening the posts on the frontier; and works were constructed at Ostend, Nieuport, Ypres, Menin, Courtray, Oudenarde, Tournay, Ath, Mons, Charleroi, and Namur. It is true there were field works, generally on the site of the ancient works by which these towns were defended; the defence of which was aided by the ancient ditches and means of inundation. His orders at that time to the Quartermaster-General and the General officers show what his instructions were in the various hypothetical cases therein stated.

There are several great roads leading from the northern department of France, and the great fortresses therein situated, by each of which these provinces might have been invaded, and which it was necessary at least to observe:

One from Lille:[4] upon Menin, Courtray, and Ghent.

One from Lille: upon Tournay and Ghent, or upon Ath and Bruxelles.

One from Condé: upon Tournay, Ath, Enghien, and Bruxelles.

One from Condé and Valenciennes: upon Mons and Bruxelles.

Each of these was a great paved road, upon which there was no obstacle of a defensive nature, excepting the field works of which it appears the Duke of Wellington ordered the construction.

The historian Clausewitz has detailed the positions of the Prussian army, the distances of each part from the other, and the length of time which would elapse for the completion of the assembly of the whole. It cannot be stated that the Allied army under the Duke of Wellington could have been assembled in any equally short period of time; but if it is considered that the objects for the protection of the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington were extended over a tract of country of greater length than were those protected by the Allied army under the command of Prince Blücher, it will be found that this part of the country, continuous in its whole extent to the French frontier, and traversed in all parts by excellent paved roads leading from some one or other of the French fortresses, required for its protection a system of occupation quite different from that adopted by the Prussian army under Prince Blücher.

But what follows will show that not withstanding the extension of the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, such was the celerity of communication with all parts of it, that in point of fact his orders reached all parts of the army in six hours after he had issued them; and that he was in line in person with a sufficient force to resist and keep in check the enemy's corps which first attacked the Prussian corps under General Zieten at daylight on the 15th of June; having received the intelligence of that attack only at three o'clock in the afternoon of the 15th, he was at Quatre Bras before the same hour on the morning of the 16th, with a sufficient force to engage the left of the French army.

It was certainly true that he had known for some days of the augmentation of the enemy's force on the frontier, and even of the arrival of Buonaparte at the army; but he did not deem it expedient to make any movement, excepting for the assembly of the troops at their several alarm posts, till he should hear of the decided movement of the enemy.

The first account received by the Duke of Wellington was from the Prince of Orange, who had come in from the out-posts of the army of the Netherlands to dine with the Duke at three o'clock in the afternoon. He reported that the enemy had attacked the Prussians at Thuin; that they had taken possession of, but had afterwards abandoned, Binch; that they had not yet touched the positions of the army of the Netherlands. While the Prince was with the Duke, the staff officer employed by Prince Blücher at the Duke's head quarters, General Müffling, came to the Duke to inform him that he had just received intelligence of the movement of the French army and their attack upon the Prussian troops at Thuin.

It appears by the statement of the historian that the posts of the Prussian corps of General Zieten were attacked at Thuin at four o'clock on the morning of the 15th; and that General Zieten himself, with a part of his corps, retreated and was at Charleroi at about ten o'clock on that day; yet the report thereof was not received at Bruxelles till three o'clock in the afternoon. The Prussian cavalry of the corps of Zieten was at Gosselies and Fleurus on the evening and night of the 15th.

Orders were forthwith sent for the march of the whole army to its left.

The whole moved on that evening and in the night, each division and portion separately, but unmolested; the whole protected on the march by the defensive works constructed at the different points referred to, and by their garrisons.

The reserve, which had been encamped in the neighborhood, and cantoned in the town and in the neighborhood, of Bruxelles, were ordered to assemble in and in the neighborhood of the park at Bruxelles, which they did on that evening; and they marched in the morning of the 16th upon Quatre Bras, towards which post the march of all the troops consisting of the left and centre of the army, and of the cavalry in particular, was directed.

The Duke went in person at daylight in the morning of the 16th to Quatre Bras, where he found some Netherland troops, cavalry, infantry, and artillery, which had been engaged with the enemy, but lightly; and he went on from thence to the Prussian army,[5] which was in sight, formed on the heights behind Ligny and St. Amand. He there communicated personally with Marshall Prince Blücher and the head quarters of the Prussian army.

In the mean time the reserve of the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington arrived at Quatre Bras. The historian asserts that the Duke of Wellington had ordered these troops to halt at the point at which they quitted the Forêt de Soignies. He can have no proof of this fact, of which there is no evidence; and in point of fact the two armies were united about mid-day of the 16th of June, on the left of the position of the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. These troops, forming the reserve, and having arrived from Bruxelles, were not joined by those of the 1st division of infantry, and the cavalry:[6] and notwithstanding the criticism of the Prussian historian on the positions occupied by the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and on the march of the troops to join with the Prussian army, it is a fact, appearing upon the face of the History, that the Allied British and Netherland army was in line at Quatre Bras, not only twenty-four hours sooner than one whole corps of the Prussian army under General Bülow the absence of which is attributed by the historian to an accidental mistake, but likewise before the whole of the corps under General Zieten which had been the first attacked on the 15th, had taken its position in the line of the army assembled on the heights behind Ligny, and having their left at Sombref.

It was perfectly true that the Duke of Wellington did not at first give credit to the reports of the intention of the enemy to attack by the valleys of the Sambre and the Meuse.

The enemy had destroyed the roads leading through those valleys, and he considered that Buonaparte might have made his attack upon the Allied armies in the Netherlands and in the provinces on the left of the Rhine by other lines with more advantage. But it is obvious that, when the attack was made, he was not unprepared to assist in resisting it; and, in point of fact, did, on the afternoon and in the evening of the 16th June, repulse the attack of Marshal Ney upon his position at Quatre Bras, which had been commenced by the aid of another corps d'armée under General Reille. These were the troops which had attacked on the 15th, at daylight, the Prussian corps under General Zieten, which corps the Allied troops, under the Duke of Wellington, relieved in resistance to the enemy.

The Prussian army, after a contest of some hours' duration upon the heights behind Ligny, having been under the necessity of retiring, that part of the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington which was engaged at Quatre Bras maintained its ground at Quatre Bras, and even gained ground upon the enemy.

The fields of battle were in sight of each other, and a report was received. But although the exact result of the battle was not known, it was judged that it had not been successful to the Prussian army. Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington was informed of some of the details at night; but still he considered that, his own positions being untouched, and the continued march of the troops under his command giving him an increase of strength at every moment, he felt the utmost confidence in the final result of the operations in progress.

The Prussian army retreated towards Wavre.

It must be observed in the historian's account of these battles that the corps of Reille,[7] at the commencement of the battle of Quatre Bras, joined with the corps of Ney. In point of fact, it was seen in the field. That corps was, during the battle, ordered, and did march, to its right, towards the main body of the French army. It was then halted, and countermarched towards its original destination. The reasons for these eccentric movements are not known. Certain it is that the corps of Reille did not fire a shot after the commencement of the battle of Quatre Bras. That which it is reasonable to suppose is that Marshal Ney had required that the corps of Reille should be sent back to him upon finding that he could make no impression upon the position of the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras, whose army was at every moment receiving reinforcements of cavalry, infantry, and artillery from Nivelles and other places on its right.

Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington's aide-de-camp Colonel the Hon. Alexander Gordon, with two squadrons of hussars, shortly after daylight on the morning of the 17th, drove in the enemy's videttes upon the ground of the Prussian contest on the afternoon of the 16th June. These retired into the villages of Ligny and St. Amand, &c., on the stream.

Colonel Gordon communicated with General Zieten at Sombref, and ascertained exactly the line of retreat of the army under Marshal Prince Blücher upon Wavre. As soon as the exact position of the Prussian army was ascertained, and the intentions of its General were known to the Duke of Wellington, he broke up from the position of Quatre Bras shortly before midday, in presence of the whole army of the enemy, without interruption or molestation, and ordered the march of the infantry of the army under his command to the ground in front of Waterloo, with the exception of the light troops at the outposts, with which and the cavalry the Duke remained on the ground at Quatre Bras.

The Duke saw throughout the day of the 17th the movements of the Prussian army upon the field of battle of the preceding day. No pursuit was made of the Prussian army or movement of any kind made by the French army till a late hour on the afternoon of the 17th; and indeed the account given by Marshall Grouchy, in a pamphlet in his own defence, published in the United States, shows that the account given in the History is, as nearly as possible, an accurate representation of what passed on the 17th according to the reports in the Allied army under the Duke of Wellington. Would it not have been a fair conclusion for the historian to draw, that the position occupied by the Allied army under the Duke of Wellington at Quatre Bras, and the successful resistance of that army in the battle of the preceding day, might have had some effect in producing the unusual tranquility of the French army throughout the day of the 17th, the morrow of a successful attack upon the position of any enemy's army which had retired?

The enemy did not move till between 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon, at which hour large masses of troops appeared on the Prussian field of battle. One body marched in the direction of Namur, another in the direction of Wavre, which last is supposed to have been the corps under the command of Marshall Grouchy. The largest body and the great mass of the cavalry moved down the high road leading from Sombref to Quatre Bras, towards the left of the British troops of the army of the Duke of Wellington, which still remained on that ground. These were put in motion as soon as their outposts were touched by those of the enemy, and joined the main body of the army posted in front of Waterloo. Here were all the troops composing the army under the Duke of Wellington, excepting a small corps de reserve still remaining at Hal, on the high road from Bruxelles to Mons. All the remainder, whether engaged at Quatre Bras on the 16th, or who had joined on the evening of the 16th, or who had been turned off from Nivelles to Waterloo, and the troops falling back from the position at Quatre Bras, were on the position at Waterloo on the 17th, in the evening.

The whole of the Prussian army was, at the same time, in the position at Wavre.

The two Allied armies communicated with each other throughout the night of the 17th June, and the cavalry of General Bülow's Prussian corps of Marshal Prince Blücher's army was on the ground, in front of Ohain, through the defile between the positions of the two armies, at daylight on the morning of the 18th.

Thus, then, it appears, by the report of this historian, that, after the affairs at Ligny and Quatre Bras, the two Allied armies were collected, each on its own ground, in presence of the enemy, having a short and not difficult communication between them; each of them in presence of the enemy, and between the enemy and Bruxelles; all their communications with England, Holland, and Germany, and all the important political interests committed to their charge, being secure.

It has been stated and believed that the cavalry of Bülow's corps was seen on the heights in front of Ohain, between the Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the defile leading to Wavre, at an early hour on the morning of the 18th.

It is a curious fact in elucidation of the movements of the Allied army under Marshal Prince Blücher, that Marshal Grouchy has published in his Defence, printed in the United States of America, a letter from Marshal Soult, addressed to him, dated the 18th June, at 1 o'clock P.M., in which Marshal Soult states "Nous apercevons la cavalerie Prussienne," which was the very cavalry seen by the Duke of Wellington, as stated, shortly after daylight in the morning of that day.

It is a curious circumstance that this cavalry should not have been observed in the French army at an earlier hour than one o'clock in the afternoon. It must be concluded that at that hour no knowledge existed in the French head-quarters that other troops had passed the defile, or had been engaged on the left of the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington.

The first heard of the operations of Marshal Prince Blücher's army was a report, brought from the right of the army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, at about 6 o'clock in the evening, that at that moment the smoke of the fire of artillery could be perceived at a great distance beyond the right of the enemy's army, which firing was supposed at the time to be at Planchenoit.

The report of the battle made at the time by the Duke of Wellington to the British and the Allied governments of Europe has long been before the public. In that report he does full justice to the exertions made by his colleague the Prussian Commander-in-Chief and by the General officers and troops to aid and support him, and to the effectual aid which they gave him. He states no detail, excepting that the battle was terminated by an attack which he does not report that any Prussian troops joined, because, in fact, none were on that part of the field of battle. He states, however, that the enemy's troops retired from the last attack upon his position "in great confusion, and that the march of General Bülow's corps by Frischermont upon Planchenoit and La Belle Alliance had begun to take effect; and as he could perceive the fire of his cannon, and as Marshal Prince Blücher had joined in person with a corps of his army to the left of our line by Ohain, he determined upon the attack, which succeeded in every point." He added that he "continued the pursuit until long after dark, and then discontinued it only on account of the fatigue of the troops, who had been engaged during twelve hours, and because he found himself on the same road with Marshal Blücher who assured him of his intention to follow the enemy throughout the night." He then adds, "I should not do justice to my own feelings, or to Marshal Blücher and the Prussian army, if I did not attribute the successful result of this arduous day to the cordial and timely assistance I received from them. The operation of General Bülow upon the enemy's flank was a most decisive one; and even if I had not found myself in a situation to make the attack which produced the final result, it would have forced the enemy to retire if his attacks should have failed, and would have prevented him from taking advantage of them if they should unfortunately have succeeded."

When the two Field Marshals met on the same road, it is well known that they embraced in the presence of their troops, and were cordial friends up to the day of the death of Prince Blücher. Surely the details of the battle might have been left in the original official reports.

Historians and commentators were not necessary.

The battle, possibly the most important single military event in modern times, was attended by advantages sufficient for the glory of many such armies as the two great Allied armies engaged.

The enemy never rallied; Buonaparte lost his empire for ever; not a shot was fired afterwards; and the peace of Europe and of the world was settled on the basis on which it rests at this moment.

It is impossible to close this paper without observing that Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington's letters, published by Colonel Gurwood, afford proofs that he was convinced that the enemy ought to have attacked by other lines rather than by the valleys of the Sambre and the Meuse; and that even up to the last moment previous to the attack of his position at Waterloo, he conceived that they would endeavour to turn it by a march upon Hal. He states this in letters to the Duc de Feltre on the 15th, and to the Duc de Berri and King Louis XVIII, dates at 3 ½ A.M. 18th June; and there are orders to his patrols of cavalry, on the nights of the 16th and 17th June, to observe particularly the enemy's movements towards Nivelles.

It might be a nice question for military discussion whether Buonaparte was right in endeavoring to force the position at Waterloo, or the Duke of Wellington right in thinking that, from the evening of the 16th, Buonaparte would have taken a wiser course if he had moved to his left, have reached the high road leading from Mons to Bruxelles, and have turned the right of the position of the Allies by Hal.

It is obvious that the Duke was prepared to resist such a movement.



Return to top