Originally posted on Adventures In Historyland.
The day dawned fresh and cool after the rain which had stopped some time after first light, only fitful showers reimagined and passed across the sky as a farewell gesture from the storm. The sultry heat of the past three days had broken and clouds were still thick in the sky. Slats of sunlight shone down on the scene below.
In the daylight the battlefield unfolded itself to the eye. On either side of the main Brussels Chaussée were wide expanses of open fields bordered by ditches and hedges, the crops were ready to harvest and stood as tall as a man. To the east was the Bois de Paris, and to the north, hidden by Mont St Jean ridge, was the Bois de Soignes. The ridge rose distinctively but undramatically up from a valley formed by the rival height of Trimontiau, where advance elements of the French army had spent the night.
Regiments were coming awake and going through their practised routines as if nothing of moment was about to occur. Breakfast was put on the boil, equipment checked and cleaned, picquet’s posted, foragers sent out, drums and bugle calls sounding for the morning parade, parade state given and recorded, and half rations of alcohol were administered. Meanwhile the senior officers waited for orders. Though the procedure was slightly different in each army, military life has a pattern that most soldiers recognise.
Many had awoken with premonitions of death, wills were hurriedly written after stand too. Soon slips of paper were being passed around. They all said similar things, give this to my loved ones if I don’t make it, and I’ll do the same for you. In the ranks of the British contingent everything was…
Originally posted on Adventures In Historyland.
On the night of the 17th of June, the Duke of Wellington waited to hear if Blücher would agree to march and join him at Mont St Jean.
Decisions in the night.
Lord Uxbridge rode into the village of Waterloo, some miles in the rear of the army’s encampment at Mont St Jean, after dark, wet and tired from his exertions with the rearguard. Colonel Campbell of the Duke’s household staff had been instructed to bring Wellington’s baggage and necessaries to the village that morning. Each house along the small front street was occupied by a general officer. Their names were chalked above their doors and light could be seen in the windows. The rain was still falling in unimaginable quantity, and thunder boomed from the sky, lit every so often with the broad flash of sheet lightning.
Finding the door marked in running chalk, “His Grace the Duke of Wellington” he made his way inside and after removing his shako he announced himself, he deposited what must have amounted to half the quantity of the channel from his uniform to the floor and took his ease by the fire.
The atmosphere was much as it had been in Brussels on the 15th, only without the party veneer to hide it, things were tense and the fate of the campaign was riding on the next few hours till dawn. De Lancey had ridden ahead from Genappes to Mont St Jean. Wellington had filed the place away in his mind the year before on a tour of the Netherlands. At that time he had not yet wound down from his six years campaigning in Portugal and Spain, and his practiced eye for a naturally strong defensive position was still…
The British army in the light of Waterloo.
“As a battle of science, it was demonstrative of no manoeuvre” wrote Sir Harry Smith sometime between 1820 and 1848. Writing in July of 1815 Baron Marbot was incredulous at the defeat and confirmed that “We were manoeuvred like so many pumpkins”. Smith went on to say “It was no Salamanca or Vitoria, were science was so beautifully exemplified: it was as a stand up fight between two pugilists “Mill away” until one is beaten. The Battle of Waterloo, with all it’s political glory has destroyed the field movement of the British Army. So scientifically laid down by Dundas, so improved by that hero of war and drill, Sir John Moore. All that light troop duty that had taught, by which the world, through the medium of the Spanish war was saved, has been replaced by the most heavy of manoeuvres, by squares, centre formations, and moving in masses, which require time to collect and equal time to extend; and all because the Prussians and the Russians did not know how to move quicker, we, forsooth must adapt to their ways…”
The operational tactics of the British army post 1815 can be summarised by well over 30 Squares at Waterloo and a single line at Balaclava. The traditions of the British army were born in 1815, throughout the 19th century it took its character from the exploits of the national contingent at Mont St Jean. Determination, courage, stolidity, resilience, the rock hard determination to stand unflinching against all odds. The strange thing is that he opposite was true previously. All through the 18th century, when the bedrock for the traditions of Waterloo was set down, from 1701 to 1814, the focus was on amphibious landings, offensive movement and increasingly open formations, as the experiences of war in America altered strategic thinking. By 1854, the lessons of the 18th century had…
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