Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 60.djvu/197
Napoleon had on the field seventy-two thousand men, of which fifteen thousand were cavalry, with 240 guns; Wellington had sixty-eight thousand, of which twelve thousand were cavalry, with 156 guns. Of British infantry (not including the king's German legion) there were fewer than fifteen thousand. The position taken up was two miles south of Waterloo, and extended a mile to the right and a mile to the left of the Charleroi road. A ridge, along which ran the cross road to Wavre, formed its front, and gave shelter to the reserves. The right was thrown back at a right angle to a ravine near Merbe Braine. The chateau of Hougoumont. the farm of La Haye Sainte, and the farms of Papelotte and La Haye were held as advanced posts, in front of the right centre, left centre, and left respectively. In front of the right there was a division at Braine l'Alleud. The guns were on the ridge. The cavalry was mainly on the reverse slope, behind the centre, and was entirely in the hands of Lord Uxbridge [see Paget, Henry William, first Marquis Of Anglesey].
After half an hour's cannonade the battle began at noon by an attack on Hougoumont by Reille's corps. The wood was taken, but the buildings were held throughout the day. At 1.30 D'Erlon's corps advanced against the left, but, repulsed by Picton, and charged by Ponsonby's heavy cavalry, it was driven back in disorder, with a loss of five thousand men. From 4 to 6 p.m. the French cavalry, to the number of twelve thousand, wore themselves out in repeated but fruitless charges on the squares of the centre. At the end of six hours' fighting the French had gained no serious advantage, and their reserves had been largely drawn upon. Napoleon had become aware at 1.30 of the approach of the Prussians. He thought for a moment of changing his plan, and turning Wellington's right by the Nivelle road; but he was unwilling to increase his distance from Grouchy, and he sent Lobau with ten thousand men to the right to keep the Prussians in check. Their leading corps (Bülow's) had been told to halt at St. Lambert 'till the enemy's intentions were quite clear' (Ollech, p. 192), and it was not till 4.30 that it began to press heavily on Lobau. Before six the latter had to be reinforced by seven thousand men of the guard.
About that time La Haye Sainte was taken, the garrison having exhausted its ammunition, which was of special pattern (Omptéda, Memoirs, p. 309; Houssaye, p. 379; Kennedy, p. 122). This gave the French a footing close to the main line, and the fire of their guns and skirmishers was so destructive that some of the squares broke, and there was a gap in the left centre. Captain Shaw (afterwards Sir James Shaw Kennedy), who brought this startling news to Wellington, was struck by the coolness with which he received it and the precision of his reply. Wellington himself led forward the Brunswick troops to fill the gap, and ordered up the Nassau troops. The latter fired on him, when he tried to rally them shortly afterwards; 'in fact,' he said, 'there was so much misbehaviour that it was only through God's mercy that we won the battle' (Porter, i. 382; Kennedy, p. 128).
But it was not against this weakened part of the line that Napoleon directed the imperial guard when he made his last bid for victory, about 7.30; but against Maitland's brigade of guards, which was more to the right. The accounts differ widely, but there seems to have been a first attack by two battalions (grenadiers), which was repulsed by Maitland s brigade, and a second attack by four others (chasseurs), of which the two leading battalions were taken in flank by Adam's brigade and driven across the Charleroi road, while the rear battalions retired in good order. These attacks were part of a general effort against the whole position, which came to an end with their failure (Kennedy, p. 141; Waterloo Letters, pp. 273, 309; Leake's 52nd Regiment, i. 42; Charras, p. 295; Houssaye, p. 389).
Wellington was behind Maitland's brigade during this crisis, though there is no good authority for 'Up guards and at them.' He now ordered the whole line to advance, sent forward the light cavalry, and joining the 52nd, the leading battalion of Adam's brigade, pressed it on against such troops as tried to make a stand. By this time Bülow's and Pirch's corps were forcing the French out of Planchenoit; Blücher with Ziethen's corps had joined Wellington's left and recovered Papelotte and La Haye. The French army dissolved, and before nine Napoleon left the field. Blücher met Wellington on the Charleroi road, and it was arranged that the Prussians should undertake the pursuit. Their meeting place was not La Belle Alliance, according to Wellington (Suppl. Desp. x. 508; Rogers, p. 212), and he did not accept the Prussian suggestion that the battle 'should bear that name (Müffling, p. 251). He was not inclined to magnify the Prussian share in the victory, though he did justice to it. Their loss, nearly seven thousand men, shows how substantial that share was. The loss of Wellington's army was fifteen thousand; that of the French has been reckoned at over thirty thousand, with two hundred