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The Battle of the Waterloo

This battle was fought on 18th June 1815 between the French (Napoleon’s) Army and the forces that were commanded by the Duke of Wellington that comprised that of the British, Dutch, Belgian and German forces. The battle occurred near Waterloo in Belgium. The French forces were under the leadership of Michael Ney and Napoleon Bonaparte. This battle went down in the world’s history as one of the famous and most decisive events in the world. It marked the end point of an extremely problematic period in the region; it put an end to the tyrant rule of Napoleon. It also marked the end of exile for Napoleon. In 1789, the French Empire had destroyed the old order of the king and the church, all in the disguise of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. The revolution was soon immersed in in-fighting and terror. King Louis XVI was killed and the monarchs of Europe invade France given that they felt horrified at what the revolution would mean to them. This prompted Napoleon Bonaparte, a young army commander to take charge of defending France. He seized power in 1799 and crowned himself the Emperor in 1804.

Napoleon had a modernizing influence in France though he was also a conqueror. At his peak, he invaded and occupied major parts of Europe. The Napoleonic wars were fought until 1814 when he met resistance from the armies of Europe. He was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba, the French Royals were restored. Peace was restored and the older order was returned though they never considered the fact that Napoleon was able to make a comeback. Some time prior to napoleon’s arrival in Paris, the authority of the Congress of Vienna declared him persona non grata. Several forces from Prussia, Austria, Russia and the United Kingdom were assembled with the plan to attack and force Napoleon’s empire out of Europe. Well aware of the plans, he mobilized his own tactical move of making a surprise attack before the accomplishing of the plans to mobilize the various forces. He had plans of destroying the existing forces that were in the South of Brussels before they had a central command and plan how to drive the British forces to the sea and defeat the Prussians.

On 26th February 1815, he escaped from Elba and sailed to France and troops were sent to arrest following an order from King Louis XVI but he tactically appealed to the king to let him join them, which they did. He quickly assembled a new army within a period of about one hundred days. During this time, Europe also assembled the Seventh Coalition to invade them. Interestingly, only two European armies were willing to face Napoleon and his forces. These were the British-allied forces under the leadership of Wellington and that of the Prussian army also under the leadership of Blucher and were both based in Belgium. Napoleon arrived at the noble idea of being the first to strike. First Wellington had the idea of gathering all armies of the Coalition in order to deal with this threat from Napoleon. He wanted to transfer his base to the Southwest of Brussels through Mons. This move had some disadvantage to hi since his communication was cut and also brought him very close to the army of Blucher. Napoleon took advantage of this and the fact that Wellington had fear in losing his supply chain with false intelligence from the channel ports. To deal with this, Wellington decided to divide his army into two wings, the right under the stewardship of Marshal Grouchy, and the left under Marshal Ney. He preserved a separate reserve army for himself.

On 15th June, Napoleon’s army was only 30 miles south of Brussels. His rapid advance took Blucher by surprise. Funnily, Wellington was actually attending a ball when news reached him. Napoleon had tactfully struck to catch his opponents before they united. Wellington assembled his army in a hurry and commanded them to focus on Quatre Bras where they held a vague position against the other left-wing forces under the stewardship of Marshal Ney. At the scene were the Prince of Orange and the brigade of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar. Marshal Ney issued orders to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras hoping to later move eastwards and strengthen the forces of Napoleon. On the 16th, the French attacked Wellington at Quatre Bras and also Blucher at Ligne. Napoleon bloodied both forces but decided not to destroy them. On 17th, Wellington retreated to the slopes of Mont St Jean near the village of Waterloo of which Napoleon’s forces followed them. Unfortunately, he assumed that the Prussians had retreated towards Germany but actually they had moved north. This marked the end of the preliminary fight and the ushering in of the major contest between the forces.

In the morning, after a wet night, different sets of forces comprising about 70,000 men attacked each other in approximately 1000 yards distance between them . The battle field was rectangular, three miles long from east to west and about one and a half miles deep from north to south. Each end was obscured by woods and villages. The French forces were on the south while to the north were the Wellingtons, though they were also present in several fortified farmhouses like Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. The battlefield had some fairly undulating landscape that was punctuated with cornfields. Wellington knew that the Prussians were off to the east though Napoleon wasn’t. His strategies were centralized around holding the French off and wait for the Prussians to arrive and attack the French forces on the right flank. He positioned his troops on the ridge in order to protect them from the artillery and hide their numbers. On the other side, Napoleon’s strategy and plan was more of a frontal one, assaulting right through the Allied lines.

Each army had a set of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The foot soldiers (infantry) were mainly armed and equipped with muskets; these guns proved to be inaccurate over ten yards and consequently had to fired in co-ordinated volleys. Once closer to the enemies’ camp, they used bayonets. The artillery’s main weapon was the cannonball which actually flew through the air and bounced, tearing anything and anyone in its way. The other battalion was composed of the horse cavalry which fought with sabres and lances. In spite of the uniforms that were colored, the existence of flags and bands, the war and combat at waterloo was very brutal and bloody. The battle itself had to be segmented into phases totaling to about five phases. The initial phase surprised many given that napoleon did not attack at dawn as was widely anticipated. So many ideas were formed into why he did not strike; perhaps illness, the desire to let mud dry up given that it had rained, the case of hemorrhoids that eventually affected his judgment. Eventually the battle kicked off at around 11.30am after the firing of the Hougoumont farmhouse by the French forces. The realization by Napoleon that the Prussian was actually much closer than he had thought prompted the start of the second phase. He had to now battle both proper timing and wellington on the other side. He decided to launch an assault to the Allied right wing where approximately sixteen thousand troops marched for the assault but they were met with fierce counter-attack from the British 5th Division. This attack boosted the morale of the British units and also helped in filling the gaps in the Anglo-Allied lines that had been caused by the high number of casualties from the time of infantry formation. The attack itself proved to be costly at the long run for the Anglo-Allied forces. The rendered service proved to be costly too, given that there was close combat with the French cavalry, infant musketry and the carbine fire. At some point the French forces hesitated and this gave the Allied Cavalry that included the famous Scots Grays chance to charge the French infantry which eventually broke down and ran.

After some time the third phase began at around 4pm when napoleon attacked the other Allied strongholds like the La Haye Sainte. Due to some error and confusion, the French cavalry that was now heavily armed the charged towards the center of the Allied line. The French cavalry went round for close to two hours with bayonets but were eventually kept at bay and the Prussians arrived from the east. Around this time, the French had captured La Haye Sainte and this prompted the beginning of the fourth phase as Napoleon pushed artillery up to the Allied right and attacked them. This was the whole drama of the battle of the Waterloo. In the fifth phase he sent his elite troops towards the unwavering Allied line. They were surprised to find the British 1st Foot Guards and this eventually killed the last card of Napoleon and he eventually fled signaling the end of the battle of Waterloo. This marked the end of Napoleon Empire and the beginning and eventual expansion of the British Empire, and the actual start of the period of arch conservatism.

Works cited

Barbero, Alessandro. Battle: A New History of Waterloo. Atlantic: Atlantic Books Limited, 2006. Pp. 234-320.

Black, Jeremy. The Battle of Waterloo. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2010. Pp. 10-45.

iMinds. Battle of Waterloo: Crime, War & Conflict. New York: iMinds Property Ltd, 2009. Pp.1-7.

Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon and Wellington: the Battle of Waterloo-and the great commanders who fought it. London: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Pp. 150-320.

Roberts, Andrew. Waterloo: June 18, 1815: The Battle for Modern Europe. London: HarperCollins, 2006. Pp. 46-87.

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