On the 18th June 1815, two armies faced each other on a muddy field in Belgium. It would be a decisive battle that bring about an end to twenty years of conflict and reshape the future of Europe. Both armies were commanded by formidable military minds, who had a plethora of battlefield victories behind each of them.
Wellington knew he was out numbered, his 68 000 to Napoleons 72 000 troops, and that he needed General Bulcher and his Prussians. Bulcher was 18 miles east of Waterloo, in Warve. So Wellington knew he needed a tactical advantage whilst he waited for the Prussians to arrive. Wellington decided to position his force behind a ridge, which lay between three garrisoned farms. Popelotte was on his left, La Hayne Sainte to his front and Hougoumont was to the right.
The position had the advantage of the inclined slope, a field of high corn,as well as three well paced farms. All of this meant, Wellington had a good advantage point to see the battlefield, along with providing good cover for his troops. The aim of this was to hold ground until Bulcher and his Prusssians arrived.
The ground was sodden from the previous nights rain which hampered Napoleon getting his artillery guns into place. This prompted him to delay his initial attack until the ground dried out. This was a major risk because delay may allow Bulcher to arrive and add his Prussian troops to Wellington’s force. With this in mind Napoleon was prompted to make an attack on Hougoumont in the hope of drawing the British out from the ridge.
So around Midday the French attacked Hougoumont with a force of 5000 troops under the command of Napoleon’s Brother. The farm was only garrisoned with 1,500 British soldiers, though heavily outnumbered, they had the advantage of being behind the strong walls of Hougoumont. This made the French easy targets yet by 12:30 the French managed to break open the gates. The British quickly managed to close them and trap around 40 French infantry inside,who were all slaughtered apart from a young drummer boy.
Whilst Wellington’s right flank was busy defending the attack on Hougoumont, Napoleon attacked the centre with 18,000 French infantry who were sent forward. After fierce fighting they captured the farm Papelotte, along with the ground near La Hayne Sainte.
Napoleon realised that if he quickly captured La Hayne Sainte, then he would open up the battlefield for an attack on the remaining British positioned on the ridge. At 13:00 movement was spotted in the fields to the east, so Napoleon ordered a cavalry troop to investigate. It was the Prussians, but they were still too far away to be of immediate concern. By now Wellington had ordered reinforcements to the Hayne Sainte which drove the French back.
Lord Uxbridge, commanding two cavalry brigades, spotted French advancing towards the British lines. He ordered the cavalry to advance on the French. They charged and drove into the French infantry, slicing through the infantry. Napoleon’s line had been weakened, but Wellington had also been severely damaged on his left flank, he now really needed the Prussians to make another attack.
Bulcher and his troops arrived at the small nearby village of Placenoit, which was roughly 5 miles from the battlefield. French cavalry arrived near the village, the Prussians, having captured the high ground attacked the French. This forced Napoleon to commit more troops as the day wore on. Bulcher was unable to reach the main battlefield, but it meant that Napoleon had split his force and commit troops to keeping the Prussians at bay. This had the French stretched fighting on the west and east of the battlefield.
Marshal Ney was ordered to capture La Hayne Sainte, the central stronghold of the British. This was vital for Napoleon if he was to defeat Wellington. So for two hours wave after wave of France’s heavily armoured cavalry were charged at the British lines. The British infantry were forced to form squares as a defence against the cavalry. They managed to repulse every effort by the cavalry, but being in a square now meant they were vulnerable to artillery fire.
The 27th regiment were decimated by artillery fire, approximately 500 of the 747 strong regiment were killed or injured. After two hours of relentless attacks by the French, the garrison of La Hayne Sainte fell, Wellington had lost his stronghold,that kept the French from the ridge.
This was a devastating blow for Wellington as this allowed the French to move their artillery forward. Napoleon was now open to attack the British centre. Wellington could do nothing but cling on and hope the Prussians would arrive. The British centre was now a weak spot and Napoleon knew Wellington would fall without the Prussians. Taking advantage of the situation he sent 6000 soldiers towards the British lines. They marched between Hougoumont and La Hayne Sainte, they only came under fire from the Hougoument garrison on the right. The French reached the ridge, as they advanced the British infantry were hidden in the long grass.
Wellington gave the order to stand and fire, they rose and at almost point blank range fired, tearing through the ranks of the French guard forcing them back. Bulcher finally arrived on Wellington’s left, the Allies advanced chasing the retreating Imperial guard. This final push was enough to defeat the French.
Napoleon’s ambitions for European domination and a French empire were crushed. Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena, where he passed away in 1821.Wellington would be hailed a hero, and went onto become Prime Minister in 1828.