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"Beyond Quatre Bras" Topic

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M C MonkeyDew06 Feb 2018 6:07 a.m. PST

Been obsessing on Quatre Bras again (as one does!).

Much of the literature out there has words to the effect of "If Ney had started earlier in the day he would have been able to take the crossroads".

Let's take that as given for the sake of argument.

How would that change things in the long term? I struggle to see how it would have.

If Soult's order had been fulfilled, one division beyond Quatres Bras, two at Frasnes, etc., the Allies would have still been coming down the Chasse and from Nivelles.

A battle would still have taken place.

D'Erlon would still have his corps strung out and dispersed over the road network and still have had to go via Marbais were he to impact Ligny.

And perhaps most importantly, poor Ney would still have been left with only three infantry divisions, one light cavalry division, and Kellerman's cavalry corps with which to engage half or more of the Anglo-Netherlands army.

I just do not see it working out any better for the Marshal.

Here is a link to Soult's order:



Artilleryman06 Feb 2018 6:40 a.m. PST

The most important thing would be that Ney held the cross roads. His orders were to support the Emperor's battle at Ligny and he would have been in a position to do so. Also, with Quatre Bras gone, Wellington's forces would have been approaching from different directions with no possible RV at the cross roads. It seems likely, the original orders to concentrate at Nivelles would have been obeyed. This could have given Ney an extra day to get organised and Wellington and Blucher would have been even further apart and that is assuming that a more crushing defeat on the Prussians at Ligny had not driven them to Namur.

There are a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts' but an early victory for Ney at Quatre Bras could have made a significant short-term difference.

madcam2us06 Feb 2018 7:11 a.m. PST

Currently finishing up Andrew Fields study on the battle and he asserts that once (around 1500) napoleon determines he is facing the whole of the prussian force, he no longer needed to win at Quatre Bra merely pin the Anglo's in place and move all available troops, including Derlon to sweep the open flank…

Now this doesn't address why Kellerman's div was split as it were, nor what unengaged troops were to move off for Ligney. IIRC due to timing, D'erlon would have still arrived at Ligney late in the battle. An earlier move for Ney may have allowed Bachelu to take Thule earlier allowing for the severing of the E-W access of the roman road – breaking the link to the allied forces….

By doing so (breaking the link) may have allowed D'Erlon easier access to the rear of the prussians via Namur But this still needed his corp better concentrated, IMO


marshalGreg06 Feb 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

My understanding is this:
1) The Dutch Division would be destroyed. If you play this what if you see this for yourself in the game.
2) With the crossroads held, the Anglo forces are not able to unite. This would most likely result in Wellington having a change in orders to regroup further north, resulting in march delay and delay to put adequate pressure on Ney.
3) With Pressure much less, Ney's order to D'Erlon is delayed or not taken (Ie. the counter march). D'Erlon thus has the adequate presence to affect Ligny.
4) Ney is in defensive instead of offensive position. Allied casualties would be greater, if effort is made to open the crossroads.
5) The meeting with Wellington and Blucher, in the morning, may not occur or occurs much later. The impact…not sure on this.


bobspruster06 Feb 2018 8:22 a.m. PST

I would think Ney would have pushed troops further along towards Genappes (great defensive position, I think) and Nivelles. This could have foiled any serious attempt by Wellington to re-gain the crossroads and unite his forces before the battle of Ligny ended. Napoleon could then have been able to get to or beyond Genappes with little aggravation.

marshalney2000 Inactive Member06 Feb 2018 8:41 a.m. PST

I read recently that Kellerman was delayed as he was putting down a major mutiny in his cavalry corps. The two Carabinier regiments, especially the officers, had strong Royalist connections and were one of the many instances of the campaign where dubious loyalties came to the fore.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2018 8:51 a.m. PST

The likelier what if is, what if the Prussians hadn't screwed the pooch, and had actually informed Wellington that they were abandoning the Brussels road to Ney?

Wellington received exactly one message all day on the 15th from the Prussians, who were supposed to be covering the border. This was Ziethen's written at 9am. About what was going on on the Brussels road he heard nothing.

When Wellington burst out that Napoleon had stolen a day's march on him, the 15th was the day in question. The French had been given all day to penetrate the Allied position via the now unguarded, unwatched, unpicketed Brussels road that the Prussians were supposed to be covering. The first news Wellington had of this penetration was when he heard Ney had all but reached Quatre Bras.

Had Steinmetz pulled his finger out and reported what was happening, Wellington would have had 12 more hours' notice and his army would have been at QB by the early hours of 16 June. Wherever Ney was by then he would have instantly been attacked, on previous form against Wellington soundly beaten. By the evening Wellington would have been reinforcing the crumbling Prussian centre along the Namur-Nivelles road, while crushing the French left from the west.

Fouche predicted that Napoleon would win one or two battles but lose the third. This was a good call but if the Prussians had had their wits about them he wouldn't have won any.

The main consequences of Ney reaching QB would not have been to Wellington's army, but to Blucher's. Wellington could still have concentrated on Waterloo via the Nivelles-Brussels road, but Ney's control of QB would have ensured abject Prussian defeat at Ligny, and the Prussians' early departure from the campaign. This would have made Waterloo untenable given his numerical inferiority, so he would I think have had to fall back to the sea, probably after inflicting a sharp Busaco-style check at Waterloo on the French advance guard.

Footslogger06 Feb 2018 1:07 p.m. PST

It would make for an interesting three-player battle, with one playing the French, and starting in possession of the crossroads, one the Allies coming east from Nivelles, and the third playing the Allies coming down from Brussels – and the Allied commanders forbidden to confer until there's been a physical link-up on the battlefield.

Plus, of course, a random element in the arrival time of Allied units.

Edwulf Inactive Member06 Feb 2018 2:41 p.m. PST

What's this about a mutiny?
I've not heard that before.

advocate06 Feb 2018 11:43 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier: I'm picturing Blucher at Ligny waiting for 'night or the English'.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP07 Feb 2018 2:15 a.m. PST

@ advocate

Historically the Prussians couldn't beat the French without superior numbers or an ally, or preferably both, and not necessarily even then. So yes, he'd have needed night or Wellington.

What is oddest to me about 1815 is the apparent lack of recognition by the Prussians of how badly they reciprocally needed Wellington. We read all about how Wellington knew if the Prussians didn't arrive at Waterloo he was sunk, but we hear very little about any corresponding Prussian recognition that if Wellington didn't stand at Waterloo, they were. There seems a remarkable lack of urgency in their actions on the 18th, bespeaking either ineptitude or an inability to conceive that Wellington might not stand, which is perhaps an unintended compliment to him.

It is certainly interesting that they sent the most distant corps, IV, to Waterloo rather than I and II Corps, which were much closer at hand. IV Corps also led their attack with I Corps sent to support Wellington and II to support Bulow. This can only be because they thought after their mauling at Ligny, I and II Corps wouldn't be of much use leading an attack and were best used in support of troops who hadn't suffered such a mauling.

Perhaps this just reflects that Prussia had another army it could call on, which at the time was on standby in case there was a need to attack Austria or Russia. A point Hussey makes very well in his recent work on 1815 is how one can see at this early date the army's sense of an entitlement to dictate policy to the state, so it might have been the army's rather than the government's decision to do this.

marshalney2000 Inactive Member07 Feb 2018 3:03 a.m. PST

The mutiny is discussed in the book "Ney at Quatre Bras " which was published recently. It spends a lot of time discussing the defections from Napoleon's army and the impact on troop movements.

Brechtel19807 Feb 2018 9:12 a.m. PST

What 'mutiny'?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Feb 2018 9:38 a.m. PST

I don't think it was a mutiny in the usual sense that the rank and file refused to fight. Rather, it was a defection by some of the high-ranking officers in the units in question.

Cacadore s Inactive Member07 Feb 2018 10:23 a.m. PST

Much of the literature out there has words to the effect of

"If Ney had started earlier in the day he would have been able to take the crossroads".

Let's take that as given for the sake of argument.

How would that change things in the long term? I struggle to see how it would have.

I agree. Mostly. To effect an outcome the French would have had to have taken La Haye Sainte before the battle. Otherwise they're still stuck facing the same punch bowl battlefield. Allied re-enforcements would have been unaffected. Would Bonaparte have re-enforced Ney and pressed on north, thus denying Wellington his ridge and Hougomonet?

My understanding is that the point of the crossroads for Bonaparte was to prevent Wellington moving along the Nivelles-Namur road to help at the Battle of Ligny and to thus keep the allies separated.

Yet they stayed separated anyway. In the end the fact that the French later had Quatre Bras didn't stop the Prussians coming.

All comes back to what Bonaparte was doing. Was he prevaricating and waiting for Grouchy, or was he taking Ney in hand to force a decision about striking north? Based on Boney's subsequent actions, it's difficult to say the French leader would have done anything different. Grouchy is the key.

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