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"Waterloo - My perspectives" Topic


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Stoppage29 Dec 2019 10:10 a.m. PST

In a battle on the North Western European Plain then Napoleon 1807 would – if permitted – out-manoeuvre, bring-to-battle, and defeat any opponent during this period.

NB, The 'if permitted' bit is the key.

Whirlwind29 Dec 2019 10:21 a.m. PST

Well, Napoleon didn't do that at Heilsberg, or at Eylau for that matter.

Or if thinking about the institutions, the Anglo-Allied armies had already beaten the Grande Armee of 1807: it was largely that army which the Anglo-Allied armies defeated in the first half of the Peninsular War.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2019 10:33 a.m. PST

It should be remembered that 90,000 troops under Davout were left in central Europe in 1807 while other units went into Spain in the second French invasion.

It was these troops, III Corps, the heavy cavalry, and other veteran units such as St. Hilaire's division that formed the nucleus of the Army of Germany that defeated Austria in 1809.

dibble29 Dec 2019 2:04 p.m. PST

As was famously said that the armies that faced Nappy were half beaten before battle was joined. No such thing had or would occur to the British and Allies under Wellington's command.

Mind you, the only other times that Nappy had the opportunity to face a British army was either to abandon his army instead as he did in Egypt. After seeing his chasseurs a Cheval take a hammering and its general captured. Or run hell for leather after being absolutely smashed by them on the battlefield. The only time Nappy ran towards the British instead of away from them was when he had to throw himself on their mercy.

42flanker29 Dec 2019 3:04 p.m. PST

Was Bonaparte not long gone by the time Abercromby landed his army at Aboukeir in March 1801?

dibble29 Dec 2019 5:36 p.m. PST

Yeah! But he still Bleeped texted off and left poor old Kleber to play with what was left of his command.

von Winterfeldt30 Dec 2019 12:41 a.m. PST

Yes Boney had better things to do that to stay loyal to his soldiers in Egypt, he did just not care when a better opportunity for his career popped up, remember personality disorder, Kléber had to sort out the Armée d'Orient and re organise it, alas he was assassinated and the not so competent Menou took over and he was in command when Abercromby's army conquered Egypt.
I will move on for this tread as well.

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 2:33 a.m. PST

"As was famously said that the armies that faced Nappy were half beaten before battle was joined. No such thing had or would occur to the British and Allies under Wellington's command."

I cannot agree with that statement. In the early hours of the Waterloo campaign Wellington was fixated on the possibility of a French advance through Mons and his first orders balanced his army in that direction. Only the brave Belgian decision to ignore orders and hold onto Quatra Bras saved Wellington from defeat in detail. Wellington himself admitted to being "Humbugged!"

As to Napoleon facing British troops, what of the Spanish campaign of 1808 and Sir John Moore having to run for Corunna. The British ran from Napoleon though it was Soult who finished the pursuit.

Whirlwind30 Dec 2019 2:54 a.m. PST

As to Napoleon facing British troops, what of the Spanish campaign of 1808 and Sir John Moore having to run for Corunna. The British ran from Napoleon though it was Soult who finished the pursuit.

There was no possibility whatsoever of Moore and his small army facing Napoleon and his massive one (Moore was outnumbered something like 10-to-1). Moore luring Napoleon into pursuing him instead of completing the conquest of Spain was explicitly the goal of his campaign, which succeeded brilliantly; beating Soult at the end was icing.

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 3:13 a.m. PST

The retreat to Corunna was a plan? Then Moore needed a better one. 3000+ plus soldiers lost crossing mountains in winter. Having to shoot your own horses and abandon cannons? The final "Victory" over Soult were Moore holds on long enough board the boats and sail away.
Moore could have kept his army in being by retreating from Salamanca back to Portugal rather than pushing himself in to an exposed position resulting in having to run from 10 to 1 odds.

Whirlwind30 Dec 2019 3:37 a.m. PST

The retreat to Corunna was a plan?

Yes, he makes it clear in his correspondence what he was trying to do.

Then Moore needed a better one. 3000+ plus soldiers lost crossing mountains in winter. Having to shoot your own horses and abandon cannons?

It was very difficult for any Napoleonic army to retreat successfully. But if we compare it to one of say, Napoleon's retreats, or those of the Austrians, or Spanish, or Russians, does Moore come out badly? The French lost almost as many in their pursuit, although with the difference being that they could recover their wounded and stragglers.

The final "Victory" over Soult were Moore holds on long enough board the boats and sail away.

Yes, in those circumstances that is quite a splendid victory.

Moore could have kept his army in being by retreating from Salamanca back to Portugal rather than pushing himself in to an exposed position resulting in having to run from 10 to 1 odds.

You have elided two separate issues. He was going to face 10-1 odds whatever he did as a result of Spanish defeats at Espinosa, Tudela and the Somosierra. Retreating directly into Portugal would have gifted that liberated country to Napoleon. The point was to get Napoleon to chase Moore, to draw his troops into the remote North West of the Peninsula, and to escape without being trapped, all of which were achieved, with a handy victory in a set-piece battle at the end of it (not to mention the useful rearguard actions on the way).

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 4:12 a.m. PST

But what difference did Corunna make. The British are chased from Spain after significant losses. They have to scramble to reinstate an army in Lisbon (Under Wellington) for 1809.
If Moore falls back from Salamanca into Portugal you start the year with a trained army in Lisbon/Portugal without loosing a divisions worth of infantry and a brigades worth of cavalry.
The French are too powerful to be driven from Spain at this time. All Moore has achieved is moved them about a bit. Soult marches on Portugal from the North rather than from Central Spain in 1809. The French still have Madrid. It is Spanish resistance that inhibits a complete conquest rather than Moores vague wanderings.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2019 4:17 a.m. PST

@ kevinMajor

In the early hours of the Waterloo campaign Wellington was fixated on the possibility of a French advance through Mons and his first orders balanced his army in that direction.

This was the fault of the Prussians, however. Steinmetz' brigade of I Corps was supposed to be covering the Brussels road at the border and was tasked with informing both Wellington and Blucher with any movement on it. Instead of doing so, Steinmetz abandoned the road to concentrate on the rest of the Prussian army, leaving it unobserved. He did not inform Wellington of this, so as far as the Duke was concerned the reason there was no news from the south was because nothing was happening. If the French were advancing up the Brussels road Steinmetz would have reported it. He had not and therefore they must be advancing somewhere else. There were the noises to the south east but that was all, so what was happening to the south west?

It would therefore have come as a thunderbolt for Wellington to learn at midnight on the 15th June that not only were the French on the Brussels road and hitherto unreported, but worse, they were 20 miles inside Belgium by that road and he had heard nothing of this happening. That is what he meant by Napoleon having humbugged him, and it came about purely because of a Prussian dereliction.

It nearly caused two disasters – Wellington could have concentrated irretrievably too far west, and he could have lost Quatre Bras even if he had not concentrated too far west. Either would have doomed the campaign.

One of the reasons German nineteenth century historians were so keen to big up Wellington's supposed betrayal of the 15th / 16th was to avoid talking about their own huge screwup in the campaign's opening hours. Luckily Prince Bernhard retrieved the situation but luck was all it was.

Handlebarbleep30 Dec 2019 4:25 a.m. PST

Kevin

Wellington was not the first general to fall into the trap of interpreting intelligence to confirm his own pre-existing strategic views. Indeed, as confirmation bias is a very human trait, he is unlikely to be the last. He wasn't so much humbugged by Napoleon as by himself.

It's much more common than you think. Indeed, this site is often frequented by those who will leave no stone unturned to uncover the evidence to support their opinions. These people much prefer echo chambers, dismissing uncomfortable counter facts as "whataboutism".

Napoleon also suffered from it, in his head the Prussians were knocked out and were retreating Eastwards. Grouchy's scouts therefore went looking for the evidence to support the theory. When it turned out to the contrary, it must have come as something of a shock.

Whirlwind30 Dec 2019 4:30 a.m. PST

All Moore has achieved is moved them about a bit. Soult marches on Portugal from the North rather than from Central Spain in 1809.

"All".

Corunna was not a suitable base for invading Portugal, in particular getting to Lisbon, which is why when Soult actually did this he got no further than Oporto. If he had retired to Lisbon, Napoleon would have followed him and the best that Moore could have hoped for was to escape having lost the Portuguese capital.

The French still have Madrid. It is Spanish resistance that inhibits a complete conquest rather than Moore's vague wanderings.

This is to misunderstand the situation. Spain needed at least some time to reconstitute its defeated armies and establish its government in the south. Moore presented Napoleon with a choice: pursue the Spanish or try and trap the British. He rightly guessed that Napoleon would prefer the latter and then evaded the trap, so Napoleon got nothing.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2019 4:35 a.m. PST

@ handlebarbleep

He wasn't so much humbugged by Napoleon as by himself.

Well, he was humbugged by the Prussians, in fact, who abandoned the road they were supposed to be covering and failed to inform Wellington they had done so. As a result Wellington took the lack of news from the south to connote an attack elsewhere. The attack in the south east could be a feint and if not Blucher could cover it. That left the Antwerp via Mons route.

Had Wellington known the Brussels road was unwatched I imagine he would have responded differently.

I think some (I don't mean you, just historians generally) are perhaps a little too quick to dismiss Britain's greatest-ever general as a bit sloppy or misguided compared to themselves. Wellington had to think about all possible outcomes, one of which was the Allied plan not working and the Prussians being sent packing east after a defeat. In that event, he would have little choice but to go west, so while this wasn't the aim, he had to be sure that any such retreat towards Antwerp would be possible and would not run into a French blocking / pinning force.

A drive on Antwerp would not be Napoleon's initial gambit for reasons often rehearsed, but finding himself having to fight through a blocking force en route to Antwerp with Napoleon on his heels was not something Wellington could afford to leave out of his thinking.

Handlebarbleep30 Dec 2019 4:42 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

Good point reference Steinmetz's Brigade. One of the challenges of a multi-national operation, and the advantage of commanding an homogeneous army like the French. Obviously not everyone got the message, hence the detachment of Prussian Hussars at Quatre Bras.

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 5:19 a.m. PST

"He wasn't so much humbugged by Napoleon as by himself"

A little unfair on Napoleon (if such a thing is possible).
The continentals view of British armies is they always like a route to the sea (and the Royal Navy). Wellington with his Mons fear was concerned that he would be pushed away from the sea. This keeps cropping up through the campaign, those "wasted" men in Hal on the day of Waterloo are holding that door open.
With this knowledge Napoleon gambles on the centre thrust and gets the initial response from Wellington (as you say without full information) of moving to cover the way home. This pulls him away from the Prussians.
With the wool pulled from his eyes Wellington scrambles to support the Prussians as agreed before the campaign.
Without that initial flinch away we could be writing about the great battle of Ligny. Where the brave Prussians hold out till the British force the French Left flank. Wellington saves Europe!

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 5:36 a.m. PST

Handlebarbleep

I completely agree. The more history I read the more you see the pattern of personal bias/opinion shaping events. Napoleon (of whom I am no fan boy) had a great skill of reading his opponents probable opening moves and like a judo master using his opponents move against him.
But as I do not absolve Napoleon for his errors nor can you let Wellington off the hook for not knowing about the centre thrust. He needed to confirm with his own resources rather than rely on the Prussians. Wellington knew the Prussians were forming at Ligny and his first move (on no information) was to open the gap between them not close it.
The pre agreed Allied plan was to fight the French together and Wellington humbugged himself on no information, and almost blew the campaign.

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 5:44 a.m. PST

Whirlwind
How much time did Moore buy for Spain, it can be measured in days. Once Moore was running Napoleon sends all but Soult back about their business. Was that worth trashing the principle British army?
As for Oporto that hight lights the main reason for French defeat in Spain, the lack of supply. It is interesting that Soults army as it flees Wellington is shredded by the same mountains that shredded Moore.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2019 6:04 a.m. PST

@ Kevin

Not so. The formally agreed scheme before the campaign was that the Prussians would cover the Belgian border east of and including the Brussels Road. Wellington would cover it west of there to the sea. Local commanders would advise both commanding generals directly of any developments.

The Prussians abandoned this agreement, without discussion or notification, on June 15th.

The only communication Wellington received from the Prussians all day was one sent at 9am and that arrived around 4pm. This merely said that the French were making incursions towards Fleurus.

That was everything Wellington knew until midnight, when his own commander at Quatre Bras filled him in on what was really happening.

That the Prussians intended to fight on the 16th was not communicated until the 16th. We know this because there was only one communication before the 16fh, and it wasn't about that.

I struggle to see what Wellington should have done differently given the arrangements in place.

It is no coincidence that the German nineteenth century accounts – revived without thought or critique by Hofschroer – place so much emphasis on misstating who was told what when. When you look at the actual facts, Prussian errors at the very opening of the campaign cost their own army a needless and shattering defeat, and very nearly got their indispensable ally defeated as well. The revisionists need to make it look like Wellington made a mistake from which he had to be rescued, and the mistake fabricated is the concentration to the west – which arose from Wellington's legitimate assumption that the Prussians would do as they had said, and watch the border.

The other disastrous Prussian mistake was to concentrate so far forward, a mistake Wellington avoided. The Prussians made the allied dispositions easy to penetrate by concentrating so far forward their western flank was able to be turned by a day's march. The better disposition would have been ten miles further north, so that by day three, they'd have been concentrated intact in four corps strength at Wavre, and Wellington likewise at Waterloo.

The most instructive thing about 1815 is the light it sheds on why the Prussians were so easily beaten in this period.

Handlebarbleep30 Dec 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier

No accusation of sloppiness, just a comment on intelligence generally. It might seem like a big leap to go from an over cautious regard for Mons to dossiers on WMDs, but they have the same root cause. Trying to work out what is on the other side of the hill has been, and always will be, a challenge. The means of gathering may improve, today we have computers to help with synthesis and presentation, but interpretation still relies on the human factor. Humans tend to be over-optimistic about their abilities

'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' goes the empiricist's mantra. Not hearing from Steinmetz is not the same as a confirmatory "all's quiet" situation report. A general of his calibre knows that perfectly well, it is up to him what weight he puts upon it. We could criticise Hardinge for not having warned Wellington. That pre-supposes that both the Prussian staff realised they had uncovered that road and that they had told Hardinge. Even if they had, could he have told Wellington in good time?

The units on the ground seem to have known, why else would Saxe-Weimar acted as he did? All of this adds up to what is euphemistically referred to as the 'fog of war'. However, it is the CinC's job to peer into that fog, but he, and he alone, is responsible for the conclusions he draws from it.

You don't have to be infallible at it, or even good. Just slightly better than the other guy will do the trick.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2019 7:32 a.m. PST

more praise to Blücher to risk his army more than Wellington…

Blucher was effectively out of action after being dismounted and virtually run over by French cavalry at Ligny. It was Gneisenau, not Blucher, who ordered the retreat on Wavre instead of Liege. That was the decisive strategic decision of the campaign.

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 8:10 a.m. PST

@4th Cuirassier
You are ignoring the conversations on the 15th between Muffling and Wellington around 6pm where Wellington was told of Bluchers intention of concentrating and fighting at Sombreffe. Blucher wants to know urgently where Wellington will concentrate. A line of communication through Genappe to be opened.
It is now, around 7pm, that Wellington starts to issue orders to units.
Knowing Sombreffe to be the Prussian concentration point ordering a concentration at Nivelles was a wrong decision with the benefit of hindsight. One must assume the selection was still influenced by the fear of a French Mons advance.
The problem with Nivelles was it was too far from the Prussians to support them and the necessary road passed through Quatre Bras. As more information floods in Wellington finally sees the light and the Army is directed to Quatre Bras but now most of it must funnel down a single road from Nivelles.
Wellingtons previous experience with Allies was working with the Spanish. That was not a happy relationship. He was also a man confident in his own intelligence. My belief is until there was overwhelming proof Wellington could not let go of his analysis of the problem. He was humbugged by his own beliefs and the ability of Napoleon to anticipate them.

Gazzola30 Dec 2019 11:25 a.m. PST

Yep, you've to hand it to the allies. They obvious planned for Napoleon to get between their two armies, beat one and force the other to quickly retreat to another battlefield. LOL

The only one out-generalled, as someone claimed, was Grouchy, and that was by the Prussians. And, of course, had the Prussians not come to Wellington's aid at Waterloo and Wellington been forced to retreat again (something he was fond of doing in the Peninsular, despite his victories against Napoleon's Marshals) questions would have been asked as to why, knowing the Prussians had been beaten, did he decide to stand at Waterloo?

Such is history. But it was an allied victory, two armies against one, not a Prussian or a British victory.

Handlebarbleep30 Dec 2019 12:08 p.m. PST

Gazzola,

and force the other to quickly retreat to another battlefield.

My reading is that Wellington was not forced to retire on Waterloo by the French, but rather to conform with the movements of his ally.

A quick perusal of the accounts seem to indicate that he was busily drawing down to a cavalry rearguard whilst the French generally cleaned their arms and made soup. Any follow up came much later.

Apart from the odd salvo from retiring horse batteries it seems to have been limited to a cavalry affair at Gennape.

Hardly sounds like forced, rather like decided to. Bearing in mind the eventual outcome, probably rather sound.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2019 12:33 p.m. PST

Read Mercer's memoir. The allied cavalry was chased by the French to and through Genappe.

Whirlwind30 Dec 2019 1:17 p.m. PST

How much time did Moore buy for Spain, it can be measured in days. Once Moore was running Napoleon sends all but Soult back about their business. Was that worth trashing the principle British army?

There is no bit of this which is right. Napoleon did not stop any of his troops from the pursuit until he himself had reached Astorga, by which time Moore was well on the road. Soult and Ney's Corps were both committed to the pursuit past this point. Oman puts the delay at about three months and it is hard to see where he is wrong. The principal British Army was hardly trashed: if it were, it would hardly have been in a position to successfully defend against Soult before Corunna.

As for Oporto that hight lights the main reason for French defeat in Spain, the lack of supply. It is interesting that Soult's army as it flees Wellington is shredded by the same mountains that shredded Moore.

Well on the immediate point, Soult's troops suffered heavily in the pursuit too, as his own figures make clear. But on the wider point, it was the combination of the Iberian Peninsula being hard on the French system of supply (particularly hopeless in protracted struggles), the indomitable resistance of the Spanish and Portuguese people and the French Army's steady stream of tactical defeats at the hands of the Anglo-Allied arm, plus Napoleon's micro-management from Paris and the egotism of his Marshals that always made a French victory unlikely.

ConnaughtRanger30 Dec 2019 2:44 p.m. PST

"It is interesting that Soult's army as it flees Wellington is shredded by the same mountains that shredded Moore."
Ever looked at a map?

kevin Major30 Dec 2019 3:45 p.m. PST

@ Whirlwind
"The principal British Army was hardly trashed"

The British took 35,000 men into Spain and left 8,000 of them behind when they left. 2,000 cavalry horses 4,000 transport horse also were lost. Large amounts of supplies left behind to ease Soults problems.
The British army that lands in England after rescue puts 5,000 men into hospital sick.
Are these not terrible numbers for a country to loose from its principle Army?

Esdaile a modern author of the conflict calls the campaign a disaster that ruins Anglo Spanish relations.
For what gain? The campaign took from mid December to mid January. Where is Omans 3 months? What useful things came out of that time? Spain was assailed by French forces before Moores madness and after it was over.

Handlebarbleep30 Dec 2019 4:02 p.m. PST

Brechtel198

Mercer was well short of operational experience in comparison to his contemporaries. He tends to make the pedestrian and workaday sound slightly more dramatic. Makes for a great read, and probably explains his enduring appeal. Read Mercers letters to Leathes and the axes he grinds, which might explain why.

The majority of the memoirs of the more experienced cavalry officers generally come off as "The prettiest field day you ever did see" or similar. The whole thing on the 17th was an affair of cavalry. Wellington's infantry was safely up the road, Napoleon's was trailing far behind.

The only real contact was when Uxbridge decided to use defile at Genappe to check the lead French elements. Despite his maxim that he wouldn't waste time, Napoleon did exactly that.

On the 17th the French come up "a day late and a dollar short" as the saying goes. The Prussians have been allowed to break contact, Wellington has been allowed to escape, to turn and fight on the ground of his own choosing.

If I were a boxing judge scoring this round, Napoleon barely gets a glove on the allies. Most of their soldiers never lay eyes on a Frenchman all day.

Whirlwind30 Dec 2019 10:56 p.m. PST

Are these not terrible numbers for a country to loose from its principle Army?

Not particularly. They are about par for the course in a difficult Napoleonic campaign.

For what gain? The campaign took from mid December to mid January. Where is Omans 3 months? What useful things came out of that time?

Because Napoleon had no intention whatsoever of going to Galicia, which was a dead end. He threw up his original conceptions of campaign in order to pursue Moore. After the taking of Madrid, all his troops were in New Castile and the Tagus valley Soult & Ney (45,000 men of his uncommitted 70,000 – i.e. those not assigned to Aragon or Catalonia etc.) spent until mid-January pursuing Moore i.e. they foregoed their activity of the first two weeks of December, then spent the next four weeks in pursuit of Moore, and ended up six weeks from their original positions, allowing time for Galluzzo's and La Pena's armies to recover and for the Spanish government to start operating and recruiting again. Since Napoleon wanted to go to Lisbon, Moore would have been doing exactly what Napoleon wanted if he should have retreated there, there being no lines of Torres Vedras or similar at the time.

Joseph did not begin his advance to the South until mid-March; Soult did not begin his advance into Portugal (and that from the worst direction) until the end of that month, rather than in late December as Napoleon had intended before learning of Moore's presence threatening Soult in Leon.

Spain was assailed by French forces before Moore's madness and after it was over.

Yes, as you say: before and after , not during or immediately after.

Esdaile a modern author of the conflict calls the campaign a disaster that ruins Anglo Spanish relations.

Well he doesn't quite say "ruins", since that would imply that they were irretrievably damaged, which was not the case although there was much unhappiness on both sides. But what else does Esdaile say?

…far from betraying his trust, by striking at Napoleon's communications, Moore had drawn a large part of the emperor's forces after him into northern Spain. In doing so, it is often argued that he had thwarted the capture of Lisbon and Cadiz and thereby cost Napoleon his only chance of a quick victory. This perhaps is going too far but what is certainly true is that the battered Spanish armies had been afforded a valuable breathing space and the Junta Central given the chance to restore a modicum of order . From its nadir in December 1808, the Patriot cause therefore recovered, and this in turn ensured that the British would not abandon Spain altogether
.

dibble30 Dec 2019 11:49 p.m. PST

Massena

Read Mercer's memoir. The allied cavalry was chased by the French to and through Genappe.

Which of course, is rubbish.

I posted this on another site:

Apart from the eyewitness accounts (not Houssaye's secondary) that I had posted in the link, I give you these.

Private Thomas Playford, 2nd Life Guards: From his memoirs

"….This day's work was more noise and sham than otherwise; each brigade retired in succession and the front had always a formidable appearance. For on one occasion I watched the mounted skirmishers of the French and English armies, firing at each other for more than twenty minutes, and not one man or horse fell on either side. The French artillery occasionally hurried forward and fired a few cannon balls at us; I saw the flash and the smoke, and heard the sound, but no harm was done; the gunners must therefore have been bad marksmen. Our guns opened a heavy fire in return; and now and then a Congreve rocket went hissing through the air; but I suppose little damage was done. And a heavy fall of rain cooled human ardour on both sides.

Some fighting took place in the village of Genappe and the Seventh Hussars were at one time in some danger, but a very gallant charge of the First Life Guards turned the tide of affairs, and the rear guard quitted the village without much loss.

************************************************** ****


Assistant Surgeon John Haddy James, 1st Life Guards: Rouilly, 8 miles from Paris, 9th July 1815

"….We had retired through & just the other side of Genappe, forming the rear of the brigade when we were ordered to halt & in about two minutes up came a part of the 7th & 23rd full pelt covered with mud & at their heels a body of cuirassiers & lancers of the Guard. It was fortunate for the army that our regiment did not follow their example. They immediately charged them and filled the streets of Genappe with killed and wounded. Lord Uxbridge was with the regiment & said that he had been deserted by his own (the 7th ) but the Guards had restored the honour of the British cavalry."


************************************************** ***


Private Joseph Lord, 2nd Life Guards: Brussels, 3 July 1815

"….This took us two hours or better and during this time such a storm as I never saw in all my life of lightning, thunder and rain, the water came in such quantities that merely to say it rained would be far short of expressing it, for we had nothing dry about us in 15 minutes. We never offered to cloak as it would have been to no purpose. After we had been retreating an hour and a half they came so fast upon us that we were called upon to arrest their progress as the light dragoons were very near and severely cut off and not able to stand their force. Our brigade formed & the 1st Regiment of Life Guards being the nearest, they were to charge them, which they did with great advantage, as they little imagined that we had such strong men and horses in our army. The 1st Life Guards had some men wounded, some took prisoners and some horses killed and wounded, but we got all the prisoners back, again the Blues were next, but the enemy in meantime had got some cannon to bear on us by which the Blues had 3 men killed and some horses, and some men and horses wounded, but they coming in such numbers that it was not judgement to charge. Accordingly we took up position about a mile or two to the rear and here they did not dare to engage us as Wellington had the remainder of his troops ready here. It still rained but in a more regular manner and continued so to do all night and all the army formed in line of battle, some of them to the knees in mud and water, nor had we a morsel of bread or meat nor anything for our horses. Here we stopped all night not able to lie down as we should have been smothered in mud and water…."

************************************************** ****


Captain Charles Edward Radclyffe, 1st Royal Dragoons: Brussels, 7th July 1815

"….Early in the afternoon, the cavalry also commenced their retreat, followed by the enemy. It appeared to me Lord U[xbridge] wished to bring on and the enemy to avoid a cavalry fight. However that may be, the movements on both were beautifully performed, though every now and then obscured by the heaviest storms of hail and rain I ever witnessed. Just on this side [of] Genappe, if it was the Lieutenant General's wish to have a fight, he was indulged, the 7th H[ussars] made an unfortunate attack on a corps of lancers; the 1st Life Guards retrieved and avenged them. I was at the time detached to cover with skirmishers, the front of our brigade and only saw the Life lGuards charge something. The following is the account given me of the affair by Captain Kelly of the 1st Life Guards who distinguished himself on the occasion. The Household brigade left in front, supported the rearguard on the great chaussee (the rest of the cavalry retiring in lines of columns on both flanks as the ground [allowed?]. On quitting Genappe a body of of lancers debouched from the town & Lord Uxbridge ordered the 7th H[ussars] to charge them; it was unsuccessful, the rest retired in some disorder. The commanding officer and some few others penetrated, were taken & killed the rest retired in some disorder. The rear of the 1st Life Guards were fronted in support, but on the enemy pursuing, they also went about by order. Lord Uxbridge called out to them ‘would they also dessert [sic] him'. He had previously rallied the 7th, but they would not stand or face the pursuing lancers, when Kelly, who did not belong to the rear squadron of the Life Guards brought them round & charged with half a squadron & fortunately broke, pursued & killed many of them. He retired when he found himself under fire of their supports.
They rallied & again charged them with equal success. On retiring Lord U[xbridge] thanked the Life Guards & called Kelly, shook him by the hand & said he had witnessed his exploits, he would not sleep before the commander in chief should be informed on his gallantry &c…."

************************************************** *

And seeing that Thomas Morris is wheeled out to 'prove' that a British square was broken, by 'Nappyists'; I give you this:

"….In Genappe was a portion of the enemy's cuirassiers, whom the 7th Hussars had bravely, but vainly' endeavoured to check, when the Earl of Uxbridge brought up the household heavy horse and drove the enemy back. I was an unwilling spectator to this scene, and too near them to be pleasant, but I was compelled to stop to remove some gravel which had got into my boots…."

************************************************** ****


Here are the accounts that I had posted before:


Lieutenant Standish O'Grady, was present with a squadron of 7th Hussars, commanded by Major Edward Hodge.

Cavalry action at Genappe:

"In this state of affairs Lord Anglesey (Uxbridge) gave us orders to charge them, which we immediately did. Of course, our charge could make no impression, but we continued cutting at them, and we did not give ground, nor did they move. Their commanding officer was cut down, and so was ours (Major Hodge), and this state of things lasted some minutes, when they brought down some light Artillery, which struck the rear of the right (the charging) squadron and knocked over some men and horses, impeding the road in our rear. We then received orders from Lord Anglesey, who was up with us, but not on the road during this time. The Lancers then advanced upon us, and in the melee which ensued they lost quite as many as we did, and when at last we were able to disengage ourselves they did not attempt to pursue us."

With the 7th Hussars forced back, Lord Uxbridge rode to the 23rd Light Dragoons and ordered them to prepare to charge. He recalled:

"My address to these Light dragoons not having been received with all the enthusiasm that I expected, I ordered them to clear the chaussee, and said, ‘The Life Guards shall have this honour,' and instantly sending for them, two squadrons of the 1st Regiment, gallantly led by Major Kelly, came on with right good will, and I sent them in to finish the lancers. They at once overthrew them, and pursued them into the town, where they punished them severely."

The charge had the desired effect of checking the French pursuit and from here on the retreat along the main Brussels road continued at a slow unhurried pace. The French had been given a bloody nose, and in the appalling weather conditions evidently showed a marked lack of enthusiasm for the pursuit. They continued to follow, and even skirmished, but nothing serious happened on the main Brussels road between Genappe and Waterloo.

As Lord Uxbridge later wrote:

"Having thus checked the ardour of the enemy's advance guard, the retreat continued at a slow pace, and with the most perfect regularity. Assuredly this coupe de collier had the very best effect, for although there was much cannonading, and a constant appearance and constant disposition to charge, they continued to keep at a respectful distance."

The French pursuit was not totally thwarted, however. Indeed, for the next few miles the British heavy cavalry demonstrated that the art of skirmishing was not the exclusive domain of Light Cavalry. The British cavalry frequently draw criticism for their wild behaviour and for their inexperience, particularly the Scots Greys and Inniskillings, but here, above the muddy slopes of Genappe, and indeed, for the next few miles or so, they skirmished in the finest style, frustrating all attempts for the French to pass round their flanks and cut them off. 'The Royals, Inniskillings and Greys,' wrote Uxbridge:

"Manoeuvred beautifully, retiring by alternate squadrons and skirmished in the very best style; but finding all the efforts of the enemy to get upon their right flank were vain , and that by manoeuvring upon the plain, which was deep and heavy from the violent storm of rain, it only uselessly exhausted the horses. I drew these regiments in on the chaussee in one column the guns falling back from position to position, and from these Batteries, checking the advance of the enemy.
We were received by the Duke of Wellington upon entering the position of Waterloo, having effected the retreat with very trifling loss.
Thus ended the prettiest field day of cavalry and Horse Artillery that I ever witnessed."


Colonel Sir John Elley, Royal Horse Guards, Deputy Adjutant General

Written by Lt Col Stovin Adjutant General, ADD MS 34706, FO 413


"I have had a long interview with Sir J. Elley-he is getting very prosey and much of self. At the period of the battle which you will show-he was wounded in 4 places and very exhausted from loss of blood-but he will look over the plan and questions and let me have both such observations that he finds competent to make. I wish you could see him and hear him for though prolix-[he] is always clear.
Of the Quatre Bras affair he gave me a clear history. He was desired by Lord Anglesey to take the Houshold brigade of heavies to the rear and take up position to cover the retirement of the Light cavalry-he first moved them in line on each side of the road-but from observation, finding that the Light cavalry would soon be pushed up the road, he moved the household brigade into column of 1/2 squadrons a cheval and the Heavy brigade into column on the left of the road.
The enemy pushed the Light cavalry back as had been foreseen and they passed to the left of the Household brigade who then formed squadrons and filled the road and drove back the French through Genappe. The guns behind the Household opened on the enemy as soon as the Light cavalry had got clear. After clearing them over the bridge the Household brigade retired slowly under cover of skirmishers on either side of the road (Furnished from the Heavy brigade) who had been in reserve and thus the whole got to Waterloo.

just like the British Guards being routed by cavalry at Quatre Bras. That too is rubbish.

dibble30 Dec 2019 11:56 p.m. PST

Kevin Major

I posted:
"As was famously said that the armies that faced Nappy were half beaten before battle was joined. No such thing had or would occur to the British and Allies under Wellington's command."

And you posted:

cannot agree with that statement. In the early hours of the Waterloo campaign Wellington was fixated on the possibility of a French advance through Mons and his first orders balanced his army in that direction. Only the brave Belgian decision to ignore orders and hold onto Quatra Bras saved Wellington from defeat in detail. Wellington himself admitted to being "Humbugged!"

But the outcome 'even with the advantage of surprise' was?

Then you post this:

As to Napoleon facing British troops, what of the Spanish campaign of 1808 and Sir John Moore having to run for Corunna. The British ran from Napoleon though it was Soult who finished the pursuit.

So what happened every time an action or battle ensued during the retreat? Even with the British half-starved, frozen and knackered?.

Do you agree with Massena Re: Ten British colours being captured at Cacabelos (Pretos)?

Moore had between 130,000 and 240,000 troops opposing his tiny thirty-odd thousand. His retreat still saved the British Army. All the equipment and horses that were lost could be easily made up but not so an experienced, professional army.

Even with such a huge army, Nappy still failed in his objective to drive the British out of the Peninsula.

kevin Major31 Dec 2019 2:33 a.m. PST

@Whirlwind
So 30% casualties of your army while only fighting one significant action for no appreciable gain was OK. We must differ on that.

In the 3 month "delay" the Spanish army was beaten at Ucles (12th Jan) and Cuidad Real (18th February). The city of Saragossa fell on 20th February.
Some 40,000 french troops between Ney and Soult were drawn north out of an French force of some 250,000. If Napoleon really wanted Lisbon immediately he could have sent some of those remaining forces. But the priority target once it emerged was to drive the British army from Spain. Job done, even as you say it had to be chased into a back water.

In my opinion, and that is all I can express, Moores adventure changed nothing except to remove himself from army command and leave the way open for Wellington to take command. The Spanish War continues for 6 more years. Britain takes years building up an army to march across Spain. The Spanish people create the ulcer conditions that suck life from French ambitions.

Interesting chat. Thank you

kevin Major31 Dec 2019 2:45 a.m. PST

@ dibble
Actually moving against Moore were about 40,000 french troops at the start. The balance of your 240,000 were busy else where. The numbers drop to around parity during the pursuit as Ney heads into Galicia and Soult with his Corp continues directly after Moore.
The battle before Corunna was fought by approximately equal forces, numbers are hard to get as both armies had large numbers sick and straggling. The British had the advantage of several more days rest than the French and stood on the defensive in a good position. The French advantage in cavalry was negated by the terrain, so much so the British embarked most of their remaining cavalry before the battle.

Sorry, I do not understand your Waterloo comments.

Whirlwind31 Dec 2019 2:58 a.m. PST

@ Kevin,

High casualties in difficult campaigns or battles were not uncommon for the loser or the winner. This is true of say, the Grande Armee in the winter campaign of 1806-7 or Massena's troops in 1810-11. The Spaniards had already demonstrated in Oct-Dec just how many troops one could lose very quickly in such circumstances. It is the basic grammar of the period.

only fighting one significant action for no appreciable gain was OK.

Well, not losing Spain and Portugal and saving the British Army might be seen as an appreciable gain but each to their own opinion.

Remember the question isn't how Moore could win since that was impossible, it was how could he have the greatest effect given the odds: it is difficult to see how he could have done that much better.

Some 40,000 French troops between Ney and Soult were drawn north out of an French force of some 250,000. If Napoleon really wanted Lisbon immediately he could have sent some of those remaining forces. But the priority target once it emerged was to drive the British army from Spain. Job done, even as you say it had to be chased into a back water.

Well, no. 70000 troops were drawn North, and 45000 troops (Ney and Soult) remained. Napoleon then did not have sufficient forces to go to Lisbon or Seville. The troops around Saragossa and those pursuing Venegas' troops were already committed. Napoleon clearly indicated his piority was Lisbon and was thrown off that objective.

But the priority target once it emerged was to drive the British army from Spain. Job done, even as you say it had to be chased into a back water.

Napoleon's aim was to successfully complete his invasion of Portugal and Spain, and to defeat the British. He demonstrably failed in both in large part because of Moore's daring exploit.

Whirlwind31 Dec 2019 3:07 a.m. PST

Actually moving against Moore were about 40,000 french troops at the start.

Not true. The numbers at the start were double that until Napoleon called a halt before Astorga (i.e. most of Napoleon's Army marched from Madrid to Astorga and then half went no further before returning to Madrid or France).

Whirlwind31 Dec 2019 3:10 a.m. PST

Interesting chat. Thank you

And to you.

Gazzola01 Jan 2020 9:25 a.m. PST

Handlebarbleep

Once Welly heard that Blucher had been defeated 'by the French' and was retreating, he response was as follows-

'Old Blucher has had a good licking and gone back to Wavre, eighteen miles. As he has gone back, we must go to. I suppose in England they will say we have been licked. I can't help it; as they have gone back, we must go to.' He stood there and issued orders within five minutes.' (page 4. Waterloo, Volume 2 by John Hussey)

Five minutes seems pretty quick to me. And if it made no difference as to what had happened to the Prussians, Welly would have stayed put. But the 'French' defeating the Prussians and the threat they now posed to him, 'forced him' to have to retreat.

In hindsight and as we all know, it turned out to be the right action to take, although we will never know what might have happened had he stayed at Quatre Bras (an interesting whatif for whatif fans). Wellington had to scarper and take up a new position at Waterloo and hope the Prussians did what he and the British failed to do, go to their allies aid.

Aloha6001 Jan 2020 2:06 p.m. PST

Hi

It was always going to be a 'hard slug' for the French at Waterloo – the British have always been partial to warfare and the lower level command structure pretty well accepted that victory or death were the dominanat options for the day – which would have had a major impact on the rank and file (as in they were not going anywhere without being bludgeoned back into the fray).
The foot guard officers at hougourmont had made a vow to the same effect and when you consider the performance of the British allies at Waterloo then the French would have gained a 'grisly' victory if they had won – read the extermination of the allied army.
For the French to have gained that 'grisly' victory Napoleon might mave taken advice or considered what the British had done in the Peninsula and altered his battlefield tactics – in particular D'Erlon's attack – keeping his battalions primarily in attack colums behind a single line of infantry with a massive screen of light infantry thrown forward and squardrons of cavalry on hand.
Yes, wargamers love the what if's – otherwise what's the point?

Handlebarbleep01 Jan 2020 8:04 p.m. PST

Gazzola

And that was my point, Napoleon didn't 'force' Wellington to retreat, Blucher did. They both appreciated need to act in concert or be defeated in detail.

By his lethargy he and Ney lets Wellington slip away from the trap.

Gazzola10 Jan 2020 3:53 p.m. PST

Handlebarbleep

And who forced Blucher/Prussians to retreat? That was my point.

Welly did not dare stay to face Napoleon. Napoleon was coming for him and forced him to retreat. Welly had to, as you say 'slip away' while he still could.

Handlebarbleep11 Jan 2020 8:58 a.m. PST

Gazzola

What forced Wellington to retreat on the 17th?

Allied planning, that's what. The same thing would have required him to go on the offensive had Ligny been an Allied victory.

This goes to a fundamental point, Napoleon was not fighting the Prussians, British, Netherlanders, Hanoverians or Brunswickers. He was fighting the Allies, and perhaps not truly understanding that was his ultimate error.

Stoppage11 Jan 2020 9:09 a.m. PST

I read somewhere that Wellington had noted the Waterloo area as being suitable for a good battlefield position in a previous campaign.

Handlebarbleep11 Jan 2020 1:38 p.m. PST

Stoppage

Oft quoted "I kept it in my pocket".

Wellington conducted a survey of of the area the previous year. Whilst it is a quite obvious stop line guarding the approach to Brussels, there is a theory that he may initially have been considering what eventually became the French ridge.

There is an extant map in the posession of the Royal Engineers which has a thumbnail mark, by tradition made by Wellington on the night of the 15th.

Many accounts record that on the 16th they were initially ordered to Waterloo, pausing before being ordered on to Quatre Bras.

The strategic significance of the position appears therefore have been well understood.

ConnaughtRanger11 Jan 2020 2:30 p.m. PST

"In hindsight and as we all know, it turned out to be the right action to take…"
What a bummer.

Delort11 Jan 2020 3:21 p.m. PST

Handlebarbleep

'Allied planning…'

Retiring if you lost, and going on the offensive if you won hardly took much planning, or a particularly brilliant mind.

ConnaughtRanger11 Jan 2020 3:28 p.m. PST

"..or a particularly brilliant mind."
But still too brilliant for General Bonaparte?

dogtail11 Jan 2020 3:47 p.m. PST

Allied planning:
I always thought that the prussian behaviour during the battle of Ligny was influenced by the expectation of help from Wellingtons troops. Was there any meeting between the Prussian and British General Staff, in which detailed plans were developed for the expected french invasion? I would not ask this question if the campaign happened in the 20th century, but I am not informed about the general staff procedures pre Helmut Moltke.

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