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"Waterloo question" Topic

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green beanie10 Feb 2021 10:01 a.m. PST

Over the last few months I have read about 25 books on the Battle at Waterloo. I know many writers use the same dairies & sources, so a lot of the same information. I keep asking my self when I read about the 2nd Light Battalion KGL at La Haye Sainte, that before the battle they blocked the road outside the gate that lead up to the ridge line, with, " half a farm cart, farm equipment, ladders, wheel borrows and 3 spiked French cannon." Where did they find spiked French cannon before three battle? Help me find the answer.

Lambert10 Feb 2021 10:40 a.m. PST

I think the assumption is they came from Quatre Bras, I've read that somewhere

Oliver Schmidt Supporting Member of TMP10 Feb 2021 10:51 a.m. PST

You could try to find out who used this description first, and judge whether the original source is reliable.

Often authors offer just a compilation of unchecked bits and pieces taken from other books, which they have re-arranged bit.

Widowson10 Feb 2021 12:34 p.m. PST

Seems unlikely, like extremely unlikely, that the Brits spiked any French guns at Quatre Bras. They fought a strictly defensive battle, withdrew from the field without advancing, and never came close to contact with French guns.

As far as I know, no AA unit captured or over-ran a French battery at that battle, much less spiked guns AND carried them away.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP10 Feb 2021 12:49 p.m. PST

All the evidence is that the "abattis" was created from chopped down trees (and fairly insubstantial ones too). This meant plonking trees into the road with the trunks pointing towards Brussels and the branches creating a very poor version of a "Chevaux de Frise" (I should check the spelling) facing the enemy. It lasted moments and was scattered by Allied cavalry in the first action against d'Erlon.

French cannon in it is nonsense.

What really baffles me is the idea that the KGL pioneers who should have worked to create firesteps for LHS were instead sent to Hougomont. It may be a misunderstanding, just that all efforts were concentrated on Hgmt, but I often read of LHS garrison shifted way across the battlefield to work on Hgmt. Makes no sense at all. Bit like not ensuring a proper ammo supply (do not give me the turned over cart rubbish) early that morning. OK, burning the door we might excuse if they did not know they had to hold it! Something went very wrong there.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Feb 2021 1:17 p.m. PST

If it isn't footnoted, ignore it. If it IS footnoted, go to the source--and then, if necessary, to the source's source, until you arrive at an eye-witness. You may be surprised at the difference between the contemporary report and the summary 200 years and five books later.

I'd like to know what they did with the other half of the farm cart.

AussieAndy10 Feb 2021 6:08 p.m. PST

Yep, it's a bit like family history. Don't believe anything that you hear or read until you find credible source material.

In any event, the point of spiking guns is to deny their use to the enemy. If you were in a position to haul them away (for what purpose?), why would you spike them?

Musketballs10 Feb 2021 6:16 p.m. PST

The source for the guns being used is Rm Friedrich Landau of 2 KGL Light.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Feb 2021 6:41 p.m. PST

Thank you, Musketballs! Does he actually say "spiked French?" And is he clearly saying they were in the barricade at the start of the battle? I can easily believe some French gunners got a little too close on the day.

green beanie10 Feb 2021 7:31 p.m. PST

deadhead, I agree with you concerning the KGL pioneers being sent off to Hougomont and the over turned ammo cart. Seems in later books, say the last few years, more and more writers are not covering for Wellington's mistakes like they did at the time. I always wondered how before Quarter Bras, the Allied Army was so scattered, That is why there was a lack of artillery & cavalry at Quarter Bras and also why the Belgian Dutch troops who moved off on their own, with out orders, were at the right place at the right time and held Ney off for two hours with out British help, who arrived on scene piece meal. Many sources state how Wellington did not hurry troops along and aloud them to rest and eat as he passed them. Delancy, I believe was the main reason the 2nd Light KGL did not receive there ammo, for he was over hiss head as Quarter Master General. Wellington, who was so hands on, did not take the five requests for rifle ammo to heart, but made sure ammo got to Hougomont, while under fire, so that the Guards could hold it. I know, you are thinking why the 2nd Light KGL did not ask the 95th Rifles, 50 yards away at the sand pit for rifle ammo, but you would think if you sent five different officers to request it, something would have been sent.

Musketballs10 Feb 2021 7:55 p.m. PST


He does say that…but the usual caveat applies – he was remembering decades after the event.

Personally I'm half-inclined to think that the answer to the mystery possibly lies with Ross' Troop, which had two guns posted (and disabled) on the road itself.

von Winterfeldt10 Feb 2021 10:47 p.m. PST

I would recommend to listen to the advice of Oliver Schmidt – without stating any sources on the I have read or heard basis, hardly any discussion is possible.

It is indeed Lindau who mentions the 3 spiked French guns – page 130 – difficult to believe, from where did they come from and who did them place there originally?

Allan F Mountford11 Feb 2021 2:17 a.m. PST

There is also conflicting evidence on the location of the barricade. I have seen different sketches showing it north and south of the main entrance to the farm

Whirlwind11 Feb 2021 2:33 a.m. PST

I suppose there 'might' have been French guns captured at Quatre Bras, during one of the Allied counterattacks, as the French were eventually driven back to their start line, then any guns abandoned or dismounted or somesuch during the battle might have been left in Allied hands.

BillyNM11 Feb 2021 3:08 a.m. PST

IIRC Lindau also mentions repairing the barricade at one point so if he does mention the guns (and I don't recall that) maybe that was when they were included, i.e. some time after the battle had started? I must go and look it up.

Oliver Schmidt Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 3:31 a.m. PST

I believe captured guns wouldn't just be used as material for buildig a barricade, if not as a quick improvisation on the spot. Normally, captured guns would be brought back to some depots, and not taken along with the army as an additional useless impediment.

The heavy weight of brass of the cannon had a very high value, and using captured guns in the frontline as an obstacle, would have been a potential waste of a lot of money and an invitation for the enemy to retake them.

Lindau speaks of creating the barricade (the "abatis" must have been a different thing ?) at the spot "where the orchard joined the building" and that it was improvised on the morning of 18th, before the battle started. He doesn't say where the spiked guns came from:


Oliver Schmidt Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 3:39 a.m. PST

Baring in his report doesn't mention any barricade, neither an abatis:


von Winterfeldt11 Feb 2021 4:35 a.m. PST

captured guns were highly prized items – then why to spike them and next why park them conveniently on a road – unguarded?

For me, Lindaus statement – in this context – very unlikely.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 8:03 a.m. PST

Didn't the Dutch-Belgian army use French field pieces?

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 10:08 a.m. PST

This is an interesting point.

AIUI one spiked captured guns if there was no means or time to carry them off. Hammering a spike into the touchhole made them unusable until an armourer working with a drill could remove the spike.

Spiked guns on the Brussels road were thus unlikely to be the enemy's. If it was possible to move them away you wouldn't have spiked them. You might possibly have captured them then spiked them 2 days later but as Oliver points out why would the army have brought them along? From QB they'd surely have sent them on to Mons.

Could they have been damaged Allied guns unfit for use?

I tend to go with the 'didn't happen' hypothesis.

Oliver Schmidt Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 11:05 a.m. PST

Graeme's account, his "abatis" seems to be identical with Lindau's barricade (see his map):


And another reference to the "abattis":


From the opposite side, Mauduit talks of a "strong barricade":


In an 1807 German-French dictionary (there was at least one earlier edition in 1787), "abatis" is defined as "A number of things which have been heaped one over the other, such as wood, trees, stones, houses [sic, maybe this is intended to mean parts of a wall] etc.":


So maybe the KGL officers did not have trees in mind when they spoke of an abatis, and later authors misinterpreted this. As Baring complained in his report, the battalion did not have any tools at hand in La Haye Sainte, and felling trees would have been difficult without axes.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP11 Feb 2021 9:25 p.m. PST

Don't worry. I'm not trying to be glib but soldiers have been known to tell tales and say the darnedest things.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP12 Feb 2021 10:36 a.m. PST

What trees…?

Oliver Schmidt Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2021 1:29 a.m. PST

It seems there was an additional, real military abatis made out of trees, which had been constructed by the 1st battalion of the 95th Rifles.

See here, p. 12, and p. 46 notes 139 & 140: – PDF link

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