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"Napoleon's Great Scapegoat: Grouchy's Waterloo" Topic


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766 hits since 18 Jun 2022
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von Winterfeldt18 Jun 2022 9:27 a.m. PST

This is a very worthwile podcast to listen to :

link

Here my opinion about the podcast and storyline.

While I have not that real interest about the campaign itself I was always fascinated what was made out of it and all those propaganda stories so well entreched as to be taken as face value, there are endless amounts. I had always my doubts that Grouchy was the culprit of Boney's well deserved defeat – but recent years made it at least for me pretty evident that he was victim of another vicious character assasination by Boney and worse, by his fawners. Already Bernard Coppens – Waterloo – Les Mesonges, pointed that and many other slanders well out. Andrew Field is discussing this topic very well, and no Grouchy didn't do a stellar performance other than saving his miliary command fully intact and conducting a skillfull retreat after Wavre, as well as trying to lie to cover his back, he was no saint.

I am always surprised about Boney's decissions to create wings, or armies – operating more or less under his directive, it failed in 1812, it failed in 1813 and in 1815 as well. How could those guys, even such experienced military men like Ney, run all of a sudden a multiple corps army, whithout having an experienced staff doing this job all before?

About the "gagner" story, I have my own views – the battle at Belle Alliance won already at 13:00 – in my view, even a bit like armchair general like, is that plausible – and wouldn't engaged sound more plausible by such experienced generals like Grouchy? But then again, the stress of the moment, to make decissions on the spot – must have been incredible diffult – reflecting at my own decission making, I could have done always better some hours, days, months later.

nickinsomerset18 Jun 2022 10:34 a.m. PST

One of the best Waterloo games we played involved dicing for the Prussian and Grouchy arrival times and location, Prussians a straight D10 for time and Grouchy a D 10 +5.

Twas a good game,

Tally Ho!

Regicide164918 Jun 2022 11:06 a.m. PST

A very interesting podcast. Many thanks for the post. I wasn't aware of the website before.

I am not convinced by the 'rehabilitation' of Grouchy, however, despite all his many commendable traits. He had a knack during the Hundred Days for misinterpreting the Emperor's verbal orders, and particularly concerning the Prussian line of march after Ligny. Is it not reasonable to expect that the commander of the corps of cavalry ought to have ascertained where Blucher had vanished to? I think Pajol did establish this line after some hours were lost, but that he did so largely on his own intiative. Surely it was sound cavalry doctrine that if 35,000 enemy soldiers withdrew out of sight after a defeat, the corps commander ought to have maintained contact that was at least visual?

My opinion may be clouded by admiration for the other scapegoat, Ney. I certainly don't buy in to later Bonapartist conspiracy theories that Grouchy wilfully frustrated Napoleon's chance of victory at Waterloo. I think rather that he and Ney, by 1815, were not quite what Murat and Davout had been ten years earlier.

rmaker18 Jun 2022 12:00 p.m. PST

The "Grouchy didn't pursue hard enough" narrative overlooks the fact that he was left with the most exhausted units from Ligny. He did a pretty commendable job to mount as much of a pursuit as he did.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP18 Jun 2022 12:18 p.m. PST

Never accepted claims that Napoleon's subordinates lost the Waterloo campaign, whether Ney, Soult, or Grouchy. They all had one thing in common, Napoleon picked them.

I worked in corporate America long enough to know epic fails ultimately come from failures at the top, in either talent management or culture setting. In the Waterloo campaign, the fail was in talent management. Napoleon miscalculated the political and military risks he faced and put the wrong people in the wrong places.

marmont1814 Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Jun 2022 4:52 p.m. PST

Grouchy was an ass, he disobeyed the basic tenants of command, he screwed up the scouting,he didn't have respect of the commanders under his command. His career deserved trashing he wasn't suited to independent command he had never shone outside the command of another. Read Grouch's Waterloo, by Andrew Field – The whole debacle can de summed up by a passage in the book, it roughly states n aide from Napoleon arrived with orders, in a cabin Marshal Grouchy and General Gerard and the bit that sticks in my mind is the aide reports hearing a loud agitated argument with Gerard shouting at Grouchy shouting" WE ARE fU--ED AND ITS ALL YOUR FAULT", upon which the general stormed out mounted his horse and rode to his troops and led an attack on the Prussian held bridges getting seriously wounded, some people think and I agree this was a suicide attempt. Just to trow a choice into the debate, grouchy should have been at Waterloo wioth the cavalry his talent, Napoleon should have made Gerard a Marshal on the field of Ligny and sent him, his corps and Pajol in pursuit keeping Exlmands cav and VANDAMMES CORPS FOR WATERLOO

ConnaughtRanger19 Jun 2022 9:12 a.m. PST

A case of a blameless Emperor and lots of scapegoats. Bonaparte made them Marshals, appointed them to their roles in the campaign and gave the orders.

Regicide164919 Jun 2022 9:31 a.m. PST

@rmaker

You are entirely correct, of course. My opinion of Grouchy does not rest on his failure to pursue with his entire wing but in not thowing forward his light cavalry (who were fresh) while his battered corps rested. I may be mistaken, but I don't think that an experienced cavalry general ought to have required specific orders to carry out a basic principle of his military education.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2022 12:36 p.m. PST

Speaking as a (far lower level) former flunkey, I'm always suspicious of accusations that the minion disobeyed a verbal order. Too often, they're what the Boss meant rather than what the Boss actually said. And sometimes they're not even that: they're what the Boss wishes he'd said.

Beyond that, as several others have pointed out, His Imperial Majesty had personally approved every promotion for 15 years and was a notorious micromanager, demanding tons of information from distant subordinates who had campaigns to run. Did he not know the capabilities of his marshals and generals?

And he had absolute military authority. No one in the French war machine could deny him any subordinate he wanted in any position he felt appropriate. (See Wellington's correspondence for contrast.)

If he wanted to complain later about staffing in the Armee du Nord, I know exactly who he should address the complaint to.

Regicide164920 Jun 2022 11:21 a.m. PST

I find comparisons with corporations very interesting. I hadn't considered that angle, so thank you for that, gentlemen. I wonder if we shouldn't distinguish between 'technical' and 'operational', however (if I have used the correct terms). All operational responsibility lies with the Emperor, of course, the c-in-c or CEO. Corporate strategy is concieved and resources earmarked; executive officers are appointed to specific tasks, which are explained in a series of written directives to be modified by verbal interviews with the c-in-c, or updated by on-the-hoof instructions from the chief-of-staff, who has the c-in-c's full authority. Failure remains the entire responsibility of Napoleon, therefore, as the strategy miscarried in driving the Prussians apart from the Anglo-Beligian allies.

Grouch's failure after Ligny is technical, I think. The CEO is not exonnerated from culpability, but Grouchy is also culpable in failing to maintain contact with the retreating Prussians. The Boss has recruited a department-head on the basis of his experience; and that officer has failed in a core function of his role (reconnaisance), which in this instance, renders corporate strategy obsolete.

If I was the CEO, I would rue the appointment of that subordinate till my dying day; if I was that subordinate, I would drink a good bottle of red wine and go out into the orchard a blow my brains out. Certainly, I would not spend the next 40 years trying to disguise my own shortcomings.

Great discussion. Thanks to all.

von Winterfeldt20 Jun 2022 10:56 p.m. PST

It is seemingly easy still to blame Grouchy, who wasn't even prepared to take on an army, what staff did he had, what experience in the past did he have to command multiple corps armies of different arms branches. This system did fail very badly in the past – and it wasn't only a personal but a structural problem as well.

Andrew Field points out well in the podcast, as well as in his books the reasons of the late start of the 17th and why some reports were misleading.

And Boney wasn't up to co ordinate two wings and his reserves at all.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2022 9:45 a.m. PST

I'd be prepared to argue that Bonaparte remains the greatest Western military leader since classical times. But when I look at the Hundred Days, I remember Bujold's observation that even the greatest geniuses are only geniuses some of the time. And owning up to his own mistakes was never Bonaparte's strong suit.

On the morning of 17 June, he was late off the mark and optimistic. Grouchy might not have been the best pick, and the orders we have in writing pushed Grouchy in the wrong direction. So did the road network, and if Bonaparte didn't know that, he should have.

Grouchy was ordered to pursue the Prussians, determine the direction of their retreat, and inform Napoleon. He did all those things. On the 18th, all his forces were engaged, which is better than Bonaparte could say of his own forces on the 16th. Maybe a perfect subordinate would have shown up exactly where he was most needed on the morning of the 18th, but that subordinate would have gotten there by disobeying or anticipating orders.

Au pas de Charge Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2022 12:40 p.m. PST

I had always my doubts that Grouchy was the culprit of Boney's well deserved defeat

Just so you know how you might look to some readers. I've got no interest in your link. I find it bottomlessly disturbing that you cant discuss Napoleon on a forum that is supposed to admire generalship without always sneering at the man 200 years later. Very off-putting for debate.

And I know some on here think they have a right to wind up so called Boney-Fawners but I cant respect a bizarre concept that you reserve the right to bait people who are in the proper place to discuss Napoleon openly and maturely. It's like attending a house of worship and constantly interrupting the sermon to criticize the faith and name call the parishioners. It's just odd.

Just so you know, your supercilious tone towards Napoleon has actually made me more interested in him, not less. Consider your tactics and what you hope to accomplish.

We can discuss Hitler's generalship without added attacks, we dont discuss Lee's strategies by calling him a traitor in every sentence and we dont call George III an insane tyrant every time he is brought up. Nothing could possibly make Napoleon different except that there is an unwitting hate club doubtless caused by all that pro-British propaganda that doesn't exist. But no one on here continually degrades Wellington or the British war effort against Napoleon. However, the slightest criticism sends the Anti-Boney-fawner crowd into fits of Anti-British accusations. That disconnect is one of the ways you prove the existence of a cult.

marmont1814 Sponsoring Member of TMP27 Jun 2022 4:33 p.m. PST

Von winterfeldt is taking one guys opinion and of course the ever historical film, the truth is very different,the light cavalry, the regiments of general Pajol pursuied the prussian rear gaurd until midnight, in the morning of the 17th at 3am General vandammes corps set off in pursuit and at 5am a fight by the Prussians to recover captured artillery took place against portions of the 6th corps. General Pajols with the light cavalry he had available were up early, had began scouting and set off in pursuit, at 5 am the encountered the desrters approx 8,000 heading toward namur capturing guns and equipment abandoned and informing Groughy of such.This information and speedy pursuit led to errors as Ney didnt report his actions in the morning,this lack of info on the british led to conclusions and the active pursuit of the prussians in disarray led to another one. So sadly Andrew Fields is wrong, this
info is taken from the memoires of Pajol, Vandamme Teste and varios other officers, why didnt the Cavalry scout towards Gembloux the actual route, because Exelmens wasnt as active,in that direction or reporting their information, even a significant part ot dragoons at least one brigade support pajol and the conregation of cut of troops and desertsers now early mornig estimated at 20,000 drew attenion and in the namur direction, even though information as early as 5/6am was passed to Grouchy of the retreating forces toward wavre

Delort01 Jul 2022 5:02 a.m. PST

@marmont1814. It's very difficult to declare someone is 'wrong' when they have based their own comments on primary sources. You may not agree with their interpretation, but that does not make them wrong, any more than your own interpretation is right or wrong. I wonder if you have read Field's book on Grouchy but he has used the sources you list and more.

I think we all know the difficulties of using primary accounts and the fact that they often contradict each other. That is certainly the case here. Grouchy states that he sent out orders for the pursuit, but Pajol states that he sent a number of officers to Grouchy asking for orders and received none. He then says that it was him that ordered the reconnaissance towards Namur.

Grouchy states that he ordered Excelman's dragoons towards Gembloux; Bertin, who commanded the dragoon brigade that you mention as supporting Pajol, claims it was him that learnt the Prussians had gone to Gembloux (from local people) and sent the information to Excelmans who then set off in that direction.

We are all entitled to our own interpretation of the available sources, and our belief in their dependability/accuracy, but that does not make the interpretations of others wrong.

dibble02 Jul 2022 1:42 p.m. PST

Just so you know how you might look to some readers. I've got no interest in your link. I find it bottomlessly disturbing that you cant discuss Napoleon on a forum that is supposed to admire generalship without always sneering at the man 200 years later. Very off-putting for debate.

And I know some on here think they have a right to wind up so called Boney-Fawners but I cant respect a bizarre concept that you reserve the right to bait people who are in the proper place to discuss Napoleon openly and maturely. It's like attending a house of worship and constantly interrupting the sermon to criticize the faith and name call the parishioners. It's just odd.

Just so you know, your supercilious tone towards Napoleon has actually made me more interested in him, not less. Consider your tactics and what you hope to accomplish.

We can discuss Hitler's generalship without added attacks, we dont discuss Lee's strategies by calling him a traitor in every sentence and we dont call George III an insane tyrant every time he is brought up. Nothing could possibly make Napoleon different except that there is an unwitting hate club doubtless caused by all that pro-British propaganda that doesn't exist. But no one on here continually degrades Wellington or the British war effort against Napoleon. However, the slightest criticism sends the Anti-Boney-fawner crowd into fits of Anti-British accusations. That disconnect is one of the ways you prove the existence of a cult.


Who let the dogs out?
Who, who, who, who, who?
Who let the dogs out?
Who, who, who, who, who?

von Winterfeldt05 Jul 2022 3:24 a.m. PST

one sees on what fertile ground Boney's propaganda and lies did fall and still linger on despite overwhelming evidence of well balanced research as the book of Andrew Field and the podcast.

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