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Battle of Waterloo

History -- Military history -- List of battles

"A damned near run thing" – the Duke of Wellington

The Battle of Waterloo, fought on June 18, 1815, was Napoleon Bonaparte's last. After his exile to Elba, he had been restored to the throne of France for 100 days. During this time, the forces of the rest of Europe converged on him, including Great Britain's Duke of Wellington, and Prussia's Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.

The Anglo-allied and Prussian armies were separated by previous engagements on 16 June 1815 -- a French and Anglo-Allied stalemate (battle of Quatre Bras) and a French victory over the Prussians (battle of Ligny) -- but ambiguous orders by Napoleon on the 17th to his subordinate Grouchy to pursue the Prussians with 30,000 men contributed to Napoleon's eventual defeat. Grouchy, being a late riser, started the pursuit late on both the 17th and the 18th. On the 18th, with the French III and IV corps at his disposal, he engaged elements of the Prussian army near Wavre.

In the night of the 17th/18th, the Prussian army was reinforced by the arrival of von Bulow's IV corps, which had not been present at Ligny.

After the Prussian defeat at Ligny, Wellington's position at Quattre Bras had become untenable. On a rainy 17th, Wellington withdrew his army to the previously reconnaîtred position at Waterloo, followed by the French Marshal Ney.

At Waterloo, Wellington had the reinforced farm Hougomont anchoring his right flank, and several other farms on his left. Napoleon faced his first major problem even before the battle began. He desperately wanted to start the battle as early as possible to defeat Wellington before the Prussians arrived, but because the Emperor wanted to start the battle characteristically with a French artillery bombardment on an enormous scale, he was forced to wait until the sun had dried the field from the rain that had fallen the night before (the artillery was impossible to move through muddy fields and the cavalry too were having great difficulty manoeuvering). A crucial element of the French plan of battle was to draw Wellington's reserve to his right flank in defense of Hougomont, but French attacks on the farm were eventually unsuccessful (though at one point they succeeded in breaking the door down) and Wellington's reserves were not drawn away from his center. At 1:30pm, Napoleon ordered Marshal Ney to send D'Erlon's infantry forward against Wellington's centre left passing to the East of La Haye Sainte. The attack shook the allied lines, but was eventually repelled by cavalry (the famous charge of the Scots Greys). A decisive moment in the battle was Ney's decision to assault the allied lines with massed cavalry. Several such attacks were repelled by the allied infantry (who formed squares) and a great amount of time and energy was wasted on the part of the French. Finally, an attack by the French Imperial Guard was repelled, and with the Prussians making their presence felt, the French were forced to retreat.

Wellington's hotch-potch command consisted of British, German, Dutch and Belgian troops. Some of these were of very poor quality (some were even sympathetic towards Napoleon), and ran away before the battle began. However, there were several highly capable foreign regiments, most notably the crack King's German Legion, who defended the farm La Haye Sainte until they ran out of ammunition.

Wellington and Blücher met at the inn 'La Belle Alliance', headquarters of Napoleon. Shortly after the French defeat, Napoleon lost his throne and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he spent the rest of his life.

Armies participating in the campaign:

Imperial guard of 25,000, a formidable élite group of units.

Armies participating in the battle of Waterloo:

The battle commenced at about 1120 in the morning and concluded at about 2200 that evening.

General Cambronne surrendered to Col Halkett.

Casualties are estimated at 25,000 men killed and wounded and 9,000 captured among the French forces. Wellington's casualties were 15,000 and Blücher's about 8,000.

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