Blogger: GemSen. On this day in 1815, rattling musketry and the sounds of shot and shell would have been bouncing across the battlefield at Waterloo, between two ridges of countryside, 11 miles south of Brussels, in Belgium.
The Battle of Waterloo, between the French, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington from Britain and General Blucher from Prussia, was the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars and with the entire future of Europe at stake was one of the most important battles in history. Napoleon’s Big Ambitions Driven by his desire to make France a European empire, the defiant warlord Napoleon Bonaparte established himself as ruler and First Consul in 1799 after carrying out a coup against the government of the First Republic of France (the 'Directory'). The French Republic was officially recognised and the Peace of Amiens signed and plucky Bonaparte later declared himself First Consul for life and Emperor in 1804. Of course, Napoleon wasn’t going to stop there though - he had much higher ambitions and his main desire was to make France the most powerful country in Europe by conquering other countries including Britain. In 1803, Britain declared war on France and the ensuing 'Napoleonic Wars' were fought between France and various Allied coalitions over the next 11 years. Eventually, the Allies successfully invaded in 1814 and forced Napoleon to abdicate at the Treaty of Fontainbleau. Napoleon was then banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba, and after 25 years of war the European powers began restoring peace in their individual countries. However, peace did not last long in Europe and Napoleon escaped from Elba on the 1st March 1815, making it back to France and resuming his title as Emperor. The unpopularity of Louis XVIII and the bad economic and social climate of France helped his popularity and he was able to restore his Grand Army, releasing those who had been captured during the years of fighting. Once he was back in Paris he began building up his army in preparation for an invasion of Belgium with the goal of capturing Brussels. THIS means war Leaders met at the Congress of Vienna and the 7th Coalition between Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia was formed on 25th March - the Allied powers of Europe immediately declared war on France and began to mass hundreds of thousands of troops on the borders of France. Only the armies of Wellington and Blucher, Commander of the Prussian Army, were in place in Belgium. Napoleon once described Britain as “the most powerful and most constant of my enemies.” The Duke of Wellington, had never been beaten by the French and had a reputation as a talented coalition general. Napoleon quickly decided to attack before his enemies reached full strength and swiftly moved 125,000 troops to the Belgian border with the plan to surprise the two armies in a offensive attack on the Allied troops gathering in Belgium. He had aimed to divide the armies before defeating them separately, forcing Wellington's army to retreat back to the Belgian coast in the west and the Prussians to retreat to the east. Initially, Napoleon was partly successful and on June 16 he defeated the Prussians at Ligny. The victory was not completed though, because Marshal Ney, whose help was needed to destroy the Prussians, mismanaged a preliminary attack on British forces at Quatre Bras and arrived too late. On the morning of June 18 Napoleon went after Wellington, while Marshal Grouchy, at the head of 33,000 French troops, hunted for Blücher. This detailed rundown from BBC History explains how the battle unfolded: 11:30am The French launched their diversionary attack on Hougoumont. The Allied line hid behind the ridge. Wellington stood firm. 1:00pm The Grand Battery of heavy artillery opened fire before d'Erlon's Corps marched forward in their traditional columns across the field from the French right past La Haye Sainte. They came under fire from the garrisons at La Haye Sainte. Despite suffering heavy casualties from Allied artillery fire, the French succeeded in capturing Papelotte and surrounding La Haye Sainte. As Wellington's troops moved forward from the ridge to engage the French before they could break columns and form a line, the reserves moved up to support the left. As his centre began to give way and La Haye Sainte became vulnerable, Wellington sent in his reserve led by Picton's brigade to plug the gap. The French were beaten back from La Haye Sainte and Wellington ran home his advantage by having the cavalry brigades under Somerset and Ponsonby attack. The French infantry were surprised and easily overcome, but the Allied cavalry was badly decimated during a counter attack by a cuirassier brigade and some lancers.