Woodcut of Marshal Soult, 1769-1851

Woodcut of Marshal Soult, 1769-1851


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Woodcut of Marshal Soult, 1769-1851


A portrait of Marshal Soult taken from the 1831 edition of No.VIII in the Family Library, The Court and Camp of Buonaparte. When the book was published Soult was still Duke of Dalmatia, and minister at war to Louis Philippe.


Jean-de-Dieu Soult

Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult, also known as Nicolas Soult, Ώ] ΐ] 1st Duke of Dalmatia (French:  [ʒɑ̃dədjø sult] 29 March 1769 – 26 November 1851), was a French general and statesman, named Marshal of the Empire in 1804 and often called Marshal Soult. Soult was one of only six officers in French history to receive the distinction of Marshal General of France. The Duke also served three times as President of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister of France.

However, his reputation among those who experienced his occupation of Iberia is quite different. Soult's intrigues while occupying Portugal earned him the nickname, "King Nicolas," and while he was Napoleon's military governor of Andalusia, Soult looted 1.5 million francs worth of art. Α] One historian called him "a plunderer in the world class." Β]


Piecing Together the Histories of a Series of Stolen Paintings

A view of the interior of the church attached to the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville, where a copy of the Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” (1667/1670) sits (top, left corner of the image), while the original is held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC (photo by Nachama Soloveichik)

A troubling theme awaits visitors who enter Washington’s National Gallery of Art via the 7th street entrance and ascend to the late-16th and early-17th century European galleries. Several works depict violent abuses and thefts.

Here, an Italian bishop is about to lose his head for practicing his faith, in Mattia Preti’s “Martyrdom of Saint Gennaro” (c. 1685). Nearby, God and a host of angels eject the first biblical couple from paradise for their original sin of theft, in Domenichino’s circa 1626 “The Rebuke of Adam and Eve.” In the same room, Guercino’s biblical paintings “Amnon and Tamar” (1649–50) and “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife” (1649) hang side by side the first depicts David’s son raping his half-sister, and the second, Potiphar’s unnamed wife attempting to seduce Joseph and frame him for adultery.

The original painting of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, “Return of the Prodigal Son” (1667/1670) hanging in the National gallery (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

When visitors enter an adjacent room and consider Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” (1667/1670), they might breathe a sigh of relief. Here is an ostensibly more wholesome picture. The wayward son returns penitent after stealing away from his father, and the latter accepts him with open arms. Murillo even threw in a small, white dog meant to symbolize fidelity, looking up at the ragged son for good measure.

The painting might appear legally kosher, but it has a past that visitors won’t glean from the wall label or the National Gallery website. Some 3,750 miles away in Seville, a troubling story of the painting emerges at the Hospital de la Caridad, for which Murillo originally created it.

“Prodigal Son” was one of six works in a series Murillo painted for the medieval La Santa Caridad (“holy charity”) brotherhood, of which he was a member. The brotherhood cared for travelers and the sick and it buried unclaimed corpses, often the drowned or executed. The series, appropriately, relates to the theme of mercy.

The interior of the church, attached to the hospital, couldn’t be more different from gallery 34 at the National Gallery, where the painting hangs alongside works by Francisco de Zurbarán, Diego Velázquez, and other European painters of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Just two of the Murillos hanging in the church are real. The other four, including “Prodigal Son” are copies that represent works looted during the French conquest of Spain. In 1810, Nicolas-Jean de Dieu Soult, the French duke who occupied Seville, took several artworks and shipped them to Paris — the Murillo paintings among them.

The English catalog being sold in the Caridad shop refers to the four as “stolen.” The absence of the works, it adds, alters the message of the church, which was designed by a Seville aristocrat named Don Miguel Mañara Vicentelo de Leca who was appointed hermano mayor (chief brother) of the brotherhood in 1663.

Mañara, who oversaw the church’s completion in 1670 and created the hospital, designed the church’s pictorial program that was intended “to show the way to heaven to the brothers of La Santa Caridad,” according to the catalog. “[It] indicates clearly that the path to salvation can only be reached by accomplishing works of mercy, in one word, by practicing charity.”

“Their present dispersal makes it impossible to read the entire message designed by Don Miguel Mañara for the church interior,” the guide adds. To mitigate this situation, the guide tells us that “In the place of Murillo’s paintings, there are four copies of the stolen ones,” currently hanging in the church, and that they were hand painted in 2007.

Prior to Soult looting the works, they were part of some 1,000 paintings designated for a royal collection in Madrid, explains Ignacio Cano, of Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes. New legislation in 1810 decreed that the collections of male religious orders, which had been recently dissolved, be stored in Seville’s Alcázar (the royal palace), which is where the Murillo canvases went.

“The aim was to make a selection for the National Museum of Paintings in Madrid and to make a present to the emperor with the most qualified paintings,” Cano said. “But against this project, Marshal Soult, chief general of Napoleon’s army in Spain, entered the Alcázar and looted to his own government a selection of paintings, including Murillo’s paintings, which he took to Paris.”

The Caridad brotherhood absolutely refused to have the works moved to Madrid for display in the national museum and petitioned Manuel Godoy, then Spain’s prime minister, for assistance. So copies were ordered for the national museum, and the Murillos returned to the hospital. “It’s easy to see that the owners didn’t want to say goodbye to the paintings,” Cano said. “They managed to keep the paintings in their places, but a few years later, they were moved by the French government.” (In other words, Marshal Soult simply came in and took them.) Besides the French theft, Cano has his own questions about the original order: “I’m not sure the decree of dissolution of religious orders had to include a hospital, which was founded by a knight with his own fortune, with the object of attending to poor and old people and to bury them correctly,” he said.


A very different, and truncated, version of these events appears on the website of Washington’s National Gallery in the provenance section for the “Prodigal Son” canvas. “Commissioned for the Hospital de la Caridad [Hospital of Charity], Seville,” it begins, “removed by government decree to Alcázar, Seville, 1810, from whence it was taken to Paris in 1812 by Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia [1769-1851].”

Readers might assume that means removal by Spanish government decree, rather than by the occupying French government, which begs the question not only whether Murillo’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” should have its own return home to Seville, but also what museums’ responsibilities are in describing provenances.

The three other looted works are similarly de-contextualized on the websites of the institutions that now own them:

    , which owns Murillo’s “Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda” (1667–70), notes on its website that the work, “was made for the church belonging to the hospital of the Caridad (Charity) in Seville.” It adds that Murillo represented acts of charity in the series, and concludes, “Two of the paintings are still in the church, while the other four, including this one, are now in various museums.”

“The National Gallery has a long standing and very cordial relationship with the Caridad,” said press and PR manager, Tracy Jones, who noted that the full “Christ Healing” provenance is published in a 1970 print catalog titled “The Spanish School.” The work, according to that catalog, was “appropriated” by Soult.

  1. On its website, the National Gallery of Canada states of Murillo’s “Abraham and the Three Angels” (1670–74), which it owns: “The set was commissioned by a brotherhood devoted to charity for the church of the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville the paintings are now dispersed around the world.”

Neither the hospital nor the city of Seville has asked that the painting be returned, says Christopher Etheridge, the National Gallery’s associate curator of European and American art. “It is necessary to study such issues in historical terms and to recognize the complexity of this history,” he said. Charles IV of Spain first had the work removed from the hospital around the year 1800. The work was supposed to go to Madrid’s royal collection, with a copy returning to the hospital, “indicating a change in the painting’s status from object of devotion to art work that is characteristic of the century to come,” Etheridge stated.

That project wasn’t realized, so the painting returned to Seville, only for it to be removed again by order of Joseph Bonaparte — for a different museum this time. “The work then passed from collector to collector until it was acquired by a public institution its companion pieces have similar histories,” Etheridge explained. “This is not uncommon: museums around the world hold works intended for other locations.”

“Our duty is to preserve the work, to make it available to the public, to loan it to other institutions for exhibition, to study it, and to share research,” he added.

  1. Where the Canadian and U.K. museums refer to dispersals without suggesting how the works were dispersed, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, offers no context at all on its website about Murillo’s “Liberation of St. Peter” (1665–67), which it owns. And Hermitage staff didn’t respond to queries about the work and its provenance.

Back in Seville, the two other works in Murillo’s series — “St. John of God Carrying a Sick Man” and “St. Elizabeth of Hungary Healing Those With Scurf (Scabs),” both of which have been dated 1672 — remain in the Caridad church.

The courtyard outside the church which is still within the Hospital de la Caridad (photo by Nachama Soloveichik)

On a tour of Seville late last year, guide Moises Hassan-Amselem reflected on the difficult question of whether the looted works should be returned to Seville. “The Spanish people were, and continue to be, cheated out of their cultural heritage,” he said, but on the other hand, another piece that was looted by Soult, Murillo’s “The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables” (c. 1678), remains in Madrid at the Prado Museum.

“Why hasn’t Madrid returned the work to Seville,” Hassan-Amselem wondered, “and what message does it send to other nations if Spain hasn’t returned a work to Seville that’s already in the country?”

On its website, the Prado notes that the “Immaculate Conception” was “acquired by the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes in Seville, 1686,” after which it went to Seville’s Alcázar in 1810, and then to Paris as part of the “Marshal Soult Collection.” In 1852, the Musée du Louvre acquired it, and in 1941, the work “entered the Museo del Prado though an exchange with the French government.”

Among all the descriptions on all the different museum websites, there are a lot of variations on the same theme, but there isn’t very much in the way of assuming responsibility or prioritizing transparency. And there’s certainly a gap between the ways that works looted during World War II — which often dominate international newspaper headlines — are discussed and the discussion of works looted under other circumstances.

In Ottawa, the National Gallery hopes to make more of this kind of information available on its website, “not simply for this painting, but for all the works in the collection,” said associate curator Etheridge. “This is a challenging project: We need to assess, correct, and bring the existing catalogue entries up to date many more works require study, and our website would need to be redesigned,” he said. “At present, we are prioritizing works with gaps in provenance during the Nazi era, 1933–45.”

In this digital era, in which visitors can search for context on their phones as they engage with works of art in person at a museum, it’s a golden age of provenances in one sense. But at the same time, visitors often aren’t aware that there might be a troubling story lurking behind the works that hang on museum walls. At least for now, this is an example of a scenario in which there simply isn’t an app for that yet.


Notes

Add or edit a note on this artwork that only you can see. You can find notes again by going to the ‘Notes’ section of your account.

Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult was an important military and political figure. In 1804 Napoleon introduced the title of Marshal of the Empire. He awarded the honour to those who had supported him in his rise to power. Soult was among the original 14 that received the distinction. In this painting Soult is shown holding the Marshal's baton, lavishly covered in blue velvet and decorated with gold eagles. During the French invasion of Spain Soult removed treasures from palaces, cathedrals and monasteries to enrich the collections of the Musée Napoléon in Paris. It is also estimated that he amassed over 200 Spanish artworks for his own private collection.


Campaign

June 15th - Napoleon Invades Belgium

Stages of the Waterloo Campaign


Napoleon's masterly concentration of his army on the Belgian frontier must rank as one of his greatest achievements. It had been brilliantly planned and even if Ziethen's 1st Prussian corps stationed around Charleroi did see a mass of camp fires burning over the border around Beaumont on the night of the 13th of June, they were not unduly disturbed and no significant precautions were taken. For the French army poised to invade Belgium, the omens of a stunning success seemed to beckon.

On the eve of the Invasion, Napoleon's rousing proclamation, was read out to the troops. "Soldiers, today is the anniversary of Marengo and Friedland: Victory will be ours. For all true Frenchmen the time has come to conquer or perish. "

Napoleon's proclamation -14th June 1815

At around 2:30am on the 15th of June as Napoleon's troops readied themselves to cross the River Sambre, twelve regiments of cavalry under the command of Pajol moved off into the night to spearhead the invasion. Despite Napoleon's carefully laid plans, the advance which initially began in two columns did not quite get off to the successful start that was hoped for due to considerable confusion and delay. The right column of Vandamme's III Corps, Lobau's VI Corps, Gerard's IV Corps and the Guard, moving towards Charleroi was hampered when Vandamme's Corps which was meant to lead the way, was late taking to the road owing to a delayed order. Vandamme was aghast when Lobau's VI Corps marching up behind, crashed into his own stationary men causing a jam of tangled bodies between the two formations which took some time to distangle. To help ease the jam, Napoleon ordered Gerard's division to march to and cross the Sambre at Chatelet. As soon as General Gerard reached Chatelet, General Bourmont commanding his leading division promptly deserted to the Prussians to divulge to Ziethen, sensitive details of the deployment and strengths of Napoleon's army. The underlying fear of treason which lay just beneath the surface of Napoleon's otherwise formidable army appeared to be founded, and Bourmont's troops were dismayed and unsettled at this unexpected development.

On the French left, Reille's II Corps and D'Erlon's I Corps moved towards Marchienne. Reille reached his objective on time, but the Prussians put up such a spirited defence, that Marchienne only fell to the French by midday.

Owing to the confusion of the French thrust at Charleroi, Pajol's cavalry found themselves fighting without any infantry suppoert as the Prussian's fought to hold on to Charleroi, but at 11 am, Napoleon himself appeared at the head of the Guard in person and Ziethen decided to abandon the town and fall back in accordance with Blucher's wishes.

Acting on General Ziethen's news of the French invasion, together with Bourmont's information, Blucher had already to concentrate his army at Sombreffe, as he had previously agreed with the Wellington as part of the Allied strategy to unite in the face of an attack. Wellington on the other hand, although being informed at around 3pm on the 15th that Ziethen had been attacked at Charleroi, was still not convinced that the main French attack was in fact through Charleroi. Somewhat obsessed with his lines of communications which ran through Ostend, Wellington feared that the main French attack would strike through the Mons - Brussels highway to cut himself and his army away from the channel ports and thus from home. Thus convincing himself that the French attack through Charleroi was a mere diversion after all, Wellington actually ordered his troops to concentrate west of Brussels to cover the Mons road, and away from the main French thrust in effect aiding the French and putting his ally in a dangerous position.

Unwittingly, Blucher by endeavouring to order his I, II, III and IV Corps to concentrate at Sombreffe was without Wellington's cooperation, blundering his way into Napoleon's hands, for to concentrate his scattered forces peacemeal against the concentrated might of the 'Armee du' Nord,' was a dangerous manoevre indeed.

At around 3:30 pm, Marshal Ney appeared at Charleroi to receive orders from Napoleon. After being told by the Emperor that he was glad to see him, Ney was appointed commander of the left wing consisting of D'Erlon's I Corps and Reille's II Corps together with Lefebvre-Desnouettes cavalry of the Guard. After ordering Ney to advance rapidly up the Charleroi- Brussels road, Napoleon next summoned Marshal Grouchy forward and subsequently gave him command of the right wing which consisted of Vandamme's III Corps and Gerard's IV corps also with supporting cavalry. Napoleon himself retained under his own command, Lobau's VI Corps together with the Imperial Guard which were to remain in a central position, able to be thrown to support either wing as circumstances might dictate.

Initially, Marshal Ney made rapid progress on the left flank as his forces advanced up the Brussels road, sweeping the last obstinate defenders of the Prussian rearguard out of Gosselies by the late afternoon. Hereafter, the left wing faltered as the advance guard of Lefebvre-Desnouettes cavalry came under enemy infantry and cannon-fire as they probed towards Frasnes. In due course, a single infantry battalion arrived after a request for support, but perhaps something of Wellington's reputation preceded him, for gazing at the high standing corn in the summers evening, Ney became wary of pressing a further advance should the high stalks conceal enemy formations. It was now around 8:00 pm and despite there still being perhaps two hours of daylight left, the light was fading and the men were tired after covering twenty-two miles that day, so a cautious Ney justified his decision to call a halt for the day and make camp.

Had Ney but known it, just 4,000 men and 8 guns opposed him, He himself had in the region of 50,000 men in the vicinity and could easily have smashed through this numerically inferior force to seize the strategically important crossroads of Quatre Bras which lie beyond. The crossroads would prove to be one of the key-points around which much of the fate of the whole campaign would be balanced

Several miles to the east, the tardy advance of the right wing was characterised by the excessive caution which Marshal Grouchy displayed, which in his case, can be partly explained by the fact that he had been thrown into the 'deep end' so to speak, into a position of responsibility of which he had no prior experience. Napoleon, perhaps with some misgivings at Grouchy's appointment to Marshal, became so alarmed at the apparent lax progress of the right wing, that by the late afternoon he decided to intervene in person, joining Grouchy at Gilly to infuse the troops with a sense of urgency. With Napoleon at the helm, the effect was dramatic as French infantry battalions stormed the Prussian positions, obliging them to withdraw in some disorder, hounded by the French cavalry in pursuit which wrought havoc upon them. As the Prussian battalions continued to withdraw with difficulty to Fleurus, General Letort of the Guard Dragoons attempted to induce the 28th Fusiliers to surrender in face of their futile circumstances, but he was killed. Furious at their beloved leaders death, he was not long avenged when his comrades fell upon the hapless 28th in an unrestrained fury. The 28th lost over 600 men and 13 officers that day

By last light, Grouchy's right wing had fought itself into the outskirts of Fleurus infantry were called for to storm the town, but General Vandamme refused to lend his support to a superior whom he still held in contempt, so Grouchy was obliged to be content with the day's gains already made and to call a halt to the day's operations.

With both wings of the army now halted for the night, Napoleon himself retired back to Charleroi where he had made his headquarters for the night. Despite the initial mishaps and delays that had characterized the first day of the campaign, he still had reason to feel pleased with the day's results. Even if either of his two senior commanders had failed to carry vital objectives Ney the crossroads at Quatre-Bras and Grouchy, Sombreffe, he had nonetheless gained a brilliant strategic initiatve by catching both of his opponents by surprise. Most importantly, his army was now wedged firmly in the central position between his two opponents. By the close of the 15th, Napoleon had his army in hand, his two opponents did not, and thus he had the fate of all three armies within his grasp.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball

Fearful rumours charge the atmosphere of the Ball

At around the same time as Napoleon had retired to Charleroi, the Duke of Wellington was preparing to attend the Duchess of Richmond's ball, a decision for which he was criticised then and since. Yet, he had undoubtedly made the right decision in the circumstances, for by now Brussels was ablaze with rumours of the French attack. "In war morale is everything" Napoleon himself had said as much, and Wellington a great commander in his own right was equally fully aware of it's full significance. In the undercurrent of fear that swept Brussels in the wake of the news, he knew that it was vitally important to maintain an outward show of calm to help prevent a widespread panic.

Prior to attending the ball, he had received a message indicating that Marshal Blucher was concentrating his army at Sombreffe and another despatch which informed him that all was quiet around the Mons sector. Besides being in receipt of knowledge that Ziethen had been attacked at Charleroi, Wellington considered it could be a feint attack by Napoleon, with the decisive blow of the axe to fall elsewhere. In this regard,  he clearly decided to wait for more reliable news rather than to act rashly. Although he still feared that the main French attack would fall well to the west, he was still sufficiently impressed by the news because one hour later whilst at the ball he adjusted his afternoon plans to order a general concentration towards the inner flank and to order the reserve to ready themselves to march southwards to Mont-St-Jean.

Any illusions he had of a major French attack to the west, was shattered at the height of the Duchess's ball in the early hours of the 16th, when Wellington at last learnt the full scale of the French attack through Charleroi, and of what had transpired just south of Quatre-Bras. In the face of the potentially fatal implications which the news brought, Wellington was a model of calm composure as he asked the Duke of Richmond for a map and was led discreetly to an empty room. Behind closed doors, Wellington at last allowed his emotions to show. Poring over the map he exclaimed in admiration for his opponent "By God! Napoleon has humbugged me, he has gained twenty-four hours march on me!" After being asked what he intended to do, Wellington replied " I have ordered the army to Quatre Bras, but I shall not stop him there, and if so, I must fight him here," as he passed his thumbnail over a place called Waterloo.

At best, perhaps all he could do was fight a skillful delaying action to bring himself and Blucher some time to bring their forces together for Wellington was aware of the scattered nature of his forces and knew that in all likelihood, they would not be able to reach the crossroads in time to prevent a breakthrough by the French.

June 16th - The Battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny

Wellington on the road to Quatre Bras

By 7:30am, the Duke and his staff were riding south to Quatre Bras, preceeded by the army reserve which had left at dawn.

At Charleroi, Napoleon determined to fight a decisive battle against Wellington on the 16th, for he had learnt from Marshal Ney who had visited him in the small hours, that Quatre Bras still remained in Allied hands. He planned to march his reserve to link up with Ney's forces and to smash through Wellington's defences and make a triumphant march upon the political prize of Brussels. His growing conviction was that Blucher would retire from his exposed position around Sombreffe, but to be certain that the Prussians could not interfere and lend their support to Wellington's Anglo-Allied army, he prepared to launch preliminary manoevres around Sombreffe and Gembloux as a precaution. After his expected victory over Wellington and the occupation of Brussels, he would then confront Blucher himself with the full might of his 'Armee du Nord.'

Over at Quatre Bras itself, victory remained to be snatched with relative ease by Ney, but the Marshal who had once been dubbed the 'Bravest of the Brave,' by Napoleon for his unsurpassed courage during the Russian retreat, seemed to be no more, for he made no move to advance and secure the vital crossroad which was still lightly defended. With time very much of the essence in this campaign, every hour which he squandered away, gave Wellington's own forces time to reinforce the position. Perhaps in his defence, Ney was unsure as to what the Emperor expected him to do and perhaps believed he was to await the arrival of Napoleon in person along with Lobau and the Guard. Certainly a despatch he received at 10:am indicated this. On the other hand, the Ney of old would almost certainly have acted instead of procrastinating.

As for Napoleon, by mid morning he was in the process of switching the emphasis of his attack from Ney's left wing to that of Grouchy's right wing. News had now reached him from Grouchy, that significant Prussian forces were arriving in the vicinity of Sombreffe in force. He was reluctant to give credit to such reports and decided to ride over to see for himself. Joining up with Vandamme's III Corps in front of St-Armand, the masses of Prussian troops he could see marching into range through his spyglass convinced him of the need to now turn his attentions upon the Prussians

Battle of Ligny and Quatre Bras -16th June 1815

Napoleon estimated that he could not be ready for battle until 2:00pm, for time was needed to bring up his troops and deploy them namely Gerard's IV Corps into the front line and his Guard which would form the reserve. His battle plan which he began to formulate, envisaged a large part of Ney's command marching over from the crossroads at Quatre Bras which he assumed Ney would have taken and secured by mid afternoon. Coming from the west, Ney's forces would commence an enveloping assault on the flank and rear of the Prussians right flank, at which point Napoleon would unleash an irresistable attack by his Imperial Guard which would pierce a mortal wound through the centre of the Prussian line. Napoleon imagined a great and decisive victory, which might well decide the fate of the entire campaign, for with the defeated Prussian's reeling back along their lines of retreat to Namur and Liege, nothing could stop him from turning his full attention from Wellington's army who would be isolated from their Allies. "If Ney carries out his orders thoroughly, not a gun of the Prussian army will get away" Napoleon declared

Field-Marshal Blucher for his part, was determined to stand his ground and offer battle to the French, and shortly after noon he had three Corps in his hand on the intended field of battle. Ziethen's I Corps of 32,000 men formed his central battle line. It's centre was placed upon St-Armand with its left flank on Ligny itself, whilst it's far flank hinged on Wagnele. Pirch's II Corps was deployed behind I Corps and Theilmanns III Corps would form up between Sombreffe and Mazy on the far left. Blucher also hoped to bring up Bulow's IV Corps, but as it turned out, this formation was too far distant to be of any help.

Count Von Gneisenau - 1760-1831

Sometime around 1:00pm as both armies were still deploying for battle, the Duke of Wellington himself arrived to visit Blucher. Wellington had arrived at Quatre Bras at 10:00am that morning, and after expressing his surprise to find the battlefield unduly quiet had rode over to see his ally. Wellington at once saw the exposed positions of the Prussian troops which invited easy targets for the French artillery. Perhaps he tactlessly pointed this out to his Allies, for Gneisenau, perhaps in a slight to Wellington's well known preference to concealing his men, retorted that "The Prussian soldiers prefer to have a plain view of their enemy" With some forebodings in respect of the Prussian deployments, Wellington set off back to Quatre Bras, but before he did so, he promised to aid Blucher by "Bringing over part of my army, providing I am not attacked myself. "

Nonetheless with 84,000 Prussians on the battlefield, which included 8,000 cavalry and 224 guns holding a seven mile front along the marshes of the Ligny brook, and holding all of ten vilages which dominated the approaches over all four of the main bridges, Blucher believed he was well placed to offer strong resistance to the French.

Napoleon's plan for total success depended very much upon Marshal Ney's full cooperation, and at 1:00pm, Napoleon, noting the inexplicable lack of any action from the direction of Quatre Bras and furious that his orders were not being obeyed, despatched a sharp note to Ney, demanding him to "Attack without further delay, all that is before you with the greatest impetuosity." ominously, the message ended with the words, "the fate of France is in your hands."

Napoleon observes the Prussian army from a windmill at Fleurus

By 2:00pm, the French army was more or less deployed to fight. Grouchy's cavalry Corps of Pajol and Exelmanns were deployed on the French far right. Their task would be to tie down Thielemann's Corps whom they opposed. Vandamme's four infantry divisions on the French left and Gerard's three infantry divisions together with supporting cavalry, would assault Blucher's left flank and centre respectively. At around this time, Napoleon also decided to elaborate on his 1:00pm note to Ney, adding, "Attack all before you, and after driving it back, you will turn in our direction to bring about the envelopment of Blucher's forces.

Shortly after 2:00pm,the French guns at Quatre Bras at last roared into action. Reille, the French Corps commander had in excess of 20,000 troops, but having fought Wellington in the peninsula, he dreaded being surprised by large numbers of Allied troops who might lie in wait,concealed from view. Consequently, the initial French advance was cautiously pressed and the scant forces under Perponcher were able to cling on to their positions. At 2:30pm, the Battle of Ligny erupted. As the cavalry formations of Pajol and Excelmans manoevred to tie down the Prussian left, Vandamme led his divisions forward in a ferocious attack upon St-Armand, whilst simultaneously, Gerard hurled two of his divisions at Ligny itself to both pin down Ziethen's forces and to draw more Prussian reserves into the rapidly escalating struggle. On the western edge of the battlefield, the fighting became particulary bloody as both sides fought for possesion of the lateral road running to Quatre Bras, from where they hoped reinforcements might appear. Every hedgerow and house was hard fought for with a desperate 'no quarter given' mentalty as soldiers fought tooth and nail for possession of St-Armand and Ligny in bloody street battles, with the result that horrendous casualty list began to mount up rapidly on either side.

Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d'Erlon 1765-1844

By 3:15pm, Napoleon himself was gazing in the direction of Quatre Bras, expecting by now to be catching sight of Ney's column's approaching the enemy flank. Exasperatedly, Napoleon sent out another note to Ney, telling him again that the fate of France was in his hands, and urging him to attack the Prussian right flank without delay. No sooner had this message gone, when a message at last arrived frrom Ney informing the Emperor that he was now committed in battle against an Allied force of at least 20,000 men. Since it was now obvious that Ney would not be able to fulfill his original plan, Napoleon followed up his last note by telling his subordinate that he required him to send over D'Erlon's I Corps only. Only now did Napoleon remember that Lobau's VI Corps still stood idle near Charleroi, and yet another message was sent out requiring him to march with speed to lend his support to the Emperor's army.

The battle was by now inexorably swinging to the French. After five attacks upon Ligny, they had finally managed to gain a foothold. With the French now pouring into Ligny, and more and more Prussian reserves being sucked into the eye of the storm in the centre, Napoleon's plan was taking effect and the French Imperial Guard began to form up in readiness for their decisive attack that would herald victory. Napoleon only awaited D'Erlon's Corps to unleash his attack.

Ney most certainly was committed to a struggle at Quatre Bras. After wasting at least six hours before launchiing an attack that aftenoon, his opportunity to win an easy victory had now passed for Dutch Belgian cavalry and Picton's veteran 5th division with 12 guns had arrived to bolster the Allied line which had wavered dangerously before their arrival after Ney's divisions had captured Piraumont farm on the Allied left wing and Gemioncourt farm which lie central on the Allied battle line. Furthermore, Wellington had now arrived back to personally take charge. When Ney confidently sent forward four French columns of infantry in expectance of victory, Picton's elite soldiers quickly reduced them to a screaming, demoralised mob as they were repulsed and hotly pursued by the Highlanders.

On the French left, Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome Bonaparte, enjoyed more success as his men broke through the Brunswick line. As the French cavalry raced to exploit this victory, The Duke of Brunswick launched an ill concieved counterattack at the head of his 'Death's Head' Hussars' which were decimated, costing the Duke of Brunswick his life.

It was now 4:00pm. Successful on his left, but with his attack on Wellington's right in ruins, Napoleon's 2:00pm message reached Ney, which stated "Attack all before you, and after driving it back, you will turn in our direction to bring about the envelopment of Blucher's forces"At this juncture, Ney decided that he needed the manpower of D'Erlon's I Corps of 20,000 men to help him deliver the decisive blow against Wellington's line, in order to accomplish this task, but I Corps to Ney's consternation, was absent from the field.

French lancers attempt to break Wellington's infantry squares.

As messengers rode out to urge D'Erlon's Corps to Quatre bras with all haste, Pire's chasseurs and lancers in the meantime made a surprise attack upon the Allied line which almost achieved Ney's sought after victory when Wellington, caught of guard himself, was forced to ride for his life and seek shelter within an infantry square to evade capture. The Allied troops caught within this superbly timed cavalry attack were lucky to form up in sqare at all, caught as they were in the very act. After some heart-stopping moments, Pire's cavalry was finally beaten off, though not without grievous losses on the Allied side. Nonetheless, Wellington's crisis had now passed. He had both received and dealt with all the best that Ney had to offer and now more reinforcements were arriving to upon the field to tip the balance in his favour.

With the initiative slipping away from him, the crisis for Ney was just beginning for he had no fresh troops with which to mount another offensive against Wellington's line, and without the assistance of D'Erlon's 20,000 men, all he could hope to do was hold his own, let alone take the vital crossroads. Even now, his tired troops were falling back. With the pressure mounting on him in a situation, which in all fairness he had brought upon himself through the mornings idleness, Ney's frame of mind when a messenger rode onto the field to inform him that D'Erlon's Corps was actually marching upon the Ligny battlefield and thus away from him can only be imagined at. Ney's fury that D'Erlon's movement was being made without his direct authorisation was all the more exasperated by the fact that Wellington, with a now numerical superiority, was launching his own offensives across the field. Clearly D'Erlon would have to be recalled.

D'Erlon's  I Corps was by now almost upon the Ligny battlefield and it was extremely unlikely that he would not be able to reach Quatre Bras in time to be of any usefull assistance, but the ever impulsive Ney, without thinking of the implications this might mean against the larger picture of Napoleon's campaign itself, immediately ordered his recall. No sooner had this been done, when yet another messenger appeared before him, bearing Napoleon's 3:15 message urging him to "attack the Prussian flank without delay" For Ney, it was the final straw. Furious that the Emperor had no concerns for the diffiiculties he faced at Quatre Bras, he flared up in a rage, prompting the despatch rider to forget the written message which he still had in his pocket which would have explained Napoleon's intentions.

Fired up to something resembling his old self, Ney was now intent on snatching a victory without D'Erlon through deperate means, even if that meant mounting a heroic, but suicidal charge with Kellermann's partially arrived Cuirassiers, numbering 750 men. When Kellermann quite rightly questioned this order, Ney made it clear that he would brook no argument, although he promised the support of Pire's cavalry. "Go and go now," he said.

The capture of the King's Colour of the 69th

Amazingly, with a little help from the incompetence of the Prince of Orange, Kellermann's charge by his heavy cavalry at around 5:00pm, almost carried the day. Swirling around the battered squares upon the front line, they drove onwards and caught the 69th, who upon the orders of the Prince, was actually forming back from square into line formation. They were subsequently cut to pieces by the maurading French cavalry and their colour captured. After a gun crew was slaughtered, the 33rd was also caught off guard, but despite receiving a severe mauling, they somehow managed to cling on and extricate themselves. Kellerman's exhausted horsemen almost reached the crossroads itself, but a deadly crossfire from Allied units present obliged them and remnants of Pire's depleted support to seek the safety of the French lines. Kellerman himself, with his horse shot from beneath him, was lucky to evade capture or death as he made good his escape by clinging on to the stirrups between two of his troopers.

The impetuous attack was Ney's last throw and had ultimately achieved little. Furthermore, the arrival of 5,000 soldiers of the British Guard's swung the fortunes of war in Wellington's favour and by the end of the days fighting, he had recovered all the ground he had lost during the day whilst Ney found himself back where he had started

Napoleon's Last Victory

At the battlefield of Ligny, it was now 6:00pm. Napoleon had finally decided to send in the Imperial Guard against the rapidly crumbling Prussian centre, with or without Ney or D'Erlon's help. Just as the attack was about to roll forward, it was reported that a dark column of troops was approaching the rear of the French left wing from the south-west. Could it be Wellington, coming to aid Blucher after a victory over Ney? Perhaps it could be D'Erlon? No one knew, and Napoleon deemed it wise to suspend operations until the marching body of troops which was already causing consternation in the raks was identified.

Profitting by this temporary reprieve, Blucher used the time to strengthen his wavering line and actually managed to regain part of St-Armand.

Within the hour, the mystery column had indeed been identified as D'Erlon's I Corps who was marching on Wagnee instead of Wagnele on the Prussian flank as the Emperor had intended. The same hour also saw the mystification of Napoleon and his staff as they watched D'Erlon's 20,000 men do an about turn and begin to march back to Quatre Bras almost as soon as they had appeared. (D'Erlon had by now received Ney's strongly worded recall.

Napoleon gives the order to send in the Guard against the crumbling Prussian line.

Napoleon made no move to call back D'Erlon's Corps for his assault to smash through the Prussian centre could be delayed no longer, so at 7:00pm, preceeded by an artillery barrage and an attack by the Young Guard which threw out the Prussian's from St-Armand, 6,000 warriors of the Guard advanced on Ligny in two columns whilst rain poured down, amidst the rumble of thunder overhead. Half an hour later the stricken Prussian line buckled and broke , and the Guard began to march through the ruptured centre in a triumphant prelude to Napoleon's now assured victory.

To buy some time for his defeated army to disengage and withdraw to safety, Field Marshal Blucher now placed himself at the head of 32 squadrons of cavalry and led a heroic counter charge into the shattered centre which was,together with subsequent charges, easily swatted aside by the Guard who continued their remorsless march through Ligny supported by French cavalry. Blucher's charge was however not in vain, for as he had intended, it allowed the bulk of the Prussian army to escape as even into the late evening, sporadic pockets of Prussian resistance fought on in supporting rearguard actions.

Although he could not know it at the time, Napoleon had just won his last victory.

The Prussian Withdrawal to Wavre

The Prussian army army quit the field of Ligny leaving behind them 16,000 dead and wounded. That they had suffered a heavy defeat was undenable, but although shaken, they were far from broken as a fighting force as evidenced by the relatively orderly withdrawal of the two Prussian wings that was enabled in no small part to Blucher's heroic charge.

The Prussian army streamed northwards to put time and space between themselves and the expected French pursuit, ignorant of their field Marshal's whereabouts, for at the height of Blucher's charges during the closing stages of the battle, he had fallen from his mortally wounded horse and had lain semi-conscious as cavalry of both sides swirled overhead. Luckily for the Prussians, the French did not realise the great prize that lie within their grasp and in due course Blucher would be rescued by the courageous actions of a loyal aide to rejoin the main army later on.

Napoleon had won his victory, but it was not the crushing success which might have clinched the campaign there and then. His own army had suffered 11,000 casualties, but more significantly, it was utterly exhausted after it's exertions after the hard contested battles for Ligny and St-Armand. Realising this, Napoleon refused to authorise an immediate pursuit upon the Prussians for he was still convinced his enemy might still be dangerous. Although hopeful that the Prussians's had been shattered by their defeat, he was not convinced, for he knew from his own bitter experiences fighting Blucher in 1814 to expect the unexpected. As he related to Campbell, the Briish Commissioner on Elba regarding Blucher " That old devil was always ready to attack again even after a defeat."

Exhausted or not, an immediate pursuit of the Prussian army was a necessity after Ligny, and the consequences of Napoleon's failiure to do so would have fatal consequences for the French within the next 48 hours.

In a bid to restore some order and a definate rallying point for the disorganised Prussian army, Acting in Blucher's absence, Gniesenau and the most senior generals held a makeshift roadside conference. By what little light they could find, the only place which stood out with any degree of certainty was called Wavre, directly northwards of Ligny, and so this was chosen. Gniesenau planned to rally the army around the as yet untouched corps of Bulow which would provide a nucleus. Once this was achieved, it was then Gniesenau's aim to continue the Prussian withdrawal eastwards towards the Rhine, for he had little trust in Wellington and his polyglot Allies. Fortunately for the Allies, Blucher's safe return to the army changed the scheme of things and he would not hear of any further withdrawal. Despite his shaken condition, his hatred as well as his desire to beat the French remained as strong as ever. As he put it bluntly, "Honour demanded that he stand by his ally, come what may"

Ironically, the location of Wavre itself, although chosen at random, provided Blucher with the ideal means to effect a juncture with Wellington on the 18th.

17th June - Interlude

By dawn on the 17th, Napoleon had sent out cavalry patrols to determine the general direction of the main body of the Prussian army. It was important for French Emperor to find out whether Blucher intended to rally his forces and make a stand to support Wellington or continue his withdrawal. Pajol's cavalry detachment reported a mass of fugitives streaming eastwards along the road towards Namur, which seemed to support that the Prussian's were withdrawing eastwards upon the lines of their communications, but for Napoleon, the overall picture was still far from clear. If he moved pre-emptively against Wellington now without finding out what Blucher intended, it was possible that he might find himself sandwiched between two hostile armies which could very well force him to withdraw himself behind a strong rearguard, leaving his Belgian campaign in tatters.

Napoleon, much to the dismay of his generals, thus subsequently spent the morning touring the battlefield of Ligny in an display of indecisiveness, discussing the political situation from Paris amongst other things whilst he awaited news. After a night in which he had been unwell, he still appeared tired and this only exasperated his irritability, for when Marshal grouchy pressed him once again for orders to pursue the Prussians, he exploded. " I will give you the orders when I see fit!"

On a plus side, Napoleon visited three divisions that had suffered the most heavily during the battle and by his charismatic prescence, raised their morale. Also, he allowed his battered formations more time to rest after their exertions of the previous day.

Finally a despatch arrived from Marshal Ney, and from this the French Emperor learnt that Wellington, far from falling back as he assumed he would after Blucher's defeat, was in fact still at Quatre Bras, and most importantly, his army was still in strength at the crossraods. It was news too good to be true, and at once Napoleon saw the golden opportunity that he had been unaware of all morning. Hoping that it was not to late, Napoleon threw of his cloak of lethargy and finally gave General Grouchy orders to pursue the Prussians with 33,000 men, comprising Vandamme's and Gerard's corps.

Soon Napoleon was his old dynamic self as he galloped along the road to Quatre Bras at speed with his staff, Lobau's corps as well as the formation's of his Imperial Guard in his wake. He hoped now to fall upon Wellington's flank and destroy him, assuming that Ney would pin Wellington's army in place by a frontal assault. But, he was disconcerted to hear no sounds of battle ahead of him as he drew near. When he did reach Quatre Bras, he was furious to find no battle in progress, for Neys men were quietly eating their lunch, leaving Wellington's forces free to withdraw northwards unmolested.

In fact, Wellington had been withdrawing his troops since mid-morning after hearing definate news of Blucher's defeat and the subsequent retreat of the Prussian army to Wavre. Wellington knew that by himself he was vunerable, and so must fall back to stay in close contact with his Ally. "I suppose in England they will say we have been licked," he said," but as Blucher has fallen back, we must do likewise."

Even now it was not to late for the French to prevent Wellington from escaping, and after briefly berating Ney for his tardy conduct and remarking bitterly to D-Erlon that "France has been ruined," Napoleon intervened personally to lead the pursuit of the Anglo-Allied army.

Napoleon leads the pursuit of Wellington's army from Quatre Bras

It was likely that Napoleon's army might well have caught Wellington's army, such was the reputation of the French for outmarching any opponent, but the weather was Wellington's friend and Napoleon's enemy. Now the dark clouds overhead broke into a thunderstorm which turned the ground into a quagmire, hampering the French pursuit and fascilitating wellington's escape. At Genappe, a furious cavalry melee erupted along the narrow streets when Lord Uxbridge's hussars turned to blood pursuing French lancers.

By 6:30pm, it was clear that Wellington had evaded Napoleon's clutches, and the French Emperor remarked bitterly "What would I give to have the power of Joshua to slow down the progress of the sun!" Indeed when Napoleon reached La-Belle Alliance within the same hour he could see little ahead due to the premature twilight brought on by the appalling weather. He gave orders to General Milhaud tp probe ahead with his Cuirassiers and when over sixty Allied guns roared out, unmasking Wellington's positions along the Mont St-Jean ridgetop opposite, Napoleon had his answer and the French Cavalry withdrew. Clearly Wellington intended to make a stand the next day.

"Have all the troops take up positions and we will see what happens tommorrow," Napoleon told D-Erlon before retiring to the farmhouse of Le Calliou where he had established his headquarters for the night.

18th June - The Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo at 11:30am

During the early hours of the 18th, Napoleon paced the Fremch lines, gazing towards the thousands of campfires which marked the positions of the Anglo-Allied army which faced his own. He appeared anxious, fearing that Wellingtomn might decide to slip away during the night and deny him the victory that would crown his Belgian campaign in triumph.

The French Emperor need not have worried, for his adversary, the Duke of Wellington was equally determined not to deny him the battle he sought. By the time the sun was rising over the rain sodden field where soldiers from both sides had spent a uncomfortable and miserable night, he had received definate word from Blucher confirming to him that the Prussians would be marching in strength that day from Wavre some fifteen miles away to the east in order to take the French army in the flank.

The English army makes camp amid the appaling weather on the night before battle

Wellington's plan was simple: Knowing that he had little chance of fending of Napoleon by himself, he planned to hold his ground and fight a purely defensive battle to buy himself some time whist he awaited the arrival Blucher's forces, which he hoped would tip the balance of fortune firmly in the Allies favour. Once the Anglo-Allied army had united with the Prussian army in strength, Wellington envisaged that combined, they could launch a powerful counter-offensive to decisively defeat the French army and end Napoleon's bid for Belgium. Well aware that he was facing a military genius, Wellington knew that he must be careful not to make any false moves in front of his opponent, and he was careful to skillfully arrange the dispositions of his troops so that his experienced soldiers were interspersed with his weaker units. Perhaps something of Napoleon's reputation urged him to be cautious too, for he placed a mixed force of 17,000 men at Hal, some ten miles west of the battlefield against an illusory french flanking attack that in the event never happened.

In and around Wavre, the Prussian army had made an astonishing recovery from it's defeat at Ligny less than forty-eight hours before. Both Blucher and the more cautious Gniesenau were now committed to a cooperative strategy with their ally to defeat Napoleon. The main fear in the Prussian camp was that if Wellington did not stand to fight or was unable to hold back Napoleon's army long enough to allow the Prussians time to effect their junction, then strung out on the line of march they might find themselves alone against the might of Napoleon's whole army. There was also the added complication of Marshal Grouchy with his 33,000 men to contend with, who was under orders from to prevent them interfering with the French Emperor's plans.

Fortunately for the Allied cause, Grouchy was out of his depth in his appointment on the right wing and had already let the Prussians slip away, for by 6:00am on the 18th, the French marshal was still dithering at Gembloux, seven miles south of Wavre, whilst the Prussian army embolded by his incredible laxity had already begun its march to Wellington's aid en-masse, leaving just one corps of 15,000 men under Thielemann to cover this movement and act as a rearguard should Grouchy try to intervene.

Jerome Bonaparte 1784-1860

At 8:00am, Napoleon breakfasted with his most senior generals at Le-Caillou, whilst in the distance church bells from Plancenoit pealed. He appeared confident and expressed that, "We have ninety chances in our favour and not ten against." Even so, some of those present who had fought Wellington in Spain and were familiar with his tactics were not quite so sure, and they spoke up, advising the Emperor to fight a battle of manoevre rather than a costly frontal assault against the steadfastness of Wellington's redcoats. Soult was additionally worried about the absence of Grouchy's 33,000 men and urged them to be recalled. Napoleon's brother, Prince Jerome also related to Napoleon that he had intelligence from a Belgian waiter who had overheard two Allied generals discussing that the Wellington and Blucher would seek to unite their armies that day.  Napoleon was dismissive of all these arguments and made a show of contempt for Wellington, and that was all it likely was, a show. It was against the principles of war to hold an opponent in praise and Napoleon merely wished to give his fearful generals a morale boosting 'pep talk.'

Thev French army rouses itself for battle on the morning of the 18th

However, he was sufficiently impressed by Jerome's intelligence to order a detachment of hussars to take up a position behinfd Frichermont on thev eastern edge of the battlefield with extra detachment at Lasne in order to keep watch for the Prussians. Napoleon had wanted to commence battle by 6:00 am, postponed to 9:00am, but his artillery officers advised him give it at least another hour to let the ground dry out to enable the cannon to be manoevred freely. Besides this, many of the troops were stil assembling, having made camp as far back as Genappe during the rain sodden night, and so Napoleon, with fateful implications,  postponed the battle.

But the initiative was already slipping away from Napoleon, for the Prussians were already on the march. Bulow's corps of 30,000 men had been marching since 4:00am that morning and had he but known it, Napoleon would undoubtedly have paid the mud scant regard and attacked Wellington sooner, for every hour that he wasted was to Wellington's advantage as the Prussians drew closer.  By 10:00am, Napoleon at Rossomme, drafted a despatch for Grouchy stressing the need to draw closer to and to remain in contact with the main army. No sooner had this message been sent, when a despatch arrived from Grouchy informing him that it seemed two enemy columns were now converging on Brussels with the intention of joining Wellington. Dated 6:00am from Gembloux, Napoleon must have felt a little uneasy for the despatch told Napoleon that at the time it was written, Grouchy had not acted in a decisive manner on this information for he had not moved from Gembloux. Even if Napoleon felt uneasy, the die was cast, and so he rode out to review his army to thunderous aclaim from the troops as they formed up for battle.

The Anglo-Allied army was drew up before Napoleon blocking the road to Brussels in true Wellingtonian defensive style. Wellington had deployed his troops wisely, taking advantage of the natural terrain by hiding the bulk of his troops behind the reverse slopes where they were hidden from view and the destructive power of the French artillery. He had also taken advantage of the man made structures on the battlefield, fortifying, the Chateau of Hougoumont, the Farm of La-Hai-Sainte and the series of hamlets Papelotte, La-Haie and Frischermont to the far left of his position, to act as breakwaters against the French attacks. He had 67,661 men at his disposal, comprising 49,608 infantry, 12,408 cavalry and 156 cannon served by 5,645 men with which to frustrate Napoleon long enough to enable his Prussian allies to arrive in force. In anticipation of their arrival,Wellington had accordingly left space for their deployment on the far left of his position.

To defeat the Anglo-Allied army and take the political prize of Brussels in triumph, Napoleon had deployed facing Wellington, 71,947 troops, comprising of 48,950 infantry, 15,765 cavalry and 7,232 gunners serving 246 cannon. He deployed his troops into three lines, the centre of which straddled the Brussels road. Seven infantry divisions, comprised of Reille's II corps holding the left wing and D-Erlon's I corps holding the right wing formed the first line, In the second line were massed the cavalry divisions supporting the infantry divisions, whilst Lobau's IV corps stood central in reserve. Finally stood the formations of the Imperial Guard either side of the Brussels road.

Disregarding the earlier advice given to him regarding a battle of manoevre, Napoleon's battle plan which he laid down was a simple one which revealed that he intended to seek a quick victory by simply bludgeoning his way through Wellington's line by sheer brutal force, in a frontal battle of attrition. The plan called for a massive artillery bombardment to soften up his foe, followed by an overwhelming frontal infantry assault by the four divisions of D-Erlon's II corps which wpuld form the main attack.  It was hardly a subtle scheme, and far from his finest, but in truth, the sodden nature of the ground after a night of rainfall must have hindered any battle of manoevre.

Being that the battle he was about to fight was crucially important to him, regarding his position as leader of the French nation as well as his military reputation, it was strange that he made a decision to hand over command of the battle to Marshal Ney, whilst he himself only assumed a supervisory role. Before the day was out, he would bitterly regret his decision.

11:25am - The Battle Begins

The French attack at Hougoumont

At around 11:25am, the battle of Waterloo began when French guns from Reille's II corps opened up near the Chateau of Hougoumont. Their fire was preliminary to an attack by Prince Jerome Bonaparte who led the men of his division forward in an attack upon the Chateau. This attack was intended to be a diversionary affair, but it soon degenerated into a major battle itself as Jerome, infuriated by the fierce resistance within, led wave after wave of French troops forward in an effort to wrest control of the cluster of buildings. Upto 13,000 frenchmen would be committed to these futile attacks which were repulsed by a garrison of just 2,000 British Guardsmen.

Roughly twelve miles away to the east at Walhain, Marshal Grouchy and his staff had all heard the cannonade from the west. Almost at once General Gerard commanding IV corps had approached the Marshal to all but demand that they "March to the sound of the guns." In the circumstances it was a logical request, but such was Gerard's overbearing lack of tact to his superior, that Grouchy dug in his heels, stubbornly refusing to act upon Gerard's advice. Gerard's protestation's and subsequent plea to be allowed to at least march with his own troops cut no ice with the marshal, for Grouchy had no intention of splitting his forces which numbered 33,000 men. He was determined to follow the Emperors orders to the letter. So a great opportunity for the French to win the campaign was let slip, for if Grouchy had shown more self-initiative and marched to the guns even as late as midday, he must have caught Blucher's main body on the march to Waterloo.

During the first hour and a half, Napoleon had been supervising the formation of a grand battery of 88 guns, which positioned in front of D-Erlon's I corps thundered their destructive energy into Wellington's centre, prelude to Napoleon's grand attack by the four divisions which comprised D-Erlon's corps. Trouble was, apart from Bylant's exposed brigade which was horribly exposed on the forward slopes, Wellington had hidden the majority of his men behind the reverse slopes, which sheltered them from the killing power of the French guns. It might have been expected that some of the cannonballs might richochet over the ridgeline to fall amongst wellington's troops, but all too many shells fell harmlessly, burying themselves into the sodden ground. The French cannonade had thus more bark than bite. But the roar still must haver had a demoralising effect on the Allied troops, whist at the same time bolstering the spirits of D-Erlon's men who were preparing to attack.

Napoleon learns that the Prussians are marching.

At 1:00pm, just as Napoleon was supervising his attack, it was noticed that there seemed to be a dark cloud to the northwest. Early hopes that it might have been Grouchy's 33,000 men were soon dashed when a captured Prussian hussar, informed Napoleon in person that it was the vanguard of the Prussian army led by the 30,000 men of Bulow's IV corps on the way to support Wellington. Jerome's intelligence had been right after all. Reacting immediately, Napoleon ordered that Lobau's corps of 17,000 men, together with Domon's 3rd cavalry division and Subervie's 5th cavalry division should form a new battle line on his eastern flank to guard against this new threat that loomed on the horizon.

1:30pm - The Attack of D-Erlon's Corps

The battle still had to be won or lost however, and if Napoleon could sweep Wellington from the field before the Prussians arrived in force, then Blucher's intervention would be in vain, for he would have arrived to late to affect the issue. So at 1:30pm, as the grand battery fell silent, D-Erlon's four divisions, keen to prove themselves in the eyes of their Emperor, after having played no decisive part on the 16th, swept forward, supported by a swarm of skirmishers and two brigades of heavy cavalry who moved forward either side of La-Hai-Sainte, which was held by a battalion of the Kings German Legion, commanded by Major Baring.

D-Erlon's Corps on the march against Wellington's left

There was perhaps as many as 17,000 men in this grand attack, and a it rolled forward it must have made a daunting sight to the Allies atop the ridge. On the far left, Quiot's infantry Division moved around La-Haie-Sainte, clearing it's garden and orchard and when Wellington sent reinforcement to Baring's aid, Dubois's curassiers butchered them. In the centre, the massive infantry columns of Donzelot and Marcognet marched seemingly unstoppable towards the Allied crest and in truth it was a critical time for Wellington, for just 3,000 muskets opposed the two advancing French columns which held all of 10,000 men. To Napoleon and his staff anxiously watching the attack from the opposing ridge, it seemed as if D-Erlon's attack would smash through Wellington's line with ease, but it was the high point of their expectations.

Sir Thomas Picton gave the order to fire and 3,000 muskets discharged a lethal hail of fire which threw Donzelot's division back, but Picton paid with his life as he was hit by enemy fire through his forehead. Even so, Marcognet's division scenting victory, marched unstoppable towards the crest giving an almighty "Vive l' Empereur," as Durutte's division began to deploy to their right. Wellington's army stood on the verge of disaster.

A French eagle is captured.

Lord Uxbridge now led his heavy cavalry divisions down the slopes in a perfectly timed rescue charge either side of the Brussels road, crashing into the advancing infantry divisions like a sledgehammer to cut them to pieces. Broken, D-Erlon's corps reeled back en-mass in great disorder losing 5,000 men and two eagles

Drunk with success, elements of the cavalry brigades, most notably the Scot's Greys, carried on through to reach the French grand-battery, but Napoleon with his eye on the ball had already gave orders to intercept them, and French cavalry on fresh horses swept in to wreak revenge. On blown horses, the Allied cavalry were badly cut up and flung back with great loss. Wellington had lost around 40 percent of his cavalry and almost all his heavy cavalry.

4:00pm The French Cavalry Attacks.

It was now about 3:00pm. Napoleon's grand attack to win the battle had failed and with D-Erlon's corps a disorganised shambles his situation was more desperate as the Prussians were now much more closer to arriving on the battlefield to support Wellington. Perhaps regretting even now allowing Ney too much free reign, Napoleon directly ordered the marshal to take La-Haie Sainte, but it was almost 4:00pm by the time Ney was able to organise an attack against the farmhouse with infantry brigades cobbled together from the wreckage of D-Erlon's corps which were still reorganising themselves. Still shaky from their bitter experiences, the troops that made up Ney's attack were beaten off, but even as they withdrew, Ney thought he saw a backwards movement from Wellington's army that seemed to signify a withdrawal. Hoping to capitalise on this chance and turn a withdrawal into a rout, Ney ordered up a brigade of Cuirassiers, which somehow escalated into a full blown attack by 5,000 cavalry of all types- many without orders.

Marshal Ney at the head of the French cavalry charges

Up on the Allied ridge, Wellington and his staff could scarcely believe their eyes as the French cavalry advanced between Hougoumont and La-Haie Sainte and this great mass presented a wonderful target to the Allied gunners as they came on, canister and roundshot tearing huge swathes into their ranks. But still they came on as the gunners ran for the cover of the Alllied infantry squares just beyond the ridge. Time and time again waves of French cavalry charged the squares, their attacks impotent against the hedges of bristling steel. Frustrated they withdrew to the valley to prepare to charge again. Amazingly, the French did not think to disable the Allied cannon, for each time the tide of horsemen withdrew, the allied gunners would venture out from the squares to man their guns and fire against the once again advancing mass which caused horredous loss casualties. Again and again the French attacked, each cavalry assault weaker than the one before.

Witnessing this catastrophe in the making, Napoleon then compounded Ney's mistake, by making another.   Ordering up another 5,000 horsemen at almost 5:00pm in an attempt to break through Wellington's lines for the Prussians had by now erupted onto the field in force, to come up against Lobau's VI Corps of 7,000 men, who with cavalry support fought a skillfull delaying action before the bulk of the enemy could deploy.

Even this reinforced mass of cavalry, now numbering some 10,000 horsemen and driven forward by all of Marshal Ney's fury could not dislodge Wellington's troops from the Allied ridge, who stubbornly clung on, holding off all attacks within their squares. Finally, at 5:30 pm, accepting defeat, the French horsemen withdrew, vastly depleted in numbers, so much so that this magnificent arm was now wrecked as a viable fighting force for the remainder of the day. Wellington's troops had also been badly cut up, yet ironically not from the sabre or lances of the French cavalry. Obliged to remain in square as the cavalry withdrew between each cavalry attack, the French artillery had found wonderful targets amongst their densly packed squares.

Belatedly, near the end of the attacks, Ney had thought to make use of a neglected portion of infantry from Reilles II Corps. It was too late. Deprived of any significant cavary support since the horses were exhausted, it ws doomed to failiure, and the 6,500 infantry were blown away with little difficulty.

The Fight For Plancenoit.

The leading elements of Bulow's IV Corps, numbering some 30,000 strong, began to emerge onto the Battlefield in strength at around 4:30 pm. They encountered such firm resistance from Lobau's 7,000 men who fought a dogged delaying action, that Blucher determined to alter the axis of his advance and march on the village of Plancenoit. If he took this village, he could not only turn Lobau's flank, but would then be in a position to sever the Charleroi-Brussels highway to the rear of the French army, thereby entrapping Napoleon's forces who would be caught vice like between the pincers of both the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies.

Unfortunately for Blucher, Lobau at once percieved the Prussian leader's intentions and the French raced to garrison the village before the Prussian's could beat them to it. Now the Prussians had to fight their way in, but as Pirch's II Corps came into action alongside Bulow, the scales began to tip in the attackers favour and Lobau was grudgingly forced to give ground before overwhelming enemy numbers.

By now, over at Wavre to the east, Marshal Grouchy at last had attacked the Prussian rearguard of Thielemann's 15,000 men of III Corps. He had at this time received Napoleon's 1:00pm order, which mentioned Bulow's marching columns to aid Wellington and the his orders to move closer to the main army and hinder the Prussian march. With the time now 5:00pm, there was no hope of linking up with Napoleon's army that day and the Marshal himself growing more impatient, led an attack to force a crossing over the River Dyle at Wavre itself, but the Prussian's proved far too stubborn. This attack repulsed, the French attempted to force acrossing at Bierges, where Gerard was severely wounded. This attack, was also fought off.

At the height of the afternoon's fighting as the French forced a crossing at Limale, to the west of Wavre itself, Thielemann sent a plea for assistance to the Prussian Chief of Staff, Gneisenau, by now leading the attacks on the French at Plancenoit alongside Blucher. Gneisenau's response was chilling. "It doesn't matter if Thielemann's forces are crushed, provided we gain the victory here."

By 6:00pm, the fight for Plancenoit was entering into a critical stage for the French, for the Prussians numerical superiority was rapidly ousting Lobau's tiring soldiers from their defensive positions witthin the village, as they swept in from three sides at once. Fearing for the integrity of his eastern flank and the consequences of his line of retreat should it collapse, Napoleon threw in a full eight battalions of the Young Guard to retake Plancenoit and bolster Lobau's struggling men. Blucher's exhausted troops were thrown back and Napoleon's line was temporarily stablised as the Prussians withdrew to regroup before a new onslaught.

6:00pm The French Capture La Haie Sainte

Whilst Napoleon directed operations upon the eastern flank against the Prussians, Marshal Ney had remained highly active in the centre against Wellington. At long last, displaying a tactical common-sense that had been absent for some time, he had strung together a series of well co-ordinated attacks upon the famhouse of La Haie Sainte using a combination of all arms which captured the stronghold dominating the centre of Wellington's line at around 6:00pm.

Wasting no time, Ney placed artillery pieces either side of the main road which at less than 300 yards range began to tear great gaps in Wellington's line bringing about a crisis for Wellington. With the Anglo-Allied line visibly crumbling before his eyes, Ney appealed to Napoleon for more troops with which to achieve a breakthrough and finish off the wounded Allied army before him, but if Wellington was in his hour of crisis, then so was Napoleon, for the Prussians had now regrouped and were launching another strong and determined attack on Plancenoit. Both Lobau's men of VI Corps and the eight battalions of the Young Guard were falling back before this new onslaught, and Prussian cannonballs were churning up the ground near La Belle Alliance Napoleon was distracted by the possible chance of victory in ther centre by this threat and as a consequence, Ney's request was met with a blunt refusal. "Troops? Where do you think I will find them? Do you think I can make them?" he, replied in agitation. With these words, Napoleon unwittingly threw Wellington a lifeline to shore up his battered line.

To stabilise his threatened flank, Napoleon sent in two battalions of the Old Guard, who supported by Lobau and the Young Guard, threw back a whole fourteen Prussian battalions to retake the village in a spectacular counter-attack. Both Lobau and the young Guard took heart at this brilliant display of military prowess and reoccupied the village once more. With his right flank now secure, at least for the moment, Napoleon returned to reconsider Ney's request and decided that it was now time to launch an attack on Wellington's centre using the remaining battalions of his Imperial Guard.

7:00pm The Assault of The Middle Guard

The Battle of Waterloo - 7:30pm

Even as Napoleon was preparing his formations, ever increasing masses of Prussians approaching the battlefield from the north-east could be seen. The gravity of the situation was clear. Defeat was on the horizon. To counter this and rally the whole army to support the Guard attack all along the front, Napoleon resorted to a deliberate ruse by ordering his staff to ride to tell the troops that Marshal Grouchy had arrived.

The attack of the Middle Guard

With the drums beating the pas de charge, five battalions of the Middle Guard advanced from the Charleroi-Brussels road to march between Hougoumont and La-Haie Sainte. Three more battalions of the Old Guard were left in the valley to form a second wave in the event of a breakthrough, whilst another battalion of the Middle guard was posted near Hougoumont. Either side of the Brussels road near La-Alliance, the two battalions of the 1st Grenadiers, the Oldest of the Old, were left as a last reserve.  Being raked by heavy artillery fire as they ascended up the slope to approach the Allied ridge and with barely 2,850 muskets with which to oppose the 15,000 troops which awaited them over the ridgeline and inadequately supported by cavalry, the outcome of the attack by the Middle Guard could never be in doubt, despite some worrying moments for Wellington when it actually seemed as if Napoleon's last ditch effort might be pulled off.

The French army fought desperately all along the line in support, pinning their hopes on the Guard's success, but outnumbered and outgunned, the Guard found itself under a withering fire from both the front and its flanks. The assault was halted, broken up and then flung headlong down the slopes in disorder to the shock and dismay of the whole French army who had been pinning their last hopes of a victory upon its success.

7:50pm La Garde Recule

Even as the Guard was falling back, the cry "La Garde recule" went up, and the French line faltered. Then Ziethen's 1st Prussian Corps was slamming into the French lines from the heights near Papelotte on the French extreme right. The realisation that these troops were not those of Grouchy after all, as they had been promised, hit home hard and the troops of D-Erlon's Corps and that of Lobau recoiled away from this new threat and a breech opened in the French lines which Ziethen's Prussians were not slow to exploit as they poured through the gap behind French lines. Aghast, French belief in victory collapsed and Napoleon's forces wavered. Judging the moment ripe to finish off this mortally wounded army, Wellington waved his hat high and forward. The whole Anglo-Allied army advanced all along the front, as before them the French army broke and dissolved into a mass of fugitives.

Napoleon shelters within the square of the 1st Grenadiers of the Old Guard

In the valley, Napoleon had been preparing a second wave consisting off the Old Guard. With his line ruptured and the battle lost, these squares of the Old Guard now valiantly fought a fighting withdrawal against the advancing Allied hordes to cover the retreat of their fellow compatriots. After putting up fierce resistance which hindered the Allies ability to close on the retreating French army, these magnificent formations were eventually broken up and dispersed to join the fleeing mob that sought sanctuary on the road south to Genappe.

On the Charleroi-Brussels road, only the two battalions of the 1st Grenadiers of the Old Guard, the oldest of the old, stood firm at Rossomme as Napoleon's army fled southwards. For a time Napoleon took shelter within one of its squares, as presenting a formidable hedge of bayonets, both squares withdrew slowly in good order, resisting attacks upon them.

The Prussians launch an all out attack on Plancenoit.

Over in burning Plancenoit, desperate fighting raged on as the main body of the French army retreated. The Prussians, launching all out attacks on the position simultaneously to Wellington's general advance had encircled the position, entrapping the beleagered French garrison within. The Young Guard and the two battalions of the Old Guard fought with grim ferocity for they knew full well their fate should they be captured alive by the vengefull Prussians. It was almost dark by the time the fighting had died down, and their sacrifice alone together with the valiant withdrawal of the Old Guard on the Charleroi-Brussels road ensured that the bulk of the French army, as well as Napoleon were able to escape.

Some time after 9:00pm, as the last pocket of French resistance in Plancenoit was still being ground down, both Wellington and Blucher met between La Belle Alliance and Rossomme. Both armies were utterly exhausted after their ordeal with Napoleon's army, but both commanders recognized the strong need to pursue and harry the fleeing French to prevent Napoleon from rallying his men and resuming hostilities. Blucher, fiery with his hatred for the French, offered to take up this role and Wellington gratefully accepted. The Battle of Waterloo was over.

Aftermath

By late evening, Napoleon reached Genappe, hoping to rally his army, but his expectations were dashed as he witnessed his panic stricken men fighting one another to gain passage over the single bridge in their haste to escape to the south. Caught up in the press of troops, he himself was lucky to escape capture, having to make an undignified exit from his coach to leap upon a waiting horse, as the pursuing Prussians swooped down on the town, bent on revenge for Ligny.

With an escort of his Red Lancers, Napoleon rode onwards to Quatre Bras, now pinning his dwindling hopes on Girard's division, which had been left at Ligny after that battle. Of this formation behind which he surmised he could rally his army behind, there was no sign.

Over to the west at Wavre, Marshal Grouchy commanding 30,000 men had become aware that the sound of gunfire had now fallen silent to the west. Oblivious to the disaster that had befallen the French army at Waterloo, he continued to batter away at Theilemann's defences over the River Dyle, perhaps believing that Napoleon had triumphed and was even now marching on Brussels, pushing the defeated remnants of the Allied armies before him. Napoleon had of course sent an aide galloping off with all haste to Grouchy, informing him of his defeat and urging him to withdraw to safety. Grouchy would only learn this terrible truth at mid-morning ther next day, but in the meantime he managed to capture and consolidate a bridgehead at Limale by late evening, planning to force a passage over the river come dawn and defeat Theilemann's 15,000 men and take Wavre before marching on Brussels to link up with Napoleon.

Theilemann, commanding the Prussian III corps, had learnt in the course of the night the circumstances of Napoeon's defeat, and so was therefore surprised to find Grouchy's troops still in force come dawn. Theilemann opted to withdraw, since he was vastly outnumbered by the French and he had decided against the futile loss of life that would result when the main battle had already been won. As a result, Grouchy was able to take Wavre and claim a victory by 10:00am on the 19th, but by 10:30 am as he was preparing to march on Brussels, a messenger at last brought him the shocking news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Having won a hollow victory, Grouchy was forced to order a withdrawal.

Through the night, Napoleon had ridden on to Philippville on French territory near the Belgian border. Here he paused to rest, issue orders and consider his next moves. Considering his defeat and the fact that he had not heard word from Grouchy, who he considered must be captured, Napoleon wrote a rather upbeat message to his brother Joseph in Paris, stating "All is not lost. The Austrians march slowly: the Prussians fear the peasantry and dare not advance too far. Everything can be repaired again."

Napoleon broods on his defeat at Mezieres on the road from Waterloo

From Phillipville, Napoleon reached Laon, planning to use that city as a rallying point for the remnants of his ill fated Armee du Nord. Some of his closest confidantes now advised him to remain in the field with his army to fight a delaying action against Wellington and Bluchers expected advance into France, thus buying him more time to raise more troops to meet the Russian and Austrian armies later on. To stay at the head of the army was desirable and had much to merit it, but Napoleon knew that if he must continue the struggle with any chance of success, then first he must return to the political centre of Paris to repair any damage that his defeat had wrought and to rally the French nation solidly behind him. Anxious, he remembered the intrique and betrayal of the previous year when he had lost his throne.

Instructing the border fortresses to hold out for as long as possible to buy time, Napoleon hurried back to Paris, intent on returning to place himself at the head of the French armies, with which within a few brief weeks he hoped could be at least 300,000 strong to oppose the Allies with. He had lost a battle, but by no means had yet lost the war.

Napoleon arrived in Paris on June 21st, dirty, dishevelled and exhausted from the exertions of the past week. News of his disaster at Waterloo was by now beginning to circulate throughout the city and his opponents, headed by the treacherous Joseph Fouche were already moving to depose him. Urged on by those still loyal to him to sieze absolute power by dissolving the government chambers and declaring a national emergency, Once the ability to act decisively had been one of his greatest gifts but now he was unsure of himself, and he hesitated, unwilling to assume the mantle of a dictator and give the Allies another weapon against him. In his state of indecisiveness, Napoleon's opponents were able to seize the initiative themselves and he found himself politically outmanoevered. As his opponents took steps to consolidate their own power, he was presented with a stark ultimatum: Abdicate or be deposed.

Abdication

Outside of the Elysee palace where he had took up residence, crowds of ordinary people still aclaimed him. Encouraged by their fervour which was reminiscent of revolutionary days, Napoleon was encouraged to use regular troops to regain power against Fouche's National Guard, but the prospect of a civil war within France appalled him. " I did not come back from Elba to see Paris run red with blood, " he declared. Against this choice, Napoleon then decided to step down with dignity whilst he still could, and to let history judge the traitors. Accordingly, on the 23rd of June, Napoleon signed a new document of abdication and retired to his country house of Malmaison, where he wandered it's vast gardens, his thoughts lost in happier times.

Even so, the war still continued. Marshal Grouchy had carried out an amazing withdrawal from Belgium. bringing out almost intact all of his 33,000 men under his command, evading the Prussians with considerable skill.

By the 26th of June, both Wellington and Blucher were advancing southwards towards Paris. Wellington was advancing with disciplined caution, but the Prussians, urged on by Blucher who wanted to see Napoleon captured alive, pressed on impetuously, with the effect that both armies soon became isolated from one another, and thus vunerable. Furthermore, both armies had been obliged to detach numbers of troops to observe or besiege fortresses, or to guard their lines of communications. by the time Bluchers army had reached the outskirts of Paris, his army was down to 66,000 men and Wellington's, at least a days march behind numbered 52,000 troops.By his rapid march on Paris, Blucher had thus placed both himself and Wellington's forces in a dangerous predicament, for isolated they were in a position to be attacked and be defeated in detail.

It was a situation that Napoleon knew fully how to exploit, and with growing excitement he now realised that everything lost could yet be regained if he was quickly able to use the 128,000 troops that Marshal Davout controlled under the provisional government. Carried away by the dream of reversing his defeat at Waterloo by a stunning victory over Blucher, before turning on Wellington, Napoleon made to prepare to rejoin the French army, whilst a message was hurried off to ther provisional government, offering his temporary services as a mere general, in which promised he would retire after first repulsing the enemy.

It was a vain hope, for his offer was flatly refused by the provisional government who were prepared to give Napoleon no chance to regain his former position. Fouche for his paned against his former master and threatened to arrest Napoleon himself. Napoleon's position at Malmaison was fasrt, was by now in touch with the Allies and looking to seal a peace treaty. Even Davout had by now turt becoming precarious as the Prussians closed in, and the 29th of June saw an attempt by Blucher to capture him dead or alive. Davout who was adamant that Napoleon should not fall into enemy hands, had the bridges closest to Malmaison blown, thwarting Bluchers intentions. It was a close call, and one step ahead of the vengeful Prussians, Napoleon left for Rochefort, having by now received word from Fouche that a Frigate had been placed for his disposal in which he might sail for America.

Under pressure from French patriots who felt that he had 'sold out', Davout also felt obliged to act the very next day when he ordered an attack on the Prussians at Versailles, who fell back after receiving a sharp riposte. Blucher, having been checked thought it prudent to pause and await Wellington's arrival. On the 3rd of July, an agreement was signed at St-Cloud by which the French army was to retire south of the Loire. On the 7th of July the Prussians entered the heart of Paris, and the very next day Louis XVIII returned, having been recognised by the provisional government.

At Rochefort Napoleon found his way blockaded by the Royal Navy, and it was clear that he would not be permitted to sail across the Atlantic. Napoleon's choices were limited. He could either attempt to run the blockade which could prove dangerous or hand himself over to the English. Furthermore, rumours were now reaching him that the slippery Fouche had ordered his arrest. To attempt to escape across the sea held some appeal, but for the man who had become Emperor of the French on his own merit and who had forged a European empire greater than any seen since Roman times, the thought of a humiliating capture as he fled like a fugitive, held little real incentive. Rather than fall into Fouche's hands and thus likely be passed over to the Prussians, Napoleon decided to surrender himself up with dignity and honour to the English and trust that they might treat a vanquished enemy generously.

Exile

Napoleon on board the Bellerophon

On the 15th of July, he boarded H.M.S Bellerophon and surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland, RN. For a time Napoleon had entertained hopes that he might be permitted to live in Great Britain, but he deluded himself. The English considered him far too dangerous to be living in close proximity to Europe and were prepared to suffer no repitition of the hundred days. When it was announced that his final destination was to be the remote island of St-Helena in the South Atlantic, Napoleon railed against what he thought of an injustice, feeling that he had been betrayed since he had given himself up on his own free will.


Napoleon Bonaparte spent the last six years of his life in a lonely exile on St-Helena, reduced to the belittling title of General Buonaparte by his gaolers, which in itself, became a potent source of conflict between himself and the English. His humiliating existence before his death in 1821, was a far cry from the glory of his Napoleonic empire, but even in adversity far from Europe, Napoleon worked to ensure that his achievements as the architect of modern Europe would not be forgotten. He forged the Napoleonic legend and paved the way forBonapartism to remain a viable force in France, thus ensuring the rise of his nephew who rose to become Napoleon III and heir to the Second Empire in 1852.

Conclusion

The Waterloo Campaign was one of the shortest campaigns in all military history, yet it was also one of the most intense and bloody. The butchers bill at the battle of Waterloo alone testifies to the fury of the fighting where 47,000 soldiers became casualties either dead or wounded in just one single day of combat.

Time, as Napoleon realised, was crucial to his chances of success. At the outset of the campaign, the French forces, despite some hitches, advanced rapidly enough to wedge themselves between the two Allied armies in Belgium. By speed, concentration,sheer audacity, as well as a little help from his enemies, Napoleon firmy held the initiative by the close of the 15th, and his army was finely placed to deliver a crushing blow to the allied forces on the 16th which could have won him the campaign.

Whilst Napoleon's plan of campaign was brilliant in it's concept, his strategy of the central position was an extremely risky manoevre. For it to work smoothly, it required commanders to be ruthlessly decisive in thought and to act quickly before the enemy forces could react quickly enough. Speed was essential.  Unfortunately for Napoleon, he appointed to command the left and right wings, commanders who from the very beginning, displayed a cautious approach which allowed both of the Allied armies to recover from their initial shock at the French invasion and to regroup to negate his original strategy to keep them apart. Ultimately, it was this inability to prevent the Allied armies from uniting, which doomed Napoleon's chances of success.

Napoleon came within a whisker of a major success on the 16th, but Marshal Ney fighting the battle of Quatre Bras to the west allowed Wellington, through his own caution to sieze the initiative from him and strike back, which in turn directly affected Napoleon's battle at Ligny, for when a panicked Ney feared a now reinforced Wellington might break through, he recalled D-Erlon's 20,000 men marching east to attack the Prussian flank. Napoleon's subsequent victory at Ligny was thus diluted and in no way decisive and the Prussians limped away defeated, but not broken.

Napoleon too was not beyond censure. It was clear he was not in the best of health certainly not his dynamic self a year ago in the Battle of France, yet alone the man he was in the years of his glory. Perhaps age really had caught up with him, for his ill heath and indecisiveness on the night of the 16th after Ligny, allowed the battered Prussians to pull away largely unhindered. By the time dawn broke on the 17th, the Prussians had broken contact and were well on the road to recovery, whilst Napoleon's continued indecisiveness as well as Ney's laxity allowed Wellington to withdraw northwards to dig in at a defensive position along a line parallel to his allies.

The attrocious state of the ground after the heavy rain of the evening of the 16th delayed Napoleon's attack on Wellington's position on the 18th, not so much because of the difficulty in manoevering his artillery, but because many of his troops were strung out a long way from the battlefield. Indeed, even as the battle began, elements of D-Erlon's corps were still arriving as well as the Imperial Guard. For Wellington, who played a waiting game, this proved a great advantage for he only had to hold his position long enough for the Prussians to arrive to swing the balance in the allies favour. On the other hand, had the ground remained dry and Napoleon had attacked earlier, then in all likelihood the Prussians would have arrived sooner too, for their march to Waterloo itself was difficult through the attrocious mud.

The advantage nonetheless was still Napoleon's as he faced Wellington at Waterloo, but suprisingly since this was arguably the most crucial battle of his career, he opted to make Marshal Ney battlefield commander, whilst he himself only assumed a supervisory role. This  was hardly credible given Ney's erratic and lacklustre performance over the past few days and this decision was the first step towards Napoleon's defeat. It surely must have been a decision he bitterly regretted at the end of the day. Napoleon's leadership at Waterloo was thus loose and unfocused, whilst Wellington in contrast retained tight control and was present at every crisis to lend his charismatic presence. Wellington was much the more active of the two. We can see that Ney was given far too much free reign, whilst Napoleon failed to intervene and assume direct command himself at crucial moments, allowing the attack on Hougoumont to escalate for instance and actually compounding Ney's ill conceived mass cavalry attack on Wellington's lines by sending in 5,000 more horsemen. But he did nothing to stop the attack in the first place. By the end of the day, too many errors on the French side mounted up and placed the French army in a no win situation to send it down to a dire defeat.

Despite this, Napoleon's forces at Waterloo should still have won IF the Prussian's had not arrived to support Wellington, for Napoleon's army even under attack from the Prussians still proved capable of shaking Wellington's line to the very limits of endurance by the evening. The French cavalry attacks, even though they failed, still brought Wellington's army dangerously to the brink of defeat and by 6:30 pm, when the French captured La-Haie-Sainte, Wellington's line was visibly crumbling away as Ney's gunners bombarded the Anglo-Allied line at point blank range.  A French victory at this point must have been certain had a strong infantry attack, perhaps spear-headed by the Imperial Guard gone in, but at that very moment, Napoleon with his eye of the ball was distracted, for at that moment the Prussian's were attacking in some of their strongest assaults of the day at Plancenoit and Napoleon seriously fearing for the collapse of his eastern flank and the consequences,  refused Neys request. Had the Prussian's not attacked so hard at that point or had Napoleon been forefront in the centre along with Ney to see for himself Wellington's line wavering, history might have had a different story to tell.

The Prussian arrival on the battlefield to give assistance to wellington was not inevitable, and one key decision by Marshal Grouchy had far reaching effects. We can see that Grouchy was wholly unqualified to lead 33,000 men in an independant command. His showing was characterised by extreme caution and he displayed no initiative on his own part. His subordinates quite rightly advised him to "March to the sound of the guns," when the first cannonfire was heard from the west. Even if it were delivered in a disrespectful manner, it was still sound and logical advice, since Grouchy was still at that point in no position to intervene in a decisive manner against the Prussian's whom Napoleon had ordered him to prevent intervening in his battle against Wellington. Had Grouchy took up this advice and marched to the sound of battle immediately, his action might well had caught the Prussian columns strung out on the march who would have been obliged to about turn to contend with this powerful force on their heels. Even if some numbers of Prussian troops reached the battlefield, their numbers would have been much diluted, leaving Wellington out on a limb, who would have had to fight at greater odds, faced by Napoleon who would now have both a greater freedom of movement on the battlefield as well as a greater number of troops left in reserve.


The decisive factor at Waterloo therefore was the Prussian intervention, who were able to march to the battlefield unchallenged, eventually able to deploy almost 50,000 troops to fight. This considerable presence and contribution alone ensured that Wellington was able to successfully maintain his defensive position, for the strong Prussian attacks obliged Napoleon to divert his reserves to safeguard his flank, which he feared might collapse. In  all, perhaps 18,000 French  troops as well as a considerable quantity of artillery were committed to hold the Prussian flank attack, including 10 battalions of the Imperial Guard to hold the cornerstone of Plancenoit, where some of the fiercest fighting of the day took place. Almost twenty thousand troops were therefore absent for Ney to use against Wellington's  centre which could have been decisive. True, the Prussian presence did not make itself known at least in a physical sense until a little after 4:30pm, but their march to Waterloo  was spotted by Napoleon himself at about 1:00pm and confirmed by a captured Prussian hussar. Wellington must have been equally aware too and it must have been a huge psychological boost for him to know his allies were marching to support him, whilst the same knowledge must have harried Napoleon's peace of mind that the day could only turn out well if he could defeat Wellington before they could arrive in strength. His immediate order to send Lobau's 10,000 men marching to  the eastern flank to hold up the Prussian advance is ample proof of his concern. So at just after 1:00pm, a little after one and a half hours after the start of the battle,  the still distant Prussian's, even though they were not yet fighting, had already caused 10,000 men to be diverted from the attacking strength against Wellington's line. Already, early on in the battle, the it was evident Prussian's were already influencing the course of the battle. 

By 6:00pm, the Prussian attacks on Napoleon's eastern flank were at their height. It can truly be said that two battles were now in progress an offensive on by Ney to dislodge Wellington from his position on the ridge and a defensive battle directed by Napoleon to hold the Prussian's at bay long enough to enable this to happen. It was a precarious position for any army to be in and if some commentators do say (quite logically) that Napoleon should have formed a strong rearguard and withdrew to fight another day as soon as the Prussians were seen to be approaching in strength, then it can only be said that Napoleon weighed the political consequences over performing such an action. If he had withdrew without an outright victory, it must  have meant political suicide from his point of view. In 1813 or 1814, he might still have been able to do so and continue the struggle. In 1815, fighting for his place to laed the French nation, such an action could only embolden his enemies at home and abroad when it was seen that his Belgian campaign had failed. It was tantamount to poitical suicide.  With this in mind, he fought at more at Waterloo as an Emperor, rather than a general, so disregarding the strategic considerations, he gambled on against lengthening odds. By 6:00pm, even this option to withdraw had vanished, for was too deeply committed by then to carry out any such action.

It became a case of the final straw that broke the camels back, so to speak.  Napoleon, at 6:00pm was in a precarious position, his reserves vanishing at a worrying rate as more and more Prussian's were poured on to the field, and his army was literally at breaking point to contain them. His overstretched line must break eventually as more Prussians entered the battle. It did just that. When Napoleon did finally decide to make one last bid to break through Wellington's line, it was both lacking in strength and made too late. With only 5 battalions of the Middle Guard in the first wave it had little chance of succeeding and the cavalry that might have reinforced it, had been squandered in the afternoon's attacks. This last attack  and it's subsequent repulse was met almost simultaneously by a fresh eruption of more Prussians arriving on the field, who struck at the weakest part of the French line and penetrated between it. Napoleon's line  was broken and the Prussian's poured through the gap like stormwater through a grate to come behind the French lines.  Wellington seeing the French army waver on the repulse of the Guard's attack and the confusion caused by the Prussian breakthrough at last gave the order to advance, and the French army broke. 

Two main events caused the French army's collapse. The Prussian breakthrough and Wellington's subsequent advance along the line. Both had to happen. If the Prussians had not broken through, the French army would have in all likelihood have held Wellington's advance. Likewise if the Prussians had broken through and Wellington had not advanced, the French would have rallied to contain them. Wellington's advance working with the Prussian breakthrough gave the French no time to rally. One other event worth mentioning which did great harm to the French army's ability to hold firm when Prussian's broke through was that Napoleon had deliberately sent word around the lines that Marshal Grouchy's 33,000 men were on the point of arrival, even before the Guards attack had gone in. Perhaps understandably in the hour of crisis, with his men wavering before the Prussian onslaught, Napoleon sought to restore his troops sagging morale.  One can well understand the exhilaration of the French troops turn to utter dismay when Grouchy's 33,000 men in fact turned out to be Ziethen's Prussian's who struck the now demoralised French and broke through. Napoleon's ruse backfired to sensational effect.

English historian's like to describe Waterloo an English victory, playing down the German involvement, On the other hand German historian's do likewise and are fond of calling it a German victory. To the French, it remains the battle they should have won, a victory which somehow went awry at the last moment. It is fair to say that the Waterloo campaign and the Battle of Waterloo itself was an Allied victory. The English like to belittle the German involvement at Waterloo and after the battle The Duke of Wellington himself went to great lengths to conceal their part in the battle he tried to claim as his own. Indeed he forced William Siborne to remove the 40,000 Prussian troops from the Siborne Model.  Nothing however can hide the fact that at almost 50,000 Prussian troops were in action at Waterloo and Marshal Blucher's suggestion that the battle be called The Battle of La-Belle-Alliance, after Napoleon's headquarters on the field, might understandably have been logical and fair, but Waterloo, has a certain ring to it. Wellington's Anglo-Allied army no more than Blucher's Prussian army could have bested Napoleon by themselves. After Quatre Bras and Ligny, both recognised this and knew they must cooperate together to have any chance of victory. They made every effort to unite and fight together at Waterloo, and this was the ultimate reason for their victory. Wellington pinned Napoleon's forces down by his tenacious defence, whilst Blucher's Prussian army made the  spear-thrust at Napoleon's flank which proved a mortal wound. Napoleon's downfall was that he perhaps underestimated this coopertion between the two allied leaders, whilst he made the unforgivable error of spitting his own army which was made worse by allowing it to operate to far from the main field of action, which meant that he could not recall it in time when he needed it most.  

Even so, the Battle of Waterloo might not have been decisive in itself.  Napoleon's manpower after the battle was still greater than after his 1812 campaign or after Liepzig in 1813, and the allies had at least suffered equal losses over the course of the campaign. It all depended on the political support he could still harness in Paris, for he could at least still fight a repitition of his 1814 campaign, but with a far greater disposal of troops at his disposal than he had a year before. As he had feared though, failiure to win a victory outright severely dented his military reputation and robbed him of any further political clout to lead the French nation. His abdication was demanded and with grace he stepped down, realising that by himself he could do no more.


Political career

File:Daumier-Dieu Soult.jpg Following the Second Bourbon Restoration in 1815, Soult went into exile in Germany, but in 1819 he was recalled and in 1820 again made a Marshal of France. He once more tried to show himself as a fervent royalist and was made a peer in 1827. After the revolution of 1830 he declared himself a partisan of Louis Philippe, who welcomed his support and revived for him the title of Marshal General of France, previously held only by Turenne, Claude Louis Hector de Villars, and Maurice de Saxe.

Soult served as Minister of War from 1830 to 1834, as President of the Council of Ministers (or Prime Minister) from 1832 to 1834, as ambassador extraordinary to London for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 – where his former enemy, the Duke of Wellington, reputedly caught him by the arm and exclaimed "I have you at last!" —, again as Prime Minister from 1839 to 1840 and 1840 to 1847, and again as Minister of War from 1840 to 1844. In 1848, when Louis Philippe was overthrown, Soult once again declared himself a republican. He died at his castle of Soult-Berg, near his birthplace.


Soult, Nicolas Jean de Dieu

Born Mar. 29, 1769, at Saint Amans-la-Bastide, now Saint Amans-Soult, in the department of Tarn died there Nov. 27, 1851. French marshal (1804). Duke of Dalmatia (1807).

The son of a notary, Soult joined the army in 1785 as a noncommissioned officer. He distinguished himself during the revolutionary wars and was made a brigadier general for his conduct in the battle of Fleurus in 1794. In 1799 he was made a general in command of a division. He served in the Napoleonic Wars, and from 1805 to 1807 he commanded an infantry corps in wars against Austria, Russia, and Prussia. From 1808 to 1812 and from 1813 to 1814 he commanded armies in Spain, Portugal, and southern France, and in 1813 he fought in Germany.

A talented military leader, Soult was extremely ambitious and politically unscrupulous. After Napoleon&rsquos abdication, Soult became a fervent royalist and was appointed war minister (1814&ndash1815) by Louis XVIII. During the Hundred Days he served as Napoleon&rsquos chief of staff. After the Second Restoration of 1815 to 1819, he went into exile. After the July Revolution of 1830 he was war minister (1830&ndash32) and president of the Council of Ministers (1832&ndash34, 1839&ndash40, and 1840&ndash47) he led the suppression of the Lyon uprising of 1831. In 1847 he received the highest military rank of marshal general of France.


Military career

His superior education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six years' service, and in July 1791 he became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. He served with his battalion in 1792. By 1794 he was adjutant-general (with the rank of chef de brigade). After the Battle of Fleurus (1794), in which he greatly distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to general of brigade by the representatives on mission. He married Jeanne Louise Elisabeth Berg on 26 April 1796. [ 3 ]

For the next five years he was constantly employed in Germany under Jourdan, Moreau, Kléber and Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland. It was at this time that he laid the foundations of his military fame, and he particularly distinguished himself in Masséna's great Swiss campaign, and especially at the Second Battle of Zurich. He accompanied Masséna to Genoa, and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the protracted siege of that city, during which he operated with a detached force without the walls, and after many successful actions he was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.

Marshal of the Empire

The victory of Marengo restored his freedom, and Soult received the command of the southern part of the kingdom of Naples, and in 1802 he was appointed one of the four generals commanding the consular guard. Though he was one of those generals who had served under Moreau, and who therefore, as a rule, disliked and despised Napoleon Bonaparte, Soult had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power in consequence he was in August 1803 appointed to the command-in-chief of the camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of the Empire. He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the allied centre.

Soult played a great part in all the famous battles of the Grande Armée, including the Battle of Jena in 1806. However, he missed the Battle of Friedland because on that day he forced his way into Königsberg. After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, he returned to France and was created (1808) duke of Dalmatia. The award of this title greatly displeased him, for he felt that his proper title would be duke of Austerlitz, a title Napoleon had reserved for himself. In the following year he was appointed to the command of the II corps of the army with which Napoleon intended to conquer Spain, and after winning the Battle of Gamonal he was detailed by the emperor to pursue Sir John Moore's British army. At the Battle of Corunna, in which the British general was killed, Soult was defeated and the British escaped by sea.

For the next four years Soult remained in Spain, and his military history is that of the Peninsular War. In 1809, he invaded Portugal and took Oporto, but was isolated by General Silveira's strategy of contention. Busying himself with the political settlement of his conquests in the French interests and, as he hoped, for his own ultimate benefit as a possible candidate for the Portuguese throne, he attracted the hatred of Republican officers in his Army. Unable to move, he was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second Battle of Porto by Wellesley, making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by Beresford and Silveira. After the Battle of Talavera (1809) he was made chief-of-staff of the French troops in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana.

In 1810 he invaded Andalusia, which he speedily reduced. However, because he turned aside to seize Seville, the capture of Cádiz eluded him. He said, "Give me Seville and I will answer for Cádiz." [ 4 ] This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811 he marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz. When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city he marched to its rescue, and fought and nearly won the famous and very bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.

In 1812, after the Duke of Wellington's great victory of Salamanca, he was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos campaign, Soult was able to drive Wellington's Anglo-Allied army back to Salamanca. There, Soult failed to attack Wellington despite a 80,000 to 65,000 superiority of numbers, and the British army retired to the Portuguese frontier. [ 5 ] Soon after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte, with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.

In March 1813 he assumed the command of IV Corps of the Grande Armée and commanded the centre at Lützen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with unlimited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the great defeat of Vitoria. It is to Soult's credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces with a rapidity that even took Wellington by surprise.

Although often found wanting tactically - even some of his own aides queried his inability to amend a plan to take into account altered circumstances on the battlefield - his performance in the closing months of the Peninsular War is the finest proof of his talents as a general. Though repeatedly defeated in these campaigns by the Allies under Wellington, many of his soldiers were raw conscripts, while the Allies could count greater numbers of veterans among their ranks. His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial. Pursued onto French soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before dealing Wellington a final bloody nose at the Battle of Toulouse.


Military career

His superior education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six years' service, and in July 1791 he became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. He served with his battalion in 1792. By 1794 he was adjutant-general (with the rank of chef de brigade). After the Battle of Fleurus (1794), in which he greatly distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to general of brigade by the representatives on mission. He married Jeanne Louise Elisabeth Berg on 26 April 1796. [ 3 ]

For the next five years he was constantly employed in Germany under Jourdan, Moreau, Kléber and Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland. It was at this time that he laid the foundations of his military fame, and he particularly distinguished himself in Masséna's great Swiss campaign, and especially at the Second Battle of Zurich. He accompanied Masséna to Genoa, and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the protracted siege of that city, during which he operated with a detached force without the walls, and after many successful actions he was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.

Marshal of the Empire

The victory of Marengo restored his freedom, and Soult received the command of the southern part of the kingdom of Naples, and in 1802 he was appointed one of the four generals commanding the consular guard. Though he was one of those generals who had served under Moreau, and who therefore, as a rule, disliked and despised Napoléon Bonaparte, Soult had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power in consequence he was in August 1803 appointed to the command-in-chief of the camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of the Empire. He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the allied centre.

Soult played a great part in many of the famous battles of the Grande Armée, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and the Battle of Jena in 1806. However, he missed the Battle of Friedland because on that day he forced his way into Königsberg. After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, he returned to France and was created (1808) 1st Duke of Dalmatia (French: Duc de Dalmatie). The award of this title greatly displeased him, for he felt that his proper title would be Duke of Austerlitz, a title Napoléon had reserved for himself. In the following year he was appointed to the command of the II corps of the army with which Napoléon intended to conquer Spain, and after winning the Battle of Gamonal he was detailed by the emperor to pursue Sir John Moore's British army. At the Battle of Corunna, in which the British general was killed, the Duc de Dalmatia was defeated and the British escaped by sea.

For the next four years the Duc remained in Spain, and his military history is that of the Peninsular War. In 1809, he invaded Portugal and took Oporto, but was isolated by General Silveira's strategy of contention. Busying himself with the political settlement of his conquests in the French interests and, as he hoped, for his own ultimate benefit as a possible candidate for the Portuguese throne, he attracted the hatred of Republican officers in his Army. Unable to move, he was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second Battle of Porto by Wellesley, making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by Beresford and Silveira. After the Battle of Talavera (1809) he was made chief-of-staff of the French troops in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana.

In 1810 he invaded Andalusia, which he speedily reduced. However, because he turned aside to seize Seville, the capture of Cádiz eluded him. He said, "Give me Seville and I will answer for Cádiz." [ 4 ] This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811 he marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz. When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city he marched to its rescue, and fought and nearly won the famous and very bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.

In 1812, after the Duke of Wellington's great victory of Salamanca, he was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos campaign, Soult was able to drive Wellington's Anglo-Allied army back to Salamanca. There, Soult failed to attack Wellington despite a 80,000 to 65,000 superiority of numbers, and the British army retired to the Portuguese frontier. [ 5 ] Soon after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte, with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.

In March 1813 he assumed the command of IV Corps of the Grande Armée and commanded the centre at Lützen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with unlimited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the great defeat of Vitoria. It is to Soult's credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces with a rapidity that even took Wellington by surprise.

Although often found wanting tactically – even some of his own aides queried his inability to amend a plan to take into account altered circumstances on the battlefield – his performance in the closing months of the Peninsular War is the finest proof of his talents as a general. Though repeatedly defeated in these campaigns by the Allies under Wellington, many of his soldiers were raw conscripts, while the Allies could count greater numbers of veterans among their ranks. His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial. Pursued onto French soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before dealing Wellington a final bloody nose at the Battle of Toulouse.


Mike Campbell's Thoughts and Experiences

Prime Minster of France, Minister of War, Duke of Dalmatia, Marshal General, and Freemason.

“Marshal General Jean-de-Dieu Soult, [1][2] 1st Duke of Dalmatia, (French: [ʒɑ̃dədjø sult] 29 March 1769 – 26 November 1851) was a French general and statesman, named Marshal of the Empire in 1804 and often called Marshal Soult. Soult was one of only six officers in French history to receive the distinction of Marshal General of France . The Duke also served three times as President of the Council of Ministers, or Prime Minister of France .

Soult's intrigues in the Peninsular War while occupying Portugal earned him the nickname, "King Nicolas", and while he was Napoleon's military governor of Andalusia, Soult looted 1.5 million francs worth of art . [3] One historian called him "a plunderer in the world class." [4] He was defeated in his last offensives in Spain in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial. Soult was eventually pursued out of Spain and onto French soil, where he was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before the Battle of Toulouse .”

“Well-educated, Soult originally intended to become a lawyer, but his father's death when he was still a boy made it necessary for him to seek employment, and in 1785 he enlisted as a private in the French Army.

Soult's superior education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six years of service, and in July 1791 he became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. By 1794, Soult was adjutant-general (with the rank of chef de brigade). After the Battle of Fleurus of 1794, in which he distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to brigadier general by the representatives on mission.

For the next five years, Soult was employed in Germany under Generals Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, Jean Victor Marie Moreau, Jean-Baptiste Kléber and François Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted to general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland . It was at this time that he laid the foundations of his military fame he particularly distinguished himself in General André Masséna's great Swiss campaign, and especially at the Battle of Linth River, fought on the same day that Masséna won the Second Battle of Zurich . He accompanied Masséna to Genoa, and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the protracted siege of that city, during which he operated with a separate force outside the city walls . Soult was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.

Marshal of the Empire

The victory at Marengo restored his freedom, and Soult received the command of the southern part of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1802, he was appointed as one of the four generals commanding the consular guard . Though he was one of those generals who had served under Moreau, and who therefore, as a rule, disliked Napoleon Bonaparte, Soult had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power. In consequence, he was appointed, in August 1803, as commander-in-chief of the Camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first eighteen Marshals of the Empire . He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the Allied centre.

Soult played a great part in many of the famous battles of the Grande Armée, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and the Battle of Jena in 1806 . However, he was not present at the Battle of Friedland because on that same day he was conquering Königsberg. After the conclusion of the Treaties of Tilsit, he returned to France and in 1808 was anointed by Napoleon as 1st Duke of Dalmatia (French: Duc de Dalmatie) . The awarding of this honour greatly displeased him, for he felt that his title should have been Duke of Austerlitz, a title which Napoleon had reserved for himself. In the following year, Soult was appointed as commander of the II Corps with which Napoleon intended to conquer Spain. After winning the Battle of Gamonal, Soult was detailed by the emperor to pursue Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore's British army. At the Battle of Coruña, in which Moore was killed, Soult failed to prevent British forces escaping by sea.

For the next four years, Soult remained in Spain engaged in the Peninsular War. In 1809, he invaded Portugal and took Porto, but was isolated by General Francisco da Silveira's strategy of contention. Busying himself with the political settlement of his conquests in French interests and, as he hoped, for his own ultimate benefit as a possible candidate for the Portuguese throne, he attracted the hatred of Republican officers in his army. Unable to move, he was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second Battle of Porto by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later made Duke of Wellington), making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by General William Beresford and Silveira . After the Battle of Talavera, Soult was made chief of staff of French forces in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana .

In 1810, he invaded Andalusia, which he quickly overran . However, because he then turned to seize Seville, the capture of Cádiz eluded him, saying, "Give me Seville and I will answer for Cádiz." [5] This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811, Soult marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz . When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city, he marched to its rescue and fought and nearly won the famous and bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.

In 1812, after Wellington's great victory at Salamanca, Soult was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos, he was able to drive Wellington's Anglo-allied Army back to Salamanca. There, the Duke of Dalmatia, as Soult was now known, failed to attack Wellington despite superiority in numbers, and the British Army retired to the Portuguese frontier . [6] Soon after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte (who had been installed by his brother as King of Spain) with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.

In Germany and defending southern France

In March 1813, Soult assumed command of the IV Corps of the Grande Armée and commanded the centre at Lützen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with unlimited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the defeat at Vitoria . It is to Soult's credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces.

His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by General Manuel Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial . Pursued onto French soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before suffering what was technically a defeat at Wellington's hands at the Battle of Toulouse . He nevertheless inflicted severe casualties on Wellington and was able to stop him from trapping the French forces.

After Napoleon's first abdication in 1814, Soult declared himself a royalist, received the Order of Saint Louis, and acted as Minister of War from 26 November 1814 to 11 March 1815. When Napoleon returned from Elba, Soult at once declared himself a Bonapartist, was made a peer of France, and acted as chief of staff to the emperor during the Waterloo campaign, in which role he distinguished himself far less than he had done as commander of an over-matched army.

In his book, Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles, Bernard Cornwell summarizes the opinions of several historians that Soult's presence in the Army of the North was one of several factors contributing to Napoleon's defeat, because of the animosity between him and Marshal Michel Ney, the other senior commander, and because, in spite of his experience as a soldier, Soult lacked his predecessor Marshal Louis-Alexandre Berthier's administrative skills. The most glaring instance of this was his written order, according to Napoleon's instructions, to Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy to position his force on the British Army's left flank in order to prevent reinforcement by the Prussians. Cornwell decries the wording of Soult's order as "almost impenetrable nonsense", and Grouchy misinterpreted the order, instead marching against the Prussian rearguard at Wavre.”

“Following the Second Bourbon Restoration in 1815, Soult went into exile in Germany, but in 1819 he was recalled and in 1820 again made a Marshal of France . He once more tried to show himself as a fervent royalist and was made a peer in 1827. After the revolution of 1830 he declared himself a partisan of Louis Philippe, who welcomed his support and revived for him the title of Marshal General of France, previously held only by Turenne, Claude Louis Hector de Villars, and Maurice de Saxe.

Soult served as Minister of War from 1830 to 1834, as President of the Council of Ministers (or Prime Minister) from 1832 to 1834, as ambassador extraordinary to London for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 – where his former enemy, the Duke of Wellington, reputedly caught him by the arm and exclaimed "I have you at last!" —, again as Prime Minister from 1839 to 1840 and 1840 to 1847, and again as Minister of War from 1840 to 1844 . In 1848, when Louis Philippe was overthrown, Soult once again declared himself a republican. He died at his castle of Soult-Berg, near his birthplace.”


Watch the video: Napoleons Marshals Part 6