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The Reign of George III. - (Concluded.) page 4

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Napoleon, finding Blücher gone, turned his attentions to Wellington, expecting to find him still at Quatre-Bras; but, as we have seen, the duke was now on his retreat to Waterloo. Buonaparte dispatched his cavalry in hot haste after him, and they came up with his rear at Genappes, where the English had to pass through a narrow street, and over a narrow bridge across the Dyle. There the French came with such impetus that they threw the light cavalry into confusion; but the heavy dragoons soon rode back, and drove the French with such effect before them, that they made no further interruption of the march. Without au enemy at their rear the march was repugnant enough to the soldiers. English soldiers abominate anything like a retreat. They had heard of the defeat of the Prussians at Ligny; and this retrograde movement looked too muck of the same character to please them. Besides, it was raining torrents all the way; and they had to march across fields up to the knees in mud. At five in the evening, however, the duke commanded a halt, and took up his position on ground which thenceforth was to be immortal. He was on the field of Waterloo! Long before this the position had attracted his attention, and he had thought that had he to fight a battle any where in that part of the country, it should be on that ground. Such numbers of our countrymen, as well as men of all countries, have visited Waterloo, that the plan of the battle becomes easy of conception. About two miles beyond the village of Waterloo, which has been chosen to bear the name of this famous battle, and about a mile beyond the hamlet of Mont St. Jean, stretches across the Charleroi road a ridge of some elevation in the open fields. On this Wellington posted his army, his left extending to a hamlet called Ter la Haye, and his right across the Nivelles road, to a village and ravine called Braine Merbes. These two roads united in the highway to Brussels, just behind the hamlet of Mont St. Jean, and close behind the centre of Wellingtons position was the farm of Mont St. Jean; a little below his centre, on the Charleroi road or causeway, leading through Genappes to Quatre-Bras, whence they had come, was another farm-house, called La Haye Sainte. On Wellingtons right, but down in the valley near the Nivelles road, lay an old château, with its walled orchard, and a wood beyond it, called Hougomont - a contraction of Château-Gomont. Below this position ran Valley, and from it ascended opposite other rising grounds, chiefly open cornfields; and along this ascent, at about half a mile distant, Buonaparte posted his army, inclosing by his right the château Hougomont, and commanding it from the high ground. Nearly opposite to Wellingtons centre stood a warm-house, enclosed in its orchards, called La Belle Alliance. There Buonaparte took his stand, and kept it during the whole fight - each commander being able to command the view of the whole field. Close behind Wellington, the ground again descended towards Mont St. Jean, which gave a considerable protection to his reserves, and kept them wholly out of the observation of the French. To make the situation of Wellingtons army clear, we have only to say that behind the village of Waterloo extended the beech wood of Soigne, along the road to Brussels, for the greater part of the way.

When Buonaparte, early in the morning of the 18th, mounted his horse to reconnoitre Wellington's position, he was rejoiced to observe so few troops; for many were hidden behind the height on which Wellington took his stand. One of his staff suggested that Wellington would be joined by Blücher; but so wholly ignorant was Napoleon of the settled plan of the two generals, that he scouted the idea. " Blücher," he said, " is defeated. He cannot rally for three days. I have seventy-five thousand men; the English only fifty thousand. The town of Brussels awaits me with open arms. The English opposition waits but for my success to raise their heads. Then adieu, subsidies, and farewell, coalition!" Then, looking again at the small body of troops visible, he exclaimed, in exultation, " I have them there at last, these English! " General Foy, who had had ample experience of " these English " in Spain, said, " Wellington never shows his troops; but, if he be yonder, I must warn your majesty that the English infantry, in close fighting, is the very devil! " And Soult, who had felt the strength of that infantry too often, confirmed the assertion of Foy.

Wellington was quite prepared for the fiercest attack of Buonaparte. Notwithstanding his loss at Quatre-Bras, he had still his seventy-five thousand, though the English portion did not exceed thirty-five thousand; and Buonaparte, as he had stated, had about the same number, but most of them of the very best troops of France, whilst few of Welling ton's army had been under fire before, and some of the Belgians and Hanoverians were of a very inferior quality. In point of cannon, Buonaparte had more than double the number that Wellington had. But the duke informed Blücher that he should make a stand here, and the brave old marshal replied to Wellingtons request of a detachment of Prussians to support him, that he would be there with his main army. Wellington therefore expected the arrival of the Prussians about noon; but though they lay only about twelve miles off, the difficulties of the route over the heights of Chapelle-Lambert, and the occupation of part of Wavre by the French under Grouchy, prevented their advance, under Bulow, reaching the field till half-past four. Wellington, however, rested in confident expectation of the support of the Prussians and of their numerous cannon.

Buonaparte posted himself in his centre, near the farm- house of La Belle Alliance, having Ney and Soult near him, but counts Reille and D'Erlon being in immediate command of the centre. His left, which stretched round the château Hougomont, was commanded by his brother Jerome; his right by count Lobau. Wellington took his post on the ridge near where the great mound of the dead surmounted by the Belgian lion now stands. His troops were divided into two lines; the right of the first line - consisting of English, Hanoverian, and Belgian troops - under lord Hill. The centre, under the prince of Orange, consisted of troops of Brunswick and Nassau, flanked on the right by the guards, under general Cooke, and on the left by the British division of general Alton. The left wing consisted of the divisions of Picton, Lambert, and Kempe. The second line consisted of troops in which less confidence was placed, or which had suffered severely at Quatre-Bras on the 16th. In and around the farm-house of La Haye Sainte, in advance of the centre, was placed a body of Germans. The plan of each commander was simple: Wellington's, to keep his ground till Blücher should come up, and then all simultaneously charge forward to drive the French from the field; Napoleon's, by his brisk and ponderous charges, to break and disperse the English before the Prussians could arrive.

It was not till betwixt eleven and twelve o'clock on the morning of Sunday, the 18th of June, that this terrible conflict commenced; for the troops of Napoleon had not yet all reached the ground, having suffered from the tempests of wind and rain equally with the allies. The rain had now ceased, bat the morning was gloomy and lowering. The action opened by a brisk cannonade on the house and wood of Hougomont, which were held by the troops of Nassau. These were driven out; but their place was immediately taken by the British guards under general Byng and colonels Home and Macdonald. A tremendous cannonade was kept up on Hougomont by Jerome's batteries from the slopes above; and under this fire, the French advanced through the wood in front of Hougomont, but were met by a terrible fire from the English, who had the orchard-wall as a breastwork from which to assail the enemy. The contest here was continued through the day with terrible fury, but without being able to expel the English. The buildings of the farm-yard and an old chapel were set fire to by the French shells; but the English maintained their post amid the flames, and filled the wood in front and a lane running under the orchard- wall with mountains of dead.

The fire had soon become general, and a desperate struggle was raging along the whole line. Buonaparte threw column after column forward against the English squares; but they were met with deadly volleys of artillery and musketry, and reeled back amid horrible slaughter. A desperate push was made to carry La Haye Sainte and the farm of Mont St. Jean, on Wellingtons left centre, by the cuirassiers, followed by four columns of French infantry. The cuirassiers charged furiously along the Genappes causeway, but were met and hurled back by the heavy British cavalry. The four columns of infantry reached La Haye Sainte, and dispersed a body of Belgians; but Picton, advancing with Pack's brigade, forced them back, and the British cavalry, which had repulsed the cuirassiers, attacking them in flank, they were broken with great slaughter, and left two thousand prisoners and a couple of eagles behind them. But the English, both cavalry and infantry, pursuing their advantage too far, were in turn repulsed with great loss, and generals Picton and Ponsonby were killed. The French then again surrounded La Haye Sainte, where a detachment of the German legion, falling short of ammunition, and none being able to be conveyed to them, were literally massacred, refusing to surrender. In a little time the French were driven out of the farm-houses by shells.

Soon after, a resolute attack was made on the right of the British centre by a great body of cavalry, which rode im- petuously into the front of the squares and of thirty pieces of artillery. Though cut down in heaps, they drove the artillerymen from their guns, but these only retreated amongst the infantry, carrying with them the implements for serving the guns, and, the moment the infantry repelled them a little, the men were at their guns again, and renewed the firing. The cuirassiers fought most undauntedly; they rode along the very front of the squares, firing their pistols into them, or cutting at them with their swords. Again and again they dashed forward to break the squares, but in every instance were met with such a destructive fire that they were compelled to draw off, only a mere fragment of this fine cavalry surviving this heroic but fatal attempt. From that time the French continued the battle chiefly by I an incessant fire of artillery along the whole line, which the British avoided in great part by lying on their faces.

By six o'clock in the evening the allied army had lost ten thousand men in killed and wounded, besides a great number of the dispersed Belgians and other foreigners of the worst class, who had run off, and taken refuge in the wood of Soigne. But the French had suffered more severely; they had lost fifteen thousand in killed and wounded, and had had more than two thousand taken prisoners. At about half-past four, too, firing had been heard on the French right, and it proved to be the advanced division of Bulow. Grouchy had overtaken the Prussians at Wavre, but had been stopped there by general Thielemann, by order of Blücher, and kept from crossing the Dyle till it was too late to prevent the march of Blücher on Waterloo; so that whilst Thielemann was thus holding back Grouchy, who now heard the firing from Waterloo, Blücher was on the track of his advanced division towards the great battle-field. When Buonaparte heard the firing on the right, he thought, or affected to think, that it was Grouchy, whom he had sent for in haste, who was beating the Prussians; but he per- ceived that he must now make one gigantic effort, or all would be lost the moment that the main armies of the English and Prussians united. Sending, therefore, a force to beat back Bulow, he prepared for one of those thunder- bolts which so often had saved him at the last moment. He formed his imperial guard into two columns at the bottom of the declivity of La Belle Alliance, and supporting them by four battalions of the old guard, and putting Ney at their head, ordered him to break the English squares. That splendid body of men, the French guards, rushed forward, for the last time, with cries of " Vive l'Empereur!" and Buonaparte rode at their head as well as Ney, as far as the, farm of La Haye Sainte. There the great Corsican conqueror, who had told his army on joining it this last campaign that he and they must now conquer or die, declined the death by suddenly wheeling his horse aside, and there remaining, still and stiff as a statue of stone, watching the last great venture. The British right at this moment was wheeling towards Buonaparte's position, so that his guards were received by a simultaneous fire in front and in the flank. The English soldiers advanced from both sides, as if to close round the French, and poured in one incessant fire, each man independently loading and discharging his piece as fast as he could. The French guards endeavoured to deploy, that they might renew the charge, but under so terrible a fire they found it impossible: they staggered, ( broke, and melted into a confused mass. As they rolled wildly down the hill, the battalions of old guards endeavoured to check the pursuing English; but at this moment Wellington, who had Maitland's and Adams's brigades of guards lying on their faces behind the ridge on which he stood, cried, " Up, guards, and at them!" and, rushing down the hill, they swept the old guard before them. On seeing this, Buonaparte exclaimed, "They are mingled together! All is lost for the present! " and rode from the field. The battle was won. But at the same moment Wellington ordered the advance of the whole line, and the French, quitting every point of their position, began a hasty and confused retreat from the field.

Buonaparte, in his bulletin of June 21st, found a reason for this utter defeat in a panic fear that suddenly seized the army, through some evil-disposed person raising the cry of " Sauve qui peut!" But Ney denied, in his letter to the duke of Otranto, that any such cry was raised. Another Statement made very confidently in Paris was, that the old guard, being summoned to surrender, replied, " The guard can die, but cannot yield!" - a circumstance which never took place, though the guards fought with the utmost bravery.

As this rout was taking place, Bulow, who had beaten back the French battalions from Frischermont and Planchenoit, was approaching La Belle Alliance, and Blucher with the main army soon after appeared following him. At a farm-house called Maison Rouge, or Maison du Roi, behind La Belle Alliance, the duke of Wellington and Blucher met, and mutually congratulated each other. What a moment that must have been in their lives! The great disturber had been beaten at the head of his army, and that army was too thoroughly demoralised ever to become an army again. "The enemy," says Wellington, in his dispatches, "was forced from his positions on all the heights, and fled in the utmost confusion, leaving behind him, as far as I could judge, one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, with their ammunition, which all fell into our hands." Blucher, in the continental manner, embraced and kissed the victorious duke; and it was agreed that, as the army of Wellington had been fighting hard for eight hours, the Prussians should make the pursuit. Blücher swore that he would follow the French whilst a horse or a man could move, and, with three cheers from the English, he set forward with his troops in chase. So far from " the guards dying, but not surrendering," these brave men flew now before the stern old Prussian, and immediately in the narrow passage at Genappes they abandoned to him sixty pieces of their cannon. Amongst other spoil they captured the carriage of Napoleon, and found in it, amongst other curious papers, a proclamation for publication the next day at Brussels. As it was moon- light, the Prussians continued the chase till late into the night, slaughtering the fugitives like sheep. Numbers quitted the road and fled across the country, seeking shelter in the woods, where abundance of them were afterwards found dead or severely wounded. The highway, according to general Gneisenau, was covered with cannon, caissons, carriages, baggage, arms, and property of every kind. The wounded were humanely sent to Brussels, but those who could continue their flight did so till they had reached France, where they sold their horses and arms, and dispersed them- selves to their homes. The grand army was no more, with the exception of the division of Grouchy, who made good his retreat to Paris, only to be upbraided by Buonaparte as the cause of his defeat. In this retreat the French lost more men than in that from Leipsic, the killed and wounded exceeding thirty thousand.

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