John Codman Ropes. The Campaign of Waterloo. A Military History.

 
 

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CONTENTS:

Preface
CHAPTER I. The Plan of Campaign.
CHAPTER II. The French Army.
CHAPTER III. The Allied Armies.
CHAPTER IV. The Fifteenth of June: Napoleon
CHAPTER V. The Fifteenth of June: Blucher and Wellington
CHAPTER VI. The Dutch-Belgians
CHAPTER VII. The Morning of the Sixteenth of June: Wellington
CHAPTER VIII. The Morning of the Sixteenth of June: Ney
CHAPTER IX. The Morning of the Sixteenth of June: Napoleon
CHAPTER X. The Batlle of Ligny: Blucher's Decision to Accept battle not Dependent on Wellington's Assurance of Support.
CHAPTER XI. The Batlle of Ligny.
CHAPTER XII. The Batlle of Quatre Bras
CHAPTER XIII. The Seventeenth of June: Napoleon
CHAPTER XIV. The Seventeenth of June: Blucher and Wellington
CHAPTER XV. The Eighteenth of June: Grouchy and Blucher
CHAPTER XVI. The Battle of Waterloo.
CHAPTER XVII. Concluding Observations.

PREFACE

THE need of another narrative of the campaign of Waterloo may not be at first sight apparent. There has been a great deal written on this subject, and much of it has been written by eminent hands. The last and the most unfortunate campaign of the great soldier of modern times has naturally attracted the repeated attention of military historians. Jomim, Clausewitz, Charras, Siborne, Kennedy, Chesney, Vaudoncourt, La Tour d'Auvergne, Thiers, Hooper, and many others have sought to explain the almost inexplicable result,—-the complete defeat in a very brief campaign of the acknowledged master of modem warfare. One would suppose that the theme had been exhausted, and that nothing more remainedd to be said.

But several circumstances have contributed to render the labors of these writers unusually difficult In the first place, the overthrow of Napoleon, which was the immediate result of the campaign, operated to prevent a satisfactory account of it being given to the public from the French point of view at the time when the facts were fresh in men's minds. The Emperor, exiled at SL Helena, could indeed give his story; but, unable, as he was, to verify or correct his narrative by citations from the orders that were given at the time, and by conferring with the officers who had served under him, he has left us an account, which, though by no means without historical value, is yet so defective and erroneous in parts that it has aroused in the minds of men who are not alive to the great difficulties which always attend the composition of a military narrative, and who are not concerned to make fair allowance for the unavoidable and peculiar difficulties of one writing in the circumstances which surrounded Napoleon at St. Helena, grave doubts as to the trustworthiness of his recollection and even as to his veracity. The chief officers of the army have also rendered little assistance to the historian. Ney was shot a few months after the battle. Soult, Grouchy, d'Erlon and others were forced into exile. No detailed reports were ever made by them. The royal government did not concern itself about this episode in the experience of their predecessors. What the French commander and his subordinates had to say about the campaign came out by degrees, and much of it only after long years of waiting. Many of the narratives were written and published before all the facts had become known—hence were necessarily more or less imperfect.

With a few exceptions, too, the histories of this campaign have been gravely affected by the partisanship of their authors. It is well-nigh impossible for Thiers and La Tour d'Auvergne to admit any fault, for Charras and Quinet to admit any merit, in Napoleon's management of affairs. It is equally difficult for the majority of English writers to avoid taking sides against the Emperor in any of the numerous disputes to which the campaign of Waterloo has given rise. These influences have operated in many cases to deflect the narrative of the military operations into a criticism of those who have written from the opposite standpoint.

Nevertheless, all this discussion has not been by any means without use. We have had many obscure corners cleared up, many seemingly inexplicable problems solved, and we are now in possession, taking all our information together, of nearly all, if not quite all, the facts. It only remains to collect and co-ordinate them in a spirit of impartiality. This is the task attempted in the present volume. It may be added that the narrative and discussions will be confined to purely military topics.

In the treatment of the subject, Napoleon will naturally be the central figure. The campaign was his campaign, planned and executed by him, frustrated by his opponents. It will be our endeavor to get at, as nearly as we can, his intentions, his expectations, his views from day to day of the facts of the case, so that we may, if possible, carry a personal interest into the varying fortunes of those eventful days. This will be found entirely consistent, it is believed, with an equally careful attempt to view events from the standpoints which the English and Prussian commanders must have occupied from lime to time during the campaign.

The general method of Colonel Chesney in his "Waterloo Lectures" is adopted; that is, the chapters will first contain a statement or narrative, and, afterwards, notes. In these we shall have occasion to examine most of the controversies concerning this campaign. Thosepersons who do not care for these discussions can read the chapters seriatim.

Those controversies which would occupy too much space if given in the text proper will be found in appendices.

A partial list of works relating to the campaign is prefixed.

A map of the theatre of war in Belgium and another of the field of Waterloo are inserted in the book.

For those students who desire to follow the campaign more carefully, an Atlas has been prepared, which is sold separately. It contains a general map of the whole theatre of war, eleven maps of Belgium, showing the varying positions of the three armies during the campaign, and two maps of the field of Waterloo, in which the topo-graphical features are shown by contour lines taken from the government survey, and on which the positions of the troops are set down at the commencement and close of the battle. The references in the text to maps are to the maps in this Atlas.

Copies of all the important orders and despatches will be found in Appendix C.

The author desires to express his thanks for valuable manuscripts, books and references kindly furnished him by Major Geaeral R. Oldfield, R. An and Colonel F. A. Whinyates, R. A.; also for many useful suggestions, and for assistance in many ways, to Major W. R. Livermore, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army, and Captain A. H. Russell, Ordnance Department, U. S. Army.
He desires also to acknowledge the aid rendered him by M. Eugene Wenseleers, Barrister of the Court of Appeal, Brussels, in ascertaining the location of the Chateau Marette, at Walhain, where (and not at Sart-a-Walhain, as has been generally believed) Marshal Grouchy was when he heard the sound of the cannon of Waterloo.

99 Mount Vemon Street: Boston: June 1, 1892.

J C R

CHAPTER I.

THE PLAN OF CAMPAIGN.

Napoleon entered Paris on his return from Elba on the twentieth of March, 1815. His first endeavor, after quieting the not very formidable movements of the royalists in the south and west of France, was to open communications with the great powers. He proclaimed his policy to be strictly one of peace, and we have every reason to believe that his intentions were sincerely pacific. But his agents were turned back on the frontier. The nations of Europe refused to treat with him on any terms, and entered into an offensive and defensive alli­ance against him with the avowed purpose of driving him from the throne of France. The armies of the neighbor­ing powers began immediately to concentrate on the border, and even Russia set her troops in motion for the general attack upon France and her Emperor.

To meet this formidable coalition Napoleon bent all his energies. The army had, since his first abdication, been reorganized, and many high commands had natur­ally been given to the chiefs of the royalist party. Much hod to be done before the new arrangements, necessitated by the re-establishment of the Imperial government, could be effected.

These changes in the military organization of the country required time. Besides, Napoleon was not desirous to precipitate matters. He was naturally solicit­ous not to appear to commence an avoidable war. He was, moreover, much occupied with domestic politics, but of his dealings with the chambers and of his new consti­tution we do not propose to speak.

Besides increasing and reconstituting the army, work was begun on the fortifications of the principal cities.

By the first of June, no change having taken place in the relations of France with her neighbors, it became incumbent on the Emperor to decide what he would do.

The situation was, in brief, as follows: Two large armies, one composed of English, Dutch, Belgian and Hanoverian troops, with contingents from Brunswick and Nassau, the whole under command of the Duke of Wellington, the other composed of Prussians, Saxons, and other Germans under Marshal Blucher, lay scattered in their cantonments in Belgium to the north and east o£ the rivers Sambre and Meuse. On the eastern fron­tier, the Austrians were collecting a formidable force, and were expecting to be reinforced in July by a powerful Russian army. If Napoleon should maintain a strictly defensive attitude, France would again be the theatre at hostilities, as in the previous year. True, time would be gained by the delay, and time was most important for filling the ranks of the army, completing the fortifications, manufacturing ammunition, and generally putting the country into a state of defence. But when the invasion came, it would be made in overwhelming force. It was possible, certainly, to hope for the repetition of the exploits of 1814, for victories like Champ Aubert, Mont-mirail and Rheims; on the other hand, bloody and ' indecisive battles like those of Brienne, Laon, and Arcis-sur-Aube were to be expected with equal probability. The thing for Napoleon to do, if possible, was to reduce this tremendous disparity of numbers, and this could only be effected by beating his enemies in detail. If he could dispose of the armies of Wellington and Blucher now, he would have so much the better chance against the Austrians and the Russians. And Napoleon undoubtedly hoped that if fortune should favor him in 1815 as in 1805 and 1806, for instance,—if he should be able to repeat in Belgium the astonishing successes of Austerlitz and Jena,—he would not find it impossible to make peace with his father-in-law, the Emperor of Austria, and that Russia, whose interests in the war were remote and really theoret­ical, would willingly retire from the contest. When we add to this that Napoleon's forte was the offensive, that his genius was specially adapted for enterprising and daring strategy, we arc not surprised that he should have-decided to move at once, with all his available force, upon the armies of Wellington and Blucher.[1]

These armies were, as has been stated, lying in their cantonments on and behind the Belgian frontier. (See Map 1.) Their front covered, roughly speaking, an ex­tent of a hundred miles, from Namur and Huy on the east to Mons and Tournay on the west. They were these being as far back as forty miles from the frontier. With the location of the various detachments Napoleon was undoubtedly, to a great extent, acquainted. He cal­culated that Wellington's forces, which were scattered over a wide extent of country, could not be concentrated in less than two days; and that it would require more than one day for Blucher to assemble the four corps of which his army was composed.

The high-road, which runs from Charleroi north through Quatre Bras, Genappe and Waterloo to Brussels, ran between these armies, - that of the Duke of Wellington lying to the westward of the road and that of Marsha! Blucher lying to the eastward of it. The Prussians lay considerably closer to the frontier than the English and Dutch. Wellington's headquarters were at Brussels; Blucher's at Namur. The turnpike, which runs from Namur through Quatre Bras to Nivelles, was the main avenue of communication between these two armies.

[1. See Clausewitz, chips. 8, 14].

The Prussian lines of supply extended by way of Liege and Maestricht to the Rhine; the English by way of Ostend and Antwerp to the sea. The bases of the two armies were thus situated in opposite directions. It was, of course, probable that if either of these armies should be obliged to retreat, it would retreat towards its own base. But to retreat towards its own base would be to march away from its ally. On this peculiarity in the situation Napoleon's plan of campaign was, to a great degree, founded. The situation was far more favorable for him than if the 220,000 men m Belgium had all belonged to one army, for now, not only were there two armies, under two commanders, in whose operations he might safely count upon the existence of more or less misunderstanding and failure fully to meet each other's expectations, but the two armies were bound, in case of disaster to either or both, to follow lines of retreat which were wholly divergent.

We are now prepared to consider Napoleon's plan. He proposed to assemble his own forces with all possible secrecy in the neighborhood of Charleroi,— near the point of junction of the two opposing armies. He expected would respectively concentrate, and then endeavor to unite. He expected that the Prussians, being less scattered than the English, and being likely to know of the approach of the French before the English could possibly hear of it, would be the first to concentrate, and he expected therefore to encounter them alone and unsupported by their allies.

 

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John Codman Ropes. The Campaign of Waterloo. A Military History.
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John Codman Ropes

THE CAMPAIGN OF WATERLOO.
A MILITARY HISTORY