Adonis Diaries

4 days, 3 armies, 3 battles

Posted on: June 27, 2016

4 days, 3 armies, 3 battles

Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell.

Waterloo? It could easily had been Ligny, Quatre-Bras. Or eventually called Mont Saint-Jean and Belle Alliance

It was Willington who spread the name of Waterloo, a quaint little village.

Army, corps (up to 30,000 members), divisions (5,000), brigades, battalions (500) and compamies

Wars are but open roads where chariots, canons and supplies can be moved and transported.

That’s why Quatre-Bras was strategic to hold

Quatre-Bras was the Carrefour of the transverse secondary road that cut the main route north to Bruxells. And Nap (the short name given by the British to napoleon) strategy was to split the two armies and prevent them from linking, giving him the time to eliminate one army at a time.

As Nap fled the tiny island of Elbe on February 26, 1814 on The Inconstant with a one thousand troop, he landed 2 days later on Golfe -Juan (between Cannes and Nice).

Most of his former 20 major officers had sworn allegiance to Louis 18 and were Not happy of this turn of events.

Soult was minister of war and Michel Ney vowed to bring Nap hand-cuffed to Paris. Marechal Berthier fled to Bavaria as Nap approached Paris: He was the main administrator and organizer of his armies and Nap relied on him.

Nap was Not only the most eminent military leader, but also the greatest administrator for raising and organizing armies. Within less than 100 days, Nap had a well trained and well equipped army, larger than any single army in Europe.

What Nap lacked was a highly qualified and loyal high command.

And it happened that during the campaign, Nap was sick, suffering and in pain.  While Wellington and von Blucher were seen among their soldiers and on the battlefield, Nap was unable to be present to guide and provide the necessary morale.

Soult and Ney had suffered major defeats by Wellington in Spain and Portugal (Battle of Bucaco) and were Not the proper army leaders for this campaign. And yet, sick and suffering Nap had to rely on Ney and Soult’. Nap considered Ney the most courageous among his officers but stupide enough to win a war.

The two most brilliant generals, Davout and Suchet, were Not part of the Army of the North.

Emmanual Grouchy was nominated marechal against the consent of Davout because he was a staunch aristocratic loyalist of the Ancient Regime.

Napoleon took the initiative to attack and split the Prussian and English armies before they join forces.

On June 15, the French troops advanced and occupied Charleroi, getting ready to defeat the Prussian army in Ligny, which was commended by Marshal Von Blucher. Blucher fell from his horse and was unconscious in the battle field. A Prussian officer covered the medal filled chest with a jacket in order to prevent the French from recognising the chief.

Later  this night, the Prussian retrieved the unconscious Blucher and whisked him away.

It was Blucher who decided that his retreating army regroup up north in Wavre to be closer to the British army (20 km away). Other wise, his second in command General Von Gneisenau was for retreating to the east, away from the British army.

In the mean time, Bonaparte had ordered Marshal Ney (10,000 infantry, 4,600 cavalry, and 35 canons) to take hold of Quatre-Bras immediately in order to prevent any British move toward Ligny.

Ney arrived on June 16, a day late from joining the army.

In the meantime, Gen Constant-Rebecque of the British army disobeyed the order to stay put at the town of Nivelles and advanced with 4,000 troops to take hold of Quatre-Bras.

Ney failed to obey the order and lingered a full day and night before deciding to capture this strategic position. Ney was fearful that Wellington will re-enact his tactic of Ruse Eculee of sheltering his hidden troops out of sight of the attacking cavalry as in Bucaco.

Nap dispatched the Corps I of Gen. Erlon (22,000 infantry, 1,700 cavalry and 46 canons) to strengthen the position of Quatre-Bras in the eventuality that Wellington might force his way to come to the rescue of von Blucher.

As Nap watched the Prussian army disbanding in Ligny, he wanted to believe that Quatre-Bras was in the bag. He ordered Gen. Erlon to swiftly move his troops and attack the right flank of the Prussian army and secure total destruction.

Gen. Erlon was very close to Quatre-Bras, but had to take the route to Ligny by order of Nap. Half way, Erlon was ordered by Ney to return to Quatre-Bras because he had difficulties there: Wellington had decided to send more troops to that location that prevented Ney of any quick victory.

General Erlon spent this critical Friday moving his corps between two battlefields, unsure which order to satisfy first. If he satisfied one of the orders, there would have been No Waterloo.

On Saturday, as Wellington was retreating from Quatre-Bras toward Mont Saint Jean, Ney refrained from pursuing the retreating army the entire morning. And Wellington managed to have all his troops safely implanted on Mont Saint Jean.

When Nap gave the order to go after Wellington’s retreating army, a monsoon kind of shower prevented the French troops to advance quickly in the mud.

On the morning of this crucial Saturday  of June 17, marechal Grouchy informed Nap that the Prussian army chose to move north to Wavre. Nap lingered most of the morning to reply to Grouchy (33,000 or the quarter of Nap’s army) . Thus, Grouchy knew where was the Prussian army but he avoided to nail it down.

Actually, Soult had ordered Grouchy to take Waver instead of cutting off the route for the 2 armies to join forces. Grouchy entered Wavre after the Prussian army had vacated it and was moving to join Wellington army. Before advancing to Wavre, Grouchy and his staff heard the firing of canons but, against the wishes of his officers to backtrack, he insisted on advancing to this futile city of Wavre.

On this Sunday, and 2 hours before sun down, Nap observed that the Prussians were already occupying a crest opposite Mont saint Jean and knew that before long their numbers will increase steadily. Nap spread the lie that what they are seeing are Grouchy troops and ordered an all out attack by the Imperial Guards.

Nap engaged his canons and the land was filled with fumes. The Guards reached the summit and engaged the British infantry and a slaughter-hood took place before the Guards retreated in total disarray within an hour of the attack.

And what happened to the injured soldiers?

The French surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey of the Imperial Guard had invented the flying ambulance. Special chariots with brancards were dispatched to the battle field and surgery were done here and there on the critically injured soldiers. The less critical cases were sent to a particular center in the battlefield to be treated.

Jean Larrey had discovered that the less the injured suffered from their wounds, the quicker they survived.

And what happened to the British injured soldiers? they were left for over 24 hours in the battlefield. Those who were transported to Bruxells were dropped on the streets for the inhabitants to care for them.

If you had to be a soldier, which army would you serve under?

In each of these main battles, over 20,000 soldiers were left dying on less than a square-mile of battlefield. Most of the injured would die from loss of blood or remain handicapped for the rest of their life: Nobody cared for them for 2 long days.

I contend that it was von Blucher who won the battle: Within 24 hours, he crossed all the obstacles in order to join the forces of Wellington. Otherwise, Nap would not hurry and take the gamble in the last hour to launch an all offensive attack with just 8 battalions of his Imperial Guards. 

Notes 1: After the Waterloo bloody “victory” where the British and the Prussians suffered more casualties than the French army, Wellington wrote to his brother William: “Never have I been so close to be beaten. It is the most despairing situation I found myself in.

“Wellington knew the value of Nap and had said: “The only presence of Nap in the battlefield added 40,000 soldiers to his army”. Once Nap passed away in 1821, Wellington said: “Thus, I am “now the living most recognized military man”. He was wrong: The Prussians had raised many more worthy generals in the meantime.

Note 2: If Nap had send just a corps to the city of Mons, Wellington would have never assembled his army to join the Prussian army: Wellington main concern was to leave the western front without any defences because the British army relied on its navy for all its supplies in men, cannon and livelihood.

Note 3: It was revealed later that Soult and Grouchy were working in tandem to committing conscious errors so that Nap would Not be able to claim total and crushing victory: They didn’t want an all powerful Nap in Paris.

Note 4: All the French officers went into exile and returned a year later totally absolved and even rewarded for their failures. Grouchy was whisked to the United States. Only Ney refused to go into exile and was executed by a firing squad.

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