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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Battle of Waterloo

Battle of Waterloo.

In former numbers we gave a series of three articles—"Quatre Bras—Ligny," "Eve of Waterloo," and "Waterloo." We will now endeavour to gather up the skeins in one, after the refreshment of a glance over the careless, fascinating pages of Thiers.

His "Consulate and Empire" is illustrated mainly by Philip-poteaux, who died lately, after finishing his magnificent panorama of the Franco-German War, now exhibited in Paris. We page 43 never saw such powerful and graphic engravings as some of these, designed for Thiers, by Philippoteaux. That which seized the most upon our imagination was one of General Foy giving Napoleon the first information about Wellington's construction of the lines of Torres Vedras, and baffling of Massena. The scene is in the Emperor's cabinet, at the Tuileries, by lamp-light. Foy has his back to the reader, while Napoleon confronts him, with a visage of the utmost tension. Foy has just arrived, after a hurried posting from Spain.

Another fine picture is boldly allegorical. The congress of Vienna, with the English, French, Russian, Austrian and Prussian representatives, is discovered in the greatest consternation, as if a shell had burst on the table in their midst. The explanation is afforded by a vision above them like that of Belshazzar. It is the French Eagle, escaped from Elba, and speeding over the sea.

When Napoleon had mastered France, he swooped up and surprised Wellington and Blucher in Belgium. Dividing his army in two, he entrusted the left to Ney, while with the right he overthrew the Prussians at Ligny. This was a scattering defeat. Blucher was driven to Wavre, at a tangent which appeared to be a fatal separation from Wellington, with whom he ad maintained touch before Ligny.

Ney's task was to grasp Quatre Bras—Four Arms—the junction of four roads. He could have done it, but for mistakes by which d'Erlon's corps, of 20,000 was kept marching and countermarching, between Napoleon and Ney, without aiding either. Wellington was very weak at Quatre Bras when attacked, but had time to secure the position, and fall back at his leisure upon that he had chosen for battle, at Waterloo. Ligny and Quatre Bras were fought at the same time. A day intervened before Waterloo, with almost incessant rain. Wellington set out his line of battle with deliberation. His back was most dangerously placed to the thick forest of Soignies, with only one road through it—that to Brussels. His line, extending two miles, rested on the right—westerly—upon the Chateau of Hougomont, which his troups occupied. Near the centre was the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte. Only a third of the allied forces were English. Bivouac fires struggled into a glimmer, through the misty haze of the night, as visible from the French lines, but the French slept in wet rye-fields, without fires.

At sunrise, the deploying of the French, as witnessed by the Allies, was the finest tableau any soldier on the field had beheld. Both armies were along ridges, and would descend into a gently-sloping valley, but rough with bosses, and cut up with little gullies.

All day long the battle raged at Hougomont, which included the chateau, a little farmhouse, garden, orchard, and a wood. The page 44 French were unable to capture the place, but they took La Haye Sainte. The battle has been divided by critics into five distinct acts, all forward moves by the French, beginning with the attack on Hougomont. The second was a furious assault on the allied left centre. The third the capture of La Haye Sainte. The fourth was afforded by Marshal Ney's persistent cavalry rushes upon the right centre, where the English squares were rooted in the ground. This was like Gubat, only the French could never do what the Arabs did—chip off a corner of the Englishmen's square, and get inside. The cuirassiers were hurled and flung away in vain.

The last act by the French was the advance of the Guard—all the reserve. This became imperative through the coming on of the Prussians to the French right. Wellington advanced also, to meet the French, and there was a shock which did not remain undecisive for twenty minutes. As Quatre Bras had been lost by the absence of d'Erlon's 20,000, so was Waterloo lost by the absence of Grouchy's 30,000, gone to Wavre after the Prussians, who managed to leave them behind in the sharp turn to the field of Waterloo.