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Buonaparte himself directing every manœuvre. The division of Lobau was kept in reserve to oppose the Prussian corps so soon as they should make their expected appearance on the British left.
morning. By this means the British troops obtained time to take some food, and prepare their arms for the duty of the eighteenth, before the battle actually commenced.
It was past ten o'clock on that important day ere the French army, arriving by divisions, were disposed along the heights of La Belle Alliance, ready for the attack which their master had meditated. It is said he expressed unusual surprise and satisfaction on finding that the English had not, as was generally expected in the French army, prosecuted their retreat during the night, and that he exclaimed, extending his hand towards the hostile position as if to grasp it, "I have them then at last, these English!" The numbers, as well as the quality of the troops he commanded, might justify the confidence of a general who had never before engaged the British. Napoleon had under him at least an hundred thousand men of all arms, to which the Duke of Wellington certainly could not oppose seventy thousand of his own army. But both parties reckoned on the approximation of a considerable Prussian corps, the apprehension of which obliged Napoleon to maintain a strong reserve, and thus considerably diminished his actual superiority. The French line, drawn up on the heights of La Belle Alliance, occupied considerably more space than the British: the former being two miles in length, the latter only one mile and a half; within such a narrow theatre was so deep a tragedy to be acted, a circumstance which helps to account for the sanguinary nature of the conflict. The French left wing was commanded by no less a person than Prince Jerome, (ci-devant King of Westphalia,) the centre by Generals Reille and D'Erlon, the right by Count Lobau. Soult and Ney acted as Lieutenants-General,
To diminish, as far as possible, the chance of the British receiving assistance from any strong body of their allies, Buonaparte dispatched an aidde-camp to General Grouchy, who, as formerly mentioned, followed the Prussians with an army of observation, amounting to thirty-five or forty thousand men. The messenger carried him orders to attack their position at Wavre with as much vivacity as possible, to cross the Dyle, and to compel the main body of the Prussians to a general action. This order was in the style of Buonaparte's usual manoeuvres, for had Grouchy succeeded in drawing all Blucher's force upon himself, as his emperor intended, he must have been destroyed by the superiority of the enemy. But Buonaparte would in that event have had a considerable chance of victory over the English, and it was no new thing in his tactics to sacrifice a general and a division to ensure his own success.
Having thus, he conceived, given such orders as would fully occupy the Prussian forces, Napoleon commanded an attack on the British position. His plan comprehended no ingenious combination or refinement of tactics, being simply that to which the French, and this general in particular, have owed most of their victories, the system, namely, of advancing column after column to attack on the same spot, of hurrying forward artillery, and bringing squadron after squadron to the charge, until, confounded and wearied out with the number and pertinacity of their assailants, his enemies should manifest some irresolution, or fall into some disorder, which no sol
diers sooner descry and profit by than those of France; a formidable mode of onset doubtless, but which, where the moral and physical nerves of the opponents remain firm, must terminate in ruin when the strength of the assailant has finally exhausted itself in repeated and unavailing attacks.
The first object of Napoleon seems to have been to storm the advanced post at Hougoumont, and, having secured that position, to have proceeded to attack the British right. The causeway from Nivelles afforded means to have done so, had the attack on Hougoumont been successful, and the British line must have been much cramped in its movements, while its right might have been thrown back upon the centre, and effectually turned. There are, besides, commanding situations on the waving and unequal surface of the valley, to which the capture of Hougoumont would have given the French access, and from whence their artillery must have done great execution along the British line. About twelve o'clock the brigade of General Foy, belonging to the division of Prince Jerome, dashed forwards, and commenced a furious assault upon the chateau and the wood in its front. After a considerable resistance, the sharp-shooters of Nassau were driven out of the wood, and ran past the troops on the British right in great confusion, nor could any persuasions or commands rally them for some time. But although they thus gained possession of the wood, the utmost efforts of the French were still unable to penetrate to the court-yard, orchard, and garden; and though the grape-shot and musketry assailed the defenders at every loop-hole and opening, yet the vivacity of the fire from within defeated every effort to storm the chateau. At one place the French ran dauntlessly forward, and pushed through a hedge which they concei
ved to be the barrier of the garden. But this exterior boundary only masked a garden wall, which was loopholed and scaffolded for the use of the defenders; so that those who forced their way through the hedge, having neither the power of advancing nor retiring, were all marked, and shot down in the narrow space betwixt the hedge and the wall. The courtyard gate was for a moment knocked open by shot, and four or five of the assailants forced their way within its precincts. But they were instantly shot and bayonetted. Upon a calm survey of the scene of death, it seems extraordinary that the French did not use round-shot against the walls which were thus defended. One, or, at most, two twelve-pounders, firing balls, must soon have made a practicable breach, or, if necessary, half a dozen, in a garden-wall only eighteen inches in thickness, and must thus have deprived the little garrison of its means of protection. But a mode of attack so obvious was not resorted to, as if to show that fortune will always claim a principal influence in the affairs of war. Howitzers were employed, the shells from which soon ruined the houses, and afterwards set them in flames. A large hay-stack in the court-yard caught fire about the same time. Many of the wounded, dreadful to tell, perished in the conflagration; but the attack and defence were continued with the most obstinate perseverance. The garrison of Hougoumont were driven into the garden by the flames, which, like that of Eden, seemed to be guarded by the sword of an exterminating angel. Two thousand men and upwards lay dead around the post in a very small space of time.
While thus attacked and defended, the chateau of Hougoumont was in a great measure separated frord the rest of the British line by a desperate push
of infantry by their desultory, but de-. structive fire.
As regiments drawn up in squares in the manner described present a very small surface to the eye, the Duke's order of battle greatly increased the apparent inequality of numbers, and it seemed as if the little platoons on the right, composed of the guards and Brunswickers, on whom the storm first fell, must necessarily have been swept from the field, so little proportion did they apparently bear to the tide of cavalry which rushed against them with such dauntless and determined impetuosity. The cuirassiers seemed of the same opinion, for they came up to the charge as men to a task of every-day accomplishment, expecting, doubtless, that the awe of their onset on this, as in former battles, would of itself dispel the shew of resistance presented to them. But the squares of infantry stood firm; they gave fire when the horse were within ten yards of them; men rolled one way, horses gallopped another, and the cuirassiers, who were to have seconded the charge, seemed like players who are disconcerted by those on the stage acting otherwise than the rehearsal of the piece had taught them to expect. Some, with a sort of frantic and yet determined valour, rode up to the bayonets, cut at the soldiers over their muskets, fired their pistols at the offi. cers, and did the most desperate actions, sacrificing their own lives, in hopes to occasion some confusion among the squares, by which their comrades might profit. Others rode at random among the squares, and were mowed down by the crossing fires. Other squadrons stood at gaze, and were swept off by the British artillery. In no one instance did they make any impression, or were able to break a square. They were at length compelled to abandon the attack upon the right, and confine it to a fire of
which was made by the rest of Je rome's division against the British right. It was conducted in the most formidable style of French tactics. Artillery, dexterously placed and served, and supported by whole clouds of sharp-shooters, endeavoured, by their fire, to distract the attention and thin the ranks of the opposing battalions. Under cover of this fire, heavy bodies of cuirassiers and lancers advanced, supported by close columns of infantry, marching with their muskets shouldered, waiting the impression made by the charge of the cavalry, and ready the instant it had taken effect to rush forward, deploy into line, drive the defenders from the desired position, occupy it themselves, and complete the destruction of their broken ranks by musketry and the bayonet; while the cavalry, in case of necessity, retired through the intervals of their battalions, and formed in the rear for further service. To oppose this mode of attack, formidable as combining physical force with the most imposing appearance, the Duke of Wellington had formed his battalions into separate squares, each side of which was four men deep. These separate platoons were arranged alternately, like the spots of a chessboard, so that each of those which were in the rear covered the interval betwixt two of those in the front. Thus in every direction the formation was too strong to be broken by cavalry, if the men stood firm; for in the event of squadrons venturing between the squares, they were necessarily exposed to an exterminating fire in front, and on both flanks. The artillery was placed on suitable positions in the intervals of the line of squares, and light infantry, yagers and sharpshooters, detached in front, skirmished individually with the French tirail, leurs, and prevented them as much as possible from annoying the battalions
artillery, from which the British suffered very much, as their mode of formation afforded too deadly an aim to the enemy, and one ball not infre quently swept off two or three soldiers. To deploy into a line of four deep, and to lie down on the ground, was the only possible remedy, and that but a partial one. They had hardly, in many cases, the time to take this precaution for safety from the fire, ere they were again called upon to form square to oppose new charges of cavalry. The ready and prompt execution of these various orders for repeated change of position showed at once the promptness, discipline, and coolness of the soldiers; and after repeated attempts, equally unsuccessful, the French seemed to confine themselves on the right to a severe cannonade. But by the repulse of the French cavalry an opportunity was gained of throwing succours into Hougoumont. A party of guards, commanded by Colonel Hepburn, drove the French from the wood and park, restored the communication between the post and the right of the British army, and brought relief to the little garrison by whom the chateau and garden had been so bravely maintained.
Meantime, while his purpose was disguised by a general fire from three hundred pieces of artillery, and from clouds of sharp-shooters along the whole line, Buonaparte organized his forces for a combined attack, with infantry and cavalry, in the centre and to the left of the Duke of Wellington's position. By breaking the British line at this point he would have at once cut their army into two parts, and separated them from that of the Prussians, besides obtaining the command of the road to Brussels. This important attack was made with columns of infantry and cavalry, moving to the charge on different points and
at the same moment. The resolution with which they advanced up the sloping hill, and sustained the murderous fire of the British artillery, was such as to call forth all the gallantry and steadiness of the troops who were opposed to them. The assailants completely invested and stormed the post of La Haye Sainte, situated just at the descent of the heights, and on the centre of the British line, of which it might be termed the key. After a most gallant defence it was finally carried by the enemy, who put to the bayonet the gallant Hanoverians, who had spent their ammunition, yet continued to defend the place with their swords, until exterminated. The French having thus a post established on the causeway, the columns of cavalry renewed their efforts to break the British centre, and were for a moment partially successful; their cavalry cutting to pieces some Dutch troops, who could not form the hollow square speedily enough to receive them. At this crisis, the gallant Sir Thomas Picton, instead of awaiting the charge with his division, led them on to meet and attack the cavalry. The French were dismayed by a manoeuvre so daring and unexpected, in which the troops who were at defence suddenly became the assailants, and rushing from the hedge, behind which they were posted, attacked the advancing columns of infantry and cavalry with charged bayonets. They were driven down the causeway, infantry and cavalry, in mingled disorder; but a ball through the head terminated the career of the gallant Picton. Pursued by the most injurious calumny, denied the honours his services had so dearly bought, from the mean fear of offending popular prejudice, his death, as his life, might upbraid the timidity of the British government, and the prepossessions of the British public. It was not dis
covered, until after his death, that he had received a severe wound on the 16th at Quatre Bras, which he had contrived to bind up with his servant's assistance, and had kept secret, lest the surgeons might insist on his absenting himself from the field on the 18th of June. Of such metal was the heart made, which public injustice and ingratitude wrung and galled, though it could never make him forget the duty he owed his country.
our dragoons are too apt to lose in the heat and ardour of battle. On the other hand, our light corps of cavalry were found too slightly mounted, and wanting in physical strength and weight, although not in gallantry or discipline, and suffered considerably, until extricated by the heavy brigade. Sir John Elley, deputy-adjutant-general, distinguished by his strength, horsemanship, and skill in the use of his sword, led the heavy cavalry on this occasion. The French in their repulse, besides an immense number slain, lost two eagles, and nearly three thousand prisoners, who were dispatched under an escort to Brussels, and arrived there before the battle was over. The British cavalry also took two eagles, and made great havoc among the enemy; but following the pursuit too far, they sustained considerable loss. Amongst many other gallant officers, Sir William Ponsonby was slain, with his aide-decamp, just in the moment that, expecting his fate, he put into his friend's hand his watch, to be delivered to his family. The Polish lancers, by whom he fell, (whose cruelty was remarked on this and other occasions), were almost all exterminated before that bloody day ended. Sir John Elley, already mentioned, had nearly shared the fate of Sir William Ponsonby, being surrounded by six or seven of the enemy's horsemen. But, though severely wounded, he cut his way from among them, leaving three or four of the assailants dead behind him, with gashes that marked the strength and skill of the arm which inflicted them. Here also Shaw fell (a private Life-guard's man, distinguished as a pugilist); he was shot through the head, after having slain several of the mail-clad cuirassiers with his single hand. The peculiarity of the national taste, which encou rages this exercise, makes its professors of such note, that their names do
When the sudden and determined attack of the brigade, led by this lamented officer, had repulsed the French from the crest of the hill, which they had so nearly attained, the British heavy cavalry rushed out from their station in the rear, and fell upon those of Napoleon, who were advancing to attack the British infantry. The 92d regiment, which, reduced so low as to two hundred men, had just charged a column of ten times their own number, were reinforced by their countrymen, the Scots Greys, who rushed in to their assistance, with shouts of Scotland for ever! The Life-guards, at the same time, by the weight and fury of their charge, hurled a regiment of cuiras siers over a broken and precipitous bank into the causeway, where most of them were either slain by the fall, or lay rolling upon each other, until they were destroyed with musketry and artillery. More cavalry were now detached by Napoleon, to extricate those already engaged, and without the infantry ceasing to be engaged, a great and general cavalry action took place, in which the Life-guards, Greys, and other heavy regiments of British, were found decidedly superior to the celebrated cuirassiers, in strength of man and horse, use of the sword, and all excepting the coolness and presence of mind which the veteran French had acquired in many campaigns, and which