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not pass unrecorded, even in such days as that of Waterloo.
It was now five o'clock, and the Prussians, who, in their movement towards the British left, by the village of Ohain, had encountered difficulties in the woods of Saint Lambert, and who perhaps might entertain some scruples at engaging their whole army in defiles, where they might have been utterly destroyed if the British did not stand their ground, began now to appear. General Bulow, with two brigades of infantry, and a corps of cavalry, at length defiled from the woods, and threatened the flank and rear of Buonaparte's right wing. The French reserve, under Count Lobau, which had been preserved entire for this purpose, was instantly opposed to these fresh enemies, who, for some time, seemed to be held in check, and to maintain a languid action, waiting doubtless until their main army should come up.
It was perhaps at this moment that Buonaparte, as a prudent general, ought to have discontinued the action. He had still in reserve his whole brigade of guards, the flower of his army, none of whom had yet fired a musket. They were more than sufficient, considering the exhausted state of the English troops, to screen his retreat upon the Dyle, and on the Sambre. But, besides the natural obstinacy of Napoleon's disposition, a drawn battle was perhaps, in his peculiar circumstances, as ha zardous as a total defeat, since his enemies had in expectance reinforcements and resources of all kinds; whereas he was now at the head of his only and last army, and having no visible means to raise another, except through the eclat of some such victory as should call out France to arms en masse. His experience also was in favour of perseverance. At Marengo, and on other occasions,
VOL. VIII. PART I.
he had finally carried the day by protracting and reiterating his ef forts, long after it had been to all appearance lost; and he might, on this last of his fields, confide, that his good fortune would finally cast the victory in his favour. He remained, therefore, on the heights of La Belle Alliance, directing and commanding that constant and unceasing fire of artillery, which was so destructive to the British, that they were glad when the cavalry began to advance between them and the enemy's guns, and so occasioned it to cease, though at the certainty of a charge from the horse. Hougoumont, meanwhile, was again closely invested and pressed. The farm-house and court-yard of La Haie Sainte were maintained by the French, notwithstanding the destructive shower of shells which the Eng lish plunged into it from their position above; and a series of attacks, varying only as they were made by masses of cavalry and infantry, in conjunction or separately, prolonged the combat over the whole of the field, which was now literally heaped with dead, and floated with blood. The manner and result of these attacks were so similar in every case, that it would be unnecessary, were it possible, to separate and distinguish them. Nor, indeed, though with access to the best information, is it possible for us to give such a distinct detail of the continued carnage of this glorious, but dreadful day, as could, in all points, be accurate, or even intelligible. The battle was at no time, for the space of six hours, interrupted in any one point, although the severity of the conflict shifted from one quarter to another. The waving surface of the ground, its inequalities and sinuosi ties, occasioned numerous partial actions. which were desperately fought, though contributing little to the inain result of the battle. Napoleon, from
give way to his desire to attend the duke in this action, escaped untouched, either in their persons or their horses.
his commanding station, continued to express the utmost confidence of ultimate victory. He praised repeatedly the gallantry of his enemy, and even honoured the Scotch Greys, and other British corps, with particular notice and approbation; but the burthen was the same, " In half an hour I will cut them all to pieces." But hour after hour glided away, amid the thunder of cannon, and the strife of death; and the British, while they suffered dreadfully from the ravages of artillery, maintained, though with diminished space, the ground they had occupied in the morning.
The Duke of Wellington, meanwhile, seemed almost multiplied during the conflict; for wherever his presence was necessary, he was almost instantly seen. He more than shared the general danger of the field; for he was found in every place where it was for the time most imminent; and the appearance of his staff and retinue invariably drew on him the fire of the artillery and of his sharp-shooters. Many of his most distinguished officers fell around him. The Honourable Sir Alexander Gordon was mortally wounded, while remonstrating with the duke on the danger to which he exposed himself. Sir William de Lancey, eminent for the skill with which he conducted the important department of quarter-master-general, shared the same fate. Lieutenant-Colonel Canning, who had been the duke's aid-de-camp during the whole peninsular war, was killed by a grape-shot, in execution of that honourable duty. The Honourable Captain Curzon fell in the same manIn short, of the numerous military family, who attended upon the commander-in-chief, only his grace himself, and Don Miguel Alava, the Spanish ambassador to the king of the Netherlands, who had gallantly made his diplomatic engagements
The reader is not to suppose, that this great captain, upon whose life probably the issue of this day, and the fate of Europe, depended, thus exposed so valuable a pledge from unnecessary hardihood. An attacking general has it in his power to possess his subordinates with the manner in which his scheme is to be executed; and indeed, unless on very particular occasions, in putting himself at the head of a charging column, would act as unwisely as if he were to lead the forlorn hope in storming a breach. But the general who maintains the defensive, cannot anticipate all that is to be attempted by his adversary. He must be personally present upon the point attacked, that he may give the directions which the danger of the moment requires. This exposure of his invaluable person was, therefore, the duty of the Duke of Wellington, and never was duty better fulfilled. He was not only commander in chief, but general of brigade, colonel of a regiment; ready not only to command the general manoeuvres, but to direct the particular mode in which they were to be executed;-above all, to inspire the troops with prudence by his precept, and valour by his example. He brought up to the charge, in person, regiments who were giving ground, or confirmed by his presence those who stood fast, and repeatedly retired into the centre of the squares, when about to be charged by the cavalry. "If history," as Mr Whitbread truly said, "had recorded such a trait as having occurred ten centuries ago, with what emotions would it be read! To see a commander of such eminence throw himself repeatedly into the regimental square which was nearest him, till the rage and torrent of the attack
was past, proved his trust was reposed in no one individual corps, but in the whole British army. In that mutual confidence lay the power and strength of the troops and their general. The Duke of Wellington knew that he was safe when he thus trusted himself to the fidelity and valour of his men; and they knew and felt that the sacred, charge thus entrusted to him could never be wrested from their hands." Thus he ventured and toiled amidst the foremost ranks, and, in short, literally wrought in the fire, as if it had been his native element; and not only the importance and the severity of the conflict, but his own personal conduct, on the eighteenth of June, threw all his former achievements into shade by their splendour.
With every effort that could be made, the British troops had suffered extremely, both from loss and fatigue. Several corps had no longer men left sufficient to form square, and were obliged to receive the cavalry in line, in order to present a sufficient front, and cover the necessary quantity of ground. At one moment, the battle seemed even to determine against the British. One of those overwhelming charges, which we have described, made by the whole cavalry of Napoleon's guard, drove in not only the British sharp-shooters, who, acting as skirmishers, covered the line of squares, but forced from their guns the artillerymen by whom they had been so well served, who were compelled to take refuge in the hollow squares nearest to them. About thirty field-pieces remained in the momentary possession of the enemy, but they had not the means or the time to secure them. The Duke of Wellington charged the cavalry in person with three battalions of English and three of Brunswickers, and compelled them to abandon the artillery.
It was probably the havoc which had
been made in the British ranks, which induced Napoleon, about seven in the evening, to make one last and desperate push for victory, by bringing up the infantry of his celebrated guards, in order, by a sustained and furious charge, to break through the centre of the British at Mont St Jean. For this purpose, he himself moved his station to a spot in the causeway, halfway down the height from La Belle Alliance, and gave his animating exhortations to each corps as it passed. He pointed to the ridge which they were to assault, and reminded them it was the road to Brussels; of which city his troops had been promised the free pillage. He assured them, the heights were now only defended by the British artillery, which might be carried by a coup-de-main-their infantry and cavalry, he said, had been destroyed by the previous attacks of the French. His exhortations were received with the utmost enthusiasm, and answered with shouts of "En avant! en avant! Vive l'Empereur !” The advanced guard of this last and most formidable assault, was composed of four regiments of what was called the Middle Guard, and it was sustained by four regiments of the Old Guard, all veteran grenadiers, the flower of the French army. The Middle Guard was formed for attack in two columns, with an interval betwixt them. The Old Guard were formed into squares, to support them in case of success, or serve them for a rallying point, if repulsed; and the attacking columns were flanked by cavalry and tirailleurs to protect their advance. Ney, who fought that day like one who felt he had no reputation left excepting for courage, led this desperate attack in person. Undismayed by the horrible carnage made among their ranks by the British artillery, the French struggled on with loud shouts, and the clang of all their instruments of warlike music,
over ground encumbered with heaps
of the enemy, the right wing had im perceptibly gained ground, and instead of being thrown back from the centre, as in the beginning of the day, had now come to occupy some heights nearer to Hougoumont, and so formed the segment of a concave instead of a convex circle in relation to the rest of the line, the British order of battle continued exactly on the ground it first occupied. But now, when the thickening cannonade upon the French right, and the appearance of squadrons and battalions deploying from the woods, announced the appearance of the Prussians in full force, and when the ruinous disorder of the French retreat declared them past the power of rallying, the British general determined to become the assailant in his turn. The whole British army was ordered to advance to the charge, the cen
corps being formed in line, and the battalions on the flanks in squares for their security; the Duke himself, with his hat in his hand, leading the whole. At the moment the word was given to move forward, the sun broke through the clouds with which he had been covered through the day, and darted a ray of glory on the advancing troops. Their onset was irresistible; and indeed the enemy, exhausted by their own repeated and unsuccessful attacks, scarce even attempted resistance, when pressed in their turn. The first line was soon thrown back upon, and ming. led with the second, in inextricable confusion. All attempts at order and regularity were abandoned. Pressed by the English in front, and by the Prussians on the right flank and in the rear, the French corps of every varied description were blended and mingled in one confused tide of flight, which no one attempted either to guide or to restrain. He, the original source of the war, by whom the battle had hitherto been directed, had already left the field.
The plan of the Duke of Wellington had hitherto been, to suffer no prospect of partial advantage to withdraw him from his position; and excepting that, from the various repulses
Buonaparte had remained on the station on the causeway, which he assumed to witness the behaviour of his guards at their last attack, in spite of the entreaties of his attendants, who pointed out to him that the troops of Count Lobau were giving way before the increasing numbers of the Prussians. He persisted to the last in affirming, that Grouchy must be so close in the rear of these assailants, as to prevent their attack from being formidable; and he remained with his eyes bent on the attack on the British centre, like those of a gamester on the last cast, which is to decide his redemption or ruin. When he beheld the two attack ing columns become embarrassed, lose their interval, recoil, and fly, he exclaimed hastily," They are mixed together!" Till that moment, his demeanour had been perfectly composed, neither seeking nor shunning danger, and his language, bold, confident, and even cheerful. But on perceiving the miscarriage of this last effort, he turned pale as a corpse, and said to his attendants, "All is lost-let us save ourselves." This was not achieved without difficulty: he was obliged to leave the causeway, and, attended by five or six officers, and a peasant for their guide, he traversed the field of battle to the left, unmoved in appear ance either by the dying victims of his ambition, who "cursed him with their eyes," or by the exclamations of those who seemed to forget their own sufferings in his dishonour. Making his way with considerable difficulty through the wrecks of his fine army, which, like those of a gallant armada, encumbered the way for many a league, he gained Charleroi, and next day Philippeville. From Philippeville, he at length gave directions to rally his broken army at Avesnes, on the frontiers of the Netherlands-orders of which, as we will afterwards shew, circumstances rendered the execution impossible.
It is now proper to mention what had been the motions of the Prussians during this important day. The Prince Marshal Blucher, aware of Grouchy's purpose in watching him with an army of
observation, had on the seventeenth stationed General Thielman with one division of his army, to hold out the small town of Wavres against them, and thus to mask his own lateral movement to the left through Ohain and the defiles of Saint Lambert, in order to support Bulow in his attack on the French right wing. Grouchy and Vandamme, in compliance with the orders of Napoleon, commenced a vigorous attack upon Wavres as early as the evening of the 17th, and carried that portion of the town which is on the right side of the river Dyle. But such was the obstinate resistance of Thielman, that the passage of the river was effectually defended for several hours, until Grouchy, with a body of cavalry, crossed at Limalle towards nightfall. This enabled him the next morning to operate successfully against the Prussian position on the left bank of the Dyle, the Prussians gradually falling back from Wavres and Bielge, after such resistance as was necessary to keep up Grouchy's error concerning their numbers and force. Here, therefore, the French stood victorious on a point, within six leagues of Brussels, which they looked upon as the reward of their undoubted victory. But at night Grouchy received the intelligence of the total and irretrievable defeat of the emperor, and now discovered for the first time that he had been engaged with but one division of Blucher's army, while the Prince Marshal himself, with the other three di visions, hastened to the field where the principal affair was to be decided. Leaving Grouchy to commence his perilous retreat, which the fate of his emperor rendered indispensable, we return to the scene of action at Wa terloo.