A Leonaur Original—never before available in this form
The Duke of Wellington is widely regarded as one of the finest British generals, and there are many books about his most famous campaigns during the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain against Napoleon’s French army. Accounts of Wellington’s victory in 1815 at Waterloo, which brought about the final downfall of the emperor are, if anything, more numerous, such is the interest in the great captains who faced each other in the most renowned battle in world history. Leonaur has published many histories and personal accounts of those who fought in these campaigns, and although our two linked volumes by C. W. Robinson concern Wellington in the Peninsular War and Waterloo campaign respectively, they are quite different to most other books on the subject. In these books, originally intended for military students, and now of equal value to war-gamers, the campaigns are described from the perspective of the tactical choices and options open to the antagonists. The potential consequences, and the outcomes which may have arisen, had the choices that were made been from these other options are also discussed. These books therefore provide fascinating insights into the business of command, set against campaigns that are familiar and of abiding interest to military history students. Each volume contains maps and illustrations that did not appear in the texts when originally published in different form.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Napoleon, having given instructions to his troops to march in three columns early on the 15th, hoped that the greater part would have passed the Sambre by 12 noon; but this they did not accomplish. Reille, with the left column from Solre-sur-Sambre, moved up the right bank, seized Marchienne, and crossed there, followed by D’Erlon, but the latter’s flanking parties passed the river at Lobbes, and patrolled towards Mons and Binche. Thus it must have been most difficult for General Chassé, commanding the Dutch-Belgian division in that direction, to feel certain upon what points the French attack would really in the end fall.
The centre column (Vandamme, Lobau, Grouchy, and the Guard) moved upon Charleroi by Ham (sur-Heure). The right (Gérard) upon Châtelet.
Ziethen made a very determined and able resistance during his retreat, which, as an illustration of the skilful handling of a retiring force, has been much commended; and this would have been yet more effective had the bridges over the Sambre been destroyed, which they had not been. (The reason, perhaps, was that the Allies up to the last anticipated the possibility of assuming the offensive themselves, and in that case would have used the bridges. Still, they might have been prepared for demolition).
This resistance retarded the French advance, and there had been also several other causes of delay. Both D’Erlon and Gérard had been slow in starting. General Bourmont, commanding the latter’s leading division, deserted to the Allies, and its direction had then to be changed; Vandamme’s orders miscarried, owing to the officer bearing them having fallen from his horse and broken his thigh; the roads were bad, and the morning misty and thick.
When the Prussians had been pressed back to Fleurus, night was approaching; so the head of the central column bivouacked two miles south of Fleurus, Napoleon himself passing the night at Charleroi. Ney, coming from Paris, had joined Napoleon near Charleroi before 5 p.m., and was directed to take command of the 2nd and 1st Corps (Reille and D’Erlon), forming the French left. A force of cavalry (Piré’s and the light cavalry of the Guard) was also to be sent to him, but he was not to use it without orders.
He was instructed to drive back the enemy along the Charleroi—Quatre Bras road. It has been stated, also, that Napoleon told him verbally on the afternoon of the 15th to occupy Quatre Bras, but no such order appears in writing; it has not been admitted by Ney, and his staff-officer, Heymés, disputes it (Houssaye; Ropes).
With only one staff-officer, Heymés, he galloped off, reaching Reille, near Gosselies, before 6 p.m. (Ropes. The hour varies in different accounts).
After joining Reille he came into contact, near Frasnes, with a small force of Dutch-Belgians, who retired upon Quatre Bras, held by Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar’s Dutch-Belgian brigade; Piré’s light cavalry, moving along the road, was driven back; and Ney about dusk advanced himself to reconnoitre.
In his front was a wooded country; he was unaware of the strength of Wellington; night was falling; his men had been seventeen hours on foot; and he could hear the guns of Napoleon far behind him, to his right rear, towards Fleurus.
Therefore, Ney halted and bivouacked near Frasnes, rode back to Charleroi to see Napoleon, arrived about midnight, had a conference with him, (the tenor of which is unknown and disputed), remained till about 2 a.m. on the 16th, and then rode back to Frasnes; having been almost continuously in the saddle for many hours. (According to the positive assertion of Colonel Heymés, Ney’s A.D.C., strengthened by certain statements of Marshal Grouchy. See Ropes. Houssaye does not allude to the interview).
Blücher in the meantime had moved his headquarters to Sombref. He had ordered here (as mentioned) the 2nd Corps, as well as the 1st; and also the 3rd Corps from Namur. The 4th Corps (Bülow) was directed to move from Hannut to Gembloux; but as it had not yet marched from Liege to Hannut, (as mentioned earlier), it did not receive this order for some hours after it had been expected to do so.
With respect to Wellington’s movements, Ziethen has stated (Waterloo Lectures, Chesney), that at 4 a.m. on June 15th he despatched a courier to Wellington to say that he was attacked in force, so undoubtedly this information was sent.
Siborne also writes (vol. i.) that the Prussian posts were withdrawn by 5 a.m. from the neighbourhood of Binche, owing to the French advance; thus, at all events, making allowance for errors in time, this information was probably sent off between 4 and 5 a.m.
But, owing to some unexplained cause, no reports reached Wellington at Brussels till 3 p.m. At about that hour he received a report brought in by the Prince of Orange personally, of firing having been heard in the direction of Thuin; and also, at nearly the same time, one from Müffling, just received from Ziethen, to the effect that his outposts were engaged with the French.
It so happened that, early on the morning of the 15th, the Prince of Orange, commanding the 1st Corps, had gone from his headquarters at Braine-le-Comte to visit his outposts; had heard firing in the direction of Thuin and the Prussian posts; and then ridden straight into Brussels, without stopping en route at his headquarters. In consequence the following report to him from Baron Behr at Mons remained for some time upon his table at Braine-le-Comte, unattended to (Ollech; Siborne, vol. i., makes the Prince of Orange forward this report himself, but this is apparently incorrect):—
Mons, June 15th, 1815 (no hour given):
I acquaint your Royal Highness with a report which has just been sent me from Major-General van Merlen (commanding a brigade of Dutch-Belgian cavalry to the east of Mons), that General Steinmetz, commanding at Fontaine l’Eveque, has just sent an officer to warn him that the 2nd Prussian Brigade has been attacked this morning, and that the alarm guns have been fired along the whole line. It appears that the attack is upon Charleroi, where the infantry fire was very sharp. At the outposts of General van Merlen all is quiet.
P.S. The advanced posts in front of Mons are also quiet.
Eventually the above was forwarded from Braine-le-Comte by Sir G. Berkeley, to Brussels, together with an explanation, dated 2 p.m., of the Prince of Orange’s absence.