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Hussey Vivian Wellington’s Hussar General

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Hussey Vivian Wellington’s Hussar General
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Author(s): Claud Vivian
Date Published: 2010/04
Page Count: 304
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-065-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-066-2

One of Wellington’s outstanding horse-soldiers

Richard Hussey Vivian saw action throughout Britain’s wars with Napoleonic France much of the time under the direct command of the great Duke. This is the military career of a consummate light cavalry soldier of the age of Napoleon. However, Hussey Vivian first went to war as an infantry officer with HM 28th in 1794 as part of the Duke of York’s forces on the ill fated expedition to Flanders. In 1798 he transferred to the 7th Light Dragoons and this change in his military status defined his subsequent career. He not only became the 7th’s Colonel but retained an affection for it thereafter. In 1808 he took part in the Corunna campaign—actively engaged in the rearguard of the retreat and in actions at Sahagun and others. A return to the Peninsular brought command of a light cavalry Brigade under Hill and later Hussey Vivian was seriously wounded in action in the South of France. At Waterloo he commanded the 6th Brigade under Uxbridge. This essential book for every student of the Peninsular War and the Waterloo Campaign the horse soldiers knew is available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

By eight o’clock on the morning of the 18th June 1815, the allied forces had taken up the position they were destined to occupy during the ever-memorable battle of Waterloo. After the fatigue and anxiety of the previous day’s retreat they had spent a night of the utmost discomfort, soaked to the skin with rain, and without any adequate food or shelter. They consoled themselves, however, by reflecting that the French had been in no better plight than they; they realised the enormous responsibility that rested upon them; and they were actuated with the greatest determination to do their duty, and show that courage which has always been one of the characteristics of an Englishman when placed in dire emergency.<br>
The French were somewhat later in taking up their ground, but they were now deploying with the greatest precision, and with all the pomp and display of a grand review. Napoleon was exulting in having been successful in separating the Prussians from the rest of the Allies by the battles of Ligny and Quatre-Bras, and he was congratulating himself on having got Wellington and those “accursed English” into his power and to himself.<br>
Whilst the French were getting into position for attack, the Duke of Wellington occupied his time by taking a survey of his own lines.<br>
Sir Hussey Vivian was in command of the 6th Light Cavalry brigade, composed of the 10th (Prince of Wales’) Hussars, the 18th Hussars, and the 1st Hussars of the King’s German Legion.<br>
The 10th and 18th were drawn up in line in rear of the Wavre road, withdrawn a little from the crest of the ridge; the right of the 10th resting upon the lane which, leading up from Smohain, crossing over the position and ascending along its reverse slope, proceeds in a direction for Verd Cocu. The 1st Hussars were also in line and formed in reserve.<br>
The left of the brigade was completely en l’air, upon high, flat ground, the main ridge widening considerably in that direction.<br>
A picket, consisting of a squadron of the 10th Hussars, under Captain Taylor, occupied the village of Smohain down in the valley, which, having its source a little to the westward of La Haye Sainte, takes an easterly, and therefore parallel, course with that part of the ridge which formed the left of the British position.<br>
The advanced posts of this picket were on the further side of the village, and its vedettes formed a chain on the rising ground beyond, within half carbine shot of some French cavalry standing dismounted in close column. A party was detached from the picket as a patrol on the road to Ohain.<br>
During Wellington’s progress along the left of his lines he heard from Vivian that a Prussian officer had reached Smohain and had informed Captain Taylor that Bulow was on the march with his whole corps, and that the advanced guard was then only about two miles distant. The officer, however, who brought this cheering intelligence, did not of course know that a fire, which had accidentally broken out in Wavre, was destined to seriously impede the march of the main body of the corps, and cause the hour of the arrival of the Prussians on the scene of battle to be much later than anticipated.—Siborne.<br>
* * * * *<br>
The entry made in Sir Hussey Vivian’s diary, as to the initial stage of the battle is—<br>
This most memorable, most glorious day is beyond my power to describe.<br>
Commanding a brigade on the left, it is impossible that I can tell every movement, or position of the divisions.<br>
Lord Hill’s corps was on the right; the Prince of Orange in the centre; Sir J. Vandeleur’s and my brigades on the left.<br>
About eleven o’clock the pickets reported the advance of the enemy, and very shortly a most serious attack on a wood on the right of our centre, in which were posted the Guards, commenced.<br>
The whole line stood to arms. All the cavalry moved up into their places in position.<br>
We soon saw the French forming in enormous masses on the side of the hill opposite to us. We heard the repeated cheers of ‘Vive l’Empereur,’ and we waited with anxiety, but with perfect steadiness, those tremendous attacks for which Buonaparte is so famous, when, caring not for the loss of men, he sacrifices whole bodies for the sake of carrying a particular point of the enemy’s line.<br>
In this instance the high road, which was about the centre of the position, was the principal object of his attack.<br>
Three several times did he, with the whole French army, rush with desperation against this part of our position. Three several times, under cover of near one hundred pieces of cannon, did the Cuirassiers endeavour to break through our squares of infantry, and in one instance they got possession of our guns; but the steady determination of our glorious infantry, and the handsome conduct of our cavalry, who instantly charged on the enemy reaching the position, defeated all these attempts.<br>
The way in which these attacks were met was by our infantry forming squares, and our cavalry immediately charging those of the enemy as they appeared on the flank of them.<br>
It is impossible to imagine anything more desperate than this sort of combat. The dreadful loss sustained by both sides speaks plainly as to this. Of two Heavy brigades of cavalry, of 1000 men each, scarcely 200 remained in line at the end of the day!<br>
Whilst these attacks were going on on the right and centre, a similar effort was being made on the left of the centre.<br>
On the extreme left nothing very serious took place. It was appuyéd on a village which was immensely strong, and defensible by a very small number of men.<br>
* * * * *<br>
It was at or about one o’clock that the first of Napoleon’s great attacks on the left and centre of the Allies was made; and it was in charges made at the end of this attack that a considerable number of English cavalry, belonging to Sir W. Ponsonby’s brigade, in the exultation of having successfully repelled a charge of the enemy, and of momentary victory, pursued their flying foes too far, and recklessly crossed over the road to the south of La Haye Sainte, with disastrous result.<br>
Jacquinot’s Lancers, in open order, taking advantage of the disordered pursuit of the British, fell diagonally upon their left; while Milhaud’s two regiments of Cuirassiers, sent by Napoleon himself, took them full in front.<br>
“With wearied arms and blown horses the English Dragoons strove to regain the British position; but most of them were overthrown and killed.” Help, however, was, although somewhat late, at hand; for Vandeleur, who was nearest to, and therefore best able to act as a support to the fleeing English, retarded by a hollow road which prevented him acting as speedily as needed, at length brought up his brigade, and with the 16th and 12th Dragoons charged the pursuing French and drove them up their side of the valley again.<br>
Vivian, who had come forward in person from the extreme left and proceeded some way down the slope for the purpose of making his observations, upon perceiving Ponsonby’s brigade pursuing recklessly and in disorder up to the French heights, had immediately sent back word for the 10th and 18th Hussars to move at once through the hollow way to their right, and to leave the remaining regiment of his brigade, the 1st Hussars K.G.L., to keep a look-out to the left. The execution of these orders was immediately commenced, but the brigade being further to the left of the line, and even more impeded by the formation of the ground near it than that of Vandeleur’s, was necessarily some time before it could reach the desired position.<br>
Two guns, detached in advance from Vivian’s Horse artillery, drew up on the brow of the main ridge, but they had scarcely opened fire when a well-directed shot from one of the French batteries passed through the ammunition boxes of one of the limbers, causing an explosion which drew forth a shout of triumph from the French artillery men.
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