French Cavalry Attacks

At around 4pm, the French began a series of cavalry attacks on Wellington's center.  The standard explanation is that Ney saw a minor withdraw along a portion of the Allied line, interpreted it as a retreat, and ordered a pursuit by cavalry.  Napoleon would later try to distance himself from responsibility for the attacks, but he knew what was happening and bears ultimate responsibility.

The first attacks inflicted heavy casualties on the Allied skirmish line;  many of the skirmishers were hit too quickly to reach the safety of the infantry squares.  

The "Panorama" was painted in the early 1900s and is housed next to the Lion Mound.  Since so much dirt was moved from Wellington's center to construct the mound, the topography has been altered.  The sunken road, once 10 feet deep, is now at ground level.  Regardless of what Victor Hugo wrote, the sunken road was passable and did not decide the battle.  Below are panoramas of the "Panorama" along with some detailed views.

Napoleon orders attacks.  He is on the white horse in the distance.  The trees along the Brussels road behind him are an inaccuracy.  The Red Lancers are at left.  The lance was perhaps the only cavalry weapon useful against an infantry square.

Ney with his ADC, Col. Heymes.

The first French attacks drove off the Allied gunners.  Ordered to take cover within the infantry squares, many instead fled the field entirely.  Some batteries limbered up and left the field contrary to orders.

A Nassau square is attacked.  Not the damage on the muzzle of the cannon.

Mont St. Jean Farm is above the yellow Nassau flag.

There are some inaccuracies.  The 73rd was a Scottish regiment but not a Highland one, so they didn't wear kilts.

Fall of La Haye Sainte

Although some of the Allied infantry squares began to look shaky, none of them broke.  Allied cavalry behind the infantry squares were used to counter-attack.  Eventually their morale began to suffer, and some of the Allied cavalry refused to attack.  Had Napoleon commited some infantry, he might have won the battle.  Perhaps Hougomont and La Haye Sainte still being in Allied hands kept Napoleon from doing so.

One of the benefits of the French cavalry attack was that it helped the attacks on Hougomont and La Haye Sainte.  Wellington found it difficult to relieve troops at Hougomont and resupply ammunition.  Hougomont remained in Allied hands, but La Haye Sainte did not.  With the fall of La Haye Sainte at 6pm, Napoleon was able to bring artillery close to the Allied line.  With the Prussians advancing on his flank, it was time for a last, desparate attack on Wellington's center.    

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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