June 18, 1815

Napoleon't disasterous invasion of Russia in 1812 led to the end of his dominance of Europe.  By spring of 1814, France itself was invaded and Napoleon exiled to the island of Elba of the coast of Italy.  Popular frustration with the restored Bourbons gave Napoleon an opportunity.  Evading naval forces, Napoleon landed in the south of France in March 1815.  A force under Marshal Ney sent to crush him instead joined him.  Louis XVIII fled the country, and Napoleon took power once again.  A large coalition immediately formed to invade France and remove the 'Corsican Ogre' from power.  Among the first to assemble were the Prussians under Blucher and the British under Wellington with their German allies and the army of the newly formed and short lived union of The Netherlands and Belgium.

Knowing that France could not defend against invasions from all the great nations of Europe, Napoleon decided to take the initiative, forming an army in the north and invading Belgium - crossing the Sambre at Charleroi near the border of Blucher and Wellington's armies.  While holding off Wellington at Quatre Bras, Napoleon defeated Blucher at Ligny.  Leaving a force under Marshal Grouchy to pursue the Prussians, Napoleon turned on Wellington, who withdrew from Quatre Bras and assembled his army near Mont St Jean south of Waterloo.  Arriving opposite the allied army on the evening of June 17th, Napoleon planned to attack the next day.

This panorama is from the commemorative mound built where the Prince of Orange was wounded in battle.  Unfortunately, dirt from the ridge that the battle was fought on was used for construction of the mound, forever altering the topography.  Like the battles in Spain, Wellington would use the tactics he was known for.  Skirmishers were pushed out into the fields of grain high enough to hide a man.  On the ridge was the artillery.  On the reverse slope, hidden from view and with some protection from enemy artillery was the main line of infantry with cavalry behind.  The line extended from the left flank beyond the modern convent through the intersection and the modern buildings on the left of the panorama, then pivoted forward following the ridge along the lane on the right side of the panorama.  In front of the line, Wellington would place troops in defensible buildings like in the area of Smohain on the left, at La Haye Sainte in the center, and at Hougomont on the right.  If Wellington could hold out into the afternoon, Blucher promised to come to his aid.

Napoleon's army deployed that morning on either side of the tavern called La Belle Alliance.  With all the recent rains, Napoleon waited to form a Grand Battery from his heavy artillery to bombard the allies.  Knowing that Wellington was concerned about maintaining communication with the coast, Napoleon ordered a division of Reille's II Corps commanded by his brother, Prince Jerome, to make a diversion at Hougomont at around 11am.  At 1pm, the right wing of Napoleon's army, D'Erlon's I Corps, would attack with the destination from the intersection to beyond the modern convent.


D'Erlon's Attack

French Cavalry Attacks


Imperial Guard

Copyright 2010-11 by John Hamill

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