« ForrigeFortsæt »
of French cuirassiers. General Cooke brought up his division of the guards, and the French were repulsed. Ney had left considerably more than half his force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, in his rear at Frasnes, and now felt the want of them. It was too late in the day to bring up a reinforcement, and he fell back, in some disorder, upon his former position. The British loss, from their want of cavalry and artillery, exceeded that of the French.
Ney's operation thus wholly failed. Whilst under fire, the ardour of his character and impetuosity of his courage displayed themselves ; but in the preparatory dispositions and movements he was slow and irresolute. He might have easily occupied Quatre Bras, not only on the 15th, but by an earlier advance on the morning of the 16th ; and his not doing so was, beyond all doubt, a fatal error. The only question is, whether the error arose from the want of military instinct and energy on his part, or from the want of sufficiently precise and peremptory orders on the part of Napoleon.* “ Marshal Ney," says Napoleont, “would, in our other campaigns, have occupied Quatre Bras at six in the morning, routed and taken the Belgian division, and either turned Blucher's left by a detachment along
* L'empereur, après lui avoir donné ces ordres, ajouta, — “ Monsieur le maréchal, vous connaissez bien la position de Quatre Bras?” .“ Oui, sire,” répondit le maréchal, “ comment ne la réconnaitrais-je pas ? Il y a vingt ans que j'ai fait la guerre dans ce pays; cette position est la clef de tout." (Gen. Gourgaud. Relation écrite à Ste. Hélène.)
+ Mémoires de Napoléon.
the Namur road, which should fall upon the rear of his line of battle; or else, moving rapidly on Genappe, he would have surprised the Brunswicker and fifth divisions on their march from Brussels, and then proceeded against the first and third British divisions, which arrived by the road of Nivelles, all without cavalry and artillery, and harassed with their fatiguing march.” The subsequent conduct of Ney, at Paris, strongly indicates that his faculties were then disordered, and countenances the assertion of Gourgaud or Napoleon, that the sense of his tergiversations in 1814 and 1815 had produced in him 66 bouleversement moral.”
The duke of Wellington passed the night of the 16th at Quatre Bras, supposing the Prussians still in their line of positions at Ligny. His remaining divisions continued to fall in until the morning of the 17th. He now discovered the defeat of the Prussians, and their retreat upon Wavres by Tilly and Gembloux, pursued and harassed by French light cavalry. Napoleon, judging that the duke of Wellington would fall back to take a new position in line with the Prussians, sent, during the night, orders to Ney to renew his attack, and push the
British rear-guard at daybreak. He, at the same 1 time, detached Lobau, with two divisions of in
fantry, one corps of light cavalry, and one of cuirassiers, to favour Ney's attack, by taking the British in flank from the road of Namur ; and ordered forward general Grouchy, with the cavalry of Excelmans, and the third and fourth corps of infantry (Vandamme's and Gerard's), to press Blucher, so as to prevent his rallying his forces, and forming a
junction with Wellington. Grouchy's orders further were, that he should keep constantly between the Prussians and the great road from Charleroi to Brussels, so as to maintain his communications with Napoleon, and form a junction with him whenever necessary. The result of these dispositions was, that Napoleon would direct his left and centre, about 70,000 men, and 240 pieces of cannon, against Wellington; whilst Grouchy, with the right wing, of about 35,000 men and 110 pieces, would engage or harass Blucher.
The duke of Wellington, informed of the result of the battle of Ligny early in the morning of the 17th, immediately gave orders to fall back in the direction of Brussels, and a general movement was begun, by the roads of Genappe and Nivelles, upon Waterloo. The rear-guard, of cavalry and light artillery, commanded by lord Anglesey, masked this movement. Napoleon, having arrived at Quatre Bras, opened with a light battery upon the British. It rained in torrents. The left wing, under Ney, did not yet debouche. The marshal, having come up, was rebuked by Napoleon for his tardiness, and excused himself by saying, he thought the British were still in force at Quatre Bras. Napoleon now took the direct command of his left wing, as well as centre. The British retired, and the French advanced, but slowly. The infantry marched ankle deep in mud, and the cavalry and artillery were equally embarrassed in their movements by the state of the ground.
At Genappe, the 7th hussars (British) charged a French regiment of lancers, and failed. It was lord Anglesea's own regiment. He
ordered up the 1st life guards, placed himself at their head, and soon broke and drove back the lancers. Lord Anglesea continued to retire, galled slightly by an intermittent fire from the French horse artillery. At six in the evening, the British began to return a heavier discharge. The thickness of the atmosphere concealed their force and movements, and, consequently, the cause of this heavier fire. Napoleon, to discover the extent to which the rear-guard had been reinforced, displayed his cui. rassiers and artillery for a feint attack, and the British immediately unmasked so many batteries as satisfied him that the duke of Wellington was there, and had taken up a position with his whole army. Night prevented further operations on the 17th. The duke of Wellington occupied Mont St. Jean, with his head-quarters at the village of Waterloo, and the forest of Soignies in his rear. Napoleon took his position on the range of heights before Planchenois, facing Mont St. Jean, with his head quarters at a farmhouse called Caillou.
Grouchy, in the mean time, with the French right wing, followed the retreat of Blucher. At ten o'clock in the evening, Napoleon, supposing Grouchy at Wavres, announced to him that a great battle would be fought next day, and ordered him first to detach a division of 8000 men of all arms, with sixteen pieces of cannon, which should join and operate with the grand army against the British, and then, as soon as he found Blucher decidedly retreating upon either Brussels or Liege, to follow and support the detachment with his main force. When this despatch was an hour on its way, a com
munication from Grouchy, dated five o'clock, announced that he was still only at Gembloux; that he knew not in what direction Blucher was retreating ; but that he had sent advanced guards upon the roads of Brussels and Liege. A second despatch of Napoleon, dated four o'clock in the morning, repeated the previous orders to Grouchy. It was not long on its way, when a second despatch from Grouchy announced that he had, since his last communication, learned the retreat of Blucher, with his whole force, upon Wavres ; that his first thought was to follow on the traces of Blucher instantly ; but that the troops were bivouacked and preparing their soup when the information reached him, and he, upon reflection, judged it advisable not to advance on Wavres until next morning, when the troops
should be refreshed. The slow advance of Grouchy, his losing the trace of Blucher, and his halt for the night at Gembloux, after only two , leagues' march, have not, after much controversy, been satisfactorily accounted for. Blucher had gained three hours upon the French general, and anticipated him in the possession of Wavres, which placed him in a situation to communicate by the post of Ohaime with the left of the British.
The duke of Wellington, on the 17th, communicated to marshal Blucher his resolution to give battle, and asked the support of a corps of Prussians. The marshal promised me,” says the duke, " that in case we should be attacked, he would support me with one or more corps as might be necessary.” According to the Prussian despatch, the English general asked the support of two corps,