Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

men.

and Blucher, in reply, promised that of his whole army, with a proposal, that if Napoleon did not attack on the 18th, they should jointly attack him on the 19th. A narrative published by the Prussian general, Muffling, improving on this braggart version of the Prussian bulletin, says that Blucher asked time only to distribute food and cartridges to his

These idle and unfounded vaunts, put forth on behalf of Blucher, to conceal the 'extent of his defeat at Ligny, have been adopted and repeated by English writers, in the face, not only of the simple truth, simply stated by the duke of Wellington, but of the conclusive fact that Blucher did not come up on the 18th until near the close of the battle and of the day. Night came; the firing ceased ; and both sides prepared themselves -- the armies sleeping, the chiefs waking - for the next day's memorable strife.

There is something in the circumstances of the battle of Waterloo which recalls, by a close and affecting association, the last fatal battle between Hannibal and Scipio in the plains of Zama. “ Erexerant,” says Livy, “ omnium animos Scipio et Hannibal, velut ad supremum certamen comparati duces. ...... Ad hoc discrimen procedunt postero die duorum opulentissimorum populorum longe clarissimi duces, duo fortissimi exercitus, multa ante parta decora aut cumulaturi eo die aut eversuri.” The part played by the assailant in the drama of a battle has the advantage in attraction and éclat. Napoleon, having conferred with his chief officers, and given them their orders, went out on foot from his quarters in the farmhouse of Caillou, accom

panied only by Bertrand, at one o'clock in the morning, visited his outposts, and saw the fires of the British bivouacks bordering the forest of Soignies. The men of both armies, fatigued with their efforts on the preceding day, slept in the silence of profound repose. At the break of day he returned to his quarters, convinced, by his own observations, and by the report of two Belgian deserters, that the British general had resolved on giving battle. His great fear seems to have been that Wellington would continue his retrograde movement beyond the forest of Soignies, — which, in his actual position, would, Napoleon judged, cut off his retreat, -and, having formed a junction with Blucher before Brussels, give battle with an overwhelming superiority of numbers. It rained through the night, and during the early part of the morning. This was in favour of the British: they were in position, and the enemy in movement.

The duke of Wellington, with the first light of the morning, presented himself in his defensive position at Mont St. Jean, occupying a line of heights from the village of La Haye and the farmhouse of Papillotte on his left wing, to La Haye Sainte, in front of his left centre, and Goumont or Hougoumont in front of his right centre. His right wing, thrown back, occupied Merkbraine and Braine la Leud. The reserve was posted at Mont St. Jean, at the intersection of the two roads of Charleroi and Nivelles. The cavalry, under lord Anglesea, was ranged in three lines in the rear of the left centre line of battle.

From the state of the weather, and of the ground,

joined with the delay in waiting for a further supply of ammunition after the consumption at Ligny, it was some hours before the French appeared in motion. Napoleon, at half past eight, again reconnoitred the British line; and, having meditated for a few moments, charged his aides-de-camp with his orders to the commanders of the several corps. About nine the British beheld from their position the French army moving, with admirable order, in eleven columns, which formed three lines, with the batteries flanking the several columns; and at half past nine the first French line began to deploy, whilst the regimental music of both armies, the sounds of the drum, the trumpet, and the shrill but animating English fife, were sometimes mingled, and sometimes seemed to challenge and reply.

The French movements, executed with all the precision and beauty of the parade, and presenting a spectacle of the deepest and the most magnificent interest to their adversaries, from whom they were separated only by a short distance, and a slightly inclining vale -- were not completed until half past ten. Napoleon, having once more rode along the lines, amidst enthusiastic cries of « Vive l'empereur!” gave his last orders for the attack, and placed himself on foot with his guards at the farmhouse of Rossomme.

Prince Jerome Bonaparte, with his division, commenced the fire upon the British right centre at Hougoumont. A skirmishing musketry fire of light troops soon gave way to a heavy cannonade. The British unmasked a numerous battery, which was soon answered by the battery of a French

division and twelve pieces of horse artillery. General Cooke, with his division of the guards, defended the position of Hougoumont. The wood, which formed part of it, was taken, retaken, again taken, and again recovered. General Foy came to the aid of Jerome Bonaparte; and after a desperate struggle of near two hours, during which the field was strewed with the dead and dying, the British had abandoned the wood, but kept possession of the house or château of Hougoumont, and its garden. The walls of the house and of the garden were loop-holed, and, thus covered, the British kept up a deadly fire upon the assailants. A desperate effort to force the gate of the court-yard, made by the French, was repulsed by the British with the bayonet, and the barricade restored. Napoleon ordered up a few howitzers, the shells from which fell upon the house and every thing combustible around it. The château was soon in flames, and some wounded soldiers of both armies became the victims. Still the position was disputed bravely as ever.

In the mean time Napoleon resolved to make his grand attack upon the British left centre. It was confided by him to Ney, who declared that he was ready, and waited only the signal to begin. Napoleon, before he ordered the attack, took a view once more of the field of battle. He observed on his right, about two leagues off, in the direction of St. Lambert, what seemed an advancing column. Was it a detachment from Grouchy, or the Prussians ? All the glasses of the imperial staff were brought to bear upon this object. Opinions were divided. As it might be the Prussians, Napoleon ordered a de

tachment of 3000 cavalry to his right. A Prussian hussar was brought in prisoner. He was the bearer of a letter to the duke of Wellington from Bulow, whose advanced guard it was that had been observed. The intercepted despatch was sent to Grouchy, with reiterated orders to bear upon St. Lambert (the French right), and take Bulow's corps in the rear. Ney's attack was suspended. The offensive movement of the Prussians became more conspicuous and formidable. Napoleon ordered the count de Lobau with 8000 men to move upon St. Lambert, and with this force, joined to the detachment already sent, to check the Prussians, were they even 30,000, until he should hear the fire of Grouchy, and then to fall upon them furiously. . All this passed, according to the French accounts, between twelve and one o'clock, and during the utmost heat of action at Hougoumont. Bulow appeared stationary, waiting the coming up of his artillery. It was now that Napoleon ordered Ney to attack and take La Haye Sainte, the British left centre, the farmhouse of Papillotte, and the hamlet of La Haye, the extreme left. This would cut off the communication with the Prussians. Eighty pieces of cannon opened a terrific fire

upon

the British. Napoleon looked on from an eminence near the farmhouse of La Belle Alliance, with a view of both wings right and left; - his own and Wellington's;- and holding his reserves in readiness, to be directed by him in person. General d'Erlon, charging under cover of a tremendous fire with two divisions of his corps and a body of cuirassiers, gained the crest of the hill of La Haye Sainte, driving before him a Belgian division.

« ForrigeFortsæt »