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Sir Thomas Picton brought up the brigades of Kempt and Pack, which opened upon D'Erlon's flank a close and destructive fire. Picton led the attack, and was killed at the head of his division. The French column, unsteady and reeling, seemed about to abandon the position. Lord Anglesea, observing this, ordered sir W. Ponsonby's brigade of cavalry to charge. The French were routed, with the loss of two eagles, seven pieces of cannon, and dreadful havoc in killed and wounded. The British cavalry, borne away by their ardour and the impetuosity of the charge, pursued the enemy unti] they became exposed in flank. Napoleon, perceiving the rout of D'Erlon, had galloped to the spot; and taking advantage of Ponsonby's gallant but rash advance, ordered a strong body of cuirassiers and lancers to attack the British squadrons. Unable to resist this unequal and terrible shock, they retreated before a charge of cavalry, and under a galling fire of artillery and sharpshooters. Sir W. Ponsonby and his horse both fell mortally wounded. The duke of Wellington ordered up lord Edward Somerset's heavy brigade of cavalry, which soon checked and drove back the French cuirassiers; but D’Erlon re-formed, recovered his cannon, and obtained possession of Papillotte and La Haye.
The attack and defence of Hougoumont were all this time deadly and brave as ever. General Cooke, of the guards, was severely wounded. Sir John Byng, the next in command, maintained his position in the country-house and garden, with the same steadiness and gallantry, was reinforced by order of
the duke of Wellington, and recovered from the French a portion of the wood.
Napoleon, it has been observed, having made his dispositions to meet the advance of the Prussians, ordered Ney to make his grand attack upon the British left centre at La Haye Sainte. “ A battle," says he*, “ like a drama, has three parts ; the be ginning, the middle, and the dénouement." This attack was the middle in his dramatic design, which should develope the resources and intentions of the adversary, and decide the catastrophe. It was about three o'clock that Ney attacked the farm of La Haye Sainte, occupied by the German legion, and after above two hours' fighting, carried it. During this conflict, Napoleon rode along the first lines of infantry and cavalry in the midst of shells, bullets, and grape shot. General Devaux, who commanded the artillery of the imperial guard, was killed by hiş side.
The advance of the French upon Mont St. Jean, and the single debouche of the forest of Soignies upon Brussels, produced consternation in the rear of the British, among the wounded, the wagon train, and those who had fled from the field. The road to Brussels was crowded with this miscellaneous and disorderly rabble. The French appear to have expected each moment to see Wellington retreating. Some French narratives of the battle assert that the duke already began such dispositions as indicated that he contemplated the necessity of retreat. The supposition is wholly groundless.
He had, about an hour before, ordered up two divisions of lord Hill's corps from the right, when that wing was no longer menaced.
It was now four o'clock. Intelligence reached Napoleon that the French skirmishers were retiring before the Prussians ; that the Prussians appeared to be 40,000 strong; that there was no account of Grouchy, and that he, instead of leaving Gembloux at the break of day, as he engaged to do, had not yet broken
up his bivouac at half past nine in the morning. Grouchy's excuse was the bad weather and state of the roads. But these obstacles did not retard Blucher. The count de Lobau and Bulow were soon engaged. A fire of thirty pieces of artillery was opened respectively by the Prussian centre in advance, and the French right flank which was opposed to it. Lobau, after an hour's cannonade, broke the first Prussian échelon; but the two other échelons, which were somewhat behind, soon came up, and threatened to turn the French line. Lobau, to avoid this, retreated towards the French centre. Blucher had now joined Bulow, and the fire of the Prussian artillery was doubled. So near were the Prussians, that their bullets fell and tore up the ground at the feet of Napoleon at La Belle Alliance. He sent a strong detachment of the young and old guard in aid of Lobau. The direct advance of the Prussians was checked, but they still moved in a direction to turn the French line.
D'Erlon, by his possession of Papillotte and La Haye, turned, at the same time, the British left and the right of Bulow. Ney, whose orders were to
maintain himself in La Haye Sainte, pushed forward with cavalry and artillery, and did severe execution upon the British. Wellington commanded a retrograde movement, to obtain an advantage of ground which would cover the men from Ney's formidable masses of cavalry, and fire of artillery. The movement of Wellington diffused a treacherous hope among the French. Ney's advance was hailed, by the staff of Napoleon, as the forerunner of victory. Napoleon said it was premature, and full of perilous consequence; and Soult exclaimed, with vehemence, “ He is compromising us as at Jena."* Ney's impetuous courage under fire, and his irresolution in the absence of the immediate stimulant of danger, were equally liable to produce disastrous effects. Whilst he was thus wasting his strength upon the British infantry, without commensurate advantage, Blucher was pressing, with his whole force, towards the French. All hope of the coming up of Grouchy vanished. That general was, in fact, engaged, at Wavres, with the Prussian corps of Thielman, supposing that he had the whole Prussian army on his hands. Thielman sent to Blucher for support. The Prussian marshal, with equal judgment and generosity in this instance, replied, that “it was on the spot where he was, and no where else, the affair was to be decided ; that any reverse at Wavres would be repaired by victory at Waterloo;" left Thielman to extricate himself as he best could, and came to the relief of his ally. Marshal Grouchy took a different,
and far less sagacious, view of a situation nearly, if not exactly, similar, and compromised a brilliant reputation of twenty-five years.*
Blucher, it has been observed, was preparing to fall on the French with his whole force. Two courses were open to Napoleon : to abandon the field
* An exile in America, he vindicated himself in France by publications bearing the name of colonel Grouchy, his son. Without entering into the controversy, the facts may be very briefly stated: — Grouchy's instructions, in the spirit and letter, bore, that he should keep his left in communication with the French right centre, and separate Blucher from Wellington. He failed in both. The state of the weather and the roads, the non-arrival of one, and the late arrival of another despatch, are urged by him in his defence. The next charge against him is this. The thunder of the cannonade at Waterloo was heard by him at Wavres. Generals Gerard and Excelmans, judging, like Blucher, that the contest before Mont St. Jean should supersede every other, advised Grouchy to move at once in the direction of the cannonade. Grouchy, alarmed at the responsibility of exercising such a discretion, replied, that “ the war of inspiration belonged only to the general-in-chief.” This is the essence of the question; and the expression of Grouchy is placed beyond doubt by the testimony of Gerard. As to what Grouchy says, in his printed vindication, of his presence when Napoleon rebuked Ney for exercising a discretion, and departing from his orders, the case is really not in point; and it was obviously an after thought, or he would have expressly urged it when Gerard pressed his hastening to the cannonade. There appears not the slightest ground to impeach Grouchy's honour; nor has it been, in point of fact, impeached. He fought admirably on the 16th, but he was then under the immediate eye and direction of Napoleon. On the 17th and 18th he was detached and distant, and the dread of committing himself seems to have deprived him of all irour and decision.