« ForrigeFortsæt »
to Wellington and Blucher; or to endeavour, by a desperate effort with his reserve, to rout Wellington before Blucher had yet brought his whole weight into the scale. He chose the latter; and directed, in the judgment of military men, one of his most brilliant maneuvres. It was a change of front, upon the centre, the left for rd, executed by the mass of his guard in reserve, which had not yet fired a gun. The result, without going into particulars was, that he presented two fronts - one to the British, the other to the Prussians.
This fierce and final attack was made upon the British centre about seven in the evening. The imperial guard, under the immediate command of Napoleon, advanced in two columns, leaving four battalions as a reserve. Ney again led the attack. His horse was shot under him, and he appeared on foot at the head of his column.* The fire of musketry and artillery caused dreadful havoc on both sides. The first British line was broken. “ For a moment," says general Alava, aide-de-camp to the duke of Wellington, “the victory was undecided, and even more than doubtful.” The duke, however, rallied in person the troops which had given way. The French repeated and reiterated their attacks, whilst the fire from the British squares and batteries carried off the heads of their columns, and ravaged the interior of their masses as they began to deploy. The British reserved their fire until the enemy came near, in spite of the artifices and intrepidity of the French officers, who advanced
before the men, and tried to provoke a premature discharge. The grenadiers of the imperial guard were riddled by a close volley from general Maitland's brigade of English guards, and the chasseurs of the French guard equally maltreated by a flank fire from a division of the corps of lord Hill. The English guards, keeping up the fire by independent files, completed the disorganisation of the enemy. Those in the rear, seeing that the imperial guard was foiled and broken, became disheartened. Blucher took La Haye from D’Erlon, and through this post inundated the field with his cavalry. Lobau was cut off from the French centre. Blucher pressed on the French flank. The tide of attack and victory now completely turned. The duke of Wellington ordered a general movement of his army in advance; and the British, become the assailants, charged from the centre with the bayonet upon the imperial guards. These famous troops gave way, defending themselves in squares against the charges of the British cavalry, under a storm of musketry and
The mass of the French army was at this time in a state of rout and panic, ascribed by the French to false announcements and cries of alarm by traitors in their own ranks. It is certain that their reverses and the pressure of the allies, though great, did not warrant their extreme state of disorder and consternation. The imperial guard, or the wreck of it, soon shared the general rout. Napoleon made a last effort, in a position before Planchenois, to rally the fugitives, and ordered a battery which he found there to fire
the British avalry, which was rapidly advancing with lord
Anglesea at its head. The gallant chief of the British cavalry, conspicuous through the day from his splendid uniform, and the prodigal intrepidity with which he led in person to the charge, drew upon him the attention and admiration of the enemy. French officers have declared, in a tone of mournful remembrance, that he recalled, at the moment, to their imaginations the brave and unfortunate Murat. The last French fire, commanded in person by Napoleon, carried away lord Anglesea's leg. Napoleon, with Soult, Drouet, Bertrand, Ney, and the survivors of his staff, were protected only by the battalion of general Cambroune, formed in a square. “ He was about to throw himself into the square,” says general Gourgaud, in his journal, “and share the fate of his old grenadiers, when marshal Soult, who was by his side, said, “ Ah, sire, the enemy are but too fortunate,' and turned his horse's head towards Charleroi.”
Wellington and Blucher met at La Belle Alliance about ten o'clock at night, and congratulated each other, on a victory more disastrous and decisive than the victories of Cannæ and 'Thrasymene. It would be useless to specify losses where an empire
The British were reduced and fatigued by twelve hours' fighting, and the pursuit devolved exclusively upon Blucher and the Prussians.
The French, somewhat paradoxically, assimilate the battles of Marengo and Waterloo. Had Dessaix hung back like Grouchy, Marengo, they say, would have been as Waterloo; had Grouchy come up like Dessaix, Waterloo would have been as Marengo.
A question has been raised upon the extent to
which the Prussians influenced the result. ACcording to the Prussian bulletin, the duke of WelJington left marshal Blucher to defend himself unaided on the 16th, but Blucher, in similar circumstances, on the 18th, came up and saved Wellington. This authority is far from conclusive, even with the interested corroboration of the French. But the question is one of uncertain speculative probabilities. Napoleon's grand and fatal attack with his reserves might, on the one hand, have succeeded were he not assailed in flank by the Prussians, and deprived during the crisis of the action of such an officer as Lobau with 10,000 men; but on the other hand the British had maintained their principal positions with such steady bravery, whilst the attention and force of Napoleon were undivided, as to warrant the opinion that they might repulse the French to the last unaided by their allies.
Nothing is more easy than to criticise disaster; or more tempting, where success is to be flattered by depreciating greatness. But impartial posterity will assign the relative places of Napoleon and Wellington:- to the former, according to his vast and marvellous career; the traits of inspiration and discovery with which he enriched the annals, and extended the boundaries of the art of war; the point whence he rose to a supremacy before which men bowed their actions and their minds; the impress of his genius upon the age in which he lived;— to the latter, according to the general tenor of his achievements, the resources at his command, the period of the great contest between feudalism and revolution in which it was his fortune to appear ;-to neither, according to the unscrupulous but disinterested zealots of a fallen
chief, the partisans who laud a prosperous patron and party leader with parasite eulogies, or the catastrophe of a single, however momentous, battle.*
The parallel holds as curiously at the close as at the opening of the battles of Zama and Waterloo. “ Hannibal" says Livy again,“ cum paucis equitibus inter tumultum elapsus, Adrumetum perfugit, omnia et in prælio et ante aciem priusquam excederet pugna, expertus, et confessione etiam Scipionis, omniumque peritorum militiæ, illam laudem adeptus, singulari arte aciem eo die instruxisse.” The same testimony is borne to Napoleon. The following opinion was expressed, with rare modesty, by the duke of Wellington a day or two after the battle, in a letter to his mother, lady Mornington:
Bonaparte did his duty — he fought the battle with infinite skill, perseverance, and bravery, — and this I do not say from any personal motive of claiming merit to myself – for the victory is to be ascribed to the superior physical force and invincible constancy of British soldiers.” Napoleon's plan and dispositions for separating Wellington and Blucher, so as to engage them in detail with his inferior force, were in the judgment of military men, “ omnium peritorum militiæ,” — admirably conceived, and his efforts during the emergencies of action to repair disaster or rectify mistake master-traits of military instinct and science. t Why then was he con
* Cæsar, for the first time, disputed life. not victory - at Munda, and with a boy.
t Some absurd fictions respecting his expressions and personal demeanour during the battle, imposed upon. English