Friday, June 17, 2016

Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by two of the armies of the Seventh Coalition: an Anglo-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, and a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstatt. The battle resulted in the end of Bonaparte's reign and of the First French Empire, and set a chronological milestone between serial European wars and decades of relative peace.
Upon Napoleon's return to power in March 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilize armies. Wellington and Blücher's armies were cantoned close to the north-eastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack them in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the coalition. Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon's last. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life". The defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon's rule as Emperor of the French, and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. Napoleon abdicated 4 days later, and on 7 July coalition forces entered Paris.

After the Battle of Quatre Bras, Wellington withdrew from Quatre Bras to Waterloo. After the simultaneous Battle of Ligny the Prussians withdrew parallel to Wellington, drawing a third part of Napoleon's forces away from Waterloo to the separate and simultaneous Battle of Wavre. Upon learning that the Prussian army was able to support him, Wellington decided to offer battle on the Mont-Saint-Jean escarpment, across the Brussels road. Here he withstood repeated attacks by the French throughout the afternoon, aided by the progressively arriving Prussians. In the evening Napoleon committed his last reserves to a desperate final attack, which was narrowly beaten back. With the Prussians breaking through on the French right flank Wellington's Anglo-allied army counter-attacked in the centre, and the French army was routed.
The battlefield is located in the municipalities of Braine-l'Alleud and Lasne, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Brussels, and about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield today is dominated by a large monument, the Lion's Mound. As this mound was constructed from earth taken from the battlefield itself, the contemporary topography of the battlefield near the mound has not been preserved.

Napoleon’s return and the allied response
Having been exiled to the island of Elba in May 1814, Napoleon returned to France on March 1, 1815, landing near Cannes with 1,000 men. He won support from the rural peasantry as he marched toward Paris, and Louis XVIII fled the country prior to Napoleon’s arrival in the capital on March 20. In a treaty of alliance signed on March 25, Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia each vowed to maintain 150,000 men in the field until Napoleon had been overthrown. 

Shortly thereafter it was decided that the allied armies, comprising a total of about 794,000 troops, should assemble along the French frontier and march on Paris by convergent routes. The time needed for the Russians to reach the Rhine would delay the invasion until early July, and that allowed Napoleon the opportunity to organize his defenses. Napoleon could command over 160,000 first-line troops, but he was forced to relegate many of them to border defense. Because Louis XVIII, who had been restored to the throne upon Napoleon’s first abdication, had abolished conscription, Napoleon was not immediately able to draw on the vast number of trained men who had returned to civilian life. To address that shortfall, he quickly set about raising troops for an early campaign. All undischarged soldiers were summoned to arms, and in eight weeks 80,000 men were added to the army. At the beginning of June—too late for use in the Waterloo campaign—the conscription class of 1815 was 
ordered to mustering points, and Napoleon hoped to have more than 500,000 men under arms before autumn. 
By April 27 Napoleon had decided to attack Wellington and Blücher in the southern Netherlands (now Belgium), in the hope of defeating them before the Austrians and Russians could bring 
their forces to bear.

Prince of Orange

The allied campaign against Napoleon began in earnest in early June, but the armies that had assembled in Belgium were of dubious quality. Blücher’s four corps included many inexperienced conscripts among their 120,000 men. Wellington, whose forces numbered more than 93,000 before the campaign began, characterized his own army as “infamous.” Of the 31,000 British troops under his command, most had never been under fire. Many of the 29,000 Netherlanders under William, Prince of Orange (later William II), were unreliable, having served under Napoleon little more than a year before. The remainder of that polyglot army was made up of some 16,000 Hanoverians, roughly 6,800 Brunswickers, and the 6,300 men of George III’s German Legion. Only the last contingent, veterans of the Peninsular War, could be safely trusted in a crisis. Thus, the majority of the troops arrayed against Napoleon were no match for the highly enthusiastic and largely veteran French force. Wellington and Blücher had agreed to come to each other’s assistance should either be attacked, but the lack of any real preparation prior to June 15 shows that little serious attention had been given to such a possibility.
Michel Ney

On 15 June 1815, Napoleon appointed Marshal Michel Ney commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On 16 June Napoleon's forces split up into two wings to fight two separate battles simultaneously. Ney attacked Wellington at Quatre Bras (and received criticism for attacking slowly, while Napoleon attacked Blücher's Prussians at Ligny

Although Napoleon’s troops mounted a strong attack against the British, the arrival of the Prussians turned the tide against the French. The French emperor’s outnumbered army retreated in chaos. By some estimates, the French suffered more than 33,000 casualties (including dead, wounded or taken prisoner), while British and Prussian casualties numbered more than 22,000.

Reportedly fatigued and in poor health during the Belgian campaign, Napoleon committed tactical errors and acted indecisively. He also was blamed for appointing inadequate commanders. Ultimately, the Battle of Waterloo marked the end of Napoleon’s storied military career. He reportedly rode away from the battle in tears.

Wellington went on to serve as British prime minister, while Blucher, in his 70s at the time of the Waterloo battle, died a few years later.

Napoleon’s Final Years
On June 22, 1815, Napoleon once again abdicated. That October, he was exiled to the remote, British-held island of Saint Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean. He died there on May 5, 1821, at age 51, most likely from stomach cancer. Napoleon was buried on the island; however, in 1840, his remains were returned to France and entombed in a crypt at Les Invalides in Paris, where other French military leaders are interred.

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