Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo stands as a very important episode in the whole of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wartime adventures. It was the fierce fighting that occurred in the muddy field closed to Brussels in 1815 between the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon that finally sealed Napoleon’s fate in his bid to rule the world. The theatre of battle was in an area closed to the Belgian Capital Brussels. (Bourne 1915, 118) This battle has been considered by many as one of the most crucial battle in history and the battle claims responsibility for reversing the trend of European history.
As Brian Bond pointed out: “Waterloo was a ‘decisive battle’ by almost any criterion. ” (1998, 3) Our research aims to define factors and conditions which caused Napoleon failure on the battlefield and mistakes he made that led to his demise. The battle of Waterloo is analyzed in detail, because it is the most typical example of Napoleon’s strategy, otherwise military narrative limited to the essential minimum.
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A whole host of reasons are responsible for Napoleon’s misfortune on the day of Waterloo.
We are going to begin with political reasons. The failure of Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo could be linked to his failure to disunite the states of Europe that had stood against him. He had tried to negotiate separately with each of the allied sovereign but these negotiations proved futile. It is worth noting that there were signs of willingness to cooperate with Napoleon from the Russians and Austrians but this did not last long.
These early signs of willingness to cooperate with napoleon came as a result of the fact that during a substantial part of 1813 and 1814, the allied powers had been at loggerhead with one another over the sharing of the territories they had acquired during the previous year. (Creasy 1908, 353) It was this situation that Napoleon tried to exploit. This plan was brilliantly understood by Talleyrand, the French representative at the Congress of Vienna, as a result he did everything possible to prevent this kind of manipulation.
(Creasy 1908, 354) Talleyrand had realized how necessary and important it was to see that no member of newly created European alliance needed one another to if they had to succeed to control the excesses of Napoleon whom they considered their old time enemy. This situation played a significant role in the defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon himself understood that if he could create a situation that could make him get involved in separate battles with the British and the Russians that would have been synonymous to success.
(Creasy 1908, 357) Success here would not have been only among his strongest opponents but it would have also been against the other masses who were already gathering momentum against his Eastern dominions. The point here is that the failure of Napoleon to disunite his opponents before the battle of Waterloo meant he was going to have a difficult battle against a united opponent. In this regards, Napoleon lost at Waterloo partly because he had failed to hold to his war time commitment of keeping the forces of his opponents separated.
Also the main loop hole in Napoleon’s expedition in the battle of Waterloo lay in France itself. Returning from exile in Elba the Emperor easily gathered his troops, as the Government in 1814 was faced with a difficult problem in demobilizing the Army, still more loyal than the Marshals to Napoleon. (Rosebery 1900, 98) The troops were restive at the news of Napoleon’s approach. When his small force found an infantry regiment barring the road, Bonaparte advanced alone in his familiar grey overcoat, he shouted: “Kill your Emperor, if you wish.
” A single shot would have finished the adventure; but the regiment, ignoring all commands to fire, broke ranks and surrounded Napoleon with acclamations of `Vive l’Empereur’. (Rosebery 1900, 99) He was greeted enthusiastically by the peasants and soldiers, but the upper classes were hostile to Napoleon. French citizens were opposed to war and this situation had a serious impact on Bonaparte’s adventure. (Veve 1992, 214) He remarked to Mole, one of his former Councillors:
Nothing astonished me more, in returning to France, than this hatred of priests and nobles, which I found to be as widespread and violent as at the beginning of the Revolution. They have reopened everything which had been settled. (Rosebery 1900, 123) Political situation in France was not favorable too. Napoleon could not make up his mind to give the responsibility of coming up with a new constitution to a representative assembly. Such an assembly would have provided for a constitution that would guarantee a free government.
Such an assembly also would not have given him the opportunity to carry out the expedition which according to him will guarantee safety and victory over his foreign opponents. In this circumstance he fell in love with dictatorship and normally a dictatorship would not have had the support of French citizens. This had an impact on the morale of French soldiers. Moreover, Napoleon bids for discipline in French soldier came with came with little results and his attempt to keep these secrets unknown to foreign missions was never achieved.
All this had a role to play in the battle of Waterloo. French soldiers were less prepared for war. Most French soldiers were longing for rest. Even the most hardened warriors wanted rest. They had been very busy under the reign of Louis XVIII. Most of them had just begun enjoying the pleasures of resting when napoleon called them to return to their barracks. With this situation a good number of the French army pointed out that they love napoleon better than Louis XVIII but if they most go to fight all Europe again then it will be better to take back Louis XVIII.
(Cowin 1903, 608) This situation put the French army in a delegate and difficult situation and the battle of Waterloo just came as a confirmation. Napoleon didn’t have enough officers to complete skeleton of army as the choice of available Generals was dangerously limited. Napoleon’s only ally was the unreliable Murat, to whom Napoleon wrote at the end of March: “I will support you with all my forces. I count on you. ” (Andrews 1939, 251) Apart from Murat, four of the Marshals, including Berthier, were struck off the list for leaving Paris with Louis XVIII.
In his choice of leaders, Napoleon’s judgement was poor. Grouchy was said to be a great General but he was out of his depth as a Marshal. He showed little initiative and was tardy in his pursuit of the Prussians, giving them time to regroup. He failed to keep the Prussians separate from the other Allies and, although engaged in battle with the Prussians at Wavre, he failed to prevent a corps being deployed at St. Lambert. His battle at Wavre continued until he had defeated the Prussians but, by that time, Napoleon was on his way back to Paris.
Ney also proved unreliable as a leader failing to take advantage of his situation in the precursory battle at Quatre-Bras. Napoleon made a mistake that left the tactical handling of the battle to Ney. It was also a serious misfortune for Napoleon that Drouot, the great artillery expert, had to replace Marshal Mortier, commander of the Guard, who was ill. (Knoph 1979, 224) In embarking on the Continental System Napoleon underestimated the toughness and resilience of the English economy and society. Napoleon had not grasped the speed or the scope of the industrial revolution in England.
By 1800 Boulton and Watt had built and installed hundreds of their steam-engines, particularly in the all-important textile industry. When Watt died in 1819, Lord Liverpool rightly acknowledged that ` England could not have survived the Napoleonic Wars without the steam-engine’. (Veve 1992, 168) Wellington’s somewhat cryptic judgment that `the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton’ (Veve 1992, 14) presumably refers to one side of the picture: the toughness of the English leadership. It would be equally true to say that the battle was won in Boulton’s engine-making works at Birmingham.
With these set backs, Napoleon was covered with gloom as one of his councilors noted: He was full of anxiety, the self confidence that use to be heard in his utterances, the tone of authority, the lofty flight of thought all had disappeared. He seemed already to fill the weight of the hand of misfortune which was soon to be laid on him so heavily and no longer counted on his star. (Cowin 1903, 699) Some citizens even described Bonaparte as exhausted and suffering, due to the frequent hot bath he took while other described him as suffering from a secret disease, therefore should go to sleep.
Overview of military strategy should be given at the beginning speaking of military factors determined Napoleon’s failure at Waterloo. By the outbreak of the Revolution, the staff of the French Army already possessed a coherent doctrine of offensive strategy and tactics. How much did Napoleon’s strategy and tactics owe to his predecessors? To explain the origins of Napoleonic strategy is not, of course, to belittle his genius. As he said at St Helena: “Everything is in the execution. ‘ The planning which preceded a battle was an intense and painful process.
I am like a woman in labour. ” (Abbott 1855, 408) Also Bonaparte pointed out: Few people realize the strength of mind required to conduct, with a full realization of its consequences, one of these great battles on which depends the fate of an army, a nation, the possession of a throne. Consequently one rarely finds Generals who are keen to give battle. I consider myself the boldest of Generals. (Abbott 1855, 421) It is known that he took Guibert’s and Bourcet’s writings with him to Italy; he also sent to Paris for the account of Maillebois’ campaign in Piedmont in 1748.
It would not be far wrong to say that Napoleon’s Italian campaigns were Guibert and Bourcet in action. Their influence was a great deal more important than Napoleon’s general reading of Plutarch, Caesar, and Frederick the Great. (Esdaile 2001, 42) In discussing the principles of strategy at St Helena, Napoleon asserted, `I have fought sixty battles, and I have learnt nothing which I did not know in the beginning. ‘ (Abbott 1855, 581) The essence of Napoleon style of fighting is mobility.
Marechal de Saxe in his Reveries, written in 1732, gave some valuable lessons about mobility; he anticipated Napoleon when he said `the whole secret of manoeuvres and of combats lies in the legs’. (Markham 1954, 21) The scholars define flexible nature of this new war: Greater mobility allowed Napoleon’s armies to concentrate their superior forces at specific points – in space and time – over a wide area. This gave Napoleon the capacity to keep reconfiguring the deployment of his troops in battle, take less mobile and more predictable opponents by surprise, outmanoeuvre them, and prevent them from even locating his own troops.
(Doz and Konosen 2007, 102) This is the strategy of his first campaign in Piedmont, and also of his last campaign of Waterloo. The tactics of the Waterloo has tended to produce an exaggerated antithesis between the `thin red line’ of the English infantry and the massed column attack of the French. Ney’s massed columns at Waterloo were exceptional, and a poor example of French tactics. In 1772 Guibert, wrote his Essai General de Tactique, which was widely read and discussed. Guibert strongly advocated an ordre mixte, in a flexible combination of line or column according to circumstances.
(Black 1994, 171) Normally the French in the revolutionary and Napoleonic period used column formation for approach and changed to line for the actual attack: but it appears that at the battle of Maida in 1806 and frequently in the Peninsular War battles, they were taken unawares by the English method of concealing their infantry behind a rising crest of ground, and were caught by the English volleys before they could open out their columns. (Black 1994, 186) Napoleon explained at St Helena that this again happened at Waterloo.
Napoleon himself seldom interfered in the tactical handling of infantry, which varied according to the skill of his Marshals and Generals, because he had to keep his attention for the general handling of the battle. But one of his first orders to the Army of Italy was to confirm the use of the ordre mixte. He, of all people, was aware of the importance of fire-power. At St Helena he said: `It is with artillery that war is made. ‘ `The invention of powder has changed the nature of war: missile weapons are now become the principal ones; it is by fire and not by shock that battles are decided today.
‘ (Abbott 1855, 523) With a divided and apprehensive nation Napoleon dare not risk a defensive campaign. So, one of the reasons why Napoleon Bonaparte failed in battle of Waterloo was the fact that he himself failed to maintain his own tactics. His only chance was a quick and resounding victory which might rally France behind him and shatter the allied unity. In contrast with 1814 Napoleon in 1815 had plenty of veterans, including the returned prisoners of war. The National Guard battalions could be used for fortress duty, to release every available man for the fieldarmy.
In March the army had barely two hundred thousand men in service; in June its strength still did not reach three hundred thousand. Of these Napoleon had to leave nearly a hundred thousand, supported by National Guards, to hold the Alps, Pyrenees, Alsace, and even La Vendee, where a royalist resistance movement broke out in May. His available striking force at the beginning of June was no more than 130,000 men. (Esdaile 2001, 80) The allied forces within reach were strung along the Belgian frontier–30,000 English and 70,000 Belgian, Dutch and Hanoverian under Wellington, and 120,000 Prussians under Blucher.
So the British forces also had numerical advantage over Napoleon’s troops. Marshall Blucher the Prussian war commander was in Belgium with one hundred and sixty Prussians. Also, in the middle of 1815, the Duke of Wellington had also brought in some one hundred and six thousand troops. Some of the troops brought in by Wellington were British Nationals while the others were paid by the British government. On the other hand Napoleon had stationed close to a hundred and thirty thousand men with well prepared artillery, with state equipments of commendable standards discipline and efficiency.
These men were under the command of Napoleon himself. The disparity in the number of troops stationed by Napoleon’s opponent and those of Napoleon was great and favored the allied forces. In this circumstance Emperor was bound to have to tough battle, but the Russian and Austrian armies could not reach the eastern frontiers before July. Napoleon’s problem, with markedly inferior numbers, was to prevent a junction of the two allied armies in the north, and to beat them separately. He hoped to surprise them while they were still dispersed; and the concentration of his Army was as brilliantly conceived as ever.
(Esdale 2001, 86) At June 16th it became clear to Napoleon that Blucher was concentrating in force round Ligny. Napoleon intended to tie down the Prussians by a frontal assault, and then smash their right wing, forcing them on a line of retreat eastwards away from Wellington. By 8 pm Napoleon had put in the Guard at Ligny, and had broken and partially routed the Prussians. Napoleon could either complete the rout of the Prussians, or move to the left wing and smash Wellington while the Prussians were still out of action. Yet within a few hours Napoleon had lost the initiative.
(Rothenberg 1977, 95) On the morning of June 18 Napoleon with seventy-four thousand men faced Wellington with sixty-seven thousand men. Wellington had chosen his favorite defensive position on a rise, where the reverse slopes would shelter his infantry from plunging artillery fire, and he carefully distributed his English divisions to stiffen the Belgian-Dutch. Napoleon ignored the warnings of his Peninsular War Generals about the fire-power of the English infantry, and decided on a frontal attack on the centre. `I tell you that Wellington is a bad General, that the English are bad troops, and it will be a picnic.
‘ He was in no hurry to start the battle, and Drouot advised him to let the ground dry out till midday, so that the twelve-pounder batteries could get into position. (Black 1994, 211) Napoleon intended to smash Wellington before the Prussians could intervene. Britain found it difficult to unite her might with Prussian war effort. The situation at Waterloo was a completely different scenario. At Waterloo, Wellington succeeded to pin down Napoleon leading a situation Napoleon regarded as one of his nightmares in his bid to conquer the world.
At this stage of the war, the joint forces of Britain, Holland, Belgium and later on Russia pulled their might together to crush the French forces at Waterloo. Moreover, his efforts to keep Russia away from the battle failed. He had sent one of his commanders with 3000 men to keep the Russians busy thereby keeping them away from the forces of Britain, Holland and Belgium, but this mission never succeeded as the Russians ended up re-enforcing the allied forces at Waterloo. In this regards, Napoleon lost at Waterloo partly because he had failed to hold to his war time commitment of keeping the forces of his opponents separated.
Napoleon did not take seriously the possibility that Blucher would recover from Ligny in time to join Wellington. By his underestimate of Blucher, the more surprising because be had experienced his pertinacity in 1813 and 1814, Napoleon had allowed himself to be strategically outmanoeuvred. The British forces had some tactical advantages over those of the French. To begin with, the British forces were well trained to withstand cavalry which was a significant part of Napoleon’s war efforts. The British mounted three line deep square with soldiers at the forefront kneeling and those behind firing.
Moreover the British army had what it took for this system to succeed and that was discipline. This discipline put the British soldiers in a superior position when compared to the French. In fact, the British always struggled to keep their lines in tact even when they faced threats from advancing French troops. Moreover, while the British fought in line formation, the French held to their column system and this had a severe weakness as the French forces could only attack the British from the sides and in front.
(Webster 1931, 74) In addition, the British took a superior position over the French following their rapid musket fire, a rolling fire across the line that went on in a constant manner and the Britain army had been trained to be fast and fire as soon as the command was made. Everything could still be retrieved by a tactical triumph on the field of Waterloo, but Napoleon made a mistake that left the tactical handling of the battle to Ney as he was too imprudent. When Ney launched the first main attack four densely massed infantry columns were repulsed with heavy loss by the English volleys.
After that Ney sent in the cavalry alone. For two hours the superb French heavy cavalry were worn down against the unbroken English squares, and were unable even to spike the guns which the enemy had temporarily to abandon. (Rothenberg 1977, 110-112) In the evening Napoleon had been forced to use fourteen thousand men of his general reserve to bold up Bulow’s Prussians. That’s why there were no troops for a final decisive assault on the English centre. As Wellington put in his cavalry, the French Army broke in panic and rout. Barely eight thousand men escaped in fighting formation.
(Knoph 1979, 187) Ney’s fundamental error was in first sending in the infantry column unsupported by cavalry, and then the cavalry unsupported by infantry. After the tremendous artillery preparation, a combined assault of all arms would have forced the enemy to form into squares, which could then have been ripped to pieces with caseshot from the horse and divisional artillery. Wellington wrote on the day after the battle: It was the most desperate business I ever was in: I never took so much trouble about any battle, and never was so near being beat.
Our loss is immense, particularly in the best of all instruments, the British infantry. I never saw the infantry behave so well. ‘ (Markham 1974, 261) Wellington fought his last battle at Waterloo and became a hero as his popularity all over Europe became great and in the process crating a legacy for himself and the world. He was Commander-in-Chief during the occupation of France and advocated a non-punitive peace deal. He organized loans to restore French finances and advised the withdrawal of troops after three years. He returned home in 1818 and became Prime Minister in 1828.
Main military reason why Napoleon failed in the battle of Waterloo was the fact that the British forces had some tactical advantages over those of the French. To begin with, the British forces were well trained to withstand cavalry which was a significant part of Napoleon’s war efforts. The British mounted three line deep square with soldiers at the forefront kneeling and those behind firing. Moreover the British army had what it took for this system to succeed and that was discipline. This discipline put the British soldiers in a superior position when compared to the French.
In fact, the British always struggled to keep their lines in tact even when they faced threats from advancing French troops. Moreover, while the British fought in line formation, the French held to their column system and this had a severe weakness as the French forces could only attack the British from the sides and in front. In addition, the British took a superior position over the French following their rapid musket fire, a rolling fire across the line that went on in a constant manner and the Britain army had been trained to be fast and fire as soon as the command was made.
(Webster 1931, 74-78) Delay in the deployment of Napoleon’s troops also played a dominant role in the defeat of France at the battle of Waterloo. To begin with, delay in the deployment of troops meant; Napoleon gave his opponents the opportunity to further increase the already existing numerical superiority to the detriment of his own forces. Secondly delay in the deployment of troops meant the aspect of surprise attack was no longer a dominant part of the game. This is because the allied forces had the time to prepare for an impending attack from which ever angle Napoleon chose to attack from.
The failure of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo could also be blamed on the organization of his opponents. For instance, the forces mounted by the Duke of Wellington were well organized and disciplined, a situation that gave him the opportunity to be able to station his forces at any one moment on any of the many roads that lead to Brussels so as to check any impending danger or advancement of napoleons forces. (Veve 1992, 214) That means the allied army was made present for movement to any direction necessary. An important factor that led to the defeat of the French was weather.
This was during the wet season because the ground was wet and muddy thereby making it difficult for soldiers to move freely, Napoleon was pushed to postpone some major attack till one p. m. on the grounds that he was waiting for the field to get dry. In fact the muddier the ground remained meant the more difficult it became for napoleon’s army to move as their and wheels of their war vehicles kept sinking in to the mud and in the process Napoleon’s men and army were bound to get tired faster than would have been the case if the ground was dry. Postponement and delays in launching major was not a good thing for napoleon to do.
For instance, delay meant the advancing Prussian army was left unchecked likewise attacking earlier would have meant the advancing Prussian army who had been delayed due to the muddy nature of the terrain would have been delayed further and thereby keeping them far from the battle ground. To conclude we should say that a whole host of reasons are responsible for Napoleon’s misfortune on the day of Waterloo. In the final analysis, Napoleon was bound to crumble in that battle. Main political reason is Emperor’s failure to hold to his war time commitment of keeping the forces of his opponents separated.
Situation in France was not favorable too as upper classes were opposed to war and this situation had a serious impact on Bonaparte’s adventure. Main military reason why Napoleon failed in the battle of Waterloo was the fact that the British forces had some tactical advantages over those of the French. Also Napoleon made a mistake that left the tactical handling of the battle to Ney. Ultimately, Emperor shoulders much of the responsibility for the failure or defeat of France in the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon had not grasped the speed or the scope of the industrial revolution in England.
The fact that he was the overall leader and his inability to make correct judgments meant France was doomed to fail in the battle of Waterloo. He remained very confident or better still arrogant, believing he could win back the support of France and overcome the Allies. Defeat at The Battle of Waterloo ended Napoleon’s hundred days reign. He was left with no choice than to move to the island of St Helena where he died in 1821. BIBLIOGRAPHY Andrews, Gordon. Napoleon in Review. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939. Abbott, John S. C. Napoleon at St.
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