One day, two bat­tles

Provincial Living - - Back In Time... -

On 16 June, French forces un­der Mar­shal Ney en­gaged with an Al­lied force at Qu­a­tre Bras. At first, the Al­lies were vastly out­num­bered. The fe­roc­ity of the en­counter is cap­tured in a fa­mous paint­ing called The 28th Reg­i­ment at Qu­a­tre Bras by Lady El­iz­a­beth But­ler which is now held in the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria.

If Ney had moved de­ci­sively against the Al­lies in the morn­ing, he could have routed them. In­stead, Welling­ton was given time to re­in­force his troops and push back the French. Welling­ton’s army then turned north to­wards a site that Welling­ton had re­con­noitred the year be­fore as a pos­si­ble bat­tle­ground, namely a low ridge called Mont-Saint-Jean. This ridge was 15km south of Brus­sels and 1.6km south of the vil­lage of Waterloo.

On the same day, Napoleon de­feated Blücher’s Prus­sians 12km to the south-east at Ligny. This should have ended in a rout of the Prus­sians but, in­stead, they were per­mit­ted an or­derly with­drawal; a de­ci­sion that would later prove decisive in Napoleon’s de­feat.

“The decisive mo­ment of the cen­tury”

Napoleon had ex­pected Blücher to with­draw to­wards the east, away from Welling­ton. In­stead, the Prus­sians marched north to­wards Wavre, par­al­lel to Welling­ton, who later de­scribed this ma­noeu­vre as “the decisive mo­ment of the cen­tury”.

Napoleon had failed to drive the wedge he wanted be­tween the Al­lied armies. The French were now hot

Welling­ton’s con­sid­er­able task was to con­tain Napoleon un­til the Prus­sians could ar­rive on Napoleon’s right flank. Napoleon needed a decisive vic­tory be­fore Blücher’s ar­rival.

Napoleon al­ways pre­ferred firm ground upon which to ma­noeu­vre his ar­tillery, so he waited while the ground be­gan to dry. He wanted Welling­ton to move troops to each flank so as to weaken the Al­lied cen­tre. This would en­able the French to con­cen­trate their forces where the Al­lies would be most vul­ner­a­ble. The French would be un­stop­pable.

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