Europe’s future in the balance
The afternoon was full of extraordinary heroism and unqualified bravery. It was also punctuated by miscalculations and dreadful blunders.
Following the French bombardment, General d’Erlon’s corps marched up the slope towards the Allied centre. This should have been the prelude to a French triumph. Instead, the soggy ground, uneven terrain and determined opposition held back the dense, unwieldy French columns. Seeing his opportunity, the British cavalry commander, the Earl of Uxbridge, sent in the Household Brigade and the Union Brigade, including the Scots Greys. They overran all before them until uncontrolled enthusiasm took the charge too far and lead to its decimation by French artillery and infantry.
The brave but impetuous Ney then lead 5,000 French cavalry into a futile encounter with British “squares” that ended in great devastation but achieved very little. The French continued to press their attacks but were unable to break the Allied lines.
“The nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”
By 4.30pm, the first of Blücher’s troops had engaged the French on their right flank and Napoleon was running out of time.