On Napoleon's death anniversary, a re-look at the famed Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon Bonaparte is a name much revered, feared and in past, even despised. The Emperor of France was an extraordinary general, supremely capable leader, and a man loved by the French people and soldiers. Rising from the ashes of what was France after the French Revolution, Napoleon's astute political and military moves saw him ascend to the echelons of power and ultimately lead France to a position of dominance in Europe.
Napoleon scored victories after victories, shattered no less the five coalitions of anxious European powers attempting to come together to defeat him. Napoleon's military genius prevailed over those only claiming to have it. In his heydays, Napoleon almost had the aura of an invincible god whose presence on the battlefield was enough for his troops to run down the enemy. Even after his defeat against the Sixth Coalition, Napoleon dramatically returned from the exile and took charge of the reigns of his country invigorated by his return.
May 5 is Napoleon's death anniversary. He passed away in the year 1821.
So much is Napoleon's impact on culture that Waterloo, the place where he suffered his final defeat, often comes to indicate a hopeless, decisive loss.
The battle at Waterloo: Initial moves
After escaping his first exile in 1815, Napoleon reached France generating a wave of support for him. He raised an army with a plan to defeat the Seventh Coalition that was forming to crush him.
Two armies, one an Anglo-Allied force led by Duke of Wellington and other a Prussian army led by Field Marshal Blucher were gathered in the Netherlands. Soldiers in these two allied armies outnumbered Napoleon's own army. His best chance hence was to prevent merger of these two armies.
I used to say of Napoleon that his presence on the field made the difference of forty thousand men.-Duke of Wellington
The Emporer entered Belgium with his troops attempting to draw wedge between Wellington and Blucher's armies. On June 16, 1815, French army defeated the Prussians at Ligny. The Prussians retreated.
Due to the Prussian defeat, the Duke of Wellington was forced to take a retreat as well. His forces were being chased by Napoleon's soldier.
Wellington retreated with his forces to Waterloo.
Prussians regroup after defeat
The Prussian army had suffered defeat but was still in good shape. It was able to establish contact with Wellington promising support. At this time, the French were under the impression that Prussians were out of the game.
With Prussian promise of support, Wellington decided to make a stand at Waterloo and hold it till Prussian help arrived.
The battle of Waterloo!
Napoleon had 72,000 men and 246 guns at Waterloo. The Anglo-Allied force 68,000 men and 156 guns.
The battle commenced at 11:30 am. Napoleon launched a diversionary attack against a British-held position to lure the Duke of Wellington into sending more forces there. But the British held on.
For next two hours, there were attacks and counterattacks between the French and the British which caused casualties on both sides.
Prussian reinforcements arrive!
This was the turning point of the battle. The 48,000-strong Prussian army arrived in the afternoon and threatened the French right flank forcing Napoleon to take defensive position there.
This resulted in French troops being diverted to defence of the flank than the attack against the British.
But even then, the relentless French attacks pushed the British back and English defence was on the verge of collapse. However, a tactical mistake from Napoleon gave British time to recover.
Charge of the Imperial Guard
Napoleon's Imperial Guard was the most fearsome pack of soldiers. These were battle-hardened veterans, the very best elite troops of the army.
At 7 pm on that evening, Napoleon made his last move and ordered the Imperial Guard to attack the British. The fearsome military unit was known to clinch victories. But at Waterloo they attacked a British position that was very strongly defended.
The Imperial Guard collapsed.
Fall of the French army's most elite unit was a final blow to French morale and soldiers turned and began to flee the battleground. Advancing British and Prussians ensured the grand army was defeated.
Life of Napoleon Bonaparte:
August 15, 1769: Napoleon is borne in Corsica
October 28, 1785: He graduated from military academy
December 22, 1793: Post-French Revolution of 1789, Napoleon is made Brigadier General for his courage in internal battles in Toulon
1795: Napoleon becomes general of the army in west
1796: Napoleon marries Josephine
December 5, 1797: Napoleon returns Paris as a hero after defeating Austria
1798: Napoleon begins Egyptian campaign, tastes success
1804: Napoleon becomes Emperor of France
1812: He begins disastrous Russian campaign
1814: After series of setbacks, Napoleon abdicates throne. He is exiled to Elba
1815: Napoleon escapes Elba, returns to France, rallies French army
March 29, 1815: Napoleon takes control of France, begins the "hundred days campaign"
June 18, 1815: Defeat at Waterloo
October 16, 1815: Napoleon sent to exile in St Helena
May 5, 1821: Napoleon dies