The Prussians under Marshall Blucher were defeated at Ligny and driven away to the East. Napoleon sent Marshall Grouchy in pursuit while he advanced on Wellington’s army.
Assured by Blucher that he would join him for the conclusive battle, Wellington on the afternoon of 17th June 1815 halted on the ridge at the Brussels road south of Soignies where he resolved to give battle to the French.
In the valley to the front of the right wing of the British line stood Hougoumont Farm, the key to Wellington’s right flank. Held by the light companies of the Coldstream and Third Guards, there would be fighting around Hougoumont all day.
>>585178 At 11am the French bombardment of Hougoumont Farm, on the extreme right of the Allied line, began the battle. The British artillery on the ridge behind the farm replied, cannonading the French infantry massed for the attack on the far side of the valley.
At midday Prince Jerome ordered the assault on Hougoumont and the French infantry columns of his division moved forward to begin the day long struggle around the farm buildings.
At about 1.30pm Marshal Ney brought forward 74 French guns over the ridge opposite La Haye Sante followed by the 17,000 infantry of D’Erlon’s corps to begin the attack on the Duke of Wellington’s centre and left.
The French cannonade began and was later described by veterans as the heaviest they had experienced. The Duke ordered his infantry battalions to move behind the ridge and to lie down. This had the effect of shielding them from the worst of the cannonade. Only Bilandt’s Belgian-Dutch Brigade was left on the exposed slope and suffered heavily.
>>585193 After half an hour the barrage stopped, giving way to the roar of drums as Ney’s columns advanced to the attack. The French infantry passed La Haye Sante and marched up to the crest of the ridge, where Picton’s 5th division was positioned. As part of the advance a furious assault began on La Haye Sante, held by the King’s German Legion, which was to continue intermittently for the rest of the day until the German troops ran out of ammunition and were finally overwhelmed.
As the French infantry approached the hedge at the top of the ridge the line of British infantry stood, fired a volley and charged, driving back the massed French columns.
Cavalry formations were ordered to charge in support of the infantry attack; the Household Brigade (1st and 2nd Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards), the Union Brigade (Royals, Scots Greys and Inniskillings) and Vivian’s Hussar Brigade (10th and 18th Hussars and 1st Hussars, King’s German Legion).
It is notoriously difficult to pull up cavalry committed to an attack and the British regiments did not readily respond to the recall orders. In particular the Union Brigade continued to attack across the valley. These regiments charged up to the French gun line on the far ridge where they were in turn overwhelmed by French cavalry. General Ponsonby, commanding the Union Brigade was killed. It is of note that of the three regiments in the Union Brigade two, the Greys and Inniskillings, had not served in the Peninsula and lacked battle experience.
>>585201 The time was 3pm and there was a lull in the battle, the only active fighting being the continuing attack on Hougoument at the western end of the line which had been sucking in more and more of Reille’s corps.
Napoleon ordered Ney to capture La Haye Sante, considering the farm to be the key to the Allied position. Ney launched this assault with two battalions he found to hand and during the operation formed the view that the Allied army was withdrawing. It is likely that the movements he saw were casualties or prisoners moving to the rear.
It was on this impetuous assumption that Ney launched the massive cavalry attack on the Allied line. Initially the attacking force was to be Milhaud’s Cavalry Corps of Cuirassiers.
Before the French could reach the Allied line the infantry formed squares interlaced with artillery batteries. The French cuirassiers flowed around the squares but were unable to penetrate them.
During the next three hours some twelve cavalry attacks were made up to the ridge and back. Napoleon while deprecating the initial attack as premature felt bound the commit increasing numbers of cavalry to support the assault.
Ney now, far too late, launched the sustained infantry assault on La Haye Sante which was overwhelmed. By now the Prussian assault in the South East on Plancenoit was seriously threatening the French position.
>>585213 Sure that the Allied line was at breaking point, Ney sent desperately to the Emperor for more troops to attack. Napoleon was at this point deploying the Guard to drive the Prussians back from Plancenoit. Once this had been achieved he resolved to launch the Guard at the main Allied line. By this time Wellington had reorganised his forces and the opportunity that Ney had, this time, correctly identified had passed.
Ney led the five battalions up the left hand side of the Brussels road. As they climbed the ridge they came under fire from a curve of batteries assembled to meet them.
The 3rd Regiment of Chasseurs approached the ridge opposite Maitland’s Brigade of Foot Guards (2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Foot Guards). Wellington called to the brigade commander “Now Maitland. Now’s your time". One authority had him as saying “Up Guards, ready". The Foot Guards stood, fired a volley and charged with the bayonet driving the French Guard back down the hill.
Within fifteen minutes Wellington appeared on the skyline and waved his hat to give the signal for a general attack in pursuit of the French troops. The British, Belgian, Dutch and German troops poured forward and the French retreat became a route. Three battalions of the Old Guard fought to the end to enable the Emperor to escape from the battlefield as the Allied troops including the Prussians closed in.
>>585193 >The French cannonade began and was later described by veterans as the heaviest they had experienced.
British "veterans" I guess Given that they had only experienced a secondary front the French barely cared about (Peninsular war), it hardly means anything. Borodino and Leipzig surely had way worse cannonades than this one.
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