Puslapio vaizdai
[graphic][merged small]


VOL. LII.-112.

Emperor certainly had cognizance, had been forwarded to Grouchy, expressing approval of his intention to move on Wavre by Sartà-Walhain, but instructing him «always to manoeuver in our direction.» The postscript of this second order enjoins haste, since it was thought Bülow was already on the heights of St. Lambert. The one central idea of Napoleon and Soult was clearly to leave wide discretion for Grouchy, provided always that he kept his communications with the main army open, and that his general direction was one which would insure easy connection, in order either to cut off or check the Prussians. But, however this may be, the hours of Napoleon's inactivity were precious to his enemies; by twelve Bülow was at St. Lambert, and at that same hour two other Prussian corps were leaving Wavre. These movements were apparently tardy, but Gneisenau, feeling that Wellington had been a poor reliance at Ligny, and very much doubting whether he really intended to stand at Waterloo, was unwilling that Blücher should despatch his troops until it was certain that the Prussian army would not again be left in the lurch. Should the Anglo-Dutch retreat to Brussels, the Prussians must either retreat by Louvain, or be again defeated. Anxiety was not dispelled until the roar of cannon was heard between eleven and twelve. Then the Prussians first exerted themselves to the utmost; it was about four when they were within striking distance, ready to take Napoleon's army on its flank. When Grouchy reached Wavre, at the same hour, he found there but one of Blücher's corps, the rear under Thielmann.

From Belle Alliance Napoleon returned, and took his station on the height of Rossome. In front was a vale something less than a mile in width. The highway stretched before him in a straight line until it skirted the large farmstead of La Haye Sainte on the opposite side; then, ascending by a slant to the first crest, it passed the hamlet of Mont St. Jean, only to ascend still higher to the top of the ridge before falling again into a second depression. At Mont St. Jean was Wellington's center. The road from Nivelles to Brussels crosses the valley about a quarter of a mile westward, and on it, midway between the two slopes, lay another farm-house, with its barns, that of Hougomont. More than half a mile eastward, in the direction from which the Prussians were expected, lay scattered the farm buildings of Papelotte, La Haye, Smohain, and Frischermont. The valley was covered with rich crops. Unobstructed by ditches or

hedges, it was cut longitudinally about the middle by a cruciform ridge, with spurs reaching toward Belle Alliance on one side, and past Hougomont on the other; the road passed by a cut through the longitudinal arm. Hougomont was almost a fortress, having strong brick walls and a moat; it stood in a large orchard, which was surrounded by a thick hedge. The house at La Haye Sainte was brick, also, and formed one side of a quadrangle, inclosed further by two brick barns and a strong wall of the same material; though not as large or solid as Hougomont, it was a strong advance redoubt for Mont St. Jean. The right and center of Wellington were thus well protected, the left was admirably screened by the places already enumerated. His army was deployed in three lines, the front plainly visible to the French, the second partly concealed by the crest of the hill, and the third entirely so. His headquarters were two miles north, at Waterloo; his lines of retreat, though broken by the forest of Soignes, were open either toward Wavre or toward the sea. The latter line was well protected by the troops at Hal. Uneasy about the character of his DutchBelgian troops, he had carefully disposed them among the reliable English and Germans in order to preclude the possibility of a panic. In the foreground of Napoleon's position was the French army, also deployed in three lines. The front, extending from the mansion of Frischermont to the Nivelles road, consisted of two infantry corps, one on each side of Belle Alliance, and of two corps of cavalry, one on the extreme right wing, one on the left; of this line Ney had command. The second was shorter, its wings being cavalry, and its center in two divisions, of cavalry and infantry respectively. The third, or reserve, was the guard. Each of the lines had its due proportion of artillery, stationed in all three along the road. This disposition gave the French array, as seen from beyond, a fan-like appearance, the sticks, or columns, converging toward the rear. The array was brilliant; every man and horse was in sight; the number was superior by about 4000 to that of the enemy; the ground was, by eleven, almost dry enough to secure the fullest advantage from superiority in artillery; deserters from the foe came in from time to time. Surely the moral effect of such a scene upon the somewhat motley throng across the valley must be very powerful. Yet the road to Charleroi was the single available line of retreat, and it passed through a deep cut; the soldiers were tired and not really first-rate, fifty per cent. of the

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

line being recruits, and nearly a quarter of the guard untrained men; the tried officers had all been promoted, and those who replaced them needed such careful watching that deep formations had been adopted, and these must not merely diminish the volume of fire, but present vulnerable targets; the cavalry had been hastily gathered, and was far from being as efficient as the British veterans or the German legion.

For some moments after reaching his position Napoleon stood, impassive. He was clad in his classic costume of cocked hat and gray surtout. Throughout his lines he had been received with enthusiasm, and his presence was clearly magnetic as of old. The direction of affairs in this momentous crisis was his, and he dreamed of two implacable enemies routed, of appeasing the two who were less directly interested, of glory won, of empire regained. Reason must have told him how empty was such a vision; for, since Poischwitz, Austria and Russia had been quite as bitter, and more tortuous, than the other powers. His expression mirrored pain both physical and intellectual; his over-confidence and consequent delay were signs of degenerate power; his exertions for three days past had been beyond any human strength, especially when the faculties of body and mind had been harassed for more than two months as his had been. It was the first day of the week, but there was a calm more profound than that of the Sabbath; the sky was dull, the misty air was heavy with summer heat; but there was the expectant silence of a great host, the deep determination of two grim and obstinate armies. Wellington, with his western lines protected, would be safe when the Prussian army should appear where he knew its van already was, and he must manœuver eastward to keep in touch. Napoleon must crush the British center and left, and roll up the line to its right, in order to separate the parts of his dual foe. To this end he had determined to make a feint against Hougomont; should Wellington throw in his reserves at that point on his right, one strong push might throw the rest into confusion, and hurl the whole force westward, away from Brussels. It was a simple plan, great in its simplicity, as had been every strategic conception of Napoleon from the opening of the campaign. But its execution was like that of every other movement attempted since the first great march of concentration-tardy, slack, and feeble. Personal bravery was abundant among the French, but the orderly coöperation of regiment, division,

[blocks in formation]

Napoleon's salute to Wellington was a cannonade from a hundred and twenty guns. The fire was directed toward the enemy's center and left, but it was ineffectual, except as the smoke partially masked the first French movement, which was the attack on Hougomont by their left, the corps of Reille. This was in three divisions, commanded respectively by Bachelu, Foy, and Prince Jerome, whose director was Guillemenot. Preceded by skirmishers, the column of Jerome gained partial shelter in a wood to the southwest of their goal, but the resistance to their advance was vigorous; on the skirts of the grove were Nassauers, Hanoverians, and a detachment of the English guards, all picked men, and behind, on higher ground, an English battery. The two other divisions pressed on behind, and for a time their gains were apparently substantial. But, checked in front by artillery fire, and by a murderous fusillade from loopholes cut in the walls of Hougomont, the besiegers hesitated. Such, however, was their zeal, and so great their numbers, that Bauduin's brigade doubled on the rear of the fortalice, drove back the English guards from before the entrance to the courtyard on the north, and charged for the opening. Some even entered, and the success of Napoleon's first move was in sight when five gallant Englishmen, by sheer physical strength, shut the stout gate in the face of the assailants. A fearless French grenadier scaled the wall, but he and his comrades within were killed. A second assault on the same spot failed; so, too, a third on the west, and still another on the east, all of which were repelled by the English guards, who moved down from above, and drove the French into the wood, where they held their own. These close and bloody encounters were contrary to Reille's orders, but in the thick of combat his various detachments could not be restrained.

The second division of the battle was the main attack on Wellington's left by d'Erlon's corps. Between twelve and one a Prussian hussar was captured, with a message from Blücher to Wellington announcing the Prussian advance. At once the postscript was added to the second despatch to Grouchy, already mentioned, and Napoleon made ready for his great effort. Unable to sit his horse, he had dismounted, and, sitting at the table on which his map was spread, he was fre





« AnkstesnisTęsti »