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Careful drill, however, enabled lines of British infantry and others to form squares rapidly, an effective defence against cavalry. French tactics The French, on the other hand, had a different philosophy on how to manage the morale of their men. They led them into battle, staking all on the ferocity of a first assault — whipping soldiers into a frenzy to exert themselves to their physical limits. There was a psychological problem, however, everything was committed to the first assault — and if it were unsuccessful, the soldiers were more liable to break. He orchestrated the movement of large bodies of men so that the enemy frequently found itself facing vastly greater numbers of men either at the start of the battle or at a critical point.

French success was based on the impact of columns of infantry, preceded by swarms of skirmishers. It is thought that French methods facilitated a furious initial attack; but they also allowed for more individualism, which increased the chances of an advance becoming a prolonged firefight — which was when officers were likely to lose control. What were the differences between forces?

There were other crucial differences between British and French troops. The British rank and file were mainly volunteers who had enlisted for a period of time. The French filled their armies with conscripts: as each cohort reached 20, they were enlisted — although, when manpower became scarce, as in , levies of younger men were imposed.

It was for this reason that Wellington was to distribute experienced troops across the field, mixing up national contingents as well, in that the more seasoned forces could set an example to the others. How long did battles last? Early nineteenth-century battles might have a swift conclusion, or, like the Battle of Leipzig in October , go on for days.

Memoirs are clear that the forces that were lined up to fight on 18 June saw the battle as an inevitable conclusion to the engagements of the preceding days — and that they would continue to fight until their job was completed and victory achieved. Orders Under conditions of battle, the normal systems used by the British army was no longer appropriate.

The general commanding issued, through his Adjutant General, orders to regimental officers, who came each day to headquarters to receive them — and they were then read or relayed to the men of regiments as they assembled. The Quartermaster General was responsible for issuing orders for the movement of troops — although during the press of battle, orders would come direct from the commanders.

We have very few orders actually written on the field of battle: one, by Wellington, relates to Hougoumont and is typical of the way in which he did this.

Battle Of Waterloo Facts

In the circumstances of battle, he wrote, in pencil, on small squares of parchment — which might then be carried by his aides-de-camp or others with sufficient authority to commanders. Other orders must have been given verbally. The Earl of Uxbridge will be pleased to collect the cavalry right upon Ninhove [Ninove], leaving the 2nd Hussars looking out between the Scheldt and the Lys. The 3rd division to collect this night at Braine le Comte and to be in readiness to move at the shortest notice.

The 4th division to be collected this night at Granmont with the exception of the troops beyond the Scheldt which are to be moved to Audenarde [Oudenaarde]. The Hanoverian brigade of the 5th division to collect this night at Hal [Halle] and to be in readiness at daylight tomorrow morning to move towards Bruxelles and to halt on the high road between Alost and Assche [Asse] for further orders.

The Prince of Orange is requested to collect at Nivelles the 2nd and 3rd divisions of the army of the Low Countries and should that point have been attacked this day to move the 3rd division of British infantry upon Nivelles as soon as alerted. Lord Hill will be so good as to order Prince Frederick of Orange to occupy Audenarde with men and to collect the 1st division of the army of the Low Countries and the Indian brigade at Sottenghem [Zottegem] so as to be ready to march in the morning at daylight.

All acquainted with military operations are aware that the initiative of the operations between two armies en presence [facing each other] is a great advantage, of which each party would endeavour to avail himself.


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We the allies in the Netherlands and on the Meuse in were necessarily on the defensive! We were waiting for the junction and co-operation of other large armies to attain our object.

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BBC - History - British History in depth: Waterloo: The Three Commanders

In a treaty of alliance signed on March 25, Great Britain , Prussia , Austria , and Russia each vowed to maintain , men in the field until Napoleon had been overthrown. Shortly thereafter it was decided that the allied armies, comprising a total of about , troops, should assemble along the French frontier and march on Paris by convergent routes. The time needed for the Russians to reach the Rhine would delay the invasion until early July, and that allowed Napoleon the opportunity to organize his defenses. Napoleon could command over , first-line troops, but he was forced to relegate many of them to border defense.

To address that shortfall, he quickly set about raising troops for an early campaign. All undischarged soldiers were summoned to arms, and in eight weeks 80, men were added to the army.

Prelude to the Battle of Waterloo

At the beginning of June—too late for use in the Waterloo campaign—the conscription class of was ordered to mustering points, and Napoleon hoped to have more than , men under arms before autumn. The allied campaign against Napoleon began in earnest in early June, but the armies that had assembled in Belgium were of dubious quality. Here's how Napoleon fed his army. The allied forces consisted of British, German, Belgian, Dutch, and Prussian troops, who were divided up into various detachments on the border between France and present-day Germany.

The British commander, the Duke of Wellington, patiently decided to wait for the enemy to attack rather than force their hand.

Napoleon’s return and the allied response

Napoleon himself, brimming with confidence, was planning for a decisive victory. On June 17, heavy rains soaked the ground and the French soldiers. The wet fields and muddy roads became a swampy mess.

As dawn broke on June 18, Wellington and Napoleon organized their forces. Wellington set up his headquarters in Mont-Saint-Jean on the road from Brussels, not far from the town of Waterloo. He had deployed the bulk of his 68, troops along a two-and-a-half-mile-long ridge. The emperor was convinced that victory was within his grasp and that it would be quick and easy. The conditions forced him to delay his attack until late morning.


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Some historians believe that had it not rained, Napoleon would have defeated the allied army within a few hours, long before the Prussians arrived. In the end, the battle began sometime after eleven in the morning.

Battle of Waterloo

Always on the offensive, the French focused their forces on two key points on the front: The two farms that the allies had fortified, Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. Cavalry charges struck terror into the forward allied marksmen, while superior French artillery pounded the Anglo-Dutch formations throughout the day. None of the French attacks, however, achieved the aim of breaching the front. The allied infantry, in particular the British, showed determined resilience in facing the French onslaught. Some formations suffered unprecedented losses, such as the Inniskilling Regiment, which lost two-thirds of its men in 45 minutes.

Even so, the strain was becoming intolerable. It was at around 4 p. But the danger for Wellington was not over yet. The La Haye Sainte farmhouse fell to the French at around 6 p.

Napoleon’s return and the allied response

An hour later, the allied forces faced the terrifying charge from the Imperial Guard, the force Napoleon always reserved to decide battles. They, the emperor thought, would break the allies. But he had miscalculated. He had already sent several regiments of his Imperial Guard to fight the Prussians.