Battle of Waterloo and Napoleon last days as an Emperor. The paper briefly touches upon the war strategies of both sides and explains why Bonaparte encountered a crushing defeat at Waterloo.
BATTLE OF WATERLOO, 1815
Battle of Waterloo fought in Brussels marked the end of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's illustrious military career. The Battle of Waterloo was fought on a very small area with relatively smaller armies and less military equipment, yet it occupies an extremely important place in history because of its impact and the number of deaths that occurred on this battlefield. Napoleon may have been severely disliked by other European powers, but the man enjoyed a great position of power in his own country and was seen as a true liberator of sorts. While his career was marked with frequent battles that began with French Revolution in late 1790s and war with European nations in 1803, he was still seen as the man of tremendous courage and power. This was the reason why French public welcomed him back with open arms after he escaped from island of Elba where he had been living in exile.
BBC provides a very brief yet interesting introduction to Battle of Waterloo on its history website. It states, "The Battle of Waterloo was fought thirteen kilometers south of Brussels between the French, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington from Britain and General Blucher from Prussia. The French defeat at Waterloo drew to a close 23 years of war beginning with the French Revolutionary wars in 1792 and continuing with the Napoleonic Wars from 1803. There was a brief eleven-month respite when Napoleon was forced to abdicate, exiled to the island of Elba. However, the unpopularity of Louis XVIII and the economic and social instability of France motivated him to return to Paris in March 1815. The Allies soon declared war once again. Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo marked the end of the Emperor's final bid for power, the so-called '100 Days', and the final chapter in his remarkable career." (See reference 1)
It is extremely important to know something about the background of Battle of Waterloo before we discuss the battle itself. France was in the grips of bloody conflicts during late 18th and early 19th centuries. People wanted republican rule and with Napoleon Bonaparte coming to power, it was felt that monarchy and elite rule would finally come to an end. This however was a short-lived dream as Napoleon quickly declared himself emperor for life once he was able to expand his power base. Though his rule wasn't exactly termed tyrannical by the French public itself, he was seen as a major threat by European powers including Austrians, Dutch, Prussians and English who decided to bring an end to his rule by restoring monarchy in France. Their various attempts failed to produce much positive result. However in October 1813, Napoleon was forced to encounter an allied army of eastern powers with 320,000 troops outside Leipzig. This was the decisive conflict, which tore French army to pieces, and Bonaparte was forced to go in exile on island of Elba. But because of his adventure craving spirit, he couldn't stay on the island for more than a year and escaped in March 1815. He entered Paris with a small army of 1200 men and was able to displaced King Louis XVIII since the latter had little or no support in France. Napoleon became the new emperor again and the public quickly accepted him as their eternal leader.
Eva March Tappan writes, "The determination of Louis XVIII and the Royalists to put everything back where it was before the Revolution aroused great dissatisfaction. Many began to long for the return of Napoleon. In March 1815, their wish came to pass, for Napoleon landed on the shores of France. He had only a few followers, but as he pushed on to Paris, his old soldiers hurried forward to join him. His whole journey was one glowing welcome."
But Napoleon Bonaparte or French public for that matter couldn't possibly remain in that blissful state for long as the Allied powers decided to merge their forces to bring an end to Bonaparte's rule once and for all. The two allied armies namely Prussian and Anglo-Dutch with 150,000 troops decided to converge at Belgian-French border and an invasion plan was developed. On March 17, 1815, all allied nations signed an agreement whereby they decided to unite their forces against French emperor Bonaparte. The news of this agreement reached Napoleon who started mobilizing his men and within two short months developed a well-trained army of 360,000 troops. In June 1815, he moved with complete secrecy towards Belgian-French border with half the army while the rest was posted at various strategic locations within France. This was to become the greatest blunder of Bonaparte as the battle never really entered France and with only 124,000 men, Napoleon quickly lost to determined allied powers. Though his strategy wasn't exactly a poor one, it failed to achieve a breakthrough as it did in many previous conflicts. Napoleon decided to attack the larger army of Prussians with 116,000 troops first because he knew he couldn't possibly face both armies together.
Encarta encyclopedia article on Battle of Waterloo sheds light on the war strategies of Napoleon during the early days of this battle, "On June 15, 1815, Napoleon moved across the border of Belgium, and his sudden arrival caught the allied command unprepared. After crossing the Sambre River, the French routed a Prussian advance guard at Charleroi. Napoleon then ordered his left wing, under Marshal Michel Ney, to attack a brigade of Wellington's cavalry at Quatre-Bras, 19 km (12 mi) north of Charleroi. He next ordered the right wing, under General Emmanuel de Grouchy, to move eastward against a Prussian brigade stationed in the town of Gilly. By late afternoon on June 15, Grouchy had completed his mission and pressed forward to a point near the village of Fleurus, where a corps of Blucher's men was concentrated. By nightfall on that first day of fighting, Napoleon's armies held the strategic advantage. The emperor had succeeded in placing his army between the advance elements of the armies of both Wellington and Blucher, and his main force was in a position to swing either left against the Anglo-Dutch army or right to engage the Prussian forces." (See reference 3)
The prominent military leaders to participated in this battle were General Wellington of Anglo-Dutch army, General Blucher of Prussian army, Marshal Michel Ney and General Grouchy of French army and of course Napoleon Bonaparte himself. These people played an extremely important role in determining the ultimate outcome of this battle and thus brining an end to Bonapartism in France. While the two enemy Generals obviously did everything in their power to destroy Napoleon armies, it was the two French soldiers Ney and Grouchy whose mistakes, delays and inefficiency contributed heavily towards the final outcome of the war. This is because Ney and Grouchy, despite repeated orders from Napoleon, failed to locate the Prussian army on its way to Quatre-Bras where it was to join the Anglo-Dutch army. Though initially Napoleon was able to force Prussian army to retreat at Ligny, yet it failed to completely destroy it. Ney was repeatedly asked to send extra troops to reinforce Napoleon troops at the border, yet it took the former a long time to act on this order. Several other blunders and delays of this kind, ultimately resulted in heavy defeat when Prussian army joined Wellington's forces and together they launched an attack against the French army. This resulted in complete destruction of the latter and served a final blow to poorly managed Napoleon forces. French lost 25,000 to…