"Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo
It is late in the evening of 18th June, 1815. The scene is a coaching inn on the road between Charleroi and Brussels in what is now Belgium. For 100 yards either side of the road men are strewn, dead or dying. These are Napoleon's elite Imperial Guard, three battalions of which had retreated towards the inn at the end of the battle. With the rest of the Armee du Nord streaming past him, Napoleon had taken personal command. Yet before long even these grizzled veterans had joined the rout. Now he too has left the field, fated to head for Paris, captivity, exile and an early death.
Night has fallen on one of the continent's most cataclysmic battles. At the inn, the two exhausted but victorious allied commanders meet for the first time that day. Their close co-operation has ensured the final defeat of Napoleonic France and will put an end to 23 years of almost constant warfare across the continent. Appropriately, the inn is called "La Belle Alliance”.
Waterloo is the most famous battle in modern history if not all of history, and appropriately so. Gathering an army of 100,000 men, Napoleon marched into what is now Belgium, intent on driving his force between the advancing British army under the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian forces under Marshal Blucher. It was the kind of daring strategy that only Napoleon could pull off, as he had at places like Jena and Austerlitz.
At Waterloo, however, it would end disastrously, as Napoleon's armies were unable to dislodge Wellington and unable to keep the Prussians from linking up with the British. The battle would end with the French suffering nearly 60% casualties, the end of Napoleon's reign, and the restructuring of the European map. Simply put, the next 200 years of European history can be traced back to the result of the battle that day in 1815.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors