« AnteriorContinuar »
which they wore for his father, and which they continue to wear for the gallant prince who then led them.* Those whose fate it was to see so many brave men take their departure on this eventful day, "gay in the morning as for summer sport," will not easily forget the sensations which the spectacle excited at the moment, and which were rendered permanent by the slaughter that awaited them.† Fears for their own safety mingled with anxiety for their brave defenders, and the agony of suspense sustained by those who remained in Brussels to await the issue of the day, was related to me in the most lively manner by those whose lot it was to sustain such varied emotions. It has been excellently described in a small work, entitled "Circumstantial Details of the Battle of Waterloo," which equals, in interest and authenticity, the "Account of the Battle of Leipsic by an Eyewitness,' which we perused last year with such eager avidity.
The anxiety of the inhabitants of Brussels was increased by the frightful reports of the intended vengeance of Napoleon. It was firmly believed that he had promised to his soldiers unlimited plunder of this beautiful city, if they should be able to force their way to it. Yet, even under such apprehensions, the bulk of the population showed no inclination to purchase mercy by submitting to the invader, and there is every reason to believe, that the friends whom he had in the city were few and of little influence. Reports, however, of treachery were in circulation, and tended to augment the horrors of this agonizing period. It is said there was afterwards found, in Bonaparte's portfolio, a list, containing the names of twenty citizens, who, as friends of France, were to be exempted from the general pillage. I saw also a superb house in the Place Royale of Brussels, employed as a military hospital, which I was told belonged to a man of rank, who, during the battle of the 18th, believing the victory must rest with Bonaparte, had taken the ill-advised step of joining the
[The father of the Duke of Brunswick who fell at Quatre Bras, was commander-inchief of the Prussian forces at Jena, where he received his mortal wound, 14th October, 1806.)
"The unreturning brave-alas ! Ere evening to be trodden like the grass
Which now beneath them, but above shall grow
In its next verdure, when this fiery mass
Of living valour, rolling on the foe,
And burning with high hope, shall moulder cold and low.
"Last noon beheld them full of lusty life,
Last eve in Beauty's circle proudly gay,
The thunder-clouds close o'er it, which when rent,
Published by Booth and Egerton, London.
French army. But whatever might be the case with some individuals, by far the majority of the inhabitants of every class regarded the success of the French as the most dreadful misfortune which could befall their city, and listened to the distant cannonade, as to sounds upon which the crisis of their fate depended. They were doomed to remain long in uncertainty; for a struggle, on which the fate of Europe hung, was not to be decided in a single day.
Upon the 16th, as I have already mentioned, the left wing of the French, under General Ney, commenced its march for Brussels by the road of Gosselies. At Frasnes they encountered and drove before them some Belgian troops who were stationed in that village. But the gallant Prince of Orange, worthy of his name, of his education under Wellington, and of the rank which he is likely to hold in Europe, was now advancing to the support of his advanced posts, and reinforced them so as to keep the enemy in check.
It was of the utmost importance to maintain the position which was now occupied by the Belgians, being an alignement between the villages of Sart à Mouline and Quatre Bras. The latter farm-house, or village, derives its name from being the point where the highway from Charleroi to Brussels is intersected by another road at nearly right angles. These roads were both essential to the allies; by the high-road they communicated with Brussels, and by that which intersected it with the right of the Prussian army stationed at St Amand. A large and thick wood called Le Bois du Bossu, skirted the road to Brussels on the right hand of the English position; along the edge of that wood was a hollow way, which might almost be called a ravine; and between the wood and the French position were several fields of rye, which grows in Flanders to an unusual and gigantic height.
In this situation, it became the principal object of the French to secure the wood, from which they might debouche upon the Brussels road. The Prince of Orange made every effort to defend it; but, in spite of his exertions, the Belgians gave way, and the French occupied the disputed post. At this critical moment, the division of Picton, the corps of the Duke of Brunswick, and shortly after the division of the guards from Enghien came up, and entered into action. "What soldiers are those in the wood ?" said the Duke of Wellington to the Prince of Orange. "Belgians," answered the Prince, who had not yet learned the retreat of his troops from this important point. "Belgians," said the Duke, whose eagle eye instantly discerned what had happened, "they are French, and about to debouche on the road; they must instantly be driven out of the wood." This task was committed to General Maitland, with the grenadiers of the Guards, who, after sustaining a destructive fire from an invisible enemy, rushed into the wood with the most determined resolution. The French, who
were hitherto supposed unrivalled in this species of warfare, made every tree, every bush, every ditch, but more especially a small rivulet which ran through the wood, posts 'of determined and deadly defence, but were pushed from one point to another until they were fairly driven out of the position. Then followed a struggle of a new and singular kind, and which was maintained for a length of time. As often as the British endeavoured to advance from the skirts of the wood, in order to form in front of it, they were charged by the cavalry of the enemy, and compelled to retire. The French then advanced their columns again to force their way into the wood, but were in their turn forced to desist by the heavy fire and threatened charge of the British. And thus there was an alternation of advance and retreat, with very great slaughter on both sides, until, after a conflict of three hours, General Maitland retained undisputed possession of this important post, which commanded the road to Brussels.
Meantime the battle was equally fierce on every other point. Picton's brigade, comprehending the Scotch Royals, 92d, 42d, and 44th regiments, was stationed near the farm-house of Quatre Bras, and was the object of a most destructive fire, rendered more murderous by the French having the advantage of the rising ground; while our soldiers, sunk to the shoulders among the tall rye, could not return the volleys with the same precision of aim. They were next exposed to a desperate charge of the French heavy cavalry, which was resisted by each regiment throwing itself separately into a solid square. But the approach of the enemy being partly concealed from the British by the nature of the ground, and the height of the rye, the 42d regiment was unable to form a square in the necessary time. Two companies, which were left out of the formation, were swept off and cut to pieces by the cavalry. Their veteran colonel, Macara, was amongst those who fell. The adjutant of the regiment, the last (as was his duty) to retreat within the square, was involved in the charge of the lancers, and only escaped by throwing himself from his horse, and thus rejoining the regiment, which had for some minutes seen him in the utmost peril of death, without the possibility of assisting him. Some of the men stood back to back, and maintained an unyielding and desperate conflict with the horsemen who surrounded them, until they were at length cut down. Nothing could be more galling for their comrades than to witness their slaughter, without having the power of giving them assistance. But they adopted the old Highland maxim, "To-day for revenge, and to-morrow for mourning," and received the cuirassiers with so dreadful and murderous a fire, as compelled them to wheel about. These horsemen, however, displayed the most undaunted resolution. After being beaten off in one point, they made a desperate charge down the causeway leading to Brussels,
with the purpose of carrying two guns, by which it was defended. But at the moment they approached the guns, a fire of grape-shot was opened upon them; and, at the same time, a body of Highlanders, posted behind the farm-house, flanking their advance, threw in so heavy a discharge of musketry, that the regiment was in an instant nearly annihilated.
The result of these various attacks was, that the French retreated with great loss, and in great confusion; and many of the fugitives fled as far as Charleroi, spreading the news that the British were in close pursuit. But pursuit was impracticable, for the English cavalry had so far to march, that when they arrived upon the ground night was approaching, and it was impossible for them to be of service. Ney therefore re-established himself in his original position at Frasnes, and the combat died away with nightfall. The British had then leisure to contemplate the results of the day. Several regiments were reduced to skeletons by the number of killed and wounded. Many valuable officers had fallen. Among these were distinguished the gallant Duke of Brunswick,* who in degenerate times had remained an unshaken model of ancient German valour and constancy. Colonel Cameron, so often distinguished in Lord Wellington's despatches from Spain, fell while leading the 92d to charge a body of cavalry, supported by infantry.† Many other regretted names were read on the bloody list. But if it was a day of sorrow, it was one of triumph also.
It is true, that no immediate and decisive advantage resulted from this engagement, farther than as for the present it defeated Napoleon's plan of advancing on Brussels. But it did not fail to inspire the troops engaged with confidence and hope. If, when collected from different quarters, after a toilsome march, and in numbers one half inferior to those of the enemy, they had been able to resist his utmost efforts, what had they not to hope when their forces were concentrated, and when their artillery and cavalry, the want of which had been so se
*["The Duke of Brunswick received the mortal shot when in the act of lighting a fresh cigar at the pipe of one of his dragoons! In how unheroic an attitude may one meet an heroic death!"-MS. Journal.]
verely felt during the whole of that bloody day, should be brought up into line? Meanwhile they enjoyed the most decided proof of victory, for the British army bivouacked upon the ground which had been occupied by the French during the battle, with the strongest hope that the conflict would be renewed in the morning with the most decisive success. This, however, depended upon the news they should hear from Fleurus, where a furious cannonade had been heard during the whole day, announcing a general action between Napoleon and Prince Marshal Blucher. Even the Duke of Wellington was long ere he learned the result of this engagement, by which his own ulterior measures necessarily must be regulated. The Prussian officer sent to acquaint him with the intelligence had been made prisoner by the French light troops; and when the news arrived, they bore such a cloudy aspect as altogether destroyed the agreeable hopes which the success at Quatre Bras had induced the army to entertain.
But pledged as I am to give you detailed account of this brief campaign, I must reserve the battle of Ligny to another occasion. Meanwhile, I am ever sincerely yours, PAUL.
PAUL TO THE MAJOR-IN CONTINUATION.
BATTLE OF LIGNY.
Bonaparte's Plan for attacking Blucher-Blucher's Position-Number of Troops on both Sides-Mutual hostility of the Prussians and the French-The two Armies join Battle-Vicissitudes of the Contest-Storming of St Amand-Taking of Ligny-Charge of the Imperial Guards-Charge of the French Cavalry-Blucher's Horse shot-Repulse of the French Cavalry-Prussians retreat-Concentration of the Prussian Army at Wavre-Loss of the Prussians-British Army retreats -Bonaparte resolves to turn his whole Force against the British-Retreat of the British-Pursuit of the French-Bad state of the roads-French Cavalry checked in two attacks-British Army retire upon Waterloo-Headquarters of the Duke of Wellington-Headquarters of Bonaparte-Storminess of the Night-Melancholy Reflections of the British-Triumphant Confidence of the French-Remarks on Bonaparte's Plan of Attack.
WHEN Bonaparte moved with his centre and right wing against Blucher, he certainly conceived that he left to Ney a more easy task than his own; and that the Maréchal would find no difficulty in pushing his way to Brussels, or, near it, before the English army could be concentrated in sufficient force to oppose him. To himself he reserved the task of coping with Blucher, and by his overthrow cutting