The Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Wavre and the Aftermath of Waterloo
Waterloo was not the only battle to take place on the 18th June. Whilst Wellington, Napoleon and Blucher were grappling with one another at Mont St Jean, Gouchy’s troops were engaging with the Prussian rear-guard under Thielman at Wavre.
Thielman had just 15,000 men and 35 guns with which to hold off Grouchy’s 33,000 men and 96 guns, but crucially he was able to use the River Lasne as a defensive line. With skirmishing beginning at 3pm, reckless French attacks focusing on the Bierges Mill were easily beaten.
Eventually a flanking force was able to cross the river at Limal, where they pushed back a much smaller Prussian force. Although Grouchy tried to rush troops from Limal to Bierges, little could be achieved by nightfall, though fighting continued until 11:00pm.
Overnight, the Prussians heard of Waterloo, and expected the French to withdraw, causing Thielman to launch an attack at 4:00am on 19th. Although the French were surprised by this, since news of Waterloo had not reached them, they beat off the Prussian assault, and, when Grouchy heard of the result at Waterloo at 10:30 am, he began withdrawing his force.
The Bridge at the Bierges Mill
Napoleon meanwhile, had rushed south to Genappes on the evening of the 18th June, hoping that he would be able to rally his army there. Quickly realising that the situation was hopeless, he recalled Grouchy and hurried back to Paris, hoping to be able to rally the country behind him, and hold off the advancing British, Dutch and Prussian forces by regrouping his shattered army in Northern France. This was not wishful thinking, as, including the remnants of his broken army, he had 117,000 men who he could draw upon at relatively short notice, whilst a further 150,000 conscripts were under training.
It swiftly became clear though, when he arrived in Paris, that the country had little appetite to fight on. The Senate and Chamber of Deputies of the French government united in opposing the Emperor’s plans, with some even calling for his abdication. Napoleon’s brother urged that all was not lost if he ‘dared to believe’. After briefly contemplating using the army to disband the government, Napoleon accepted defeat, declaring that he had ‘dared only too much already’, abdicating on 23rd June.
In the weeks that followed he fled Paris to avoid the vengeful Prussians, making his way to the Atlantic coast where he hoped to sail to America. However, Royal Navy ships blockading France’s Atlantic ports made this impossible, and he therefore surrendered himself to the Captain of the HMS Bellerophon, hoping to take refuge in Britain.
Napoleon never landed in Britain. The British government dared not allow him onto dry land, and his requests to the Prince Regent were therefore declined. He was sent into exile on St Helena, where he died of a perforated stomach, made worse by acute stomach cancer, in 1821.
Interested in Learning More?
Rory Muir, Wellington: Waterloo and the Fortunes of Peace (Yale: Yale University Press, 2015)
Charles Esdaile, Napoleon, France and Waterloo: The Eagle Rejected (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2016)
Russ Foster, Wellington and Waterloo: The Duke, The Battle and Posterity (Stroud: Gloucestershire, 2014)