Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field

Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field

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Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field

Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field

Marshal Grouchy was one of the most controversial figures of the Waterloo campaign. For many of Napoleon’s supporters, his failure to ‘advance towards the guns’ on the day of Waterloo played a major part in Napoleon’s defeat, while for others the Emperor has to take the blame for giving Grouchy unrealistic orders.

There are two different parts to this book. In the first Grouchy was operating directly under Napoleon’s command, first in the advance into Belgium and then at Napoleon’s last victory, the battle of Ligny. The second comes when Grouchy was given a semi-independent command against the Prussians, leading to the battle of Wavre. This second part of the campaign has always been controversial, with Napoleon and his many supporters attempting to pass most of the blame for the French defeat onto Grouchy. In this version of events he was either to blame for not pressing the Prussians firmly enough, thus allowing them to march to Waterloo, or for not marching towards the sound of the guns from Waterloo, thus denying Napoleon the use of his troops at the crucial moment.

Field generally splits his own work into two sections. The first, and by far the longest, is the detailed narrative of the fighting, supported by a wide range of eyewitness accounts from both sides. The second is the analysis of the campaign and the various controversies, which is concentrated within the final chapter. Key issues relating to the controversies are examined in their correct place in the narrative - in particular the issue of what orders Grouchy received from Napoleon and when - but the main discussion of their impact on the campaign comes at the end. I find this approach very effective, allowing the reader to focus on the narrative without too many long digressions into post-war controversies.

There is a detailed narrative of the key day between the battles, when the decisions that led to Napoleon’s defeat were mainly taken. This day is often skipped over quite quickly, so it’s nice to have a proper look at it here.

Field is refreshingly unwilling to assign blame. Instead he analyses the various post war controversies, and generally comes to the conclusion that most officers served loyally, and did their best with the information and resources at their disposal. Soult does come in for some criticism for the poor level of detail in his dispatches after Quatre-Bras, while most of the senior commanders, including Napoleon, are criticised for their failure to carry out proper reconnaissance between the battles.

This is an interesting approach to this part of the Waterloo campaign. The focus on Grouchy’s actions in both of his battles gives us a clearer idea of how he behaved that if the focus had purely been on Wavre, and we end up with a picture of a capable officer who was perhaps slightly out of his depth in semi-independent command.

1 - Preliminaries
2 - 14 June
3 - Morning, 15 June
4 - Afternoon, 15 June
5 - The Night of 15/16 June
6 - Morning, 16 June
7 - Prelude to Ligny
8 - The Battle of Ligny
9 - The Night of 16/17 June
10 - Morning, 17 June
11 - Afternoon, 17 June
12 - The Night of 17/18 June
13 - Morning, 18 June
14 - Afternoon, 18 June: The Battle of Wavre
15 - The Night of 18/19 June
16 - Morning, 19 June
17 - Analysis and Conclusion

Author: Andrew W. Field
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017

Grouchy's Waterloo

In this the third volume of his four-volume history exploring the French perspective of the Waterloo campaign, Andrew Field concentrates on an often neglected aspect of Napoleon's final offensive the French victory over the Prussians at Ligny, Marshal Grouchy's pursuit of the Prussians and the battle at Wavre. The story of this side of the campaign is as full of controversy and interest as the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which he has examined in such a penetrating and original way in his previous studies.

Ligny was not the decisive battle Napoleon hoped it would be. Grouchy's pursuit the morning after the battle was misdirected, and famously he failed to march to the sound of the guns of Waterloo and prevent the decisive intervention of the Prussians. Yet then, on hearing the news of the disaster, he safely extracted his army.

Napoleon in his memoirs accused Grouchy, like Marshal Ney, of a series of failures in command that led to the French defeat, and many subsequent historians have taken the same line. This is one of the long-standing controversies that Andrew Field explores in fascinating detail. Grouchy's extensive description of his operations forms the backbone of the narrative, supplemented by other French sources and those of Prussian eyewitnesses.

As Andrew Field picks his way through the conflicting testimony he gives us a valuable new insight into the French view of their defeat and the bitter controversy that followed.

Grouchy’s Waterloo, Andrew Field

In this the third volume of his four-volume history exploring the French perspective of the Waterloo campaign, Andrew Field concentrates on an often neglected aspect of Napoleon’s final offensive the French victory over the Prussians at Ligny, Marshal Grouchy’s pursuit of the Prussians and the battle at Wavre. The story of this side of the campaign is as full of controversy and interest as the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which he has examined in such a penetrating and original way in his previous studies.

Ligny was not the decisive battle Napoleon hoped it would be. Grouchy’s pursuit the morning after the battle was misdirected, and famously he failed to march to the sound of the guns of Waterloo and prevent the decisive intervention of the Prussians. Yet then, on hearing the news of the disaster, he safely extracted his army.

Napoleon in his memoirs accused Grouchy, like Marshal Ney, of a series of failures in command that led to the French defeat, and many subsequent historians have taken the same line. This is one of the long-standing controversies that Andrew Field explores in fascinating detail. Grouchy’s extensive description of his operations forms the backbone of the narrative, supplemented by other French sources and those of Prussian eyewitnesses.

As Andrew Field picks his way through the conflicting testimony he gives us a valuable new insight into the French view of their defeat and the bitter controversy that followed.

In this the third volume of his four-volume history exploring the French perspective of the Waterloo campaign, Andrew Field concentrates on an often neglected aspect of Napoleon's final offensive - the French victory over the Prussians at Ligny, Marshal Grouchy's pursuit of the Prussians and the battle at Wavre. The story of this side of the campaign is as full of controversy and interest as the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which he has examined in such a penetrating and original way in his previous studies.

Napoleon in his memoirs accused Grouchy, like Marshal Ney, of a series of failures in command that led to the French defeat, and many subsequent historians have taken the same line. This is one of the long-standing controversies that Andrew Field explores in fascinating detail. Grouchy's extensive description of his operations forms the backbone of the narrative, supplemented by other French sources and those of Prussian eyewitnesses.
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Grouchy's Waterloo By Andrew W. Field

Marshal Ney, ('The bravest of the brave', Prince of Moscow, Le Rougeaud) was a singularly unlucky man. In 1813, he had the chance to fall upon the Allied rear at Bautzen. If he had, history might have been changed. In 1815 he was again responsible for letting an Allied army, the Prussians, off the hook at Ligny. He was also the only Marshal to be shot for treason for joining Napoleon in 1815. Ney ordered d'Erlon's corps back to Quatre Bras just as it was about to fall on the wavering Prussian right flank at Ligny. If d'Erlon was able to attack the Prussians, it may have sent their army fleeing. Instead, the Prussians were able to retreat in a more orderly fashion.

Napoleon blamed Ney and the newly created Marshal Grouchy for his loss at Waterloo, and so have many historians. This book follows Marshal Grouchy through the battle of Ligny under Napoleon's watchful eye, and the battle of Wavre where he was left to his own devices. The reason I mention Ney is that his blunder had a tremendous effect on Grouchy's subsequent orders and mission. Napoleon's 1815 campaign was full of what ifs. He was able to drive a wedge between the the Anglo-Allied army and the Prussian one. Then he defeated the Prussians at Ligny on June 16th 1815, only to lose at Waterloo on June 18th. Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo was mainly caused by the Prussians being beaten at Ligny, but not routed. This is where the part of Grouchy in this history becomes so important. Grouchy was ordered to follow the Prussians and keep his sword in their back.

The author, Mr. Field, has published three books (with a fourth on the way) on the 1815 campaign from the French perspective. They are:

Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras
Waterloo: The French Perspective
Grouchy's Waterloo (this book)

This is the third in the series. The author gives us an excellent account of the two battles of Ligny and Wavre. If that was all a book on the subject had to do, it would probably would have been a much easier task for the author. Unfortunately for him, this campaign has been written about probably more than any other campaign in history. The arguments over this campaign and its battles and personalities have raged over the last two hundred years. The list of should, could, and would haves are almost endless.

As mentioned, Ney and Grouchy are the favorite punching bags of historians and armchair generals. As the author shows, the questions about Grouchy start even before the campaign in Belgium began. Many, even at the time, questioned Grouchy's elevation to the Marshalate. We have, or at least we believe we have, all of Napoleon's orders to Grouchy. The book clearly shows them and what it entailed because of them.

The author shows that Grouchy did exactly as he was told per his orders, nothing more or less. The point of conjecture here is what Napoleon ordered compared to what Soult, his then chief of staff, sent. Soult, although a fine general, was no Berthier. Why do accounts show Napoleon expecting Grouchy to show up on his right? Why did so many French officers on the right believe they were there to make contact with Grouchy? Was it all just wishful thinking? To me, the most telling part of what was expected of Grouchy is in the absence of a negative response from Napoleon, chastising Grouchy when troops showed up on his right at Waterloo. In the beginning, no one could tell if they were Prussians or French soldiers.

As the author shows, the 'Grande Armee' of 1815 had nowhere near the mettle of the armies during the year1805 and others. Its morale was actually brittle.

Mr. Field contends that you cannot judge the orders and actions of officers of the 19th century with 21st century thinking. He asserts that in 1815 there was no leeway in orders. I am not wholly convinced by his arguments that this was unilaterally true. Napoleon's and Jomini's writings suggest otherwise to me. However, this might me be their own Monday morning quarterbacking. It is quite possible that Napoleon's undoing was his inability to clone himself when armies and battles grew larger.

This book, when taken by itself, is a great addition to the history of the campaign. When looked at in conjunction as the third volume of four on the campaign, these books are a treasure trove of information from the French perspective.

I for one believe the 1815 campaign was decided, along with Napoleon's fate, when Marshal Berthier refused to rejoin Napoleon. If Marshal Berthier was chief of staff most, if not all, of the errors on the French side would never have been committed.



Napoleon returned from his exile on the island of Elba on 1 March 1815, King Louis XVIII fled Paris on 19 March, and Napoleon entered Paris the next day. Meanwhile, far from recognising him as Emperor of the French, the Great Powers of Europe (Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) and their allies, who were assembled at the Congress of Vienna, declared Napoleon an outlaw, [2] and with the signing of this declaration on 13 March 1815, so began the War of the Seventh Coalition. The hopes of peace that Napoleon had entertained were gone – war was now inevitable.

A further treaty (the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon) was ratified on 25 March in which each of the Great European Powers agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the coming conflict. [3] Such a number was not possible for Great Britain, as her standing army was smaller than the three of her peers. [4] Besides, her forces were scattered around the globe, with many units still in Canada, where the War of 1812 had recently ceased. [5] With this in mind she made up her numerical deficiencies by paying subsidies to the other Powers and to the other states of Europe that would contribute contingents. [4]

Some time after the allies began mobilising, it was agreed that the planned invasion of France was to commence on 1 July 1815, [6] much later than both Blücher and Wellington would have liked as both their armies were ready in June, ahead of the Austrians and Russians the latter were still some distance away. [7] The advantage of this later invasion date was that it allowed all the invading Coalition armies a chance to be ready at the same time. Thus they could deploy their combined numerically superior forces against Napoleon's smaller, thinly spread forces, thus ensuring his defeat and avoiding a possible defeat within the borders of France. Yet this postponed invasion date allowed Napoleon more time to strengthen his forces and defences, which would make defeating him harder and more costly in lives, time and money.

Napoleon now had to decide whether to fight a defensive or offensive campaign. [8] Defence would entail repeating the 1814 campaign in France but with much larger numbers of troops at his disposal. France's chief cities, Paris and Lyon, would be fortified and two great French armies, the larger before Paris and the smaller before Lyon, would protect them francs-tireurs would be encouraged, giving the Coalition armies their own taste of guerrilla warfare. [9]

Napoleon chose to attack, which entailed a pre-emptive strike at his enemies before they were all fully assembled and able to co-operate. By destroying some of the major Coalition armies, Napoleon believed he would then be able to bring the governments of the Seventh Coalition to the peace table [9] to discuss results favourable to himself, namely peace for France with himself remaining in power as its head. If peace were rejected by the allies despite any pre-emptive military success he might have achieved using the offensive military option available to him, then the war would continue and he could turn his attention to defeating the rest of the Coalition armies.

Napoleon's decision to attack in Belgium was supported by several considerations. First, he had learned that the British and Prussian armies were widely dispersed and might be defeated in detail. The other major coalition armies of Russia and Austria would not be able to reinforce the Prussians and British. This was because the Russian army was still moving across Europe and the Austrian army was still mobilising. [10] Also, the British troops in Belgium were largely second-line troops most of the veterans of the Peninsular War had been sent to America to fight the War of 1812. In addition, the army of the United Netherlands was reinforcing the British. These Dutch troops were ill-equipped and inexperienced. [11] And, politically, a French victory might trigger a pro-French revolution in French-speaking Belgium. [10]

French forces Edit

During the Hundred Days both the Coalition nations and Napoleon mobilised for war. Upon resumption of the throne, Napoleon found that he was left with little by Louis XVIII. There were 56,000 soldiers of which 46,000 were ready to campaign. [12] By the end of May the total armed forces available to Napoleon had reached 198,000 with 66,000 more in depots training but not yet ready for deployment. [13]

Napoleon placed some corps of his armed forces at various strategic locations as armies of observations. Napoleon split his forces into three main armies first, he placed an army in the south near the alps. This army was to stop Austrian advances in Italy. Second, there was an army on the French/Prussian border where he hoped to defeat any Prussians attacks. Last, the L'Armee du Nord was placed on the border with the United Netherlands to defeat the British, Dutch and Prussian forces if they dared to attack. (see Military mobilisation during the Hundred Days)Lamarque led the small Army of the West into La Vendée to quell a Royalist insurrection in that region. [14]

By the end of May Napoleon had formed L'Armée du Nord (the "Army of the North") which, led by himself, would participate in the Waterloo campaign and had deployed the corps of this army as follows: [14]

  • I Corps (D'Erlon) cantoned between Lille and Valenciennes.
  • II Corps (Reille) cantoned between Valenciennes and Avesnes.
  • III Corps (Vandamme) cantoned around Rocroi.
  • IV Corps (Gérard ) cantoned at Metz.
  • VI Corps (Lobau) cantoned at Laon.
  • I, II, III, and IV Reserve Cavalry Corps (Grouchy) cantoned at Guise. (Mortier) at Paris.

Once the campaign was underway Napoleon, on the evening of 15 June, would send Marshal Ney with the left wing of the army (I and II corps) to face Wellington at Quatre Bras. During the morning of 17 June Napoleon detached the right wing (III and IV corps) under Marshal Grouchy to pursue the retreating Prussians (who retreated to Wavre), while he led the reserves (Imperial Guard, VI Corps, and I, II, III, and IV Cavalry Corps) to rejoin Ney's detachment and pursue Wellington to Waterloo.

Coalition forces Edit

In the early days of June 1815, Wellington and Blücher's forces were disposed as follows: [15]

Wellington's Anglo-allied army of 93,000 with headquarters at Brussels were cantoned: [16]

  • I Corps (Prince of Orange), 30,200, headquarters Braine-le-Comte, disposed in the area Enghien-Genappe-Mons.
  • II Corps (Lord Hill), 27,300, headquarters Ath, distributed in the area Ath-Oudenarde-Ghent.
  • Reserve cavalry (Lord Uxbridge) 9,900, in the valley of the Dendre river, between Geraardsbergen and Ninove.
  • The reserve (under Wellington himself) 25,500, lay around Brussels.
  • The frontier in front (to the west) of Leuze to Binche was watched by Dutch light cavalry.

Blücher's Prussian army of 116,000 men, with headquarters at Namur, was distributed as follows: [17]

  • I Corps (Graf von Zieten), 30,800, cantoned along the Sambre, headquarters Charleroi, and covering the area Fontaine-l'Évêque-Fleurus-Moustier.
  • II Corps (Pirch I), [a] 31,000, headquarters at Namur, lay in the area Namur-Hannut-Huy.
  • III Corps (Thielemann), 23,900, in the bend of the river Meuse, headquarters Ciney, and disposed in the area Dinant-Huy-Ciney.
  • IV Corps (Bülow), 30,300, with headquarters at Liège and cantoned around it.

The frontier in front of Binche, Charleroi and Dinant was watched by the Prussian outposts. [17]

Thus the Coalition front extended for nearly 90 miles (140 km) across what is now Belgium, and the mean depth of their cantonments was 30 miles (48 km). To concentrate the whole army on either flank would take six days, and on the common centre, around Charleroi, three days. [17]

Napoleon moved the 128,000 strong Army of the North up to the Belgian frontier [18] in relative secrecy, and crossed the frontier at Thuin near Charleroi on 15 June 1815. The French drove in Coalition outposts and secured Napoleon's favoured "central position" – at the junction between Wellington's army to his north-west, and Blücher's Prussians to his north-east. Wellington had expected Napoleon to try to envelop the Coalition armies by moving through Mons and to the west of Brussels. [19] Wellington feared that such a move would cut his communications with the ports he relied on for supply. Napoleon encouraged this view with misinformation. [19] Wellington did not hear of the capture of Charleroi until 15:00, because a message from Wellington's intelligence chief, Colquhoun Grant, was delayed by General Dörnberg. Confirmation swiftly followed in another message from the Prince of Orange. Wellington ordered his army to concentrate around the divisional headquarters, but was still unsure whether the attack in Charleroi was a feint and the main assault would come through Mons. Wellington only determined Napoleon's intentions with certainty in the evening, and his orders for his army to muster near Nivelles and Quatre Bras were sent out just before midnight. [20]

The Prussian General Staff seem to have divined the French army's intent rather more accurately. [19] [21] The Prussians were not taken unawares. General Zieten noted the number of campfires as early as 13 June [22] and Blücher began to concentrate his forces.

Napoleon considered the Prussians the greater threat and so moved against them first with the right wing of the Army of the North and the Reserves. Graf von Zieten's I Corps rearguard action on 15 June held up Napoleon's advance, giving Blücher the opportunity to concentrate his forces in the Sombreffe position, which had been selected earlier for its good defensive attributes. [23] Napoleon placed Marshal Ney in command of the French left wing and ordered him to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras towards which Wellington was hastily gathering his dispersed army. Ney's scouts reached Quatre Bras that evening.

Quatre Bras Edit

Ney, advancing on 16 June, found Quatre Bras lightly held by Dutch troops of Wellington's army. Despite outnumbering the Anglo-allies heavily throughout the day, Ney fought a cautious and desultory battle which failed to capture the crossroads. By the middle of the afternoon Wellington had taken personal command of the Anglo-allied forces at Quatre Bras. The position was reinforced steadily throughout the day as Anglo-allied troops converged on the crossroads. The battle ended in a tactical draw. The next day the Allies ceded the field at Quatre Bras to consolidate their forces on more favourable ground to the north along the road to Brussels as a prelude to the Battle of Waterloo. [24]

Ligny Edit

Napoleon, meanwhile, used the right wing of his army and the reserve to defeat the Prussians, under the command of General Blücher, at the Battle of Ligny on the same day. The Prussian centre gave way under heavy French attack but the flanks held their ground. [25] Several heavy Prussian cavalry charges proved enough to discourage French pursuit. Indeed, they would not pursue the Prussians until the morning of 18 June. D'Erlon's I Corps wandered between both battles contributing to neither Quatre Bras nor to Ligny. Napoleon wrote to Ney warning him that allowing D'Erlon to wander so far away had crippled his attacks on Quatre Bras. However, he made no move to recall D'Erlon when he could easily have done so. The tone of his orders shows that he believed he had things well in hand at Ligny without assistance (as in fact he had). [26]

After the fighting at Quatre Bras the two opposing commanders Ney and Wellington initially held their ground while they obtained information about what had happened at the larger Battle of Ligny. [27]

With the defeat of the Prussians Napoleon still had the initiative, for Ney's failure to take the Quatre Bras cross roads had actually placed the Anglo-allied army in a precarious position. Ney, reinforced by D'Erlon's fresh corps, lay in front of Wellington, and Ney could have fastened upon the Anglo-allied army and held it in place during the early morning of 17 June, sufficiently long to allow Napoleon to close round his foe's open left flank and deal him a deathblow. [27]

But it did not happen because the French were desultory in the aftermath of Ligny. Napoleon wasted the morning of 17 June by taking a late breakfast and going to see the previous day's battlefield before organising a pursuit of the two Coalition armies. He took the reserves and marched with Ney in pursuit of the Duke of Wellington's Anglo-allied army, and he gave instructions to Marshal Grouchy to pursue the Prussians wherever they were going and harry them so that they had no time to reorganise. [27]

After their defeat at the Battle of Ligny the Prussians successfully disengaged and withdrew to north west to Wavre where they reorganised. Leaving one corps in Wavre as a blocking rearguard, the three other corps advanced westward to attack the right flank of the French army in front of Waterloo. Both Napoleon and Grouchy assumed that the Prussians were retreating towards Namur and Liège, with a view to occupy the line of the river Meuse, and so during 17 June Grouchy sent the bulk of his cavalry ranging in that direction as far as Perwez. In his despatch to Napoleon written at 22:00 he was still thought that most of the Prussian army was retreating north-east, although by then he realised that two Prussian corps were heading north towards Wavre. In a second dispatch written four hours later he informed Napoleon that he now intended to advance either on Corbais or Wavre. The problem for the French was that by the end of 17 June, most of Grouchy's detachment was now behind the Prussians, on the far side of the Dyle. This meant that they were incapable of preventing the Prussians moving from Wavre towards Waterloo and too far away themselves to go directly to the aid of Napoleon on 18 June should Wellington turn and fight south of Brussels. [27] [28]

Upon receiving the news of Blücher's defeat, Wellington organised the retreat of the Anglo-allied army to a place he had identified a year before as the best place in front of Brussels for him to be able to employ his reverse slope tactics when fighting a major battle: Mont-Saint-Jean escarpement close to the village of Waterloo. [27] [29]

Aided by thunderstorms and torrential rain, Wellington's army successfully extricated itself from Quatre Bras and passed through the defile of Genappe. The infantry marched ahead and were screened by a large cavalry rearguard. The French harried Wellington's army, and there was a cavalry action at Genappe. However the French were unable to inflict any substantial casualties before night fell and Wellington's men were ensconced in bivouacs on the plain of Mont-Saint-Jean. [27]

It was at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 that the decisive battle of the campaign took place. The start of the battle was delayed for several hours as Napoleon waited until the ground had dried from the previous night's rain. By late afternoon the French army had not succeeded in driving Wellington's forces from the escarpment on which they stood. Once the Prussians arrived, attacking the French right flank in ever increasing numbers, Napoleon's key strategy of keeping the Seventh Coalition armies divided had failed and his army was driven from the field in confusion, by a combined coalition general advance.

On the morning of 18 June 1815 Napoleon sent orders to Marshal Grouchy, commander of the right wing of the Army of the North, to harass the Prussians to stop them reforming. These orders arrived at around 06:00 and his corps began to move out at 08:00 by 12:00 the cannon from the Battle of Waterloo could be heard. Grouchy's corps commanders, especially Gérard, advised that they should "march to the sound of the guns". [30] As this was contrary to Napoleon's orders ("you will be the sword against the Prussians' back driving them through Wavre and join me here") Grouchy decided not to take the advice. It became apparent that neither Napoleon nor Marshal Grouchy understood that the Prussian army was no longer either routed or disorganised. [31] Any thoughts of joining Napoleon were dashed when a second order repeating the same instructions arrived around 16:00.

Following Napoleon's orders Grouchy attacked the Prussian III Corps under the command of General Johann von Thielmann near the village of Wavre. Grouchy believed that he was engaging the rearguard of a still-retreating Prussian force. However, only one Corps remained the other three Prussian Corps (I, II and the still fresh IV) had regrouped after their defeat at Ligny and were marching toward Waterloo.

The next morning the Battle of Wavre ended in a hollow French victory. Grouchy's wing of the Army of the North withdrew in good order and other elements of the French army were able to reassemble around it. However, the army was not strong enough to resist the combined coalition forces, so it retreated toward Paris.

First week (18 – 24 June) Edit

After the combined victory at Waterloo by the Anglo-allies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians under the command of Prince Blücher, it was agreed by the two commanders, on the field of Waterloo, that the Prussian army, not having been so much crippled and exhausted by the battle, should undertake the further pursuit, and proceed by Charleroi towards Avesnes and Laon whilst the Anglo-allied army, after remaining during the night on the field, should advance by Nivelles and Binche towards Péronne. [32]

The 4,000 Prussian cavalry, that kept up an energetic pursuit during the night of 18 June, under the guidance of Marshal Gneisenau, helped to render the victory at Waterloo still more complete and decisive and effectually deprived the French of every opportunity of recovering on the Belgian side of the frontier and to abandon most of their cannons. [33] [34]

A defeated army usually covers its retreat by a rear guard, but here there was nothing of the kind. The rearmost of the fugitives having reached the river Sambre, at Charleroi, Marchienne-au-Pont, and Châtelet, by daybreak of 19 June 1815, indulged themselves with the hope that they might then enjoy a short rest from the fatigues which the relentless pursuit by the Prussians had entailed upon them during the night but their fancied security was quickly disturbed by the appearance of a few Prussian cavalry, judiciously thrown forward towards the Sambre from the Advanced Guard at Gosselies. They resumed their flight, taking the direction of Beaumont and Philippeville. [35]

From Charleroi, Napoleon proceeded to Philippeville whence he hoped to be able to communicate more readily with Marshal Grouchy (who was commanding the detached and still intact right wing of the Army of the North). He tarried for four hours expediting orders to generals Rapp, Lecourbe, and Lamarque, to advance with their respective corps by forced marches to Paris (for their corps locations see the military mobilisation during the Hundred Days): and also to the commandants of fortresses, to defend themselves to the last extremity. He desired Marshal Soult to collect together all the troops that might arrive at this point, and conduct them to Laon for which place he himself started with post horses, at 14:00. [36]

The French army, under Soult, retreated on Laon in great confusion. The troops commanded by Grouchy, which had reached Dinant, retired in better order but they were cut off from the wreck of the main army, and also from the direct road to Paris. Grouchy, therefore, was compelled to take the road to Rethel whence he proceeded to Rheims and by forced marches he endeavoured to force a junction with Soult, and thus reach the capital before the Coalition armies. [37]

In the meantime, Wellington proceeded rapidly into the heart of France but as there was no enemy in the field to oppose his progress, the fortresses alone demanded his attention. On 20 June 1815 an order of the day was issued to the British army before they entered France. It placed the officers and men in his army under military order to treat the ordinary French population as if they were members of a Coalition nation. [38] This by and large Wellington's army did paying for food and lodgings. This was in sharp contrast to the Prussian army, whose soldiers treated the French as enemies, plundering the populace and wantonly destroying property during their advance. [39]

From Beaumont, [b] the Prussians advanced to Avesnes, which surrendered to them on 21 June. The French at first seemed determined to defend the place to the last extremity, and made considerable resistance but a magazine having blown up, by which 400 men were killed, the rest of the garrison, which consisted chiefly of national-guards, and amounting to 439 men, surrendered at discretion. [39] On capture of the town the Prussian soldiers treated it as a captured enemy town (rather than one liberated for their ally King Louis XVIII), and on entering the town, the greatest excesses were committed by the Prussian soldiery, which instead of being restrained was encouraged by their officers. [39]

On his arrival at Malplaquet—the scene of one of the Duke of Marlborough's victories—Wellington issued the Malplaquet proclamation to the French people on the night 21/22 June 1815, in which he referred to the order of the day addressed to his army, as containing an explanation of the principles by which his army would be guided. [39]

Napoleon arrived in Paris, three days after Waterloo (21 June), still clinging to the hope of concerted national resistance but the temper of the chambers and of the public generally forbade any such attempt. Napoleon and his brother Lucien Bonaparte were almost alone in believing that, by dissolving the chambers and declaring Napoleon dictator, they could save France from the armies of the powers now converging on Paris. Even Davout, minister of war, advised Napoleon that the destinies of France rested solely with the chambers. Clearly, it was time to safeguard what remained and that could best be done under Talleyrand's shield of legitimacy.

Napoleon himself at last recognised the truth. When Lucien pressed him to "dare", he replied, "Alas, I have dared only too much already". [40] On 22 June 1815 he abdicated in favour of his son, Napoléon Francis Joseph Charles Bonaparte, well knowing that it was a formality, as his four-year-old son was in Austria. [40]

With the abdication of Napoleon (22 June) the French Provisional Government led by Fouché appointed Marshal Davout, Napoleon's minister of war, as General in Chief of the army, and opened peace negotiations with the two Coalition commanders. [41]

On 24 June, Sir Charles Colville took the town of Cambrai by escalade, the governor retiring into the citadel, which he afterwards surrendered on 26 June, when it was given up to the order of Louis XVIII. Saint-Quentin was abandoned by the French, and was occupied by Blücher: and, on the evening of 24 June, the castle of Guise surrendered to the Prussian army. The Coalition armies, at least 140,000 strong, continued to advance. [42]

Second week (25 June – 1 July) Edit

On 25 June Napoleon received from Fouché, the president of the newly appointed Provisional Government (and Napoleon's former police chief), an intimation that he must leave Paris. He retired to Malmaison, the former home of Joséphine, where she had died shortly after his first abdication. [40]

On 27 June, Le Quesnoy surrendered to Wellington's army. The garrison, which amounted to 2,800 men, chiefly national-guards, obtained liberty to retire to their homes. [42]

On 26 June, Péronne was taken by the British troops. The first brigade of guards, under Major-general Maitland, took by storm the horn-work which covers the suburbs on the left of the Somme, and the place immediately surrendered, upon the garrison obtaining leave to retire to their homes. [42]

On 28 June, the Prussians, under Blücher, were at Crépy, Senlis, and La Ferté-Milon and, on 29 June, their advanced guards were at Saint-Denis and Gonesse. The resistance experienced by the British army at Cambrai and Péronne, detained them one day behind the Prussian army but forced marches enabled them to overtake it in the neighbourhood of Paris. [42]

In the meantime, Soult was displaced from the chief command of the army, which was conferred on Marshal Grouchy. The reason of this remarkable step, according to Soult, was because the Provisional Government suspected his fidelity. This was very likely the true reason or they could scarcely at this moment have dismissed a man clearly superior to his successor, in point of abilities. [42]

The rapid advance of the Coalition armies caused Grouchy to redouble his speed to reach Paris before them. This he effected, after considerable loss, particularly on the 28th, at the Battle of Villers-Cotterêts where he fell in with the left wing of the Prussian army, and afterwards with the division under General Bülow, which drove him across the river Marne, with the loss of six pieces of cannon and 1,500 prisoners. Grouchy fairly acknowledged, that his troops would not fight, and that numbers deserted. In fact, though the French army was daily receiving reinforcements from the towns and depots in its route, and also from the interior, the desertion from it was so great that its number was little if any thing at all augmented. [42]

With the remainder, however, Grouchy succeeded in retreating to Paris, where he joined the wreck of the main army, the whole consisting of about 40 or 50,000 troops of the line, the wretched remains (including also all reinforcements) of 150,000 men, which fought at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. To these, however, were to be added the national-guards, a new levy called les Tirailleurs de la Garde, and the Federés. According to Bonaparte's portfolio, found at Waterloo, these latter amounted to 14,000 men. Altogether, these forces were at least 40,000 more, if not a greater number. Paris was, therefore, still formidable, and capable of much resistance. [42]

On 29 June the near approach of the Prussians, who had orders to seize Napoleon, dead or alive, caused him to retire westwards toward Rochefort, whence he hoped to reach the United States. [40] The presence of blockading Royal Navy warships under Vice Admiral Henry Hotham with orders to prevent his escape forestalled this plan. [43]

Meanwhile, Wellington continued his operations with unabating activity. As the armies approached the capital, Fouché, president of the Provisional Government, wrote a letter to the British commander, asking him to halt the progress of war. [42]

On 30 June Blücher made a movement which proved decisive of the fate of Paris. Blücher having taken the village of Aubervilliers, made a movement to his right, and crossing the Seine at Lesquielles-Saint-Germain, downstream of the capital, threw his whole force, (apart from a skeleton force holding the Coalition line north of the city) upon the west-south side of the city, where no preparations had been made to receive an enemy. [44]

On 1 July Wellington's army arrived in force and occupied the Coalition lines north of Paris. South of Paris, at the Battle of Rocquencourt a combined arms French force of commanded by General Exelmans destroyed a Prussian brigade of hussars under the command of Colonel von Sohr (who was severely wounded and taken prisoner during the skirmish), [45] but this did not prevent the Prussians moving their whole army to the south side. [44]

Third week (2–7 July) Edit

By the morning of 2 July, Blücher had his right at Plessis-Piquet, and his left at Meudon, with his reserves at Versailles. [44] This was a thunderbolt to the French and it was then that their weakness and the Coalition strength was seen in the most conspicuous point of view because, at this moment, the armies of Wellington and Blücher were separated, and the all the French army, between them, yet the French could not move to prevent their junction (to shorten their lines of communications Wellington, threw a bridge over the Seine at Argenteuil, crossed that river close to Paris, and opened the communication with Blücher). After the war Lazare Carnot (Napoleon's Minister of Internal Affairs) blamed Napoleon for not fortifying Paris on the south side, and said he forewarned Napoleon of this danger. [44]

To defend against the Prussian move, the French were obliged to move two corps over the Seine to meet Blücher. The fighting to the south of Paris on 2 July, was obstinate, but the Prussians finally surmounted all difficulties, and succeeded in establishing themselves firmly upon the heights of Meudon and in the village of Issy. The French loss, on this day, was estimated at 3,000 men. [44]

The early next morning (3 July) at around 03:00, [44] General Dominique Vandamme (under Davout's command) was decisively defeated by General Graf von Zieten (under Blücher's command) at the Battle of Issy, forcing the French to retreat into Paris. [46] [45] All further resistance, it was now obvious, would prove unavailing. Paris now lay at the mercy of the Coalition armies. The French high command decided that, providing terms were not too odious, they would capitulate and ask for an immediate armistice. [47] [44]

Delegates from both sides met at Palace of St. Cloud and the result of the delegates' deliberations was the surrender of Paris under the terms of the Convention of St. Cloud. [48] As agreed in the Convention, on 4 July, the French Army, commanded by Marshal Davoust, left Paris and proceeded on its march to the southern side of Loire. On 6 July, the Anglo-allied troops occupied the Barriers of Paris, on the right of the Seine while the Prussians occupied those upon the left bank. On 7 July, the two Coalition armies entered the centre of Paris. The Chamber of Peers, having received from the Provisional Government a notification of the course of events, terminated its sittings the Chamber of Representatives protested, but in vain. Their President (Lanjuinais) resigned his Chair and on the following day, the doors were closed, and the approaches guarded by Coalition troops. [49] [50]

On 8 July, the French King, Louis XVIII, made his public entry into Paris, amidst the acclamations of the people, and again occupied the throne. [49]

On 10 July, the wind became favourable for Napoleon to set sail from France. But a British fleet made its appearance and made escape by sea impossible. Unable to remain in France or escape from it, Napoleon surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland of HMS Bellerophon early in the morning of 15 July and was transported to England. [49] Napoleon was exiled to the island of Saint Helena where he died as a prisoner-of-war in May 1821.

Some commandants of the French fortresses did not surrender upon the fall of the Provisional Government on 8 July 1815 and continued to hold out until forced to surrender by Commonwealth forces. The last to do so was Fort de Charlemont which capitulated on 8 September (see reduction of the French fortresses in 1815). [51]

In November 1815 a formal Peace treaty between France and the Seventh Coalition was signed. The Treaty of Paris (1815) was not as generous to France as the Treaty of Paris (1814) had been. France lost territory, had to pay reparations, and agreed to pay for an army of occupation for not less than five years.

This campaign was the subject of a major strategic-level study by the famous Prussian political-military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, Feldzug von 1815: Strategische Uebersicht des Feldzugs von 1815, [52] Written c. 1827, this study was Clausewitz's last such work and is widely considered to be the best example of Clausewitz's mature theories concerning such studies. [53] It attracted the attention of Wellington's staff, who prompted him to write his only published essay on the campaign (other than his immediate, official after-action reports (such as the "Waterloo dispatch to Lord Bathurst"), his 1842 Memorandum on the Battle of Waterloo. [54] This exchange with Clausewitz was quite famous in Britain in the 19th century (it was heavily discussed in, for example, Chesney's Waterloo Lectures (1868). [55]

Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field - History

In this concluding volume of his highly praised study exploring the French perspective of the Waterloo campaign, Andrew Field concentrates on an often neglected aspect of Napoleon's final offensive the French victory over the Prussians at Ligny, Marshal Grouchy's pursuit of the Prussians and the battle at Wavre. The story of this side of the campaign is as full of controversy and interest as the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which he has examined in such a penetrating and original way in his previous studies.

Napoleon in his memoirs accused Grouchy, like Marshal Ney, of a series of failures in command that led to the French defeat, and many subsequent historians have taken the same line. This is one of the long-standing controversies that Andrew Field explores in fascinating detail. Grouchy's extensive description of his operations forms the backbone of the narrative, supplemented by other French sources and those of Prussian eyewitnesses.

Book Review: Grouchy's Waterloo, the Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew Field

Inevitably there's also coverage of the other concurrent events, meaning some duplication of information with other titles in the series. But this is both inevitable, and indeed necessary, and for those sufficiently interested, more pleasure than chore.

In my recent review of Hussey's two-volume history of this campaign I described Grouchy thus, 'until he learned of Napoleon's decisive defeat he was vacillating and cautious, most likely too in awe of his imperial master to act decisively on his own initiative. And yet once he knew France was militarily beaten, he suddenly rediscovered his leadership mojo'. And whilst I now have a much deeper, and more nuanced understanding of his actions in the campaign, thanks to this book, I think that judgement still stands.

There is a reason for this, however, which is, I expect, to do with the post Waterloo blame game, with Napoleon and his acolytes saying, a la Scooby-Doo, 'if it wasn't for those darned meddling kids (Grouchy and Ney), I'd have gotten away with it!' quoting the correspondence in extenso helps clarify whether orders were understood or not, and carried out properly or not, etc. [1]

All in all, another excellent chapter in Field's essential contribution to the English language literature on this epoch ending campaign, bringing much needed balance by looking at the French side of the story. [2]

[1] The lack of clarity in some of the orders beggars belief.

[2] I do hope more of his sources become available in English, in particular the more colourful lower echelon accounts, such as that by grognard Sergeant Maudit.

Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field - History

In this concluding volume of his highly praised study exploring the French perspective of the Waterloo campaign, Andrew Field concentrates on an often neglected aspect of Napoleon's final offensive the French victory over the Prussians at Ligny, Marshal Grouchy's pursuit of the Prussians and the battle at Wavre. The story of this side of the campaign is as full of controversy and interest as the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo which he has examined in such a penetrating and original way in his previous studies.

Napoleon in his memoirs accused Grouchy, like Marshal Ney, of a series of failures in command that led to the French defeat, and many subsequent historians have taken the same line. This is one of the long-standing controversies that Andrew Field explores in fascinating detail. Grouchy's extensive description of his operations forms the backbone of the narrative, supplemented by other French sources and those of Prussian eyewitnesses.

About The Author

Andrew Field MBE is a former British army officer whose travels around the world have given him a unique opportunity to explore battlefields from ancient history to present times. He has always harboured a special fascination for the Napoleonic Wars. In particular he has reassessed Napoleon's campaigns in 1814 and 1815, and has carried out extensive research into Wellington's battles in the Peninsula. His books include Talavera: Wellington's First Victory in Spain, Prelude to Waterloo: Quatre Bras, Grouchy’s Waterloo: The Battles of Ligny and Wavre and Waterloo: Rout and Retreat: The French Perspective.


"This book, when taken by itself, is a great addition to the history of the campaign. When looked at in conjunction as the third volume of four on the campaign, these books are a treasure trove of information from the French perspective."

- A Wargamers Needful Things

Grouchy's Waterloo - The Battles of Ligny and Wavre, Andrew W. Field - History

[Note: Source material about the Napoleonic period, especially that published before World War I, is often written in an archaic English grammar style different spellings for locations and people is also a common occurrence. Therefore, in the interest of increased clarity for modern readers, some changes in this material have been made both to grammar style and spelling. The original intent or context of the material, however, has not been altered.]

&ldquoThe causes of Napoleon&rsquos overthrow are not hard to find. The lack of timely pursuit of Blucher and Wellington on the 17th enabled those leaders to secure posts of vantage and to form an incisive plan which he did not fully fathom even at the crisis of the battle. Full of overweening contempt of Wellington, he began the fight heedlessly and wastefully. When the Prussians came on, he underrated their strength and believed to the very end that Grouchy would come up and take them between two fires. But, in the absence of prompt, clear, and detailed instructions, that marshal was left a prey to his fatal notion that Wavre was the one point to be aimed at and attacked. Despite the heavy cannonade on the west he persisted in this strange course while Napoleon staked everything on a supreme effort against Wellington.&rdquo[1]

&ldquoBut in addition to the practical issues depending upon Grouchy&rsquos decision, there is an abstract strategical question involved: whether it is not, on general principles, the duty of a corps, detached from the main body, to march in the direction where heavy firing indicates a critical engagement. The authority of Clausewitz must carry great weight as to this point. After referring to this contention as a dictum &lsquohastily fabricated,&rsquo he says, &lsquoThis principle can only hold good in those cases when the commander of a separate column has been placed by circumstances in a position of doubt, when the originally clear and definite character of his task has been clouded by uncertainties and contradictions, which are so frequent in actual war. I admit that a commander so placed, instead of standing still doing nothing or wandering vaguely about, would do better to hasten to his neighbor&rsquos assistance if heavy firing suggests that he needs it. But to expect of Grouchy that he should trouble himself no further about Blucher, [and] march off to where another portion of the army was engaged with another enemy, would be contrary to all theory and practice. That General Gerard really gave such advice at noon on the 18th at Sart-a-Walhain [in fact, Walhain] only proves that, where there is no responsibility, consideration is apt to be hasty.&rsquo&rdquo[2]

In the wake of the great French disaster at the Battle of Waterloo, no officer&rsquos military and personal reputation suffered as much as that of Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, the commander of Napoleon&rsquos right wing. Grouchy&rsquos actions on 18 June 1815 were so controversial that &ldquothe name of Grouchy has become so odious to the admirers of Napoleon, that a long career of devoted service and unquestionable bravery has been forgotten in the misfortune or fault of a single day.&rdquo[3]

The last of Napoleon&rsquos generals to be promoted to the marshalate, Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy (23 October 1766 &ndash 29 May 1847) had been an able cavalryman, holding the post of Colonel-General of Chasseurs-a-Cheval from 1809 to 1814. Recalled to service by Napoleon during the Hundred Days to command his Reserve Cavalry, the newly promoted marshal would be given the task of pursuing the defeated Prussian army after the Battle of Ligny. It was in this capacity that Grouchy would be seen by many officers &ndash and some historians &ndash as having abandoned the Emperor at his most crucial hour:

&ldquoGrouchy&rsquos bad management at the battle of Waterloo has ruined his fame and placed him in an unenviable position before the world. In the intense excitement the final overthrow of Napoleon created, Grouchy&rsquos name became the theme of universal obloquy, and he was accused of weakness, want of energy, and, finally, of having sold France to the allies.&rdquo[4]

Louis-Adolphe Thiers (the nationalist French historian and politician who became &lsquohead of the executive power of the Republic&rsquo after the fall of the Second Empire) says Grouchy&rsquos conduct on 18 June doomed Napoleon:

&ldquoBut now it must be admitted &ndash though with sincere regret for attacking the memory of an honest man and a brave soldier, struck on this occasion with an unparalleled want of comprehension &ndash it must, we repeat, be admitted that Marshal Grouchy was the real cause of our defeat, the material cause for the moral one was to be sought elsewhere. We have been scrupulously exact in our detail of the events of that day, and there cannot be found a single valid excuse for his conduct, though during the last forty years many have sought to exculpate him.&rdquo[5]

The emperor himself, recalling the Waterloo Campaign, also blamed the marshal:

&ldquoFinally, I triumphed even at Waterloo, and was immediately hurled into the abyss. On my right, the extraordinary maneuvers of Grouchy, instead of securing victory, completed my ruin.&rdquo[6]

Grouchy had only one reasonable course of action available to him on 18 June: an advance over the Dyle River bridges at Moustier and Ottignies. In this hypothetical scenario, there would be only one objective &ndash to give support to Napoleon&rsquos right flank (either by a physical link-up at Plancenoit or by preventing Blucher&rsquos troops assisting Wellington&rsquos Anglo-Allied army). An advance towards Moustier and Ottignies could have been ordered by Grouchy at three points during the day of Waterloo: from Gembloux at daybreak or in the early morning, or from Walhain in the early afternoon. It was a question of &lsquowhen&rsquo not &lsquowhere&rsquo &ndash and the final decision was Grouchy&rsquos alone.

It was the marshal&rsquos response at Walhain to the now-famous &lsquocannonade of Waterloo&rsquo which effectively destroyed his reputation. Grouchy&rsquos lack of adequate reconnaissance and subsequent failure to seize the Dyle bridges earlier in the day have been judged by historians as strategic errors his continued advance from Walhain towards Wavre, however, was seen by his contemporaries as both as an error and a betrayal. Grouchy&rsquos strategic and tactical mistakes during the campaign might been mitigated had he seized the initiative at Walhain and ordered a march on Waterloo, but he did not.

The events surrounding the French right wing on this day &ndash the climax of which was the episode at Walhain &ndash generated a storm of controversy. Thiers portrayed Grouchy as an officer who stubbornly ignored an obvious situation, while his troops grew restless:

&ldquoMeantime, the roar of the cannon became louder, the discussion waxed warmer, and even the private soldiers caught up the tone &ndash but with this difference, that among them there was no difference of opinion all asked why they were not led to the battlefield, why their courage was left unemployed when perhaps their comrades needed their aid either to resist or pursue the enemy. Every detonation excited their enthusiasm, and evoked fresh cries of impatience from these intelligent and heroic men.&rdquo[7]

A hypothetical march by Grouchy over the Dyle River from Walhain would not have changed the outcome of Napoleon&rsquos battle at Waterloo &ndash but that fact is beside the point. The marshal&rsquos conduct that day branded him as being unfit for high command:

&ldquoHe failed egregiously: he was to keep watch of Blucher, and yet Blucher marched on Waterloo without his knowledge. The latter was a defeated general, and yet he carried heavy reinforcements to Wellington, while Grouchy did not send a man to Napoleon. Both heard the tremendous cannonading that told where the great struggle was going on, and one hastened to turn the scale of victory, while the other remained at his post. Even if Blucher had not stirred, if Grouchy had been an able general he would have dispatched some divisions to the field of battle, while with the remainder he kept the Prussians at bay. The Prussian general did this, and in it showed his ability as a commander. But if he had failed in this stroke of policy, he should never have allowed the very army he was appointed to watch, to march away from him unmolested. The only excuse for him is, he obeyed orders. But he did not obey orders. It is a miserable shuffling to declare he obeyed implicitly the directions given him, because he continued his maneuvers at Wavre, when the only person they were designed to affect had departed for Waterloo.&rdquo[8]

The question of what Grouchy should have done &ndash and why he should have done it &ndash is one of the great &lsquowhat ifs&rsquo of the Napoleonic Wars. Should the marshal have heeded General de Division Gerard&rsquos advice at Walhain and &lsquomarched to the cannon&rsquo?

&lsquoYou will pursue the enemy&rsquo: Napoleon&rsquos orders to Grouchy

In order to understand Grouchy&rsquos frame of reference, it is first necessary to examine his orders from Napoleon. The marshal&rsquos interpretation of these two orders, one verbal and one written, is of great importance. Received the day after the Battle of Ligny, these two instructions are a critical piece of the Waterloo campaign:

&ldquoGrouchy&rsquos movements, on the 17th and 18th, form so striking a feature in the history of this campaign, and exercised so important an influence upon the fate of the decisive battle of Waterloo, that it becomes an essential point in the study of that history, to examine how far he complied with, and carried into effect, the instructions received from his master, and to what degree his proceedings, consequent upon his ascertaining the direction of the Prussian retreat, coincided with the general plan and object of Napoleon&rsquos operations.&rdquo[9]

The emperor&rsquos slow start in sending out Grouchy&rsquos pursuit force on 17 June made Grouchy&rsquos mission difficult from the beginning. When the marshal eventually received his first set of orders from Napoleon, the Prussian army&rsquos line of retreat was still unknown:

&ldquoThe lines taken by the Prussians in their retreat from Ligny ought to have been ascertained by the dawn of June 17. For this Soult was responsible, in the first instance but Napoleon, too, must be held responsible they would have been discovered had he been the Napoleon of old. Grouchy was sent to find them out, but many hours too late and his march on Gembloux had been so retarded, and Excelmans had given proof of so little zeal and skill, that the direction taken by the enemy remained uncertain.&rdquo[10]

It was Grouchy&rsquos task to command the pursuit to accomplish this, Napoleon assigned to him a force of 33,765 men &ndash 25,513 infantry, 5,617 cavalry and 2,635 artillerymen &ndash with 96 guns.[11] To assist him, Grouchy had General de Brigade Le Senecal as his chief of staff.[12]

To some officers, the marshal may have been seen as an unusual choice to command the force:

&ldquoGrouchy had hitherto held no important command. As a cavalry general, he had done brilliant service but now he was launched on a duty that called for strategic insight. His force was scarcely equal to the work. True, it was strong for scouting, having nearly 6,000 light horse but the 27,000 footmen of Vandamme&rsquos and Gerard&rsquos corps had been exhausted by the deadly strife in the villages [in the battle the day before] and were expecting a day&rsquos rest. Their commanders also resented being placed under Grouchy. In fact, leaders and men disliked the task, and set about it in a questioning, grumbling way.&rdquo[13]

The emperor&rsquos verbal orders outlined what was expected of Grouchy:

&ldquoNapoleon&rsquos instructions to Grouchy were extremely simple and concise: &lsquoPursue the Prussians, complete their defeat by attacking them as soon as you come up with them, and never let them out of your sight. I am going to unite the remainder of this portion of the army with Marshal Ney&rsquos[14] corps, to march against the English, and to fight them if they should hold their ground between this and the forest of Soignes. You will communicate with me by the paved road which leads to Quatre-Bras.&rsquo No particular direction was prescribed, because the Emperor was totally ignorant of the real line of the Prussian retreat. At the same time, he was strongly impressed with the idea that Blucher had retired upon Namur and Liege, with a view to occupy the line of the Meuse, whence he might seriously endanger the right of the French army, as also its main line of operation, should it advance upon Brussels.&rdquo[15]

These verbal instructions were soon clarified by written ones &ndash the so-called &lsquoBertrand order&rsquo. The &lsquoBertrand order&rsquo is vital document, for it was the last set of orders Grouchy received until the afternoon of the next day:

&ldquo&hellipwhatever the reason, no order was sent to Grouchy till 10 am the next morning [on 18 June]. This did not reach him till 4 pm that afternoon, when he was fighting in front of Wavre.&rdquo[16]

These instructions, dictated to the Grand Marshal of the Palace, General de Division Bertrand,[17] arrived about 11:30:

&ldquo&hellipat about half-past eleven o&rsquoclock, Napoleon sent another order to Grouchy, expressed in positive and unambiguous terms. Soult[18] had lingered at Fleurus and had not yet reached Ligny the Emperor dictated the letter to Bertrand, the most trusted, perhaps, of his surviving officers Grouchy certainly received it before noon. This order is one of the highest importance it was most discreditably suppressed by Grouchy, who even denied that it had an existence it was not unearthed until 1842. It has been slurred over by the worshippers of success, by apologists for the allies, by Napoleon&rsquos detractors to this hour it has hardly received the close attention it deserves, but it sets forth clearly the ideas of the Emperor at the time, and throws a flood of light on the subsequent conduct of Grouchy.&rdquo[19]

&ldquoYou will explore in the directions of Namur and of Maastricht, and you will pursue the enemy. Explore his march, and instruct me respecting his maneuvers, so that I may be able to penetrate what he is intending to do&hellipIt is important to penetrate what the enemy is intending to do whether they are separating themselves from the English, or whether they are intending still to unite, to cover Brussels or Liege, in trying the fate of another battle. In all cases, keep constantly your two corps of infantry united in a league of ground, and occupy every evening a good military position, having several avenues of retreat. Post intermediate detachments of cavalry, so as to communicate with headquarters.&rdquo[20]

It is the &lsquoBertrand order&rsquo which several historians believe gave Grouchy more freedom of action than had been previously thought:

&ldquoAs Napoleon&rsquos fate was to depend largely on an intelligent carrying out of this order, we may point out that it consisted of two chief parts, the general aim and the means of carrying out that aim. The aim was to find out the direction of the Prussians&rsquo retreat, and to prevent them joining Wellington, whether for the defense of Brussels or of Liege. The means were an advance to Gembloux and scouting along the Namur and Maastricht roads. The chance that the allies might reunite for the defense of Brussels was alluded to, but no measures were prescribed as to scouting in that direction: these were left to Grouchy&rsquos discretion. It must be confessed that the order was not wholly clear. To name the towns of Brussels and Liege (which are sixty miles apart) was sufficiently distracting and to suggest that only the eastern and south-eastern roads should be explored was certain to limit Grouchy&rsquos immediate attention to those roads alone. For he distrusted alike his own abilities and the power of the force placed at his disposal and an officer thus situated is sure to inclose himself in the strict letter of his instructions. This was what he did, with disastrous results.&rdquo[21]

This interpretation of the long-lost &lsquoBertrand order&rsquo would be in direct conflict with the theory that Grouchy was rigidly following the letter of Napoleon&rsquos orders on 17-18 June. Although it was the marshal&rsquos subsequent interpretation of this order which later became crucial, it appears Napoleon&rsquos instructions left Grouchy with some degree of freedom for independent action:

&ldquoGrouchy is warned in so many words that the Prussians may be intending to unite with the English to try the fate of another battle for the defense of Brussels, which was exactly what they were intending to do, and what they succeeded in doing. Whether they are or are not intending to do this, is the principal thing for Grouchy to find out. As the Emperor had previously informed Grouchy of his determination to fight the English &lsquoif they will stand on this side of the Forest of Soignes,&rsquo which meant of course that he looked upon a battle with them the next day as very possible, this question of the Prussians uniting with the English in fighting this battle was of vital importance to him. What Grouchy was to do if he found the Prussians directing their movements so as to compass this end, it was left to him to determine for himself. It might be that he could hinder the accomplishment of their design most effectually by attacking them it might be that his best course would be to rejoin the main army as soon as he could, or to maneuver so as to act in conjunction with it. It was impossible for Napoleon to tell beforehand how things would turn out. Full discretion was therefore left to Grouchy to take whatever course might seem best to him.&rdquo[22]

Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini, the Swiss-born soldier and military theorist who Napoleon had promoted to the rank of General de Brigade, agrees:

&ldquoIn fact, from the time that Blucher relinquished the natural base of the Meuse, it was evident that he thought only of uniting with Wellington, retaking the offensive and revenge himself for the affront he had just received: from that moment, even admitting that Napoleon had at first indicated the pursuit on Namur, Grouchy being aware that this order could not possibly be executed, became again master of his actions, according to his own inspirations moreover, the order transmitted afterwards, through General Bertrand, to proceed on Gembloux, had sufficiently indicated the end the marshal was to attain. To pursue the Prussians was his duty, but he had many ways of performing it. One consisted in merely following the trail of the retreating columns, the other in alone harassing the rearguard by means of light bodies, directing his principal forces on the flanks of the columns, to attack them in earnest, as the Russians did in 1812 at Wiasma, Krasnoe, and at the Beresina. Under the circumstances in which Grouchy was placed, it was more than ever his duty to follow this plan because his first mission was to prevent the Prussians from turning back against Napoleon, and the second point alone was to harass him in his retreat. Now, by marching along the Prussian columns with his infantry, while his light cavalry harassed his rear, he would have had the double advantage of opposing all attempts at a junction with the English, and avoiding the battle in the defile, which otherwise he would be constrained to give at Wavre.&rdquo[23]

The &lsquoBertrand order&rsquo shows Grouchy may have been less restricted in his movements than he otherwise might have thought. It was, of course, a matter of interpretation it is significant, however, that the marshal later denied any knowledge of this second order:

&ldquoMarshal Grouchy, then, acted up till 4 o&rsquoclock of the 18th of June under the order dictated the previous day by the Emperor to Count Bertrand. This fact we desire distinctly to bring out, so that there shall be no possibility of further mistake on this subject. The history of this day, from the very first narratives down to the very last, has been illustrated by the mistakes of historians and critics as to the orders under which Marshal Grouchy acted. Not only did Grouchy himself deliberately deny for nearly thirty years that he received any written order on the 17th, thereby misleading the most sagacious critics and rendering their criticisms on this part of the campaign in great part valueless, but even long after the fact was universally acknowledged that he did get a written order in the shape of the Bertrand letter, a certain unwillingness or inability to take in the meaning of this written order, to recognize that it imposed a different task on Marshal Grouchy from that laid upon him by the verbal orders which had previously been given him, has, nevertheless, strangely enough existed. The Bertrand order, as we have seen, instructed Grouchy to find out what the Prussians were intending to do, whether they were intending to separate themselves from the English, or to unite with them for the purpose of trying the fate of another battle for the defense of Brussels or Liege, and the order closed without giving him any directions whatever in case either of these emergencies should arise. The thing which Grouchy was to do, therefore, was to ascertain whether the Prussians were intending to unite with the English, and then to act in accordance with his best judgment. No directions whatever, we repeat, were given to him for his conduct if he should find that the Prussians were intending to unite with the English. We have just adverted to this omission of the Emperor to give Grouchy precise instructions in this emergency. There is no question that he did not give any. Grouchy was entirely untrammelled. If he found that the Prussians were intending to unite with the English to fight another battle for the defense of Brussels, he was absolutely free to adopt whatever course might seem to him best.&rdquo[24]

A great deal has been written on the subject of Grouchy&rsquos confusion over his mission objectives: he had received written, but unclear, orders from Napoleon his lack of useful reconnaissance had failed to determine the true destination of Blucher&rsquos army his army was gradually moving further away from the decisive area of operations. The first indication of this potential misunderstanding, a despatch written by Grouchy at Gembloux, arrived Imperial Headquarters at 2 am on the morning of Waterloo:

&ldquoWhile the Emperor was making the round of his outposts, a somewhat cryptic despatch from Grouchy reached headquarters. The Marshal reported from Gembloux, at 10 pm of the 17th, that part of the Prussians had retired towards Wavre, seemingly with a view to joining Wellington that their centre, led by Blucher, had fallen back on Perwez in the direction of Liege while a column with artillery had made for Namur if he found the enemy&rsquos chief force to be on the Liege chausse, he would pursue them along that road if towards Wavre, he would follow them thither &lsquoin order that they may not gain Brussels, and so as to separate them from Wellington.&rsquo This last phrase ought surely to have convinced Napoleon that Grouchy had not fully understood his instructions for to march on Wavre would not stop the Prussians joining Wellington, if they were in force.&rdquo[25]

Grouch dispatch, however, caused little alarm at French headquarters. If Napoleon or Soult, his chief-of-staff, had any reservations about Grouchy&rsquos confusion, they did not immediately attempt to clarify the marshal&rsquos previous instructions:

&ldquoNapoleon and Soult, therefore, one would suppose, might have seen by the programme which Grouchy had marked out for himself in his despatch that in all probability he was not clearly apprehending the situation, and that it was therefore possible that he might make a serious, perhaps a very serious, mistake the next day. They ought, therefore, if they suspected this to be the state of the case, to have replied at once, giving him precise instructions as to his course in the event of the retreat of the Prussians on Wavre. They should have told him, that, if he should find this to be the fact, he must at once march to cross the Dyle above Wavre, at Moustier and Ottignies, approach the main army, and act in conjunction with it. Yet although Grouchy told the officer who carried the 10 pm despatch to wait for an answer, none was returned. Grouchy was not even informed where the army was, and that it was confronted by the English army in position. Nor was he advised, as he surely should have been, that Domon&rsquos[26] reconnaissance had proved that a strong Prussian column, consisting, as we have seen, of the two beaten corps, those of Ziethen[27] and Pirch I,[28] had retired on Wavre by way of Gery and Gentinnes. It is impossible to account for these omissions.&rdquo[29]

&lsquoIt was entirely useless&rsquo: Grouchy&rsquos Operational Plan for 18 June

The first significant event on 18 June occurred around 3 am, when Grouchy issued his orders for the upcoming day. These orders, which outlined his army&rsquos march on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain and Corbais, were based on an erroneous conclusion &ndash that Blucher&rsquos army was falling back on Wavre as a prelude to reinforcing Wellington&rsquos Anglo-Allied army for a battle at Brussels. The basis for his conclusion were reports Grouchy had received the night before:

&ldquoIf Grouchy, on the evening of the 17th of June, had still been able to preserve any doubts as to the concentration of the Prussian Army on Wavre, the intelligence which reached him during the night was of a nature to dissipate them completely. Between eleven o&rsquoclock and midnight, he received a report from General Bonnemains,[30] and another from the colonel of the 15th dragoons,[31] both announcing that the Prussians were marching on Wavre. Towards three o&rsquoclock in the morning, news from Walhain or Sart-a-Walhain advised him that, in the course of the preceding day, three army corps had been perceived passing by in the direction of Wavre, and that, according to what both officers and men were reported to have said, these troops were going to mass themselves near Brussels to give battle.&rdquo[32]

If this was indeed the case, the marshal believed his best line of advance would be first to Sart-a-Walhain and then to Wavre. This action would also keep his strategic options open he could either continue onward to Brussels or rejoin Napoleon&rsquos main army:

&ldquoA natural process of reasoning brought the Marshal to adopt Wavre as his first point of destination. The road from Sart-a-Walhain to Brussels is almost direct, and passes through Wavre. The Prussians, therefore, must, in their movement on Brussels, go to Wavre. There, or beyond that town, Grouchy&rsquos force would come up with them. If Blucher stopped at Wavre, the French would engage him there if he pursued his march on Brussels, the French would either follow him up or would march by their left from Wavre to St Lambert, so as to join operations with the main army of Napoleon, The idea that Blucher, arrived at Wavre, would leave there a portion of his force to detain Grouchy, while detaching the major part of it to join operations with Wellington in the coming battle, never seems to have occurred to the Marshal. He was wedded to a fixed idea that the junction between Wellington and Blucher would take place in front of Brussels, on the other side of the forest of Soignes, and to prevent this, or at least to hinder it materially, an immediate march on Wavre was the best course to pursue. Grouchy&rsquos operations, therefore, on the 18th June, were from the first conducted under a serious but rooted misapprehension, and it was this fact which caused him to be useless throughout the day: useless to Napoleon, and useless against the Prussians&rdquo[33]

Grouchy&rsquos operational plan for 18-19 June, although based on a false assumption of the Prussian army&rsquos intentions, appeared sound. According to the marshal&rsquos interpretation of available intelligence reports, his march towards Wavre would place the French right wing in an excellent position for 19 June:

&ldquoNot only was there no attempt on the part of Blucher&rsquos army to effect its junction with Wellington by a side march, but it had made a long circuit to concentrate first in the direction of Louvain. Thus the enemy were, for a time, placing themselves out of the proceedings. Grouchy could congratulate himself on having manoeuvred so successfully. Though he had not overtaken the Prussians, he was on their traces, and he had separated them from the English, which was the principal aim of his movement. That evening all his troops would find themselves concentrated at Wavre in positions between the two armies of the enemy. The day after, he would be free either to go and fight the Prussians in the plains of La Chyse, or to attack them in their flank march, if they were marching towards Brussels, or to proceed to that town himself and join the bulk of the Prench forces.&rdquo[34]

To be fair, Grouchy&rsquos miscalculation over Blucher&rsquos intentions was not completely unjustified. He was unaware that Wellington had taken up his defensive position at Mont St. Jean therefore, a Prussian withdrawal to Brussels was a real possibility:

&ldquoA mistake very commonly made is to suppose that the Prussian general could have no other object in view, when he concentrated his army at Wavre, than that of co-operating with Wellington at Waterloo but his action admits of another interpretation, for he might merely be marching by way of Wavre on Brussels. Grouchy had no information that Wellington had taken position at Waterloo he supposed him to be in retreat before Napoleon. Having no knowledge that a battle was about to take place, he could have no knowledge that the Prussians were marching to take part in it. &lsquoHe thought the Prussians,&rsquo says General Plamley, in his treatise on the operations of war, &lsquoif they were really moving on Wavre, intended to join Wellington at Brussels. And were they so moving, he, by marching to Wavre, would threaten decisively their communications with their base by Louvain, and so either prevent the execution of their project or render it disastrous.&rsquo In fact, the fatal error of Napoleon again confronts us. A line to Grouchy that the English were in position intending to fight would have poured a flood of light upon the nature of Blucher's dispositions, but Grouchy was deliberately left to make a choice between conjectures, and for want of the information at Napoleon's disposal, he conjectured wrongly. Grouchy&rsquos movement on Wavre, therefore, was in response to what he supposed Blucher&rsquos intentions to be, but it was entirely useless in view of the plan which Blucher was actually adopting.&rdquo[35]

Grouchy, indeed, had made a great strategic error by basing his orders on a Prussian withdrawal on Brussels the marshal&rsquos second error that morning concerned how the French right wing was to carry out those orders. Criticism of Grouchy&rsquos planned advance for 18 June now focuses on the Dyle River &ndash specifically, the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies:

&ldquo&hellipHe was aware that the Emperor had expected a battle against the English, before the forest of Soignes, yet it did not occur to him that, instead of gaining Brussels, the Prussians might join their allies directly by a short lateral march. He did not see that, in order to prevent this junction, it was necessary not to follow the Prussians by Walhain or Corbais, but to pursue them in flank by Mont St. Guibert and Moustier. There was everything to gain and no peril to incur, by crossing the Dyle at the nearest point, and manoeuvring along the left bank of this little river. Should the Prussians have remained at Wavre, which is on the left bank of the Dyle, this position would be much easier to attack from the left bank than from the right. If they proceeded toward Brussels it would be possible to follow them after reaching Wavre. Should they march straight to the English, the appearance of 33,000 men on their flank would stop, or at any rate delay, their movement. Finally, if they had effected their junction with the English and threatened to crush the French Imperial Army under their united masses, the French on the left bank of the Dyle would be near enough to the Emperor to bring him effectual aid in the thick of the battle.&rdquo[36]

It was a simple matter of direction: Grouchy&rsquos army, by advancing on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain, was moving too far to the right. With hindsight, an advance over the Dyle would have been his best course of action:

&ldquoThe alternative to reaching Wavre by Sart-a-Walhain was to reach it by the Dyle and, as matters turned out, Grouchy ought in any event to have taken this direction. If by chance the English were standing to fight, then Blucher&rsquos movements were certainly suggestive of an intention to join them. By marching towards his left, Grouchy would at any rate be putting himself in a position to thwart these designs by marching towards his right he was tending, if anything, to facilitate them. Either road would bring him to Wavre, but the one would bring him nearer to the Emperor, the other would take him further away. This seems so obvious to us now that we are apt to overlook the strong reasons which influenced Grouchy&rsquos decision. He was still in bondage to the original error. He imagined that the real danger from the Prussians lay upon his right, not on his left he was full of his own mission, not of Napoleon&rsquos necessities, and regarded himself as altogether outside the scope of the main operations of the army he thought himself at liberty to execute his mission in the way that seemed best to him, without reference of any kind to the movements of the Emperor.&rdquo[37]

Jomini says the importance of the Moustier bridge was so great that Napoleon should have ordered Grouchy to seize it the day before:

&ldquoUnder these hypotheses [Blucher&rsquos possible courses of action], it was advisable to direct Grouchy on Mont St. Guibert and Moustier, the morning of the 17th, because the valley of the Dyle being the most favorable line for covering Napoleon&rsquos right flank, Grouchy could have crossed this river at Moustier from thence it had been easy to draw him on to Waterloo to take part in the battle, or cause him to advance on Wavre, flanked towards St. Lambert, by Excelmans&rsquo dragoons and an infantry division. By this means, the emperor would have been certain of his power to collect all his right wing about him, if Wellington accepted battle on the 18th in front of the forest of Soignes, and could have counted on the impossibility of the Prussians cooperating.&rdquo[38]

The Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies retained their great strategic importance to Grouchy throughout 18 June, for if the marshal was to attempt a march directed on Napoleon&rsquos right flank, it was over these two bridges that his army would have to pass.

Grouchy&rsquos Missed Opportunity: the Dyle Bridges at Moustier and Ottignies

In light of historical events, it is clear that Grouchy&rsquos best course of action on the day of Waterloo should have been an advance along two axes, beginning at daybreak. A detachment from Grouchy&rsquos force &ndash General de Division Pajol&rsquos[39] I Cavalry Corps and General de Division Teste&rsquos[40] 21st Infantry Division &ndash could have continued to press the Prussian retreat towards Wavre, while his remaining force advanced towards to the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies:

&ldquoThe marshal should not, then, have hesitated he should at daybreak, on the 18th, have marched with all speed on Moustier, with Excelmans, Vandamme and Gerard, directing Pajol&rsquos cavalry and Teste&rsquos division on Wavre, in pursuit of the enemy&rsquos rear-guard. Being able, to reach Moustier by ten o&rsquoclock, he could have then forwarded his infantry on Wavre by Limale, pushing Excelmans&rsquo dragoons on St. Lambert, or else have marched to Lasne himself, from which place he would have heard, at noon, the violent cannonade at Waterloo.&rdquo[41]

This change in marching orders could have placed Grouchy in a much better position than the one he later found himself in. &ldquoHis servile persistence in keeping in the tracks of the Prussian rearguard,&rdquo Houssaye says, &ldquoinstead of manoeuvring from the morning of the 18th of June along the left bank of the Dyle, was a huge strategical blunder.&rdquo[42] As has been previously mentioned, Grouchy&rsquos advance on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain was leading his troops too far eastwards:

&ldquoMarshal Grouchy, as soon as he had made up his mind that Blucher was retiring on Brussels by way of Wavre, should have marched for the bridge of Moustier, and should have started at daybreak. Instead of this, he adhered to the direction of Sart-a-Walhain, although, even if he were proposing to follow Blucher straight to Wavre, Sart-a-Walhain was out of the direct route. It had in fact been selected because it lay to the eastward of the Wavre road. He might have saved from two to four hours by starting at daybreak, but of this he was utterly unmindful. He did not thoroughly reconnoitre with his cavalry towards the Dyle, to see if the enemy were not marching towards the English, although it was certainly his manifest duty to do so. All he did in this direction was to send a staff-officer with a small escort, at daybreak or soon after, to the bridge of Moustier, to see, apparently, if any Prussian troops had crossed there, but he rejoined Grouchy before Grouchy had arrived at Sart-a-Walhain, that is, before 11 am. With this exception, the Marshal made absolutely no reconnaissance [on] his left until he had arrived in front of Wavre.&rdquo[43]

Some sources believe a skillful advance by Grouchy over the Dyle bridges at daybreak would have denied victory to Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo:

&ldquoThe means of securing the Marshal&rsquos object and of enabling him to fulfil his duty were not difficult, and ought to have been apparent. He ought to advance on Wavre as quickly as possibly, and to direct his march to have the power to strike Blucher in [the] flank were he trying to join Wellington and this operation was possible nay, quite feasible. Gembloux is some fifteen miles from Wavre&hellipit is about ten miles from the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, whence there were roads to Wavre, to the line of the enemy&rsquos possible movement, and to the positions now held by Napoleon. The course for Grouchy to take was, therefore, as it were, marked out he should make for Wavre by daybreak on June 18 he should direct his movement to the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, crossing the river at these points by the bridges, which, like those on the Sambre, remained intact. It would be then within his power either to advance on Wavre, should the Prussians be remaining at that place, or to attack Blucher, to hold him in check for a space of time &ndash sufficiently long, at least, to prevent him giving support to his colleague. The attack, we must bear in mind, would be on Blucher&rsquos flank, and about as perilous as could be conceived&hellipHad Grouchy formed this resolution on the night of June 17, and carried it out intelligently on the following morning, he would have atoned for the faults even now to be laid to his charge Blucher, humanly speaking, could never have joined Wellington Waterloo could never have been a victory for the allies.&rdquo[44]

While it is true that an advance by the French left wing towards the Dyle at daybreak would have been preferable, such an movement did not subsequently ensure a successful intervention at Waterloo. In fact, it is probable that Grouchy&rsquos troops would have run into great difficulties trying to secure the two bridges:

&ldquoIt has been argued, that Grouchy, believing that some part of the Prussian army had retreated upon Wavre, should have marched from Gembloux at daybreak on the 18th, not upon Sart-a-Walhain, but by Mont St. Guibert upon Moustier. It is assumed that, had he done so, he would have been on the left bank of the Dyle by half-past ten, and it asserted, that he could, from Moustier, have easily occupied the defiles of Lasne, or could have moved by Maransart upon Planchenoit. Would this movement upon Moustier have prevented the Prussians from taking part in the battle of Waterloo? The moment Grouchy&rsquos columns approached Mont St. Guibert, they would have been felt and seen by the Prussian outposts. Grouchy could and did patrol to his right and gain no intelligence, feel no foe. The first step towards the Dyle would have brought him into contact with what we may call the tentacles of the Prussian army, thrown out in every direction on both banks of the Dyle. Blucher, then at Wavre, would have learned that a French corps was moving from Gembloux to upon Mont St. Guibert. Its object, the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies, would have been at once divined. Blucher would have counteracted the movement of the French marshal by moving two corps up the left bank of the Dyle, permitting Bulow to continue his march, and directing Thielmann[45] to take the road to Ohain. Assuming that Blucher had timely information, and the alertness already displayed by his patrols warrants the assumption, there was nothing to prevent the arrival of Ziethen and Pirch I at Moustier and Ottignies before the army of Grouchy could have crossed the river. These two corps would have been sufficient to stop Grouchy.&rdquo[46]

Even if Grouchy is given the benefit of the doubt and was able to cross the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, Blucher&rsquos army would not have remained passive. Hooper says Grouchy likely would have either faced the combined forces of Ziethen and Pirch I (long before he arrived at Plancenoit) or Napoleon&rsquos flank would have been subsequently attacked by three oncoming Prussian corps:

&ldquoBut admit that information arrived too late. Then Grouchy, over the Dyle, would have found himself in the presence of two corps marching to attack him. In this case he must have fought, and to have fought he must have halted. In the meantime, Bulow and Thielmann would have joined Wellington. That two Prussian corps could have intercepted him, either at Moustier or between the Dyle and the Lasne, is certain, because the distance from Gembloux to Moustier, in a direct line, is twice the distance from Moustier to Wavre by the road. Had Grouchy escaped them, and, gaining the road to Maransart, sought to join the right of Napoleon, then three-fourths of the Prussian force would, in the same time, have concentrated on Napoleon&rsquos right rear. The result on the 18th would have been more stupendous, for Grouchy&rsquos army would have shared the defeat.&rdquo[47]

Historically, Excelmans&rsquo II Cavalry Corps got underway from Sauveniere at 6 am on 18 June, followed by Vandamme&rsquos III Corps and Gerard&rsquos IV Corps from the Gembloux area between 7 and 8 am. Would it have been possible, using these starting times, for Grouchy&rsquos force to have made an advance towards the Dyle and arrive on Napoleon&rsquos right flank in time to help him?

Again, Hooper says this scenario is impossible, given that Grouchy would have even less time to achieve the same objective:

&ldquoIt is said that had Grouchy, starting from Gembloux even at eight in the morning, moved direct against Moustier by Mont. St. Guibert, he would have caught Bulow flagrante delicto. But the same reasoning applies to this supposition as to the first, with this difference, the Grouchy would have been opposed by Pirch I and Thielmann, while Bulow and Ziethen moved on their way to Waterloo. Bulow, in that case, could only have been reached through the Prussian corps which covered him &ndash that is, after a battle. With the happiest luck Grouchy could not have crossed the Dyle earlier than four o&rsquoclock, and the reader may imagine whether in three or four hours Grouchy could have defeated two Prussian corps, marched afterwards six or eight miles through a rough and roadless country, and have arrived in time to save Napoleon.&rdquo[48]

With hindsight, Grouchy&rsquos dispositions ensured that his only real option on 18 June &ndash an early advance on Moustier and Ottignies &ndash would have had little or no decisive effect on Napoleon&rsquos battle at Waterloo.

&lsquoVery late and very slow&rsquo: Grouchy&rsquos March from Gembloux

The morning&rsquos advance from Gembloux &ndash &ldquogreatly retarded by the bad state of the roads&rdquo[49] &ndash had been problematic. Not only had many of Grouchy&rsquos units had started their march towards Wavre behind schedule, but the whole of III and IV Corps were also required to share a single road:

&ldquoGrouchy, during the night, had issued orders for the timely movement of his troops in the morning. Pajol, with Soult&rsquos cavalry and Teste&rsquos infantry divisions, was directed to march at 5 o&rsquoclock from Mazy to Grand Lees Vandamme, who was in advance of Gembloux, was to proceed at 6 to Sart-les-Walhain Gerard, in the rear of the town, was to follow him at 7. Pajol set off at the appointed time Excelmans&rsquo corps of heavy cavalry &ndash 8 regiments of dragoons &ndash was somewhat late in moving towards Bulow&rsquos rearguard and Vandamme and Gerard were still more tardy in leaving their quarters, and then marched slowly along a single bad country road, Gerard&rsquos corps being frequently compelled to halt whenever delays occurred to Vandamme&rsquos column in front.&rdquo[50]

Although &ldquomuch recrimination has passed between the generals upon this point, and the mists of controversy have obscured the question as to who was responsible for the delay&rdquo[51], Grouchy, as commander of the right wing, must bear a great deal of responsibility for his troops&rsquo delayed start. &ldquoBy leaving his troops in bivouac part of the morning, under circumstances so pressing and so grave,&rdquo Houssaye says, &ldquohe was guilty of an irreparable mistake.&rdquo[52] He continues:

&ldquoOwing to delays in the distribution of food, the troops did not even start off at the appointed time. Exelmans&rsquo dragoons, who had spent the night at Sauveniere and were to form the head of the column, only mounted their horses about six o&rsquoclock. Vandamme&rsquos corps only set out on its way from Gembloux between seven and eight o&rsquoclock, and Gerard's corps left camp on the right bank of the Orneau at the same hour. Another cause for the delay was, that these troops all took the same route. Had they marched in two separate columns, the one by Sauveniere and Walhain, the other by Ernage and Nil-Pierreux, the two army corps would have mustered at Corbais at the same time.&rdquo[53]

These problems delayed Grouchy&rsquos contact with the retreating Prussian army until late in the morning, when squadrons from II Cavalry Corps ran into elements of Bulow&rsquos IV Corps near Neuf-Sart:

&ldquoIt was about half-past ten o&rsquoclock, when Excelmans&rsquo advanced guard came up with the Prussian rear-guard, on the road to Wavre. He immediately formed his troops in position, resting their left upon the wooded ravine near the farm of La Plaquerie, and their right in the direction of Neuf-Sart. While his skirmishers were engaged with those of the enemy, he sent chef d&rsquoescadron d&rsquoEstourmel, to inform Marshal Grouchy of what was going on in front, and also to make known to him that the Prussian army had continued its retreat upon Wavre during a part of the night and that morning, for the purpose of forming a closer communication with the Duke of Wellington&rsquos forces.&rdquo[54]

Earlier that morning, Grouchy, still unaware of Blucher&rsquos intention to support the Anglo-Allied army at Mont St. Jean that day, had ridden to Walhain:

&ldquoGrouchy, it appears, did not leave Gembloux before eight or nine. He proceeded slowly and joined the head of the 3rd Corps a little way before Walhain. Having reached the first houses of this village at about ten o&rsquoclock, he allowed the infantry column to file on, and entered the house of the notary Hollert to write to the Emperor. His aide-de-camp, Pont-Bellanger, sent out to reconnoitre on the banks of the Dyle toward Moustier, had returned and reported it appeared that no hostile troops were to be found in this region and a resident, a former officer of the French Army, or said to be such, came to furnish him with new and important information. He declared that the bulk of the Prussians who had passed by Wavre, were encamped in the plain of the Chyse, near the road from Namur to Louvain (three leagues as the crow flies, north-east of Wavre).&rdquo[55]

Morris says Grouchy arrived at Walhain an hour later:

&ldquoHis march, we have seen, had been very late and very slow, faults for which he must bear the whole blame. And he had not reconnoitred in the direction of Moustier and Ottignies that is, of the imperial army, unpardonable remissness attended with disastrous results for had he taken this obvious step he would have ascertained how affairs stood, and soon after noon would have been in communication with Marbot&rsquos horsemen, despatched by the Emperor to bring him to the field of Waterloo. A little before eleven o&rsquoclock the Marshal had reached Walhain, a village about a mile west of Sart-a-Walhain, and therefore a mile nearer Napoleon&rsquos lines. He wrote another despatch at this place to his master, which gives proof of great want of intelligence, and shows how little he had done to ascertain the facts.&rdquo[56]

This despatch, delivered to Napoleon by Major La Fresnaye, clearly shows Grouchy&rsquos erroneous conclusion that Blucher&rsquos army was heading, not for Mont St. Jean, but for Brussels:

&ldquoThe I, II, and III Corps of Blucher, he says, are marching in the direction of Brussels. Two of these corps have passed Sart-a-Walhain on the right, and amounted to 30,000 men at least. A corps coming from Liege (Bulow&rsquos) had effected its&rsquo junction with those who fought at Ligny. The Prussians were designing to make a stand against the troops which were pursuing them, or else to unite themselves with Wellington, &lsquoa project announced by their officers, who, with their usual assurance, pretend only to have quitted the field on the 16th, so as to operate their junction with the English army on Brussels&hellipThis evening I shall be massed at Wavre, and shall thus find myself between Wellington, whom I presume to be in retreat before your Majesty, and the Prussian army.&rsquo&rdquo[57]

In spite of the many delays which had occurred in the morning, Grouchy&rsquos troops were now finally closing on Wavre. II Cavalry Corps, his advance guard, had almost reached the town:

&ldquoAt this time, that is, not long after eleven o&rsquoclock, the positions held by Grouchy&rsquos army were these: the cavalry of Excelmans had pushed forward, and had reached La Baraque and the Bois d&rsquoHuzelles, points between three and four miles from Wavre the heads of Vandamme&rsquos columns had passed Nil St. Vincent, a village some seven miles from Wavre and near Corbais the corps of Gerard was around Walhain and Sart-a-Walhain the horsemen of Pajol and the infantry of Teste were on the march from Grand Leez to Tourinnes, and were perhaps two or three miles from Nil St. Vincent. It should be observed, too and this is very important the movements of Grouchy had completely escaped the notice of the Prussian detachment at Mont St. Guibert, commanded by an officer of the name of Ledebur in fact, Excelmans and Vandamme were at this moment almost between Ledebur and the Prussian corps at Wavre.&rdquo[58]

It was at this moment, between about 11:15 and 11:30 am, that Grouchy was presented with his final opportunity to play a more useful role in the Waterloo campaign. &ldquoThere occurred, however, previously to the arrival of Excelmans&rsquo messenger, an event which well deserves notice,&rdquo Chesney says, &ldquoand of which, had proper use been made, the battle of Waterloo might have been productive of results less immediately decisive than those which ensued upon it.&rdquo[59] This famous episode &ndash on which Grouchy&rsquos military and personal reputation was subsequently destroyed &ndash began with the arrival of Colonel Simon Lorriere, IV Corps&rsquo chief-of-staff:

&ldquoThis despatch had scarcely been sent off at 11 o&rsquoclock on the morning of the eventful 18th when Colonel Lorriere, Gerard&rsquos chief of the staff, announced to Grouchy and to Gerard, who had reached Walhain in advance of his corps, that he heard in the west the roar of artillery fire. The generals, surrounded by their staffs, proceeded at once to ascertain the character of the engagement which was apparently in progress on the left. At first, through the drizzling rain and heavy atmosphere, they were inclined to interpret what they heard as a skirmish of advanced guards, but very soon they were unmistakably convinced that a general action was in progress. There was little difficulty in fixing the situation of the battlefield. The plateau of Mont St. Jean was marked out as being the scene of the combat. What, then, under these fresh conditions, was the right wing of the French army to do?&rdquo[60]

&lsquoPress forward towards the sound of the cannon&rsquo: Walhain, 11:30 am

An impromptu conference was called and the senior officers present, Generals Gerard[61], Baltus[62] and Valaze,[63] debated with Grouchy what steps should be taken.[64] For General de Division Gerard &ndash commander of IV Corps and a hard-driving officer with experience in Germany, Russia and Spain &ndash the next course of action was obvious. The marshal should immediately alter the right wing&rsquos axis of advance to the left and &lsquomarch to the sound of the cannon&rsquo:

&ldquoGerard, a soldier of real insight and resource, urged his chief at once to march towards the scene of the battle, in which the Emperor was evidently engaged. Gerard&rsquos reasoning did not admit of an answer. By moving in the direction of Wellington, the restraining wing would exactly perform its task. Grouchy would stop Blucher were he halting at Wavre, or would intercept him were he on his way to Waterloo, or would come into line with the imperial army, should the hostile commanders have joined hands. This was palpably the true nay, the obvious course. Nor could Grouchy conceal from himself that Blucher had gained nearly a march on him, and that Blucher&rsquos movements were not distinctly and completely known. The means, too, to make the proposed movement were easy and at hand. The cavalry in advance should seize the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies, and cross the Dyle, a march from La Baraque of about three miles the corps of Vandamme and Gerard should follow as quickly as possible the horsemen of Pajol and the division of Teste should push on towards Wavre, in order to mask the operations to the left, and to make demonstrations against the enemy. Within two or three hours the position of affairs would be made plain within five or six Grouchy would have been within reach of the Prussian or of the main French army.&rdquo[65]

Grouchy disagreed with his subordinate, saying both Napoleon&rsquos orders and the state of the roads prevented such a movement:

&ldquoThe Emperor informed me yesterday that his intention was to attack the English Army, should Wellington accept battle. Therefore, I am in no way surprised at the engagement that is taking place at this moment. If the Emperor had wished me to take part in it, he would not have sent me away from him, at the very moment that he was himself bearing down upon the English. Besides, if I took the rough crossroads which are now drenched with the rain of yesterday and this morning, I would not arrive on the field of battle in time to be of any use.&rdquo[66]

Gerard continued to press for Grouchy to cancel the day&rsquos orders and immediately move his troops towards the main French army. In his mind, the situation was now clear:

&ldquo&hellipThe Prussian march had now definitely narrowed itself down to one of two alternatives, either they were marching on Brussels or else were moving to join forces with Wellington at Mont St. Jean. In either event, prudence and policy alike suggested the advisability of joining the Emperor as quickly as possible, for if the Prussians were moving on Brussels, they might be regarded as a negligable quantity in the battle at Waterloo. If, on the other hand, they were advancing to join Wellington, Grouchy, by marching on the cannon sound, would be most advantageously disposed to stop them, to hinder them, or to diminish the effects of their junction in the event of its having been accomplished.&rdquo[67]

The atmosphere of the conference now became more heated. Baltus, siding with Grouchy, &ldquo&hellipconsidered it almost impossible to carry the guns over the muddy lanes and marshy ground, by which alone the Emperor was to be approached, in time to render any service in a battle to be fought at Mont St. Jean that day.&rdquo[68] Valaze, saying his engineers could overcome any obstacle, supported Gerard. Finally losing his patience, Gerard made an appeal to Grouchy&rsquos sense of duty:

&ldquoGerard grew more and more excited. &lsquoMonsieur le Marechal&rsquo he said, &lsquoit is your duty to march towards the cannon.&rsquo Offended that Gerard should take the liberty of rebuking him audibly in the presence of twenty officers, Grouchy retorted in a stern tone, in such a way as to end the discussion: &lsquoMy duty is to execute the Emperor&rsquos orders, which direct me to follow the Prussians it would be infringing his commands to follow your advice.&rsquo&rdquo[69]

There has been speculation that a significant part of Grouchy&rsquos objections to Gerard&rsquos advice may have been motivated by their differing personalities. Grouchy, like Gerard, was also an experienced officer, but &ldquoundoubtedly the tone of authority adopted by Gerard predisposed the Marshal to disregard his counsels&hellip&rdquo[70] Thiers, one of Grouchy&rsquos critics, stresses this point:

&ldquoMarshal Grouchy had in Gerard and Vandamme two lieutenants who considered themselves much superior to their commander, and their opinion was constantly manifested in their remarks. The marshal&rsquos susceptibility was hurt, and he took in bad part advise that was given very unceremoniously. General Gerard&rsquos natural excitability was increased by conviction and patriotism, to which each fresh peal of cannon added but new fuel, and all the generals present, with the exception of him who commanded the artillery, supported his advice.&rdquo[71]

Near the end of the meeting, Major d&rsquoEstourmel &ndash the aide-de-camp sent from II Cavalry Corps &ndash arrived with Excelmans&rsquo situation report from Neuf-Sart:

&ldquo&hellipHe announced that a strong Prussian rearguard was posted before Wavre. This officer was also charged to say that, according to all indications, the enemy&rsquos army had passed the bridge of Wavre during the night and morning, in order to get nearer the English Army, and, consequently, that General Exelmans contemplated proceeding to the left bank of the Dyle via Ottignies. This fresh information and the opinion expressed by Exelmans, furnished additional reasons in favour of Gerard&rsquos opinions. However, to Grouchy, who was as convinced as ever that the Prussians had gained Wavre in order to retreat towards the Chyse, the presence of their rearguard in this town only confirmed him in his presumptions. He congratulated himself that he had resisted Gerard, because the Emperor&rsquos orders were to follow the Prussian Army, and that at last he seemed on the point of reaching this army that had hitherto baffled him. He told d&rsquoEstourmel that he would himself give orders to General Exelmans and called for his horses.&rdquo[72]

The IV Corps commander then made a final, but futile, attempt to sway Grouchy&rsquos mind. Unable to convince the marshal to alter the direction of the whole right wing, Gerard asked for his troops to be detached:

&ldquo&hellipGerard endeavoured to break the resolution of his chief by proposing that he should march with his corps to the sound of the cannonade, while Grouchy with the rest proceeded on Wavre. Such a suggestion the Marshal was bound by his orders to reject. His instructions were formal to keep his corps together within a league of ground. His determination, whether for good or evil, must apply to the whole force under his command, and his determination was to march, according to his original purpose, on Wavre, and to engage the Prussians there.&rdquo[73]

The marshal&rsquos reply ended any further discussion:

&ldquo&lsquoNo,&rsquo answered Grouchy,&rsquoit would be an unpardonable military mistake to separate my troops and make them act on both banks of the Dyle. I should be exposing one or other of these two bodies, which would not be able to support each other, to annihilation by forces twice or thrice their superior.&rsquo&rdquo[74]

The right wing&rsquos march towards Wavre was ordered to continue. Grouchy, believing &ldquoit was not for a subordinate to carry out operations of inspiration, but to carry out the operations prescribed by his superior,&rdquo[75] felt he had made the correct decision by turning down Gerard&rsquos advice. However, &ldquofrom the moment of that decision Grouchy ceased to be a factor in the campaign of Waterloo.&rdquo[76]

Grouchy&rsquos Last Chance: Gerard&rsquos Suggestion to Advance to the Left

Historically, Grouchy&rsquos refusal to &lsquomarch to the cannon&rsquo removed the entire French right wing from the decisive area of the campaign. In the wake of the staff conference at Walhain, Grouchy&rsquos troops continued their advance on Wavre and, around 4 pm, engaged elements of Thielmann&rsquos III Corps &ndash the last Prussian corps remaining in the Wavre area. Thus, it was Grouchy&rsquos dubious distinction to be preparing to defeat a lone (and heavily-outnumbered) Prussian corps at the same time as his commander-in-chief was beginning to fight the decisive battle ot the campaign.

Chesney begins his examination of the merits of Gerard&rsquos advice with a comment on the available sources:

&ldquoWe cannot wholly avoid, though unwilling to follow at great length, the old discussion which began when Grouchy and Gerard first differed at Sart-a-Walhain [in fact, Walhain], as to the expediency of the cross-march which the latter proposed. It is impossible to lay down certainly what would have been the precise effect on the close of the day&rsquos operations had the Marshal taken his junior&rsquos advice, and moved by Moustier on Plancenoit. Those whose opinions are on all accounts entitled to respect differ absolutely here.&rdquo[77]

That being said, was an advance in the afternoon to (and subsequently over) the Dyle a sound military decision for Grouchy to make? If the marshal was to accept Gerard&rsquos advice, it must only be for one goal:

&ldquoThe only object in doing so was to join the Emperor, and to come up to him as a reinforcement while the battle was in progress. The question, therefore, hinges almost entirely on distances. The variety of estimates given as to the simple matter of the distance from Sart-a-Walhain to the field of Waterloo, and of the time which it would take Grouchy to cover that distance, is one of the most surprising things in the history of the campaign. Authorities range between two hours, which is the least estimate, and nine hours, which is the largest. The matter of distance, however, can be authoritatively decided. To march from Sart-a-Walhain to Plancenoit necessitates crossing the river Dyle. It could only be crossed at Moustier and by bridges further north of that point. Now the distance from Sart-a-Walhain to Plancenoit via Moustier was, by the only available roads, as nearly as possible eighteen miles.&rdquo[78]

At an acceptable rate of march, Horsburgh says, it was impossible for Grouchy&rsquos regiments to have interceded in the fighting at Waterloo:

&ldquoTo decide the matter of time M. Quinet [French writer and historian Edgar Quinet] induced two friends of his to traverse the whole journey on foot. It took them five and a half hours. Thus they walked at a rate of a little more than three miles an hour. An army corps could not advance at anything like that rate, more particularly when the state of the roads is taken into account. Two miles an hour is a fair rough estimate for the march of an army corps under such circumstances as then prevailed. Grouchy&rsquos leading columns would therefore have debouched on Plancenoit at 9 pm, assuming that he started from Sart-a-Walhain at twelve. This calculation is based entirely upon the assumption that his march would have been unimpeded by the Prussians. Such might have been the case, but at the same time it is most improbable that it would have been so. If the Prussians disputed the passage of the river, it is clear that Grouchy could not arrive on the field of Waterloo that night. If they did not do so, he could not arrive until the battle was over.&rdquo[79]

This assessment is supported by other sources. Hooper believes the corps of Pirch I and Thielmann would have halted Grouchy&rsquos advance, while the troops of Ziethen and Bulow would have been uninterruped in their cross-march to Napoleon&rsquos right flank:

&ldquoIt is said that had the counsel of Gerard been adopted, Napoleon would have been saved that Grouchy, when at Sart-a-Walhain, and knowing, as he did then, that the whole Prussian army was at Wavre in the morning, should have turned the heads of his columns to the left, and, hastening the march of his cavalry, have seized Moustier, while Pajol and Teste moved upon Wavre to deceive the enemy. Here, again, he would encounter his three great foes &ndash time, the want of roads, and the Prussian patrols. His movement to the left would have been seen at once. While he struggled across country, watched and harassed by the Prussian light troops, the troops then at Wavre, under Pirch I and Thielmann, would not have remained there, but would, by shorter lines than those by which Grouchy could march, have gained the left bank of the Dyle west of Moustier, and have interposed between Grouchy and Napoleon. In this case none of the Prussian troops which reached Waterloo would have been diverted from that field, and Grouchy would have been opposed by those only which took no part in that battle. But it is argued that Blucher, seeing so large a force approaching Moustier, would have hesitated, vacillated, and in the end have failed to give Wellington efficient aid. The answer to this argument is &ndash the character of Blucher. Who can believe that a man, proverbial for audacity carried to the extreme of rashness sometimes, would have been prevented from hastening to the field where the grand game was being played? He would have known that it would be enough to parry Grouchy while he struck a fatal blow at Napoleon.&rdquo[80]

The situation at the time of the conference at Walhain, Siborne says, could not be substantially changed. No matter what course of action Grouchy adopted, he would be unable to stop Blucher&rsquos troops from reinforcing Wellington&rsquos Anglo-Allied army:

&ldquoThe junction itself could not have been prevented. The tendency of Grouchy&rsquos movements had been too narrowly watched the country between the Dyle and the Charleroi road to Brussels had been too vigilantly explored, and the movements, in succession, of the different Prussian corps had been too nicely calculated and determined, to admit of the possibility of a failure, as regarded the arrival of a considerable portion of the Prussian forces on the left of the Anglo-allied army. Blucher had made so admirable a disposition of his four corps d&rsquoarmee, that two of them could at any time have combined, and therefore have presented a superior force to Grouchy, at any point between Wavre and Plancenoit, whilst the remainder of the army might have continued its march to the field of Waterloo&hellipNo exertions, however, on the part of Grouchy, after he broke up from Gembloux on the morning of the 18th, could have effectually frustrated the junction of Wellington and Blucher.&rdquo[81]

Horsburgh sums up Grouchy&rsquos potential chance of success:

&ldquo&hellipit is urged with great force and much weight of authority that if he could not arrive himself, he might have prevented the Prussians from arriving. To accomplish this would have been to accomplish all that was necessary, for without the intervention of the Prussians, Napoleon was assured of victory over the English. Here we enter the realm of pure conjecture. It is, of course, possible that if Grouchy had displayed himself in force, the march of Bulow would have been stopped, and, as a consequence, that of Pirch, who was following up Bulow. The mere appearance of an unexpected corps (d&rsquoErlon&rsquos) had done much to influence the battle of Ligny on the 16th. The mere appearance of Bulow at St. Lambert did much, as will be seen, to influence the issue at Waterloo. But is it probable that the whole Prussian force marching on Napoleon's flank would allow itself to be stopped by so comparatively slight an obstacle as Grouchy&rsquos contingent? It is at least equally probable that a detachment of Prussians would have been employed to detain Grouchy, while the main body continued its movement towards the battle. In this case, Grouchy&rsquos march on Planchenoit would have been altogether ineffectual, except perhaps to involve himself in the common ruin.[82]

&lsquoBetter to run some risk&rsquo: What Grouchy should have done at Walhain

Clearly, an advance on the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignes at some point on 18 June was Grouchy&rsquos best option. It would have been most effective issuing the order for such an advance at daybreak, but &lsquothe Dyle option&rsquo remained open until Grouchy&rsquos final decision at the Walhain staff conference. Whether or not this hypothetical advance would have resulted in a decisive action against the Prussians is not really the issue given Grouchy&rsquos unfavourable position to oppose the Prussian army&rsquos cross-march to Wellington, any movement made to the left by his army would have been a strategic improvement.

This is the first of two reasons why Grouchy should have accepted Gerard&rsquos advice at Walhain. An advance to the Dyle that afternoon would prove to be the final chance for Grouchy to contribute anything of value to the campaign the marshal&rsquos continued march to Wavre would lead only to the strategically meaningless action against Thielmann&rsquos corps:

&ldquoThe matter might be allowed to rest here were it not that Grouchy&rsquos alternative policy was productive of nothing. To continue his march on Wavre, and to engage the 16,000 men or so whom Blucher had left there, was the equivalent to that &lsquostanding still doing nothing or wandering vaguely about&rsquo which Clausewitz condemns. The arguments which applied against the march on Plancenoit applied in an equal degree against the march on Wavre. It was most improbable that the whole Prussian force would allow itself to be detained from its fixed purpose in order to oppose Grouchy at Wavre. And all the force which was not detained there would be available to march on Waterloo. Was it not better to run some risk in order to be of some possible use, than to run practically the same risk without the chance of being of any use at all? It cannot be shown with any degree of conclusiveness that Grouchy, by marching to the sound of the cannonade, could have exercised any appreciable influence on the battle of Waterloo. It is clear that he exercised no influence upon events by the course which he actually adopted.&rdquo[83]

The second reason Grouchy should have accepted Gerard&rsquos suggestion was the fact that Grouchy now knew &ndash from the sound of the cannonade in the west &ndash that Napoleon had begun to engage Wellington&rsquos Anglo-Allied army:

&ldquoBut the matter assumes quite another aspect when once Grouchy became convinced that a general action was in progress on his left. If up to this point Blucher&rsquos retreat seemed pronounced upon Brussels, now the idea that it was not so ought to have forcibly borne itself in upon him, and in face of the bare possibility of some Prussian help being rendered to Wellington it was Grouchy&rsquos obvious duty to concentrate all his energies on the single purpose of preventing such assistance from being given. How this could best be done was now the only question.&rdquo[84]

It was a simple matter of seizing the initiative &ndash although not without danger. Should Grouchy &lsquomarch to the cannon,&rsquo there was little chance of success &ndash and, if two Prussian corps were to intercept his troops, a risk of a stalemate or defeat. Grouchy also had no way of realizing that he was hearing the sound of the final, decisive battle of the campaign. However, a hard-fought, but unsuccessful, attempt to reinforce Napoleon&rsquos army would, in all probablity, be preferable to ignoring events:

&ldquoWe cannot deny, however, that if General Gerard&rsquos advice was not entirely equivalent to the resolution of advancing on Moustier at day-break, Marshal Grouchy ought to regret his not deciding on following it. He would have done at least all that it was possible for man to do, to prevent a catastrophe which has unhappily been imputed to him. His bravery and zeal had been tested, he had often given proofs of talent, but he here lost the opportunity of placing his name among the number of most able generals, by laboring to follow strictly the orders that had been given him, it is said, with a little bitterness, and the letter of which he endeavored to execute, instead of interpreting the spirit of it. In fact, means for his justification are not wanting the most important and the best established of all is, that unable to divine Blucher&rsquos intentions, and supposing him concentrated in front of Wavre towards Dion le Mont, Grouchy might fear to lay entirely open the communications of the army, by thus throwing himself into the environs of St. Lambert, leaving all the Prussian army behind him. The over-excited partisans of Napoleon have judged his lieutenant with extreme rigor, not dreaming that a portion of the blame should fall on their hero, who had not given him orders entirely satisfactory and it must be admitted, that there exist but few generals who would have resolved to throw themselves thus on St. Lambert, without knowing what Blucher's main force would undertake.&rdquo[85]

It would be a difficult decision to make, but the military logic behind such a decision were sound:

&ldquoThe attempts made by Grouchy to answer Gerard show how disastrous it may be in war, as in other spheres of the conduct of man, to stick at the letter and to miss the essential spirit. The Marshal said that his orders were to follow the Prussians, and that this object could be best attained by marching on Wavre by the line he was taking that the Emperor had told him that he would attack Wellington should that General make a stand before the Forest of Soignies, but that he, that is, Grouchy (and this we believe to be true) had received no command to draw near the main army and that even were he to advance towards Waterloo, the distance was so great he could not be on the field in time. The unfortunate chief could not, or would not, understand that Wavre could be reached by the western bank of the Dyle and by the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies almost as quickly as by any other way, if it was necessary to proceed to Wavre at all that his paramount duty, and this he knew, was to interpose between Blucher and Wellington that he could not possibly accomplish this should Blucher endeavour to march from Wavre on Waterloo, unless he should cross the Dyle by Moustier and Ottignies, or conceivably by Limale and Limelette that were he to move towards the Emperor without delay, he would effectually make his presence felt hours before he should even approach Waterloo and that in any event, in his perplexing position due to his own remissness, inactivity, and mistakes his only course was to press forward towards the sound of the cannon.&rdquo[86]

It is interesting to compare the Prussian reaction to the same cannonade which Grouchy had heard at Walhain:

&ldquoAs we have seen, the Prussians were not demoralized they had not gone off in three directions and Blucher was not making for Liege. He was at Wavre and was planning a masterstroke. At midnight, he had sent to Wellington, through Muffling, a written promise that at dawn he would set the corps of Bulow in motion against Napoleon&rsquos right that of Pirch I was to follow while the other two corps would also be ready to set out. Wellington received this despatch about 3 am of the 18th, and thereupon definitely resolved to offer battle. A similar message was sent off from Wavre at 9.30 am, but with a postscript, in which we may discern Gneisenau's distrust of Wellington, begging Muffling[87] to find out accurately whether the Duke really had determined to fight at Waterloo. Meanwhile Bulow&rsquos corps had begun its march from the southeast of Wavre, but with extreme slowness, which was due to a fire at Wavre, to the crowded state of the narrow road, and also to the misgivings of Gneisenau. It certainly was not owing to fear of Grouchy for at that time the Prussian leaders believed that only 15,000 French were on their track. Not until midday, when the cannonade on the west grew to a roar, did Gneisenau decide to send forward Ziethen&rsquos corps towards Ohain, on Wellington&rsquos left but thereafter the defence of the Dyle against Grouchy was left solely to Thielmann&rsquos corps.&rdquo[88]

&lsquoJoin us and crush Bulow&rsquo: the Aftermath

On the afternoon of 18 June, Grouchy received the first of two despatches from Napoleon. According to Hooper, the first despatch arrived shortly after Grouchy had left Walhain:

&ldquoRiding forward to the head of the column, where the cavalry had come into contact with the Prussian rear-guard, Grouchy was overtaken by a messenger bringing a despatch from Napoleon, written by the chief of the staff at ten o&rsquoclock that morning in the farm of Caillou. As nearly three hours must have been occupied in the transit, the time must have been about one o&rsquoclock. Soult informed Grouchy that the French patrols on the Dyle had learned that one Prussian column had retired on Wavre by Gentinnes. Grouchy, therefore, was to push this column before him, keeping, at the same time, a good look-out on his right.&rdquo[89]

This was followed a few hours later by a second, more urgent, order, sent from French headquarters about 1 pm. According to the message, advanced elements of Blucher&rsquos army had just arrived on Napoleon&rsquos right flank:

&ldquoThis order had not yet been dispatched [to Grouchy], when the Prussian columns appeared in the distance. A few minutes later the Emperor, after questioning the captive [Prussian] hussar, had this postscript added: &lsquoA letter which has just been intercepted tells us that General Bulow is to attack our right flank. We believe we can perceive this corps on the heights of Chapelle-Saint-Lambert. Therefore do not lose a minute to draw nearer to us and to join us and crush Bulow, whom you will catch in the very act.&rsquo&rdquo[90]

It was, finally, a very clear order for Grouchy, but it arrived much too late the marshal was already committed to the battle against Prussian III Corps:

&ldquo&hellipGrouchy points out that &lsquoit was not till after 7 pm that I received the letter which directed me to march on St. Lambert and attack General Bulow.&rsquo Meanwhile, Grouchy had attacked Thielmann&rsquos corps at Wavre, but could not eject the Prussians from that town and at 3 am on Monday, Thielmann counterattacked. The Prussians were repulsed and the village of Bierge fell into Grouchy&rsquos hands, and from this pivot, he launched a successful attack upon the heights of Wavre so that the French were in front of Rosieres, preparing to march on Brussels, when news came of the rout of the main army at Mont St. Jean on Sunday.&rdquo[91]

The news of Napoleon&rsquos defeat at Waterloo must have come as a shock for everyone, but for Grouchy most of all. He now felt compelled to reiterate his reasons for refusing to take Gerard&rsquos advice at Walhain the day before:

&ldquoGrouchy assembled his general officers and held a sort of council of war. He announced to them the terrible news. It is said that, as he spoke, he had tears in his eyes. His discussion with Gerard on the previous day at Walhain, was known to all the different staffs. The Marshal considered that circumstances called upon him to justify his refusal to listen to the advice of his lieutenant. &lsquoMy honour,&rsquo he said, &lsquomakes it a matter of duty to explain myself, in regard to my dispositions of yesterday. The instructions which I had received from the Emperor, left me free to manoeuvre in no other direction than Wavre. I was obliged, therefore, to refuse the advice which Count Gerard thought he had the right to offer me. I do ample justice to General Gerards&rsquo talents and brilliant valour but you were doubtless as surprised as I was, that a general officer, ignorant of the Emperor&rsquos orders, and the data which inspired the Marshal of France, under whose orders he was placed, should have presumed publicly to dictate to the latter, his line of conduct. The advanced hour of the day, the distance from the point where the cannonading was heard, the condition of the roads, made it impossible to arrive in time to share in the action which was taking place. At any rate, whatever the subsequent events may have been, the Emperor&rsquos orders, the substance of which I have just disclosed to you, did not permit of my acting otherwise than I have done.&rsquo Having pronounced these words, which were as much of the nature of a confession as of an excuse, the Marshal expounded his plan of retreat&hellip&rdquo[92]

When compared to the other events of 18 June, Grouchy&rsquos skill in conducting the French right wing&rsquos retreat out of Belgium counted for very little. It was Grouchy&rsquos failure to act on &lsquothe cannonade of Waterloo&rsquo which was remembered: the marshal, unable to seize the initiative at Walhain, had &ndash according to Napoleon&rsquos supporters &ndash &lsquoabandoned&rsquo the emperor.

While this statement may be hyperbole, there was a grain of truth in it: although there was little chance he could influence the emperor&rsquos battle, Grouchy should have tried. It was as much an emotional (or &lsquopersonality&rsquo) decision as a military one:

&ldquoGrouchy&rsquos failure was due to a combination of his own inadequecy and Napoleon&rsquos errors he revealed his character when he defended himself after the catastrophe by saying that, &lsquoInspiration in war is appropriate only to the commander-in-chief, and his lieutenants must confine themselves to executing orders.&rsquo He showed no initiative, authority or energy: he took refuge in a literal obedience to orders, and the orders he received from Napoleon were lacking in precision, and too late. Neither took seriously the possibility that Blucher would recover from Ligny in time to join Wellington.&rdquo[93]

Houssaye agrees that better direction for the marshal should have come from Napoleon:

&ldquoThe one aim of Wellington was to retain his position until the Prussian Army should enter into line. This movement was delayed far longer than he liked. He had hoped that Blucher would commence the attack by two o&rsquoclock: it was now half-past three, and the Prussians did not seem ready to show themselves. The English staff feared that they would not be strong enough to resist a second assault&hellip Napoleon also had grave anxieties. Major La Fresnaye had just delivered him a letter from Grouchy, written in Walhain at half-past eleven. In this very confused despatch, two things especially struck the Emperor: the first was, that Grouchy had made his way very slowly, since at half-past eleven he was still three leagues distant from Wavre the second was, that the Marshal seemed in no way concerned as to what was happening on his left, and that he was asking for orders to manoeuvre on the next day in the round-about direction of La Chyse. It was therefore most unlikely that Grouchy would have the happy inspiration by noon, to march to the cannon, that he might take in flank Bulow's corps, which was already in position at Chapelle-Saint-Lambert. At the best, the Marshal could fall upon the rear of this corps, or contrive by an energetic attack to keep back the other parts of the Prussian Army far from the battlefield. Can we wonder that the Emperor did not at once send back La Fresnaye with fresh instructions for Grouchy? These instructions could only have been &ldquoto draw nearer the army so as to fall upon any corps of the enemy which might attempt to harass the right.&rdquo Napoleon had already sent these directions to his lieutenant at a quarter past one. He could not have done more than reiterate them, and at a very late hour.&rdquo[94]

In the final analysis, Grouchy was unsuited for the role he was appointed to perform. A good subordinate cavalry general, Grouchy probably lacked the skills necessary to be an effective commander of a large, detached force:

&ldquoThe truth is that, on the morning of the 18th, the facts of the situation, if we may be allowed the phrase, rendered it impossible for Grouchy to prevent the junction of Wellington and Blucher. One fact alone ought to settle the question for ever. Grouchy, at Gembloux, was separated from Napoleon at La Belle Alliance by more than twice the distance which separated Blucher from Wellington. No manoeuvering could have made the lines of march shorter. Four Prussian corps d&rsquoarmee were nearer to Wellington than two French corps d&rsquoarmee were to Napoleon. Moreover, one half the Prussian force could, if needed, have been thrown upon Grouchy&rsquos army at some point in any line of march he might have selected. Still further, Wellington and Blucher were executing a well-defined concerted plan, and were in close communication. The reverse was the case with Napoleon and Grouchy. Turn it which way we may, consider it a question of generalship, or one of time and distance, and we arrive at the same conclusion. It was, on the morning of the 18th, beyond the power of Grouchy to alter materially the battle of Waterloo. This, however, does not exonerate him from the charges of not having patrolled to his left, and of not having tried at least to cross the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies nor does it exonerate him from the charge of having clumsily conducted the battle of Wavre.&rdquo[95]


1. Print sources from Internet Archive (

Chesney, Charles Cornwallis. Waterloo Lectures: a Study of the Campaign of 1815. London: Longmans, Green, 1874.

Gardner, Dorsey. Quatre Bras, Ligny and Waterloo: a Narrative of the Campaign in Belgium, 1815. London: Kegan, Paul Trench, 1882.

Headley, Joel Tyler. Napoleon and his Marshals. Vol. 2. Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1861.

Horsburgh, Edward Lee Stuart. Waterloo: a Narrative and a Criticism. London: Methuen, 1895.

Houssaye, Henry. 1815: Waterloo. Trans. Arthur Emile Mann. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900.

Jomini, Antoine Henri baron de. The Political and Military History of the Campaign of Waterloo. Trans. Stephen Vincent Benet. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864.

Morris, William O&rsquoConnor. The Campaign of 1815: Ligny, Quatre-Bras, Waterloo. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

Redway, George William. Wellington and Waterloo. London: Jack, 1913.

Ropes, John Codman. The Campaign of Waterloo: A Military History. New York: Charles Scribner&rsquos Sons, 1892.

Rose, John Holland. The Life of Napoleon I: Including new materials from the British official records. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1913.

Siborne, William. History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815: Containing Minute Details of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo. Vol. 1. London: T. and W. Boone, 1848.

2. Print sources from Google Books (

La Bedoyere, Charles Angelique Francois Huchet comte de. The Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Vol. 2. London: George Virtue, 1827.

Browning, Oscar. The Fall of Napoleon. London: John Lane, 1907.

C. W. Crawley, ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957.

Hooper, George. Waterloo: the Downfall of the First Napoleon. London: Smith, Elder, 1862.

&ndash. Napoleon and the Marshal of the Empire. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1855.

Thiers, Louis-Adolphe. History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon. Vol. 5. Trans. D. Forbes Campbell and Henry William Herbert. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1865.


[1] John Holland Rose, The Life of Napoleon I: Including new materials from the British official records (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1913) 510.

[2] Edward Lee Stuart Horsburgh, Waterloo: a Narrative and a Criticism (London: Methuen, 1895) 173-174.

[3] Napoleon and the Marshals of the Empire, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1855) 237.

[4] Joel Tyler Headley, Napoleon and his Marshals Vol. 2 (Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1861) 189.

[5] Louis-Adolphe Thiers, History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon Vol. 5, trans. D. Forbes Campbell and Henry William Herbert (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1865) 635.

[6] Charles Angelique Francois Huchet comte de La Bedoyere, The Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte Vol. 2 (London: George Virtue, 1827) 815.

[9] William Siborne, History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815: Containing Minute Details of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo Vol. 1 (London: T. and W. Boone, 1848) 197.

[10] William O&rsquoConnor Morris, The Campaign of 1815: Ligny, Quatre-Bras, Waterloo (London: Grant Richards, 1900) 186-187.

[12] General de Brigade Georges-Hyppolyte, baron Le Senecal (7 August 1767 &ndash 25 July 1836).

[14] Marshal Michel Ney, prince de La Moskowa (10 January 1769 &ndash 7 December 1815) commanded Napoleon&rsquos left wing during the Waterloo campaign.

[16] John Codman Ropes, The Campaign of Waterloo: A Military History (New York: Charles Scribner&rsquos Sons, 1892) 248.

[17] Henri-Gratien, comte Bertrand (28 March 1773 &ndash 31 January 1844) had been appointed Grand Marshal of the Palace on 18 November 1813.

[18] Marshal Nicolas-Jean-de-Dieu Soult (29 March 1769 &ndash 26 November 1851) held the title of &lsquoMajor-General&rsquo at Napoleon&rsquos headquarters.

[23] Antoine Henri baron de Jomini, The Political and Military History of the Campaign of Waterloo trans. Stephen Vincent Benet (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864) 174-175.

[26] General de Division Jean-Simon, baron Domon (2 March 1774 &ndash5 July 1830) commanded the 3rd Cavalry Division in Reille&rsquos II Corps.

[27] Generalleutnant Hans-Ernest-Karl, Graf von Ziethen (1770-1848) commanded the Prussian I Corps.

[28] Generalleutnant Georg-Dubislav-Ludwig von Pirch I commanded the Prussian II Corps.

[30] General de Brigade Pierre, baron Bonnemains (13 September 1773 &ndash 9 November 1850) commanded a dragoon brigade in the 10th Cavalry Division.

[31] This is a reference to Colonel Claude-Louis Chaillot.

[32] Henry Houssaye, 1815: Waterloo trans. Arthur Emile Mann (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900) 164.

[39] General de Divison Claude-Pierre, comte Pajol (3 February 1772 &ndash 20 March 1844).

[40] General de Division Francois-Antoine, baron Teste (19 November 1775 &ndash 8 December 1862) had been detached from Lobau&rsquos VI Corps.

[45] Generalleutnant Johann-Adolf, freiherr von Thielmann (27 April 1765 &ndash 10 October 1824) commanded the Prussian III Corps.

[46] George Hooper, Waterloo: the Downfall of the First Napoleon (London: Smith, Elder, 1862) 342-343.

[50] Dorsey Gardner, Quatre Bras, Ligny and Waterloo: a Narrative of the Campaign in Belgium, 1815 (London: Kegan, Paul Trench, 1882) 157-159.

[59] Charles Cornwallis Chesney, Waterloo Lectures: a Study of the Campaign of 1815 (London: Longmans, Green, 1874) 142-143.

[61] General de Division Etienne-Maurice, comte Gerard (4 April 1773 &ndash 17 April 1852) had been awarded his title by Napoleon after the Battle of Bautzen in 1813.

[62] General de Brigade Basile-Guy-Marie-Victor, baron Baltus de Pouilly (2 January 1766 &ndash 13 January 1845) was an experienced corps-level artillery officer.

[63] General de Brigade Elenor-Bernard-Anne-Christophe-Zoa Dufriche de Valaze (12 January 1780 &ndash 26 March 1838) had been appointed commander of IV Corps&rsquo engineers on 15 April.

[64] Browning (p. 256) says Grouchy arrived at Wahain with General de Division Vandamme at 10 am, implying that Vandamme was also present at the conference.

[87] Friedrich-Karl-Ferdinand, freiherr von Muffling (12 June 1775 &ndash 10 January 1851) was the Prussian liaison offcer at Wellington&rsquos headquarters.

[89] Hooper 164. It should be noted that other sources say Grouchy was handed this despatch three hours later, during the initial phase of the fighting against Thielmann&rsquos III Corps.

[91] George William Redway, Wellington and Waterloo (London: Jack, 1913) 80.

[93] The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 9 ed. C. W. Crawley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957) 315.

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