Skip to main content

The Battle of Waterloo: Napoleon's last stand

A "wounded eagle" -  French Imperial eagle
carried into battle and pierced by enemy fire
during the Napoleonic Wars 
June 18 is the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, an epic encounter that put an end once and for all to Napoleon’s dream of conquering Europe. The Emperor had made a glorious comeback to power a hundred days earlier, after escaping from exile on the island of Elba, just off the western coast of Italy. 


Napoleon seemed unstoppable as he made his way in triumph across Europe. It took the combined and well-coordinated military forces of Great Britain and its allies, along with the Prussians, to halt the Emperor's progress. Napoleon's army and his plans for the future of Europe were crushed at Waterloo, a village just south of Brussels. 

On that summer day over 200 years ago, the peaceful Belgium countryside was engulfed by the sights and sounds of a deadly battle: the thunder of drumbeats and hoofbeats; frantic shouts; booming guns; the thick, pervasive smog of musket and artillery fire; and the smell of death. 

Engaged in fierce fighting against Napoleon’s Armée du Nord was a multi-national army of British, Dutch and German troops under the command of the Duke of Wellington. Joining Wellington was the Prussian army led by Prince Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. This wasn't the 72-year-old von Blücher's first encounter with Napoleon; five years earlier he'd defeated the French general at the Battle of Leipzig. 

One of Wellington's men wresting an Imperial eagle 
standard away from a French soldier during the battle.
For such a short conflict Waterloo was extremely bloody, with approximately 50,000 casualties combined on both sides and thousands more wounded, captured or missing. And that carnage doesn’t account for the hordes of dead horses strewn over the battlefield, a gruesome contribution to the hellish scene.

Even worse, because of inadequate medical resources many of the wounded lingered on the open field for days, with no doctors to treat their injuries and prevent unnecessary and excruciating deaths.

So what did the battle achieve? Here are few reasons why the Battle of Waterloo merits attention:  


  • First and foremost, Waterloo firmly squashed Napoleon's hopes of ever dominating Europe. Following his defeat, he was forced into exile once again, this time on the distant South Atlantic island of St. Helena, where he died. If Napoleon had won the battle the map of Europe would have been redrawn and the course of history changed. The Battle of Waterloo also marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars, which spanned more than 15 years and caused the deaths of an estimated 3-6 million soldiers and civilians. 
  • The aftermath of Waterloo ushered in a period of relatively long-lasting peace with no further armed conflict between the major powers in Europe for almost 40 years, until the Crimean War of the mid-1850s. The British army didn’t fight again on Western European soil for almost a hundred years, up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
  • A smaller but enduring effect of the battle was the introduction of the word “Waterloo” into the English vernacular, as in the expression “meeting my Waterloo” or facing an ultimate defeat, just as Napoleon did that day.

To better understand what transpired on June 18, 1815, here’s an animated look at the battle, which explains in just over 12 minutes how Napoleon was outflanked and outwitted by Wellington and von Blücher.

Equally compelling are the photographs of French veterans 40 years after Waterloo, posing in their uniformsSeeing these faces makes the battle real, lifting it out of the dusty pages of history and breathing life into what was one of the most significant conflicts in European history.




Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Comments

  1. Maureen, this was interesting because I am reading the Poldark books. Right now they are at the point where Napolean is in France again, making his way toward Paris!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love Poldark! I can't wait to get to the book you're reading. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Cato Street Conspiracy

Conspiracy and treason go hand in hand. Throughout history, conspirators have huddled in back rooms and dark corners in secret, concocting schemes that are both dangerous and illegal. So it’s no surprise that their plans often spiral out of control and end in disaster. 
A good example of a conspiracy plot gone wrong happened during the Regency. It’s been dubbed the Cato Street Conspiracy because of where the conspirators were caught. This is a tale that, according to historian J.B. Priestley (author of The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency) “begins in absurdity and ends in horror.”
The year was 1820. Though the Napoleonic Wars were over, Britain had paid a heavy price for its victory against the French. The costs of the war had strained the country’s economy. The working classes were hit hard by periods of famine, rising food prices due to the Corn Laws, and high unemployment, the latter driven by soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe and looking for work. And of course, t…

The end of the Holy Roman Empire, or what happens when the Empire doesn't strike back

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper
T.S. Eliot wasn't actually describing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire when he wrote those words in his poem, “The Hollow Men.” Nonetheless, his words are an extremely apt way to describe the end of the Holy Roman Empire, which ended quietly with a stroke of a pen exactly 212 years ago in August of 1806. That’s when the last emperor decided it was his duty to abdicate, letting the ancient dominion under his protection dissolve rather than allow Napoleon to usurp the role of Holy Roman Emperor and everything that came with it. By that August the end of the empire had become inevitable. Napoleon’s victory over Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz in December of 1805 and his formation of the Confederation of the Rhine the following July (after he convinced 16 German princes to renounce their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire and join him) were fatal blows. Throughout its thousand-year history, the Empire e…

Macaroni Men and Yankee Doodles

November is a month that here in the United States is defined by food, culminating in a huge Thanksgiving Day feast. It's also the month we honor our military veterans. So I'm going to focus on both food and patriotism - especially an Italian pasta product that became synonymous with a controversial English fashion and developed uniquely American associations.
During the 18th century, it was all the rage for young men of the English nobility to take a trip through Europe to soak up its art and culture. It was called the Grand Tour.
In Italy, these privileged lads discovered a pasta dish far removed from their usual British fare. It was called maccaroni, and they raved about it when they got back home. The travelers became known as the Macaroni Club, though there is no evidence an actual club ever existed.
But it wasn't their love of pasta recipes that made the club members distinctive. Along with foreign food, these young aristocrats adopted a style of dress and behavior that…