King's College London
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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

Cavalry in the thick of battle

Around midday on 18 June 1815 Napoleon sent a preliminary French force to engage the Allied right flank at Hougoumont, intending to draw troops from the centre to weaken it in advance of his main attack. The move was met with stronger resistance than he had expected however, and a raging battle occupied French and Allied forces at Hougoumont throughout the day.

Scene showing cavalry about to charge across a cluttered battlefield at the Battle of WaterlooScene showing cavalry about to charge at the Battle of WaterlooNext, a cannonade and infantry attack was directed at the Allied centre. With Wellington’s right flank and centre thus engaged, the French infantry advanced to the left. Fierce fighting was now underway across the whole of the Allied front line, which was forced back, but held firm.

The Allied cavalry then charged in support of their beleaguered infantry. The accompanying image appears to capture this moment, providing some indication of the terror and devastation of this famously bloody battle.

Meanwhile, the Prussians had reached Placenoit where they were met by French troops under Marshall Grouchy. As on the 16 June, the Prussian resistance was impressive, and Napoleon was forced to commit more men, leaving his troops at the main battlefield stretched.

With pressure mounting to break the enemy before they broke him, Napoleon ordered Ney to capture La Haye Sainte. The Allied infantry, in square formations, deflected the initial cavalry charge, but this left them vulnerable to artillery fire. Napoleon’s troops were eventually able to capture this crucial vantage point.

Sensing his opportunity, Napoleon moved his artillery forward to increase pressure on the allied centre. Meanwhile, his infantry advanced towards Wellington’s position on a ridge behind the front line. But Wellington’s troops, hidden in the long grass, took the French infantry by surprise. Firing at point-blank range, the Allies were able to force the French back.

Cue the timely arrival of Blücher’s forces. The Allied army, close to defeat only a short time earlier, now found itself greatly strengthened in numbers and in a position to advance. Napoleon’s troops are forced to flee; the Allies are victorious.

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