Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Last Victory

On the 6th of April, 1814, the Emperor Napoléon abdicated his throne as Emperor of the French and went into exile on Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy. Less than a year later, Napoléon returned to France, within days he had reclaimed his throne. While he stated that his intentions were peaceful, the Allies had him declared an outlaw at the Congress of Vienna.

So the Emperor prepared for a renewal of the wars which had plagued Europe, nearly without cease, since the French Revolution of 1789.

(Source)
I have always been fascinated by apocalyptic tales, in history and in science fiction. The Hundred Days of Napoléon have always held a special fascination for me. From ruling a major portion of Europe, sitting on the ancient throne of France, to ruling a small island, the Emperor had returned for one last roll of the dice.

Victory for the French may indeed have allowed the Emperor to keep his throne. Though nearly all of Europe was marching on France, only two of Napoléon's enemies were close at hand, the British (with their Dutch-Belgian-German allies) and the Prussians, both quartered in Belgium, just to the north of the French border, scattered in cantonments across the countryside.

If the French could move fast enough, and stay concentrated, they could separate and then deal fatal blows to both the Anglo-Allied army and the Prussians before they could concentrate and long before the distant armies of Austria and Russia could close with the French border and march on Paris. Shattering the British and the Prussians could well dissuade the Austrians from continuing the war, after all was Napoléon not the son-in-law of the Austrian Emperor?

Who knows what the Russians might have done, but with long supply lines and no friends willing to continue the fight, they may well have drawn back into the Motherland.

It all came down to the campaign which is now known as the Waterloo campaign, from roughly the 14th to the 18th of June in the year 1815. Four battles, most people only remember the last one from which the campaign takes it name - Waterloo.

But on the 16th of June, the army of Napoléon engaged the Prussians in those fields shown in the opening photo. Near the Belgian town of Ligny, the battle of the same name was fought. It was the Emperor's last victory.

On the same day, the Anglo-Allies fought a detachment of the French army to a draw at the small Belgian crossroads village of Quatre-Bras. I have written of this campaign every year since I started the blog, I've covered the events in any number of ways, here are those posts from 2012 to last year.

In 2012 I told the tale of our trip to see the reenactment of the battle. Much mud in that story.

In 2013 some paintings and a few videos (some of them sadly no longer available) is how I commemorated the 198th anniversary of the campaign.

In 2014, Prelude, a number of paintings interspersed with some text to put the days leading up to Waterloo in perspective

In 2014, Le 18 Juin 1815, again a number of paintings, some miniatures, and enough text to give the reader a feel for the ebb and flow of the Battle of Waterloo.

This series of four posts from 2015 are some of my favorite posts on the campaign (some of my favorite posts out of many here at The Chant, not just the Waterloo ones) -
In 2016, books about the battle and the Napoleonic era were the topic.

Last year, I began experimenting with writing some historical fiction. These posts were fun to write, and hopefully gave the readers a feel for what, perhaps, it felt like to actually be there. I really enjoyed writing these -
A very good account of the Battle of Ligny, "The Last Victory," is here, you should read that, it's pretty accurate and entertaining as well.

The campaign of 1815 is very popular with wargamers, particularly those recreating wars using miniatures. I wish I had the time to create the terrain they fight their "little wars" upon and collect and paint the many figures needed to recreate these battles on the wargaming table. If you travel here, there is a series of ten posts (which you can page through, see near the top right of the text, Page 1 of 10, etc.) depicting one man's recreation of the Battle of Ligny in miniatures. For me, it's simply breathtaking to behold, the chap did a superb job. (And I'm not saying that just because we share the same first name...)

I can almost hear the thump of cannon, the rattling of musketry. and the chink of horse furniture as I look at those photos. Brilliant, simply brilliant.

A sample photo from the aforementioned series of posts.
While your interest in those days may not be as intense as mine, ask The Missus Herself, she knows this campaign is an obsession of mine, I visited the field of Waterloo many times whilst stationed in Germany, far too many she will tell you, it's a fascinating period of history. Often the future of nations was decided in just a few short days.

Waterloo ushered in a fairly peaceful period in European history. No major wars would be fought in Europe for almost a hundred years after Waterloo. Not until 1914.

When once again the Prussians (now called Germans) marched on Paris. This time the British fought with the French.

History, I am fascinated by it.



22 comments:

  1. Guess who is up early again; well, no, you don't have to guess because I'll tell you.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. We might have to retire the yet-to-be-designed Earliest Commenter award.

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  2. Oh boy, lots of links, thanks Sarge. Timely posting since forecast is for 92 and dew point of 70 today. Not much outside time today... :(

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  3. Well, I think the French would think the Franco-Prussian wars to be major wars, as they did lose Paris, and stimulate the invention of the modern center-fire cartridge, bolt action gun, modern recoil artillery, the Frenches weird answer to the Gatling, and so forth.

    And there was that whole Crimean War thingy, which was just a cluster mess for both the British and the Russian Empires, which brought about the creation of modern nursing and a really depressing but stirring poem, and lots of bad jokes about 'Crimea river'.

    Maybe not major wars involving more than two combatants at a time, in Europe. Or major wars not involving Belgium being used as a doormat.

    And what Nylon12 said. 90 degrees and melting humidity, just waiting for the afternoon storms to roll in to cool the front of the house. And drive the people, who stand 5' apart and shout at the top of their lungs because they can't hear from too much thumpy-thumpy music played too loud, inside. Grrrrr. 7AM is not a good time to wake Beans up with a friendly hollering match.

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    1. Franco-Prussian Wars? There was just the one. But there were the conflicts between Denmark and Prussia, Austria and Prussia, and the French-Italian-Austrian War of 1859, sometimes called the Second War of Italian Independence, the Battle of Solferino being an exceptionally bloody one, which led to the founding of the Red Cross. That was led by Jean-Henri Dunant, a witness to the battle. The suffering of the wounded, inspired him to push for better care for the wounded.

      At any rate, the period of 1815 to 1914 was free of major wars. Those wars that did occur were very major for those in them, not so much for the rest of the Continent.

      I don't count the Crimean War for many and varied reasons. It was a small affair, though it did mark the first time the French and the British were on the same side, though the commander of the British forces, Lord Raglan (who had lost an arm at Waterloo) exhibited an annoying tendency to refer to the enemy as "the French."

      So yeah, it wasn't that peaceful, but compared to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and what was to come in the 20th Century, it was downright quiet.

      I have a neighbor who likes to mow his lawn early on Saturday morning, I understand, beat the heat and all that, but dammit, it interrupts my beauty sleep. (And we're far too close by to rely on artillery or air strikes to calm his desire to cut grass.)

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    2. At the previous casa, there was Lawnmower Man, who would mow his yard on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. All 4 seasons. Either mowing-mowing or mowing-leaf collection. On a riding lawnmower. And he was one of those guys who meticulously mowed, so each one of his mower paths was 1/2 the width of his mower.

      And he would start at 8am and be done by noon, on a less than 1/3rd acre lot. Obsessive.

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    3. I have a neighbor who likes to mow his lawn early on Saturday morning, I understand, beat the heat and all that, but dammit, it interrupts my beauty sleep. (And we're far too close by to rely on artillery or air strikes to calm his desire to cut grass.)

      Well, there's always surreptitious nighttime spraying of Roundup -- deserts don't have to be mowed, right?

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    4. Beans - I hate those guys. In military housing there was always that guy who was "Lawn of the Quarter" who had no apparent actual military job, had time to work on his yard five to six hours a day. Every day.

      Grrrr.

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    5. Larry - the thought, tempting as it is, but it's just to close to my yard.

      Besides, chemical warfare? There's a line I'd rather not cross.

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    6. Like General Raglan, Fighting Joe Wheeler served as a general of cavalry in the Confederate Army. and then as a Major General of cavalry in the Spanish American War. During the Battle of Guasimas, while his troops were driving the Spaniards back he was yelling Come on boys, we have those Damn Yankees on the run!

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    7. That's right, Joe Wheeler! The Spanish-American War was an event which healed a number of old wounds from the Late Unpleasantness.

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    8. " (And we're far too close by to rely on artillery or air strikes to calm his desire to cut grass.)"

      I'm sure a few rounds of canister from your 12 pounder would do wonders. Even from a 6 pounder.

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    9. That's the answer Joe, go old school, a whiff of grape if you will.

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    10. Or just fire AP ammo. From that 8.8cm Flak 37 you have hidden behind one of your bushes. Just make sure your plants are out of the blast zone. And make sure you put wood planks under the legs so they don't scar your wife's lawn too much.

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    11. Do you think they'd notice? I've been calling it a trellis, they're starting to get suspicious...

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    12. Dunno. How good are your camouflage skills? Except for firing at Juvat-level air predators, you should have gone with a nice 5 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 38 as it is much easier to disguise while still able to stop Kill-Dozer level armor. Though the 3.7cm Panzerabwehrkanone 37 is really neat as you have that whole rifle-grenade HEAT round that would put a K-D on it's knees, so to speak. And you can take that apart and store it in your garden shed. Hmmm, yeah, definitely go with the Pak 37.

      I would say go recoilless or ATM, but the backblast would put paid to your wife's shrubbery, and we can't have her shutting our little home here down while you do plant penance.

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    13. All excellent recommendations. I shall have to consult the quartermaster to see if we have those in stock!

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  4. When the local golf course greenskeepers start showing up to get tips on lawn care, you know someone's gone overboard...

    And I totally agree on chemical warfare. Having known to cropdust once in a while.

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    1. This comment was supposed to be under the above train of thought. I r a dumb mass, I r.

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    2. Beans - I figured, this ain't real estate, location isn't that important.

      ;)

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)