Saturday, May 27, 2023

17 June 1815, The Tempest

Berkshire nearly jumped out of his skin as a peal of thunder, nearly directly overhead, crashed down upon him at nearly the same time a battery of nine-pounders sent a blast of canister down the road.

A small party of French light cavalry were shredded to red ruin by the blast, which caused a following squadron to stop in their tracks. Berkshire swore he saw runnels of blood being washed into the field next to the chaussée.

"Sar'nt Ames, as soon as those guns are limbered and heading back, we'll follow. Keep the lads well in hand. It's going to be a long afternoon!"

The Emperor was furious, he had ridden over from St. Amand to find Ney sitting in a small inn eating breakfast.

"The English are running, even as you sit here eating! Did you not receive my orders? I expected you to seize this crossroads yesterday!"

Ney got to his feet, his ruddy face even redder than normal. "Sire, you deprived me of Girard's division and d'Erlon's corps. I had but a single brigade of heavy cavalry until late in the day as you forbade me using the Guard cavalry ..."


The Emperor's shout shocked everyone in the small room. Before things went any further, one of Maréchal Ney's aides-de-camp stepped up and spoke.

"Monsieur le Maréchal, Général de Brigade Huber has reported that he is in pursuit of the English, they are fleeing towards Brussels!"

Napoléon took a deep breath, then said, "Very well, very well. Well then Ney, let's let bygones be bygones. I have sent Grouchy in pursuit of the Prussians. The Guard is following me from St. Amand along with the infantry of Lobau. We will have the remainder of Kellerman's cavalry, as well as that of Milhaud. Get Reille's troops moving, I shall be at the head of the pursuit. Quickly now, this storm will slow the retreat, but it will also slow our pursuit. All in all, I still expect that we will sleep in Brussels tonight."

With that, the Emperor turned on his heel and left. The clatter of hooves let the men around Ney know that the Emperor's party had departed.

"Monsieur le ..."

Ney interrupted the aide, "Thank you, Marcel. You probably saved me from being relieved. Now let's get moving, I have dawdled, but now is the time for action."

Vandamme and Gérard rode side by side, their division commanders had been given their orders, now they had little to do, except perhaps complain.

"I tell you, Gérard, we should have set off this morning, first thing. The damned Prussians have nearly a twelve hour head start on us, and with this rain ..."

"I know, my old comrade, but I trust the Emperor." Gérard said, almost as if trying to convince himself as well.

"Ah, but do you trust Grouchy? I don't understand the Emperor's thinking. There were men more qualified than he!"

"Yourself perhaps?" Gérard said that with a grin, not wanting to ignite Vandamme's famous temper. He remembered le Tondu's famous remark towards his colleague, "If I had two of you, the only solution would be to have one hang the other!"

Vandamme shook his head, "Yes, damn it, why not?"

The general then spurred his horse, then rode off to join his corps. Shouting back over his shoulder, he said, "We shall see who deserves a baton after this campaign!"

Capitaine Joseph Martin slogged through the muddy fields with his company, he had been overjoyed to learn that Sergent-major Juin was alive. Badly bruised but alive.

He had been hit in the seesaw fight for St. Amand, he had gone down in the street according to soldiers nearby. But apparently the ball which hit him in the chest was nearly spent, it had, as Juin had put it, "taken the wind out of me," but hadn't even broken the skin.

But the wound he had taken to the scalp had been a more serious matter, he had lost a lot of blood. Fortunately, he had been found and taken back to the battalion surgeon. From what Martin understood, Juin was on the way back to France.

He smiled at that thought, then shivered as another torrent of rain sent water down his collar. Marching was better than fighting, but he wished that the damned rain would stop!

Sergent Nicolas Guilbert was well back in the long column marching north. He suspected that the Guard wouldn't arrive at their destination until well after dark. According to one of the officers, their destination was just south of Brussels.

He heard his fellow Guardsmen grumbling. At least three leagues to go, in this mud! The road was reserved for the wagons and the artillery, les grognards marched in the fields. Guilbert was sure that his shoes weighed at least as much as his pack at this point.

But le Tondu said march, so march they would. Wherever the Emperor led them.

Sergeant Hans Pizzeck barked at one of the younger men, "Pick your feet up you sly bastard. Do you want the Frenchies to catch you?"

"No, Sergeant, but this mud ..."

"Is the same damned mud we're all marching in. One foot in front of the other, Junge. Do you want to let the Old Man² down?"

The entire platoon sang out, "Nein!"

Pizzeck was surprised at the men's morale. The French had beaten them the day before, but they were ready to fight again.

And they would, he just wished the damned rain would ease up!

The forward patrols arrived at the top of a ridge, before them, across a valley, they could see campfires. It appeared that the English were done running.

"I think they are holding here to let their trains escape through the forest,³ then they will fall back. Advance your men d'Erlon, let us see what this Wellington has in mind." Napoléon was impatient, with the weather, with his generals, and with the slowness of his army's movements. He feared that the English and their allies would vanish in the night. He needed to end this, now!

The commander of I Corps nodded and sent his aides out to have the only division that had come up so far push north. He couldn't imagine what the Emperor had in mind, it was getting dark, the rain had soaked everything, even the main road was covered in mud.

Within moments d'Erlon saw his troops deploying into columns in the fields by the main road. As the drums signaled the advance, everyone near the Emperor held their breath.

The roar of English cannon all along the ridge to the north answered the Emperor's concerns. Wellington was going nowhere. There would be a battle on the morrow.

A battle to decide the fate of France.

¹ Caption translation: On the Eve of Waterloo, Napoleon at the head of his Service Squadrons gives chase to the English Army, by Henri Chartier.
² Meaning Generalfeldmarschall von Blücher.
³ The Forêt de Soignes lies just south of Brussels, far more extensive in those days, Napoléon thought Wellington was insane for offering battle with forest to his rear. However, Wellington knew that the forest offered no real impediment to the movement of either troops or artillery.


  1. The rain, the mud & the occasional grapeshot. A good mental picture that's better to read about.

  2. One wonders if victory was ever possible if Napoleon and his leaders were tearing at each other so even prior to the main battle. Certainly in the business world, a lack of unity usually presages a failure.

    Hiking in the rain is miserable. I can only imagine with a full kit, wool uniform, and nothing to repel the rain.

    And mud. So much mud.

    1. The business world is nothing like a 19th Century army led by an Emperor who expects his commands to be obeyed without question. Also, none of those men were at their best, they were, after all, taking part in a massive gamble where failure could mean loss of life after the campaign was over.

      Both De la Bédoyère and Ney were shot by a Bourbon firing squad after Napoléon's second abdication. Many other officers fled the country to avoid that. A number of others were exiled or proscribed by being sent to the countryside and watched constantly by the police.

      Given the circumstances, it's understandable why they might be a bit "testy" with each other.

    2. Shot by a firing squad... that is a high stakes game they were playing.
      That kind of "power" high stakes game never seems to go out of style judging by today...

    3. Perhaps it is just that I do not understand that mindset, Sarge. I am not a gambling man at all, and the allure of power has never appealed to me. Gambling with one's life for power and position seems far too risky to me.

    4. I get that, I've never been a gambling man, don't understand the attraction. The allure of power? An illusion if you ask me, and I'm pretty risk-averse in most things.

    5. The allure of power? Look at the news over the last few years and notice the people who are above the law.

      The United States of America invaded and occupied Iraq because someone with the power wanted to, we spent a generation in Afghanistan for the same reason. That's power. Plus someone made a lot of money from those invasions.

      All those rich & powerful who went to Jeffrey Epstein for their fun knowing that they will be protected from their crimes. That's the power to do what you want & not seriously worry about it.

    6. There is no punishment ...

      In this life.

  3. My feet and legs hurt after reading that.

    1. Then I've done my job, putting the reader there. Thanks, Joe.

  4. I believe all of Napoleon's officers swore fealty to the restored king and when they were captured supporting the 100 days they could expect nothing less than a bullet in the head. This of course led the French to do what they do best in a victory they had nothing or little to do with gaining and pissing it all away via the Ultras. Having learned nothing and vowing to never forget, they made war on the people their first priority when restored to office.

    Oh, and Borepatch has question for you over at his place.


    1. The Bourbons were not the most forgiving of people at their best. Lop off the king's head, yes, they held a grudge. But they did piss away the chance to stay in power.


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