Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Wee Hours ...

The Chateau of Hougoumont as it appeared in 1815¹
Corporal Michael Wareham of the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards looked out over the wall towards the south woods. The rain was still pouring down and he felt bad for the Nassauers and Hanoverians posted in those woods. At least in the chateau they had a few cook fires going out of the rain.

He had gotten a couple hours of sleep earlier in the night on some sodden straw in the big barn which formed the western flank of the chateau, which one of the officers had referred to as "Goomont," or something sounding like that.

He had been awakened by a party of pioneers who had come in to cut firing ports in the exterior wall of the barn. Unable to sleep, he had assisted with that work. At least it kept him moving, which helped keep him warm, and moreover, it kept him dry.

But now he was out on the wall, wondering if the rain would ever stop and if it did, would there be a battle?

"What are ye lookin' at Corp?"

Wareham turned to see Private Mick Wilcox, one of the men in his company, but not in his section.

"Mick, why aren't ye sleepin' lad?"

"Too damned chilly for me, Corp. Damned pioneers makin' all that noise as well. Who can sleep on the night before a battle?"

"Aye. Climb up here, we can watch together. Wonder how the foreigners are doing out in those woods? They're a mite closer to the Frenchies then we are. I reckon we'll get warning enough, if Boney decides to try for it."

"Better them than us, Corp. Better them than us."

"De la Bédoyère, have we heard anything from le Maréchal Grouchy?"

"No, Sire. Just before he went to take a nap, Maréchal Soult sent another dispatch, ordering him to march to join our right flank. It is the second order that le Maréchal sent."

The Emperor paced back and forth for a few moments, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked disheveled and unwell. His coatee, the undress uniform of a colonel of the Chasseurs à Cheval of the Guard was draped over the back of a chair.

"And still it rains ..." Napoléon mused aloud.

"It's as if the heavens themselves wish to prevent us defeating the English duke and his foreign minions."

"We faced them in Spain, Sire. I wouldn't underestimate them." Maréchal Soult said as he stepped into the room.

"The army he used to beat you in Spain is in America², fighting those rustics. The men he has now are new recruits. Most of his army is composed of Belgians and Dutchmen. Who were our allies not long ago! If we win tomorrow, they will flock to our banners." The Emperor seemed put out at yet another reference to English fighting prowess by another of his generals who had been beaten by this Wellington in Spain. Soult, Ney, Reille, all of them were infected with this fear of Wellington.

"Couldn't sleep, Soult?" The Emperor decided not to dwell on the fears of the men who had fought, and lost, in Spain. He knew his own limits, he also knew that his one campaign in Spain had seen the English driven from Spanish soil and their commander laid to rest in a Spanish grave!

"I have reports to send to Paris, Sire. Also I am expecting word from Maréchal Grouchy before sunrise. I have slept enough."

In truth, Maréchal Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia had hardly slept at all. But if the Emperor was up, so would he stay up.

Worried that the Emperor took the English lightly, but resolved not to speak of it again, at least not until morning, Soult kept his thoughts to himself.

Private Jürgen Stroop of 1st Battalion, 2nd Nassau Regiment's light infantry contingent had managed to find a modicum of shelter under a tree. It wasn't much but it did keep the rain from running down the back of his neck and into his uniform.

"Jürgen, are the French out there?"

Stroop gave his companion, another private by the name of Kessler, he had no idea what the man's first name was, a look of pity.

"No, Kessler, I'm sure they've all marched back to France because of this filthy weather. Of course they're out there, and let me tell you, they are just as wet, just as miserable as we are."

"Did you receive any rations before they sent you out here?"

Stroop wondered how he got stuck with the youngest man in the company, kid couldn't be older than seventeen, he thought. Begrudgingly, he dug into his haversack and brought out a stale biscuit he'd been saving for later.

As Kessler's face lit up, and as he gobbled the biscuit down, Stroop had to smile. He wasn't particularly hungry, he seldom was before a battle, but the kid was probably ravenous.

Ah well, at least one of them was happy.

"As soon as the eastern sky lights up, I want us on the move." Generalfeldmarschall von Blücher felt very good for a man of 72, who had had probably three hours of sleep over the last few days, had had a horse shot out from under him leading a cavalry charge, and been ridden over at least twice by French cavalry.

"It's no wonder the men love him," von Gneisenau mused to himself. Out loud he said, "I have already given the order Herr Generalfeldmarschall. Von Bülow's Corps will march first ..."

"But they have the farthest to travel!" von Blücher pointed out, with some heat.

"I know that Herr Generalfeldmarschall, however IV Corps is our strongest unit within reasonable marching distance of Mont St. Jean. Better to arrive and deliver a solid blow than have the men who lost at Ligny have to make that long march then face the French after that." von Gneisenau realized, with some embarrassment, that he had snapped at the field marshal. Tired or not, that wouldn't do.

Before he could apologize, von Blücher laid a hand on von Gneisenau's arm and said, "I know, you do know best. Get my army to where we can fight, I'll do the rest."

"Jawohl, Herr Generalfeldmarschall, with God's help, we will prevail."

"Amen! Now where is my orderly? I need something to drink!"

It was hard to tell, what with the pouring rain, but gradually the eastern sky began to lighten. Many men looked with dread at the coming of daylight.

They expected to fight, one way or the other. Some of the men, particularly in the Prussian Army, would be praying. Some would be trying to dry their kit, knowing it was futile. Some sought a bite to eat, or something strong to drink.

Many of the men gathered on the slopes of Mont St. Jean and the ridge of Belle Alliance, and further away in Wavre and on the approaches to that town, knew that this would possibly be their last day on earth.

Many had seen their last night and many hoped that at least the sun would rise and that the rain would cease.

Most knew that no matter what they did, fate would find them on these muddy fields south of Brussels.

And so the sun arose on the morning of Sunday, the 18th of June, in the year of Our Lord, 1815.

Last Reveille
Lady Butler

¹ North is to the left in this photo. The French attack cam from the right.
Buildings n° 1, 4 and 5, as well as 9, 16 and 11, are long gone.
N°10 was the Chapel, of which a few walls survived
N°19 is the Northern Gate
N°2 is now a simple wall.
N°3, 12 and 18 are now dedicated to exhibitions
N°13, 17, 14 and 5 are still in use. (Key from the source, edited.)
² Sent there to fight the War of 1812, many were still aboard ship returning to England, some were actually present on the other side of the field. But for the most part, the Wellington's Peninsular Army was no more.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Last Night

Blücher auf dem Weg nach Waterloo¹
Jäger² Markus Kohlmann hissed under his breath as he lost his footing, nearly falling, he somehow managed to stay upright. He was drenched and the rain kept falling in torrents.

His best friend in the army, Jäger Horst Kempf, reached out and steadied Kohlmann as his feet started to slide again. "Try to walk wider, my friend."

"Wider, what the hell does that mean?" Kohlmann muttered.

"Place your feet wider apart as you walk. What do you think I mean?" Kempf thought his friend had little imagination, he tended to bull his way through any and all situations.

"Well, say what you mean, Horst. Say, 'spread your feet further apart.' 'Walk wider,' such nonsense. What are you, a poet or something?"

Their sergeant, Unterofficier Max Schultze, turned and barked at both men, "More marching, less gabbing, you two!"

Kohlmann shook his head, bloody sergeants!

"How are you feeling, Herr Generalfeldmarschall?" von Nostitz was still concerned that Blücher was in more pain than he would admit. But he knew his commander was stubborn and tough, very tough. Most men his age would still be under a doctor's care after having a horse shot out from under him in the midst of battle.

"I am fine, Junge. I just wish the doctor had let me drink some of that brandy he used to make the concoction he insisted he massage into my bruises. Champagne is fine, but brandy gives a fellow a fire in the belly!" von Blücher was in better spirits but he still rued the need to retreat.

Von Nostitz tried not to get too close to his commander, the old man positively reeked of the brandy, gin, garlic, and rhubarb the doctor had used to treat the old man. The doctor had also recommended that the field marshal should rest in bed for at least a week.

Not that there was any hope of that!

Von Nostitz hoped that perhaps the driving rain might wash the smell away. It was almost as bad as the stink of the hundreds of unwashed soldiers marching around them.

"That's one thing the historians seldom mention," von Nostitz thought, "the smell of war!"

La Haye Sainte
Lieutenant Wilhelm Brecher was tempted to stay in the large barn where he'd left his kit. The rain was non-stop and it had been coming down since earlier in the day. But he felt duty bound to check on his men.

The march north to this ridge had been grueling. Though the battalion had not been engaged in the actions on Friday, they had still had a long march from their bivouac when the orders had come to move to occupy this farm. Most of that move had been in this miserable rain, which Brecher was beginning to think was trying to drown him.

He heard the sounds of an ax and went to investigate.

"What in God's name are you doing, soldier?!"

The man in question, one of the pioneers from his apron and the rather large ax he was wielding, turned around.

"Firewood, Sir! This door is pretty substantial, we thought to use it to cook supper and keep us warm in this nasty weather."

Brecher shook his head, "How about using that door to keep the damned French out? How about that?"

The pioneer looked a bit chagrined, it was obvious that he nor any of the other men had thought of that.

Brecher realized it was too late to save the door, turning to a sergeant he barked, "You, sergeant, go into the barn, grab anything we can use to block this entrance. I swear to God, you lads would tear down the walls themselves if you could either burn them or eat them. Damned fools!"

Turning again to the pioneer, Brecher asked him, "Why aren't you with the other pioneers, over at the big chateau³?"

The man shrugged and said, "Colonel Ompteda kept some of us back. I didn't ask why."

Brecher said, "Make yourself useful then and help the sergeant."


The Guard was halted again to let another battery of guns move up the road. The men were soaked to the bone, most of them were too tired to complain. Each man simply followed the man ahead of him.

Sergent Nicolas Guilbert turned to see if his old comrade, Sergent Pierre Grandchamp was still behind him. He was, Guilbert nodded to him.

Grandchamp nodded back, he could see that Guilbert was as sodden as the rest of them, but somehow he still wore his fatigue cap at the same jaunty angle he always did.

"Hey, Nicolas, any idea where we are?"

Guilbert adopted a thoughtful look, then said, "Belgium, I think we're in Belgium. Though from the look of things, we might have taken a wrong turn someplace and are at the bottom of La Manche⁴ right now. Seems wet enough."

Before Grandchamp could reply, the call to march came down the line.

Somewhere in the midst of the column, one wag shouted out, "Perhaps le Tondu can find the English before we're all swept out to sea!"

Privates Will Thomas and Jack MacKenzie were doing their best to stay dry. They were huddled in a sunken road next to a hedge which seemed to block a lot of the rain which continued to pour down.

"Will, how's the leg?" MacKenzie had shot down the cavalryman who had opened a gash on Thomas' leg the previous day. Thomas claimed he was fine, but MacKenzie had noticed him limping towards the end of the march to this place.

"I'll be a'right, Jacko. It was a scratch, had worse in Spain and you know that." For the moment Thomas' leg was not bothering him, he felt so wet and miserable that the leg was the least of his worries.

"C'mon laddie, I saw ye limpin', I know it pains ye."

"Pebble in me shoe, that's all."

"What's that?" MacKenzie thought the man had to be joking.

"Nah, I'm serious. Bleedin' great boulder in ma' right shoe. When we stopped I had it off and found it. Thing was the size of a hen's egg."

From down the line nearby an officer yelled out, "You men try and get some sleep and stop yer jawin', the morrow's bound to be busy!"

As he pulled his sodden blanket closer around him, MacKenzie muttered, "And how are we supposed tae sleep, in this bloody muck?"

The night wore on, the rain poured down on the men atop the ridge at Mont St. Jean, knowing that their enemy was moving towards them, in force.

As Wellington wrote the last words of a message to London, he paused and looked out the window of the small inn in the town of Waterloo he was using as his headquarters. He knew that there would be a battle in the morning, a big one. He wondered if the Prussians would come, he wondered if he would need their help.

Knowing that his worrying about things wouldn't change them, the Duke of Wellington prepared for bed. He would be up before dawn, which wasn't that far away, any sleep he got now was better than none at all.


"Your Grace?" Gordon had been waiting outside of the small room he was using as his quarters.

"My compliments to the provost, have this dispatch sent to London, immediately."

"Very good, Sir."

As the Duke turned down the lamp, he looked outside.

The rain was still coming down, in sheets.

¹ While the engraving is supposed to depict the Prussian Army's march from Wavre to Waterloo, I use it here to depict the Prussian retreat from Ligny to Wavre. Conditions were similar.
² Private in the Prussian light infantry. Literally means "hunter."
³ The "big chateau" would be the Chateau Hougoumont which anchored the far right of the Allied line. I have read accounts which indicate that most of the pioneers from the regiments in the Anglo-Allied army had been sent there to prepare the place for defense.
⁴ Literally, "the sleeve," what the French call the English Channel.

Monday, May 29, 2023

My Five

 Well...Let me start off with wishing all y'all a relaxing, peaceful, memory filled Memorial Day.

While you're standing around having an adult recreational beverage while tending the smoking of the Brisket (it's a state law in Texas.  Brisket must be served, smoked, on Memorial Day.  Punishment for non-compliance is said to be severe.  I don't know, I've never broken the law.)

Stay on Target, juvat! 

Yes, oh esteemed Sarge of mine!

While you are standing guard on your brisket, I'd like to tell you about a five-some I remember on this day and their stories.

I was stationed at Holloman AFB in October of '84. I'd been checked out as an instructor for a very short time.  I was getting ready for a mission that was going to one of the local airspace areas in Eastern New Mexico.  The Supervisor of Flying Hot Line rang and when the Duty Officer answered there were a couple of  "Yes, Sir's" then he hung up, walked over to the schedule and drew a line through all the flights that were going to those areas.  (Airspace use was tight with two Fighter Wings at the base and another one near Clovis NM, so going to another area generally wasn't an option.)

In any case, my flight was one of the cancelled.  I asked the duty officer what had happened.  He told me there had been an accident on one of the low levels below the airspace and while the investigation was going on, the airspace was closed.

Later that afternoon, more information was available.  A single ship F-111 sortie had hit the ground on a low level flight,  no ejection was attempted.  The Instructor Pilot on the mission was Capt Alan J. Pryor.  He went by Joe.  I knew that because he'd been in my ROTC detachment at Texas Tech.  I'd also worked with him pumping gas into airplanes at the Lubbock airport.  He'd graduated the December before me, been an IP in ATC after UPT, then got the 'Vark as his post ATC reward.  The Accident Report could not find a cause.  They hit the ground at an estimated 700 knots.  Doubt they even realized it happened.

I couldn't find a picture of Joe, but this video will give you a bit of a feel for an F-111 at low level.  Looks like it's in England, which means they aren't as fast or as low as they would be in NM.

While still stationed at Holloman, I'd trained an A-10 driver who was going through the IP course.  He had just gotten married and had bought a house across the street from us.  Good guy.  Could shoot the gun and drop bombs quite well.  Didn't have a lot of experience at air to air, but caught on pretty quickly.  In any case, it's now 1987, and I'm fully checked out in the Eagle.  I'm in the squadron and the duty officer asks me if I'd been assigned at Holloman.  I said I had and he asked me if I knew a Ross LaTorra.  I told him I did.  He told me he'd just been killed in a mid-air.  

That sucks the air right out of ya'.  He'd been on an Air-to-air ride with two students, one in his front seat and one solo on his wing.  During the last engagement before RTB, the solo student lost sight of lead and thinking lead was below him, pulled up.  unfortunately, lead was inverted directly above him.  Ross and his student were killed instantly.  The solo student managed to eject and was rescued.  If interested, here's more details

Ross as a Air Force Academy Cadet

So, I've left Kadena and am about half way through ARRRMMMMEEEE Training Sir! when the Air Force Colonel in charge of all the Air Force Majors (~20) going through the school, calls me into his office.  Now, remember, at Kadena, I was a Flight Commander in charge of ~10 guys.  (That means I wrote their performance report and got to sit in on and receive the butt chewings when they screwed up).  Later on, I was the Assistant Operations Officer, the third in command of the Squadron.  I got to make coffee.  But, the guys in my Flight were MY Guys.  

So, being a lowly Major with no responsibilities other than not embarrassing the Air Force at an Army School, I wonder what the Colonel wants.  I knock and go through the usual pleasantries of entering a senior officer's office. (Hint: it involves a salute and an mentioning of name and rank).  He asks me to sit down (uh-oh).  

Then he says, "juvat, I know you were in the 12th TFS at Kadena until recently."

"Yes, Sir"

"Well, Apparently there was an accident last night involving the 12th and one of the pilots is missing presumed dead."  

Since virtually all of our flying was above the Pacific, it's a pretty good assumption.

I ask if he has a name.

Captain Robert Schneider, call sign "Rocket".

My heart sank.  Not only was he in my squadron, he'd been in my flight and indeed was my wingman.

I gulped a couple of times and might have blinked quite a bit, then asked if he had any details.  All he said was that apparently there had been a mid-air collision.  I asked about the other jet.  It had safely recovered.

Unfortunately, Rocket's airplane was seen to fly into the water.  The accident report later said that minimal damage had occurred to either airplane, but that the horizontal tail of the jet that recovered had pieces of canopy and blood on it.  The only good news is Rocket never knew what hit him.

I'd always heard that, in the Fighter World, losing a wingman is one of the hardest things to get over.  I agree.

Rocket is in the first standing row.  The aft fin of the missile is pointing at his head.  Sorry, this is the only picture I could find.


Next on my list, is Ed Rasimus.  Ras, as he was known, died of Cancer in 2013.  Why do I remember him on Memorial Day?  YGBSM!

Ed flew two tours in Vietnam, one in the F-105 and one in the F-4.  Both involved flying missions in North Vietnam.  Hanoi at the time was supposedly the most heavily guarded target in the history of aviation.  I had the honor to have him as my IP when I was going through the AT-38 IP course when I was assigned to Holloman.  The man knew how to fly the jet and it was extremely rare that I was able to bring "weapons" to bear on him.  So rare, that I'm pretty sure he "let me" when I did.  Post Vietnam, he made Major the very first time it was possible.  But another trait of his was he would tell you exactly what he thought without sugar coating.  Evidently, he did this to a General who didn't take it well.  Ed retired as a Major.  Another reason he's one of my heroes.

He's also an accomplished writer.  If you haven't read his books, you should, cheapest ride in a fighter cockpit you'll ever get.

Love the Fighter Pilot 'stache and the "I can kick your ass anytime I want" smile. Describes Ed to a T.

Finally, there's one more on my Memorial day list.  Not in the Air Force, not even in the Military.  Rather, he did his duty in the State Department.  That would be Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

He gave his last full measure on Sept 11, 2012 in Benghazi Libya at the hands of terrorists attacking US sovereign territory.  That episode, and our governments handling thereoff, still bothers me and I will not forget it.  RIP Ambassador.

Only one of these 5 died in "combat", the others risked it all to be the best they could be in case they were needed in combat.  Ed proved he could do it when needed.  I have no doubt the other 3 could have also.

Rest in Peace, Warriors!


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Never Forget ...

Yes, this is a rerun, a post I have done for a few years and will probably use again. But it expresses how I feel about Memorial Day, I remember those who have gone before, I cherish their memories.


They were people, just like you and me.

They had hopes, they had dreams, they had people who loved them.

One day they went out to do their duty ...

And never came home.

Remember them, say their names ...

I remember these fine men, always, but particularly at this time of year.

I knew some, I miss them all.

Captain Carroll F. LeFon, Jr.
United States Navy
Lance Corporal Kurt E. Dechen
United States Marine Corps
Major Taj Sareen
United States Marine Corps
Lieutenant Nathan T. Poloski
United States Navy
Private Robert Bain
Royal Scots Fusiliers
(No photo available)

Private First Class Albert J. Dentino,
United States Army

Photo courtesy of Kris in New England

Submitted by the readers in 2022 ...

SP5 Wayne S. Bates, "Doc"
United States Army

KIA 06 January 1968, Republic of Vietnam, Binh Duong province

It is said a man hasn't died as long as he is remembered. This prayer is a way for families, friends and fellow veterans to remember our fallen brothers and sisters. Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight, I am the stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die.

LCpl Gary Arthur Holsclaw
United States Marine Corps

KIA 02 July 1967 Operation Buffalo
Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam

Gary, we were best friends since we were 9. All the hikes, the football practices, the movies and dances; piano recitals, sleepovers, guarding the school, panning for gold, learning to drive, flying with your dad are still embedded in my mind. Even the moment I learned of your death. My dreams of your return have stopped, but my love for you will never end. You were my brother and friend. We will always be comrades in uniform and out. No hill in Viet Nam or distance on Earth could separate us. I know you are in God's hands, but I still miss you. I'll see you there someday. Ken

SSG Brian T. Craig
United States Army
Died 15 Apr 2002
Kandahar, Kandahar District, Afghanistan

Army Staff Sgt Craig was assigned to 710th Explosive Ordnance Detachment, San Diego, California. Craig was killed in an accidental detonation of enemy rockets. Brian graduated in 1993 from Klein Forest High School in Houston, Texas. Teachers remember his determination about entering the military upon graduation with the intent of making it his career. He was an exceptional student who once wrote a resume that one teacher used for years as an example to other students. After graduation, Brian enlisted in the Army where he served in Anchorage, Alaska. When he re-enlisted, he served in an elite explosive ordnance disposal group. During his time in the military, he served in Bosnia/Kosovo and North Korea. He was sent to Afghanistan in November 2001. Craig's family last heard from him on the Saturday before he was killed. He just wanted to let them know he was OK and didn't want them to worry about him.

Captain James Albert Graham
United States Marine Corps
Medal of Honor
KIA 02 June 1967
Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam
Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. During Operation Union II, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, consisting of Companies A and D, with Capt. Graham's company attached, launched an attack against an enemy-occupied position with two companies assaulting and one in reserve. Company F, a leading company, was proceeding across a clear paddy area 1,000 meters wide, attacking toward the assigned objective, when it came under fire from mortars and small arms which immediately inflicted a large number of casualties. Hardest hit by the enemy fire was the 2d platoon of Company F, which was pinned down in the open paddy area by intense fire from two concealed machine guns. Forming an assault unit from members of his small company headquarters, Capt. Graham boldly led a fierce assault through the second platoon's position, forcing the enemy to abandon the first machine-gun position, thereby relieving some of the pressure on his second platoon, and enabling evacuation of the wounded to a more secure area. Resolute to silence the second machine gun, which continued its devastating fire, Capt. Graham's small force stood steadfast in its hard-won enclave. Subsequently, during the afternoon's fierce fighting, he suffered two minor wounds while personally accounting for an estimated 15 enemy killed. With the enemy position remaining invincible upon each attempt to withdraw to friendly lines, and although knowing that he had no chance of survival, he chose to remain with one man who could not be moved due to the seriousness of his wounds. The last radio transmission from Capt. Graham reported that he was being assaulted by a force of 25 enemy soldiers; he died while protecting himself and the wounded man he chose not to abandon. Capt. Graham's actions throughout the day were a series of heroic achievements. His outstanding courage, superb leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit undoubtedly saved the second platoon from annihilation and reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say, 
For Their Tomorrow, 
We gave Our Today

- John Maxwell Edmonds 

Enjoy the day, but take a moment to remember ...

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.

Friday, May 26, 2023

17 June 1815, The Calm Before the Storm

Wellington's march from Quatre Bras to Waterloo
Ernest Crofts
The Duke of Wellington awakened in the small hours before dawn.¹ He had to admit to himself that he was tired, more tired than he should have been. But the last few days had indeed been exhausting. 

As he dressed for the day, he noticed that the air seemed heavy, the very atmosphere felt oppressive. From his experience, he knew that rain was imminent. He just hoped that it would hold off long enough to see what the French might be up to.

From his intelligence reports, he knew that he had faced Marshal Ney the day before. That man's conduct of the battle had seemed disjointed, unorganized, yet he had still come within a hair's breadth of driving the Anglo-Dutch army from the field.

As he wondered what the outcome would have been had he brought up his reinforcements sooner, or had Perponcher not disobeyed orders to hold the crossroads, he heard a tapping at his bedchamber door.

"What is it?" he snapped, he wasn't ready to be disturbed.

The door opened to reveal his military secretary, Lt. Col. Lord Fitzroy Somerset.

"Ah, Somerset, come in, come in, what is it?"

"Your Grace, Sir William, your quartermaster is here. Says it's urgent."

"Very well, I'll be right out. See if you can find something to eat, a bit of biscuit perhaps, and tea."

"As you wish, Your Grace."

Maréchal d'Empire² Michel Ney stepped out of the small cottage where he had spent the night. He made note of the fact that the men had their cooking fires going. Turning to an aide he spoke.

"So, are the English still in their positions?"

"Sire, they are doing the same thing we are doing, preparing a meal. Our forward pickets have seen some of their supply wagons moving north on the Brussels road."

At that moment Général de Division Comte Honoré Charles Reille rode up with members of his staff.

"Monsieur le Maréchal, the English are preparing to withdraw, we should be on them immediately, the Emperor expects it!"

"Calm yourself, Reille. My scouts report a few wagons heading north, the English are still preparing their breakfast. I have received no new orders from the Emperor."

Reille shook his head, before turning his horse he said, "Very well, Sir, I will be with my men. We should be ready to move at an instant's notice, if you ask me." Then he galloped off.

Chuckling, Ney said to his aide, "Well, no one did ask him, did they?"

"Sire, we have conflicting reports on Prussian movements. We have multiple reports of at least ten thousand men on the road to Liege. There is also a single report which indicates that the main Prussian body is heading north, towards Wavre."

Napoléon sniffed the air, "It feels like rain, don't you think, De la Bédoyère?"

De la Bédoyère smiled, "Yes Sire, the air feels moist and hot. I would expect a thunderstorm towards midday, perhaps later."

"Come gentlemen, let us inspect the troops. A magnificent victory yesterday, time enough to deal with the English. I'm sure by now Ney has them on the run."

"Your Grace!"

Wellington turned as a courier galloped up, offering a scrap of paper.

Gordon took it from the man and glanced at it.

When he saw the Duke looking at him, Gordon said, "It's a hastily scribbled note from Blücher's chief of staff, it's in German, Your Grace." Gordon handed the note to von Müffling, the Prussian liaison to Wellington's staff.

Von Müffling paled as he read the note, "Your Grace, the Prussians have been defeated. They are falling back on Wavre." Without thinking he handed the note back to Gordon.

"Damn it!" Wellington snapped. "Dispatches to all of my commanders, they are to fall back on Mont St. Jean, the ridge I pointed out to you gentlemen at Lady Charlotte's ball."

As the aides galloped off, Wellington turned to De Lancey, "Sir William, my compliments to Uxbridge, tell him that the cavalry is to provide a rear guard. I know that they will say we've been defeated back in England, but we must mirror the Prussians' movements. If we stay here Bonaparte can turn his entire army on us."

"Gentlemen, let us be off."

"Grouchy, take the infantry corps of Vandamme and Gérard, I'm also giving you Exelmans' cavalry corps and Soult's cavalry division. Find the Prussians and drive them away, keep the point of your sword in their kidneys, allow them no rest."

Turning to his aide, Napoléon barked, "We must move, De la Bédoyère. Ney is apparently eating breakfast, if I know Wellington, he will withdraw as soon as he learns of our victory here. I have heard no cannon fire from the west since yesterday evening, what is the man playing at?" The aides scrambled to follow the Emperor as he spurred Marengo.

De la Bédoyère turned to one of the couriers, "Send messages to the Guard, they are to follow us immediately. Girard's division will stay here, they are too battered to be of any further use."

One of the men spoke up, "Sir, Général Girard has been wounded, the surgeons believe it is mortal."

De la Bédoyère shook his head, "I didn't know. All the more reason to leave them here, we can call them up, if need be, once they have reorganized. Let us be off gentlemen!"

As the last of the infantry departed, the British and Allied cavalry units took up positions to delay the French, who had yet to show any activity.

Cornet John Berkshire of the 7th Queen's Own Hussars sat his mount, watching as a battery of horse artillery unlimbered north of the crossroads. He heard his sergeant clear his throat.

" I'd 'ate to be those lads, when the froggies come pounding up that road, Sir."

"Quite, Sergeant Ames, I'm sure those fellows know their business. Still and all, I'm glad to be in the cavalry and not have to lug those guns around."

At that moment a gust of wind came up, Berkshire swore he felt a drop of rain. Looking to the east, the sky was black and foreboding. "I think we're going to get wet, Sergeant."

"Won't argue that, Sir. Should slow the froggies down though, wot?"

"Indeed, Sergeant, indeed."

With a bright flash and a loud clap of thunder, the heavens unleashed a torrent of rain upon the men struggling up the road.

¹ Dawn would have been shortly before 4:00 AM.
² Marshal of the Empire.