Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Crisis

Chateau Frischermont
The fighting on Wellington's left flank, centered around the small hamlets and farm buildings of La Haye, Smohain, Papelotte and Frischermont, had surged back and forth since d'Erlon's attack earlier in the day. It seemed to the defenders that the French were not that serious about taking the area. As if they were simply keeping the defenders busy while the main event was going on near the center of the Anglo-Allied position.

Sergeant Fabrice Benoit was angry, French infantry had driven them out of the small hamlet of Smohain once again. As he took a head count of his file, he noticed that Korporaal Oliver Van Schepdael was nowhere to be seen.

"Van Roy, where's Van Schepdael?"

"Dead, Sergeant, he was covering us while we pulled back from that wrecked barn. Lucky shot from a voltigeur hit him in the back of the head, I saw it, no possibility of him surviving that."

As Benoit looked around, Van Roy continued, "Tijs Desramaults and Tom De Greef were killed as well, what you see is all that's left."

Soldats Matthieu Carton, Bram Van Roy, and Daan Goossens were still in shock from the death of their corporal, and friend, Van Schepdael. But there was no time for mourning as the drums were calling them to fall in once again.

Kapitein Hendrik Dujardin, their company commander came up, "All right lads, we're going in again. Don't stop to fire, go straight in with the bayonet."

Some of the men looked panicky at that thought, but Benoit told them, "They're as tired as you are, one more push and we'll throw them out into the fields."

As the men fell in, Dujardin heard cannon fire to the east, another French contingent? They'd best drive the Frenchmen out of Smohain, he didn't want to be in the open if those were French guns!

Their officers were rushing the men forward, though the Prussian troops were exhausted, the sound of fighting to their front gave them a spark.

"Come on, men! Push on, we're on the French flank and the English are still holding their ground! Push on!"

As the troops surged forward, a band to the rear started playing the Yorcksher Marsch, written by the great Beethoven himself. Hearing the march, Sergeant Hans Pizzeck felt a surge of pride and cried out, "Death to Bonaparte!"

As the men repeated that cry, the battalion crested a slight ridge, there, to their front, not 500 paces away, stood French cavalry.

The battalion hesitated until the officers began to shout that they were pickets only, and even as they shouted that, the French troopers began to fall back on their supports, still out of sight to the rear.

Pizzeck, for a brief moment, desperately wanted to vomit, the French cavalry at Ligny had nearly killed him, all of the men he had started the campaign with were now dead. Soldat Manfred Klepper had died just a day after his brother Wolfram. At least thirty other men from the company were still missing. Pizzeck just knew that they were dead, or in French captivity.

As the company marched forward, Pizzeck muttered under his breath, "Bitte Herr Gott, lass mich heute meine Pflicht tun.¹"

"Say a prayer for all of us, Sergeant!" one of the men cried out.

"I will, lad. I will."

The French fell back even faster than they had advanced. Benoit and his men were back under cover, but not without cost, Soldats De Gieter and Duquesne had fallen during the attack. De Gieter, though badly wounded, still lived. Duquesne was dead.

Two men had carried Duquesne into the building, thinking he might still be alive. Benoit had ordered the two to take their positions at the loopholes in the broken wall facing to the southwest.

He checked on Duquesne, his lower jaw was shot away, the man was dead, without a doubt. He hissed under his breath, "Godverdomme Bonaparte.²"

Soldat Goossens looked with surprise at his sergeant, after all, Napoléon himself had pinned the cross of the Legion of Honor upon Benoit's chest after Borodino. But thinking of his dead comrades, dead because of the ambition of but one man, Goossens had to agree. Better that Napoléon had never been born.

La Haye Sainte had fallen, Major von Baring and a handful of survivors had scrambled up the ridge to rejoin Wellington's main defensive line. They had fought to the last cartridge and had then resorted to bayonets, musket butts, even fists, but to no avail, the French were too numerous.

Though the fields surrounding La Haye Sainte were choked with French casualties, they had succeeded in seizing the farm. Already they were opening up on the ridge, causing casualties in units that were already shaken by French artillery fire.

An entire battalion of Hanoverians had been cut to ribbons in an attempt to succor the garrison of La Haye Sainte. Colonel Ompteda, the commander of von Baring's brigade had himself been killed when the unit, in line, had been attacked by French cuirassiers.

Many men in the Anglo-Allied army were beginning to glance nervously over their shoulders to the rear and what they perceived as safety.

Though the massive attacks by the French cavalry had been driven back multiple times, it forced the men to stay in square. Every time the cavalry pulled back, the French artillery would open fire again. Many of the interiors of the squares were like hospitals, the dead were thrown out, while the wounded were dragged in.

Many survivors recalled seeing the same French cavalrymen over and over again. The French couldn't get to them and the infantry wouldn't fire, not wanting to throw their fire away and perhaps give the French the chance to charge home. A bloody stalemate ensued.

Eventually the cavalry drew back, just below the crest of the ridge. Then the French guns would open up, killing more of the infantry. A British captain had seen a Brunswick square beginning to collapse, the officers and sergeants were literally shoving men into the gaps left by cannon fire. He wondered if it were possible to have a battle where no one survived.

The situation was desperate.

The Duke of Wellington was anxious, though he didn't show it. As he observed the French cavalry fall back yet again and saw his men being slaughtered by artillery, he thought of Brussels and England. If he were defeated this day ...

He shook his head and called out, "Gordon!"

Another aide, a man he barely knew, road up, "Your Grace, Colonel Gordon has been grievously wounded, he has been taken back to Waterloo."

"De Lancey!" The Duke looked around, then he remembered that De Lancey had been sent to Lord Hill.

"Your Grace, I'm afraid that Sir William has fallen. Gravely injured, the surgeons fear that the wound is mortal."

Wellington sat his horse for a long moment, then turned, "My apologies, what is your name again, Sir?"

"Cathcart, Sir. Lieutenant George Cathcart of ..."

"Quite. Now if you would, ride over to General Cooke and inform him that the French seem to be gathering another force of infantry across the valley. I believe he might be the target of that attack."


Général de Brigade De la Bédoyère took the hastily scribbled note from the officer sent by Général de Division Baron Simmer, commanding the 19th Infantry Division, part of Lobau's VI Corps, part of which was deployed forward of Plancenoit.

De la Bédoyère read the note again, then crumpled it up and stuck it in his valise. Riding closer to the Emperor, he waited.

When Napoléon noticed him, he turned to his aide and smiled, "What is it my dear De la Bédoyère?"

De la Bédoyère leaned in very close and whispered to the Emperor, "Sire, it is the Prussians, they have arrived in force on our right flank, nearly in our rear."

"Smile, De la Bédoyère, there is still time to win this battle before the Prussians can intervene. Where are they now, certainly not within cannon range?"

"Enemy shot are already falling in Plancenoit, soon they will interdict the road back to Charleroi.'

Napoléon smiled again, but he felt something deep in the pit of his stomach. Was it panic, or perhaps something he had eaten for breakfast? The Emperor realized that their chances for victory were getting smaller and smaller the more the sun dipped to the west. One more effort, if he could just rally the men to drive Wellington from the field.

"Sire, the men will hear the Prussian guns ..."

"Enough!" the Emperor snapped.

"Soult! My compliments to Général Drouot³, he is to prepare the Guard to advance, also, have him send me a battalion to reinforce Lobau, if needed."

"A single battalion, Sire?" Soult looked uncomfortable, he would have called for at least a brigade.

"Do it!"

As De la Bédoyère sat his horse, in despair at this horrible turn of events, the Emperor turned to him.

"Time to boost the men's morale."


"Spread the word all along the line, Grouchy is here!"

"But Sire, Maréchal Grouchy is nowhere near ..."

"At once, the men don't know this, by the time they do, Wellington will be crushed. I will send the Young Guard in to hold Plancenoit, and if need be a battalion of my Old Guard. In the meantime, once the men begin advancing again, I will throw the rest of my Guard at Wellington's center!"

Napoléon had one more throw of the dice, it was time to gamble, time to trust in his destiny once more.

Surely the Young Guard and the VI Corps could hold the Prussians long enough for his Old Guard to pierce the English center. Ney reported that the enemy were wavering, men could be seen fleeing to the rear, La Haye Sainte had fallen. It was time to strike, time to send the eagles forward.

To victory, or death!

¹ Please Lord God, let me do my duty today.
² God damn Bonaparte. (Dutch)
³ In overall command of the Imperial Guard at Waterloo.


  1. Sarge, I look forward anxiously for every installment. This is by far the best way I have seen to appreciate the battle and what a “near run thing” it really was.

    1. Thanks, Timbotoo. If I've managed to convey just that, then I've done my job. Such as it is. 🙄

  2. Apt way of telling the tale Sarge, tension increasing........really enjoying these posts!

    1. Thanks, Nylon12. Just when I think of perhaps concluding one of the threads in the story, the Muse will lead me in a different direction. So half the time not even I know what's going to happen until I'm done writing!

  3. Gulp. I'm glad I'm reading this before eating my breakfast.

    1. The fighting was fierce and bloody that day.

  4. Sarge, you continued to exceed previous postings. Very gripping - also, rather sad that so many of the characters that we have met, if only briefly, are now casualties - such is war.

    "He checked on Duquesne, his lower jaw was shot away, the man was dead, without a doubt. He hissed under his breath, "Godverdomme Bonaparte.²"

    Soldat Goossens looked with surprise at his sergeant, after all, Napoléon himself had pinned the cross of the Legion of Honor upon Benoit's chest after Borodino. But thinking of his dead comrades, dead because of the ambition of but one man, Goossens had to agree. Better that Napoléon had never been born."

    There may be a fair amount to whom this may apply.

    1. The Muse has been on fire as of late. And yes, there are many in the world who it might be better had they not been born. But they'd probably be replaced by someone far worse.

      To many, especially in England, Napoléon Bonaparte was the actual bogeyman. English mothers would threaten them with a visit from Bonaparte. Much of what we read these days is colored by British attitudes about the Emperor. I need to write a post on the background of what led to Napoléon becoming the Emperor, much of what we've read in the past has been colored by British propaganda of the time.

    2. "I need to write a post on the background of what led to Napoléon becoming the Emperor,"
      Please do! Not necessarily as an interruption to your fine tale, but someday...

    3. You talk about Bonaparte being the boogieman to English children, sometimes I wonder if Americans are thought of like that by Pakistani mothers in places where drones wipe out the wrong buildings from time to time...

  5. One thing your gripping installments do, besides putting us in the action, is underscore the importance of accurate and timely communication.

    1. Communication has always been a critical component in war. Our current leaders seem to think that instantaneous communications and GPS will be a given in the next major war.

      For maybe the first ten seconds ...

    2. The day all our GPS satellites disappear and a massive number of hypersonic missiles take out the aircraft carriers all at the same time we'll know we were a little behind the curve.

  6. Gambling with lives and once the game gets rolling there is no way out of it until it ends.
    This is a battle that took place 208 years ago but looking around today I get the feeling that "we" are in a game like that. Not moving as fast or as brutal (not right here right now) but the same game none the less.

    The 24/7 computer aided media, the vastly wealthy corporations, the well established bureaucracies and the unions that control the teaching of the young are loosely working together running the game.
    We the people are the markers and manpower in their game... when our children wake up and realize what is gone that game will be over.

    It's not good and I have no idea what to do... But boy do I seem to be in a poor mood this morning!

    1. You're not wrong, Rob. There are days I lose sleep over this stuff.

  7. Thank you for the larger print on the notes.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.