Monday, 6 July 2015

Waterloo Part Two, Hougomont, the Allied centre/left flank, La Haye Sainte and La Caillou - Belgium 2015

The Earl of Uxbridge, nominated as Wellington's second in command, is reported to have asked him in the event of his having to take command what was the Duke's plan for the battle. Wellington replied "Keep Hougomont."

Day two of our Waterloo tour and the places visited in the afternoon

I remember back in 2011, the late great Richard Holmes spearheading the task to restore Hougomont into a monument fit to record the heroic fight that surrounded it in 1815 and prevent it falling into a state of irreparable decay.

Sadly no longer with us, the present day Château is a fantastic monument to a great supporter for the renovation project and a renowned military historian.

The chateau and farm at Hougomont date back to the fourteenth century . The original name was Goumont which is a name said to have derived from the resin or "gomme" that was produced by the large pine trees that grew on the high ground around the château. Thus giving rise to the name "Gomme Mont" or Resin Hill and by 1815 Hougomont.

The area in and around the farm was to be the scene of nine hours of bitter fighting with some 6,500 men killed or wounded in the attacks and defence of the place.

The newly restored North Gate of Hougomont, with much of the undergrowth cleared from the left wall and the stone and brick work repaired.
The right flank of Wellington's position was always going to be his most important consideration. From the start of the campaign when we looked at the Allied deployments south of Brussels, the emphasis was towards the south west of Brussels protecting the British army's communication route to the coast  and home, should it be required and where Wellington expected Napoleon to advance. Thus strategically, Wellington was determined to prevent the French from interposing themselves between his army and the coast, and Napoleon had taken advantage of this insight by directing his initial thrust up the Brussels road between the Allied and Prussian armies and along the left flank of Wellington's deployment (the "humbugged" moment with concealed deployment thrown in for good measure).

Having failed to make full use of the central position and worst still allowed the Prussians to fall back in good order and in contact with the Allies, a flanking attack by Napoleon on Wellington's right must have seemed a distinct possibility, and he deployed troops under the reliable General Hill, away from the battle, on that flank, to guard against such an event.

The map above reveals how the Château Hougomont was a very key tactical point on Wellington's ridge line defence in that its possession by the allies prevented the French from using it as a point to anchor any attempted turning of the whole ridge line and would have facilitated any French troops in the area of gaining ample cover from the château, neighbouring woods and the lower ground that lead round to the back of Wellington's ridge and of developing a serious attack on the right flank of the whole Allied army. The Duke of Wellington was well aware of this, as it was a manoeuvre he expected Napoleon to attempt and would have certainly been on his preference list had the positions been reversed.

In addition possession of this and the other two walled farm areas (La Haye Sainte & Papelotte) served as forward bastions to the whole ridge position, channelling French attacks between them thus limiting their ability to manoeuvre at will and subjecting the attackers to multiple lines of cross fire from front and flanks. Time taken by the French to neutralise these bastions was time taken away from attacking the main line and time gained for the arrival of thousands of Prussian reinforcements - the ultimate win, win, win, you lose scenario.

The Duke visited the garrison under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Macdonell shortly before 11am accompanied by his Prussian liaison officer, General Muffling who enquiring about the Duke's tactics for the coming battle, and seeing how exposed the château was with its relatively small garrison of 1,500 men asked whether this was a sufficient force for its defence, to which Wellington replied;
"Ah, but you do not know Macdonell."

The North Gate at Hougomont was the closest access point of the farm complex to the allied lines and the garrison was part of and supported by Byng's 2nd Guards brigade. So, unlike other gates into the château, it was not barricaded.

A new monument in place for the 2/3rd (Scots) Guards, the original now to be seen in the rear garden of the Wellington museum in Waterloo
As you can see from the modern interpretation below, of how the farm looked back in 1815, much has changed because of the battle, with most of the buildings closest to the allied line, probably in an attempt by French gunners to avoid hitting their own troops, being destroyed in the battle by incendiary explosive rounds. These buildings were more likely to have been used for the care of the wounded with those closest to the French attacks heavily occupied with the fighting defenders and thus able to deal with any outbreaks of fire whilst fending off attacks to their front.

Thus the great barn and château are gone with only the chapel remaining. In addition the woods and orchards surrounding the walls of the farm were so badly shot up that they too were destroyed with only a few remnants of trees to mark the original areas.

The new 3D interpretation of the Château at the time of the battle. The North gate is to the bottom left with the "hollow or covered way leading up to the allied ridge. The main French attacks came through the woods from the right and bottom of the picture
Between the main building and chapel and the north gate in the middle of the yard stood an ornamental dove cot covering the farm well head. The well head was covered over and lost for many years, only recently having been excavated and repaired to reveal the remaining base brickwork of the original structure.

There was a legend based on a tale by Victor Hugo in his novel "Les Miserables", that three hundred French dead, perhaps including those only wounded were thrown into the well by Guardsmen and their ghostly cries for help could be heard every now and then. Subsequent excavation has shown what a load of rubbish that little tale was with nothing more than a few sheep bones found in the excavation.

Will and Tom checking out the newly re-discovered well head

An illustration of the original well head with its dove cot looking towards the North Gate, by Bryan Fosten based on late 19th C. photos and from contemporary descriptions
The dug out well, revealed the nonsense that Victor Hugo came up with, suggesting British Guards dumped wounded French soldiers into the well. The only discovery was a few animal bones.

The fight to close the North Gate of Hougomont has gone down in legend as another key crisis moment during the battle.

At around midday the detachment of about one hundred men of the light company of the Third Guards under Lt. Colonel Charles Dashwood who were positioned outside on the south west corner of the farm buildings were driven back towards the north gate by the 1e Legere, part of General Bauduin's brigade; during which Sergeant Ralph Fraser of the Third Guards, a Peninsular War veteran, had a personal combat with Colonel Cubieres commanding officer of the 1e Legere.

The combat was short as Cubieres, missing with his sword slash, was unceremoniously pulled of his horse by the Guards sergeant who leapt on it and rode it back in triumph to the north gate.

A twenty year old Private Mathew Clay of the Third Guards in company with his friend, an "old soldier", forty one year old Private Gann, became separated from the rest of the light company as they pulled back and he wrote of their subsequent ordeal

Private Mathew Clay of the 2/3rd (Scots) Guards
" We were earnestly engaged (by the enemy).... we were now left to ourselves and could see no one near us. The enemy skirmishers remained under cover and continued firing at us, and we retired down the road up which we advanced. My musket now proving defective was very discouraging, but looking on the ground I saw a musket.... which was warm from use and proved an excellent one... On turning my eyes to the lower gates (Great Gate) I saw they were open.... and we hurried towards them. On entering the courtyard I saw the doors, or rather the gates, were riddled with shot holes. In the entrance lay many dead bodies of the enemy."

Closing the North Gate by Chris Collingwood, Colonels Macdonell and Wyndham can be seen leading the effort to bar the gates as the 1e Legere attempt to develop the breach.
French soldiers of the 1e Legere made a rush for the gate. At their head was a giant of a man, Lieutenant Legros, known to his men as "L'Enforceur" or "The Smasher", who seizing an axe from a pioneer, swung it at the panels of the gate and forced his way into the farmyard. Up to thirty or forty men followed him in and desperate hand to hand fighting erupted. Those French soldiers who made it to the château building came under intense fire from it and the surrounding buildings. All the attackers were soon overcome and killed to a man, save the drummer boy.

The threat to the farm was finally stopped with the closing and barring of the gate by a group of Guardsmen led by Colonels Macdonell and Wyndham.

The soldiers who took part in the closing of the gate were:
Lieutenant Colonel James Macdonell, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Wyndham, Ensign James Harvey, Ensign Henry Gooch, Corporal James Graham, Private Joseph Graham, Sergeant Ralph Fraser, Sergeant Bruce McGregor, Sergeant Joseph Ashton and Private Joseph Lestor. 

The bicentennial monument by British sculptor Vivien Mallock, commissioned by Project Hougomont

Wellington is reported to have declared that;
"The success of the Battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates (of Hougomont)."

The sculpture shows great attention to detail and is a superb tribute to the garrison
As the day wore on French pressure to the north access route to Hougomont grew and it became increasingly difficult to keep the garrison replenished with reinforcements and ammunition.
As the situation became critical in the late afternoon, Ensign Berkeley Drummond, acting Adjutant of the 2/3rd Guards who was in the orchard with Colonel Drummond spoke to Captain Horace Seymour, ADC to Lord Uxbridge who gave the following account;

"Ensign Drummond called to me to use my best endeavours to send them musket ammunition. Soon afterwards I fell in with a Private of the Waggon Train in charge of a Tumbril on the crest of the position. I merely pointed out to him where he was wanted, when he gallantly started his horses and drove straight down to the farm, to the gate of which I saw him arrive. He must have lost his horses as there was severe fire kept on him. I feel convinced to that man's service the Guards owe their ammunition."

Close by the gates is a tablet recording the bravery of the men of the Royal Waggon Train. The certainty of the identity of the driver being Private Joseph Brewster who made the "devil may care" drive from the ridge in through the North Gate to deliver the ammunition is not positive but is thought likely, and Brewster transferred to the Third Guards after Waterloo.

The Hougomont barn building has been completely renovated, together with a brand new roof and houses a collection of battlefield artefacts discovered in excavation and archaeological work. In addition they have put in a new visual show that explains to visitors the importance of the place in the overall battle and the fighting that went on there, describing a battle within a battle.

I was very impressed with the visual show and liked the special effects created. My only small criticism speaking as someone who knows what they are seeing and will spot small inaccuracies is Guardsmen portrayed in stove pipe shakos, no no no, don't do that, please go to the trouble of getting these small details right.......end of rant.

Battlefield discoveries in or near to Hougomont - 1. Leather cockade from the shako of a British Light Dragoon, 2. Yellow flint from a French musket, 3. Pieces of lead used to secure flints in the jaws of  a musket cock, 4. Fragment of cavalry cuirasse or breast plate, 5. Musket ball (by the size of it from a Brown Bess), 6. Button from the 7e Ligne, not present at Waterloo, illustrating make and do French uniforms for this period, 7. Imperial Guard buttons, 8. St Andrew Cross badge thought probably worn on the cockade on the bonnet of a 42nd Highlander Grenadier Company, 9. Medusa cross belt badge, French cavalry, 10. Grenade badge probably from the cartridge pouch of a French grenadier, 11. French accoutrements badge in the form of an Imperial Crown.
The restored chapel building is a centre piece of the courtyard and forms an oasis of tranquillity amid the chatter of tourists. It is perfect for a moments contemplation and little prayer for no more war.

The recently recovered Christ on the Cross, stolen in the eighties and back where it belongs completes the reconstruction and repairs to this special building.

We then continued our walk from the courtyard into what would have been the walled garden, paddock and orchard. It helps to have a drawing or plan of the Château as it was before the battle to keep a sense of where you are and what is missing.

The façade of the Gardener's house on the south front of Hougomont should need no introduction to those that are familiar with the battle. The picture heading this post is but one of many produced over the two centuries since the battle by artists trying to capture the ferocity of the fighting in and around Hougomont.

To be able to stand in the defence and see what a formidable fortress this was is very impressive. Without guns to smash gaps in these thick high walls, the French infantry outside were caught in a killing zone between the cover of the woods protecting the château from close artillery attention and the Guardsmen on firing steps and through loopholes with comrades passing them loaded muskets shooting them down with aimed fire.

The restoration to the building has been carefully done preserving the battle damage for those who care to look.

Musket damage to brick work

The walls are high and both Will and Tom are young men of a similar age to the Guardsmen, all be it taller than young men of that era and the picture of Will taking aim over the wall shows the need to build a step to add extra fire from the loopholes. It was these walls that enabled the garrison to repulse six times their number.

Will takes aim, from the garden wall, if a little too exposed from his make shift fire step.
The view  of the full length of the garden. The wall on the right has the maintained loopholes present and you can still detect the repaired brickwork where some were filled in post battle. 

Tom and Will walking through what would of been a formal garden. The farm buildings looking smart with new roofs

Loophole reinforced as a permanent reminder of the battle. The fence line marked the boundary of the wood leaving the strip of clear ground between as the killing zone in which scores of men fell during the fighting.

A personal memorial erected by the family of Captain Thomas Craufurd, Scots Guards, killed in defence of the wall
Ensign Charles Lake of the Third Guards wrote;
"Poor Captain Forbes.... was shot... I was shot a wee bit above the right temple.... Poor Sir David Baird.... a musket ball struck him immediately above the chin and lodged in his throat... So in a space of a few minutes every officer became a casualty and command passed to the senior Sergeant."

The original grave and tombstone to Sergeant Major Edward Cotton of the 7th Hussars
Sergeant Major Edward Cotton, one of the first Battle field tour operators and being a veteran of the battle really did know a thing or two about his subject. Some of his collection of battlefield artefacts are on show in the Visitor Centre

The original grave and tombstone of Captain John Lucie Blackman, Coldstream Guards, killed at the very end of the battle
The garden was reported to have many cherry trees at the time of the battle and Private R. Maclaurence recounted;
"No sooner were the Guardsmen fairly within the château garden than the temptingly ripe cherries drew their attention and the soldiers were to be seen plucking them off the wall trees by handful, quite regardless of the shots and shells which were incessantly pouring in amongst them."

Looking back to the farm from the far end of the garden
At the far end of the garden is a monument erected in 1913 to the French soldiers killed at Hougomont. The Eagle was originally bronze but was stolen by German troops in WWI.

French troops never made it into the garden, but there is a memorial to them and their effort.
"To the French soldiers who died at Hougomont"
The other inscription is believed to have been composed by Napoleon on St Helena
"The ground seemed proud to hold so many fine men"
Beyond the back garden wall there are views out over the battlefield that were not there in 1815 as this was a 275 metre square mature fruit tree orchard that was the scene of a too and fro battle.

The hedge bordering the orchard nearest the allied lines ran along the route of the covered way, top left of the picture below. This marked the high water mark of French occupation of the orchard who fought all day with Guardsmen and Nassau troops defending it. French cavalry attacking the ridge were subject to musketry from allied troops in the orchard.

The view from the back garden wall is open and the Lion Mound is clearly visible. In 1815 it was an orchard of 275 square meters dotted with mature fruit trees and was the scene of unrelenting fighting.
Each time the French attacked into the orchard they were subjected to flanking fire from Guardsmen on the garden wall. Colonel Francis Hepburn of the 2/3rd Guards sent in to support Lord Saltoun commanding the Guards Light Companies recalled;
"We were warmly attacked, our left turned and we were driven back to the Hollow Way where we rallied. But when the attacking troops attempted to pass through the orchard they received so destructive a fire from the Coldstream Guards posted inside the Garden Wall, that they were completely staggered, and we meanwhile advanced and regained our post... We were again outflanked....and driven back.... and again the fire of the Coldstream did us good service. In fact, it was this fire that constituted the strength of the post... During this time I knew nothing of what was passing elsewhere."

The result of this continuous too and fro fighting amid the apple trees in the orchard was captured by Captain Gronow of the 1st Guards after the battle
"The dead and the wounded literally covered the entire surface of the orchard; two thousand dead, at least, were lying there....The torn branches of apple trees hung around the main trunk in such profusion as might have been supposed that these trees had been transformed into shrunken weeping willows: the broken, honeycombed trees reminded that the rain of bullets was relentless."

The picture below shows the South Gate from the French perspective. Just left of picture is where the haystack was situated behind which Private Clay sought shelter while he fired at the enemy in the wood. Being so engrossed in his task, he completely failed to notice that his colleagues had fallen back to the North Gate forcing him and his colleague to retreat rapidly to the gate and get access before French troops closed in on them.

The view that greeted French troops emerging from the wood, initially garrisoned by green clad Nassau and Hanoverian troops,south of the Château

The area above also served as one of the mass graves for the dead as illustrated in the picture below.

Picture by James Rouse, published in 1816
The link below gives a very detailed look at the cost of defending Hougomont

Looking south towards the French lines you can see the bare trunks of some very old chestnut trees, all that remain of the southern wood. These reminders of the battle carry the scars of the fighting with holes in their top branches probably created by Bull's howitzer battery, brought in behind the château on the ridge to pepper the French troops with overhead shrapnel shells which are reported to have caused multiple casualties on the enemy troops.

The base of the trunks are likewise riddled with musketry and with a little help from the light on Will's phone I managed to picture one of these balls lodged deep within the hole in the trunk

Neat hole on the top branch might be the results of shrapnel fire

Multiple musketry hits indicate the ferocity of the battle between here and the wall

The light from Will's mobile shines back off a ball lodged deep within the trunk

General de brigade Pierre-Francois Bauduin was killed leading the first French attack through the woods at the head of the 1st brigade of Jerome's division. Conspicuously mounted as he led his brigade through the trees he must have made an obvious target for the Nassau and Hanoverian sharpshooters.

The monument below pays tribute to the other Guards regiment holding Hougoment, the Coldstream regiment responsible for the defence of the South Gate.

The battle for Hougomont sucked in about 13,000 French troops through the day whilst only being held by about 2,000 Guardsmen and about 600 Nassau and Hannoverian troops. That translates to about 4.5 Allied battalions vs 24 French battalions, excluding the light cavalry that supported both sides. Looked at another way Reille had comitted over 23% of the Emperor's infantry to the battle compared to just 5% by Wellington.

There is a lot to see at the newly renovated Hougomont which is now prepared to accommodate guests who wish to stay at the Gardener's House. Not for me I think, Hougomont was a battle within a battle and not a place I would wish to spend the night at. 

From Hougomont we headed back towards the Lion Mound to grab some lunch before driving over to the crossroads and parking up to visit the centre-left flank of Wellington's line. 


It was on this part of the ridge that Napoleon planned to deliver a massive knock out attack that would smash through Wellington's line and open the road to Brussels. This was also the more weakly defended sector as Wellington was more concerned to protect his right flank around Hougomont where he feared Napoleon might try to use the dead ground to manoeuvre him out of his line and the centre left was where he was expecting support from his Prussian allies later in the day.

I should of course point out that the left flank of the allied line extended out to the collection of farmsteads of Papelotte, La Haie, Smohain and Frichermont held by Saxe Weimar and his Nassau troops as shown in the map at the top of this post. This is an area I have never explored and remains in the to do list.

Grand Battery Ridge and the target zone of the preparatory bombardment
As the French troops were gathering for their attack on Hougomont on Wellington's right flank the French controlled "Battery Ridge" opposite Wellington's centre left was a hive of activity as Napoleon assembled his Grand Battery consisting of the guns from I Corps, plus the 12lbrs from II and IV Corps and three batteries of Guard foot guns. In all eighty pieces of artillery of forty-two 6 lbr guns, eighteen 12 lbrs, six 6 inch howitzers and fourteen 5.5 inch howitzers.

The order to assemble the battery had been issued about 11.30 and assuming a spacing of  eighty metres per eight gun battery with ten metres between batteries we can assume a frontage of just over one kilometre. 

The guns opened fire at about 13.00 lasting about thirty minutes. The target area contained twenty two infantry battalions (14,000 men) standing, sitting or lying down, most taking advantage of the cover offered by the reverse slope. An estimated five hundred casualties were caused by the bombardment with about one shot in seven causing a casualty, indicating the success of Wellington's strategy to defeat this common French tactic.

An officer in Picton's veteran 5th Division commented
"A furious fire of artillery from the whole line opposite to Picton's burst upon us. The greater part, fortunately, went over our heads, carrying off here and there. This fire was much too high; the old hands said it was meant to intimidate, as usual."

D'Erlon's massed columns approach the Allied ridge with Grand Battery seen in the distance.
From 13.30 to 13.45 the French infantry divisions of D'Erlon's I corps started to pick their way through the limbers and caissons in three battalion files and as they cleared the gun line the firing ceased. The passage of lines and forming up took about twenty minutes, with each battalion forming a three rank line one behind the other, each battalion detaching its voltiguer company to be deployed forward as a skirmish screen. The movement forward was not in a line but slightly echeloned from the left enabling those troops to cross the Brussels road and attack La Haye Sainte as the rest of the line moved forward to the ridge.

The deployment of the French infantry possibly reveals the experience of a Peninsular War veteran commander as D'Erlon was and one who had encountered Wellington's tactics in previous encounters. The multiple French lines sought to enable the French infantry to take advantage of the improved fire capability of being in line with the weight of a column by having successive battalions one behind the other.

This gently sloping open valley gives no clue as to its significance in military history
As the French phalanx set off over the slight valley between the two armies, the drummers hammered out the "pas de charge" and men cheered as sixteen Eagles were held high. As the infantry moved down into the bottom of the slight valley the Grand Battery opened fire over the heads of their comrades and then abruptly ceased fire as the heads of the divisions climbed the gradient ahead. Prior to this support, however, the French troops became subject to the attention of the allied guns as lanes were carved through their ranks by round shot accompanied by the shouts of NCO's and officers to close up! Through the smoke ahead, a line of redcoats skirmished at the heads of the divisions as they gradually fell back to a hedge line in their rear.

All the action described in the account below
Not much before 14.00 the majority of I Corps was within a few metres of the crest of the Allied ridge line. A conscript in Marcognet's column takes up the narrative;

"As we mounted on the other side (of the valley) we were met by a hail of balls (initially canister) from above the road at the left. If we had not been so crowded together, this terrible volley would have checked us... Two batteries (Braun and Rettberg) now swept our ranks, and the shot from the hedges a hundred feet distant pierced us through and through. A cry of horror burst forth, and we rushed on the batteries.... thousands of Englishmen rose up from the barley, and fired their muskets almost touching our men, which caused a terrible slaughter.... we should have been dispersed over the hillside like a swarm of ants if we had not heard the shout "Attention, the cavalry!" Almost at the same instant a crowd of red dragoons on grey horses swept down on us... those that had straggled were cut to pieces without mercy... They came down between the divisions, slashing right and left with their sabres, and spurring the horses into the flanks of the columns in order to break them, they were too deep and massive for that (but) they killed great numbers and threw us into confusion.... The worst was at that moment their foot soldiers rallied and recommenced their fire, and they were even so bold as to attack us with their bayonets (probably referring to the 92nd Foot). Only the first two ranks made a stand. It was shameful to form our men in that manner.  

The late Jack Hawkins as General Picton in the film "Waterloo"
As a child of the 60's Napoleon will always be Rod Steiger, Wellington, Christopher Plummer and Sir Thomas Picton, the irascible veteran infantry commander, Jack Hawkins.

Sir Thomas Picton, Wellington's "Fighting General"
Sir Thomas Picton, who commanded those "thousands of Englishmen" (many of them were Scots and Irish) mentioned by the French witness to the attack, has received a fair amount of coverage on this blog based on his contribution to Wellington's Peninsula army. He would not have been a man the slightest bit intimidated by the massive French  column that pushed its way over the crest of the ridge to his front and despite the wound from a grazing round shot carried from Quatre Bras he was there at the front waving his famous top hat to galvanise his veteran battalions into action.

Needless to say, he must have presented an obvious target to those French troops close enough and the fighting commander's luck ran out as he was killed instantly by a bullet to the head. Picton was a complicated character, but Wellington could not have wanted a better General Officer to take on the French attack that was intended to win the battle for Napoleon.
A small monument to a huge character and a true Fighting General

The French attack across the centre left ridge line was finished in just over an hour from the start of the French advance at 13.30 to the decimation of the British Union brigade by French lancers and the "mopping up" of the stragglers amid the gun line of the Grand Battery by 14.45. The attack had cost the effectiveness of both British heavy cavalry brigades, losing about half their number, but in return had completely thrown back Napoleon's set piece attack designed to win the battle.

Wellington encourages the 27th Foot in their stubborn resistance at the centre of his line
Just opposite to the memorial to Picton is an equally stirring monument in tribute to the stand made by the 27th Foot at Waterloo. This battalion was part of Lambert's brigade and arrived at the battle at about 15.00 after a long march from Ghent. The battalion suffered 66% casualties during its time in the centre and was still under orders at the end.

It seems likely that the battalion was subject to significant French musketry whilst standing in company column, particularly following the fall of La Haye Sainte and it would appear that it made a fine target for French skirmishers operating forward of the farm.

See "Lord Hill's" comments on TMP whilst researching the casualties suffered by the battalion

In memory of the heroic stand by the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815 when, of the 747 officers and men of the regiment who joined battle, 493 were killed or wounded. A noble record of stubborn endurance - Of them the Duke od Wellington said "Ah, they saved the centre of my line" - Erected by their successors The Royal Irish Rangers 27th (inniskillings) 83rd, 87th - 18th June 1990
Other links referring to the 27th Foot

Moving back to the crossroads the visitor comes across the monument erected in 1914 to the Belgian troops that served at Waterloo.

Just along from this monument on the centre left ridge were positioned the five battalions (four Dutch and one Belgian) of Major General Count Bylandt. This brigade was mentioned in the earlier post on Quatre Bras and distinguished itself with the resistance it put up to the initial attacks by Ney's forces with the 5th Dutch Militia suffering 41% casualties during its struggle for control of Gemioncourt Farm.

It seemed very fitting that the monument to the Belgian troops should be close to the stand made by the 7th Belgian battalion
It was alleged by some historians that after being mistakenly deployed on the forward slope the brigade was subjected to a devastating attack from the Grand Battery preceding D'Erlon's attack and fled ignominiously to the rear as the French troops advanced.

However subsequent research suggests that this account is very unfair and inaccurate and that the brigade after initially being deployed on the forward slope was withdrawn at midday before the Grand Battery opened fire. They engaged the French infantry with musketry as they advanced over the ridge but the weight of the attack and the casualties already suffered was too much for all but one of the battalions and the rest withdrew reforming in the rear area but not partaking in any further action.

The one battalion that stood its ground was the 7th Belgian Infantry and two accounts give an idea of their actions during the attack.

Lt. Scheltens of the 7th Belgians stated;
"....our battalion opened fire as soon as our skirmishers had come in. The French column imprudently halted and began to deploy. We were at such close quarters that Captain Henry l'Oliver , commanding our grenadier company, was struck on the arm by a musket ball, of which the wad, or paper cartridge, remained smoking in the cloth of his tunic."

Lt. James Hope, an officer in the 92nd Foot observed the unequal struggle;
"....the Belgians, assailed with terrible fury, returned the fire of the enemy for some time with great spirit.....(then they) partially retired from the hedge. At the entreaty of their officers, the greater part of them returned to their posts, but it was merely to satisfy their curiosity for they almost immediately retired again without firing a shot. The officers exerted themselves to the utmost to keep their men at their duty, but their efforts were fruitless."

The photo I took makes an interesting comparison with the contemporary picture below. The road was barricaded close by the farm and the 95th Rifles occupied the sand pit just near the sign posts on the left, where this a useful lay-by for parking.
Moving a little way down the Brussels road we come to two monuments and a lay-by to the left in the picture above which is where the sand pit occupied by the 95th Rifles was during their battle to support the defenders of La Haye Sainte.

This section of road also gives the best cross sectional perspective of the significance of the ridge chosen by Wellington as the contemporary picture below illustrates and makes an interesting comparison.

A contemporary picture of the Brussels road, with La Haye Sainte on the right and an indication of the height of Wellington's ridge. La Belle Alliance can be seen in the distance with the French ridge to the left occupied by the French grand battery. 

The picture below shows the moving monument erected by the obviously distressed relatives of Colonel Alexander Gordon, ADC to Wellington, who lost a leg to a round shot in the closing stages of the battle and died two days later at the Inn in Waterloo, now a museum to Wellington's stay and HQ.

Wellington was very distressed by the loss of his friend who had served with him through the Peninsular War.

The base of Gordon's monument is on the level of the ridge line as it was before the construction of the Lion Mound and thus gives a good impression of its significance to the terrain.

Colonel Alexander Gordon, 92nd Foot and ADC to Wellington

Across the road from the Gordon monument is the monument to the KGL units that served with Wellington during the battle and of whom many were veteran troops from the Peninsular War.

Monument to the units of the King's German Legion

Leaving our car in the lay by at the KGL monument I walked carefully along the Brussels road to look at the road side perspective of La Haye Sainte, The road is very busy and so I had to to rely on my telephoto lens rather than risk life and limb getting any closer to road side. Unfortunately the gates were well and truly closed, so no shots of the yard as in my picture from 1976.


La Haye Sainte Farm (literal translation, The Sacred Hedge) was like Hougomont a battle within a battle. The farm was successfully defended by Major Baring and his green jacketed 2nd KGL Light Battalion from the start of D'Erlon's attack at about 13.30 until forced to abandon the post some five hours later.

The men of the 2nd KGL Light Infantry fought long and hard to hold La Haye Saint only succumbing late in the day.
Baring described the attacks made against his garrison;
"....this (assault) followed in the same force as before; namely, from two sides by two close columns, which with the greatest rapidity, nearly surrounded us and , despising danger, fought with a degree of courage which I had never before witnessed in Frenchmen.....(They threw) themselves against the walls, and endeavouring to wrest the arms from the hands of my men through the loopholes: many lives were sacrificed to the defence of the doors and gates; the most obstinate contest was carried on where the gate was wanting (the barn).... On this spot seventeen Frenchmen already lay dead, and their bodies served as a protection to those who pressed after them."

Opposite La Haye Sainte is a small memorial that commemorates the sad death of Colonel Baron Christian von Ompteda, commander of the 2nd KGL brigade part of Alten's 3rd division.

Colonel Baron Christian von Ompteda

Alten on noticing a French battalion deploying from La Haye Sainte directed Colonel Ompteda to take the 5th KGL Line battalion forward from the sunken road and attack the French in line. Colonel Ompteda declined the order stating that French cuirassiers lay in ambush the other side of the road in anticipation of such an attack. The Prince of Orange, overhearing the order, overruled Ompteda and insisted, not for the first time, that a unit should advance in line despite the threat of enemy cavalry.

The monument records that the 8e Ligne part of Durette's division that had been on the French extreme right flank near Papelotte had been brought into the centre by Ney following the fall of La Haye Sainte and was involved in the combat with the 5th KGL; bravely led forward by Colonel Ompteda who, as he predicted, was ridden down with most of his men by cuirassiers after driving the French infantry back.

The destruction of the 5th KGL by Pamela Patrick White


From the position of the monument to Ompteda and the 8e Ligne I was able to get a closer view of Battery Ridge. Then driving a little further up the road to La Belle Alliance I was able to pull in by the ridge itself to take a picture of the Allied ridge from a French gunners perspective.

Battery Ridge seen from just opposite the main entrance to La Haye Sainte
A French artilleryman's view of the Allied Ridge towards which D'Erlon's I Corps advanced at about 13.30 
I should say I didn't take time to look at La Belle Alliance. The building has had some additional modifications since I looked at it back in 1976 and with time pressing I moved straight on to La Calliou.


La Calliou is a farm house just situated off the battlefield heading towards Genappe on the east side of the road. It was Napoleon's HQ and overnight stop on the 17th/18th June when he and his staff needed shelter from the night's stormy weather and it was burnt down by pursuing Prussian troops causing it to be rebuilt and refurbished in 1912. 

Two of Napoleon's horses were captured at the farm, one being Marengo who was sent to England and whose skeleton now resides in the National Army Museum in London.

The house is now a museum and houses some interesting artefacts, including weapons, accouterments, a mock up of Napoleon's camp bed and the skeleton of a French hussar with a rather nasty sabre blow to the head. In the garden is an ossuary dedicated in 1912 to house the bones of soldiers discovered on the battlefield.

French lances
An 1804 model Cuirassier breastplate, together with a luxury model four branch guard, filigree hilt, cuirassier sabre made by Klingenthal with an iron scabbard and rings
1777 model French light cavalry sabre and carbine, with Guard officers sabre in the centre
The orchard, pictured below, is where the 1st battalion, 1st Chasseurs a Pied of the Imperial Guard spent a very miserable wet night on the 17th/18th June 1815.

The 1st battalion of the 1st regiment of Chasseurs a Pied of the Imperial Guard commanded by Major Duuring, bivouacked in this place on the night of 17th to 18th June. This battalion had distinguished itself at Marengo, Ulm Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Essling, Wagram, Smolensk, Moscowa, Hanau and Montmirail.

Another interesting web site about Waterloo stuff you might not know

So that is it, my Waterloo commemoration series of posts are done and it is back to Talavera preparation and plans for me.

I just thought I would add a postscript to this series of "Waterloo 200" posts, to highlight the nice little offer that the Royal Mint here in the UK came up with for this important commemoration. Each postcode address was entitled to receive a free bronze Waterloo Campaign Medal, which is a really nice keep sake for the bicentenary year and I thought I would show you what it looks like together with my Napoleon medal that I bought at La Malmaison earlier this year.

I really went mad, and for a few quid got the commemorative binder to go with it and it holds my Napoleon medal as well.

These little treasures together with my pipe fragments and musket balls will be a great reminder of an exciting bicentenary that has rekindled an interest in a campaign that I will have to come back to in time.

Other sources used in this post:
Waterloo the hundred days - David Chandler
Waterloo, Battle of Three Armies - Lord Chalfont
The Waterloo Companion - Mark Adkin
Hougomont, Waterloo - Julian Paget & Derek Saunders

Next up the 1/96e Ligne at Talavera and some WWII memorabilia seen in Belgium on our recent trip. 


  1. A great series of posts, and after no less than four aborted attempts these have only deepened my desire to mount a successful one in the next couple of years. Was it your sons' first trip, were they reasonably well-versed in the battle and preceding events beforehand, and did they get as much out of it as you have done on your visits (they certainly appear to be getting into the spirit of things in the photos you have posted)?

    1. Hi Lawrence, great, I'm glad you feel inspired to go see, that what this blog's all about.

      Yes both Tom and Will have developed a strong interest in history and the hobby and have been brought up on the occasional trip with Dad. Given the state of teaching history in the UK I wanted them both to at least know the story of British/World history in a sequential way and they have both come and gone and got back into it. Will is our classics scholar and has developed a strong interest in Greco/Roman history whereas Tom has a more gregarious interest with Napoleonics a preference at the moment.

      There is something very special about standing in a particular place and reading the account of the person who stood there in that moment of peril describing a particular moment in time and both the boys have tapped into that living history experience.

      A few years ago I took them to Omaha beach and we entered the bunker described by 18 year old Private Franz Gockel and his terrifying description of what was happening in front of and around this cramped dark little bunker. The vivid description enabled us to easily identify specific points he mentioned and sixty plus years of past time suddenly vanished as we read through his account.

      I like to think it has allowed them to appreciate the sacrifice that has been made by past generations to give them the opportunities they have today, and that is no bad thing.


  2. An interesting read! Thanks for posting!

    1. Hi Mattias, thank you for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  3. The distance between the outer wall of Hougomont and where the wood was is definitely "Oh my God !" range.


    1. Hi Vince,
      Yes when you peer through one of those loopholes you can't not think of the Peter Gilder Grand Manner style rule sets, "can't miss range, first volley, rested muskets, British elite infantry firing" throw in a bit of " routed ground" to hold the next French assault up for a move and you have to wonder if Napoleon had ever played before!

      Talking of routed ground, looking forward to watching Jimmy Anderson turn on the magic in Cardiff this morning. If you're watching on the telly, we're in the front row, Fosters stand, side on to the pitch. Can't wait!

  4. Hi Vince - this is a great item and it's very interesting to see the pics of Hougoumont which have helped me (a novice) to understand this important incident in the Battle of Waterloo.

    I've recently acquired a Georgian mourning brooch which has turned out to be that of Sergeant Brice McGregor of the 3rd Guards of Foot (Scots Guards) who was one of the named men involved in closing/barring the gates at Hougoumont.

    Since acquiring the brooch, I've researched all the contemporary records I've found so far, and I'm now embarking on a campaign to try and get his name corrected wherever possible. I think the least we can do for a long dead hero is to try and get his name right!

    I'm convinced that his name was actually Charles Brice McGregor but he dropped using the 'Charles' and just called himself 'Brice'. He never used the name 'Bruce'

    On, I've just added a post which lists all the contemporary sources which record him as 'Brice' together with a few details of his life. The vast majority of references to him as 'Bruce' on the internet are from publications produced long after his death. There is also a photo of the mourning brooch. The link is

    Peter Reeve

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thank you for your comment and link, I was very interested to see what you had discovered and the brooch is a marvellous piece of Waterloo memorabilia.

      Like you, I think it is important to record and recognise the deeds of these men who are not subject to the modern standards of recognition, with many of those who were killed lying in unmarked graves,very often their names lost to history and I hope this blog, as well as celebrating the hobby, fills a small part of that process.

      Thanks for sharing yet another interesting aspect of the fight for Hougomont.

      Since writing this post my youngest son has discovered that a school friend of his, who read this post, was one of the young Guardsmen who were present representing the modern day Guards at the unveiling of the new memorial to the defenders on the 200th anniversary.