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objectionable is proved by his blunt comment to Hardinge–“If they fight here they will be damnably licked!”

It would have been possible for Napoleon to have crushed the Prussian army in the early hours of the 16th when it was in the throes of formation for battle; and this he would probably have done if Ney had occupied Quatre Bras on the previous evening. But in Ney’s default of accomplishing this Napoleon, in his solicitude that Wellington should be hindered from supporting Bluecher, determined to delay his own stroke against the latter until Ney should be in possession of Quatre Bras with the left wing, where, in Soult’s words, “he ought to be able to destroy any force of the enemy that might present itself,” and then come to the support of the Emperor by getting on the Prussian rear behind St. Amand. Napoleon’s instructions were explicit that Ney was to march on Quatre Bras, take position there, and then send an infantry division and Kellerman’s cavalry to points eastward, whence the Emperor might summon them to participate in his own operations. If Ney had fulfilled his orders by utilising the whole force at his disposal, in all human probability he would have defeated Wellington at Quatre Bras, whose troops, arriving in detail, would have been crushed by greatly superior numbers as they came up. As it was, although at the beginning of the battle he was in superior strength, Ney never utilised more than 22,000 men; whereas by its close Wellington had 31,000, and, thanks to the stanchness of the British infantry, was the victor in a very hard-fought contest. But Mr. Ropes has reason in holding it humanly certain that he would have been beaten–in which case the battle of Waterloo would never have been fought–had not D’Erlon’s corps of Ney’s command while marching towards Quatre Bras, been turned aside in the direction of the Prussian right.

In the justifiable belief that Ney was duly carrying out his orders Napoleon at half-past one opened the battle of Ligny. He had expected to have to deal with but a single Prussian corps, but the actual fact was that, while he had 74,000 men on the field, Bluecher had 87,000 with a superior strength of artillery. The fighting was long and severe. From the first, recognising the defects of his adversary’s position, Napoleon was satisfied that he could defeat the Prussian army. But he needed to do more–to crush, to rout it, so that he need give himself no further concern regarding it. This he saw his way to accomplish if Ney were to strike in presently on the Prussian right; and so, with intent to stir that chief to vigorous enterprise, the message was sent him that “the fate of France was in his hands.” The battle proceeded, Bluecher throwing in his reserves freely, Napoleon chary of his and playing the waiting game pending Ney’s expected co-operation. About half-past five he was preparing to put in the Guard and strike the decisive blow, when information reached him from his right that a column, presumably hostile, was visible some two miles distant marching toward Fleurus. Napoleon sent an aide to ascertain the facts and until his return postponed the decisive moment. Two hours later the information was brought back that the approaching column was D’Erlon’s from Ney’s wing. This intelligence dispelled all anxiety. Strangely enough, no instructions were sent to the approaching reinforcement, and the suspended stroke was promptly dealt. The Prussians, after desperate fighting, were everywhere driven back. Napoleon with part of the Imperial Guard broke Bluecher’s centre, and the French army deployed on the heights beyond the stream. In a word, Napoleon had defeated the Prussians, but had neither crushed nor routed them. There was no pursuit.

D’Erlon’s corps on this afternoon had achieved the doubly sinister distinction of having prevented Ney from gaining a probable victory at Quatre Bras, and of detracting from the thoroughness of Napoleon’s actual victory at Ligny. While it was leisurely marching towards Frasnes in support of Ney, it was diverted eastward towards the Prussian right flank in consequence of an order given (whether authorised or not is uncertain) by an aide-de-camp of the Emperor. It was about to deploy for action, when, on receiving from Ney a peremptory order to rejoin his command; and in absence of a command from Napoleon to strike the Prussian flank, it went about and tramped back towards Frasnes. D’Erlon’s promenade was as futile as the famous march of the King of France up the hill and then down again.

Mr. Ropes considers that on the morning of the 17th Napoleon had thus far in the main fulfilled his programme. This view may be questioned. He had merely defeated two of the four Prussian corps; he had not wrecked Bluecher. He had failed to occupy Quatre Bras; the Anglo-Dutch army had succeeded in effecting a partial concentration and in repulsing his left wing there. Still it must be admitted that with two corps absolutely intact and with no serious losses in the Guard and cavalry, Napoleon was in good shape for carrying out his plan. If Ney had sent him word overnight that Wellington’s army was bivouacking about Quatre Bras in ignorance, as it turned out, of the result of Ligny, he might have attacked it to good purpose in conjunction with Ney in the early morning of the 17th. But Ney was silent and sulky; Napoleon himself was greatly fatigued, and Soult was of no service to him.

During the night the Prussians “had folded their tents like the Arabs, and as silently stolen away.” They had neither been watched nor followed up, all touch of them had been lost, and there was nothing to indicate their line of retreat. This slovenliness on the part of the French would not have occurred in Napoleon’s earlier days; nor in those days of greater vigour would he have delayed until after midday of the 17th to follow up an army which he had defeated on the previous evening, and which had disappeared from before him in the course of the night. The reports which had been sent in from a cavalry reconnaissance despatched in the morning indicated that the Prussians were retiring on Namur. No reconnaissance had been made in the direction of Tilly and Wavre. This was a strange error, since Bluecher had two corps still untouched, and as above everything a fighting man, was not likely to throw up his hands and forsake his ally after one partial discomfiture. Napoleon tardily determined to despatch Grouchy on the errand of following up the Prussians with a force consisting of about 33,000 men with ninety-six guns. Thus far all authorities are agreed; but as regards the character of the orders given to Grouchy for his guidance in an obviously somewhat complicated enterprise, there is an extraordinary contrariety of evidence. It is stated in the _St. Helena Memoirs_ that Grouchy received positive orders to keep himself always between the main French army and Bluecher; to maintain constant communication with the former and in a position easily to rejoin it; that since it was possible that Bluecher might retreat on Wavre, he (Grouchy) was to be there simultaneously; if the Prussians should continue their march on Brussels and should pass the night in the forest of Soignies, he was to follow to the edge of the forest; should they retire on the Meuse, he was to watch them with part of his cavalry and himself occupy Wavre with the mass of his force, where he should be in position for easy communication with Napoleon’s headquarters. Those orders are certainly specific enough, but there is no record of them; and they may be assumed to represent rather what Napoleon at St. Helena considered Grouchy should have done, than what he was actually ordered to do.

Grouchy’s version, again–and it is adequately corroborated–is to the effect that about midday of the 17th on the field of Ligny, the Emperor gave him the verbal order to take the 3rd and 4th Corps and certain cavalry and “go in pursuit of the Prussians.” Grouchy raised sundry objections which the Emperor overruled and repeated his commands, adding that “it was for me (Grouchy) to discover the route taken by Bluecher; that he himself was going to fight the English, and that it was for me to complete the defeat of the Prussians by attacking them as soon as I should have caught up with them.” So much for Grouchy for the moment.

Soon after the Emperor had given Grouchy this verbal order, tidings came in from a scouting party that a body of Prussian troops had been seen about 9 A.M. at Gembloux, considerably northward of the Namur road. The abstract probability no doubt was that the Prussians would retire towards their base. But that Napoleon kept an open mind on the subject is evidenced by his instruction to Grouchy to “go and discover the route taken by Bluecher,” and this later intelligence, it may be assumed, opened his mind yet further. He thought it well, then, to send to Grouchy a supplementary written order which in the temporary absence of Marshal Soult he dictated to General Bertrand. This order enjoined on Grouchy to proceed with his force to Gembloux; to explore in the directions of Namur and Maestricht; to pursue the enemy; explore his march; and report upon his manoeuvres, so that “I (Napoleon) may be able to penetrate what the enemy is intending to do; whether he is separating himself from the English, or whether they are intending still to unite in trying the fate of another battle to cover Brussels or Liege.” To me I confess–and the view is also that of Chesney and Maurice–this written order is simply an amplification in detail of the previous verbal order, which by instructing Grouchy “to discover the route taken by Bluecher” clearly evinced doubt in Napoleon’s mind as to the Prussian line of retreat. Mr. Ropes, on the other hand, bases an indictment on Grouchy’s conduct on the argument that not only was the tone of the written order altogether different from that of the verbal order, but that the duty assigned to Grouchy by the former was wholly different from that specified in the latter.

He adds that Grouchy constantly and persistently denied having received any other than the verbal order, that in this denial Grouchy lied, and that “the mischievous influence of this deliberate concealment of his orders by Grouchy caused for nearly thirty years after the battle of Waterloo to be prevalent a wholly false notion as to the task assigned by Napoleon to the Marshal.” Certainly Grouchy’s conduct is inexplicable to any one holding the belief, as I do, that there is nothing in the written order to account for Grouchy’s denial of having received it. It is more inexplicable than Mr. Ropes appears to be aware of. It is true, as Mr. Ropes proves, that Grouchy vehemently denied receiving the written order in all his works printed from 1818 to 1829. But he had actually acknowledged its receipt almost immediately after Waterloo. In his son’s little book, _Le Marechal de Grouchy du 16me au 19me Juin, 1815,_ is printed among the _Documents Historiques Inedits_ a paper styled “Allocution du Marechal Grouchy a quelques-uns des officiers generaux sous les ordres, lorsqu’il eut appris les desastres de Waterloo.” From this document I make the following extract: “A few hours later the Emperor modified his first order, and caused to be written to me by the Grand Marshal Bertrand the order to betake myself to Gembloux, and to send reconnaissances towards Namur. ‘It is important,’ continued the order, ‘to discover the intentions of the Prussians–whether they are separating from the English, or have the design to take the chance of a new battle.'” It is strange that this acknowledgment should never have been cited against Grouchy; stranger still that in the face of it he should have maintained his denials; yet more strange that those denials were never exposed; and most strange of all, that finally the “written order” should have appeared for the first time in a casual article published in 1842, without evoking any explanation from Grouchy, or any strictures on his persistent mendacity.

It may be questioned whether the force of 33,000 men entrusted to Grouchy was not either too large or too small. The main French army, in the possible contingencies before it, could not safely spare so large a detachment, as events showed. Grouchy’s command was not sufficiently strong to oppose the whole Prussian army; two corps of which could certainly have “held” it, while the other two were free to support Wellington. Mr. Ropes thinks it might have been diminished by one-half, but then a single Prussian corps could have dealt with it. It is difficult to discern in what respect the 6000 cavalry assigned to Grouchy should have been inadequate to such service as could reasonably have been expected of his whole command.

The British force about Quatre Bras on the morning of the 17th amounted to about 45,000 men. Early on that morning Wellington was in conversation with the Captain Bowles previously mentioned, when an officer galloped up and, to quote Captain Bowles,

whispered to the Duke, who then turned to me and said, “Old Bluecher has had a d—-d good licking and has gone back to Wavre. As he has gone back, we must go too. I suppose in England they will say we have been licked–I can’t help that.”

He quietly withdrew his troops from their positions, an operation which Ney, with 40,000 men at his disposal, did not attempt to molest, notwithstanding repeated orders from Napoleon to move on Quatre Bras. Early in the afternoon Napoleon reached that vicinity with the Guard, 6th Corps, and Milhaud’s Cuirassiers, picked up Ney’s command, and mounting his horse led the French army, following up Wellington’s retreat. His energy and activity throughout the march is described as intense. Those characteristics he continued to evince during the following night and in the morning of the eventful 18th. In the dead of night he spent two hours on the picquet line, and about seven he was out again on the foreposts in the mud and rain. His anxiety was not as to the issue of a battle with Wellington, but lest Wellington should not stand and fight. That apprehension was dispelled when, as he rode along his front about 8 A.M., he saw the Anglo-Dutch army taking up its ground. He was aware that at least one “pretty strong Prussian column”–which actually consisted of the two corps beaten at Ligny–had retired on Wavre. But notwithstanding the disquieting vagueness and ineptitude of Grouchy’s letter of 10 P.M. of the 17th from Gembloux, and that up to the morning of the battle he had sent no suggestions or instructions to that officer, he yet trusted implicitly to him to fend off the Prussians; and it did not seem to occur to him that Wellington’s calm expectant attitude indicated his assurance of Bluecher’s cooperation.

In one of the cavalry charges toward the close of the battle of Ligny, Bluecher had been overthrown, ridden over, almost taken prisoner, and severely bruised; but the gallant old hussar was almost himself again next morning, thanks to copious doses of gin and rhubarb, for the effluvium of which restorative he apologised to Hardinge as he embraced that wounded officer, in the extremely plain expression, “_Ich stinke etwas_.” Gneisenau, his Chief of Staff, rather distrusted Wellington’s good faith, and doubted whether it was not the safer policy for the Prussian army to fall back toward Liege. But Bluecher prevailed over his lieutenants; and on the evening of the 17th all four Prussian corps in a strength of about 90,000 men, were concentrated about Wavre, some nine miles east of the Waterloo position, full of ardour and confident of success. That same night Mueffling informed Bluecher by letter that the Anglo-Dutch army had occupied the position named, wherein to fight next day; and Bluecher’s loyal answer was that Buelow’s corps at daybreak should march by way of St. Lambert to strike the French right; that Pirch’s would follow in support; and that the other two would stand in readiness. This communication, which reached Wellington at headquarters at 2 A.M. of the 18th, has been held to have been the first actually definite assurance of Prussian support. The story to the effect that on the evening of the 17th the Duke rode over to Wavre to make sure from Bluecher’s own mouth that he could rely on Prussian support next day, to the truth of which not a little of vague testimony has been adduced, may be now definitely disregarded. The evidence against the legend is conclusive. An authoritative contradiction was given to it in an article in the _Quarterly Review_ of 1842, from the pen of Lord Francis Egerton, afterwards Lord Ellesmere, who confessedly wrote under the inspiration of the Duke, and in this instance directly from a memorandum drawn up by his Grace. Quite recently there have been found and are now in the possession of the Rev. Frederick Gurney, the grandson of the late Sir John Gurney, the notes of a “conversation with the Duke of Wellington and Baron Gurney and Mr. Justice Williams, Judges on Circuit, at Strath-fieldsaye House, on 24th February 1837.” The annotator was Baron Gurney, to the following effect:–“The conversation had been commenced by my inquiring of him (the Duke) whether a story which I had heard was true of his having ridden over to Bluecher on the night before the battle of Waterloo, and returned on the same horse. He said–‘No, that was not so. I did not see Bluecher on the day before Waterloo. I saw him the day before, on the day of Quatre Bras. I saw him after Waterloo, and he kissed me. He embraced me on horseback. I had communicated with him the day before Waterloo.'” The rest of the conversation made no further reference to the topic of the ride to Wavre.

It is not proposed to give here any account of the memorable battle, the main incidents of which are familiar to all. It was of course Wellington’s policy to take up a defensive attitude; both because of the incapacity of his raw soldiers for manoeuvring, and since every minute before Napoleon should begin the offensive was of value to the English commander, as it diminished the length of punishment he would have to endure single-handed. Further, he was numerically weaker than his adversary, while his troops were at once of divers nationalities and divers character; his main reliance was on his British troops and those of the King’s German Legion. Napoleon for his part deliberately delayed to attack when celerity of action was all-important to him, disregarding the obvious probability of Prussian assistance to Wellington, and sanguinely expecting that Grouchy would either avert that support or reach him in time to neutralise it. Mr. Ropes has written an admirable criticism of the errors of the French in their contest with the Anglo-Dutch army, for which Ney was for the most part responsible, since from before 3 P.M. Napoleon was engrossed in preparing his right flank for defence against the Prussians. The issue of the great battle all men know. The badness of the roads retarded the Prussians greatly, and, save in Buelow’s corps, there was no doubt considerable delay in starting; but the proverb that “All’s well that ends well” might have been coined with special application to the battle of Waterloo.

It only remains briefly to refer to Mr. Ropes’s elaborate _resume_ of the melancholy adventures of Grouchy, on whom he may be regarded as too severe. Sent out too late on a species of roving commission, more was expected from him by Napoleon than could have been accomplished by any but a leader of the highest order, whereas Grouchy had never given evidence of being more than respectable. He received from his master neither instructions nor information from the time he left the field of Ligny until 4 P.M. of the 18th, nor until at Walhain he heard the cannonade of Waterloo had he any knowledge of the whereabouts of the French main army. On the morning of the 18th he was late in leaving Gembloux, on not the most direct route towards Wavre; instead of moving on which, when he heard the noise of the battle, he should no doubt have marched straight for the Dyle bridges at Ottignies and Moustier. Had he done so, spite of all delays he could have been across the Dyle by 4 P.M. But when Mr. Ropes claims that thus Grouchy would have been able to arrest the march toward the battlefield of the two leading Prussian corps, one of which was four miles distant from him and the other still farther away, he is too exacting. Had Grouchy made the vain attempt, the two nearer Prussian corps would have taken him in flank and headed him off, while Buelow and Ziethen pressed on to the battlefield. If he had marched straight and swiftly on the cannon-thunder of Waterloo, he might perhaps have been in time to effect something in the nature of a diversion, although it is extremely improbable that he could have materially changed the fortune of the day; but instead, acting on the letter of Napoleon’s instructions despatched to him on the morning of the battle, he moved on Wavre and engaged in a futile action with the Prussian 3rd Corps there. A shrewd and enterprising man would have at least seen into the spirit of his orders; Grouchy could not do this, and he is to be pitied rather than blamed.

THE END