Napoleonic Tour - Waterloo

Napoleonic Tour, 2012 - Waterloo Itinerary


Napoleon departed Paris to join the army at 3:30 AM on June 12, 1815. After the battles of June 16 and 18 he retreated back to Paris. On Day 2 we will stop to visit several battlefields of 1814 (see separate chapter).

Traveling backward in time, we are about to follow the Emperor to join the army in Beaumont. One can hear the roar of distant guns above the racket of our carriage wheels on the cobbled pavement.

Day 1:
Arrivals at airport

In the evening of March 29th, 1814, the allies had arrived on the eastern and northern approaches of Paris, with 107,000 men. Opposing them, Marmont had fewer than 12,000 regular troops, Mortier about 11,000, and Moncey the garrison of Paris, mostly National Guards, raising the total to about 42,000 troops good, bad, and indifferent, with 154 guns. Very little had been done towards fortifying the capital beyond the incomplete "octroi" wall and a few trenches, batteries, redoubts, and barricades. By 4 PM Marmont had been driven back to the heights of Belleville on the right, and Mortier to Montmartre on the left, with a connecting line between them. The Emperor was then hurrying by Fontainebleau in his wicker carriage.

Most of us will arrive at Charles DeGaulle airport (CDG), near le Mesnil-Amelot to the NE of Paris. Napoleon's coach passed right across the passenger terminal on its return from the debacle of Waterloo. Inquiring at the Info desk, you can easily find the Air France direct bus to Tour Eiffel. We will meet at 12 Noon at Terminal 1, at Avis our car rental agency. We will then pay a visit to Les Invalides, where Napoleon's tomb was placed. From there we will go to our Hotel. After this there will be no programmed itinerary until 8:00 PM. We will be free to form ad-hoc groups based on our individual interests.

8:00 PM: Hotel Eiffel


Day 2:
Campaign of 1814

8:15 AM: Departure

9:00 AM: La Cour de France

By 6 PM Napoleon had reached the post-house of La Cour de France, near Juvisy, only twelve miles from Paris, and was impatiently awaiting a change of horses, when there arrived a body of cavalry, under Belliard. In reply to the Emperor's storm of questions, Belliard told him of the battle of Paris, and of the convention about to be signed, under which Marmont was to evacuate the capital next morning. Still Napoleon insisted on making for Paris, and had actually gone a mile or two on the road when he found himself in view of the enemy's bivouac fires barring the road. Unable to go farther, he returned to La Cour de France. Flahault was sent off to urge Marmont to hold out. At the same time, Caulaincourt was despatched to Paris with full powers to conclude peace, in the vain hope that negotiations might still be possible.

10:15 AM: Fontainebleau

Napoleon gathered-in the remnants of his army, a ragged collection of tired veterans, very young recruits, and old soldiers called out of retirement.  Napoleon contemplated retaking his capital but his Marshals were dismayed at the thought of their beloved capital subjected to the dreadful fate of so many of her foreign sisters. Talleyrand chose this moment to manipulate a Senate resolution blaming Napoleon for everything that had gone wrong. Declaring him an Emperor no longer, his son no successor, from his soldiers it lifted the oath of loyalty they had sworn to their great captain.

Marshal Marmont, commander of the VI Corps and one of Napoleon's most trusted lieutenants, was the closest to Paris and would be the leader of any attack on the city. His proximity to the Allied camp made the VI Corps the objects of subversion by the combined efforts of the provisional government of Talleyrand and the agents of Alexander. The Czar persuaded Marmont, after several hours of negotiation, to surrender his corps.

Even Napoleon's relatives began to arrange for a future in the new post-war France. Within a very short while Fontainebleau became virtually deserted. In a moment of despair, Napoleon took a potion that he had worn around his neck since Egypt. It didn't work. He awoke on the morning of April 13th, his life force undimmed. "I shall live," he resolved, "since death is no more willing to take me on my bed than on the battlefield."

On April 16th the parties ratified the Treaty of Fontainebleau.6 The chateau, in the southeast of the town, is one of the largest royal residences in France. It is composed of many distinct buildings erected by different kings but mostly dating from the 16th century. It originated as a royal hunting lodge and was first mentioned in 1169. The chateau is entered from the Place du Général de Gaulle from which a gateway leads into the Cour des Adieux, where Napoleon bade farewell to the Imperial Guard on April 20th, 1814. Upstairs, in Napoleon's apartments on the second floor, you can see a lock of his hair, his Légion d'Honneur medal, his imperial uniform, the hat he wore on his return from Elba in 1815, and the imperial bed. During his reign Napoleon spent lavishly on the buildings and grounds of Fontainebleau.

The town, with its large suburb of Avon, is mainly a residential and a tourist centre. It contains a museum of military uniforms. The forest of Fontainebleau is a most beautiful wooded tract which covers 42,000 acres. The local tourist office is at 31 pl. Napoléon-Bonaparte, tel. 64-22-25-68.


Day 3:


Laon is situated on a hill some 300 or 350 feet above the surrounding plain. From the railway station in the plain to the north, several hundred steps lead to the "Montagne couronnée" crowned by promenades on the site of the old ramparts. We will have lunch in the café on place du Parvis, just opposite the Cathedral on the hilltop.

The medieval ramparts, virtually undisturbed by passing traffic, provide panoramic views of old town.

The town has been of strategic importance since Roman times. Laon figured in the Hundred Years War, when it was captured by the Burgundians and then transferred to English control. During the campaign of 1814 Blücher successfully defended the town. In 1870 an engineer blew up the powder magazine in the citadel at the moment when German troops were entering the town. Laon succumbed to Alexander von Kluck's attack in August 1914 and was held by the Germans until October 1918. The town was badly damaged in WWII.

B of 3-9-1814
West of the Soissons-Laon road is a hilly country, the eastern border of which is within two or three miles of Laon. North of Laon, and east of the Reims-Laon road, the country is practically level. At the foot of the hill of Laon are several suburbs including Semilly at the south-west corner, and Ardon to the south, the latter traversed by a marshy brook of the same name which flows to join the Lette beyond the road to Soissons. The Soissons-Laon road runs through or over hills till it reaches the plain south of Laon. The Reims-Laon road runs mostly outide the hills, crossing  it with outlying spurs for a mile or two on either side of Festieux.

The plain south of Laon, between the Reims and Soissons roads, is extremely difficult for transverse communication, owing to the marshy fields which look solid enough at a distance. The villages in the neighbourhood are generally very defensible. Some of them, Bruyeres for instance, are old fortified villages with some of the walls still standing.

It was 1 AM on the 9th when Ney began his advance on Etouvelles and Chivy. Col. Gourgaud, with two battalions of Old Guard and 300 cavalry, had been sent during the night from Chavignon by Chailllevois and Chailvet to co-operate with Ney's frontal attack by turning the enemy's right. At 1:30 AM, there being no signs of Gourgaud, Ney started his attack, headed by 400 volunteers of P. Boyer's brigade. The Russians at Etouvelles, surprised and turned by the volunteers, surrendered without much fighting. Gourgaud's turning movement had been retarded by the badness of the road, aggravated by a heavy fall of snow in the night. It was not till 4 AM that Ney got possession of Chivy, and Belliard's cavalry was sent forward to try and surprise Laon.

At 5:30 AM Gourgaud's cavalry arrived before the suburb of Semilly, to find the enemy fully on guard. The same state of affaris was found by Belliard's cavalry at Clacy, and at the suburb of Ardon. Everywhere they were met by a violent fire of musketry. Clearly Laon was not to be taken by a rush. Gourgaud's two battalions took post in a little wood between Chivy and Semilly.

At 7 AM Mortier began to arrive at Chivy, and relieved Ney, who marched against Semilly, Mortier taking the direction of Ardon. Ney at first succeeded in getting into Semilly, but was soon driven out by a counter-attack. Not till 11 AM did he again get into the suburb, to be driven out once more. At 9 AM Poret de Morvan, of Mortier's corps, had stormed Ardon, and was pushing troops against the southern slopes of the hill of Laon, whence, about 11 AM, they were driven back on to the plain.

The Prussian centre was Bülow's 17,000 men holding the strong position of the hill of Laon, together with the suburbs of Semilly and Ardon. On the open plain, on the right facing Clacy, was Winzingerode's corps still, after the lossses at Craonne, 25,000 strong. On the left, Yorck and Kleist with about 24,000 were about Athies, across the Reims road. Langeron and Sacken were in reserve behind Laon. Blücher, too ill to sit a horse, posted himself on the south-west corner of the hill. Once the mist lifted about 11 AM, he had a magnificent view of the battlefied spread at his feet.

At that hour Poret de Morvan still held Ardon. Behind him, about Leuilly, were Christiani's Old Guard division, R. d'Urbal's dragoons, and Pac's Polish lancers.

P. Boyer was in front of Semilly, with Meunier and Curial in reserve. Colbert's and Letort's cavalry, and Gourgaud's two battalions watched the woods between Semilly and Chivy, a very insignificant force against Winzingerode's 25,000 men.

That general attacked feebly: his cavalry was repulsed, and the infantry division he sent to Clacy appears to have confined itself to helping Bülow once more drive Ney from Semilly at noon. It was, however, driven back by Curial, though P. Boyer again failed in another attack on Semilly. At the same time, Poret de Morvan was driven from Ardon, but succeeded in getting back there, thanks to a charge by R. d'Urbal and Pac on the left flank of the Prussians following him. An attempt to get into communication with Marmont failed. The hour was about 1 PM. Napoleon had only now come up to Chivy to find he had before him something very much more than the rearguard he had prophesied. Ney and Mortier were only just holding their own. As for Marmont, the strong west wind prevented any sounds of his action reaching the Emperor's ears.

As soon as he realized the true state of affars, Napoleon ordered Charpentier and Friant up to Chivy. The country in which the Emperor stood was so wooded and marshy that there was little scope for anything but infantry. Only in front of Winzinerode was the terrain suitable for all arms.

By 6:30 PM Charpentier had stormed Clacy from the south and east, but even here it was not possible to bring into action sufficient guns to oppose Winzingerode's powerful artillery. During Charpentier's attack on Clacy, Ney failed once more to take Semilly, and Poret de Morvan, mortally wounded himself, was driven from Ardon. At 7 PM, the fighting was over for the night, and the Emperor returned to Chavignon [Maps f and c].

The results of a desperate day's fighting had been practically nil. Beyond the capture of Etouvelles, Chivy and Clacy, Napoleon had gained nothing. But the battle on the other wing was by no means over.

Marmont had encountered no real opposition up to Festieux, which he reached at 10 AM. Here, though the west wind bore to him the sounds of Napoleon's battle, he waited for the mist to clear before resuming his advance half an hour after noon. He fought his way into Athies with Arrighi's division by 5 PM. The enemy having retired on Chambry, Marmont bivouacked for the night. Marmont's front was in contact with the enemy on the line Sauvoir farm - Athies mill - Mannoise farm, but Arrighi's outposts were weak, very tired, and without special instructions. Everywhere Marmont's troops were off their guard, the men warming themselves by the camp fires, for it was freezing and the plain was covered with snow.

Marmont had scarcely reached Eppes at 7:30 PM when Arrighi's two brigades were attacked by strong Prussian columns. The surprise was complete. Athies was taken, and the two battalions holding it cut up. Arrighi's whole division was soon in flight, and his guns could not be got away owing to their being unlimbered. Bordessoulle's men were scarcely mounted when the whole mass of Prussian cavalry fell upon them from the Athies-Eppes road. The French cavalry, completely broken, fled through the defeated infantry of Arrighi.  Then the Prussian cavalry got ahead of the VI corps as it was making for Festieux, cutting off its retreat, killing the artillery and park horses, so that all Marmont's matérial was helpless. Nothing could prevent a general rout and flight towards Festieux.

The situation was relieved by two incidents: Colonel Fabvier was on his way back to Festieux by Veslud, which he reached about 10 PM. He vigorously attacked the enemy who had reached the place. At the same time, the Prussian cavalry, trying to head off Marmont at Festieux, found there 100 veterans of the Old Guard, halted for the night on their way to the army. These old soldiers promptly organized a defence of the village with the aid of two of Marmont's guns which had escaped. The Prussians were beaten off, and thanks to this and to Fabvier's diversion, the Prussian pursuit stopped at Maison Rouge.

On the morning of the 10th Napoleon held firm to compel Blücher to give up the pursuit of Marmont. Curiously enough, this desperate measure did have the effect which the Emperor had no reasonable right to expect.

Blücher had reached the end of his tether and was compelled to delegate his command temporarily to Gneisenau. Gneisenau, returning to Blücher's observation post of the previous day, saw that the Emperor was not yet retreating. He dreaded the responsibility of carrying out the bold but undoubtedly correct manœuvre ordered by his chief at midnight. Notwithstanding the remonstrances of the staff, he cancelled those orders.

The operations of the day were minimal.  Woronzow,advancing with infantry against Clacy, was as much unable to get into it as Charpentier was unable to advance beyond it. The deadlock here continued till 2 PM, when Gneisenau decided to reinforce Woronzow by troops from Bülow's corps which had hitherto stood idle in Laon. Charpentier was ordered to attack but was soon stopped by the Russian fire, and Mortier equally failed before Ardon. Ney sent Curial forward against Semilly, which he succeeded in taking, and even pushed up the slopes of the hill of Laon. Thence, however, he was driven back through Semilly by a fearful counter-attack with the bayonet.

Chimay (4931) Lunch.
On the edge of the Fagne moorlands. Chateau, Grand'Place. We go to the Abbey of Chimay for lunch. Best Belgian beer! The national drink is beer, and there are quite a few small breweries. Their products can be tasted in the numerous old cafés. There is the wheat-based beer called Faro. The densest brew is Geuze (called Lambic when on tap), a strong beer of half wheat and half barley, and slightly vinous in flavor. A similar drink is Kriek-Lambic, with the flavoring of cherries added. There are a few monastic brews such as Orval, made by the Trappists. Most of the Belgian beers are of the lager-type. Three miles southeast at Bourlers is L'Auberge du Poteaupré, rue Potaupré 5 (tel. 211 433). A genuine country inn.5           


Beaumont (4427)
The Salamander Tower and ramparts are the remains of a major chateau built in the 11th century. Open for visitors from 2 PM; admission BF 20. Beaumont is known for its macaroons.5

Napoleon ordered a general concentration of the army around Beaumont on June 9th. He arrived with the Guard at Beaumont of the 14th. At 2:30 AM the next morning, French troops around Beaumont were roused from their bivouacs. As the formations began to fall into their pre-arranged positions, ready to take to the roads leading over the frontier, twelve regiments of cavalry jingled and clattered off through the darkness to form the spearhead of the invasion of Belgian soil. The campaign of Waterloo had begun.3



Thuin (4323)

The tower of fortifications erected in the year 972 still remains. A short distance east is Gozée, notable for its 20-ton prehistoric standing stone. The Abbey of Aulne is one of the most important ruins in the country.  5

Count D'Erlon's I Corps crossed the Sambre at Thuin, and encountered the first Prussian resistance at Binche, where 27 towers and 1.5 miles of ramparts are still intact.

Reille's II Corps was the only formation to reach its deadline exactly at the prescribed time, but the Prussian force defending Marchienne put up such a staunch defence that it was only firmly in French possession by midday, and further tough fighting took place around Gosselies as General Steinmetz fell back. He was cleared of this place by late afternoon.  

On the morning of June 15th the 9th Prussians held the village of Marcinelle. Two Battalions of the 6th Prussians (Pirch II) held the town of Charleroi. Vandamme's III Corps was supposed to be in the outskirts of Charleroi by 10 AM, but in the event his leading units only made an appearance at 3 PM. This meant that for most of the morning the only troops fighting the Prussians were Pajol's cavalry of the forward screen. The French sappers of the Guard attacked at 12:30 PM and threw the barricades into the river. Pajol's cavalry again tried to storm the bridge, but were again repulsed. The sappers and the Young Guard renewed the attack, pushing the Prussians out of both the lower and upper parts of the town Napoleon appeared in person at the head of part of the Guard and soon after Ziethen decided to fall back towards Fleurus. It was indeed fortunate for the French that the Prussians did not destroy the Sambre bridges in the process, and that there were not more men close at hand to contest the crossing. After encouraging the drivers on the difficult slopes beyond the bridges, Napoleon set up his headquarters in the lower part of the town in an inn owned by a local ironmaster (M. Puissant - Bel-vue Tavern), and ate the lunch that had been prepared for Ziethen. Intermittently napping, Napoleon was sitting in his chair outside the Belvue Inn reviewing the III Corps as it filed past. About 9 PM Napoleon rode back to Charleroi to spend the night.

At a point a few kilometers south of Frasnes-le-Gosselies a transport café built around a mill tower stands to the west of the road was the site of Marshal Ney's quarters on the night of 15 June. Moving northwards, the site of the first engagement between Ney's advance guard (cavalry under Lefebvre-Desnouëttes, reinforced by an infantry battalion) and that of Saxe-Weimar lies just south of the village of Frasnes, where the Prince of Orange had arrived at 7:00 on the 16th. Those who wish will accompany the guides on a one-hour march to duplicate the most common opening move in the Quatre-Bras Folio Game. Continuing toward Quatre Bras, there is no longer any sign of the Bossu Wood which the French feared might conceal a substantial part of Wellington's army, and consequently decided not to press ahead to occupy the important cross-roads.

On his own initiative Prince Bernhard of Saxe Weimar with 4000 infantry and only 8 guns occupied Quatre-Bras on the afternoon of June 15th. Looking south from the parking lot attached to the estaminet at the cross-roads, the large farmstead of Gemioncourt stands 200 yards to the east of the Charleroi high road. West of the road at this point is the sunken meadow where the 69th Regiment was scattered by the French cavalry. Wellington was nearly captured in the SE corner of Quatre-Bras on the Brussels Road by the French Cavalry charge. He only escaped by jumping into the square of the 92nd Highlanders. To the east, the lines of trees in the distance lead down to the mere which marked the extreme flank of the battle area; and the first part of the N49 road leading toward Sombreffe and Namur to the south-east formed the line along which Picton drew up his brigades on their arrival at Quatre Bras. In the opposite direction, towards Nivelles, stands a monument to the Belgians who died on 16 June, whilst half-way to Gemioncourt along the N5 is the granite memorial to the Duke of Brunswick, mortally wounded at the height of the battle of Quatre Bras near the Bossu Wood.

Wellington had returned from his meeting with Blücher, calling him "a damned fine old fellow," at 3:00 PM and by 7:30 PM was informed that Blücher had retreated to Wavre. He ordered that "as they are gone back, we must go to." The retreat from Quatre-Bras began at 10:00 AM on the 17th, covered by cavalry, horse artillery and one congreve rocket battery. The pursuit by the French lancers through Quatre-Bras did not begin unbtil 2:00 PM on the 17th. They overtook the British rear guard in Genappe. The lancers's attack through the town was countered by the Engilish horse. In the confines of the narrow streets the lances were difficult to use and they received a check. The British lost 93 dead and wounded in the retreat. Before Genappe the retreat was all blunder and confusion; after Genappe it was a walk.

We will take the N49 past Marbais towards Ligny. Turning off to the right for Brye, close by the village to the south are the ruins of the windmill of Bussy, Blücher's headquarters, where Wellington conferred with Blücher at 1:00 PM on the 16th. "I will come - provided I am not attacked." Slightly to the east is a country lane which passes over the railway line to a steep-banked cutting. From this point a good over-view of the battlefield of Ligny can be obtained. The tower of the windmill used by Napoleon as his observation post can just be picked out through binoculars on the eastern side of Fleurus. Returning into Brye to drive down into Ligny itself, the course of the slow-moving stream can be traced as it meanders through the village, and the restored church, whose graveyard was the scene of much fighting on the 16th, which began at 2:30 PM. Continuing down the road, we turn right on the N21 to Fleurus, the scene of fighting on the 15th, as the French III Corps pressed into the town, with Napoleon in person supervising the fight against Ziethen's Prussians, who retired from the town by 10:00 PM. Napoleon's windmill northeast of the town, le Moulin de Maveau, bears a plaque, as does la Ferme d'En Haut in the centre of the town, where Napoleon spent an uneasy night after the battle. On the outskirts of the town is a modern memorial which recalls the three battles fought around the town, in 1690, 1794 and 1815. Also, in Sombreffe is the rectory where Blücher established his headquarters on the 15th.3 



Gembloux (4711)                                                   

From St. Amand we take the Roman Road (if possible - it is partially unpaved) towards Gembloux. If we choose, we can look over the general line of the Prussian retreat after Ligny, through Marbais, Tilly, Mellery and Mont-St. Guibert to Ottignies. It was to Mellery where Blücher, bruised and tired, was taken by his aide Nostitz. Finally we will follow the French pursuit, which went rather more to the east, having started off towards Namur before swinging north through Gembloux to Sart-le-Walhain.

Chateau de Namur


Day 4:

Wavre (4208)
The town of Wavre itself stood mainly on the north bank of the river Dyle in 1815, with two stone bridges linking it with its southern suburb. Two long but low heights line the valley, both being covered in places by thick woodland, the spur on the right bank being slightly the higher, that on the left bank somewhat steeper - and thus more suited for the defence of the river and its crossing places. It was the scene of a staunch action by part of the Prussian III Corps, covering the march of the remaining Corps towards Waterloo. Wavre has grown considerably since 1815, and the complexities of the Belgian motorway intersections in the area make a visit for the purposes of reconstructing the events of 18 and 19 June rather difficult.

We follow the N239 along the banks of the Dyle as far as Limale, scene of much hard fighting on the evening of the 18th. Crossing the Dyle at Limale, we proceed to the north and east of the town, the scene of the successful French outflanking attack and final efforts on the morning of the 19th. The steep wooded ridges give a good idea of the terrain that obstructed the French deployment both in this area and nearer to Wavre.

We will follow the small winding roads north and west of Limale towards Chapelle-St. Lambert, thus tracing the route of Blücher's march at the head of three corps (one in fact kept to a more northerly but parallel route via Rixensart and Genval) towards the distant battlefield of Waterloo.  Moving on through the Wood of Paris, one reaches the point beyond Lasne where the leading formations of Bülow's IV Corps began to emerge from the trees shortly before 2 PM on 18 June. A monument to the Prussian General Schwerin, set amidst the fields west of Lasne church, marks the place where he was killed in command of a brigade of IV Corps cavalry.3

What became of Grouchy, meanwhile?He first learned of the disaster at Waterloo at 10:00 AM on the 19th.Grouchy was south of Rosieren on the Wavre-Brussels Road when he received Soult's order to retreat over the Sambre and move on Philippeville.  Thielemann, in accordance with his earlier instructions, withdrew to Louvain. Grouchy began his retreat at 11:30 AM on Namur in two columns, the III Corps and the IV Corps, with Pajol's cavalry acting as rear guard. His advanced guard (12th Dragoons) retreated through Temploux and arrived at Gembloux on 2:00 PM on the 19th, heading for Namur. They reached Namur by the Brussels gate one hour later, with instructions to hold the bridge over the Sambre and the Meuse Rivers. Exelmans's Cavalry Corps arrived at Namur at 7:00 PM, and continued on to Givet. At this time the main body with the trains was six miles from Temploux. The last of the IV Corps (Teste's Division acting as the rear guard) arrived at Temploux at midnight. Vandamme's III Corps moved through Temploux and arrived in Gembloux at 5:00 AM on the 20th. Grouchy decided to continue the IV Corps's march onto Namur.

Grouchy crossed the Sambre at Namur moving to Givet. That morning he gought off Pirch I with the IV Corps, while the II Corps halted Thielmann near Falize. By 4:00 PM on the 20th Grouchy arrived at Namur. At about 5:30 PM the Prussian pursuit attempted to storm the Brussels gate at Namur, losing 1300 men to the French 60. The French barricaded the gate and retreated via the Porta de France at 8:00 PM, heading for Dinant. On the 21st Grouchy with 28,000 men and 96 guns arrived at Cherlemont.

Plancenoit (3912)


Plancenoit was the scene of the frantic final stage of the fighting, which began at 4:30 PM on the 18th. The village today is mostly modernized, but the Prussian memorial with its Gothic column recalls the fluctuating struggle for the place that raged on until after dusk before the Prussians emerged victorious. The farm of Le Caillou, site of Napoleon's quarters on the night of the 17th, is now a museum devoted to relics of the Emperor and his army.3 This was where Napoleon breakfasted prior to the battle (8:00 AM), remarking, "This affair is nothing more than eating breakfast. We have 90 chances in our favor and not ten against. " It was to prove a singularly indigestible breakfast. Nearby on that fateful day, at 8:15 PM the remnants of the six battalions of the Guard streamed back in chaos. Napoleon attempted to stem the route by ordering these battalions of the Old Guard to form square just to the west of the Brussels Road, about 200 meters south of La Belle Alliance, where a side road crosses the main road. Then, escorted by Soult, d'Erlon, Drouot and the duty squaadrons, Napoleon rode back to La Belle Alliance.

La Belle Alliance
Between La Belle Alliance and Rosomme farm is the site where Wellington and Blücher met at 9:00 PM, after the victory. To the east, the ground rises slightly -  the site of the Great Battery; behind this, on a slight eminence, Napoleon's second command post, his first being the heights near Rossomme Farm, to the east of the farmhouse. (The farmhouse does not exist today.

Wellington had originally selected the La Belle Alliance position on which to resist the French. His Quartermaster General, de Lacey, rejected that line as too big for an army of Wellington's size. Only then did he move north to the crossroads at Mont-St.-Jean. The French later occupied the Alliance position.

Now, a right turn will take us towards Plancenoit. On a bank 100 metres from the main road is 'l'Observatoire de Napoleon'  (marked by a board). From its summit a good view of the battlefield area - as seen by Napoleon and his staff at various moments on the 18th - can be obtained ranging from Plancenoit in its hollow to the right-rear, past Papelotte and the remains of the Wood of Paris (to the right-fore, now much thinned) and then westwards past La Haie Sainte in the centre towards Hougoumont to the north-west, although the Chateau is not visible from this point.  Alongside the N5 (which for much of its length was lined with poplars in 1815) are the 'stricken-eagle' memorial to the French casualties, and the column raised to commemorate Victor Hugo.3 

Lion Mound

On our return we will drive to the area surrounding the Lion Mound, where there are several restaurants and other facilities. There is an excellent guidebook available, but we will try not to succumb to the lures of the souvenir shops, the waxworks and the two cinemas showing ancient (and highly deceptive) films on the battle, making for the Waterloo Panorama (open until 4:30 PM), which offers an excellent life-size portrayal through 360 degrees of this precise point of the battlefield, whilst Wellington's squares were resisting the charges of Ney's cavalry. Next comes the hike up the 226 steps to the Lion Mound, which will afford an unforgettable view over the whole battlefield - and recorded descriptions of the main stages of the action are also provided. On a fine day, some good photographs can be obtained from this point.

Returning to ground-level, a walk some 200 metres to the west of the Mound brings us to the area where the attack of the Middle Guard's westernmost column was met and repulsed by Maitland's Guards. The lie of the land has been considerably altered by the building of the Lion Mound, but looking south the sweep of ground between La Haie Sainte to the left and the Chateau of Hougoumont to the right can be well appreciated.3  

Waterloo (3811)

We will park behind the church of St. Joseph. With its distinctive dome and cross the road to the clearly marked Quartier-Général de Wellington, the hostelry (formerly the Hôtel Boderglieu) where the Duke spent the nights of 17 and 18 June, and where he wrote his victory despatch. "I made my campaigns with ropes. If anything went wrong I tied a knot and went on." Wellington went to bed at headquarters at 11:00 PM on the 17thg without hearing from Blücher. At almost the same time, Müffling confirmed to Blücher that Wellington had taken up a position at Mont-St.-Jean and had asked for assistance. Blücher, over Gneisenau's objections, stated "We are going to join the Duke." Gneisenau was concerned that the perfidious British might be using the Prussians as a rear guard.

After the battle, Wellington arrived back at the inn at 11:00 PM, ate and slept on a pallet, as one of his aides-de-camp was dying in his bed in the next room. At 5:00 AM the next morning, Wellington rose and left for Brussels.

The museum is open until 7 PM. In the large coach-house to the rear of the main building, displays trace the history of the campaign and large illuminated maps illustrate the successive stages of the battle. There are also many interesting weapons and other relics on show. The main house fronting the high road contains more weapons and relics, including a collection of Wellington's furniture and personal effects.

Two other places merit a visit. A short way up the N5 in the garden of No. 214, is the tomb that originally contained Lord Uxbridge's leg. Secondly, the church of St. Joseph (used as a hospital during and after the battle) contains several monuments to individual officers.3

Hougoumont (3812)

Next we will drive down the Chemin d'Ohain to the south-west as far as the Nivelles road (N6), noticing to the right of the road the reverse slopes Wellington employed to conceal his men (although these are now crossed by the new sunken motorway). Turning left on to the N6, and 1,200 metres down it we will turn sharp left again up a small road signposted for the Chateau de Goumont (Hougoumont). We will park outside the north gate. This is one of the most famous sites, and despite considerable changes since 1815 (when most of the original Chateau was laid in smoking ruins by the end of the day's fighting) it well repays a leisurely visit. The old north wall and gatehouse have completely dissappeared, as has the orchard, much of the formal garden, and all of the area of woodland that stood immediately south of the buildings. However, the main house today (formerly the gardener's house), the damaged chapel (now a memorial to the Guards Division with its charred crucifix) and the south garden wall with its loopholes battered through the brickwork, together with memorials to the fallen, are all highly evocative relics of the nine-hour struggle which Wellington considered the most vital feature of the whole battle of Waterloo.

Wellington began his inspection of hsi whole line by 6:00 AM on the 18th, beginning west of Hougoumont and moving to the east "as if riding for pleasure." The duke spent the day of the battle "in his comfortable civilian dress." About 10:00 AM he had returned to the west of Hougoumont, and after spending the better part of the day elsewhere on the battlefield, returned by 7:30 PM to the east of Hougoumont, from whence he would ride along the entire line ordering his troops forward in pursuit of the demoralized French.

Our visit to Hougoumont will conclude with a thoughtful evening stroll along the 'hollow way' to the north of the Chateau and forwards to La Haie Sainte over the broad acres which saw the major French attacks on this part of the battlefield.3 



Day 5:

Mont-St. Jean
We will park near the intersection of the Chemin d'Ohain with the N5 at the crest of the ridge of Mont-St. Jean. The road running down to the Lion Mound originally ran through steep banks, but these, together with the neighboring ridges, were much altered to find the earth for the famous 125-foot-high butte, erected to mark the spot where the Prince of Orange was wounded on the shoulder. Just beside the cross-roads in its south-west angle originally stood the single elm tree under which Wellington established his command post at various times in the battle, in particular from about 1:30 to about 3:00 PM. Again at about 4:00 PM he had taken refuge in the squares of the 33rd and 69th regiments nearby. From the roadside, several monuments can be seen - including those to the Belgian and Hanoverian dead, and, down the N5 towards La Haie Sainte, the monument raised in 1817 to Colonel Sir Alexander Gordon, Wellington's personal aide-de-camp, who died of wounds sustained in the battle. This monument is placed on top of a bank which gives an indication of the original level of the ground at this point.

La Haie Sainte
From Gordon's memorial we will walk down to La Haie Sainte in its hollow, past the site of the sandpit east of the road defended by the 95th Rifles. The farm has undergone considerable changes since 1815, but the great gate and the main house, together with the barn, are largely original - and from the farmyard some feeling of the stout defence conducted by Major Baring and his battalion of the King's German Legion can be obtained. Wellington spent much of the battle in this vicinity. At about 11:30 AM he was at the center of the line, and after stationing himself at his elm tree he arrived at the sandpit about 3:00 PM. Again at 6:30 PM he was near the farmhouse of La Haie Sainte. There is a fine view from the exterior barn door towards the Lion Mound - over the area traversed by Ney's massed squadrons and later by the Imperial Guard.3  

Returning to the cross-roads, we pass over the road to the eastern side, and from the enclosed area of a water-pump a good view can be gained of both the exposed forward slope which saw the decimation of Bylant's Brigade and of the line held by Picton's 5th Division. The original roadway had a thick hedgerow on its southern side, through which embrasures were cut for the cannon, but today this feature has disappeared. Next we will drive down the Chemin d'Ohain to the east as far as the farm of Papelotte - forming, with La Haie hamlet and the Chateau de Frischermont the extreme left of Wellington's position. Papelotte is open to visitors from 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM. The gatehouse tower was added in 1860, but the massive walls of the original set of buildings show how formidable these farmsteads must have been to attack. On 18 June the position was held by Saxe-Weimar's Nassauers, lost to the French at 2:30 PM, but subsequently retaken in the early evening.

Genappe (4113)
In 1815 the main Brussels road passed through Genappe, and this interesting village is today reached by a short byroad. Before visiting it, however, we will stop to the east of the main road, where a side-road to Baisy-Thy leads past a very tall, distinctively shaped tree beside the small stone shrine of Saint Anne. From beneath its branches Napoleon paused to encourage his rain-sodden troops to hurry forward during the afternoon of the 17th in his thwarted bid to catch the Allied rearguard. Next, driving down to Genappe, the narrow streets of the town are much the same as they were in 1815. The Auberge du Roi d'Espagne, where Wellington took his supper and some sleep after Quatre Bras, and again had his luncheon and Prince Jérome Bonaparte his supper and bed on the 17th, is worth a pause. At breakfast next day Jerome discussed what the waiter at the Roi d'Espagne told him that he overheard when he was serving Wellington on the 17th: of the proposed juncture of the two allied armies at Waterloo. Napoleon replied: "Nonsense - not for two more days [would the Prussians be ready to fight.]" Blücher, too, stayed here on the evening of the 18th. On its walls is a modern plaque, noting the fact that General Duhesme, commander of the Young Guard, died there on 20 June after being mortally wounded in the battle of Waterloo. His tomb is also to be found nearby, in the graveyard of the church of St. Martin de Ways. By following the line of the Dyle on foot, the original bridge can also be discovered - its narrowness explaining much of the panic and overcrowding that affected the fleeing French Armée du Nord late on the 18th. At this bottleneck over the River Dyle Napoleon's hopes of rallying the army were dashed. It was also near here that Napoleon almost fell into Prussian hands, abandoning his traveling-coach, which could barely move through the throng, for horseback [cover illustration].



 On the 5th of March, 1814, Ney (divisions P. Boyer and Meunier) joined Nansouty at Corbény. The Old Guard was with the Emperor about Berry-au-Bac and La Ville aux Bois. Victor's corps and Curial's division stretched from Fismes towards Berry-au-Bac. Arrighi was at Fere-en-Tardenois. Marmont and Mortier were only about to march from in front of Soissons. R. d'Urbal's dragoons were waiting to be relieved by Mortier at Braisne. [Map a-2]

As for Blücher, the main part of his army was behind the Aisne north of Soissons, but he had detachments watching the river eastwards up to Craonelle, Craonne, and on the Reims-Laon road in front of Corbény. He also still had cavalry on the lower Vesle. It had been driven from Braisne by R. d'Urbal. The eastward force toward Craonne was part of Winzingerode's corps which had moved there in consequence of news of the French passage at Berry-au-Bac.

By noon on the 6th Napoleon had 30,500 men about Corbény, La Ville aux Bois, and Berry-au-Bac. He proposed to send an advanced guard consisting of Nansouty, Ney, Friant's Old Guard, and the reserve artillery on Laon by Festieux. Victor would remain on the watch about Craonne and Pontavert. But, before advancing definitely on Laon, it was necessary to be sure that Blücher was not hanging back on the heights of the right bank of the Aisne.2


There was the sound of wagon wheels on the cobblestones outside the Élysée at 6 AM on Wednesday morning, June 21st. The carriage stopped and a dull-eyed man got out. His face was ghastly, and he breathed with difficulty. He disappeared into a bath, then breakfasted and met the Council of State somewhat after 10 AM.4

Fouché knew of the outcome of the battle by 4:00 AM on the 20th. He leaked the information to selected deputies of the Chambers, and put his plan in motion.

Napoleon signed his abdication at 1 PM on the 22nd. The next day the Tricolor replaced the Emperor's standard on the Tuileries.



KEY: Symbols: H = Hôtel, M = Museum, B = Battlefield. Hex  Nrs. refer to The Emperor Returns.

An arrival time indicates at least a brief stop. Towns in CAPITALs indicate overnight stay.