The Battle of Wavre and Grouchy's Retreat A study of an Obscure Part of the Waterloo Campaign
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Battle of Wavre and Grouchy's Retreat, byWilliam Hyde Kelly
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United Statesand most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost norestrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use itunder the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with thiseBook or online at
Title: The Battle of Wavre and Grouchy's Retreat
A study of an Obscure Part of the Waterloo Campaign
Author: William Hyde Kelly
Release Date: October 27, 2018 [eBook #58174]
Character set encoding: UTF-8
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE BATTLE OF WAVRE AND GROUCHY'S RETREAT***
E-text prepared by Brian Coe, Wayne Hammond,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
|Note:||Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive. See https://archive.org/details/battleofwavregr00kell|
THE BATTLE OF WAVRE AND
THE BATTLE OF WAVRE
AND GROUCHY’S RETREAT
A STUDY OF AN OBSCURE PART OF
THE WATERLOO CAMPAIGN
By W. HYDE KELLY, R.E.
WITH MAPS AND PLANS
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
So much has been written on the WaterlooCampaign that, even in the smallest details,nothing new can be revealed; but the dazzlingmagnitude of the great battle itself has obscureda part of the campaign which is seldom studied—thebattle against Thielemann, and Grouchy’sskilful retreat from Wavre.
I have chosen this tail-end of the campaignbecause little is known about it; because it servesuseful lessons even for to-day; because the operationsleading up to the battle round Wavre areof great interest; and because a campaign full ofmistakes should be studied as carefully as a campaignfree from error. From history we obtainexperience, and experience teaches us how to actfor the future. We learn how great men of oldtime fought their battles and managed theirretreats; we see the reasons of their successes andtheir failures; and we should endeavour to makeuse of our lessons when our own time comes.viNot that Grouchy can be deemed a great soldier;nor can his part of the 1815 campaign be regardedas of prime importance in itself; but as showingthe small trifles that mar great plans in theirexecution, as showing how little a thing will sometimesdestroy the grandest conceptions, his operationsfrom 16th June to the end of the monthare well worthy of attention.
I might have employed my time more profitablyhad I chosen to work upon some moreillustrious name than Grouchy’s, or upon somemore modern campaign of greater advantage tothe war student of to-day; but I chose to bringforward an obscure page in the history of themost famous campaign, for in that history thereis much that may still be laid to heart.
Great deeds deserve great critics, but, asColonel Henderson wrote in his Preface to“Stonewall Jackson,” “if we were to wait forthose who are really qualified to deal with theachievements of famous captains, we should, as arule, remain in ignorance of the lessons of theirlives, for men of the requisite capacity are few ina generation.” Man is not so fortunate that hecan live in every period; and for knowledge heviimust go backwards to search in history. Thestatesman will read of the great quarrels betweenCharles I. and his Parliament, not because hewould imitate either the one side or the other, butbecause he will desire to mould future action uponthe experience of the past. Napoleon himselfprepared all his ambitious schemes from the pagesof Tacitus, Plutarch and Livy, and the historiesof the deeds of Hannibal, Alexander, and Cæsar.Wellington “made it a rule to study for somehours every day”; and since these two great menadvocate study of history, who is there who shallgainsay the advantages of learning? But the truemethod of reading history requires something fardeeper than mere perusal: it must be accompaniedby careful and continuous thought. A true historywill encourage the reader to bury himself in thevery atmosphere of the time, and will bring himto see with his eyes the comings and goingsof great men, the rights and wrongs of theirdeeds, and their impress upon contemporarypeople.
This small volume attempts nothing of thiskind: it is a sketch, a mere outline, of a minorportion of a remarkable campaign. In it I haveviiimade no mention of the tactical formations employed;I have given no details of armaments,equipments, or means of transport; for these arenow of no value to the soldier-student. Thecomments or remarks are to be taken or left, as itshall please the reader: they are my own views;possibly they may coincide with the views of others;in that case they will be interesting.
I may admit that these pages were at firstwritten for my own use—mere notes taken downwhile I read a dozen authorities on the subject. Iafterwards persuaded myself that my studies mightprove of use to those who had little time to searchthe volumes in the libraries.
I trust I shall not offend German susceptibilitiesby omitting the prefix “von” in the Prussiannames and titles. I only do so to save space.
I have to add my gratitude to the numerouswriters and historians who have told the splendidstory of Waterloo, and from whom I have drawnmy facts.
|I.||BRIEF DISCUSSION OF THE EARLIER OPERATIONS—UP TO LIGNY||1|
|II.||THE THIRD PRUSSIAN CORPS AND GROUCHY’S FORCES||52|
|III.||THE RETREAT OF THIELEMANN’S CORPS FROM SOMBREFFE||66|
|IV.||GROUCHY’S PURSUIT OF THE PRUSSIANS||80|
|V.||BLUCHER MARCHES TOWARDS MONT ST JEAN WITH THE FIRST, SECOND, AND FOURTH CORPS||100|
|VI.||THIELEMANN’S INSTRUCTIONS AND HIS DISPOSITIONS AT WAVRE||108|
|VII.||THE BATTLE OF WAVRE||115|
|IX.||NOTES AND COMMENTS||153|
|1. ILLUSTRATING THE OPERATIONS OF 15TH-20TH JUNE||1|
|2. THE BATTLE OF WAVRE—POSITIONS AT DAYBREAK, 19TH JUNE||115|
|3. ILLUSTRATING GROUCHY’S RETREAT FROM NAMUR||133|
William Stanford & Company, Ltd.,The Oxford Geographical Institute.
THE BATTLE OF WAVRE ANDGROUCHY’S RETREAT
BRIEF DISCUSSION OF THE EARLIER OPERATIONS—UPTO LIGNY
The Allied troops in the Netherlands had begunto concentrate as early as the 15th of March.They were cantoned from Trèves and Coblentz toCourtrai. But their commanders were away inVienna—both Wellington and Blucher. Thelargest number that could be concentrated tomeet a sudden attack on Belgium in April was80,000 men. Of these, 23,000 were Anglo-Hanoveriantroops, 30,000 were Prussians, 14,000were Saxons, and the remainder Dutch-Belgians.The spirit of discipline was almost wholly wantingamong the Saxons and Dutch-Belgians; thegreater part of them had, at one time or another,served Napoleon, and were not to be trusted.2Kleist, commanding the Prussians on the Rhine,had arranged with the Prince of Orange, whocommanded the troops in the Netherlands, that,in the event of a French attack, they would retiretogether on Tirlemont; thus leaving Brusselsexposed, and giving the enemy a firm footing inBelgium.
By the 1st of April, Napoleon could havemustered a force of 50,000 men on the frontiernear Charleroi. He could have marched directon Brussels (as the Prince of Orange and Kleisthad agreed to fall back). With Brussels in hishands, he could have turned and repeated hisfavourite strategy by falling upon the allied armiesin turn. Wellington was dreading such an attack.
But the project, although it may have enteredNapoleon’s thoughts, was never seriously contemplatedby him. His army, although rapidly beingraised, organised, and equipped in hundreds ofthousands of men, was not yet in a condition toenter upon a prolonged campaign. He mightgain a slight temporary success with these 50,000men; he might be reinforced by another 100,000in the North; but, meantime, how should hecheck the other great invading armies of theAllies? For their preparations were forgingahead. Barclay de Tolly was marching with167,000 Russians in three columns through3Germany. Marshal Schwarzenberg, commandingan Austrian army of 50,000 men, and theArchduke Ferdinand, at the head of 40,000 men,were hastening to reach the Rhine. One hundredand twenty thousand men were being collectedin Lombardy, after Murat’s decisive overthrow.Prince Wrede, commanding a Bavarian army80,000 strong, was assembling his forces behindthe Upper Rhine. Truly a formidable array!
To strike a premature blow at Belgium with50,000 men did not therefore commend itself toNapoleon as a possible opening. By waiting, henot only increased his army and reserve forces;he made it appear that the war was being forcedupon him by the threatened invasion of France.His apparent reluctance to open hostilities wouldbe a great point in his favour. Then, again, theplans of the Allies would unfold themselvespresently, and he could strike at will.
While the Allies were planning and re-planning,discussing and arguing their plans ofcampaign, their brilliant adversary was growingdaily stronger. But the position was an intricateone. A too-hasty invasion of France with ill-concentratedforces would have brought abouta repetition of the 1814 campaign outside Paris.There were to be no half-measures with Napoleonthis time.4
Many plans were put forward by the Alliedgenerals; and after lengthy discussion, it wasfinally decided to adopt a modified schemeproposed by Schwarzenberg, which was to comeinto operation towards the end of July. Thisplan provided for the simultaneous invasion ofFrance by six armies. Wellington, with 92,000British, Dutch-Belgians, Hanoverians, Nassauersand Brunswickers, was to cross the frontierbetween Beaumont and Maubeuge; Blucher,with 116,000 Prussians, between Beaumont andGivet; Barclay de Tolly, with 150,000 Russians,viâ Saarlouis and Saarbruck; and Schwarzenberg,with 205,000 men—Austrians, Wurtembergersand Bavarians—by Basle; Frimont, with 50,000Austrians and Piedmontese, was to advance onLyons from Lombardy, while Bianchi, at thehead of 25,000 Austrians, was to make forProvence. The first four armies were to convergeon Paris, by Peronne, Laon, Nancy andLangres respectively; and the two last were tocreate a diversion in the South and support theRoyalists.
This was the final plan of the Allies; butlong before the date fixed for the first moves,Napoleon was fully acquainted with their designs.Newspaper reports and secret letters had kepthim informed throughout the preparations. He5tells us that he worked out two alternative plansof campaign. His