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Introduction Prelude Aftermath Battle of Ligny Battle of Quatre Bras Battle of Wavre Battle of Waterloo

Prelude to the Waterloo Campaign

On 26th February 1815 Napoleon absconded from his exile on the island of Elba and returned to mainland France. King Louis XVIII sent Marshal Ney to recapture the former Emperor and bring him to Paris. Marshal Ney promised the King that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris alive in an iron cage. Napoleon on hearing of this wrote to Michel Ney promising to great him as he had after the Battle of Borodino when he had named him the Prince of the Moskowa and called him the bravest of the brave.

On 5th March 1815 the French 5th Line Regiment met by Napoleon near Grenoble. He approached the regiment alone, dismounted his horse and, when he was within earshot shouted "Soldiers of the Fifth, you recognize me. If any man would shoot his emperor, he may do so now". After a brief silence, the soldiers shouted "Vive L'Empereur!" and the nominally royalist French 5th Infantry Regiment transferred their allegiance and strength en mass over to Napoleon. The following day the French 7th Infantry Regiment also declared for Napoleon and despite his promise, Marshal Ney took the pragmatic approach and joined Napoleon's Army with 6,000 men at Auxerre a few days later.

On 13th March 1815 the ministers of the seven major powers: Austria, Spain, England, Portugal, Prussia, Russia and Sweden declared Napoleon an outlaw at the Congress of Vienna. This was followed four days later by a treaty between Austria, England, Prussia and Russia to put a combined army into the field to prosecute the war against Napoleon until he was removed from the French throne. This treaty went as far as to include rendering Napoleon incapable of disturbing the peace of Europe again. The other powers of the Seventh Coalition soon acceded to the treaty binding them also to enforce that aim.

On 20th March 1815 the Emperor Napoleon entered Paris, not in an iron cage, but triumphantly and to the acclamation of the gathered crowds. The Emperor Napoleon initially tried to persuade some of the individual aligned nations of the Seventh Coalition not to invade France, but failed. He knew therefore that his only course of action to retain the rule in France was to attack them before they could bring their forces together.

It quickly became evident that the first clash between Napoleon and the Allied powers was likely to be in Belgium, which at that time was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. On the general wishes of the Congress of Vienna Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington was sent to take command of the gathering Anglo-Dutch Army. A strong Prussian Corps was still mustered following the campaigns of the preceding year at Aix-la-Chapelle. This Corps was quickly reinforced with other Prussian units and placed under the command of Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Bl?cher, Prince of Wahlstatt to form the 'Army of the Lower Rhine'. The combined forces of Wellington's Anglo-Dutch and Bl?cher's Prussians were to be the advance units of the Allied Powers.

To reinforce these, the Austrians were gathering an army of 130,000, the other Germanic states some 124,000 to form the 'Army of the Upper Rhine' and the Russian mobilized an Army of 168,000. The mustering and approach marches of these Armies would be necessarily slow and they would take some time before they were in a position to oppose the French Emperor.

Behind the French triple chain of fortresses along the Belgium-France border Napoleon gathered together his L?Arm?e du Nord. The Duke of Wellington unable to determine the place where Napoleon?s army would cross spread his out forces to cover the possible routes. He considered it better to be able to move his forces in any direction to face the French until Napoleon?s line of advance had been identified. Wellington arrayed his 93,000 Anglo-Dutch to the west towards the English Channel protecting the main routes between Lille to Mons, whilst Field Marshal Bl?cher's 117,000 Prussians were deployed between Charleroi and the Rivers Sambre and the Meuse to the east. Charleroi was the juncture of the two forces where communications and mutual support had to be tied in.

Napoleon considered the Anglo-Dutch Army and the Prussian Army to be separate as they were made up of forces from different nations and commanded by their own generals. It was his intention to attack them if possible individually so that they could not bring their combined overwhelming numerical superiority to bear against his L?Arm?e du Nord. In great secrecy the French gathered on the home bank of the River Sambre on 13th and 14th June 1815. Napoleon had assembled almost 125,000 men and was within striking distance of the Allied Armies? advanced positions just across the Belgium-France frontier.


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