The Deployment of the Opposing Armies
The French troops in Marshal Ney?s Left Wing were the French II Army Corps commanded by Lieutenant General (GdC) Count Honor? Charles Michel Joseph Reille that formed the vanguard. The French 7th Infantry Division was detached and was with Napoleon at Ligny.
The Guard Light Cavalry Division commanded by Lieutenant General (GdD) Charles, Count Lefebvre-Desnouettes was deployed initially in reserve behind General Reille's II Army Corps, but once Kellermann's III Cavalry Corps arrived they moved to the left flank. The French I Army Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Jean Baptiste Drouet, Count d'Erlon and the French III Cavalry Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Fran?ois Christophe Kellermann, Count of Valmy were in reserve.
The Anglo-Dutch forces at Quatre Bras on the morning of 16th June 1815 were under the command of Prince William of Orange. Prince William was absent in the early stages being in Brussels with the Duke of Wellington and the defacto commander was Lieutenant General Guillaume Anne Baron de Constant Rebecque de Villars. The initial units available were drawn mainly from the 2nd Netherlands Division commanded by Lieutenant General Hendrik Baron de Perponcher.
At 14:00 hrs the Brunswick Corps commanded by Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-WolfenButtel arrived at Quatre Bras followed at 15:00 hrs by the 2nd Netherlands Light Cavalry Brigade commanded by Major General J B Baron van Merlen. Closely behind them was the British 5th Division commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton. Additional Anglo-Dutch reinforcements continued to arrive, but those already list were the main participants in the battle.
The Battle is Joined
In 1815 this small tiny hamlet on the crossroads of the main Charleroi to Brussels highway and Nivelles to Namur had only four houses. It became important and the scene of one of the battles of the Waterloo Campaign because the crossroads was the interconnecting junction that lay between the Allied armies of the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Bl?cher. Napoleon's French needed to seal off the route to prevent Wellington's Anglo-Dutch from reinforcing and supporting Bl?cher's Prussians at Ligny. The allies needed to keep the route open to allow this movement.
On the morning of 15th June 1815 Napoleon's L?Arm?e du Nord crossed the Belgium frontier south of Charleroi. By midday Charleroi was secure and they were advancing north towards Brussels. Napoleon commanded the centre in person and together with his right wing under the command of Marshal Grouchy jointly advanced on a line through Fleurus towards the deploying Prussians at Sombreffe. Meanwhile the French Left Wing advanced up the Charleroi to Brussels road under the command of Marshal Michel Ney.
During the afternoon of 15th June 1815 Marshal Ney's force had advanced as far as Gosselies where General Steinmetz's Prussian 1st Brigade halted them. After a short engagement the French dislodged the Prussians who retired northeast towards Sombreffe, but instead of pressing on up the road Marshal Ney's French halted for the night.
Late in the afternoon the 'Red Lancers' of General Count Lefebvre-Desnouettes' Imperial Guard Light Cavalry Corps, who were scouting in front of the French Left Wing, pushed as far north as Frasnes. As they approached the village they came across the 2nd Battalion 2nd Nassau Regiment (2/2 Nassau) commanded by Major Normann. As the French approached he drew up his battalion in line to face the enemy. Captain Adriaan Bijleveld's Horse Artillery Battery arrived shortly thereafter and deployed their guns to support Major Normann's 2/2 Nassau. The combined weight of the canister from Captain Bijleveld's guns and musket fire from Major Normann's troops drove off the French Lancers.
Following this skirmish, Marshal Ney's scouts tried earnestly to determine the size of the Anglo-Dutch force they were facing. Some historians say that Lieutenant General Reille who had fought in the Peninsula War and knew well the Duke of Wellington's flair for using ground to his advantage urged Marshal Ney to be cautious. Perhaps he thought that the relatively small force of Prince Bernhard's Nassau Brigade that opposed him was rouse and that the surrounding woods and dead-ground hid the bulk of Wellington's Anglo-Dutch Army. Michel Ney who had only been appointed to his position as commander of the Left Wing that afternoon did not fully know the composition of his own forces. Indeed he did not know the names of many of the commanding officers of the Regiments under his command or the numbers of men they had at their disposal. For whatever the reason Marshal Ney for once acted prudently rather than with dash and verve.
Marshal Ney?s uncharacteristic prudence resulted in a missed opportunity to drive a wedge between the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian armies. Had he acted decisively when his forces first approached Quatre Bras he would have been able to occupy the area and establish his blocking position between Wellington at Brussels and Bl?cher at Ligny virtually unopposed.
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