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

The Battle of Waterloo - Hougoumont

The "diversionary" assault on Hougoumont commenced at 11:00 hrs on 18th June 1815 when the French artillery began pounding the Chateau and farm. The British artillery ranged on the ridge behind replied and pounded the French infantry arrayed in their columns ready to advance.

General (GdB) Baudouin's 1st Brigade of Prince Jerome's French 6th Infantry Division advanced at 11:30 hrs with column after column descending from the southern ridge to attack through the wood. The attacking Frenchmen drove the defending Hanoverian riflemen and Nassau infantrymen steadily back through the wood towards the Chateau. Once at the Chateau the French surged around its walls to rush the main gates.

The Chateau and farm complex was defended by the Guardsmen of the Light Companies of the British 2nd (Coldstream) and 3rd (Scots) Guards under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell. Wellington had ordered Lieutenant Colonel MacDonnell to "defend the post to the last extremity" and his guardsmen certainly did just that. As the French came charging through the main gate the British guardsmen counterattacked to drive them back. In the struggle the gates were damaged, but Lieutenant Colonel MacDonnell's men forced it shut and Sergeant Graham of the Coldstream's dropped the bar in place. The first French attack at Hougoumont had been repelled.

Prince Jerome seeing his fist attack beaten off sent his 2nd Brigade commanded by General (GdB) Baron Soye into the frey at 12:00 hrs and they attacked from the west. Hougoumont nearly fell when a determined attack by Sous-Lieutenant Legros (nicknamed 'L'enfonceur' or 'The Smasher'), wielding a huge axe, managed to break through the North Gate. Lieutenant Colonel MacDonnell's guardsmen managed to shut that gate, trapping 30 Frenchmen including Sous-Lieutenant Legros inside. These refused to surrender and were duly dispatched, although a young drummer boy was spared.

During the rest of the day Hougoumont was subjected to a sustained attack by Prince Jerome?s French 6th Infantry Division with additional support from General (GdD) Comte Maximilien Foy's French 9th Infantry Division. Major General Byng send forward some more companies from the 2nd/2nd and 2nd/3rd Foot Guards Battalions to reinforce the garrison to retain hold on this vital position as the fighting continued. During the afternoon the supply of ammunition began to run low. This situation was becoming critical when Sergeant Fraser of the 3rd (Scots) Guards rushed back to the Major General Byng's main position from whence he returned with a wagon of cartridges. The defence of the Chateau could continue even though by now it was ablaze and the farm buildings were heaped with British casualties. The French still unable to capture Hougoumont continued to attack and their casualties were strewn about the surrounding woods and fields.

What had began as a diversionary attack by the French on Hougoumont escalated into an pitched battle that drew in more and more Frenchmen as the day wore on. Napoleon had hoped that it would draw in Wellington's reserves, but just a handful of these were committed. In fact the effect that it had was the exact opposite to that intended as more and more Frenchmen were committed to the attack. By the end of the day the two British Guards Battalions that had defended Hougoumont suffered 500 dead and wounded out of strengths of 2,000.

The defence of Hougoumont by the British Guards was recognised as an outstanding example some years later when an English clergyman bequeathed ?500 to be given to the bravest Briton from the battle. The Duke of Wellington was asked to nominate who should receive this sum and he recommended Lieutenant Colonel McDonnell of the Coldstream Guards who gave half the sum to Sergeant Graham. Annually the Coldstream Guards celebrate the defence of Hougoumont with the ceremony of the hanging of the brick.


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