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

The Battle of Wavre

The Battle of Wavre began on the same day as Waterloo 18th June 1815 between the Right Wing of Napoleon's L?Arm?e du Nord and Field Marshal Bl?cher's Prussians. The French Right Wing had been detached from Napoleon's main force two-days earlier following their victory at Ligny and consisted of three French Corps under the command of Marshal Grouchy about 33,000 men.

Following their defeat at Ligny the Prussian Army withdrew northeast, but not as Napoleon had hoped towards Liege and away from Wellington's Anglo-Dutch. This was part of Napoleon's strategy whereby he split the much larger Allied force into its separate parts so that he could outnumber them and attack them separately. His theory was based on the assumption that an attack at the juncture between the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian Armies would force them apart to retreat in the direction of their respective supply bases. Instead of withdrawing in opposite directions however, the Prussians moved on a parallel route to the Anglo-Dutch and were still very much in contact with each other and able to come to the others aid.

This was in part due to the Anglo-Dutch preventing Marshal Ney's Frenchmen from attacking the Prussians in the rear at Ligny as well as the ability of Lieutenant General Ziethen and Lieutenant General Thielmann to retire in good order with their Corps intact preventing a complete Prussian rout. Whilst the centre fled the battlefield at Ligny in disarray they held together a large portion of the Prussian Army and enabled it to survive to fight another day.

The general direction of the Prussian Army's withdrawal had taken it to the town of Wavre, which by default became the marshalling point of the army. With Field Marshal Bl?cher temporarily incapacitated after his fall at Ligny Lieutenant General August von Gneisenau the Prussian chief of staff planned to rally the Prussian Army at Tilly. From there the Prussians could move to support Wellington, but in the confusion control was lost. As the majority of the Prussian Army falling back towards Wavre that was where it rallied.

Lieutenant General Gneisenau decided that the Prussians would move towards Wellington's Anglo-Dutch at Waterloo. He intended to leave Wavre at dawn on 18th June 1815 with the I, II and IV Army Corps and take up positions on Wellington's left flank. General B?low von Dennewitz's Prussian IV Army Corps had not been present at Ligny, but arrived to reinforce the Prussian Army during the night of the 17th and 18th June 1815. General Thielmann's Prussian III Corps was to form the rearguard and was tasked with holding off the pursuing French.

Marshal Grouchy's French Right Wing had failed to close with the Prussians during the 17th June as they retired northwards from Ligny. On the 18th however the French finally caught up with Lieutenant General Thielmann's Prussian III Army Corps. The Prussian rearguard was pushed back, but not without a fight. They held their ground long enough to allow Field Marshal Bl?cher who was back in command to take the 72,000 strong Prussian main body away from the French Right Wing and swing west to support Wellington's Anglo-Dutch at Waterloo.

The Battle of Wavre ended in a French victory on 19th June 1815 with the Prussian rearguard in full retreat. To the Prussians the battle was a strategic victory, their rearguard had succeeded in holding off a superior French force long enough to allow Field Marshal Bl?cher to link up with Wellington's Anglo-Dutch Army. Not only that, they had tied down some 33,000 French troops that could have otherwise taken part at Waterloo. Whilst Marshal Grouchy won at Wavre the victory was a hollow one as Napoleon's main body of the L?Arm?e du Nord was defeated. If he had been more aggressive and gained his victory quickly Marshal Grouchy may have prevented Bl?cher from getting to Waterloo or even taken his own men there where they could have made all the difference.


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