Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

History and Organisation of the Dutch 8th Militia Battalion: Van Bijlandt's Brigade at Waterloo (18 June 1815)

By Marco Bijl


Editor's Note: This article is first appeared on the Dutch 8th Militia website and is used with the author's permission.

Author's Note: This article is based on research in primary sources only. All information is coming directly from archives, libraries and museums in the Netherlands and Belgium. Numbers between ( ) brackets are referring to numbers in the bibliography. The author has a copy of all documents mentioned in the text.

18 June: Van Bijlandt's Brigade at Waterloo

The account below tells the story of the whole Van Bijlandt brigade.

For the moment we have followed the original accounts of De Jongh, Van Bijlandt, Grunebosch (27th Jagers), Scheltens (7th Line), Bronkhorst (7th Militia) and the other eye-witness account from the Van Bijlandt brigade (74-82). Grunebosch was not present at Waterloo, because he was wounded during Quatre Bras. But his account of Waterloo is still accurate and was probably discussed with his replacement, Kapitein de Crassier.

Van Bijlandt's Brigade was deployed as to seen on the maps. At 0900 hours the brigades was ordered to place themselves in the hollow road, "in the first line of battle". That night they had camped on the forward slope to the South of the hollow road. The British troops were behind the Dutch-Belgians in the second line (Van Bijlandt's letters (82)).

The brigade was lined up following the regulations (6); the highest battalion number on the right flank, then down to the lowest number to the left. De Jongh himself state that he had no Dutch neighbouring unit on his right, while the 7th Line was on his left. The 8th was therefore the battalion on the brigade's right flank. Then came the 7th line and the 7th Militia. The 5th Militia was ordered behind the battleline to the rear as the reserve (behind the hollow road to the North). The 27th Jagers was placed as a reserve for the 8th Militia -- 20 steps behind of the 8th. The 8th's left flank company (the 6th) was placed before the battalion, half way down the forward slope. The right flank company (the 1st) was "detached" to the right were they were placed before the Dutch battery of Bijleveld and perhaps even further to the west. Other battalions were also sending out their flank companies, this is also proved by Kapitein van Bronkhorst, commander of a flank company of the 7th militia (78). He mentioned that his company was already in skirmish line around 0700 - 0800 hours, following French skirmishers movements on the other side of the valley. Kapitein Scheltens of the 7th line also mentioned that his battalion was in the hollow road, in two lines, and had his skirmishers out down the forward slope (77).

The hollow road was lined with small shrubs and De Jongh ordered his men to cut the shrubs down to have a better view. As they were within reach and view of the French artillery the men were ordered to lie down, in two files, on the road.

Up till now all literature states that t Van Bijlandt's Brigade was placed on the forward slope, directly in sight of the French artillery. According to De Jongh (41) and Grunebosch (80) this was simply not true. They had camped there only till 0900. Van Bijlandt's Brigade was placed in the hollow road after that, between other Allied units. De Jongh's account is most of the time very accurate (he only makes mistakes in names and type of troops), so there is no reason to doubt his story and that of other eye witnesses. Certainly not when he is stating that his men were cutting the shrubs down, along the road! So that means two things:

1. Van Bijlandt's Brigade was not deployed on the forward slope, but in the hollow road.

2. The brigade was deployed in the 1st line of battle. That means between other troops in the same line. The neighbouring Brigades of Pack and Kempt were therefore probably also in the hollow road.

Click here for a map, with gives a good picture of the overall situation before the battle (situation 1115 Hours). Below is a part of that map, with the positions of Van Bijlandt's Brigade in greater detail.

Waterloo Map 1, Morning Position between 0900 and 1300 Hours..

The French opened fire at 1130 Hours (De Jongh and Scheltens say at 1200 hours), the brigade was still lying down on the road.

The picture shows the exact location of the 8th at the Waterloo battlefield.
The road itself had steeper banks in 1815 (it was a hollow road),
but the earth was removed in 1816 to build the big Lion Mount (the memorial pyramid).

At 1400 hours the French made preparations to attack (80). At 1430 the French skirmishers came in contact with the Dutch tirailleurs on the forward slope (77). The Dutch and Belgium light units were pushed back to their battalions. The brigade was ordered on their feet and opened fire on the columns. But the French were still coming on in force and they now attacked Van Bijlandt's Brigade directly and forced her battalions back. The 7th Militia was pushed back in good battle order (79).

The precise fighting that took place is vague in De Jongh's report. But as neither Van Bijlandt's Brigade or the French were routed (after a bayonet attack) my guess is that they were only shooting on each other from a distance. There was no man-to-man fighting. This can also be concluded from the original 8th Militia reports (14, 15), in which the wounds of most soldiers are mentioned. There are no such things as "bayonet wound". Only bullet and artillery projectiles wounds. Nevertheless Van Bijlandt stated in his letters that, at this moment, he was ordered by the Prince Of Orange to attack with the bayonet. Immediately afterward Van Bijlandt received a bayonet wound and went to the rear (82).

De Jongh was on his horse behind the 8th Battalion, together with Kapitein Sijbers, when they were attacked by a French "Guard Dragoon" on a horse. De Jongh killed the man and Kapitein Sijbers took the horse. This cavalry was probably no "Guard Dragoon" (De Jongh was often wrong in identifying troop types)! Grunebosch did state that some of his men were attacked by French cavalry when they were saving the life of Kapitein Gagern of the General Staff.

At that moment the brigade was about to collapse and was ordered to retreat behind the second line (composed of British troops) (78). But the order was not executed. Because at that moment the British cavalry attacked the French columns. With success. Van Bijlandt's Brigade (or at least the 8th Militia ), reorganised quickly and joined the attack. They took many prisoners. During the counter-attack De Jongh's horse was killed somewhere down the forward slope. As he was still roped to the saddle because of his Quatre Bras wound, he was now stuck to it and couldn't move under his dead horse. Two sappeurs of the battalion, Korpel and Sondervang, started cutting De Jongh's ropes. Van Corpel was killed on the spot while helping De Jongh. His head was blown off by an artillery grapeshot. Luitenant-Kolonel Singendonck (of the 7th Militia) was also wounded during this counter-attack (on his hand). He gave the command of his battalion to Kapitein Bronkhorst (78). The counter-attack went all the way down to the bottom of the valley (around 400 meters from the hollow road).

The 7th Line (77) took the "guidons" of the 105th Line Infantry Regiment (2nd Brigade, 1st Division, I corps), while the British cavalry took their flag. According to one source, the 27th Jagers took a "fanion" of the 125th Line Infantry Regiment, which was confiscated by a British cavalry officer immediately afterwards (80). The "125th" was not at Waterloo, so this should be an other regiment. About 1500 prisoners were made.

After that the order came to pull back behind the road (78). A substantial part of the 8th, and probably some others from the rest of the battlaions in Van Bijlandt's Brigade battalions, was appointed / volunteered (this is not clear from the accounts) to bring the many prisoners to the rear. As there were more prisoners then men in Van Bijlandt's Brigade at that moment, this was indeed quit a task. There is not one account that states British infantry were also involved in the counter-attack, so we may assume that this was indeed not the case. The time between the British cavalry attack and the order to pull back behind the road was 1 hour (78).

Generaal-Majoor Bijlandt (brigade commander) and Colonel van Zuylen van Nyevelt (Chief-of-Staff, 2nd Dutch Belgium Division) and 3 of the 5 battalion commanders (Westenberg of the 5th Militia, Singendonck of the 27th Jagers, and Vandesande of the 7th Line) of the brigade were now wounded. As were many of the 8th Militia officers (Kapitein Sijbers, 1e Luitenant Werner, 2e luitenant La Ros, en Kanselaar). The wounded General van Bijlandt gives the command to Luitenant-Kolonel de Jongh to lead the remnants of the brigade (8, 41). The 27th Jagers was no longer a formed unit, as was the 5th militia. Their remnants were now included in the 8th Militia (only the 27th Jagers reported to De Jongh, the rest of the battalion went with prisoners). The 8th Militia had lost around 20% of their effective strength up till that moment (including losses at Quatre Bras) and many soldiers were sent away to the rear the as a prisoners' escort. My guess is that the battalion counted around 250 effectives at that moment. When we take similar figures for the other battalions, and take into account the state of the 27th Jagers and the 5th Militia, the brigade had probably only 1000 soldiers left.

The 3 remaining units, the 8th and 7th Militia Battalions and the 7th Line Battalion were now under the command of De Jongh and were still forming part of the first line of battle. In the next hours they stood besides their British comrades. And although the heaviest cavalry attacks of the French were in the centre of the battlefield, the brigade was several times attacked by cavalry and had to form a square. Several times the flank companies of the battalions were sent down the forward slope to protect them from enemy skirmishers fire (78, 80). Kapitein Bronkhorst said that they were sent out 3 times, while Grunebosch states that this skirmish line was there till the evening under the command of Singendonck. During this skirmishing there was probably no immediate danger from cavalry.

During these hours many more officers and men were killed and wounded. General Picton did make his compliments several times to De Jongh and promised to mention him to the Prince of Orange. Unfortunally he was killed soon afterwards.

Kapitein Bronkhorst (7th militia), in his skirmish line down the forward slope, did see the Prussians attack at 1900 hours (78).

Waterloo Map 2: The picture shows the location in the afternoon, 1600 hours.

At the end of the day, Van Bijlandt's Brigade did not join the combined Allied counter-attack. At 2100 hours, after the battle, "the soldiers were simply falling on the ground were they stood" (De Jongh's account). Most of the brigade slept that night on that spot, right in the middle of the battlefield (41). Kapitein Bronkhorst of the 7th Militia moved his battalion behind Waterloo where they made camp in the forest of Soignies (78).

Summary of the Time Frame Regarding Van Bijlandt's Brigade:

    Night: bivouac on the forward slope south of the hollow road.
    0900: The brigade was ordered to take positions in the hollow road (Map 1).
    1230: The French opened with artillery fire.
    1400: The French prepared to attack.
    1430: The French skirmish line came in contact with the Dutch-Belgian skirmishers.
    1445: The French columns and the Dutch-Belgian lines were in close combat.
    1500: The British cavalry attacked the French column.
    1515: Van Bijlandt's Brigade counter-attacked and took many prisoners.
    1600: Van Bijlandt's Brigade was ordered back to a position behind hollow road (Map 2).
    1600-1900: The brigade sent out its skirmish line several times.
    1900: The Prussians were seen to attack the French.
    2100: The battle was over; Van Bijlandt's Brigade was not part of the counter-attack.

At Waterloo the 8th Militia Battalion Lost the Following (14, 15):

    Killed: Officers: 1 (1st Luitenant Werner)
    Killed: NCOs & Enlisted: 5 (Sergeant-Major van der Hoeft, Broeder, van Korpel, Horren and Knaust)
    Wounded: Officers: 4 (Kapitein Sijbers, kapitein Tompson, 2nd Luitenant Kanselaar (Badly) & La Ros)
    Wounded: NCOs and Enlisted: 70 wounded.
    Captured or Missing: NCOs and Enlisted: 0 Official (but many went to the rear to escort prisoners)
    Lost material: 66 Muskets, 82 Bayonets, 82 Bullet bags, 13 sabres
    Expended Ammunition: 7,800 round. (When divided by 521 men, every soldier fired an average of 15 rounds.)

Total Casuatlies on the 18th: 80 (killed, wounded, missing and captured. Some of the latter would return to their unit)

8th Militia Battalion Strength and Losses after The battles

There are several accounts of losses in publications. They are mostly copied from each other and they are all wrong. The figures below are based on my research in the original officers' and soldiers' reports in the National Archives. All details were copied and placed in an Excel sheet. As there is information about wounds, desertion, and those killed in these books we can now give an appropriate figure, once and for all! (14,15)

Total losses for both battles:

The total losses for the campaign were: 10 killed, 110 wounded, 3 captured or missing (some returned to their unit). The strength at the beginning of the campaign was 583 men. The 123 casualties was about 21% of those present for duty. Of the 22 officers and the medical officer, one was killed, one badly wounded, and 5 lightly wounded. A casualty rate of 30%.

Overall Losses in Other Sources:

According to other material in the National Archives in Den Haag (such as a letter from De Jongh to 2nd Division Headquarter and other letters) the strength after Waterloo, was 17 officers and 373 men -- 390 men. This was due to 5 men absent or ill, 114 in hospital, 8 left behind, 41 missing, and 6 killed -- a total of 169 not present (8-11). This is slightly different from the soldiers' and officers' reports.

According to Otto Von Pivka's Dutch-Belgian Troops of the Napoleonic Wars, the 8th Militia lost 25 men (killed and wounded) and officers during Quatre Bras and 87 men killed, 7 officers wounded and 103 enlisted wounded during the 3 days of battle in total. Unfortunately, his sources are not listed, but the numbers are not correct.




Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2008

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