Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry at Waterloo Archives: the Dutch 6th Hussars (Boreel) in the Waterloo Campaign

By André Develloet

 

Introduction

The Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington that was to confront Napoleon’s Armée du Nord  in June 1815, also included a Dutch-Belgian Cavalry Division. The Division consisted of three brigades; one heavy brigade with three regiments of carabineers, and two light brigades, each composed of two regiments of light dragoons and hussars.  No unit in the Dutch-Belgian cavalry has had so much controversy as the Dutch 6th Hussars, who have reportedly either fled the battlefield or proved ineffective in their actions during the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. Indeed, my research has revealed that there is some substance to these allegations, but unlike other authors who just dismiss the matter by claiming that the Hussars were cowards, inexperienced and badly trained, I believe the true source of the problem lies in its commanding officer; Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel.

Background

Willem Francois Boreel was born in Amsterdam in 1775. His military experience dated back to 1787 when he took service in the Regiment of Dutch Foot Guards of the Republic of the United Provinces. He became a Dragoon of the Guard in 1791 and three years later had made it to Lieutenant. In 1795 he resigned when the United Provinces were occupied by the French and a satellite government was established, called the Batavian Republic. Boreel had been on inactive duty since, refusing to cooperate with the French and keeping in close touch with those who strove for independence and the return of the House of Orange-Nassau. He was known not only as a compassionate patriot but also as a Hussar in heart and soul who carried the slogan: “such is the commander, such is the Regiment” [1].

As early as 25 November 1813, Boreel had already been instructed by the provisional Dutch government to establish a regiment of Hussars. In January 1814, the recruitment of the regiment commenced in Haarlem, Leiden and Maastricht. It was then officially named Regiment of Hussars nr. 1. The volunteers were of very mixed origin, some of them had served in the armies of the United Provinces (Hussars Van Heeckeren) the Batavian Republic, the Kingdom of Holland and the French Empire and formed a core of hardened and experienced horsemen. Most were fresh recruits who reacted to the passionate appeal that was made at the time to join the army in defence of the new kingdom. The turn-out was more than expected and by April 1814 the regiment was able to send the first two squadrons to join the second brigade of the Dutch army that took part in the liberation of Holland which was still occupied by a number of strong French garrisons. The Hussars were present at the siege of Bergen op Zoom, in the south-west of the country.

Boreel's regiment counted some experienced officers and subaltern officers that had witnessed many a battle but the rank and file were largely made up of young men who still needed to undergo their baptism of fire [2]. In his plans to form the regiment, Boreel had taken the lead in financing the necessary purchase of uniforms and equipment, but also demanded the same sacrifice from his officers. His instructions stipulated that “ all those officers who have the honour to provisionally serve in this corps, will sacrifice not just their blood and courage for the unhappy fatherland, but also forfeit their pay for half of one year on a monthly basis to the aid of the country´s treasury…..”[3]. A local newspaper reported about this “noble and patriotic offer” which would amount to more than 25.000 guilders (a substantial sum for the time, equivalent today to about 2,5 million dollars), but in fact it had been compulsory. This measure met with some resistance as well as the rule that only those who had been in military service before could serve in the regiment as officers[4]. From all over the country voluntary donations of money, arms and horses reached the regiment. Reputed families sent their sons, workers and farmers, sometimes fully equipped and clothed. Inevitably, these donations caused a wide variety of equipment, accoutrements and even arms. At this time, most hussars were armed with a sabre for the light cavalry no. 2 ( possibly M 1813), which almost entirely resembled its French example, the Sabre de Cavalerie Légère, Modèle An XI, which had been introduced into the army of the Kingdom of Holland in 1807. Some Hussars were also armed with pistols of French and Dutch origin and various carbines, musketoons and hunting rifles.

Assisted by the experienced Captain F.J. de Jacoby, Boreel energetically started to build up the regiment.

Notwithstanding the voluntary donations, most of the equipment needed to be produced anew. Much attention was paid to the light turquoise blue uniforms of the hussars as well as the homogenous equipment and accoutrements for the horses. This also contributed to the attractiveness of the regiment for many young men. During summer 1814 most of the saddlery, accoutrements as well as most of the arms, particularly firearms, arrived from England, which helped to further homogenize the different squadrons. The supply of horses was no problem.

By 30 December 1814 the Regiment already counted 982 NCO´s and men with two squadrons being garrisoned in Haarlem and the other part staying in Maastricht. In the next few months many of them were transferred to other regiments who were still under strength.  The regiment was now renamed into Regiment of Hussars nr. 4 and when the unification between the Northern provinces (Holland) and the Southern provinces of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands was proclaimed in April 1815, the subsequent reorganization of the army to allow for the Belgian units, finally gave the Regiment the number of 6th Hussars.

As soon as Napoleon had come to power once again in March 1815, it became clear to King William and his government, that hostilities were inevitable and that the newly established kingdom was in grave danger. The King also knew that the new Dutch-Belgian army was not ready for such a confrontation, unless it would cooperate closely with the English and Prussians and would be led by capable officers. This presented the King with a difficult dilemma: either hoe chose royalistic officers like Boreel, of unquestionable loyalty, who hadn’t served under the French in the days of the empire, or he appointed experienced officers who were familiar with modern warfare and had seen action in many European theatres of operation when they formed part of the French army. Much to the frustration of noblemen and royalists like the Prince de Croy (who had established the Hussards de Croy in the Belgian Provinces, later to be named the 8th Hussars) and Baron Van Sytzama, the King decided that the fate of the new Kingdom would be better guaranteed by experienced and capable officers, than by political appointees. 

Thus, all the Dutch-Belgian cavalry regiments received new commanders, many of whom had fought under the French flag only a year ago.....except for the sixth Hussars who retained their original commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel, a man who had not participated in any military campaign for 20 years. It is most likely that Boreel had very good connections with the royal court and used them to prevent his replacement by another officer. Later in his career, Boreel would make it to inspector-general of the light cavalry, commander in chief of the cavalry and Lord Chamberlain of the court of William II. This political appointment proved to have disastrous consequences for the sixth Hussars.

As it entered the Waterloo Campaign, the regiment consisted of 4 squadrons with two companies each and counted 641 hussars and 677 horses. It was well equipped and well trained, while most of the officers were experienced and capable men. There was no reason to assume that the hussars wouldn’t be able to match their French adversaries. They were part of General Van Merlen’s 2nd light cavalry brigade, the other regiment being the Belgian 5th light dragoons.

Quatre-Bras

On the 16th of June 1815, Napoleon’s army had already invaded the Belgian provinces and split up the allies, fighting the Prussians at Ligny and the Anglo-allied army at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras. The French under the command of Marshall Ney had commenced their attack on les Quatre-Bras at about 2 pm and met fierce resistance from the Dutch-Belgian troops that held the crossroads. However, when a third French infantry division as well as more cavalry appeared from the north of Frasnes, the feeble Dutch-Belgian defence  crumbled and all along the line troops were either retreating or giving away under the immense pressure of three infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades.

Nothing could gain the half hour's respite still needed to save the position before the British and Brunswick troops, who arrived piecemeal, could occupy their place in the front line, except some desperate measure. The arrival of Van Merlen's cavalry brigade gave the Prince of Orange the means for that desperate move. When he observed through the thick clouds of smoke that the brigade of Jamin (division Foy), covered on the flanks by French cavalry, was advancing to the east of Gémioncourt and threatened to come behind his troops, he sent an adjutant with orders for General Van Merlen to bring his brigade forward immediately and charge the enemy column.

Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel was just in the process of moving his regiment more to the south-west of the crossroads, to the right of the main road to Brussels, in columns by platoons in order to clear the front for Picton's infantry and deployed along the Namur road, when he received the order to charge. Considering the utmost urgency with which the order was to be executed, Boreel apparently felt that there was no time to carefully form his regiment for the charge. Immediately, the order to charge was shouted from platoon to platoon who were still on the move. Each platoon wheeled to the left more or less on its own and subsequently made the charge.  Because of the haste that was required, the platoons also took insufficient time to close up and advance in a more cohesive formation. Effectively the charge was thus made in a very open line formation, more or less “en echelon”. The swift but careless charge led the mostly inexperienced Dutch Hussars right into the 1st and 6th Regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval and the 5th Regiment of Lancers of Colonel Jacqueminot, most of them veterans and hardened troops[5]. The hussars in the rear jammed into the back of the forward formations and became disorganised even before they had seen any Frenchman. While the French were engaging the first line of hussars, they also tried to envelope the platoons in the back. The unequal encounter left little doubt on the outcome.

Major Van Balveren described the unfolding of events from the moment that the hussars had dismounted to feed their horses, prior to the charge:

“We barely had begun with the horses, or the order to mount was sounded, while the [fodder]bags which had just been taken off, needed to be re-attached quickly. This wasn’t even completed, ere we had to march forward in columns by platoons and from that column we were supposed to form line with our front to the enemy, but were ordered to charge the enemy immediately, including the red lancers of the Imperial Guard. The haste which accompanied this manoeuvre, caused the regiment not to fully adopt the battle order, when it charged, which had the consequence that the attack turned out to be confusing and not beneficial. We were soon pushed back by the enemy cavalry ( the regiment of lancers as mentioned) with the sabre in their hands to the vicinity of  a corps of highland scotsmen which was positioned in a row and received the enemy with deadly fire….”[6].

Lieutenant Deebetz also remembered the failed charge:

“The said regiment [6th hussars], had placed itself in battle order in front of the road from Quatre-Bras to Namur when it received the order to take up a new position to the right and come behind the road from Quatre-Bras to Nivelles. The movement with platoons to the right had already begun, so that a part of the regiment was already near to Quatre-Bras, when a staff officer rode along the side of the regiment, shouting “Hussars charge!”. If this order had been brought to the commander, or had been executed in an orderly fashion, it might have ended well, but instead, the platoons wheeled away from the left wing and consecutively formed in line to the left and advanced for the charge, seemingly “en fourageur”. The outcome was a general retreat until behind the road of Quatre-Bras to Namur, where the regiment re-assembled”[7].

With the French hot on their heels, the hussars made a hasty retreat towards the allied infantry and artillery at the crossroads, but in the process overran the Netherlands Militia Battalion nr.5 on the high road to Brussels. Colonel Westenberg, who was in command, dared not to fire upon his own countrymen and so the battalion was exposed to an avalanche of horsemen coming their way. The order among the rank was soon lost, which made the militiamen easy prey for the French lancers who came behind the 6th Chasseurs. The whole mass of men and horses continued towards the allied position and caused considerable confusion in the half battery of Stevenart that had just moved forward in support of Boreel's advance and now became exposed to the French cavalrymen who were mingled in between their own compatriots. Tragically, a great number of officers and men of Stevenart's battery were sabred down while the Frenchmen passed through them. One of these unfortunates was Lieutenant Ruysch van Coevorden who received 14 sabre cuts! Major van Opstall was overturned with his horse, that came on top of him. Helpless, with only the scabbard of his sabre to defend himself, he suffered a sabrecut over his head and one in his shoulder [8].

Captain Bijleveld, commanding a half battery of horse artillery, saw to his horror what happened and later recalled:

“The battery remained the entire day of the sixteenth in first line and played a big role in the battle; the battery of Captain Stevenaar, which had advanced that morning under the orders of Major van Opstall, was almost entirely destroyed by a charge of cavalry, the Captain was killed, the Major and two Lieutenants wounded and of our equipment only one section remained, under the order of Lieutenant Wintsinger…”[9].

The mass also ran through the section of Captain Gey van Pittius. Lieutenant Wassenaar van St. Pancras related:

“The cavalry of General Van Merlen rushed to our aid, but soon we saw these braves return in the direction of our position, my Captain threw himself off his horse, the gunners crawled underneath the pieces, not perceiving the danger as grave,  I remained for a moment in doubt, until I found myself in the middle of the mêlée  and threw myself to the ground where we were packed together like herring. How I got out is still a dream and I was fortunate enough that no chasseur of the guard has tried the sharpness of his blade on me….”[10]

Many Dutch hussars were killed or wounded in the chaotic pursuit. The French horsemen tried to exploit their success as much as possible and pressed on to the adjoining guns of Captain Gey van Pittius, who tried to keep friend and foe at a distance by firing cannister into their ranks, but to no avail. The endless flow of men and horses ran over and past his battery on to the Namur Road, where the infantry had already formed square. Gey van Pittius men ran for their lives to take shelter behind and amongst the infantry.

The bold French cavalry even reached the crossroads and forced the Prince of Orange as well as Wellington and his staff to find a safe haven inside the nearest infantry squares.[11]

The French horsemen were fired upon by the two remaining reserve battalions of Nassau troops that stood at the crossroads itself and on the right by the 92nd regiment of Picton's division. In the back the Brunswick hussars had quickly deployed into line to counter the French cavalry and the Brunswick infantry had formed squares. The murderous fire from all sides caused the French cavalry to retreat and quit the pursuit of Boreel´s hussars.

The chaos at the crossroads caused by the Dutch hussars and their French assailants, had also forced Wellington and his staff to find refuge behind the infantry. Lord Fitzroy Somerset was caught up in the turmoil and reported later:

"The French cavalry charged the Belgian cavalry and dispersed them- they went to the rear. The carts, etc. coming up along the highroad from Brussels took the alarm, turned round and went back with followers etc. in the greatest confusion. Many of the Belgic cavalry went to Brussels and spread the alarm. The Duke and Lord Fitzroy Somerset were in front when the French cavalry charged the Belgic cavalry and with difficulty got back to the 92nd, posted at Quatre Bras. The Duke leaped a bank and ditch, and on a worse horse he might not have escaped"[12].

Somerset´s observation was quite correct. A substantial number of Dutch hussars could not be controlled anymore and continued their flight to Genappe. However, the rest of the regiment remained at the crossroads. The retreat of Boreel's Hussars had been covered by a squadron of the Regiment of Dragoons nr. 5 under the command of Major de Looz-Corswarem. This allowed the officers to re-assemble the regiment behind the houses of les Quatre-Bras, on the left of the road from Brussels to Charleroi, which afforded them protection from the French artillery and took them out of the line of fire of the allied infantry at the crossroads. Meanwhile the officers turned in all directions to rally the men and tried to restore some spirit into the ranks. After all, for many of the Dutch troopers this had been their baptism of fire.

Indeed, the morale of Boreel's regiment had taken a blow. In their first charge the 6th Hussars had already lost 13 dead, amongst them Captain Van Wijnbergen, 31 wounded and many more horses. Many of the wounded men suffered from serious sabrecuts all over their bodies. Some had such horrendous wounds that it was a miracle that they were still alive. Hussar Christiaan Corps received a sabrecut on the right shoulder and one on the left, two lance stabs in the back and one on the right hand side. Hussar Gerrit Pelle had his head and ear pierced by a lance, and furthermore two lance stabs in the left arm, two in the right shoulder and arm, one in his right hand, one in the lumbar and if that wasn´t enough misery, his right buttock had been sliced by a sabre [13]. Major de Jacoby had a sabrecut over the left eye and nose as well as a lance stab. 1st Lieutenant Zwanebeek Pauw was seriously wounded by a sabrecut over the head and a bullet which had gone clear through his arm and into the chest. Second lieutenant Rendorp got a sabrecut in his right arm and 2nd Lieutenant Baron van Utenhove lost his horse and was lamed on his right leg by a cannister ball. Lieutenant Mensink was severely maimed by a sabre cut across his nose and mouth. In one charge, the splendid appearance of the regiment had turned into a bruised and battered mob. And all this because their commanding officer hadn’t taken the trouble to form his regiment well before the charge and also hadn’t taken the normal precaution of holding back a reserve that could have checked the French pursuit.

Waterloo

The climax of the campaign happened two days later, at Waterloo, where Napoleon’s army was utterly defeated. The Dutch hussars were again unable to make much of a difference that day.

After the repulse of the attack by the Corps of D’Erlon against the allied left wing by the British infantry and cavalry, Van Merlen´s brigade also came up, crossed the ridge and fell upon the remaining French infantry. One of the men of the 7th militia in Bijlandt's brigade saw the charge and wrote in his diary:

"...then the enemy approached us with their muskets lowered, but the cavalry and amongst them the Hussars of Boreel didn't leave it at that, in that moment they took a crowd of prisoners and chased them behind our army as if there was no end to them. The battlefield lay strewn with corpses".[14] Another soldier of Bijlandt's brigade observed that " the enemy tried to form three squares, of which the English and Dutch cavalry sabred down one and took another one prisoner, whereby they captured two golden eagles and a flag and only then accepted the withdrawal..."[15].

However, when General van Merlen saw to his alarm that the Union brigade completely lost control and continued their charge straight across the valley into the midst of the French position, he ordered his brigade to halt at the bottom of the valley. Here the brigade stood for a while in open order to allow the British cavalry to seek refuge behind their line. A little to the east, Vivian´s brigade had done the same. When the danger of being so close to the French artillery became too great, Van Merlen recalled his men and instructed them to round up and escort the thousands of French prisoners back to the allied position, where they were collected and marched to Brussels under guard of some 400 soldiers of Bijlandt´s brigade and a few companies of Inniskilling dragoons[16]. The “charge” of Van Merlen’s brigade has largely been forgotten and even Dutch historians overlooked it, because of the bigger story of the failure of D’Erlon’s attack and the sensational but rather costly counter-attack by the British heavy cavalry. In any case, it wasn’t much of a charge, since it wasn’t carried through and the brigade quickly returned to its position.

Later that afternoon, Van Merlen's Brigade also took part in repulsing the repeated French cavalry charges in the centre of the allied position. Just as De Ghigny's Brigade, Van Merlen's Brigade suffered from the intensive fire of the French artillery that used every interval in the cavalry charges to bombard the allied troops.

Coming up behind their own heavy cavalry and in the direction of the Nivelles road, Van Merlen's brigade encountered elements of the Light Cavalry Division of the Guard under Lefebvre-Desnoëttes that also comprised the 2nd Regiment of Chevau-léger Lanciers (red lancers) to which a number of the Belgian light dragoons had belonged in the previous years and Van Merlen himself had been its commander in 1813. In this action Van Merlen was supported by the German cavalry of Arentschildt and Dörnberg.[17] In a second action Van Merlen´s brigade, supported by Arentschildt´s Hannoverian cavalry, charged against the 2nd and 7th dragoons of L´Héritier´s Division behind the squares of the Nassau infantry.[18]

The Regiment of Light Dragoons nr.5 was throughout the battle commanded by Major de Looz Corswarem, because Lt. Colonel de Mercx had been incapacitated by his wounds received at Quatre-Bras. Major de Looz was a veteran who had seen his share of fighting. From 1810 to 1812 he had taken part in the battles of Salamanca and Burgos, where he was wounded by a sabrecut over his head. At Arenva De Looz, at the head of his platoon, attacked a squadron of enemy cavalry which was about to capture a French gun, and dispersed them whereby some prisoners were taken. The following year in Germany, De Looz participated in the battles of Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden and Leipzig. At Dresden, De Looz was part of a detachment of lancers which attacked the Austrian rearguard of 3000 men, the day after the battle, and caused the Austrians to flee and leave three guns behind. For his able and brave command of the Belgian dragoons at Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, Major de Looz Corswarem was awarded a Knight's Cross in the Military Order of William [19].

Later in the afternoon, Van Merlen's Brigade attacked the 1st Regiment of Cuirassiers of General Dubois Brigade to the west of La Haye Sainte farmhouse [20]. The 6th Hussars were in first line, while the 5th Dragoons were held in reserve.

The Hussars of Boreel charged upon the French cuirassiers per squadron, one behind the other. Captain Willem van Umbgrove commanded the fourth squadron and decided to wheel it away from the other squadrons, in order to attack the French cuirassiers from the flanks and the back, which succeeded. When the action was over and Van Umbgrove rode back triumphantly, he came face to face with an enraged Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel, who accused him of abandoning the rear of the regiment without orders. Van Umbgrove was not impressed and replied: “Colonel, you have not achieved anything with all your charges other than losing lots of men and horses. I have attacked the enemy in the flank and back and driven him off with the loss of only 8 men and 12 horses. I have the honour to salute you and will again take my place at the tail of the regiment”[21].

Van Umbgrove was quite a character. He had taken part in several campaigns in Hessian service under Napoleon in Italy and Germany. In 1809, at the head of his squadron, he captured an Austrian battery in the battle of Wagram, received a sabre cut on his head and on the battlefield, he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by Napoleon himself, after he had paraded in front of the emperor with the captured guns. In autumn 1813, during the liberation of Holland from the French, he led a unit of Russian cossacks against the French garrisons in towns along the Zuiderzee shores.

During that afternoon of the 18th of June, Van Merlen´s brigade was severely mauled. According to the son of Baron Von Baumhauer, Matthieu, who served in the 6th Hussars, the battle had been most sanguine. His horse had been so terribly wounded that he had to leave it on the battlefield. The regiment had repeatedly charged against the French Grenadiers à Cheval of the Guard and the losses had been great, even as much as 2/3 of the regiment.[22]

Indeed, many men in the 6th Hussars had suffered wounds that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Major de Jacobi received a sabre cut over the head and face. First Lieutenant Paauw also had a sabre cut over the head and a ball in his right arm and first Lieutenant Deebets had one in his left foot. Second Lieutenant Rendorp had a sabre cut in each arm. However, this didn´t prevent him from reaching a respectable age. He died of age in the Hague on 30 July 1879[23].

The second brigade of light cavalry, which after the death of Van Merlen had come under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel, remained in its position to the west of the high road to Brussels near the farm of Mont St. Jean. At this spot the squadrons of hussars and dragoons were unnecessarily exposed to French projectiles that continued to rain on the exhausted allied troops. The troops in the rear were now suffering even more from French cannon fire, since the French gunners were aiming higher in order to safeguard their own cavalry that stayed close to the allied line. Lieutenant-Colonel Tomkinson of the British 16th Light Dragoons noticed in his diary: " A regiment of cavalry of the Pays Bas, not liking to remain so close to the infantry, had withdrawn to a greater distance, and received many shots which passed over our heads" [24]. Likewise, A dragoon of the 11th regiment remarked: “during the remainder of the day, little else fell to our share than to sustain, as we best might, the heavy fire of cannon, which the enemy continued to direct against us. At each discharge, men and horses went down: yet we suffered less than a regiment of Nassau Hussars which, keeping ground in our rear, served to catch every ball that passed over us” [25]This had also been noticed by Uxbridge himself who remarked later:

"The Dutch and Belgian cavalry and Brunswickers were in line and suffered a great deal"[26].

Thus, while they were not able to retreat further nor charge, the Dutch hussars primarily served to catch the cannonballs that were bouncing around and flying over their heads. It is hard to see why Boreel felt that his regiment needed to be placed in that position where they were still sustaining losses but were little use in repulsing the French cavalry.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel tried to join Trip's brigade, but after marching towards the position where the brigade of Carabiniers was supposed to be, Boreel found no one. He then asked Lord Uxbridge for orders, who told him to unite with a British brigade of light dragoons, probably that of Vandeleur. The Belgian 5th Regiment of Light Dragoons didn't follow this movement and joined the brigade of light cavalry under the command of De Ghigny. Boreel explained later that Major de Looz-Corswarem , who had taken over command of the 5th Dragoons after De Mercx was put out of action at Quatre-Bras,  had refused to obey his orders. Here, we have another indication that the battle-hardened officers who had fought in the French army, like de Looz and Van Umbgrove, had difficulty in respecting the authority of Boreel, who had remained on inactive service for the last 20 years. It mattered little in tactical terms. Effectively, Van Merlen's Brigade had ceased to exist.

In the early evening of 18 June, the French made a last ditch attempt to break the allied center by an attack of the Imperial Guard. On the allied right, General Chassé confronted a French column of the Middle Guard with the infantry brigades of Detmers in front and D'Aubremé in reserve. The 6th hussars were given the task to provide for flank cover of Krahmer de Bichin's horse battery. This battery was quickly placed near Mercer's guns who were silenced by the lack of ammunition. Krahmer's battery tore whole sections away from the approaching French column with their canister fire. But it also drew fire from the opposing French batteries.

Brigadier Norden of the 6th hussars remembered how the regiment was placed on an elevation, in full view of a French battery, which was so close that he could easily see when the French gunners brought the fuse to the barrel.  It was a scary and unnerving experience. One of Norden’s best friends  was hit by a ball in the chest and fell with a scream from his horse. Left and right men tumbled from their horses. Soon, they received orders to move to a lower part of the field to avoid more casualties[27].

The French attack was repulsed. Now, the time had come for a general counterattack of the allied line. As instructed by Uxbridge, the sixth hussars had followed Vandeleur's brigade. After Chassé's intervention, Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel formed his regiment and advanced with the words:" Forward, my brave hussars!"[28]. They threw themselves on the remaining elements of Reille's infantry that still offered resistance and thus took revenge for their less successful charge at Quatre Bras[29]. The charge cost the regiment several dead and wounded which brought the total losses to 110 NCO´s and men dead and 64 wounded. Among the casualties at the end of the day were Captain van der Heiden and Lieutenant Verhellow. Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel related the action in his report:

"United with the said English Brigade of Light Dragoons [Vandeleur] we instantly charged twice on the French guard until the last charge, by the steady retreat of the enemy, carried us so far that we were totally isolated from the rest of the Dutch army" [30].

Boreel's hussars stopped the chase at Rossomme, where the Prussian cavalry took over.

Conclusion

I think that much of the bad reputation of the Dutch-Belgian cavalry at Waterloo originates from the poor performance of the Dutch 6th Hussars. The other regiments played a substantial role in the Waterloo campaign and in the process lost about a third of their men and half of their horses.

However, I have tried to point out that the failures of the 6th Hussars were not because of their youth and inexperience, cowardice or lack of training, as most other authors assume, but because of the bad leadership of their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Boreel.

Experience throughout the Napoleonic era showed that it was of greater importance to have good, experienced officers than experienced men. The cavalry commander should be able to recognise in an instant the condition of the field, the weakest point of the enemy force (the rear or the flanks of the enemy) and the right time to attack (when the enemy is disorganised) and would adapt his formation to these circumstances. Compared to infantry, there was more risk in cavalry operations, the greater fluidity of cavalry tactics and the overriding importance of good order and reserves, the dependence on timing and direction of a cavalry charge and the careful management of a charge and rally all required very qualified officers. This was especially so for brigade- and regimental commanders. The latter would more than anyone else set the standard for the character and efficiency of the regiment. As one British NCO concluded in his reminiscences:

“ the great secret, in a good marching, good fighting, or loyal regiment, one not given to the habit of deserting, is being well commanded; because the finest body of men may be ruined, the efforts of the bravest regiment paralysed, and the best disposed corps become marauders and deserters, from having an inefficient man at their head” [31].

Notes:

[1] See the Manuscript of A.C. Eland, Het Regiment Huzaren van Boreel, Amersfoort 1963, p. 6

[2] See H.N.C. Baron Van Tuijll van Serooskerken, de lichtblauwe Hussaren van Willem Boreel, ter herinnering aan het Regement Hussaren  nr. 6, Den Haag 1868, p. 10 and further.

[3] W.P.J. Overmeer, De Geschiedenis van het Garnizoen te Haarlem sedert 1813,  Haarlem 1906.

[4] See the protest letter of Lt. General Bentinck tot Binckhorst of 25 december 1813 in ARA Collection Snouckaert van Schouburg, inv. Nr. 1.10.76, nr. 580.

[5] From: Historique du 6ème Regiment de Chasseurs à Cheval 1676-1888 by M. de Mitry 1890, pp. 150-151.

[6] Letter by Van Balveren in: collectie Van Loeben Sels, box 1815, file II, no. 5 letter 2, dated 25 May 1841.

[7] Notes from Lieutenant Deebetz on the basis of an oral account of a captain in the 6th hussars, collection Van Loeben Sels, ibid.

[8] The failed charge of Boreel's Hussars is well documented in Dutch, German and French sources, see for example Baron van Omphal's memoires, ibid, p. 14 and Lieutenant Henckens, p.225. General de Constant Rebecque in his diary noted :  “our two regiments of cavalry conducted several charges, and checked the enemy advance for some time. The Hussars of Boreel  made a charge after which they were overthrown by a superior force and the Prince [of Orange] was at the point of being taken..”  in: General Archives in The Hague (ARA), coll. 66 De Constant Rebecque, nr. 2.21.008.21. Also see for example the report on the actions of the Brunswick Corps: Geschichte des Herzoglich-Braunschweigschen Armee-Corps in dem Feldzuge der Alliirten Mächte gegen Napoleon Buonaparte im Jahr 1815, von einem Offizier des General Stabs, Braunschweig 1816, p. 26.

[9] Letter of Captain Bijleveld, dated 3 June 1841, collection Van Loeben Sels, ibid.

[10] Letter by Lieutenant Wsssenaar van St. Pancras in the collection of Van Loeben Sels, ibid.

[11] Colonel van Zuylen van Nyevelt in his report mentions: " the light cavalry received order to charge the enemy but carried too far, aroused by their enthusiasm, they struck the 8th and 11th regiment of enemy cuirassiers, which was superior to them both in arms as in  numbers and were beaten back with considerable losses. Many came over  the road and fell upon the infantry and artillery, but the enemy cavalry, having penetrated in between the houses of Quatre-Bras,  received the fire by the troops that were already in position and  rallying". Clearly, Colonel Van Zuylen van Nyevelt confused the early attack by Piré's light cavalry with the charge of Kellerman's cuirassiers which took place later in the afternoon. All the French sources, apart from Charras, are unanimous on the fact that Kellerman's charge occurred later and was a separate act which was not executed in conjunction with other French cavalry. See for example Houssaye, ibid, p. and G. van Remoortere, Histoire de la Campagne de 1815 dans les Pays-Bas, Brussels 1879, p. 143 and further. I will pay attention to Kellerman's charge further on.

[12] See Lord Fitzroy Somerset´s account in: Edward Owen ed.,  The Waterloo Papers, 1815 and beyond, Devon 1998, p. 9. Van Löben Sels, who had talked to officers in Boreels´regiment, also says that the regiment was assembled behind the houses, p. 200.

[13] From: H.C.N. Baron van Tuyll van Serooskerken, De lichtblauwe Hussaren van Willem Boreel, ter herinnering aan het Regement Hussaren nr.6, Den Haag 1868, pp. 19-20. Van Tuijll van Serooskerken served in Boreel's regiment at the time of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo.

[14]See P. Wakker, Aanteekeningen van een veteraan, dato 16  aug. 1815, die onder den prins van oranje in ’s prinsen  klein leger in de velden van Waterloo gestreden heeft. Purmerend, 1863, p. 12.

[15] From: Relaas van D. Beets, infanterist bij Perponcher's Divisie, in posession of the Section of Military History of the Netherlands Army in the Hague, files of F. de Bas, code nr. 101/8.

[16]  For the intervention by Van Merlen´s brigade also see Commandant Guy Stassin, Waterloo il y a 160 ans déja!, in: Bulletin de Cavalerie (A Belgian magazine), Juillet 1975, nr. 251 and Houssaye, ibid, p. 349.

[17] Although this action was not reported by Boreel or any other official report, it is briefly mentioned in a letter by 2nd Lieutenant Gerlacus Buma on 19 June 1815, in which he reports to his parents that a comrade Kees Breda, had died on the battlefield by a lancethrust in his belly. File Eekhoff, 1815, Rijksarchief Fryslan in Leeuwarden, nr. 1511 Hs.

[18] As noted from conversations with officers in that brigade in: Craan, ibid, p. 31. The assumption that it must have been the 2nd and 7th dragoons can also be concluded from the notes of Lelang in:  Memoirs Historiques, nr. 717 a 729 at Chateau Vincennes. Lelang described the scene of action of the French dragoons as close to La Haye Sainte, the same place where Van Merlen stood.

[19] See Register der Ridders der vierde klasse van de Militaire Willemsorde, nr. 53

[20] Little is known about the actions of Van Merlen's Brigade since the commander died and his Chief of Staff, Paravicini de Capelli, was heavily wounded at Quatre-Bras.

[21] This story can be found in: ARA, Collection Umbgrove, Genealogische Fragmenten 1944, nr. 71.

[22] See the diary of Baron Von Baumhauer on the 19th of June 1815, ibid. The confrontation with the horse grenadiers of the guard probably only took place in the early evening when Boreel´s regiment moved more to the west to support Chassé´s division against the imperial guard.

[23]  See the Register der Ridders…, ibid, nrs. 73, 75, 76 and 77.

[24] See Lieutenant-Colonel William Tomkinson, The Diary of a Cavalry Officer in the Peninsular War and Waterloo Campaign 1809-1815, London 1971, p. 309.

Typically, Tomkinson clearly echoes the extremely negative opinion of earlier authors such as Siborne, Oman, Fortescue and others against the Dutch-Belgians in general. Boreel´s regiment of course hadn't withdrawn but stood in second line where it had been placed by the brigade commander. Tomkinson refers very little to the actions of Dutch-Belgian cavalry in his diary. When he does, not one word of appreciation is granted to his comrades in arms who fought and died alongside the British at Waterloo:

"There were several  regiments of cavalry of the Pays Bas and of Hanoverian. These did not remain long in the field; indeed some never came up to the army. They did nothing but plunder the baggage in the rear, riding alongside of the road, cutting at the batmen in charge of it, obliging them to abandon their horses and baggage, both of which they seized" (p. 269). As the reader can notice, Tomkinson as so many other British authors about Waterloo, has no scruples in mixing fiction with facts and in the process conveniently providing a welcome excuse for the baggage and artillery train drivers of the allied army, including the British,  who had fled in all directions when the French cavalry flooded the allied position. However, this may well have been a view which was not included in Tomkinson´s original diary but inflated by the editor of the diaries, not an uncommon practice in those days. An indication for this could be the fact that a diary during the campaign typically includes a concise text with few retrospective remarks or analyses. The edited version of Tomkinson´s diary, published many years after the event, is full of them and it seems to me that the “diary” could very well have been influenced by Siborne´s work.

[25] See Reminiscences of a light dragoon, ibid, p. 534

[26] See the letter from Lord Anglesey on the 18th of december 1815, printed in: Edward Owen, the Waterloo Papers, ibid, p. 62.

[27] From: het leven en de lotgevallen van de gebroeders Jan en Antonie Norden, ibid, p. 400.

[28] From van Tuijll van Serooskerken, ibid, p. 26.

[29] It is certain that Boreel's regiment, in support of Chassé's Division, took part in the repulse of the French Middle Guard. Apart from the other sources mentioned in previous and following notes, another confirmation comes from the eyewitness account of a Dutch soldier in Chassé's Division who mentioned that " the General (Chassé) had the muskets lowered, the cavalry rapidly come forward and gave order that the infantry should storm to conquer or die". See: P.P. Roorda van Eysenga, Iets betreffende den Slag van Waterloo, in: Recensent ook der Recensenten, XXIV, 1831, vol. II, pp. 233, 287 and 322.  Matthieu von Baumhauer of the 6th Hussars wrote to the Chancery of the Military Order of William on 20 December 1819 about the fact that Colonel Boreel lost his horse during that charge. Von Baumhauer considered this to be “ the first charge in the evening,  when the Colonel lost his horse” because it was the first time that the 6th Hussars actually descended into the valley. Like Trip and other officers, Von Baumhauer apprantly  considered the earlier movements of the regiment as merely manoeuvring instead of charging. See the Archives of the Chancery of the Military Order of William, inv. nr. 1424, ibid,  file nr. 35.

[30] From the official report of Colonel Boreel in De Bas and 'T Serclaes, ibid, vol. III annexes, p.  Also quoted in: Het regiment Huzaren van Boreel van 1813-1963, Uitgave van het regiment Huzaren van Boreel, Amersfoort 1963, p. 10. The action of Boreel's Regiment against the French Guard infantry was also depicted in a great Panorama that was erected on the Leidscheplein in Amsterdam on 18 June 1816 for the general public. The panorama contained numerous details of the Battle including the actions by the Dutch-Belgian cavalry and was based on a number of statements of Dutch officers in the Prince of Orange's staff. Apart from Boreel's charge, it also showed the countercharges of Trip's and De Ghigny's brigades in the centre of the allied line against French cavalry. A small printed copy of the panorama is kept in the General Archives in The Hague,  Boreel familiearchief, inv. nr. 462a. Boreel himself never forgot that moment. When he left the regiment in1827 because of his appointment as Major-General Inspector of the Light Cavalry, he adressed the officers and men of his regiment in his goodbye speech with the following words:"....I thank you for your ability, zeal and willingness to stand by me in all these years. As you did at Quatre-Bras, when the regiment for the first time came under fire, and did again at Waterloo, when the bravest of the French bands of soldiers gave way to you...". See General Archives, Boreel familiearchief, inv. nr. 455. 

[31] Quoted from Rory Muir,  Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon, London 1998, p. 175

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009

The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry at Waterloo Archives ]



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