Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry at Waterloo Archives: Excerpts Regarding the Dutch-Belgian Troops at Waterloo from the Siborne Letters in the British Library, London

By André Develloet

 

I) About General Von Kruse’s Nassau Troops and General Chassé’s Infantry Division at Waterloo

File MS 34706 Excerpt from Lt. Colonel Shaw Kennedy:

Sketch nr. 2 “General Baron Von Kruse states that the 1st regiment of Nassau which constituted his brigade, had its 1st battle in the first line and its 2nd + 3rd battles in the second line-that the 1st battle had English (?) + Hannoverians on its left and English on its right. That the regiment held this position until near 6 o’ clock, when it retired about 100 paces in consequence of a heavy cannonade (B on sketch). That at 7 o’clock the Prince of Orange ordered a charge upon the advancing Imperial Guard (?), that this attack (marked A on the sketch) which the General made with the 1st + 2nd Battalion in column, was unsuccessful, That the Prince of Orange was wounded at the head of this column, and that the two battalions, after having suffered greatly, were obliged to retire to their former position. That toward 8 o’ clock, the regt. advanced with the rest of the army. It appears to me that the force attacked could not possibly have been the imperial guard, may it not have consisted of the clouds of skirmishers which hung all along the brow of the hill from La Haye Sainte to the attacking columns of the Guard?”

P. 167, letter of an officer of Vandeleur’s brigade dated 8 October 1836: “The brigade was placed in the centre later in the day with the right flank next to the road to Nivelles and to the right of I think, Dutch or Belgian infantry. Indeed, I am pretty sure, because when they gave way & began to retire without orders & rather irregularly, I an dotehr officers of my brigade rode amongst them and [] their officers to rally them [the troops were formed in a square]”.

File MS 34704, Extract from a letter from Major Luard (late of the 16th Dragoons) to Colonel John Hay, commanding 2nd Dragoon Guards (late of 16th Dragoons):

P. 134: “16th light dragoons regiment was, after charging pursuing French cavalry in order to relieve Scots Greys, ordered to move more to the right. We moved some distance passing the remains of W. Ponsonby and Lord Edward Somerset’s Brigades and formed under the brow of a hill in echelon of regiments- left forward the Hussar brigade was formed on our left- a corps of foreign infantry (I believe Dutch) formed in our front, partly covered, like ourselves, by the hill. In front of them, on top of the hill was formed our line of infantry”.

P. 135: “[after being placed in the centre. AD] I thought at that moment the day was going hard with us, that the infantry were beaten and that we (the cavalry) by desperate charges, were to recover what they had lost. The foreign troops in our front appeared to think so also, but certainly had not resolved to recover the day, for they began to give way rapidly, we closed our squadron intervals and would not let them through and by the persuasion of Sir John Vandeleur, other officers and myself they again formed to the front”.

P. 165 from a letter of 7 January 1835: “Officer of the 4th brigade of cavalry mentions that towards the evening we were both moved to the rear of that point where the enemy were making their last attack. I think the 4th followed Sir Vivian’s brigade. I forgot when they formed the 4th brigade in line in rear of some squares of I think Belgian infantry which retired nearly before us, and at one time I thought they were on the point of breaking”. In a further letter of 21 August 1836: “There were 2 or 3 squares of Belgian infantry in our front. I am not certain that all the 3 were Belgians, but 2 of them I am confident were. These squares were falling back upon the 4th brigade and were evidently getting into confusion, when Colonel Sleigh  (our General) rode up and cheered them and succeeded in preventing their retiring further” .

p. 167 letter from an artillery officer dated 6 January 1835: “the batteries position to ours was Major Sandham’s RA, on the right, Major Cleeves KGL on our left, Major Napier’s RA & A Dutch battery were in reserve & came into action later in the day”.

File MS 34703. P. 349, letter of 26 November 1834 from Major Mercer in Sir Alexander Dickson’s troop.

[During the cavalry charges in the afternoon, Mercer observed….  AD]” whilst anxiously watching the movements of the confused mêlée that throughed the plain, our attention was suddenly called to the direction of Merbe Braine by loud and reiterated shouts that we found proceeding from several columns of infantry which debouching from that place were rapidly crossing the fields towards us []. The advancing columns had all the appearance of being French, and we prepared to give the best reception in our power to the double attack which we expected, when to our no small joy a mounted officer of the 14th, who had on the first alarm gone down the hill to reconnoiter, returned  with the grateful intelligence that they were Belgians who had been ordered up into line”.

File MS ADD 34708, p. 348, Officer of the Guards.

“Major Turner of 14th foot reported that the Regiment was in square on the reverse slope and Dutch infantry coming up in the rear, with much noise shouting!”

MS 34708, letter of a Colonel in the 16th Dragoons dated 10-2-1845, p. 177:

[About the general counterattack at the end of the battle  AD]: “The infantry charged by the two heavy brigades, Col. Childers in keeping up the square of Belgians did great service…”

II) About Van Bijlandt’s brigade at Waterloo

File MS 34703, Extract from the Military memoirs of an Infantry officer 1809-1816 (92nd Regiment) about Waterloo at about 1 o’clock:

“With loud shouts of “Vive l’Empereur” the left column attacked the farm house of La Haye Sainte, while the right column, supported by the 3rd, moved against the Belgian troops, immediately in front of our brigade. The Belgians assailed with terrible fury, returned the fire of the enemy for some time with great spirit. But on the approach of the French, they shifted their ground & retired behind the ridge, although it afforded them no shelter from the enemy’s fire, yet concealed them from their view. Here on seeing themselves well supported they showed a little more courage and although exposed to a heavy fire, they maintained their ground with considerable [ ].

“Their progress was considerably retarded by the fire from our artillery & volleys of musketry from the Belgian infantry till the enemy having almost gained the summit of the ridge, our allies partially retired from the hedge. At the entreaty of their officers, the greater part of them again returned to their posts, but it was merely to satisfy their curiosity for they almost immediately again retired without firing a shot. The officers exerted themselves to the utmost to keep the men at their duty, but their efforts were fruitless and at length the whole corps took plainly to their heels. The post thus abandoned by “les braves Belges” was instantly re-occupied by 3rd Batt. Royals + 2nd Batt. 44th regt. Those two weak battalions poured on the assailants a heavy fire of musketry, but the latter continued advancing with unflinching courage, till they succeeded in compelling our friends also to retire from the hedge” .

III) About The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry Division at Waterloo

File MS 34703, p. 231, letter of 15 November 1834 from an officer of the Royal Dragoons in the Union Brigade

[after the counterattack against the Corps of D’Erlon]. “We collected behind a wood, where we remained a short time& then were brought forward again to the front& suffered with the brigade, for a long time, under a most destructive fire, in our immediate front were French cavalry & as far as I can recollect on their left some infantry, on our side fronted by some Belgians, infantry, & the Blues”.

IV) About the Dutch-Belgian horse artillery at Waterloo

File MS 34703. P. 349-352, letter of 26 November 1834 from Major Mercer in Sir Alexander Dickson’s troop.

“The line having descended sufficiently to permit of it, we had just commenced firing over them at the masses in the plain, when under cover of the smoke a battery came (we could not conjecture whence) and established itself a little in advance of our left flank, from which it could not have been distant more than 400 yards and thus almost enfilading our line, besides being on higher ground, the fire it poured in upon us, was the most destructive we had yet experienced and could not have failed to annihilate us, had we not been saved by a battery of Belgic horse artillery which came up soon after on our left and thus taking them almost in flank soon drove them from this position[]. The Belgians, who by the way, were all drunk and would have fired upon us too, had we not taken some pains, to put them straight”.

MS 34708, p. 18, letter of Capt. Shaw Kennedy of Jan. 16th 1834 about the position of the Dutch foot artillery on the allied left:

“The were in the intervals of the Royal dragoons in dark uniforms” [In the same letter he confirms the flight of the Dutch-Belgian troops in Bijlandt’s brigade)

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009

The Dutch-Belgian Cavalry at Waterloo Archives ]



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