‘My duty is to execute the Emperor’s orders’: Grouchy at Walhain, 18 June 1815

By Stephen Millar


[Note: Source material about the Napoleonic period, especially that published before World War I, is often written in an archaic English grammar style; different spellings for locations and people is also a common occurrence. Therefore, in the interest of increased clarity for modern readers, some changes in this material have been made both to grammar style and spelling. The original intent or context of the material, however, has not been altered.]

“The causes of Napoleon’s overthrow are not hard to find. The lack of timely pursuit of Blucher and Wellington on the 17th enabled those leaders to secure posts of vantage and to form an incisive plan which he did not fully fathom even at the crisis of the battle. Full of overweening contempt of Wellington, he began the fight heedlessly and wastefully. When the Prussians came on, he underrated their strength and believed to the very end that Grouchy would come up and take them between two fires. But, in the absence of prompt, clear, and detailed instructions, that marshal was left a prey to his fatal notion that Wavre was the one point to be aimed at and attacked. Despite the heavy cannonade on the west he persisted in this strange course; while Napoleon staked everything on a supreme effort against Wellington.”[1]

“But in addition to the practical issues depending upon Grouchy’s decision, there is an abstract strategical question involved: whether it is not, on general principles, the duty of a corps, detached from the main body, to march in the direction where heavy firing indicates a critical engagement. The authority of Clausewitz must carry great weight as to this point. After referring to this contention as a dictum ‘hastily fabricated,’ he says, ‘This principle can only hold good in those cases when the commander of a separate column has been placed by circumstances in a position of doubt, when the originally clear and definite character of his task has been clouded by uncertainties and contradictions, which are so frequent in actual war. I admit that a commander so placed, instead of standing still doing nothing or wandering vaguely about, would do better to hasten to his neighbor’s assistance if heavy firing suggests that he needs it. But to expect of Grouchy that he should trouble himself no further about Blucher, [and] march off to where another portion of the army was engaged with another enemy, would be contrary to all theory and practice. That General Gerard really gave such advice at noon on the 18th at Sart-a-Walhain [in fact, Walhain] only proves that, where there is no responsibility, consideration is apt to be hasty.’”[2]

In the wake of the great French disaster at the Battle of Waterloo, no officer’s military and personal reputation suffered as much as that of Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, the commander of Napoleon’s right wing. Grouchy’s actions on 18 June 1815 were so controversial that “the name of Grouchy has become so odious to the admirers of Napoleon, that a long career of devoted service and unquestionable bravery has been forgotten in the misfortune or fault of a single day.”[3]

The last of Napoleon’s generals to be promoted to the marshalate, Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy (23 October 1766 – 29 May 1847) had been an able cavalryman, holding the post of Colonel-General of Chasseurs-a-Cheval from 1809 to 1814. Recalled to service by Napoleon during the Hundred Days to command his Reserve Cavalry, the newly promoted marshal would be given the task of pursuing the defeated Prussian army after the Battle of Ligny. It was in this capacity that Grouchy would be seen by many officers – and some historians – as having abandoned the Emperor at his most crucial hour:

“Grouchy’s bad management at the battle of Waterloo has ruined his fame and placed him in an unenviable position before the world. In the intense excitement the final overthrow of Napoleon created, Grouchy’s name became the theme of universal obloquy, and he was accused of weakness, want of energy, and, finally, of having sold France to the allies.”[4]

Louis-Adolphe Thiers (the nationalist French historian and politician who became ‘head of the executive power of the Republic’ after the fall of the Second Empire) says Grouchy’s conduct on 18 June doomed Napoleon:

“But now it must be admitted – though with sincere regret for attacking the memory of an honest man and a brave soldier, struck on this occasion with an unparalleled want of comprehension – it must, we repeat, be admitted that Marshal Grouchy was the real cause of our defeat, the material cause; for the moral one was to be sought elsewhere. We have been scrupulously exact in our detail of the events of that day, and there cannot be found a single valid excuse for his conduct, though during the last forty years many have sought to exculpate him.”[5]

The emperor himself, recalling the Waterloo Campaign, also blamed the marshal:

“Finally, I triumphed even at Waterloo, and was immediately hurled into the abyss. On my right, the extraordinary maneuvers of Grouchy, instead of securing victory, completed my ruin.”[6]

Grouchy had only one reasonable course of action available to him on 18 June: an advance over the Dyle River bridges at Moustier and Ottignies. In this hypothetical scenario, there would be only one objective – to give support to Napoleon’s right flank (either by a physical link-up at Plancenoit or by preventing Blucher’s troops assisting Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army). An advance towards Moustier and Ottignies could have been ordered by Grouchy at three points during the day of Waterloo: from Gembloux at daybreak or in the early morning, or from Walhain in the early afternoon. It was a question of ‘when’ not ‘where’ – and the final decision was Grouchy’s alone.

It was the marshal’s response at Walhain to the now-famous ‘cannonade of Waterloo’ which effectively destroyed his reputation. Grouchy’s lack of adequate reconnaissance and subsequent failure to seize the Dyle bridges earlier in the day have been judged by historians as strategic errors; his continued advance from Walhain towards Wavre, however, was seen by his contemporaries as both as an error and a betrayal. Grouchy’s strategic and tactical mistakes during the campaign might been mitigated had he seized the initiative at Walhain and ordered a march on Waterloo, but he did not.

The events surrounding the French right wing on this day – the climax of which was the episode at Walhain – generated a storm of controversy. Thiers portrayed Grouchy as an officer who stubbornly ignored an obvious situation, while his troops grew restless:

“Meantime, the roar of the cannon became louder, the discussion waxed warmer, and even the private soldiers caught up the tone – but with this difference, that among them there was no difference of opinion; all asked why they were not led to the battlefield, why their courage was left unemployed when perhaps their comrades needed their aid either to resist or pursue the enemy. Every detonation excited their enthusiasm, and evoked fresh cries of impatience from these intelligent and heroic men.”[7]

A hypothetical march by Grouchy over the Dyle River from Walhain would not have changed the outcome of Napoleon’s battle at Waterloo – but that fact is beside the point. The marshal’s conduct that day branded him as being unfit for high command:

 “He failed egregiously: he was to keep watch of Blucher, and yet Blucher marched on Waterloo without his knowledge. The latter was a defeated general, and yet he carried heavy reinforcements to Wellington, while Grouchy did not send a man to Napoleon. Both heard the tremendous cannonading that told where the great struggle was going on, and one hastened to turn the scale of victory, while the other remained at his post. Even if Blucher had not stirred, if Grouchy had been an able general he would have dispatched some divisions to the field of battle, while with the remainder he kept the Prussians at bay. The Prussian general did this, and in it showed his ability as a commander. But if he had failed in this stroke of policy, he should never have allowed the very army he was appointed to watch, to march away from him unmolested. The only excuse for him is, he obeyed orders. But he did not obey orders. It is a miserable shuffling to declare he obeyed implicitly the directions given him, because he continued his maneuvers at Wavre, when the only person they were designed to affect had departed for Waterloo.”[8]

The question of what Grouchy should have done – and why he should have done it – is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of the Napoleonic Wars. Should the marshal have heeded General de Division Gerard’s advice at Walhain and ‘marched to the cannon’?

‘You will pursue the enemy’: Napoleon’s orders to Grouchy

In order to understand Grouchy’s frame of reference, it is first necessary to examine his orders from Napoleon. The marshal’s interpretation of these two orders, one verbal and one written, is of great importance. Received the day after the Battle of Ligny, these two instructions are a critical piece of the Waterloo campaign:

“Grouchy’s movements, on the 17th and 18th, form so striking a feature in the history of this campaign, and exercised so important an influence upon the fate of the decisive battle of Waterloo, that it becomes an essential point in the study of that history, to examine how far he complied with, and carried into effect, the instructions received from his master, and to what degree his proceedings, consequent upon his ascertaining the direction of the Prussian retreat, coincided with the general plan and object of Napoleon’s operations.”[9]

The emperor’s slow start in sending out Grouchy’s pursuit force on 17 June made Grouchy’s mission difficult from the beginning. When the marshal eventually received his first set of orders from Napoleon, the Prussian army’s line of retreat was still unknown:

“The lines taken by the Prussians in their retreat from Ligny ought to have been ascertained by the dawn of June 17. For this Soult was responsible, in the first instance; but Napoleon, too, must be held responsible they would have been discovered had he been the Napoleon of old. Grouchy was sent to find them out, but many hours too late; and his march on Gembloux had been so retarded, and Excelmans had given proof of so little zeal and skill, that the direction taken by the enemy remained uncertain.”[10]

It was Grouchy’s task to command the pursuit; to accomplish this, Napoleon assigned to him a force of 33,765 men – 25,513 infantry, 5,617 cavalry and 2,635 artillerymen – with 96 guns.[11] To assist him, Grouchy had General de Brigade Le Senecal as his chief of staff.[12]

To some officers, the marshal may have been seen as an unusual choice to command the force:

“Grouchy had hitherto held no important command. As a cavalry general, he had done brilliant service; but now he was launched on a duty that called for strategic insight. His force was scarcely equal to the work. True, it was strong for scouting, having nearly 6,000 light horse; but the 27,000 footmen of Vandamme’s and Gerard’s corps had been exhausted by the deadly strife in the villages [in the battle the day before] and were expecting a day’s rest. Their commanders also resented being placed under Grouchy. In fact, leaders and men disliked the task, and set about it in a questioning, grumbling way.”[13]

The emperor’s verbal orders outlined what was expected of Grouchy:

“Napoleon’s instructions to Grouchy were extremely simple and concise: ‘Pursue the Prussians, complete their defeat by attacking them as soon as you come up with them, and never let them out of your sight. I am going to unite the remainder of this portion of the army with Marshal Ney’s[14] corps, to march against the English, and to fight them if they should hold their ground between this and the forest of Soignes. You will communicate with me by the paved road which leads to Quatre-Bras.’ No particular direction was prescribed, because the Emperor was totally ignorant of the real line of the Prussian retreat. At the same time, he was strongly impressed with the idea that Blucher had retired upon Namur and Liege, with a view to occupy the line of the Meuse, whence he might seriously endanger the right of the French army, as also its main line of operation, should it advance upon Brussels.”[15]

These verbal instructions were soon clarified by written ones – the so-called ‘Bertrand order’. The ‘Bertrand order’ is vital document, for it was the last set of orders Grouchy received until the afternoon of the next day:

“…whatever the reason, no order was sent to Grouchy till 10 am the next morning [on 18 June]. This did not reach him till 4 pm that afternoon, when he was fighting in front of Wavre.”[16]

These instructions, dictated to the Grand Marshal of the Palace, General de Division Bertrand,[17] arrived about 11:30:

“…at about half-past eleven o’clock, Napoleon sent another order to Grouchy, expressed in positive and unambiguous terms. Soult[18] had lingered at Fleurus and had not yet reached Ligny; the Emperor dictated the letter to Bertrand, the most trusted, perhaps, of his surviving officers; Grouchy certainly received it before noon. This order is one of the highest importance; it was most discreditably suppressed by Grouchy, who even denied that it had an existence; it was not unearthed until 1842. It has been slurred over by the worshippers of success, by apologists for the allies, by Napoleon’s detractors; to this hour it has hardly received the close attention it deserves, but it sets forth clearly the ideas of the Emperor at the time, and throws a flood of light on the subsequent conduct of Grouchy.”[19]

In part, this order read:

“You will explore in the directions of Namur and of Maastricht, and you will pursue the enemy. Explore his march, and instruct me respecting his maneuvers, so that I may be able to penetrate what he is intending to do…It is important to penetrate what the enemy is intending to do; whether they are separating themselves from the English, or whether they are intending still to unite, to cover Brussels or Liege, in trying the fate of another battle. In all cases, keep constantly your two corps of infantry united in a league of ground, and occupy every evening a good military position, having several avenues of retreat. Post intermediate detachments of cavalry, so as to communicate with headquarters.”[20]

It is the ‘Bertrand order’ which several historians believe gave Grouchy more freedom of action than had been previously thought:

“As Napoleon’s fate was to depend largely on an intelligent carrying out of this order, we may point out that it consisted of two chief parts, the general aim and the means of carrying out that aim. The aim was to find out the direction of the Prussians’ retreat, and to prevent them joining Wellington, whether for the defense of Brussels or of Liege. The means were an advance to Gembloux and scouting along the Namur and Maastricht roads. The chance that the allies might reunite for the defense of Brussels was alluded to, but no measures were prescribed as to scouting in that direction: these were left to Grouchy’s discretion. It must be confessed that the order was not wholly clear. To name the towns of Brussels and Liege (which are sixty miles apart) was sufficiently distracting; and to suggest that only the eastern and south-eastern roads should be explored was certain to limit Grouchy’s immediate attention to those roads alone. For he distrusted alike his own abilities and the power of the force placed at his disposal; and an officer thus situated is sure to inclose himself in the strict letter of his instructions. This was what he did, with disastrous results.”[21]

This interpretation of the long-lost ‘Bertrand order’ would be in direct conflict with the theory that Grouchy was rigidly following the letter of Napoleon’s orders on 17-18 June. Although it was the marshal’s subsequent interpretation of this order which later became crucial, it appears Napoleon’s instructions left Grouchy with some degree of freedom for independent action:

“Grouchy is warned in so many words that the Prussians may be intending to unite with the English to try the fate of another battle for the defense of Brussels, which was exactly what they were intending to do, and what they succeeded in doing. Whether they are or are not intending to do this, is the principal thing for Grouchy to find out. As the Emperor had previously informed Grouchy of his determination to fight the English ‘if they will stand on this side of the Forest of Soignes,’ which meant of course that he looked upon a battle with them the next day as very possible, this question of the Prussians uniting with the English in fighting this battle was of vital importance to him. What Grouchy was to do if he found the Prussians directing their movements so as to compass this end, it was left to him to determine for himself. It might be that he could hinder the accomplishment of their design most effectually by attacking them; it might be that his best course would be to rejoin the main army as soon as he could, or to maneuver so as to act in conjunction with it. It was impossible for Napoleon to tell beforehand how things would turn out. Full discretion was therefore left to Grouchy to take whatever course might seem best to him.”[22]

Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini, the Swiss-born soldier and military theorist who Napoleon had promoted to the rank of General de Brigade, agrees:

“In fact, from the time that Blucher relinquished the natural base of the Meuse, it was evident that he thought only of uniting with Wellington, retaking the offensive and revenge himself for the affront he had just received: from that moment, even admitting that Napoleon had at first indicated the pursuit on Namur, Grouchy being aware that this order could not possibly be executed, became again master of his actions, according to his own inspirations; moreover, the order transmitted afterwards, through General Bertrand, to proceed on Gembloux, had sufficiently indicated the end the marshal was to attain. To pursue the Prussians was his duty, but he had many ways of performing it. One consisted in merely following the trail of the retreating columns, the other in alone harassing the rearguard by means of light bodies, directing his principal forces on the flanks of the columns, to attack them in earnest, as the Russians did in 1812 at Wiasma, Krasnoe, and at the Beresina. Under the circumstances in which Grouchy was placed, it was more than ever his duty to follow this plan; because his first mission was to prevent the Prussians from turning back against Napoleon, and the second point alone was to harass him in his retreat. Now, by marching along the Prussian columns with his infantry, while his light cavalry harassed his rear, he would have had the double advantage of opposing all attempts at a junction with the English, and avoiding the battle in the defile, which otherwise he would be constrained to give at Wavre.”[23]

The ‘Bertrand order’ shows Grouchy may have been less restricted in his movements than he otherwise might have thought. It was, of course, a matter of interpretation; it is significant, however, that the marshal later denied any knowledge of this second order:

“Marshal Grouchy, then, acted up till 4 o’clock of the 18th of June under the order dictated the previous day by the Emperor to Count Bertrand. This fact we desire distinctly to bring out, so that there shall be no possibility of further mistake on this subject. The history of this day, from the very first narratives down to the very last, has been illustrated by the mistakes of historians and critics as to the orders under which Marshal Grouchy acted. Not only did Grouchy himself deliberately deny for nearly thirty years that he received any written order on the 17th, thereby misleading the most sagacious critics and rendering their criticisms on this part of the campaign in great part valueless, but even long after the fact was universally acknowledged that he did get a written order in the shape of the Bertrand letter, a certain unwillingness or inability to take in the meaning of this written order, to recognize that it imposed a different task on Marshal Grouchy from that laid upon him by the verbal orders which had previously been given him, has, nevertheless, strangely enough existed. The Bertrand order, as we have seen, instructed Grouchy to find out what the Prussians were intending to do, whether they were intending to separate themselves from the English, or to unite with them for the purpose of trying the fate of another battle for the defense of Brussels or Liege, and the order closed without giving him any directions whatever in case either of these emergencies should arise. The thing which Grouchy was to do, therefore, was to ascertain whether the Prussians were intending to unite with the English, and then to act in accordance with his best judgment. No directions whatever, we repeat, were given to him for his conduct if he should find that the Prussians were intending to unite with the English. We have just adverted to this omission of the Emperor to give Grouchy precise instructions in this emergency. There is no question that he did not give any. Grouchy was entirely untrammelled. If he found that the Prussians were intending to unite with the English to fight another battle for the defense of Brussels, he was absolutely free to adopt whatever course might seem to him best.”[24]

A great deal has been written on the subject of Grouchy’s confusion over his mission objectives: he had received written, but unclear, orders from Napoleon; his lack of useful reconnaissance had failed to determine the true destination of Blucher’s army; his army was gradually moving further away from the decisive area of operations. The first indication of this potential misunderstanding, a despatch written by Grouchy at Gembloux, arrived Imperial Headquarters at 2 am on the morning of Waterloo:

“While the Emperor was making the round of his outposts, a somewhat cryptic despatch from Grouchy reached headquarters. The Marshal reported from Gembloux, at 10 pm of the 17th, that part of the Prussians had retired towards Wavre, seemingly with a view to joining Wellington; that their centre, led by Blucher, had fallen back on Perwez in the direction of Liege; while a column with artillery had made for Namur; if he found the enemy’s chief force to be on the Liege chausse, he would pursue them along that road; if towards Wavre, he would follow them thither ‘in order that they may not gain Brussels, and so as to separate them from Wellington.’ This last phrase ought surely to have convinced Napoleon that Grouchy had not fully understood his instructions; for to march on Wavre would not stop the Prussians joining Wellington, if they were in force.”[25]

Grouch dispatch, however, caused little alarm at French headquarters. If Napoleon or Soult, his chief-of-staff, had any reservations about Grouchy’s confusion, they did not immediately attempt to clarify the marshal’s previous instructions:

“Napoleon and Soult, therefore, one would suppose, might have seen by the programme which Grouchy had marked out for himself in his despatch that in all probability he was not clearly apprehending the situation, and that it was therefore possible that he might make a serious, perhaps a very serious, mistake the next day. They ought, therefore, if they suspected this to be the state of the case, to have replied at once, giving him precise instructions as to his course in the event of the retreat of the Prussians on Wavre. They should have told him, that, if he should find this to be the fact, he must at once march to cross the Dyle above Wavre, at Moustier and Ottignies, approach the main army, and act in conjunction with it. Yet although Grouchy told the officer who carried the 10 pm despatch to wait for an answer, none was returned. Grouchy was not even informed where the army was, and that it was confronted by the English army in position. Nor was he advised, as he surely should have been, that Domon’s[26] reconnaissance had proved that a strong Prussian column, consisting, as we have seen, of the two beaten corps, those of Ziethen[27] and Pirch I,[28] had retired on Wavre by way of Gery and Gentinnes. It is impossible to account for these omissions.”[29]

‘It was entirely useless’: Grouchy’s Operational Plan for 18 June

The first significant event on 18 June occurred around 3 am, when Grouchy issued his orders for the upcoming day. These orders, which outlined his army’s march on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain and Corbais, were based on an erroneous conclusion – that Blucher’s army was falling back on Wavre as a prelude to reinforcing Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army for a battle at Brussels. The basis for his conclusion were reports Grouchy had received the night before:

“If Grouchy, on the evening of the 17th of June, had still been able to preserve any doubts as to the concentration of the Prussian Army on Wavre, the intelligence which reached him during the night was of a nature to dissipate them completely. Between eleven o’clock and midnight, he received a report from General Bonnemains,[30] and another from the colonel of the 15th dragoons,[31] both announcing that the Prussians were marching on Wavre. Towards three o’clock in the morning, news from Walhain or Sart-a-Walhain advised him that, in the course of the preceding day, three army corps had been perceived passing by in the direction of Wavre, and that, according to what both officers and men were reported to have said, these troops were going to mass themselves near Brussels to give battle.”[32]

If this was indeed the case, the marshal believed his best line of advance would be first to Sart-a-Walhain and then to Wavre. This action would also keep his strategic options open; he could either continue onward to Brussels or rejoin Napoleon’s main army:

“A natural process of reasoning brought the Marshal to adopt Wavre as his first point of destination. The road from Sart-a-Walhain to Brussels is almost direct, and passes through Wavre. The Prussians, therefore, must, in their movement on Brussels, go to Wavre. There, or beyond that town, Grouchy’s force would come up with them. If Blucher stopped at Wavre, the French would engage him there; if he pursued his march on Brussels, the French would either follow him up or would march by their left from Wavre to St Lambert, so as to join operations with the main army of Napoleon, The idea that Blucher, arrived at Wavre, would leave there a portion of his force to detain Grouchy, while detaching the major part of it to join operations with Wellington in the coming battle, never seems to have occurred to the Marshal. He was wedded to a fixed idea that the junction between Wellington and Blucher would take place in front of Brussels, on the other side of the forest of Soignes, and to prevent this, or at least to hinder it materially, an immediate march on Wavre was the best course to pursue. Grouchy’s operations, therefore, on the 18th June, were from the first conducted under a serious but rooted misapprehension, and it was this fact which caused him to be useless throughout the day: useless to Napoleon, and useless against the Prussians”[33]

Grouchy’s operational plan for 18-19 June, although based on a false assumption of the Prussian army’s intentions, appeared sound. According to the marshal’s interpretation of available intelligence reports, his march towards Wavre would place the French right wing in an excellent position for 19 June:

“Not only was there no attempt on the part of Blucher’s army to effect its junction with Wellington by a side march, but it had made a long circuit to concentrate first in the direction of Louvain. Thus the enemy were, for a time, placing themselves out of the proceedings. Grouchy could congratulate himself on having manoeuvred so successfully. Though he had not overtaken the Prussians, he was on their traces, and he had separated them from the English, which was the principal aim of his movement. That evening all his troops would find themselves concentrated at Wavre in positions between the two armies of the enemy. The day after, he would be free either to go and fight the Prussians in the plains of La Chyse, or to attack them in their flank march, if they were marching towards Brussels, or to proceed to that town himself and join the bulk of the Prench forces.”[34]

To be fair, Grouchy’s miscalculation over Blucher’s intentions was not completely unjustified. He was unaware that Wellington had taken up his defensive position at Mont St. Jean; therefore, a Prussian withdrawal to Brussels was a real possibility:

“A mistake very commonly made is to suppose that the Prussian general could have no other object in view, when he concentrated his army at Wavre, than that of co-operating with Wellington at Waterloo; but his action admits of another interpretation, for he might merely be marching by way of Wavre on Brussels. Grouchy had no information that Wellington had taken position at Waterloo; he supposed him to be in retreat before Napoleon. Having no knowledge that a battle was about to take place, he could have no knowledge that the Prussians were marching to take part in it. ‘He thought the Prussians,’ says General Plamley, in his treatise on the operations of war, ‘if they were really moving on Wavre, intended to join Wellington at Brussels. And were they so moving, he, by marching to Wavre, would threaten decisively their communications with their base by Louvain, and so either prevent the execution of their project or render it disastrous.’ In fact, the fatal error of Napoleon again confronts us. A line to Grouchy that the English were in position intending to fight would have poured a flood of light upon the nature of Blucher's dispositions, but Grouchy was deliberately left to make a choice between conjectures, and for want of the information at Napoleon's disposal, he conjectured wrongly. Grouchy’s movement on Wavre, therefore, was in response to what he supposed Blucher’s intentions to be, but it was entirely useless in view of the plan which Blucher was actually adopting.”[35]

Grouchy, indeed, had made a great strategic error by basing his orders on a Prussian withdrawal on Brussels; the marshal’s second error that morning concerned how the French right wing was to carry out those orders. Criticism of Grouchy’s planned advance for 18 June now focuses on the Dyle River – specifically, the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies:

“…He was aware that the Emperor had expected a battle against the English, before the forest of Soignes, yet it did not occur to him that, instead of gaining Brussels, the Prussians might join their allies directly by a short lateral march. He did not see that, in order to prevent this junction, it was necessary not to follow the Prussians by Walhain or Corbais, but to pursue them in flank by Mont St. Guibert and Moustier. There was everything to gain and no peril to incur, by crossing the Dyle at the nearest point, and manoeuvring along the left bank of this little river. Should the Prussians have remained at Wavre, which is on the left bank of the Dyle, this position would be much easier to attack from the left bank than from the right. If they proceeded toward Brussels it would be possible to follow them after reaching Wavre. Should they march straight to the English, the appearance of 33,000 men on their flank would stop, or at any rate delay, their movement. Finally, if they had effected their junction with the English and threatened to crush the French Imperial Army under their united masses, the French on the left bank of the Dyle would be near enough to the Emperor to bring him effectual aid in the thick of the battle.”[36]

It was a simple matter of direction: Grouchy’s army, by advancing on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain, was moving too far to the right. With hindsight, an advance over the Dyle would have been his best course of action:

“The alternative to reaching Wavre by Sart-a-Walhain was to reach it by the Dyle; and, as matters turned out, Grouchy ought in any event to have taken this direction. If by chance the English were standing to fight, then Blucher’s movements were certainly suggestive of an intention to join them. By marching towards his left, Grouchy would at any rate be putting himself in a position to thwart these designs; by marching towards his right he was tending, if anything, to facilitate them. Either road would bring him to Wavre, but the one would bring him nearer to the Emperor, the other would take him further away. This seems so obvious to us now that we are apt to overlook the strong reasons which influenced Grouchy’s decision. He was still in bondage to the original error. He imagined that the real danger from the Prussians lay upon his right, not on his left; he was full of his own mission, not of Napoleon’s necessities, and regarded himself as altogether outside the scope of the main operations of the army; he thought himself at liberty to execute his mission in the way that seemed best to him, without reference of any kind to the movements of the Emperor.”[37]

Jomini says the importance of the Moustier bridge was so great that Napoleon should have ordered Grouchy to seize it the day before:

“Under these hypotheses [Blucher’s possible courses of action], it was advisable to direct Grouchy on Mont St. Guibert and Moustier, the morning of the 17th, because the valley of the Dyle being the most favorable line for covering Napoleon’s right flank, Grouchy could have crossed this river at Moustier; from thence it had been easy to draw him on to Waterloo to take part in the battle, or cause him to advance on Wavre, flanked towards St. Lambert, by Excelmans’ dragoons and an infantry division. By this means, the emperor would have been certain of his power to collect all his right wing about him, if Wellington accepted battle on the 18th in front of the forest of Soignes, and could have counted on the impossibility of the Prussians cooperating.”[38]

The Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies retained their great strategic importance to Grouchy throughout 18 June, for if the marshal was to attempt a march directed on Napoleon’s right flank, it was over these two bridges that his army would have to pass.

Grouchy’s Missed Opportunity: the Dyle Bridges at Moustier and Ottignies

In light of historical events, it is clear that Grouchy’s best course of action on the day of Waterloo should have been an advance along two axes, beginning at daybreak. A detachment from Grouchy’s force – General de Division Pajol’s[39] I Cavalry Corps and General de Division Teste’s[40] 21st Infantry Division – could have continued to press the Prussian retreat towards Wavre, while his remaining force advanced towards to the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignies:

“The marshal should not, then, have hesitated; he should at daybreak, on the 18th, have marched with all speed on Moustier, with Excelmans, Vandamme and Gerard, directing Pajol’s cavalry and Teste’s division on Wavre, in pursuit of the enemy’s rear-guard. Being able, to reach Moustier by ten o’clock, he could have then forwarded his infantry on Wavre by Limale, pushing Excelmans’ dragoons on St. Lambert, or else have marched to Lasne himself, from which place he would have heard, at noon, the violent cannonade at Waterloo.”[41]

This change in marching orders could have placed Grouchy in a much better position than the one he later found himself in. “His servile persistence in keeping in the tracks of the Prussian rearguard,” Houssaye says, “instead of manoeuvring from the morning of the 18th of June along the left bank of the Dyle, was a huge strategical blunder.”[42] As has been previously mentioned, Grouchy’s advance on Wavre via Sart-a-Walhain was leading his troops too far eastwards:

“Marshal Grouchy, as soon as he had made up his mind that Blucher was retiring on Brussels by way of Wavre, should have marched for the bridge of Moustier, and should have started at daybreak. Instead of this, he adhered to the direction of Sart-a-Walhain, although, even if he were proposing to follow Blucher straight to Wavre, Sart-a-Walhain was out of the direct route. It had in fact been selected because it lay to the eastward of the Wavre road. He might have saved from two to four hours by starting at daybreak, but of this he was utterly unmindful. He did not thoroughly reconnoitre with his cavalry towards the Dyle, to see if the enemy were not marching towards the English, although it was certainly his manifest duty to do so. All he did in this direction was to send a staff-officer with a small escort, at daybreak or soon after, to the bridge of Moustier, to see, apparently, if any Prussian troops had crossed there, but he rejoined Grouchy before Grouchy had arrived at Sart-a-Walhain, that is, before 11 am. With this exception, the Marshal made absolutely no reconnaissance [on] his left until he had arrived in front of Wavre.”[43]

Some sources believe a skillful advance by Grouchy over the Dyle bridges at daybreak would have denied victory to Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo:

“The means of securing the Marshal’s object and of enabling him to fulfil his duty were not difficult, and ought to have been apparent. He ought to advance on Wavre as quickly as possibly, and to direct his march to have the power to strike Blucher in [the] flank were he trying to join Wellington; and this operation was possible nay, quite feasible. Gembloux is some fifteen miles from Wavre…it is about ten miles from the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, whence there were roads to Wavre, to the line of the enemy’s possible movement, and to the positions now held by Napoleon. The course for Grouchy to take was, therefore, as it were, marked out; he should make for Wavre by daybreak on June 18; he should direct his movement to the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, crossing the river at these points by the bridges, which, like those on the Sambre, remained intact. It would be then within his power either to advance on Wavre, should the Prussians be remaining at that place, or to attack Blucher, to hold him in check for a space of time – sufficiently long, at least, to prevent him giving support to his colleague. The attack, we must bear in mind, would be on Blucher’s flank, and about as perilous as could be conceived…Had Grouchy formed this resolution on the night of June 17, and carried it out intelligently on the following morning, he would have atoned for the faults even now to be laid to his charge; Blucher, humanly speaking, could never have joined Wellington; Waterloo could never have been a victory for the allies.”[44]

While it is true that an advance by the French left wing towards the Dyle at daybreak would have been preferable, such an movement did not subsequently ensure a successful intervention at Waterloo. In fact, it is probable that Grouchy’s troops would have run into great difficulties trying to secure the two bridges:

“It has been argued, that Grouchy, believing that some part of the Prussian army had retreated upon Wavre, should have marched from Gembloux at daybreak on the 18th, not upon Sart-a-Walhain, but by Mont St. Guibert upon Moustier. It is assumed that, had he done so, he would have been on the left bank of the Dyle by half-past ten, and it asserted, that he could, from Moustier, have easily occupied the defiles of Lasne, or could have moved by Maransart upon Planchenoit. Would this movement upon Moustier have prevented the Prussians from taking part in the battle of Waterloo? The moment Grouchy’s columns approached Mont St. Guibert, they would have been felt and seen by the Prussian outposts. Grouchy could and did patrol to his right and gain no intelligence, feel no foe. The first step towards the Dyle would have brought him into contact with what we may call the tentacles of the Prussian army, thrown out in every direction on both banks of the Dyle. Blucher, then at Wavre, would have learned that a French corps was moving from Gembloux to upon Mont St. Guibert. Its object, the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies, would have been at once divined. Blucher would have counteracted the movement of the French marshal by moving two corps up the left bank of the Dyle, permitting Bulow to continue his march, and directing Thielmann[45] to take the road to Ohain. Assuming that Blucher had timely information, and the alertness already displayed by his patrols warrants the assumption, there was nothing to prevent the arrival of Ziethen and Pirch I at Moustier and Ottignies before the army of Grouchy could have crossed the river. These two corps would have been sufficient to stop Grouchy.”[46]

Even if Grouchy is given the benefit of the doubt and was able to cross the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies, Blucher’s army would not have remained passive. Hooper says Grouchy likely would have either faced the combined forces of Ziethen and Pirch I (long before he arrived at Plancenoit) or Napoleon’s flank would have been subsequently attacked by three oncoming Prussian corps:

“But admit that information arrived too late. Then Grouchy, over the Dyle, would have found himself in the presence of two corps marching to attack him. In this case he must have fought, and to have fought he must have halted. In the meantime, Bulow and Thielmann would have joined Wellington. That two Prussian corps could have intercepted him, either at Moustier or between the Dyle and the Lasne, is certain, because the distance from Gembloux to Moustier, in a direct line, is twice the distance from Moustier to Wavre by the road. Had Grouchy escaped them, and, gaining the road to Maransart, sought to join the right of Napoleon, then three-fourths of the Prussian force would, in the same time, have concentrated on Napoleon’s right rear. The result on the 18th would have been more stupendous, for Grouchy’s army would have shared the defeat.”[47]

Historically, Excelmans’ II Cavalry Corps got underway from Sauveniere at 6 am on 18 June, followed by Vandamme’s III Corps and Gerard’s IV Corps from the Gembloux area between 7 and 8 am. Would it have been possible, using these starting times, for Grouchy’s force to have made an advance towards the Dyle and arrive on Napoleon’s right flank in time to help him?

Again, Hooper says this scenario is impossible, given that Grouchy would have even less time to achieve the same objective:

“It is said that had Grouchy, starting from Gembloux even at eight in the morning, moved direct against Moustier by Mont. St. Guibert, he would have caught Bulow flagrante delicto. But the same reasoning applies to this supposition as to the first, with this difference, the Grouchy would have been opposed by Pirch I and Thielmann, while Bulow and Ziethen moved on their way to Waterloo. Bulow, in that case, could only have been reached through the Prussian corps which covered him – that is, after a battle. With the happiest luck Grouchy could not have crossed the Dyle earlier than four o’clock, and the reader may imagine whether in three or four hours Grouchy could have defeated two Prussian corps, marched afterwards six or eight miles through a rough and roadless country, and have arrived in time to save Napoleon.”[48]

With hindsight, Grouchy’s dispositions ensured that his only real option on 18 June – an early advance on Moustier and Ottignies – would have had little or no decisive effect on Napoleon’s battle at Waterloo.

‘Very late and very slow’: Grouchy’s March from Gembloux

The morning’s advance from Gembloux –  “greatly retarded by the bad state of the roads”[49] – had been problematic. Not only had many of Grouchy’s units had started their march towards Wavre behind schedule, but the whole of III and IV Corps were also required to share a single road:

“Grouchy, during the night, had issued orders for the timely movement of his troops in the morning. Pajol, with Soult’s cavalry and Teste’s infantry divisions, was directed to march at 5 o’clock from Mazy to Grand Lees; Vandamme, who was in advance of Gembloux, was to proceed at 6 to Sart-les-Walhain; Gerard, in the rear of the town, was to follow him at 7. Pajol set off at the appointed time; Excelmans’ corps of heavy cavalry – 8 regiments of dragoons – was somewhat late in moving towards Bulow’s rearguard; and Vandamme and Gerard were still more tardy in leaving their quarters, and then marched slowly along a single bad country road, Gerard’s corps being frequently compelled to halt whenever delays occurred to Vandamme’s column in front.”[50]

Although “much recrimination has passed between the generals upon this point, and the mists of controversy have obscured the question as to who was responsible for the delay”[51], Grouchy, as commander of the right wing, must bear a great deal of responsibility for his troops’ delayed start.  “By leaving his troops in bivouac part of the morning, under circumstances so pressing and so grave,” Houssaye says, “he was guilty of an irreparable mistake.”[52] He continues:

“Owing to delays in the distribution of food, the troops did not even start off at the appointed time. Exelmans’ dragoons, who had spent the night at Sauveniere and were to form the head of the column, only mounted their horses about six o’clock. Vandamme’s corps only set out on its way from Gembloux between seven and eight o’clock, and Gerard's corps left camp on the right bank of the Orneau at the same hour. Another cause for the delay was, that these troops all took the same route. Had they marched in two separate columns, the one by Sauveniere and Walhain, the other by Ernage and Nil-Pierreux, the two army corps would have mustered at Corbais at the same time.”[53]

These problems delayed Grouchy’s contact with the retreating Prussian army until late in the morning, when squadrons from II Cavalry Corps ran into elements of Bulow’s IV Corps near Neuf-Sart:

“It was about half-past ten o’clock, when Excelmans’ advanced guard came up with the Prussian rear-guard, on the road to Wavre. He immediately formed his troops in position, resting their left upon the wooded ravine near the farm of La Plaquerie, and their right in the direction of Neuf-Sart. While his skirmishers were engaged with those of the enemy, he sent chef d’escadron d’Estourmel, to inform Marshal Grouchy of what was going on in front, and also to make known to him that the Prussian army had continued its retreat upon Wavre during a part of the night and that morning, for the purpose of forming a closer communication with the Duke of Wellington’s forces.”[54]

Earlier that morning, Grouchy, still unaware of Blucher’s intention to support the Anglo-Allied army at Mont St. Jean that day, had ridden to Walhain:

“Grouchy, it appears, did not leave Gembloux before eight or nine. He proceeded slowly and joined the head of the 3rd Corps a little way before Walhain. Having reached the first houses of this village at about ten o’clock, he allowed the infantry column to file on, and entered the house of the notary Hollert to write to the Emperor. His aide-de-camp, Pont-Bellanger, sent out to reconnoitre on the banks of the Dyle toward Moustier, had returned and reported it appeared that no hostile troops were to be found in this region; and a resident, a former officer of the French Army, or said to be such, came to furnish him with new and important information. He declared that the bulk of the Prussians who had passed by Wavre, were encamped in the plain of the Chyse, near the road from Namur to Louvain (three leagues as the crow flies, north-east of Wavre).”[55]

Morris says Grouchy arrived at Walhain an hour later:

“His march, we have seen, had been very late and very slow, faults for which he must bear the whole blame. And he had not reconnoitred in the direction of Moustier and Ottignies that is, of the imperial army, unpardonable remissness attended with disastrous results; for had he taken this obvious step he would have ascertained how affairs stood, and soon after noon would have been in communication with Marbot’s horsemen, despatched by the Emperor to bring him to the field of Waterloo. A little before eleven o’clock the Marshal had reached Walhain, a village about a mile west of Sart-a-Walhain, and therefore a mile nearer Napoleon’s lines. He wrote another despatch at this place to his master, which gives proof of great want of intelligence, and shows how little he had done to ascertain the facts.”[56]

This despatch, delivered to Napoleon by Major La Fresnaye, clearly shows Grouchy’s erroneous conclusion that Blucher’s army was heading, not for Mont St. Jean, but for Brussels:

“The I, II, and III Corps of Blucher, he says, are marching in the direction of Brussels. Two of these corps have passed Sart-a-Walhain on the right, and amounted to 30,000 men at least. A corps coming from Liege (Bulow’s) had effected its’ junction with those who fought at Ligny. The Prussians were designing to make a stand against the troops which were pursuing them, or else to unite themselves with Wellington, ‘a project announced by their officers, who, with their usual assurance, pretend only to have quitted the field on the 16th, so as to operate their junction with the English army on Brussels…This evening I shall be massed at Wavre, and shall thus find myself between Wellington, whom I presume to be in retreat before your Majesty, and the Prussian army.’”[57]

In spite of the many delays which had occurred in the morning, Grouchy’s troops were now finally closing on Wavre. II Cavalry Corps, his advance guard, had almost reached the town:

“At this time, that is, not long after eleven o’clock, the positions held by Grouchy’s army were these: the cavalry of Excelmans had pushed forward, and had reached La Baraque and the Bois d’Huzelles, points between three and four miles from Wavre; the heads of Vandamme’s columns had passed Nil St. Vincent, a village some seven miles from Wavre and near Corbais; the corps of Gerard was around Walhain and Sart-a-Walhain; the horsemen of Pajol and the infantry of Teste were on the march from Grand Leez to Tourinnes, and were perhaps two or three miles from Nil St. Vincent. It should be observed, too and this is very important the movements of Grouchy had completely escaped the notice of the Prussian detachment at Mont St. Guibert, commanded by an officer of the name of Ledebur; in fact, Excelmans and Vandamme were at this moment almost between Ledebur and the Prussian corps at Wavre.”[58]

It was at this moment, between about 11:15 and 11:30 am, that Grouchy was presented with his final opportunity to play a more useful role in the Waterloo campaign. “There occurred, however, previously to the arrival of Excelmans’ messenger, an event which well deserves notice,” Chesney says, “and of which, had proper use been made, the battle of Waterloo might have been productive of results less immediately decisive than those which ensued upon it.”[59] This famous episode – on which Grouchy’s military and personal reputation was subsequently destroyed – began with the arrival of Colonel Simon Lorriere, IV Corps’ chief-of-staff:

“This despatch had scarcely been sent off at 11 o’clock on the morning of the eventful 18th when Colonel Lorriere, Gerard’s chief of the staff, announced to Grouchy and to Gerard, who had reached Walhain in advance of his corps, that he heard in the west the roar of artillery fire. The generals, surrounded by their staffs, proceeded at once to ascertain the character of the engagement which was apparently in progress on the left. At first, through the drizzling rain and heavy atmosphere, they were inclined to interpret what they heard as a skirmish of advanced guards, but very soon they were unmistakably convinced that a general action was in progress. There was little difficulty in fixing the situation of the battlefield. The plateau of Mont St. Jean was marked out as being the scene of the combat. What, then, under these fresh conditions, was the right wing of the French army to do?”[60]

‘Press forward towards the sound of the cannon’: Walhain, 11:30 am

An impromptu conference was called and the senior officers present, Generals Gerard[61], Baltus[62] and Valaze,[63] debated with Grouchy what steps should be taken.[64] For General de Division Gerard – commander of IV Corps and a hard-driving officer with experience in Germany, Russia and Spain – the next course of action was obvious. The marshal should immediately alter the right wing’s axis of advance to the left and ‘march to the sound of the cannon’:

“Gerard, a soldier of real insight and resource, urged his chief at once to march towards the scene of the battle, in which the Emperor was evidently engaged. Gerard’s reasoning did not admit of an answer. By moving in the direction of Wellington, the restraining wing would exactly perform its task. Grouchy would stop Blucher were he halting at Wavre, or would intercept him were he on his way to Waterloo, or would come into line with the imperial army, should the hostile commanders have joined hands. This was palpably the true nay, the obvious course. Nor could Grouchy conceal from himself that Blucher had gained nearly a march on him, and that Blucher’s movements were not distinctly and completely known. The means, too, to make the proposed movement were easy and at hand. The cavalry in advance should seize the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies, and cross the Dyle, a march from La Baraque of about three miles; the corps of Vandamme and Gerard should follow as quickly as possible; the horsemen of Pajol and the division of Teste should push on towards Wavre, in order to mask the operations to the left, and to make demonstrations against the enemy. Within two or three hours the position of affairs would be made plain; within five or six Grouchy would have been within reach of the Prussian or of the main French army.”[65]

Grouchy disagreed with his subordinate, saying both Napoleon’s orders and the state of the roads prevented such a movement:

“The Emperor informed me yesterday that his intention was to attack the English Army, should Wellington accept battle. Therefore, I am in no way surprised at the engagement that is taking place at this moment. If the Emperor had wished me to take part in it, he would not have sent me away from him, at the very moment that he was himself bearing down upon the English. Besides, if I took the rough crossroads which are now drenched with the rain of yesterday and this morning, I would not arrive on the field of battle in time to be of any use.”[66]

Gerard continued to press for Grouchy to cancel the day’s orders and immediately move his troops towards the main French army. In his mind, the situation was now clear:

“…The Prussian march had now definitely narrowed itself down to one of two alternatives, either they were marching on Brussels or else were moving to join forces with Wellington at Mont St. Jean. In either event, prudence and policy alike suggested the advisability of joining the Emperor as quickly as possible, for if the Prussians were moving on Brussels, they might be regarded as a negligable quantity in the battle at Waterloo. If, on the other hand, they were advancing to join Wellington, Grouchy, by marching on the cannon sound, would be most advantageously disposed to stop them, to hinder them, or to diminish the effects of their junction in the event of its having been accomplished.”[67]

The atmosphere of the conference now became more heated. Baltus, siding with Grouchy, “…considered it almost impossible to carry the guns over the muddy lanes and marshy ground, by which alone the Emperor was to be approached, in time to render any service in a battle to be fought at Mont St. Jean that day.”[68] Valaze, saying his engineers could overcome any obstacle, supported Gerard. Finally losing his patience, Gerard made an appeal to Grouchy’s sense of duty:

“Gerard grew more and more excited. ‘Monsieur le Marechal’ he said, ‘it is your duty to march towards the cannon.’ Offended that Gerard should take the liberty of rebuking him audibly in the presence of twenty officers, Grouchy retorted in a stern tone, in such a way as to end the discussion: ‘My duty is to execute the Emperor’s orders, which direct me to follow the Prussians; it would be infringing his commands to follow your advice.’”[69]

There has been speculation that a significant part of Grouchy’s objections to Gerard’s advice may have been motivated by their differing personalities. Grouchy, like Gerard, was also an experienced officer, but “undoubtedly the tone of authority adopted by Gerard predisposed the Marshal to disregard his counsels…”[70] Thiers, one of Grouchy’s critics, stresses this point:

“Marshal Grouchy had in Gerard and Vandamme two lieutenants who considered themselves much superior to their commander, and their opinion was constantly manifested in their remarks. The marshal’s susceptibility was hurt, and he took in bad part advise that was given very unceremoniously. General Gerard’s natural excitability was increased by conviction and patriotism, to which each fresh peal of cannon added but new fuel, and all the generals present, with the exception of him who commanded the artillery, supported his advice.”[71]

Near the end of the meeting, Major d’Estourmel – the aide-de-camp sent from II Cavalry Corps – arrived with Excelmans’ situation report from Neuf-Sart:

“…He announced that a strong Prussian rearguard was posted before Wavre. This officer was also charged to say that, according to all indications, the enemy’s army had passed the bridge of Wavre during the night and morning, in order to get nearer the English Army, and, consequently, that General Exelmans contemplated proceeding to the left bank of the Dyle via Ottignies. This fresh information and the opinion expressed by Exelmans, furnished additional reasons in favour of Gerard’s opinions. However, to Grouchy, who was as convinced as ever that the Prussians had gained Wavre in order to retreat towards the Chyse, the presence of their rearguard in this town only confirmed him in his presumptions. He congratulated himself that he had resisted Gerard, because the Emperor’s orders were to follow the Prussian Army, and that at last he seemed on the point of reaching this army that had hitherto baffled him. He told d’Estourmel that he would himself give orders to General Exelmans and called for his horses.”[72]

The IV Corps commander then made a final, but futile, attempt to sway Grouchy’s mind. Unable to convince the marshal to alter the direction of the whole right wing, Gerard asked for his troops to be detached:

“…Gerard endeavoured to break the resolution of his chief by proposing that he should march with his corps to the sound of the cannonade, while Grouchy with the rest proceeded on Wavre. Such a suggestion the Marshal was bound by his orders to reject. His instructions were formal to keep his corps together within a league of ground. His determination, whether for good or evil, must apply to the whole force under his command, and his determination was to march, according to his original purpose, on Wavre, and to engage the Prussians there.”[73]

The marshal’s reply ended any further discussion:

“‘No,’ answered Grouchy,’it would be an unpardonable military mistake to separate my troops and make them act on both banks of the Dyle. I should be exposing one or other of these two bodies, which would not be able to support each other, to annihilation by forces twice or thrice their superior.’”[74]

The right wing’s march towards Wavre was ordered to continue. Grouchy, believing “it was not for a subordinate to carry out operations of inspiration, but to carry out the operations prescribed by his superior,”[75] felt he had made the correct decision by turning down Gerard’s advice. However, “from the moment of that decision Grouchy ceased to be a factor in the campaign of Waterloo.”[76]

Grouchy’s Last Chance: Gerard’s Suggestion to Advance to the Left

Historically, Grouchy’s refusal to ‘march to the cannon’ removed the entire French right wing from the decisive area of the campaign. In the wake of the staff conference at Walhain, Grouchy’s troops continued their advance on Wavre and, around 4 pm, engaged elements of Thielmann’s III Corps – the last Prussian corps remaining in the Wavre area. Thus, it was Grouchy’s dubious distinction to be preparing to defeat a lone (and heavily-outnumbered) Prussian corps at the same time as his commander-in-chief was beginning to fight the decisive battle ot the campaign.

Chesney begins his examination of the merits of Gerard’s advice with a comment on the available sources:

“We cannot wholly avoid, though unwilling to follow at great length, the old discussion which began when Grouchy and Gerard first differed at Sart-a-Walhain [in fact, Walhain], as to the expediency of the cross-march which the latter proposed. It is impossible to lay down certainly what would have been the precise effect on the close of the day’s operations had the Marshal taken his junior’s advice, and moved by Moustier on Plancenoit. Those whose opinions are on all accounts entitled to respect differ absolutely here.”[77]

That being said, was an advance in the afternoon to (and subsequently over) the Dyle a sound military decision for Grouchy to make? If the marshal was to accept Gerard’s advice, it must only be for one goal:

“The only object in doing so was to join the Emperor, and to come up to him as a reinforcement while the battle was in progress. The question, therefore, hinges almost entirely on distances. The variety of estimates given as to the simple matter of the distance from Sart-a-Walhain to the field of Waterloo, and of the time which it would take Grouchy to cover that distance, is one of the most surprising things in the history of the campaign. Authorities range between two hours, which is the least estimate, and nine hours, which is the largest. The matter of distance, however, can be authoritatively decided. To march from Sart-a-Walhain to Plancenoit necessitates crossing the river Dyle. It could only be crossed at Moustier and by bridges further north of that point. Now the distance from Sart-a-Walhain to Plancenoit via Moustier was, by the only available roads, as nearly as possible eighteen miles.”[78]

At an acceptable rate of march, Horsburgh says, it was impossible for Grouchy’s regiments to have interceded in the fighting at Waterloo:

“To decide the matter of time M. Quinet [French writer and historian Edgar Quinet] induced two friends of his to traverse the whole journey on foot. It took them five and a half hours. Thus they walked at a rate of a little more than three miles an hour. An army corps could not advance at anything like that rate, more particularly when the state of the roads is taken into account. Two miles an hour is a fair rough estimate for the march of an army corps under such circumstances as then prevailed. Grouchy’s leading columns would therefore have debouched on Plancenoit at 9 pm, assuming that he started from Sart-a-Walhain at twelve. This calculation is based entirely upon the assumption that his march would have been unimpeded by the Prussians. Such might have been the case, but at the same time it is most improbable that it would have been so. If the Prussians disputed the passage of the river, it is clear that Grouchy could not arrive on the field of Waterloo that night. If they did not do so, he could not arrive until the battle was over.”[79]

This assessment is supported by other sources. Hooper believes the corps of Pirch I and Thielmann would have halted Grouchy’s advance, while the troops of Ziethen and Bulow would have been uninterruped in their cross-march to Napoleon’s right flank:

“It is said that had the counsel of Gerard been adopted, Napoleon would have been saved; that Grouchy, when at Sart-a-Walhain, and knowing, as he did then, that the whole Prussian army was at Wavre in the morning, should have turned the heads of his columns to the left, and, hastening the march of his cavalry, have seized Moustier, while Pajol and Teste moved upon Wavre to deceive the enemy. Here, again, he would encounter his three great foes – time, the want of roads, and the Prussian patrols. His movement to the left would have been seen at once. While he struggled across country, watched and harassed by the Prussian light troops, the troops then at Wavre, under Pirch I and Thielmann, would not have remained there, but would, by shorter lines than those by which Grouchy could march, have gained the left bank of the Dyle west of Moustier, and have interposed between Grouchy and Napoleon. In this case none of the Prussian troops which reached Waterloo would have been diverted from that field, and Grouchy would have been opposed by those only which took no part in that battle. But it is argued that Blucher, seeing so large a force approaching Moustier, would have hesitated, vacillated, and in the end have failed to give Wellington efficient aid. The answer to this argument is – the character of Blucher. Who can believe that a man, proverbial for audacity carried to the extreme of rashness sometimes, would have been prevented from hastening to the field where the grand game was being played? He would have known that it would be enough to parry Grouchy while he struck a fatal blow at Napoleon.”[80]

The situation at the time of the conference at Walhain, Siborne says, could not be substantially changed. No matter what course of action Grouchy adopted, he would be unable to stop Blucher’s troops from reinforcing Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army:

“The junction itself could not have been prevented. The tendency of Grouchy’s movements had been too narrowly watched; the country between the Dyle and the Charleroi road to Brussels had been too vigilantly explored, and the movements, in succession, of the different Prussian corps had been too nicely calculated and determined, to admit of the possibility of a failure, as regarded the arrival of a considerable portion of the Prussian forces on the left of the Anglo-allied army. Blucher had made so admirable a disposition of his four corps d’armee, that two of them could at any time have combined, and therefore have presented a superior force to Grouchy, at any point between Wavre and Plancenoit, whilst the remainder of the army might have continued its march to the field of Waterloo…No exertions, however, on the part of Grouchy, after he broke up from Gembloux on the morning of the 18th, could have effectually frustrated the junction of Wellington and Blucher.”[81]

Horsburgh sums up Grouchy’s potential chance of success:

“…it is urged with great force and much weight of authority that if he could not arrive himself, he might have prevented the Prussians from arriving. To accomplish this would have been to accomplish all that was necessary, for without the intervention of the Prussians, Napoleon was assured of victory over the English. Here we enter the realm of pure conjecture. It is, of course, possible that if Grouchy had displayed himself in force, the march of Bulow would have been stopped, and, as a consequence, that of Pirch, who was following up Bulow. The mere appearance of an unexpected corps (d’Erlon’s) had done much to influence the battle of Ligny on the 16th. The mere appearance of Bulow at St. Lambert did much, as will be seen, to influence the issue at Waterloo. But is it probable that the whole Prussian force marching on Napoleon's flank would allow itself to be stopped by so comparatively slight an obstacle as Grouchy’s contingent? It is at least equally probable that a detachment of Prussians would have been employed to detain Grouchy, while the main body continued its movement towards the battle. In this case, Grouchy’s march on Planchenoit would have been altogether ineffectual, except perhaps to involve himself in the common ruin.[82]

‘Better to run some risk’: What Grouchy should have done at Walhain

Clearly, an advance on the Dyle bridges at Moustier and Ottignes at some point on 18 June was Grouchy’s best option. It would have been most effective issuing the order for such an advance at daybreak, but ‘the Dyle option’ remained open until Grouchy’s final decision at the Walhain staff conference. Whether or not this hypothetical advance would have resulted in a decisive action against the Prussians is not really the issue; given Grouchy’s unfavourable position to oppose the Prussian army’s cross-march to Wellington, any movement made to the left by his army would have been a strategic improvement.

This is the first of two reasons why Grouchy should have accepted Gerard’s advice at Walhain. An advance to the Dyle that afternoon would prove to be the final chance for Grouchy to contribute anything of value to the campaign; the marshal’s continued march to Wavre would lead only to the strategically meaningless action against Thielmann’s corps:

“The matter might be allowed to rest here were it not that Grouchy’s alternative policy was productive of nothing. To continue his march on Wavre, and to engage the 16,000 men or so whom Blucher had left there, was the equivalent to that ‘standing still doing nothing or wandering vaguely about’ which Clausewitz condemns. The arguments which applied against the march on Plancenoit applied in an equal degree against the march on Wavre. It was most improbable that the whole Prussian force would allow itself to be detained from its fixed purpose in order to oppose Grouchy at Wavre. And all the force which was not detained there would be available to march on Waterloo. Was it not better to run some risk in order to be of some possible use, than to run practically the same risk without the chance of being of any use at all? It cannot be shown with any degree of conclusiveness that Grouchy, by marching to the sound of the cannonade, could have exercised any appreciable influence on the battle of Waterloo. It is clear that he exercised no influence upon events by the course which he actually adopted.”[83]

The second reason Grouchy should have accepted Gerard’s suggestion was the fact that Grouchy now knew – from the sound of the cannonade in the west – that Napoleon had begun to engage Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army:

“But the matter assumes quite another aspect when once Grouchy became convinced that a general action was in progress on his left. If up to this point Blucher’s retreat seemed pronounced upon Brussels, now the idea that it was not so ought to have forcibly borne itself in upon him, and in face of the bare possibility of some Prussian help being rendered to Wellington it was Grouchy’s obvious duty to concentrate all his energies on the single purpose of preventing such assistance from being given. How this could best be done was now the only question.”[84]

It was a simple matter of seizing the initiative – although not without danger. Should Grouchy ‘march to the cannon,’ there was little chance of success – and, if two Prussian corps were to intercept his troops, a risk of a stalemate or defeat. Grouchy also had no way of realizing that he was hearing the sound of the final, decisive battle of the campaign. However, a hard-fought, but unsuccessful, attempt to reinforce Napoleon’s army would, in all probablity, be preferable to ignoring events:

“We cannot deny, however, that if General Gerard’s advice was not entirely equivalent to the resolution of advancing on Moustier at day-break, Marshal Grouchy ought to regret his not deciding on following it. He would have done at least all that it was possible for man to do, to prevent a catastrophe which has unhappily been imputed to him. His bravery and zeal had been tested, he had often given proofs of talent, but he here lost the opportunity of placing his name among the number of most able generals, by laboring to follow strictly the orders that had been given him, it is said, with a little bitterness, and the letter of which he endeavored to execute, instead of interpreting the spirit of it. In fact, means for his justification are not wanting; the most important and the best established of all is, that unable to divine Blucher’s intentions, and supposing him concentrated in front of Wavre towards Dion le Mont, Grouchy might fear to lay entirely open the communications of the army, by thus throwing himself into the environs of St. Lambert, leaving all the Prussian army behind him. The over-excited partisans of Napoleon have judged his lieutenant with extreme rigor, not dreaming that a portion of the blame should fall on their hero, who had not given him orders entirely satisfactory; and it must be admitted, that there exist but few generals who would have resolved to throw themselves thus on St. Lambert, without knowing what Blucher's main force would undertake.”[85]

It would be a difficult decision to make, but the military logic behind such a decision were sound:

“The attempts made by Grouchy to answer Gerard show how disastrous it may be in war, as in other spheres of the conduct of man, to stick at the letter and to miss the essential spirit. The Marshal said that his orders were to follow the Prussians, and that this object could be best attained by marching on Wavre by the line he was taking; that the Emperor had told him that he would attack Wellington should that General make a stand before the Forest of Soignies, but that he, that is, Grouchy (and this we believe to be true) had received no command to draw near the main army; and that even were he to advance towards Waterloo, the distance was so great he could not be on the field in time. The unfortunate chief could not, or would not, understand that Wavre could be reached by the western bank of the Dyle and by the bridges of Moustier and Ottignies almost as quickly as by any other way, if it was necessary to proceed to Wavre at all; that his paramount duty, and this he knew, was to interpose between Blucher and Wellington; that he could not possibly accomplish this should Blucher endeavour to march from Wavre on Waterloo, unless he should cross the Dyle by Moustier and Ottignies, or conceivably by Limale and Limelette; that were he to move towards the Emperor without delay, he would effectually make his presence felt hours before he should even approach Waterloo; and that in any event, in his perplexing position due to his own remissness, inactivity, and mistakes his only course was to press forward towards the sound of the cannon.”[86]

It is interesting to compare the Prussian reaction to the same cannonade which Grouchy had heard at Walhain:

“As we have seen, the Prussians were not demoralized; they had not gone off in three directions; and Blucher was not making for Liege. He was at Wavre and was planning a masterstroke. At midnight, he had sent to Wellington, through Muffling, a written promise that at dawn he would set the corps of Bulow in motion against Napoleon’s right; that of Pirch I was to follow; while the other two corps would also be ready to set out. Wellington received this despatch about 3 am of the 18th, and thereupon definitely resolved to offer battle. A similar message was sent off from Wavre at 9.30 am, but with a postscript, in which we may discern Gneisenau's distrust of Wellington, begging Muffling[87] to find out accurately whether the Duke really had determined to fight at Waterloo. Meanwhile Bulow’s corps had begun its march from the southeast of Wavre, but with extreme slowness, which was due to a fire at Wavre, to the crowded state of the narrow road, and also to the misgivings of Gneisenau. It certainly was not owing to fear of Grouchy; for at that time the Prussian leaders believed that only 15,000 French were on their track. Not until midday, when the cannonade on the west grew to a roar, did Gneisenau decide to send forward Ziethen’s corps towards Ohain, on Wellington’s left; but thereafter the defence of the Dyle against Grouchy was left solely to Thielmann’s corps.”[88]

‘Join us and crush Bulow’: the Aftermath

On the afternoon of 18 June, Grouchy received the first of two despatches from Napoleon. According to Hooper, the first despatch arrived shortly after Grouchy had left Walhain:

“Riding forward to the head of the column, where the cavalry had come into contact with the Prussian rear-guard, Grouchy was overtaken by a messenger bringing a despatch from Napoleon, written by the chief of the staff at ten o’clock that morning in the farm of Caillou. As nearly three hours must have been occupied in the transit, the time must have been about one o’clock. Soult informed Grouchy that the French patrols on the Dyle had learned that one Prussian column had retired on Wavre by Gentinnes. Grouchy, therefore, was to push this column before him, keeping, at the same time, a good look-out on his right.”[89]

This was followed a few hours later by a second, more urgent, order, sent from French headquarters about 1 pm. According to the message, advanced elements of Blucher’s army had just arrived on Napoleon’s right flank:

“This order had not yet been dispatched [to Grouchy], when the Prussian columns appeared in the distance. A few minutes later the Emperor, after questioning the captive [Prussian] hussar, had this postscript added: ‘A letter which has just been intercepted tells us that General Bulow is to attack our right flank. We believe we can perceive this corps on the heights of Chapelle-Saint-Lambert. Therefore do not lose a minute to draw nearer to us and to join us and crush Bulow, whom you will catch in the very act.’”[90]

It was, finally, a very clear order for Grouchy, but it arrived much too late; the marshal was already committed to the battle against Prussian III Corps:

“…Grouchy points out that ‘it was not till after 7 pm that I received the letter which directed me to march on St. Lambert and attack General Bulow.’ Meanwhile, Grouchy had attacked Thielmann’s corps at Wavre, but could not eject the Prussians from that town; and at 3 am on Monday, Thielmann counterattacked. The Prussians were repulsed and the village of Bierge fell into Grouchy’s hands, and from this pivot, he launched a successful attack upon the heights of Wavre; so that the French were in front of Rosieres, preparing to march on Brussels, when news came of the rout of the main army at Mont St. Jean on Sunday.”[91]

The news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo must have come as a shock for everyone, but for Grouchy most of all. He now felt compelled to reiterate his reasons for refusing to take Gerard’s advice at Walhain the day before:

“Grouchy assembled his general officers and held a sort of council of war. He announced to them the terrible news. It is said that, as he spoke, he had tears in his eyes. His discussion with Gerard on the previous day at Walhain, was known to all the different staffs. The Marshal considered that circumstances called upon him to justify his refusal to listen to the advice of his lieutenant. ‘My honour,’ he said, ‘makes it a matter of duty to explain myself, in regard to my dispositions of yesterday. The instructions which I had received from the Emperor, left me free to manoeuvre in no other direction than Wavre. I was obliged, therefore, to refuse the advice which Count Gerard thought he had the right to offer me. I do ample justice to General Gerards’ talents and brilliant valour; but you were doubtless as surprised as I was, that a general officer, ignorant of the Emperor’s orders, and the data which inspired the Marshal of France, under whose orders he was placed, should have presumed publicly to dictate to the latter, his line of conduct. The advanced hour of the day, the distance from the point where the cannonading was heard, the condition of the roads, made it impossible to arrive in time to share in the action which was taking place. At any rate, whatever the subsequent events may have been, the Emperor’s orders, the substance of which I have just disclosed to you, did not permit of my acting otherwise than I have done.’ Having pronounced these words, which were as much of the nature of a confession as of an excuse, the Marshal expounded his plan of retreat…”[92]

When compared to the other events of 18 June, Grouchy’s skill in conducting the French right wing’s retreat out of Belgium counted for very little. It was Grouchy’s failure to act on ‘the cannonade of Waterloo’ which was remembered: the marshal, unable to seize the initiative at Walhain, had – according to Napoleon’s supporters – ‘abandoned’ the emperor.

While this statement may be hyperbole, there was a grain of truth in it: although there was little chance he could influence the emperor’s battle, Grouchy should have tried. It was as much an emotional (or ‘personality’) decision as a military one:

“Grouchy’s failure was due to a combination of his own inadequecy and Napoleon’s errors; he revealed his character when he defended himself after the catastrophe by saying that, ‘Inspiration in war is appropriate only to the commander-in-chief, and his lieutenants must confine themselves to executing orders.’ He showed no initiative, authority or energy: he took refuge in a literal obedience to orders, and the orders he received from Napoleon were lacking in precision, and too late. Neither took seriously the possibility that Blucher would recover from Ligny in time to join Wellington.”[93]

Houssaye agrees that better direction for the marshal should have come from Napoleon:

“The one aim of Wellington was to retain his position until the Prussian Army should enter into line. This movement was delayed far longer than he liked. He had hoped that Blucher would commence the attack by two o’clock: it was now half-past three, and the Prussians did not seem ready to show themselves. The English staff feared that they would not be strong enough to resist a second assault… Napoleon also had grave anxieties. Major La Fresnaye had just delivered him a letter from Grouchy, written in Walhain at half-past eleven. In this very confused despatch, two things especially struck the Emperor: the first was, that Grouchy had made his way very slowly, since at half-past eleven he was still three leagues distant from Wavre; the second was, that the Marshal seemed in no way concerned as to what was happening on his left, and that he was asking for orders to manoeuvre on the next day in the round-about direction of La Chyse. It was therefore most unlikely that Grouchy would have the happy inspiration by noon, to march to the cannon, that he might take in flank Bulow's corps, which was already in position at Chapelle-Saint-Lambert. At the best, the Marshal could fall upon the rear of this corps, or contrive by an energetic attack to keep back the other parts of the Prussian Army far from the battlefield. Can we wonder that the Emperor did not at once send back La Fresnaye with fresh instructions for Grouchy? These instructions could only have been “to draw nearer the army so as to fall upon any corps of the enemy which might attempt to harass the right.” Napoleon had already sent these directions to his lieutenant at a quarter past one. He could not have done more than reiterate them, and at a very late hour.”[94]

In the final analysis, Grouchy was unsuited for the role he was appointed to perform. A good subordinate cavalry general, Grouchy probably lacked the skills necessary to be an effective commander of a large, detached force:

“The truth is that, on the morning of the 18th, the facts of the situation, if we may be allowed the phrase, rendered it impossible for Grouchy to prevent the junction of Wellington and Blucher. One fact alone ought to settle the question for ever. Grouchy, at Gembloux, was separated from Napoleon at La Belle Alliance by more than twice the distance which separated Blucher from Wellington. No manoeuvering could have made the lines of march shorter. Four Prussian corps d’armee were nearer to Wellington than two French corps d’armee were to Napoleon. Moreover, one half the Prussian force could, if needed, have been thrown upon Grouchy’s army at some point in any line of march he might have selected. Still further, Wellington and Blucher were executing a well-defined concerted plan, and were in close communication. The reverse was the case with Napoleon and Grouchy. Turn it which way we may, consider it a question of generalship, or one of time and distance, and we arrive at the same conclusion. It was, on the morning of the 18th, beyond the power of Grouchy to alter materially the battle of Waterloo. This, however, does not exonerate him from the charges of not having patrolled to his left, and of not having tried at least to cross the Dyle at Moustier and Ottignies; nor does it exonerate him from the charge of having clumsily conducted the battle of Wavre.”[95]


1. Print sources from Internet Archive (www.archive.org):

Chesney, Charles Cornwallis. Waterloo Lectures: a Study of the Campaign of 1815. London: Longmans, Green, 1874.

Gardner, Dorsey. Quatre Bras, Ligny and Waterloo: a Narrative of the Campaign in Belgium, 1815. London: Kegan, Paul Trench, 1882.

Headley, Joel Tyler. Napoleon and his Marshals. Vol. 2. Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1861.

Horsburgh, Edward Lee Stuart. Waterloo: a Narrative and a Criticism. London: Methuen, 1895.

Houssaye, Henry. 1815: Waterloo. Trans. Arthur Emile Mann. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900.

Jomini, Antoine Henri baron de. The Political and Military History of the Campaign of Waterloo. Trans. Stephen Vincent Benet. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864.

Morris, William O’Connor. The Campaign of 1815: Ligny, Quatre-Bras, Waterloo. London: Grant Richards, 1900.

Redway, George William. Wellington and Waterloo. London: Jack, 1913.

Ropes, John Codman. The Campaign of Waterloo: A Military History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892.

Rose, John Holland. The Life of Napoleon I: Including new materials from the British official records. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1913.

Siborne, William. History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815: Containing Minute Details of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo. Vol. 1. London: T. and W. Boone, 1848.

2. Print sources from Google Books (www.books.google.com):

La Bedoyere, Charles Angelique Francois Huchet comte de. The Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Vol. 2. London: George Virtue, 1827.

Browning, Oscar. The Fall of Napoleon. London: John Lane, 1907.

C. W. Crawley, ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 9. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957.

Hooper, George. Waterloo: the Downfall of the First Napoleon. London: Smith, Elder, 1862.

–. Napoleon and the Marshal of the Empire. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1855.

Thiers, Louis-Adolphe. History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon. Vol. 5. Trans. D. Forbes Campbell and Henry William Herbert. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1865.


[1] John Holland Rose, The Life of Napoleon I: Including new materials from the British official records (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1913) 510.

[2] Edward Lee Stuart Horsburgh, Waterloo: a Narrative and a Criticism (London: Methuen, 1895) 173-174.

[3] Napoleon and the Marshals of the Empire, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1855) 237.

[4] Joel Tyler Headley, Napoleon and his Marshals Vol. 2 (Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1861) 189.

[5] Louis-Adolphe Thiers, History of the Consulate and the Empire of France under Napoleon Vol. 5, trans. D. Forbes Campbell and Henry William Herbert (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1865) 635.

[6] Charles Angelique Francois Huchet comte de La Bedoyere, The Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Napoleon Bonaparte Vol. 2 (London: George Virtue, 1827) 815.

[7] Thiers 628.

[8] Headley 198-199.

[9] William Siborne, History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815: Containing Minute Details of the Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo Vol. 1 (London: T. and W. Boone, 1848) 197.

[10] William O’Connor Morris, The Campaign of 1815: Ligny, Quatre-Bras, Waterloo  (London: Grant Richards, 1900) 186-187.

[11] Siborne 183.

[12] General de Brigade Georges-Hyppolyte, baron Le Senecal (7 August 1767 – 25 July 1836).

[13] Rose 482.

[14] Marshal Michel Ney, prince de La Moskowa (10 January 1769 – 7 December 1815) commanded Napoleon’s left wing during the Waterloo campaign.

[15] Siborne 183-184.

[16] John Codman Ropes, The Campaign of Waterloo: A Military History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1892) 248.

[17] Henri-Gratien, comte Bertrand (28 March 1773 – 31 January 1844) had been appointed Grand Marshal of the Palace on 18 November 1813.

[18] Marshal Nicolas-Jean-de-Dieu Soult (29 March 1769 – 26 November 1851) held the title of ‘Major-General’ at Napoleon’s headquarters.

[19] Morris 171.

[20] Ropes 209-210.

[21] Rose 481-482.

[22] Ropes 211.

[23] Antoine Henri baron de Jomini, The Political and Military History of the Campaign of Waterloo trans. Stephen Vincent Benet (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1864) 174-175.

[24] Ropes 248-249.

[25] Rose 487-488.

[26] General de Division Jean-Simon, baron Domon (2 March 1774 –5 July 1830) commanded the 3rd Cavalry Division in Reille’s II Corps.

[27] Generalleutnant Hans-Ernest-Karl, Graf von Ziethen (1770-1848) commanded the Prussian I Corps.

[28] Generalleutnant Georg-Dubislav-Ludwig von Pirch I commanded the Prussian II Corps.

[29] Ropes 246.

[30] General de Brigade Pierre, baron Bonnemains (13 September 1773 – 9 November 1850) commanded a dragoon brigade in the 10th Cavalry Division.

[31] This is a reference to Colonel Claude-Louis Chaillot.

[32] Henry Houssaye, 1815: Waterloo trans. Arthur Emile Mann (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1900) 164.

[33] Horsburgh 157-158.

[34] Houssaye 166.

[35] Horsburgh 169-170.

[36] Houssaye 164-165.

[37] Horsburgh 170.

[38] Jomini 151.

[39] General de Divison Claude-Pierre, comte Pajol (3 February 1772 – 20 March 1844).

[40] General de Division Francois-Antoine, baron Teste (19 November 1775 – 8 December 1862) had been detached from Lobau’s VI Corps.

[41] Jomini 175-176.

[42] Houssaye 165.

[43] Ropes 254-255.

[44] Morris 185-186.

[45] Generalleutnant Johann-Adolf, freiherr von Thielmann (27 April 1765 – 10 October 1824) commanded the Prussian III Corps.

[46] George Hooper,  Waterloo: the Downfall of the First Napoleon (London: Smith, Elder, 1862) 342-343.

[47] Hooper 342-343.

[48] Hooper 343.

[49] Siborne 190.

[50] Dorsey Gardner, Quatre Bras, Ligny and Waterloo: a Narrative of the Campaign in Belgium, 1815 (London: Kegan, Paul Trench, 1882) 157-159.

[51] Horsburgh 158-159.

[52] Houssaye 165.

[53] Houssaye 165-166.

[54] Siborne 190.

[55] Houssaye 166.

[56] Morris 236.

[57] Horsburgh 158-159.

[58] Morris 237-238.

[59] Charles Cornwallis Chesney, Waterloo Lectures: a Study of the Campaign of 1815 (London: Longmans, Green, 1874) 142-143.

[60] Horsburgh 159-160.

[61] General de Division Etienne-Maurice, comte Gerard (4 April 1773 – 17 April 1852) had been awarded his title by Napoleon after the Battle of Bautzen in 1813.

[62] General de Brigade Basile-Guy-Marie-Victor, baron Baltus de Pouilly (2 January 1766 – 13 January 1845) was an experienced corps-level artillery officer.

[63] General de Brigade Elenor-Bernard-Anne-Christophe-Zoa Dufriche de Valaze (12 January 1780 – 26 March 1838) had been appointed commander of IV Corps’ engineers on 15 April.

[64] Browning (p. 256) says Grouchy arrived at Wahain with General de Division Vandamme at 10 am, implying that Vandamme was also present at the conference.

[65] Morris 238-239.

[66] Houssaye 168.

[67] Horsburgh 160.

[68] Horsburgh 161.

[69] Houssaye 169.

[70] Horsburgh 160.

[71] Thiers 628.

[72] Houssaye 169.

[73] Horsburgh 162.

[74] Houssaye 169-170.

[75] Horsburgh 161.

[76] Horsburgh 163.

[77] Chesney 201.

[78] Horsburgh 171.

[79] Horsburgh 171-172.

[80] Hooper 343.

[81] Siborne 200-201.

[82] Horsburgh 172-173.

[83] Horsburgh 174-175.

[84] Horsburgh 170-171.

[85] Jomini 180-181.

[86] Morris 238-239.

[87] Friedrich-Karl-Ferdinand, freiherr von Muffling (12 June 1775 – 10 January 1851) was the Prussian liaison offcer at Wellington’s headquarters.

[88] Rose 489.

[89] Hooper 164. It should be noted that other sources say Grouchy was handed this despatch three hours later, during the initial phase of the fighting against Thielmann’s III Corps.

[90] Houssaye 192.

[91] George William Redway, Wellington and Waterloo (London: Jack, 1913) 80.

[92] Houssaye 263.

[93] The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 9 ed. C. W. Crawley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957) 315.

[94] Houssaye 201-202.

[95] Hooper 343-344.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2008


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