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Arthur, Duke Of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, the fourth son of the Earl of Mornington, was born on May 1, 1769, at Dungan Castle, in Ireland. Although exhibiting no decided inclination for the profession of arms, a soldier's career was chosen for him at an early age; and after some preparatory years spent at Eton, he was sent to Angers, in France, to learn in its ancient military school those lessons in the art of war which he was destined in after-life again and again so gloriously to surpass.
A review of the British Army by Wellington.
Spain and Portugal conferred honors on the conqueror of Rodrigo; and at home he was raised to the earldom of Wellington, with an increased annuity of #2,000 a year.
The French army, under Marshal Soult, had at length been compelled to quit Spain, and with such speed, that in four days they passed over ground which it took the allied armies seven days to traverse. During the retreat the two armies approached each other several times; and on one occasion, when the French army was crossing the plains of Ger, its pursuers followed so closely, that had it not been for the thick woods through which they had to pass, Soult's retreat would have been seriously endangered by the British cavalry.
When Bonaparte had quitted Fontainebleau, and had embarked on board the Undaunted frigate for Elba, Lord Wellington felt he might safely leave the army for a time; and, setting out for Paris, he reached it May 4th. He met with an enthusiastic reception from all classes; while the unqualified praises of each of the allied sovereigns showed how much the successful issue of the struggle to restore liberty to Europe was due to his talents and constancy of purpose. The restored Spanish king, Ferdinand, sent him a letter of gratitude; and the Crown Prince of Sweden gave him the Order of the Sword. England at the same time conferred upon him the dukedom he so long enjoyed, and raised five of his lieutenants to peerages.
Once more the "loud shrill clarion" of war aroused Europe to arms. Ten short months after his abdication, Napoleon, escaped from Elba, was again in Paris, resolved to incur all risks in order to gain the greatest prize in Europe--the crown he had so lately relinquished. The magic influence of his name spread through France, which became one vast camp; and in an incredibly short space of time Napoleon found himself ready to take the field with an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, of whom twenty thousand were highly disciplined cavalry. The whole army was perfectly equipped, while three hundred pieces of cannon formed an overpowering artillery. To oppose this well-appointed force, the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Bluecher had collected an army of one hundred and eighty thousand men. But although the allied armies thus exceeded Napoleon's in numbers, his consisted of veteran troops of one nation, while theirs were composed, for the most part, of raw levies. That under the duke was "the weakest and the worst;" at no time did it reach eighty thousand men, and on one-half of these only could reliance be placed in the day of battle.
"I am going to have a brush with Wellington," said Napoleon, on the evening of June 11, 1815; and next morning before daybreak he set out to join his army on the frontiers, taking every precaution to conceal from Wellington that he was coming. Napoleon's object was to separate Bluecher from Wellington, then to deal with each singly, and thus to crush them forever. Then France, rejoicing to see glory once more resting on her eagles, would again hail him as her emperor.
While at dinner, Wellington received the first news of the advance of Napoleon. Thinking that this was merely a feint to draw the allies toward Ligny, while a serious attempt was made upon Brussels, Wellington, who had already prepared himself for any emergency, determined to wait till Napoleon's object was more fully displayed; while, therefore, he gave orders that the troops should be in readiness to march at a moment's notice, he, with his officers, joined in the festivities of a ball given that evening by the Duchess of Richmond.
Bluecher's second courier arrived before twelve o'clock, and the despatches were delivered to the duke in the ball-room. While he was reading them, he seemed completely absorbed by their contents; and after he had finished, for some minutes he remained in the same attitude of deep reflection, totally abstracted from every surrounding object, while his countenance was expressive of fixed and intense thought. He was heard to mutter to himself, "Marshal Bluecher thinks"--"It is Marshal Bluecher's opinion;"--and after remaining thus abstracted a few minutes, and having apparently formed his decision, he gave his usual clear and concise orders to one of his staff officers, who instantly left the room, and was again as gay and animated as ever; he stayed to supper, and then went home.
The trumpet's loud call awoke every sleeper in the city of Brussels a little after midnight. Then it became known that the French had advanced to Charleroi, which they had taken, and that the English troops were ordered to advance and support the Prussians. Instantly the place resounded with martial preparations; and as soldiers were quartered in every house, the whole town became one bustling scene.
At daylight the troops were under arms, and at eight o'clock set out for Quatre Bras, the expected scene of action in advance of Charleroi; the fifth division taking the direct road through the forest of Soignies.
Early in the afternoon, Marshal Ney attacked the Prince of Orange, and by an overwhelming superiority of troops was driving him back through a thick wood called "Le Bois de Bossen," when the leading columns of the English reached Quatre Bras. Wellington's eye at once saw the critical condition of his ally; and, though the troops had marched twenty miles under a sultry sky, he knew their spirit was indomitable, and gave the welcome order that the wood must be immediately regained.
On came Ney's infantry, doubling that of his opponents' in number, supported by a crashing fire of artillery, quickly followed by the cavalry, which, dashing through the rye crops, more than breast high, charged the English regiments as soon as they reached the battle-ground.
Yet, though unable properly to establish themselves, they formed squares, and roughly repelled the enemy. Fierce and frequent were the efforts of the French to break the squares. Showers of grape poured upon them; and the moment an opening appeared, on rushed the lancers. But the dead were quickly removed; and, though the squares were lessened, they still presented an unbroken line of glittering bayonets, which neither the spears of the lancers, nor the long swords of the cuirassiers could break through. A division of the Guards from Enghien, coming up at this crisis, gallantly charged the enemy, and in half an hour cleared the wood of them completely. This exploit was remarkable, achieved as it was by young soldiers after a toilsome march of fifteen hours, during which time they had been without anything to eat or drink. The fire of the French artillery, and the charges of cavalry, obliged these gallant fellows, although now joined by the Brunswickers, in some measure to keep the shelter of the wood. They, however, sallied out at intervals, until Ney, finding himself shaken, sent for his reserve. This force Napoleon had unexpectedly removed to support his attack on the Prussians at Ligny; yet the marshal maintained his position to the close of the day, when he fell back on the road to Frasnes, while the British and their brave allies lighted fires, and securing such provisions as they could, after a scanty meal, piled arms, and lay down to rest on the battle-field.
Napoleon's simultaneous attack on the Prussians at Ligny was for a long time doubtful. Both Bluecher and Napoleon were compelled to bring their reserves into action; and when night closed, Bluecher still, "like a wounded lion," fought with ferocity. But the darkness enabled Napoleon to wheel a division of French infantry on the rear of the Prussians, while a dense body of cuirassiers forced Ligny on the other side, and not till then did Bluecher fall back.
Wellington was prepared to accept battle at daybreak next morning; but, hearing of Bluecher's retreat, he also resolved to fall back, so as to keep a lateral communication with the right wing of the Prussians, and by this movement also prevent Bonaparte from placing himself between the two armies, when at his choice he might turn his forces against either, in which case the inferiority of numbers would have entailed certain defeat.
Napoleon expected to find the English army still upon the ground it had occupied on the 16th. Great was his surprise when, on reaching the heights above Frasnes, he saw that the troops at the entrance of the wood were only a strong rear-guard, and that the retreat toward Brussels was already half effected. He bitterly rebuked Ney for his supposed negligence, though Wellington's own officers did not imagine they were to retreat till the moment it began; and the duke, by dexterously wheeling his troops round the wood, part of which could only be seen by the French, gave their marshal the idea that he was bringing up large reinforcements instead of drawing off his troops. The French squadrons immediately commenced the pursuit, but were so rudely handled by the Life Guards under Lord Uxbridge, who protected the rear, that, after several attacks, in the last of which the French hussars were charged and nearly cut to pieces, the pursuit was so severely checked as to give the infantry ample time to take up the ground appointed them on the heights of Mont St. Jean, covering the approach to Brussels by the great road from Charleroi.
"Here it was that the duke had determined to make his final stand, staking the glory of many years on the issue of a single battle."
When day broke, and Napoleon beheld his opponents, whom he feared would have escaped him during the night, fearlessly occupying their position of the evening before, and evidently prepared to defend it, a flush of joy overspread his face, while he exclaimed confidently, "Bravo! I have them then--these English!"
By nine o'clock the weather moderated, the sun shone out, fires were kindled, the men dried and cleaned their arms, and, ammunition being served out, provisions were distributed, and the men breakfasted "with some degree of comfort."
Since daybreak occasional shots had been fired; but not till eleven o'clock did the battle begin. A body of light troops left the French line, and, descending the hill at a sling trot, broke into scattered parties, keeping up an irregular fire as they advanced toward the Chateau of Hougoumont. These were closely followed by three divisions nearly thirty thousand strong; and the dropping fire was soon changed into one continued roll of musketry. As the English skirmishers fell back, two brigades of British artillery opened on the advancing columns of the French, each shot plunging and tearing through their masses, while the shells from the howitzers fell so truly that the shaken columns drew back. But now a powerful artillery opened from the French heights, fresh troops poured forward, and for more than an hour the line of each army remained spectators of the terrific attack on the chateau, surrounded by a dense cloud of smoke, through which glared forth the flashes of the artillery. The French guns had found their range; every shot told upon the old walls of the mansion; and crashing masonry, burning rafters falling, mingled with the yell of battle, added a frightful interest to the scene. At length the Nassau sharpshooters were driven back, and the French troops began to penetrate the orchard; but, ere they could occupy it the squadrons of English cavalry, under Lord Saltoun, bore down upon them, and drove them back. Wheeling round, they then attempted the rear of the chateau, but being received unflinchingly, were obliged to retire. Despairing of success, the French artillery now discharged shells upon Hougoumont; the tower and chapel were soon in a blaze, and in these many wounded men met a dreadful fate. Still, though surrounded by flames and bursting shells, with the heavy shot ploughing through wall and window, the Guards held their post, nor could Hougoumont be taken.
"How beautifully these English fight! But they must give way," exclaimed Napoleon to Marshal Soult. But evening came, and yet they held their ground. The men, maddened by seeing their comrades falling around them, longed ardently for the moment to advance; but Wellington felt that the crisis was not yet come. It required all his authority to restrain the troops; but he knew their powers of endurance.
"Not yet, my brave fellows," said the duke; "be firm a little longer, and you shall have at them by-and-by." This homely appeal kept each man in his place in the ranks. But now the superior officers remonstrated, and advised a retreat.
"Will the troops stand?" demanded Wellington.
"Till they perish!" was the reply.
"Then," added the duke, "I will stand with them to the last man."
Yet Wellington was not insensible of the critical nature of his position, and longed for night or Bluecher. It was now seven, and the Prussians had been expected at three. In less than an hour, the sound of artillery was heard in the expected direction, and a staff officer brought word that the head of the Prussian column was at Planchenoit, nearly in the rear of the French reserve. Bonaparte, when told of their advance, maintained that it was Grouchy's long-expected force coming up; but when he saw them issue from the wood, and perceived the Prussian colors, he turned pale, but uttered not a word.
Napoleon's Imperial Guards--his veteran troops--were now advancing, covered by a tempest of shot and shells, toward the ridge behind which lay the British infantry to gain a shelter from the fire. Wellington eagerly watched the dense cloud as it approached; and when it arrived within a hundred yards, advancing on horseback to the brow of the ridge, he exclaimed, "Up, Guards, and at them!"
In a moment the men were on their feet--the French closed on them, when a tremendous volley drove the whole mass back; but the old Imperial Guard recovered, yet only to receive a second volley as deadly as the first, followed by a bold charge with the bayonet, which forced them down the slope, and up the opposite bank. In vain the French attempted to support them by taking the Guards in flank. Lord Hill brought forward the extreme right of the army, in the form of a crescent, which overlapping the horsemen, they were crushed as in a serpent's folds, while the infantry fell back, re-formed, and occupied their former place on the ridge.
Wellington's quick eye already detected the confusion caused by the Prussian attack under General Buelow on the French rear. Hastily closing his telescope, he exclaimed, "The hour is come! Now every man must advance!"
Forming into one long line, four men deep, the whole infantry advanced, with a loud cheer, the sun at the instant streaming out as if to shed his last glories on the conquerors of that dreadful day. Headed by the duke, with his hat in hand, the line advanced with spirit and rapidity, while the horse-artillery opened a fire of canister-shot on the confused masses.
For a few minutes they stood their ground gallantly; and, even when the allied cavalry charged full upon them, four battalions of the Old Guard formed squares, and checked its advance. As the grapeshot tore through the ranks of the veterans, they closed up again, and, to every summons to surrender, gave the stern reply, "The Guard never surrender--they die!"
Napoleon had already fled. Finding all hope of victory gone, he at first threw himself into one of the squares of the Old Guard, determined to die with them, but when the Prussians gained on their rear, and he was in danger of being made prisoner, he exclaimed, "For the present it is finished. Let us save ourselves!" and, turning his horse's head, he fled with ten or twelve of his immediate attendants.
It was now half-past nine at night, and the moon rose with more than ordinary splendor. The French, now a mass of fugitives, were closely pursued by both armies, and a fearful slaughter ensued between Waterloo and Genappe. At the latter place the British discontinued the pursuit; but the Prussians, comparatively fresh, pursued without intermission; their light-horse putting no limit to their revenge. Many of the poor fugitives sought shelter in the villages on their route; but at the sound of a Prussian trumpet they fled again, only to be overtaken and cut down.
Wellington re-crossed the field of Waterloo to sup at Brussels. The moonlight revealed all the horrors of the scene--his stern nature gave way--and, bursting into tears, he exclaimed, "I have never fought such a battle, and I hope never to fight such another."
He never did. Waterloo was his last battle, though he lived for nearly forty years afterward, a leader in English politics, and died in 1852, a national hero, a worthy twin figure to the immortal Nelson.
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