Chapter 3

THE STRUGGLE FOR HOUGOUMONT

Wellington took great care over deploying his army, just as he had done during his battles in the Peninsula when time and circumstances had permitted him this luxury. He meant to leave nothing to chance against an opponent as formidable as Napoleon. Previously, he had considered taking up positions along a ridge bisected by the main highway to Brussels. The farm of La Belle Alliance (which also doubled as an inn) lay roughly in the centre of this ridge on the eastern side of the highway. However, Assistant Quarter Master General Sir William De Lancey, Wellington’s chief-of-staff, advised that the army would be spread too thinly if he did so and they agreed to make a stand on the opposing ridge of Mont St Jean, running roughly parallel with this feature.

Although this was a pre-selected position and troops were dispatched to their posts as soon as they arrived, staff officers rode hurriedly around the area to confirm that Wellington’s orders were being carried out. Ever reluctant to delegate a task, Wellington was present on the field himself by 6.00am and took great pains to ensure that all went to plan, from riding constantly along the ridge to questioning subordinates and issuing new commands when necessary. He visited the farmhouses in front of his position and satisfied himself that ammunition and other supplies were being brought up as quickly as possible. At intervals, he paused to observe the opposing ridge with his spyglass, trying to anticipate the preparations his counterpart was making.

The Battle of Waterloo was fought over a remarkably small area, French historian Houssaye commenting: ‘Never in the wars of the Revolution and Empire had so great a number of combatants occupied such a restricted field …’. The area between the two ridges where the opposing armies took up station was barely 1½ miles (2.5km) from north to south. From east to west the battlefield measured just under 3 miles (4.8km). Overall, the main area of conflict covered around 4 square miles (roughly 6.4km square) and 140,000 men would fight within this space at first, before being joined by at least 72,000 Prussian soldiers.

THE ANGLO-ALLIED ARMY DEPLOYMENT

Wellington made the best possible defensive use of both the ground and the man-made features available to him. He had an army of approximately 67,660 men with 156 cannon, deployed along the Mont St Jean ridge, straddling the high road running from Charleroi to Brussels. The Chemin d’Ohain (Ohain Road) followed the crest of the ridge and behind this Wellington deployed the bulk of his 49,600 infantry on the reverse slope to the enemy. Here they would be largely out of sight of French gunners and the ricochet effect of enemy roundshot would be minimized due to the angle. Wellington had always protected his infantry in this fashion when the lie of the land permitted it during the Peninsular War.

He positioned substantial forces on his right flank to the west to protect the area between Merbraine village and the Nivelles road. These included parts of II Corps under Lord Hill and General Chassé’s Division from I Corps. He posted d’Aubremé’s and Ditmer’s brigades to hold Braine l’Alleud and a further four brigades were placed in a second line to support these positions.

Wellington’s I Corps, commanded by the Prince of Orange, occupied a position on the centre right above Hougoumont along with General Cooke’s Guards Division and parts of the general reserve. The bulk of Allied cavalry was stationed behind the Anglo-Allied centre, ready to respond to enemy attacks, and the artillery was dispersed in batteries along the ridgeline. From the opposing ridge, the artillery would be the units most visible to the enemy along with chains of sharpshooters strung out along the forward slope with some cavalry to screen the positions. The forest of Soignies lay behind the Allied centre, a fact that Napoleon later criticized, as it appeared to block their line of retreat. However, Wellington believed that the forest undergrowth was sparse enough to allow the passage of infantry and did not think it would impede his army’s march north significantly if he were forced to withdraw.

To the east of the high road, Wellington placed three brigades from General Picton’s Division along with Best’s and Bylandt’s brigades. Unaccountably, Bylandt’s Dutch-Belgian Brigade was left exposed on the forward slope of the ridge rather than being placed on the reverse. This area was marked with long sections of quickset hedge and the Chemin d’Ohain had an embankment in several places, allowing the artillery to cut makeshift embrasures for their cannon. The cavalry brigades of Vivian and Vandeleur were posted on the extreme left flank.

In front of the Mont St Jean ridge, were six advanced defensive areas that greatly strengthened Wellington’s position. On the east flank was an area containing the farmhouses of Papelotte, La Haye and Fichermont along with a scattering of small houses. Some of the area was wooded and Wellington occupied it with the Nassau Brigade commanded by Prince Saxe-Weimar.

Before the centre left lay a walled farmhouse called La Haye Sainte. This stood in a slight depression alongside the high road towards the foot of the forward slope and Wellington garrisoned it with elements of the King’s German Legion, among his most experienced soldiers. Above this, on the opposite side of the highway, was a gravel pit where men from the elite 95th Foot (later Rifle Brigade) were established.

On the right flank lay the large Chateau of Hougoumont. An extensive brick-built complex containing a chapel and numerous farm buildings in addition to the chateau. It had a high walled garden and orchards with hedges and woods protecting its southern approaches. Wellington posted some of his best troops to defend Hougoumont, including four light companies from the Guards Division and companies of Nassauer, Lüneburger and Hanoverian troops.

Waterloo – positions at approximately 11.50am.

These areas were strongpoints in the Allied line and the defenders of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte would be able to fire into the flanks of attacking formations if they assaulted the ridge directly. Unless Napoleon was prepared to execute a wide flanking manoeuvre, he would have to capture these farmhouses or expect his men to suffer significant casualties if they bypassed them while assaulting the ridge.

Wellington also placed 17,000 men under Prince Frederick of the Netherlands around the area of Hal and Tubize, 10 miles to the west. This force included Hanoverian cavalry and thirty cannon, to counter any French attempts to turn his right flank, which could cut off his route to the Channel ports. These troops would play very little part in the coming battle.

Wellington’s army lay in a roughly triangular shaped deployment, his main strength on the right flank, anticipating Prussian troops arriving to support his left. Overall, the Anglo-Allied Army held a formidable defensive position, which Houssaye called one ‘vast rampart’. He also considered the open land between the two ridges to be a killing ground for artillery, especially in front of the Allied centre right. Yet the ground, especially to the east of the highway, undulates in places and would occasionally deceive the gunners’ line of sight during the battle. Nonetheless, it was a very strong position.

FRENCH ARMY DEPLOYMENT

Although Wellington’s positions were (to an extent) pre-planned, historian Alessandro Barbero astutely observed that the deployment of both armies at Waterloo was based upon the rival commanders’ anticipation of their enemy’s intent or likely deployment. In Wellington’s case, he could only guess at where his opponent might attack and respond accordingly – the downside of any defensive strategy. Napoleon had different problems as, unable to see the bulk of the Anglo-Allied Army behind the Mont St Jean ridge, he could only surmise where his adversary had concentrated his main strength. Indeed, Napoleon overestimated the number of the enemy force, believing that it slightly outnumbered his own.

Le Caillou farmhouse where Napoleon stayed the night before the battle.

The Emperor wished his army to be at their posts by 9.00am but various factors delayed their deployment. The rain poured down on the troops bivouacked in the fields that night, slowing their responses, and those billeted in surrounding farms and villages took time to stand to arms. Therefore, Reille’s II Corps had only just arrived at Le Caillou by 9.00am.

Napoleon conferred with his generals over breakfast at around 8.00am and was confident of winning the impending struggle. Yet his generals failed to share his optimism and he became irritated as his chief-of-staff expressed reservations about the forthcoming battle. In Soult’s opinion, Napoleon had given Grouchy too many troops to pursue the Prussians, when a single infantry corps and a large number of cavalry would have sufficed. He also suspected that Wellington had prepared an in-depth defence and advised a cautious plan of attack. General Reille, another Peninsula veteran who had personally fought against Wellington, remarked that British infantry were very tenacious when established in a prepared position. Therefore, he proposed that they counter this by using their superior mobility to out outmanoeuvre the Anglo-Allied Army rather than proceed with a frontal assault as Napoleon planned.

Annoyed at what he saw as lack of confidence and pessimism, the Emperor snapped: ‘Because you have been beaten by Wellington you regard him as a great general. I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops, and that this will be a very small affair.’ Yet he had fought the British only once at Toulon in 1792, twenty-three years ago. Furthermore, that had been a siege operation and he had never before confronted a British army in the field. Historian David Chandler believed that one of Napoleon’s biggest weaknesses during the 1815 campaign was his tendency to underestimate his enemies, deriding the abilities of his rival commanders and the troops they commanded.

By 9.00am, he was observing the enemy ridge from a mound near the farmhouse of Rossomme, subsequently moving further forward to the area around La Belle Alliance. He would divide his time between these two positions for most of the battle. Two local farmers provided knowledge of the area and Napoleon continued to question them as he watched his army debouche from the highway and deploy on either side of La Belle Alliance. His deployment was simpler than Wellington’s complex dispositions. The two ridges are separated by a shallow valley, divided by the great highway running through the centre of the battlefield. The distance between the centre of Wellington’s ridge and La Belle Alliance was approximately 1,300yd (1,188m) and the depth of the valley did not exceed more than 330ft (100m). In this small area, Napoleon planned the positions of his army with one aim – attack.

Troop positions at Waterloo on the morning of 18 June, looking south from Wellington’s centre towards Napoleon’s army. (D H Parry)

Napoleon intended to weaken the Allied line by a feint attack on their right flank, hoping that this would distract Wellington and persuade him to divert reinforcements from his reserves to reinforce this threatened area. Consequently, he would have fewer troops to defend his centre when the main attack occurred there. He would begin with a general bombardment and most of his artillery was dispersed along the ridge to that effect. Artillery was crucial for his plan as, after a short bombardment, he would concentrate hisgrand batterie of eighty-four guns to fire upon the Allied centre left. This would prepare the ground for the main infantry attack by d’Erlon’s I Corps. If this successfully penetrated the enemy line, Napoleon would send Lobau’s VI Corps forward to exploit this gain, backed by the Imperial Guard if necessary. He hoped that this would split the Anglo-Allied Army in two, allowing him to isolate and defeat its remaining elements or pursue them northwards.

On the right flank to the east of La Belle Alliance, Napoleon placed d’Erlon’s Corps, which was relatively fresh. This was drawn up in four divisions under Generals Allix, Donzelot, Marcognet and Durutte. Behind them lay Milaud’s IV Cavalry Corps and Jaquinot’s cavalry protected the far right of the army before Papellotte. Although Napoleon predicted that the Prussians would take some time to reform, he took the precaution of sending the 7th Hussars under Colonel Marbot to monitor the area on his extreme right flank, implying that he was not entirely complacent about the possible threat of Prussian intervention.

Reille’s II Corps was drawn up to the south of the chateau at Hougoumont in three brigades. Piré’s cavalry lay on the extreme left flank just before the Nivelle road and behind II Corps were two divisions of cavalry under General Kellerman. Napoleon had massed his main strength behind La Belle Alliance on both sides of the high road. VI Corps lay on the left under Count Lobau along with Guyot’s Guard Cavalry to their right on the other side of the highway. Behind them stood the infantry of the Imperial Guard, the elite striking force of the Armée du Nord. The Old, Middle and Young Guard stood on either side of the great highway, poised to strike the fatal blow if all went well for the French this day. All told, Napoleon’s army at Waterloo totalled 71,947 men; 48,950 infantry, 15,765 cavalry, 7,232 gunners and 246 cannon.

Although the sun now shone, the ground was still very wet and, frustratingly for the French, it would reduce the mobility of troops and lessen the ricochet effect of the artillery’s roundshot unless they waited for it to dry out. Many French soldiers were puzzled by the uncharacteristic slowness on the part of their Emperor, who must have seethed inwardly at the delays.

PRINCE JÉRÔME BONAPARTE

Napoleon kept a watchful eye on Jérôme as the youngest of his brothers but was frequently disappointed by his dissolute behaviour and lacklustre performance. His military career began in the Consular Guard but Napoleon transferred him to the navy where he disgraced himself by jumping ship in America and marrying an American woman called Elizabeth Patterson without consulting his family. The Emperor swiftly annulled this unfortunate union. Jérôme fought against Prussia in 1806 and was promoted General of Division the following year. Proclaimed King of Westphalia in 1807, his overspending accrued large national debts and the subjects of this new kingdom raised few objections when he was deposed in 1813.

Jérôme had fought for Napoleon in 1809 but relinquished command of the VIII Corps during the Invasion of Russia in 1812 after receiving criticism from his brother. He rallied to the Emperor in 1815 and received command of the 6th Infantry Division in Reille’s II Corps. Although officially in command, Napoleon appointed General Armand Guilleminot to provide Jérôme with expert advice and close support. The division included thirteen elite infantry battalions and saw action at Quatre Bras, where Jérôme received a slight wound.

Despite placing his brother in an important command, Napoleon had once complained to Jérôme that: ‘You think and talk of nothing but trifles’, and while he displayed great bravery at Waterloo, some of his decisions during his attempts to seize Hougoumont reflected his unreliable nature.

THE BATTLE BEGINS

The battle started at about 11.30am when French artillery began firing upon the woods before Hougoumont. Napoleon had ordered General Reille to make a demonstration against the chateau; capturing the woods and southern approaches would be sufficient for this purpose. Reille began the cannonade using a divisional battery of II Corps and their fire soon drew a response from three British batteries on the opposing ridge. A large artillery duel soon developed as Prince Jérôme led Bauduin’s Brigade forward into the woods. As he did so, Piré’s lancers advanced along and at the side of the Nivelles road to cover the manoeuvre. Meanwhile, cannon fire broke out along the French ridge in a general bombardment of the Allied positions.

Bauduin’s Brigade descended into the valley and their skirmishers entered the woods, engaging the Hanoverian and Nassauer troops there. The 1st Légèr followed and a fierce fight ensued with the Allies falling back slowly and contesting every thicket. Dense undergrowth assisted the defenders and Bauduin was shot dead at an early stage in the action, while urging his troops forward. Subsequently Jérôme ordered the 3rd Ligne up in their support. The Hanoverian Jägers (Hanoverian riflemen) fought well under the cover of the forest and the Nassauer troops gave ground stubbornly as the French gradually forced them to retire towards the buildings. Pressing forward under the trees the French often came to close quarters and hand-to-hand fighting occurred many times during this fierce struggle. Some of the Guards units emerged from Hougoumont to support their allies but French numbers soon told and the Hanoverians abandoned the woods, falling back to the shelter of the buildings.

Initially the chateau, farm and orchard were garrisoned by four light companies drawn from the elite 1st and 2nd Guards Brigades. Outside in the woods and garden were one battalion of the 1st Nassau Regiment, a company of the 1st Lüneburg Regiment and a company of Jägers. Reinforcements drawn from the 1st King’s German Legion Battalion, 3rd Hanoverian Brigade and Guards Division would eventually play a role but Wellington never increased the defender’s numbers to much over 6,000 men (3,500 defending the complex with around 2,500 in support behind the farm) despite the pressure Hougoumont eventually came under.

Lieutenant Colonel Macdonell was in overall command at Hougoumont with Lieutenant Colonels Lord Saltoun and Henry Wyndam overseeing the defence of the orchard, the farm and chateau. Lieutenant Colonel Dashwood commanded troops defending the garden and the ground around the farm itself. All doors and gates to the complex were barred and heavily barricaded. Although the northern gate was barred, it was kept free of obstruction as the garrison hoped to receive fresh supplies of ammunition and reinforcements via this entrance at the rear.

After an hour’s heavy fighting, the wood fell to the French but they had difficulty crossing the thirty paces between the edge of the trees and Hougoumont, raked as it was by musketry fired from the walls and roofs of the complex, which had been loopholed with men at each firing point. To overcome the slow loading rate of the musket, the Guards posted three or four men at each loophole with one man firing while the others loaded and passed muskets to him in turn. By this method, an almost continuous rate of fire was maintained.

The south gate at Hougoumont after the battle. (The Leisure Hour, 1890)

General Guilleminot urged Jérôme to consolidate his position and simply harass the garrison but his soldiers’ blood was up: ‘instead of being contented with holding the wood according to orders, the French furiously attacked the loopholed and defended wall. They attempted to break in the great door, which was recessed, and therefore protected by a murderous crossfire.’

Men climbed on each other’s shoulders to scale the garden walls, only to be shot down as they did or bayoneted if they managed to jump down behind this barrier. The walls were 6ft high and all the French could see was the smoke of muskets fired through the loopholes as they attacked. The woods largely shielded Hougoumont from the cannon on the ridge so the French were unable to batter gaps in the walls or buildings for their infantry to exploit. They suffered around 1,500 casualties while taking the woods alone and Reille dispatched orders for the Division to retire to the tree line and not waste any more men. Indeed, heaps of casualties now lay before Hougoumont but Jérôme still felt that success was within his grasp.

General Soye’s brigade (around 8,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Ligne Regiments) was ordered up, allowing the 1st Légèr to march around the side of Hougoumont and to attack it from its northern and western sides. Having left the protection of the woods, artillery on the Allied ridge above was able to fire down at them from only 600yd (548m) away. Many were killed but, despite their losses, the French pressed forward and assaulted the northern gate.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL SIR JAMES MACDONELL

James Macdonell was the son of Clan Chief Duncan Macdonell of Glengarry and received an ensign’s commission in 1793. He served in a series of campaigns including Naples, Sicily and Egypt and by 1811 was promoted captain in the 2nd Foot (Coldstream) Guards. He also fought in the Peninsula, seeing considerable action between 1812 and 1814. The Guard regiments benefited from a dual rank system, meaning that Macdonell’s regimental rank of captain was the equivalent to a lieutenant colonelcy in the rest of the army.

A powerfully built man with an impressive soldierly appearance, he supposedly provided Sir Walter Scott with the inspiration for the character of Fergus MacIvor in his novel Waverley (1814). His part in the defence of Hougoumont made Macdonell a national hero in Britain, particularly for his role in defeating the French incursion at one of the main crisis points in the action. Revd John Norcross was among those who offered Waterloo veterans annual pensions in appreciation of their bravery. Norcross left a bequest of £500 (approximately £25,000 today) in his will for Wellington to bestow upon the man that he considered the bravest veteran of the battle. The Duke nomi-nated Macdonell after the courage he displayed in securing the north gate during the battle. However, Macdonell nobly declined and insisted that the bequest was shared with other members of the garrison who had participated in this action.

French attacks on Hougoumont.

Some of the loopholes in the garden wall. Most were cut at shoulder height so that muskets could be fired through them by a defender standing behind the wall. The loopholes were reinforced in Victorian times to preserve them.

A BATTLE WITHIN A BATTLE

At about 12.30pm leading elements of the 1st Légèr assailed the north-west side of Hougoumont and a group of men tried to force the north gate open. Lieutenant Legros (nicknamed l’enfonceur – ‘the smasher’ by his men) seized a pioneer’s axe and hacked his way through a panel, enabling them to enter. With a triumphant roar of ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ his men rushed after him into the courtyard. Some accounts claim that 100 men followed Legros but most estimate that only 40–50 actually gained entry.

A savage close-quarters fight broke out in the courtyard with bayonets, swords and musket butts. Yet the struggle was uneven as the French came under heavy fire from Guardsmen in the upper windows of the chateau, shooting into the struggling melee below them. Colonel Macdonell, hearing that the perimeter had been breached, led a group of officers and men to secure the gate. Fighting their way through the press, Macdonell and Corporal James Graham were among those who set their shoulders to the gates and pushed them closed in the very faces of more French infantry trying to get in. They barred the gate with difficulty and began piling up timber against it as musket butts continued to pound upon it from outside.

Looking from inside Hougoumont in the direction that the French attacked once they had forced the north gate.

The French infantrymen who had charged into the courtyard were all hunted down and shot or bayoneted, as the Guards knew that if the enemy gained a foothold, their defence was doomed. According to most accounts, they only spared one unarmed drummer boy from the slaughter. Macdonell brought up more defenders to fire through the loopholes or over the wall at the French light infantry still massing outside. Observing that the north and west sides of Hougoumont were under great threat, Major General Byng ordered the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards to descend from the ridge and attack, taking some pressure off the defenders. After sustaining heavy losses, the 1st Légèr then withdrew.

Wellington had observed the progress of the French and, when the 1st Légèr emerged from the woods and Soye’s brigade came up, he ordered Major Bull’s artillery battery to move further along the ridgeline so that they could fire into the woods. Bull’s battery contained howitzers and, knowing possession of the woods was still contested, Wellington realized that their capability of laying down indirect fire was necessary, as cannon already in the area feared hitting their own men or striking the chateau.

Soye had mounted another major attack against the western side of Hougoumont, which was beaten off with difficulty. Elements of the Guards then emerged to mount a counter-attack before retiring inside once more. A third French assault was made against the orchard at around 12.45pm and the area was bitterly contested during more than an hour’s fighting. With great difficulty, the French had dragged a howitzer through the wood and now began to fire shells over the walls into the courtyard and onto the roofs of the buildings. Saltoun led a sortie to silence this gun but was repulsed. At 1.00pm, the Grand Batterie began a heavy bombardment of Wellington’s central positions.

By 1.45pm, on the other side of the battlefield, d’Erlon’s attack on Wellington’s centre was underway. Shortly afterward, elements of General Foy’s Division mounted another desperate assault against Hougoumont’s orchard and further reinforcements from the Guards were sent to relieve Saltoun, whose men had suffered serious losses. Soye mounted another attack from the south-east over the next hour but Bulls’s Battery was now in position and began shelling the woods using spherical case shot (shrapnel shells) to support the garrison’s muskets. Exploding above the woods, these shells rained musket balls and fragments of shell casing down onto the attackers and, even with the protection of the trees, many were struck down. Such projectiles usually inflicted wounds rather than killing outright but their fire was enough to make the attack falter and the French eventually pulled back.

By 3.00pm, fighting still raged around Hougoumont and the garrison had beaten off five major assaults, but the French howitzer in the wood, supported by howitzer fire from the ridge, was causing serious damage and the barns and chateau were set alight by the shells crashing through their roofs. Colonel Woodford of the Coldstream Guards led reinforcements into Hougoumont and recalled the fearful nature of the blaze: ‘The heat and smoke of the conflagration were very difficult to bear. Several men were burnt, as neither Colonel Macdonell nor myself could penetrate to the stables where the wounded had been carried.’

Hougoumont’s chapel – the only part of the manor house to escape the flames during the battle. (The Leisure Hour, 1890)

The fires were burning out of control and some wounded perished horribly but the French attacks were lessening in intensity. Woodford believed that they were poorly executed after the first few assaults and the enemy switched their concentration to harassing the defenders rather than seizing the complex. French tirailleurs (sharpshooters) kept up a heavy fire on the buildings, especially at communicating doors, and many men were killed or injured.

Observing flame and smoke rising above the chateau, Wellington sent a dispatch to Macdonell, offering remarkably sound and well-phrased advice considering that he was in the middle of commanding a battle:

I see that the fire has communicated from the haystack to the roof of the château. You must however still keep your men in those parts to which the fire does not reach. Take care that no men are lost by the falling in of the roof, or floors. After they will have fallen in, occupy the ruined walls inside of the garden, particularly if it should be possible for the enemy to pass through the embers to the inside of the House.

By this time, the first major French attack on the other side of the battlefield had been repulsed and it was becoming clear that Hougoumont must be captured if the French were to dislodge Wellington’s army from western side of the ridge. Between six and seven assaults were made against the complex and, although there were lulls in the action at other points on the battlefield throughout the day, fighting raged around the chateau continuously until 7.30pm that evening.

If Hougoumont had fallen, the Allied right flank would have been dangerously exposed and Napoleon would undoubtedly have exploited such an advantage. Although holding his defensive line ultimately depended upon a number of factors, Wellington gave due credit to the defenders of the chateau after the battle, remarking: ‘The success of the Battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates at Hougoumont.’

At the height of this struggle, Hougoumont virtually became a battle within a battle. Desperate French attempts to take the chateau lured in between 13,000–15,000 men from three divisions – those of Jérôme, Foy and Bachelu. Napoleon badly needed these soldiers elsewhere on the battlefield and what began as a diversionary attack ended up draining his reserves rather than Wellington’s, which was the exact opposite of what he had intended. Events had spiralled out of his control and the Emperor must have cursed the excessive zeal of some officers.

Viewpoints

WELLINGTON’S ELM TREE CROSSROADS (LOCATION MAP REFERENCES 2, 3 AND 4)

Wellington’s crossroads are located at what was once the centre of the Allied position and good views of a large portion of the battlefield can be seen from this area. Allied troops were deployed to the west and east of this position up to 1,640yd (1,500m) away. La Belle Alliance can be discerned quite clearly from the crossroads and the fact that this conflict took place over a small area becomes immediately apparent. Looking south, one can see the ridge where the French deployed and the highway runs north towards Brussels 8 miles (12km) away. Therefore, it is easy to see why Napoleon devoted so much effort to seizing this strategically important crossroads.

There are numerous commemorative monuments placed around the crossroads including those for Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, the Belgian Monument and the Hanoverian Memorial, along with some recent smaller constructions dedicated to General Picton and various regiments. All of these monuments are described in detail in Chapter 6. There were no buildings here in 1815, but a few have been constructed on the north-western angle of the crossroads including the Grill de l’Empereur Café and Le 1815 Hôtel.

Wellington and his staff stood near the crossroads at the beginning of the battle and, although the commander-in-chief was constantly on the move along the ridge throughout the day, he regularly returned to this point. After all, it not only provided a good view of most of the threatened areas as various crises developed but Wellington guessed that its capture lay at the heart of Napoleon’s strategy. A solitary elm tree used to stand at the south angle of the highroad running towards Charleroi and the Route du Lion (leading to the Lion Village) and Wellington frequently stood here to watch events at various points. He was usually mounted as he did this and the late Professor Richard Holmes often commented, from direct personal experience, that battlefields look rather different to an observer from horseback. He often rode over battlefields and valued the experience not only through the increase in height gained by a rider but because most commanders of the period enjoyed a similar perspective.

The monument dedicated to the Belgian soldiers killed or wounded at Waterloo. It is located at the north-east corner of Wellington’s crossroads.

Although this famous tree miraculously survived the conflict that raged about it, including several intense artillery bombardments, it was felled in 1818. This was the year that Mr J B Children of the British Museum visited the battlefield, which had already become a major attraction for tourists in Europe, although most were from the upper or middle classes at that time. Many people came to the site wanting to see Wellington’s famous tree but trampled down surrounding crops in their eagerness to do so, the owner of the land lamenting: ‘so many people came to visit it that the produce of half an acre of land was annually lost in consequence’. In the misguided hope that it would reduce the number of curious sightseers, he decided to have the elm cut down.

Hearing of the landowner’s intent, the enterprising Mr Children purchased the resulting timber and took it back to England. He used the wood to manufacture ‘Souvenirs of Waterloo’, which rapidly became valuable. The Connoisseur Magazine of 1904 recorded that the most prominent of the objects fashioned from the elm were a sideboard and chair, which then resided in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Harold MacFarlane, who wrote the article, also observed that while Napoleon’s romanticized defeat had increased the value of antiques associated with him by at least a hundredfold, objects linked with Wellington like this were worth rather less. It is interesting that even minor objects from Longwood House, where Napoleon stayed during his final exile on St Helena, often command higher prices in comparison. Nevertheless, he also shrewdly observed that relics connected with the victor of Waterloo regularly appeared in private rather than public collections and rarely came up for auction.

The Brabant Tourist Authority planted a plane tree as a replacement for Wellington’s elm in 1958, which stands in the angle of the southern and western branches of the crossroads just as its predecessor did in 1815. The farmhouse of La Haye Sainte can be seen from this point and it becomes clear how it nestles into the foot of the ridge just as the slope rises towards these crossroads. It was of great importance to Wellington’s defensive strategy and how close it was to falling at various stages during the struggle would have been clearly apparent to observers at the crossroads, even without the use of a telescope.

The crossroads were overrun during the huge French cavalry assaults (see Chapter 5) but the closest it came to being captured was at around 6.30pm when La Haye Sainte fell to French assault and the position was fired upon by cannon placed near the farm. Their direct fire inflicted considerable damage on the infantry deployed on both sides of the crossroads until their gunners were targeted and neutralized by riflemen of the 95th Foot. It is worth considering that many thousands of men lost their lives in the immediate vicinity of the crossroads.

As the main highway runs directly between Brussels and Charleroi, it is incredibly busy and, although there are crossing points, pedestrians should take great care here. Being an Englishman, the author committed the cardinal sin of looking left instead of right on a Continental road and almost paid dearly for this inattention. Drivers should also take care about turning around here as all of its roads are well used by traffic. It is preferable to drive further along on the roads running away from the highway before attempting any complicated manoeuvres. During the research for this book, Stuart Hadaway (who was driving) commented: ‘I don’t like these crossroads,’ to which the author responded, ‘Neither did the French!’

THE LION MOUND (LOCATION MAP REFERENCE 8)

The Lion Mound (Montagne du Lion or alternatively the Butte du Lion) is unquestionably the most imposing monument made to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo and the 1815 campaign. It is visible from many miles away and is very useful to visitors since it provides an orienteering point from other locations on the battlefield.

Formed between 1823 and 1826 on the orders of King William I, it was constructed on the approximate spot where his son (the Prince of Orange) was wounded in the shoulder while fighting on the right flank of the Allied line. Although the Kingdom of the Netherlands paid most of the costs, other Allied states contributed funds to pay for its construction. The scale of the project was staggering for the period, some 10 million cubic feet of earth being used to build a giant pyramid, which was surmounted by the colossal statue of a lion.

Several hundred tons of soil were excavated from the centre right of the Allied ridge, the banks of the sunken lane and land around La Haye Sainte. Around 2,000 labourers accomplished these tasks, mainly miners from the Liège area and a large number of these were women. They dug the soil using spades and picks and conveyed it either by cart or in wicker baskets carried upon their backs. Around 600 carts and hundreds of horses were required to complete the mound.

The construction of the Lion Mound was controversial during the early nineteenth century, many Frenchmen seeing it as a triumphal monument that symbolized the crushing defeat of their army, the downfall of republicanism and a blatantly ostentatious reminder of the Allied victory over France. Raising the mound also had the unfortunate side effect of unearthing human remains interred shortly after the battle and, when the Revd Falconer visited the site during its construction in 1825, he observed bones lying by the roadside. He was horrified to record that these were often taken by passers-by as grisly mementoes of Waterloo.

The lion statue was cast in nine bronze pieces at the Cokerill Works in Liège and assembled on the spot. The pedestal was also made in three sections and all of these were carried separately due to their weight via canal. The final leg of their journey continued overland and each required as many as twenty horses to drag them on carts.

The hill is 139ft (42.5m) high with a circumference of about 1,699ft (518m). The lion itself is symbolic of the Netherlands and Britain and faces defiantly towards France with its front right paw placed upon a globe. Thankfully, the passage of time has lessened the political impact of this symbolism and many now see it as a general commemoration of all the lives lost on this battlefield. The statue is 14ft (4.5m) high, 14ft (4.5m) wide and weighs 28 tons (28.4 metric tonnes). It stands upon a vast blue-stone plinth, supported by a column of bricks extending down to the hill’s foundations.

There are 226 stone steps leading to the summit of the mound and, while the views gained from the top are worth the effort of climbing them, elderly or infirm visitors may wish to think carefully before attempting an ascent. The mound is maintained by the Bataille 1815 Association which charges a fee for access to the mound that also includes entry to the adjacent Waterloo Panorama (see Chapter 11). This is a nonprofit making organization and the revenue gained contributes to the upkeep of the mound.

A close-up of the Lion Mound. This incredible monument took three years to construct (1823–6).

The Lion Mound offers splendid views of the battlefield from a perspective that was unavailable to any of the actual participants in 1815. While it is useful to see the field from this vantage point, it can give a false impression by making areas of the battlefield seem a lot flatter than they actually are. Furthermore, its construction has altered the lie of the land on the Allied right, as the ridge was steeper in 1815 and much of the ‘sunken lane’ is now exposed. As the steepness of the ridge and the depth of the lane’s embankment are often debated due to their influence on the fighting, this has had a marked impact on the way the battle is analysed by historians. The most famous critic of the mound was the Duke himself who visited the area again some years after its construction. ‘They have ruined my battlefield’ he remarked frostily, referring to the geographical change its construction had wrought.

THE ANGLO-ALLIED RIGHT FLANK

The appearance of the ground where the right wing of the Anglo-Allied Army was deployed is now somewhat altered. Even from the summit of the Lion Mound, Hougoumont can only be partially seen because of the trees standing behind it. Nevertheless, it is evident from this height that the chateau stood in front of the Allied line and fire from its defenders would have caused heavy casualties in French attack formations marching past it.

Looking from the top of the Lion Mound, and by actually walking along the lane, it can be seen that the Allies were deployed in a roughly triangular shape. Looking at the Allied positions (see Map 7) they appear haphazard in comparison to the near perfect symmetry of the French deployment but this is deceptive as Wellington had planned a concentrated and in-depth defensive pattern. The first line lay just behind the lane and the contours of the ridge here have been softened by the massive removal of soil from the area. The banks that once lined this lane are also gone for the same reason but it is open to debate just how much the ground has changed from its appearance in 1815. Nevertheless, it is still possible to see that artillery batteries placed along the line of this lane would have had a good view down into the valley where the massed cavalry attacks and the advance of the Imperial Guard took place.

THE ANGLO-ALLIED LEFT FLANK

The left flank of the Anglo-Allied Army lay to the east of the crossroads and the bulk of the infantry was deployed behind the road on the reverse slope of the Mont St Jean ridge. Today this road is open and the quickset hedges that ran along it have disappeared. Thomas Creevey, a writer and newspaper correspondent who witnessed the aftermath of the battle, recalled that they were small and ragged hedges and it is unsurprising that farmers in later years removed them to improve access to this land. Their appearance when Creevey saw them was probably altered by damage sustained during the battle itself.

Various points along this road, which traces the same route as in 1815, provide good views of the Allied positions on the left. Many visitors are surprised at how subtle the ridge is, expecting a far more pronounced geographical feature. However, observing these positions from the opposing ridge or down in the valley reveals how well concealed infantry formations would have been, especially when ordered to lie down. Despite Creevey’s observations, the hedges and their contribution to concealment can only be guessed at today.

Artillery batteries were placed along this narrow road and some were dug into hedgerows to give better protection for the gunners. At first sight, the land appears open to the south where d’Erlon’s attack advanced and the well-sited guns enjoyed a clear field of fire. Closer observation reveals several patches of dead ground that would have hampered the gunners’ aim as the land undulates in places. Modern farming techniques have softened the contours of this land and the ridge itself but it is obvious that this was good defensive ground for the Anglo-Allied Army.

LE CAILLOU (LOCATION MAP REFERENCE 17)

Napoleon spent the night at this farmhouse, which stands on the eastern side of the Brussels–Genappe road about 3,280yd (3,000m) to the south of La Belle Alliance. Napoleon conferred many times with his generals and staff here, before making the decision to delay the attack until late morning on 18 June and issuing orders for his army’s deployment. He argued with his generals in Le Caillou and was particularly short-tempered and irritable that evening, probably due to the unavoidable delays that the bad weather conditions imposed, which interfered with his plans.

Major Duuring’s Battalion from the 1st Regiment of Chasseurs in the Old Guard bivouacked in the grounds and orchard to protect their Emperor and the house was full of staff officers seeking shelter from the incessant rain. Therefore, Napoleon only occupied one room in the building. A small monument in the grounds records the presence of Duuring’s battalion.

At about 6.00am on 19 June, Prussian soldiers set Le Caillou alight and a number of French wounded sheltering within perished in the flames. In the chaos of the disordered French retreat, Napoleon left numerous belongings here that fell into the hands of the Allies. These included two of his personal horses, one of which was called ‘Marengo’, the name of a previous battle he had fought in Italy. Taken to England, Marengo soon died but his bones are currently displayed at the National Army Museum, London.

The ossuary in the garden of Le Caillou containing the bones of many slain in the battle. An inscription reads: ‘For the Emperor often, for the Fatherland always’.

The main shells of these buildings survived and Le Caillou was rebuilt in 1818, later being used as a stagecoach inn and a cabaret. With interest in the battle increasing, Le Caillou was completely restored in 1865 by the architect Emile Coulon. By the twentieth century, it had become a museum for the battlefield and measures were taken legally to protect the structure.

An ossuary was constructed in the garden of Le Caillou in 1912 to house the bones of soldiers discovered on the battlefield. Most of these remains are believed to be French, although some are likely to be Anglo-Allied or Prussian, but an inscription in Latin reads: ‘For the Emperor often, for the Fatherland always’.

The unusual new statue of Napoleon donated by Luigi di Quintana Bellini Trinchi that depicts him bareheaded and at the moment when he realized defeat was inevitable.

A magnificent modern statue of Napoleon has recently been erected near the garden gateway (the iron finials of which are wrought in the shape of the socket bayonets used on muskets). Unusually it depicts him bareheaded with a collapsed spyglass in one hand and his left arm outstretched. The statue’s stance conveys an impression of shock and surprise, clearly depicting the instant when the Emperor realized that his defeat was inevitable and that the scale of the disaster would probably result in his downfall.

The statue was donated in 2010 by its sculptor, Luigi di Quintana Bellini Trinchi, who lays claim to the title Prince of Cagnano. He is a member of an Italian-Polish branch of the Knights of the Order of Malta and presented the statue as gesture of reconciliation between this Order and Napoleon (who had dissolved the Order after seizing Malta on his way to Egypt in 1799). It also commemorates the Italian and Polish troops who fought in 1815 on the French side.

Today the museum contains many interesting exhibits including one of Napoleon’s famous travelling camp beds, numerous busts, paintings, prints, models and relics recovered from the battlefield. One of these is the skeleton of a French Hussar (light cavalryman) who seems to have been killed by sabre blows and shot by a musket. As the display of human remains is a sensitive subject, this exhibit is both fascinating and controversial.

THE LA BELLE ALLIANCE RIDGE (FRENCH RIDGE)

This ridge curves around the western side of Hougoumont and runs eastward in a concave line to a point about 492yd (450m) south of Papelotte. It is approximately 4,046yd (3,700m) long and the distance between it and the Allied line varies between 1,531yd (1,400m) at its furthest point between La Belle Alliance and the Elm Tree crossroads and 382yd (350m) at its narrowest point opposite the Chateau of Hougoumont. It is slightly lower than the opposing ridge and at most points along its length, infantry formations placed on the reverse slopes of the Mont St Jean ridge would have been difficult to see.

The view the French had of Hougoumont from their ridge has changed greatly as the extensive woods that once stood before the chateau have been felled over the intervening years. In 1815, the French could see very little of the structure beyond the rooftops and even these might have been obscured from certain points. It is important to consider this when analysing the way in which the French attacked, since the strength of the complex was far from evident from their point of view. However, this still does not explain their refusal to give up the struggle until the closing stages of the battle.

Napoleon had to get his troops in readiness for battle as quickly as possible in order to press his strategic advantage and, although he deployed the bulk of his cavalry out of sight on the reverse slopes, the ridge conveyed few advantages for the purposes of attack.

THE INN OF LA BELLE ALLIANCE (LOCATION MAP REFERENCE 11)

La Belle Alliance itself was a small farm that also served as an inn in 1815, and dates back to circa 1765–70. Napoleon rode to this point on the night of 17 June to observe the positioning of the enemy’s bivouac fires and to judge whether Wellington intended to stand and fight. In common with his usual practice, Wellington had forbidden campfires for this very reason, although not all his soldiers obeyed. However, this might explain Napoleon’s initial uncertainty about whether there would be a battle the following morning or not. He returned the next morning and stood by the inn as his troops marched past him cheering (which he quietly acknowledged) as they took up positions along the ridge. Napoleon later established a second command post nearby to the east of this inn on a hillock (see Chapter 4).

The inn and farm of La Belle Alliance where Napoleon and his staff established his second command post closer to the main action.

The French used the main building as an aid station during the battle and several cannon balls penetrated the roof as the surgeons tended the wounded. A plaque on the house wall records their efforts and bravery in French and translates as: ‘In memory of the French Medical Corps who attended to the wounded with devotion on the 18 June 1815 – Napoleon Foundation’.

At the closing stages of the battle, Wellington and Blücher encountered each other by chance as their troops pressed the French retreat. Speaking in a mixture of German and French (the only language they shared) Blücher embraced him (a difficult feat to achieve as they were both mounted), saying: ‘Mein lieber kamerad’ and then ‘Quelle affaire!’ The Field Marshal indicated how symbolically apt the name of the inn was and consequently Prussian historians referred to the struggle as the Battle of La Belle Alliance for many years afterward. A nearby plaque records the meeting of the two generals in this vicinity.

In recent years, the building has been used as a restaurant and bar but it is closed at the time of writing. Nonetheless, it is still well maintained and plans exist to reopen it for similar purposes once again.

ROSSOMME

The farmhouse of Rossomme no longer exists having burnt down in 1895. However, it played little part in the events of 1815 but of greater interest are the so-called ‘heights of Rossomme’ on the western side of the highway about 1,640yd (1,500m) south of La Belle Alliance. This is a gentle hillock rather than a serious height and Napoleon set up his first command post here. One officer recalled seeing the Emperor here at close quarters:

Seated on a straw chair, in front of a coarse farm table, he was holding his map open on the table. His famous spyglass in his hand was often trained on the various points of the battle. When resting his eye, he used to pick up straws of wheat which he carried in his mouth as a toothpick. Stationed on his left, Marshal Soult alone waited for his orders and ten paces to the rear were grouped all his staff on horseback … Never will one meet a greater or more perfect calm than that of Napoleon on the day of battle … Satisfaction could be seen written on his face and there is no doubt that at this moment he thought his battle was won.

Today the view towards the north-east and directly east are partly obscured by modern houses and trees planted along the highway but Napoleon was able to discern the Prussian vanguard by spyglass at the heights of Chapelle-St Robert, where they were first spotted at around 1.00pm. The village of Plancenoit could also be seen more clearly from here in 1815 and, if he lingered here too long, it was almost certainly due to Napoleon’s concern about the threat they posed to his right flank and rear.

A view towards the Lion Mound from the Rossomme area. This was the point where Napoleon initially set up his command post to watch the battle.

The Emperor returned here after reviewing his troops as they deployed near La Belle Alliance and some historians (such as Mark Adkin) believe that he remained in the vicinity of Rossomme from 9.30am to around 2.00pm before moving forward to a better vantage point near La Belle Alliance. Standing on the hillock today, the Lion Mound can be clearly seen but it is some way in the distance and, in the author’s view, Napoleon would have quickly changed his vantage point, as it lies too far away to observe the progress of the French attacks against the Anglo-Allied Army in detail.

THE CHATEAU AT HOUGOUMONT AND ITS ENVIRONS (LOCATION MAP REFERENCE 10)

The best way to reach Hougoumont is to walk along the formerly sunken lane (that traces the line of the Anglo-Allied Army’s deployment on the right) on foot. This begins from the Lion Village next to the Panorama. The battlefield centre usually provides hourly transport for a fee for those who require this service, as it is a good 15–20 minutes walk proceeding largely through open fields.

Alternatively, since vehicular access to the lane is restricted, drivers can head towards the motorway from the Lion Village and turn left at the crossroads immediately after it. After driving roughly a mile, turn left again and continue over the bridge spanning the motorway. A small signpost points to Goumont (the locals prefer the older name of the chateau) on the right and by driving along the road, which slopes sharply downward from this point, you will reach a car park immediately before Hougoumont. It is advisable to park here rather than drive up to the structure.

There is an information board by the car park describing the events of 1815 in this area and it is easy to appreciate the chateau’s tactical relevance from this point. Indeed, this sunken area was out of sight from the majority of the Allied positions behind this location and therefore it would be difficult to cover by artillery. Some of Napoleon’s generals proposed a flanking manoeuvre to assault Wellington’s position, which was rejected by the Emperor in favour of a frontal assault on the Anglo-Allied line. Had this been attempted Hougoumont’s importance would have doubled, as the fall of the complex would have been even more crucial for winning the battle.

Until relatively recently, Hougoumont was a working farm but, since the death of the last farmer who generously allowed battlefield tourists access to the property, it has been closed and access is restricted. Currently some of the buildings are in a state of disrepair and Project Hougoumont, begun by the late Professor Richard Holmes, has been set up to raise funds to restore it and (hopefully) open it as a museum dedicated to the battle.

Although many of the original buildings still stand, the appearance of Hougoumont has changed since 1815, largely due to destruction wrought upon it during the battle itself. At that time, the buildings stood around two inner courtyards and the chateau itself was an imposing structure with a small tower and attached chapel. More akin to an English manor house than a ‘castle,’ as the French word implies, it was constructed in the 1600s or before. This building was destroyed during the battle along with the original farmer’s house, two large cow houses and the cart sheds. Only its small chapel remains, which suffered some damage.

Hougoumont from the south today. Most of the French attacks were directed against this side of the chateau’s buildings and grounds.

The large orchard at the north of the garden is now gone but the walls that enclosed the then formal gardens are still present, though they have tumbled down in places, notably on the eastern side. The formal gardens used to be set out in elaborate eighteenth-century style and were once the pride of the Chevalier de Louville, who owned the chateau in 1815, retaining a full-time gardener for their upkeep. The Chevalier sold the complex shortly after 1815 and the area was allowed to grass over for use as a grazing paddock.

The walls enclosing the paddock are made of red brick and are 6ft high. Loopholes for muskets still exist, particularly on the southern wall. Some of these have been shored up with stone, probably in Victorian times to preserve them, as it is unlikely that the pioneers who originally cut them would have had time to reinforce them so well.

The most obvious change to the complex’s appearance since 1815 is the absence of the woods that used to stand to the south. Many trees were felled immediately after the battle to assist the cremation of the many thousands of bodies that the army did not have time to bury. Others were so badly damaged by shellfire that they died a few years later and eventually the woods were totally cleared. Only three old, tall and dead trees remain before the southern gateway. Their leafless bare branches give them an eerie aspect and contribute to the formidable atmosphere that seems to surround Hougoumont.

The great barn, outbuildings and stable still stand along with the former gardener’s house, which in recent times became the farmhouse after the destruction of the previous dwelling. In places, the walls of the great barn bulge alarmingly and many internal beams are on the verge of collapse, requiring makeshift support. These signs of deterioration were emphasized by Professor Holmes and put forward as evidence that Hougoumont desperately needs restoration or this historically important building may collapse.

The lane leading to the north gate was once a grand affair lined with elm trees but these were felled long ago. To the left of the gateway the ‘hollow way’ begins, which stretched eastward about 437yd (400m) combining with what was once the sunken lane running along the Allied right flank. The deep embankments still exist in this area and it was along this route that Wellington’s aides brought dispatches to the defenders and ammunition supplies were driven into the besieged chateau.

The walls around the famous north gate are lower than they were during the battle and the gate is said to have had a small roof before. These features were almost certainly altered due to damage sustained in 1815 and it is many years since actual hardwood gates stood here, being long since removed to improve access to the formerly working farm.

HOUGOUMONT – INTERNAL BUILDINGS AND MONUMENTS

The north gate is a good place to enter the complex and is the location of the famous incursion by Sous Lieutenant Legros and his men, who were shot down from the windows in the chateau, which then stood above them, or killed fighting hand-to-hand with the British Guardsmen. It was early evening when the author last visited and, as the farm was utterly still and partly in shadows, it was easy to imagine that many men had met a violent end here. Indeed, Hougoumont has always had a quiet and solemn atmosphere about it.

A plaque has been set on the wall next to the gate that reads: ‘3rd Regiment of Foot Guards – in memory of the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion who died defending this farm June 18th 1815’. Just inside is another memorial recording the heroic efforts made to keep the complex supplied with ammunition, most notably that of Private Brewer who drove his wagon through a hail of enemy musket fire up to the north gate. It reads: ‘In memory of the officers and men of the Royal Wagon Train who took part in the defence of Hougoumont 18th June 1815. This tablet was erected in 1979 by the Royal Corps of Transport the successors of the Royal Wagon Train’. It is worth remembering that, but for their efforts, Hougoumont may well have fallen, as even elite troops like the Guards required sufficient powder and shot to fend off numerous determined assaults.

In the first courtyard is an old draw well that used to have an elaborate roof and dovecote above it. These were destroyed during the battle and today it is covered with a metal grille and has not been used for many years. In the battle, this well played a significant role in sustaining the defenders who suffered from great thirst during the fighting. The heat of the flames and the taste of the black powder cartridges they had to bite into while loading their muskets exacerbated their thirst and water was also drawn from the well in efforts to quench the fires. Indeed, but for this well Hougoumont may have fallen.

A view of the chapel, gardener’s house and barns from where the chateau used to stand (it was destroyed during the battle).

Victor Hugo wrote about it in Les Misérables. He described how after the battle: ‘300 bodies were thrown into the well … the faint cries of those not dead haunting the memory’. In 1985, Derek Saunders excavated the well and no human bones were found, which effectively disproved this ghastly myth.

All that remains of the former chateau are the lines of the foundations with stone and brick showing through the turf in many places. However, the chapel that once served the main house remains and suffered relatively little damage in that terrible conflagration. The flames did reach inside the structure but stopped just as they reached the large wooden crucifix on the wall, burning off the feet of Christ. At the time, this was believed to be a minor religious miracle. Sadly, thieves who carefully removed brickwork and then replaced it to conceal their actions recently stole the crucifix, which once hung on the wall to the left of the doorway. The crucifix may have been stolen on a private collector’s behalf and, hopefully, their conscience may one day persuade them to return this poignant symbol to its rightful place.

The chapel itself is bare with a plain altar and was used to tend the wounded until the Guards were forced to evacuate it due to the fire. Many wounded are said to have perished in the fire (both here and in other buildings) and a passage from the 1907 Foot Guards memorial on the outer wall bears repetition: ‘Visitors are earnestly requested to treat this chapel with respect, for within its walls on the memorable day of 18th June, 1815, many of the brave defenders of Hougoumont passed to their rest’.

The southern gateway of Hougoumont below the former gardener’s house. The French fought fiercely to gain entry at this point.

Another, modern tablet is now placed on the wall and it is more specific about the defenders’ regiments, reading: ‘First Regiment of Foot Guards – in memory of the officers and men of the light companies of the 2nd and 3rd battalions who died defending Hougoumont 18th June 1815. This tablet was erected in 1977 by their successors of the First or Grenadier Guards’.

At the south side of the courtyard is the former gardener’s house, since used by a succession of tenant farmers. It remains in surprisingly good condition compared to the rest of the complex and considering that it lay in the thick of the fighting, though some evidence of bullet damage is visible upon its walls. Many paintings of the battle depict the southern side of this building and its gateway as the French made repeated efforts to break in through this entrance. A plaque is set into the wall of the extension (a later nineteenth-century addition) dedicated to the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.

Walking through the gateway underneath the gardener’s house, it is worth continuing along the walls of the former garden. Just after the corner of the wall on the southern side, a modern plaque has been placed commemorating the fall of General Bauduin. He was shot dead near to this spot while leading the first assault on Hougoumont and was the first officer of general rank to be slain at Waterloo.

The walls enclosing the paddock are in a variable state of repair. Most of the loopholes are cut into the southern side, which is in reasonable condition, but the wall on the eastern side has tumbled down in several places. The northern side of the paddock used to be lined by hedges, which would have assisted the defenders, but these have now gone.

A plaque dedicated to the memory of General Bauduin who fell leading an assault against these walls.

There are several monuments within the paddock. The Society of Historic Studies, Friends of Waterloo, erected the French memorial on the eastern side in 1912. It pays homage to the French infantry who tried so desperately to capture Hougoumont, but it is unlikely that any of them reached this point. Topped by a Napoleonic Eagle and laurel wreath around the Cross of the Legion of Honour, the monument is ringed with a small iron fence. It has been restored twice over the intervening years and the Association for the Conservation of Napoleonic Memorials now maintains its upkeep. Its French inscription reads: ‘To the French soldiers killed at Hougoumont June 1815’. Underneath this is a line supposedly dictated by Napoleon himself during his final exile. It translates as: ‘The ground seemed proud to hold so many fine men’.

Indeed, standing within Hougoumont, it is difficult to imagine that so many fought over such a small area with over 20,000 men committed by both sides to the struggle. The French sustained at least 4,000 casualties trying to capture the chateau and, combining the casualty figures of both sides, 5,500–6,500 men fell dead or wounded here. Over an area measuring around 437 x 218yd (400 x 200m), it certainly gives visitors pause for thought.

Two gravestones also stand near the centre of the southern wall. They mark the former graves of Captain John Blackman of the Coldstream Guards, who fell defending this point, and the other used to contain the remains of Sergeant Major Edward Cotton of the 7th Hussars who fought at Waterloo but died some years after the battle. In 1890, both bodies were disinterred and now rest in the Waterloo Crypt at Evere Cemetery in Brussels.

A French monument in the garden of Hougoumont (now used as a paddock). It records their valiant attempts to capture the complex, although it is unlikely that many of them reached this point.

In 1889, a white stone was set into the wall by a relative of Captain Thomas Craufurd 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Guards Regiment who was also killed here. Today, it is partially obscured by trees and is located on the south wall between Blackman’s marker and the corner where Bauduin’s memorial is placed on the opposite side. At one stage, only around 120 men defended the southern side of the garden against repeated attacks. They benefited from the protection of the high walls and improvised fire steps to shoot over them in addition to using the loopholes. Nevertheless, considering the furious assaults made against the area, they must have been very glad when they were reinforced by the rest of their battalion after the first attacks.

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