THE FRENCH CAVALRY CHARGES

La Haie Sainte. The farm at the centre of the allied line. Resolutely defended all day long by light infantry of the King's German Legion. The Emperor belatedly recognised that it was the key to cracking Wellingtons defence.

He ordered Ney to take it at all cost. Ney was desperate to make up for his mistakes and set himself to the task with vigour. Once again the French infantry marched up the slope to surround the farm buildings with Ney himself to the forefront urging them on. But was it too late?

Word came to the Emperor that the Prussians were approaching Plancenoit, the village to the right rear of the French position. The only reserves left to him now were his soldiers of the Imperial Guard - The famous Corps of elite infantry- made up of three Divisions, the 'Young', 'Middle' and 'Old' Guard. To allay any weakening of the army's morale, word was put about that Marshal Grouchy and his men were arriving on the battlefield.

Napoleon dispatched the Voltigeurs and Carrabiniers of the Young Guard. Nearly 5.000 hand picked Light Infantry, experts in open order combat. Their initial attack threw the Prussians back for a mile. But with the constant arrival of fresh troops Blucher's determined men steadily pushed the Guards back to Plancenoit.

Marshal Ney requested more men to aid his attack on the farmhouse but the Emperor refused him, saying. 'More men? From where? Does he expect me to make them?!'

The shortage of manpower was becoming grim. The Prussian 4th Corps was advancing through Plancenoit, the Young Guard in retreat! Napoleon was forced to send in two battalions of the Middle Guard to stabilse his right wing. These Grenadiers and Chasseurs were battle hardened veterans of a dozen campaigns.They charged though the village with bayonettes, driving the enemy back, rallying the Young Guard behind them.

The fight for Plancenoit became one of the fiercest and bloodiest struggles of the whole battle.
If Napoleon's crack troops could'nt hold on to it... his army would be trapped between his enemies!

At La Haie Sainte, Major Baring and his gallant Germans had run out of ammunition and were defending the walls with club and bayonette! Ney's men, surrounding the enclosure, made sure that no relief got through to them. Finally Baring was forced to concede possession and fight his way out. Barely a handful of the defenders escaped alive. With this success the French gained a final chance to achieve victory.
Covered from attack by squadrons of Light Cavalry and the remnants of 1st Corps, Ney brought up a battery of guns to the frontline. Firing cannonades at point blank range into the standing ranks of the British Infantry! After the battle, the irishmen from the Inniskilling regiment who had stood their ground in the immediate face of this gunfire were found where they had fallen. Dead in a square.

ATTACK OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD

frontispiece

Sensing that the Allied army was at the point of collapse Napoleon made his final gamble. Ordering in his last reserve, the infantry of the Imperial Guard, never once defeated in battle. Three thousand soldiers of the Middle Guard advanced in two columns with a fanfare of music, supported by a further 12,000 men from all other troops that could be mustered. The Emperor knew that It was now or never. If his men could push the Allies off the ridge and send them into retreat, he could then turn to face the Prussians from a position of strength.

Wellington watched thier approach and realized that the battle was reaching it's climax. He ordered every available brigade and battalion to come to the centre of the line, saying. 'Every Englishmen on the field must die on the spot we now occupy!'
 

The first Imperial Guard column advanced up the slope in a hollow square formation through the hail and smoke of cannon fire. To where Maitland's British Foot Guards were waiting. Kneeling down in the wheat field just beyond the crest of the ridge in a line four ranks deep. Unseen by the Imperials until they were nearly upon them. Then at Wellington's own command they stood up to pour a succession of volleys into the startled troops at the head of the column. More than three hundred infantrymen of the Imperial Guard were shot down in less than a minute!

 

 
 

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