On the morning of the battle the opposing armies faced each other
across the gentle slopes of the valley. Wellington had positioned most
of his 73,000 men on the reverse side of the ridge so that the French
could only see his cannons, and those troops defending three fortified
strong-points to the front of the allied line - The walled Chateau and farm
of Hougoumont, surrounded by a wood. The farm of La Haie Sainte at the
centre of the allied position and the villages of Papelotte, La Haye and
Frischermont on Wellington's left flank. In and around these defences he had placed some of his best troops.

The Emperor's forces were arranged with 6th Corps in the centre,
1st Corps to the right and 2nd Corps to the left. Supported by four divisions
of heavy cavalry. With the Imperial Guard behind them in reserve.

Napoleon had wanted to make an early attack but the sogginess of the ground caused him to delay. The previous evening he had sent 33,000 of his men with Marshal Grouchy to pursue the Prussians.
The 77,000 loyal soldiers who remained with him were superior
 to their opponents in cannons, cavalry and conviction.
But Wellington was the master of defence on his chosen ground.
It all rested on whether Marshal Blucher could keep to his promise.

guards Hougomont3

At about 11.50 Napoleon began the battle with an assault on Hougoumont. Prince Jerome, the Emperor's brother, sent his Division into the Hougoumont woods forcing the Hanoverian and Nassau sharpshooters who were defending them to fall back.

Coming out of the woods the French walked into a murderous fusilade from the British Guards defending the walls and buildings. A killing ground that caused the French to retire in disorder.The woods were re-taken by the allies and lost again in the next attack.

Originally intended as a diversion, the fight to take Hougoumont became a battle within a battle which lasted for nine hours. Each side sent in more and more reinforcements, until nearly the whole of Napoleon's 2nd Corps became commited to this futile action.
Almost 18,000 men, of which 10,000 became casualties. It was only near the battles climax that Napoleon took a grip on things. Personally directing a battery of howitzers to fire into the enclosure. The roofs of the buildings were set alight and hundreds of wounded men were trapped in a blazing inferno.


Napoleon had assembled a battery of eighty guns that now proceeded to fire at the troops on the far side of the allied ridge. Most of the cannonballs flew harmlessly over the heads of the British battalions sheltering on the reverse slope.
The only visable target for the French gunners apart from the scattering of British guns was Bylandt's Netherlands Brigade, Somehow left on the exposed side of the hill. They took a fearful pounding until ordered back to a sunken road that run along the top of the ridge affording some protection.

This bombardment was followed by an advance of the four divisions of the French 1st Corps. A force of 20,000 infantry, supported by the armoured cavalry of the Cuirassiers.
The French marched up the slope in a huge column, raked by shot from the British guns, but seemingly unstoppable. To the left of the column they fought for possession of the farm house at La Haie Sainte.

A battalion of The King's German Legion was sent to reinforce thier compatriots defending the farm. Advancing in a line formation it was attacked and destroyed by the Cuirassiers!
Bylandt's Netherlanders at the top of the ridge, already shaken by the bombardment from the 'Grand Battery' fled in the face of such overwhelming numbers, leaving a gap in the allied line.

 If the French could get through this gap they would be free to attack the rest of Wellington's army in the flank and rear before the allies could adjust thier position. It would be a disaster and the battle lost!













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