Battle of Ligny

Battle of Ligny
Part of the Waterloo Campaign

Battle of Ligny by Theodore Yung
Date16 June 1815
LocationLigny, present-day Belgium
Result French victory
France French Empire Kingdom of Prussia Prussia
Commanders and leaders

Napoleon Bonaparte

Gebhard von Blücher
68,000[1] 84,000[1]
Casualties and losses
8,000-12,000 dead or wounded[2] 12,000 dead or wounded
27 cannons[lower-alpha 1]
8,000 deserters

The Battle of Ligny (16 June 1815) was the last victory of the military career of Napoleon Bonaparte. In this battle, French troops of the Armée du Nord under Napoleon's command, defeated part of a Prussian army under Field Marshal Prince Blücher, near Ligny in present-day Belgium. The Battle of Ligny is an example of a tactical win and a strategic loss, in that the bulk of the Prussian army survived and went on to play a pivotal role two days later at the Battle of Waterloo, reinforced by IV Prussian corps that had not participated in the battle at Ligny. However, had the French army succeeded in keeping the Prussian army from joining the Anglo-allied Army under Wellington at Waterloo, Napoleon might have won the Waterloo Campaign.


Map of the Waterloo campaign
Main article: Waterloo Campaign


On 13 March 1815, six days before Napoleon reached Paris, the powers at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw; four days later, the United Kingdom, Russia, Austria, and Prussia bound themselves to put 150,000 men each into the field to end his rule. Napoleon knew that, once his attempts at dissuading one or more of the Seventh Coalition Allies from invading France had failed, his only chance of remaining in power was to attack before the Coalition could put together an overwhelming force. If he could destroy the existing Coalition forces south of Brussels before they were reinforced, he might be able to drive the British back to the sea and knock the Prussians out of the war.

The Duke of Wellington expected Napoleon to try to envelop the Coalition armies, a manoeuvre that he had successfully used many times before,[3] by moving through Mons to the south-west of Brussels. The roads to Mons were paved, which would have enabled a rapid flank march. This would have cut Wellington's communications with his base at Ostend, but would also have pushed his army closer to Blücher's. In fact, Napoleon planned instead to divide the two Coalition armies and defeat them separately, and he encouraged Wellington's misapprehension with false intelligence. Moving up to the frontier without alerting the Coalition, Napoleon divided his army into a left wing, commanded by Marshal Ney, a right wing commanded by Marshal Grouchy, and a reserve, which he commanded personally (although all three elements remained close enough to support one another). Crossing the frontier at Thuin near Charleroi before dawn on 15 June, the French rapidly overran Coalition outposts and secured Napoleon's favoured "central position" – at the junction between the area where Wellington's allied army was dispersed to his north-west, and Blücher's Prussian army to the north-east.

A Prussian officer informs the Duke of Wellington—who was attending the Duchess of Richmond's ball—that the French have crossed the border at Charleroi and that the Prussians would concentrate their army at Ligny.

Only very late on the night of 15 June was Wellington certain that the Charleroi attack was the main French thrust, and he duly ordered his army to deploy near Nivelles and Quatre Bras. Early on the morning of 16 June, at the Duchess of Richmond's ball, on receiving a dispatch from the Prince of Orange, he was shocked by the speed of Napoleon's advance, and hastily sent his army in the direction of Quatre Bras, where the Prince of Orange, with the brigade of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, was holding a tenuous position against the French left, commanded by Marshal Ney.[4]} Ney's orders were to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras, so that if necessary, he could later swing east and reinforce Napoleon.

As Napoleon considered the concentrated Prussian army the greater threat, he moved against them first. The I Corps (Lieutenant-General Zieten's) rearguard actions on 15 June held up the French advance, giving Blücher the opportunity to concentrate his forces in the Sombreffe position,[lower-alpha 2] which had been selected earlier for its good defensive attributes.

Napoleon's original plan for 16 June was based on the assumption that the Coalition forces, who had been caught napping, would not attempt a risky forward concentration; and he intended therefore to push an advance guard as far as Gembloux, for the purpose of feeling for and warding off Blücher. To assist this operation the reserve would move at first to Fleurus to reinforce Grouchy, should he need assistance in driving back Blücher's troops; but, once in possession of Sombreffe, Napoleon would swing the reserve westwards and join Ney, who, it was supposed, would have in the meantime mastered Quatre Bras.[5]

In pursuance of this object Ney, to whom III Cavalry Corps (Kellermann) was now attached, was to mass at Quatre Bras and push an advanced guard about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) northward of that place, with a connecting division at Marbais to link him with Grouchy. The centre and left wing together would then make a night-march to Brussels. The Coalition forces would thus be irremediably sundered, and all that remained would be to destroy them in detail. Napoleon now awaited further information from his wing commanders at Charleroi, where he massed the VI Corps (Lobau), to save it, if possible, from a harassing countermarch, as it appeared likely that it would only be wanted for the march to Brussels. Ney spent the morning in massing his I and II corps, and in reconnoitring the enemy at Quatre Bras, who, as he was informed, had been reinforced. But up till noon he took no serious step to capture the cross-roads, which then lay at his mercy. Grouchy meantime reported from Fleurus that Prussians were coming up from Namur, but Napoleon does not appear to have attached much importance to this report. He was still at Charleroi when, between 09:00 and 10:00, further news reached him from the left that considerable hostile forces were visible at Quatre Bras. He at once wrote to Ney saying that these could only be some of Wellington's troops, and that Ney was to concentrate his force and crush what was in front of him, adding that he was to send all reports to Fleurus. Then, keeping Lobau provisionally at Charleroi, Napoleon hastened to Fleurus, arriving about 11:00.[5]

Blücher accepts battle at Ligny

Blücher having ascertained, on the morning of 16 June, that his communication with the left flank of Wellington's forces located at Quatre Bras continued uninterrupted, decided to accept battle in a position to the rear of Fleurus. It was a position that had been previously and found to be one of most suitable, in the event of Napoleon's adoption of a line of operations across the Sambre at Charleroi. Apart from the tactical considerations, there were also favourable strategic reasons for Blücher choosing the location.[6]

Wellington having, having selected Quatre Bras as the point where to concentrate his forces, the position selected by Blücher, connected as it was to the latter by the NivellesNamur paved high road over a distance of about 10 km (6.2 mi), offered great facility for co-operation and mutual support upon whichever point the greater part of the French Army of the North might be directed.[6]

Should it prove tenable, then, considered in conjunction with the advance of the Russians from the Rhine, the whole line of the river Meuse below Namur, and the communications with Aachen and the Prussian States, were secured. If, on the other hand, either position should be forced by the French, then Mont-Saint-Jean and Wavre, upon parallel lines of retreat towards Brussels and Leuven, would likewise offer the means of co-operation on the south side of the Forest of Soignies; and supposing Blücher willing to risk for a time his communication with the right bank of the Meuse, concentric lines of retreat upon Brussels would bring the two armies in combined position in the immediate front of that capital.[7]

Supposing also that Napoleon's plan had been to advance by Mons, the concentration of the Prussian forces could not have been effected upon a more favourable point than that of Sombreffe, whence they could have advanced in support of their allies, leaving a sufficient portion of the I Corps (Zieten's) to watch the approaches by Charleroi: and, finally, had Napoleon directed his main attack by Namur, the retreat of the III Corps (Thielemann's) would have secured time for effecting the concentration of the Prussian I, II (Pirch I's[lower-alpha 3]), III corps, if not also of the IV (Bülow's), while Wellington's forces might have assembled at Quatre Bras, for the purpose of meeting any secondary attack from the Charleroi side, and of forming a junction with the Prussian Army.[9]


The battlefield comprised the heights of Brye, Sombreffe, and Tongrinne,[lower-alpha 4] contiguous to the high road connecting Namur with Nivelles, by Quatre Bras, and to the point of junction of that road with the one from Charleroi, by Fleurus. These heights are bounded upon the south-west and western sides, or right of the position, by a ravine, through which winds a stream along the villages of Wagnelée, Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and Saint-Amand, near the lower end of which last, it unites with the rivulet of the Ligny; and, along the whole of the south side, or front of the position, by a valley, through which flows the Ligny, and in which lie, partly bordering the stream itself, and partly covering the declivities, the villages of Ligny, Mont-Potriaux,[lower-alpha 5] Tongrenelle, Boignée, Balâtre, and Villeret.[lower-alpha 6] At the last named point, another stream falls into the Ligny on leaving a deep ravine, which commences northward of the village of Bothey,[lower-alpha 7] and thus secured the extreme-left of the Prussian position. The extreme-right, however, resting upon the Namur road, in the direction of Quatre Bras, was completely open.[11]

The heights in rear of Saint-Amand, Ligny, and Sombreffe, are somewhat lower than those on the opposite or Fleurus side of the valley; and, from the nature of the ground, troops, particularly artillery, were more exposed on the former than on the latter, where the undulations afford better cover. The descent from either side into the villages of Wagnelée, Saitn-Amand-la-Haye, and Saint-Amand, was gentle: between the latter point and Mont-Potriaux the sides of the valley descend more rapidly: and below that village they become steep, particularly about Tongrinne, Boignée, and Balâtre: while the ground above commanded alternately from side to side. Above Mont-Potriaux, the bed of the valley was soft, and occasionally swampy: below that Mont-Potriaux the ground was still softer. The buildings in the villages were generally of stone, with thatched roofs, and comprised several farm houses with courtyards, presenting great capabilities for defence. Saint-Amand and Boignée were the most salient points of the position, the central portion of which retired considerably, particularly near Mont-Potriaux.[12]

Prussian dispositions

Prussian army on the battlefield[13]
Arms numberNotes
Less(1,200) Loss of I Corps 15 June
Total83,417, with 224 guns.

I Corps (Zieten's)

In the morning of the 16th, the I Corps (Zieten's) occupied that portion of the position which was circumscribed by the villages of Brye, Saint-Amand-la-Haye, Saint-Amand, and Ligny. The four brigades of this corps had been very much mixed up together when occupying these villages during the night, which will account in some measure for the promiscuous manner in which their several battalions appear to have been distributed during the battle. The main body of the I Corps was drawn up on the height between Brye and Ligny, and upon which stands the farm and windmill of Bussy (often referred to as the Windmill of Brye), the highest point of the whole position.[14]

Seven battalions of the 2nd Brigade (General Pirch II's[lower-alpha 3]) were formed immediately in rear of the Bussy Farm; the 28th Regiment and 2nd Westphalian Landwehr in the 1st, and the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 6th Regiment in the second, line; while the 3rd Battalion of the latter regiment occupied the farm itself, which was put into a state of defence. Two battalions of the 4th Brigade (General Donnersmarck's), namely, the 2nd battalions of the 19th Regiment and of the 4th Westphalian Landwehr, stood on the slope between the 2nd Brigade and Ligny; while the remaining four Battalions of the Brigade — the 1st and 3rd of the 19th Regiment, and the 1st and 3rd of the 4th Westphalian Landwehr — were charged with the defence of Ligny. The village of Brye was occupied by the 3rd Battalions of the 12th and 24th Regiments, belonging to the 1st Brigade (General Steinmetz's); and the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr was posted in rear of the village in support. The 1st and 3rd Companies of the Silesian Rifles, attached to this brigade, were distributed about the intersected ground between Brye and Saitn-Amand-la-Haye. The remainder of the 1st Brigade was posted on the height in the rear of Saint-Amand, its right resting on Saint-Amand-la-Haye; the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 12th Regiment on the right, and the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 24th Regiment on the left, forming a first line, with the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr forming a second. The defence of Saint-Amand was confided to three Battalions of the 3rd Brigade (General Jagow's) — the 1st and 2nd of the 29th Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Westphalian Landwehr. The remaining six battalions of this brigade were posted in reserve northward of Ligny, and near the Bois-du-Loup.[lower-alpha 8] The 2nd and 4th Companies of the Silesian Rifles were position in Ligny. The Reserve Cavalry of Zieten's Corps continued in advance, upon the Fleurus high road, watching the movements of the French.[15]

II Corps (Pirch's) in reserve to Zieten's

Field positions at the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny

It was 08:00 when these dispositions were completed; and about 11:00, Pirch's Corps, which more than an hour before had left its bivouac near Mazy, was formed up in reserve to Zieten. The 5th Brigade (Greneral Tippelskirch's) stood across the high road, near the Trois Burettes and the intersection with the old Roman road,[lower-alpha 9] in the customary Prussian Brigade order of three lines of columns of battalions at deploying intervals, and had in its front the two batteries of artillery, Numbers 10 and 37. The 6th Brigade (General Krafft's) was posted in similar order in the rear of the Farm of Bussy, and in left rear of Brye. The 7th Brigade (General Brause) stood more to the left: it had only the 14th Regiment then present, for the 22nd Regiment and the Elbe Landwehr did not rejoin it until about 13:00. The 8th Brigade (Colonel Langen's) was ordered to remain on the high road leading from Sombreffe to Fleurus, until the arrival of the III Corps (Thielemann's). One of its battalions — the 3rd of the 21st Regiment — and two Squadrons of the Neumark Dragoons attached to this corps, had been left in the line of outposts beyond the Meuse, towards Philippeville; and did not rejoin it until 20 June.[16]

The Reserve Cavalry of the II Corps (Pirch I's), under General Wahlen-Jürgass, was stationed in rear of the high road, and on the west side of Sombreffe.[16]

The twelve pounder batteries, Nos. 4 and 8, and the horse batteries, Nos. 5 and 18, remained in reserve, near Sombreffe.[16]

III Prussian Corps (Thielemann's) arrives at Sombre

The III Prussian Corps (Thielemann's), which left Namur at about 07:00, had reached Sombreffe before 12:00. It was immediately assigned its position in that part of the field which lay between Sombreffe and Balâtre, and was posted in columns upon both high roads, here to remain available for either a movement to the right, or for the occupation of the position in left front of Sombreffe, along the heights in rear of the Ligny.[17]

The military historian Siborne postulates that the dispositions made by Blücher before Napoleon's advance from Fleurus (the occupation of Ligny and Saint-Amand — the most salient part of the position — by the I Corps (Zieten's), and the posting of the Reserve Cavalry of the latter in the intervening space between those villages and Fleurus), were made to secure for the Prussian commander ample time for further developing his line of battle in such a manner as the direction and mode of his opponent's attack might render most expedient.[17]

French dispositions

French army on the battlefield[13]
Arms numberIncluding VI Corps (Lobau's)[lower-alpha 10]
Infantry43,412 51,664
Cavalry12,614 12,614
Artillery6,856 7,788
Total 62,882 men, with 204 guns. 71,966 men, with 242 guns.

The disposition of the French Left Wing, under Marshal Ney, during the night of 15 June was on the Charleroi–Brussels road near the village of Frasnes south of Quatre Bras.[lower-alpha 11] They had already engaged the Orange-Nassau brigade (Prince Berbhard's) of the Anglo-allied II Corps (Price of Orange's), and had bivouacked ready to reassume their advance on the morning of the 16 June. Marshal Ney, having recently taken command of the Left Wing, decided not to commit it to a night attack and returned to Charleroi where he arrived about midnight. He had supper with Napoleon (who had just arrived from the Right Wing of the Army), and they conferred upon the state of affairs until 02:00.[19]

The Centre Column of the French Army of the North was Located thus:[20]

The Right Column, consisting of IV Corps (Gérard's), bivouacked in front of the Bridge of Châtelet, which point it had reached during the evening.

On the morning of 16 June, the French troops which lay along the Sambre, and which belonged to that main portion of the Army of the North which was more immediately under the orders and guidance of Napoleon, left their bivouacs, and marched to join their leading columns.[17]

It was past 10:00 when these troops debouched in two columns from the Fleurus Woods — the one along the high road, the other more to the right — and drew up in two lines within a short distance of Fleurus. In the first line Pajol's Light, and Excelmaks' Heavy, Cavalry, formed the right wing, and Vandamme's Corps, the left; while Gérard's Corps which had not received the order to march until 09:30 arrived much later, and occupied the centre. 7th Division (Girard's) was detached some little distance on the extreme left the Imperial Guard and Milhaud's Corps of Cuirassiers constituted the second line.[17]

More than an hour was passed in this position before the arrival of Napoleon, who then rode along the line of vedettes, and reconnoitred the Prussian's dispositions.[21]

Blücher and Wellington meet at the Windmill of Bussy

Shortly after 11:00 the Duke of Wellington had observed that the French were not in any great force at Frasnes (south of Quatre Bras), while at the same time, accounts reached him that Blücher, in his position at Ligny, was menaced by the advance of considerable force; Wellington, accompanied by his staff and a small escort of cavalry, rode off to hold a conference with the Prussian commander, whom he found at the Windmill of Bussy, between Ligny and Brye; where they had an opportunity of observing the French preparatory dispositions for attack.[22]

These having led Wellington to conclude that Napoleon was bringing the main force of his army to bear against Blücher, he at once proposed to assist him by first advancing straight upon Frasnes and Gosselies, as soon as he should have concentrated sufficient force, and then operating upon the Napoleon's left and rear, which would afford a powerful diversion in favour of the Prussians, from the circumstance that their right wing was the weakest and most exposed, and considering the object of Napoleon's movement, the one most likely to be attacked.[23]

Upon a calculation being made, however, of the time which would elapse before Wellington would be able to collect the requisite force for undertaking this operation, and of the possibility of Blücher being defeated before it could be carried into effect, it was considered preferable that Wellington should, if practicable, move to the support of the Prussian right by the Namur road. But a direct support of this kind was necessarily contingent on circumstances, and subject to Wellington's discretion.[23]

Wellington having expressed his confident expectation of being enabled to afford the desired support, as also of his succeeding in concentrating, very shortly, a sufficient force to assume the offensive, rode back to Quatre Bras.[23]

The primary sources do not agree on what was said at the meeting. They all agree that Wellington promised aid to Blücher, but they disagree on whether Wellington made an unquvical promise of aid, or whether Wellington made it clear that his ability to give timely assistance to Blücher was only possible if his forces were not engaged before he could send aid.[lower-alpha 12]

Napoleon's view of the Prussian dispositions

Ligny by Ernest Crofts (1875). This representation of the battle shows Napoleon surrounded by his staff surveying the battlefield while columns of infantry advance to the front. The windmill is probably that on the heights of Naveau, which served as Napoleon's command post during the battle,[25]

The military historian Siborne stated that it appeared to Napoleon that Blücher had taken up a position perpendicular to the Namur road, and had, in this way, completely exposed his right flank; whence he inferred that Blücher placed great reliance upon the arrival of auxiliary forces from Wellington's army.[26]

Silborne stated that a single glance at the Prussian position, as it has been described, will suffice to prove that Napoleon was in error as regarded Blücher's assumed line of battle, and that so far from its having been perpendicular to, it was, in the general military acceptation of the term, parallel with, the Namur road. He may however have been misled by the massing of the Prussian troops between the salient point of the position, Saint-Amand, and the road in question, as well as by the direction of the line of the occupied villages of Saint-Amand, Ligny, and Sombreffe. It must also be acknowledged that although the inference was incorrectly drawn, it accorded in substance with the real fact, that Blücher did rely upon the arrival of a portion of Wellington's forces by the Namur road from Quatre Bras.[26]


The French take Fleurus

Napoleon having returned from his reconnaissance, immediately gave his orders for the advance of the French army, and for the disposition of each individual corps in his intended line of battle.[26]

Impressed with the important advantage which, according to his assumed view of Blücher's position, might accrue from a vigorous and well timed attack upon the right and rear of the Prussians, while vigorously assailing them himself in their front, he directed his Chief of Staff, Marshal Soult, to address to Marshal Ney the despatch, dated 14:00, acquainting the Marshal that in half an hour's time he proposed attacking Blücher, posted between Sombreffe and Brye, and desiring that he would, on his part, also attack whatever might be in his front, and that after having vigorously repulsed the Anglo-allies, he should move towards the Emperor's Field of Battle, and fall upon the right and rear of the Prussians; adding, at the same time, that should the Napoleon be first successful, he would then move to the support of the Ney's Left Wing of the Army at Quatre Bras.[27][lower-alpha 13]

The French light troops moved forward against Fleurus, of which place they gained possession between 11:00 and 12:00, and then opened from their light artillery a cannonade upon the Prussian cavalry posts taken up by the 6th Uhlans. The latter immediately retired, and formed upon the left of the Brandenburg Dragoons, which regiment had been placed in front of the Tombe-de-Ligny hillock,[lower-alpha 14] along with the Horse Battery No. 2, in support. The Brandenburg Uhlans were also in support, but more to the rear, and on the left of the high road.[31]

At this time. Napoleon was on the Height of Fleurus, again reconnoitring the Prussian position ; and it was also about the same period that Wellington joined Blücher in person near the Mill of Bussy.[31]

As soon as Lieutenant General Röder perceived the imposing array of the French columns in full advance, he ordered the immediate retreat of his cavalry, which he covered with the 6th Uhlans and the Brandenburg Dragoons, together with two pieces of horse artillery. He sent the main body, which he had stationed in a hollow, in rear of the Tombe-de-Ligny, as also the remainder of the artillery, across the Ligny, with directions to take post between the village of that name and Sombreffe. He himself continued with the above two regiments, and the two guns, near the Tombe-de-Ligny, until he received orders also to retire.[32]

Advance of the French army

Plan of the Battlefelds of Ligny and Quatre Bras

In the mean time, the main body of the French army advanced in great regularity in columns of corps. The left column, consisting of the III Corps (Vandamme's), to which was attached the 7th Infantry Division (Lieutenant General Girard's detached from the II Corps, Reille's which was then with Ney at Quatre Bras), being destined to advance against Saint-Amand, the most salient point of the Prussian position, and therefore having the shortest distance to pass over, was the first to take up its ground, preparatory to attack. Whilst thus engaged in making its preliminary dispositions for this purpose, it was cannonaded by the Prussian batteries posted on the Heights in rear of the village. Girard's Division took post on the left of Vandamme's Corps, and Domon's (light) Cavalry Division on the left of Girard's.[33]

The centre column, consisting of the IV Corps (Gérard's), advanced along the Fleurus high road, and took up, somewhat later, a position upon the heights fronting Ligny, and parallel to the general direction of that village; its Left being near the Tombe-de-Ligny, and its right resting on an eminence southward of Mont-Potriaux.[33]

The right column, under Grouchy, comprising the cavalry corps of Pajol and Excelmans, moved by its right, and took post, as did also the Light Cavalry Division under (Maurin's), belonging to the IV Corps on the right of Gérard, and showing front towards the villages of Tongrinne, Tongrenelle, Boignée, and Balâtre.[33]

Grouchy disposed this cavalry so as to protect Gérard from any attempt which the Prussians might make to debouch in his rear from Mont Potriaux or Tongrenelle; as also to watch any hostile movements on their left, and to divert their attention from the Centre. Pajol's Corps, which was formed on the right, detached along the cross road which leads to Namur. The villages of Boignée and Balâtre being situated on the French side of the valley, and occupied by Prussian infantry, Grouchy was supplied with two battalions from IV Corps (Gérard's). The 1st and 2nd squadrons of the 3rd Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry belonging to Thielemann's Corps, which had been posted in advance, upon the Fleurus road, retired skirmishing until they reached the barrier at the bridge, where they were pursued by the French cavalry. Here, however, the latter were checked and driven off by the 3rd Battalion of the 4th Kurmark Landwehr, belonging to 11th Brigade (Colonel Luck's).[13]

The Imperial Guard and Milhaud's Cuirassiers were halted in reserve, the former on the left, and the latter on the right, of Fleurus. [13]

Blücher's further dispositions

As soon as the direction of the French attack became sufficiently obvious, Blücher made such further disposition of his force as appeared to him requisite to meet that attack.[34]

He ordered the Batteries of the I Corps (Zieten's) to be suitably posted for impeding the French advance. The three heavy batteries of the Corps were immediately drawn up on the height between Ligny and Saint Amand. They were supported by the battery of the 1st Brigade, posted in rear of Saint-Amand. Somewhat later, when the direction of attack by Gérahd's Corps became more developed, the battery of the 3rd Brigade was placed on the right of Ligny, near a quarry, and the battery of the 4th Brigade on the left of the village, upon the declivity descending to the rivulet. The Battery of the 2nd Brigade, the Foot Battery No. 1, and the Horse Battery No. 10, remained in reserve. Of the remaining horse batteries of the Corps, one continued with the cavalry under Röder (which was posted in a hollow, as before stated, between Ligny and Sombreffe), and the other was with the Ist Silesian Hussars, which Regiment had been detached in observation on the Right Flank of the Army, and posted between the northern extremity of the village of Wagnelée and a large pond contiguous to the old Roman road.[35]

Thielemann's Corps made the left wing

By the time the action commenced in front of Saint-Amand and Ligny (14:30), Blücher was satisfied that no necessity existed for any movement of his III Corps (Thielemann's) to the right; and he therefore ordered it to proceed from the position it had hitherto held in Columns upon the two high roads near Sombreffe, and form the left wing of his line of battle; resting its right upon Sombreffe, and occupying the heights, at the foot and on the declivities of which are situated the villages of Mont Potriaux, Tongrinne, Tongrenelle, Boignée, Balâtre, Villeret, and Bothey.[36]

The 9th Brigade (Greneral Borke's) was formed in brigade order in rear of Sombreffe and northward of the Namur high road, having detached one of its Battalions (the 3rd of the 8th Regiment) with the foot battery No. 18, to Mont-Potriaux, where the former posted itself on the north, and the latter took up a favourable position on the south, side of the Church. The 11th Brigade (Colonel Luck) with the twelve pounder Battery No. 7, stood across the Fleurus high road, in front of the junction of the latter with the Namur road upon the height of Le-Point-du-Jour, having detached the 3rd Battalion of the 4th Kurmark Landwehr into the valley, where it occupied the houses in its immediate vicinity. Four Battalions of the 10th Brigade (Colonel Kampfen) were drawn up on the Height of Tongrinne, resting their right on this village, and having in their front the Foot Battery No. 35, and at a short distance from their left, the Horse Battery No. 18.[37]

The remaining two battalions of the brigade were detached, the 3rd Battalion of the 27th Regiment, to occupy Tongrinne and the Castle of Tongrenelle, and the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Knrmark Landwehr, to hold the villages of Boignée and Balâtre. The 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Knrmark Landwehr, belonging to the brigade, as also two squadrons of the 6th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, and two squadrons of the 9th Hussars, attached to this Corps, still continued in the line of outposts in the vicinity of Dinant, to observe Givet; and rejoined on the morning of 17 June.[38]

The 12th Brigade (Colonel Stülpnagel's) with the Horse Battery No. 20, was formed in brigade order, in reserve, near the Windmill, on the height of Le-Point-du-Jour. The Reserve Cavalry of this Corps, with the Horse Battery No. 19, was posted on the extreme left of the position between Bothey and Villeret, from where it detached the 3rd Squadron of the 7th Uhlans to Onoz, in observation.[38]

Blücher hopes to hold his ground

This position and the order of battle which was thus developed, were well calculated to answer the object which Blücher had in view, namely, to hold his ground long enough to gain sufficient time for the arrival of at least a portion of Wellington's forces, expected to join the Prussian extreme right by the Namur road; as also, perhaps, for the arrival and co-operation of IV Corps (Bülow's), in rear of Thielemann, by the Gembloux road. In either of these cases if not previously favoured by the circumstances of the general battle about to take place, such a marked accession to his strength would enable him to assume the offensive; whilst, in the first mentioned, Wellington would effectually prevent a junction between Napoleon's and Ney's forces.[38]

To accept a battle, the wisest course

The position had been long before selected, and the whole of the ground had even been surveyed, with a view to meet the contingency which had now actually occurred; but then it must be remembered, that in this design the co-operation of the IV Corps (Bülow's) was fully expected, whereas the latter had now become a doubtful question: and hence it was that Blücher was led to place more reliance upon a direct support from Wellington, than would otherwise have been the case.[39]

To accept a battle, notwithstanding the absence the IV Corps (Bülow's), was undoubtedly the wisest course. The French force in the field did not appear to exceed that of the Prussians; and therefore, considering the nature of the position, the contest would, in all probability, become protracted, perhaps until the arrival of Bülow' perhaps, also, until the close of day, without any distinct advantage being gained by either party. In the former case, the required preponderance might instantly give a decidedly favourable turn to the scale; in the latter, the junction of the IV Corps during the night would enable Blücher on the following morning to attack his opponent with every prospect of success, and either to relieve Wellington, if necessary, from any pressure in his front, or so to combine his further operations with those of Wellington, should the latter have held his ground and concentrated his Anglo-allied army, as to lead to the complete overthrow of both Napoleon's and Ney's forces.[39]

To have declined the contest, and retired so as to effect a junction with his IV Corps, he must still, if he wished to act in close concert with Wellington, have abandoned his direct communication with the Meuse and the Rhine, whence he drew all his supplies; a result which might as well be trusted to the chances of a battle.[39]

These considerations were also, in all probability, strongly seconded by a desire on the part of the Prussian Commander, and one perfectly in keeping with his ardent character, to take every possible measure which was at all warranted by the actual posture of affairs, for vigorously opposing Napoleon's advance.[40]

Prussian position tactically defective

The military historian William Siborne states that from a tactical point of view, the position was undoubtedly defective. Nearly the entire of the ground situated between the line of villages of Ligny, Saint-Amand, and Wagnelée, and the great Namur road, was exposed to the view of the French; and as there was every probability of a protracted village fight along the front of the position, the supports and reserves required to maintain a contest of that nature, would necessarily be subjected to the full play of the Frenchbatteries on the opposite heights. However undulations in the ground of the French side were sufficient to conceal the deployment of a considerable masses of troops.[40]

The defect in the Prussian position this respect was subsequently made strikingly manifest by the fact that the gradual weakening of the Prussian centre for the purpose of reinforcing the right, was closely observed by Napoleon, who took advantage of the insight thus obtained into his opponent's designs, by collecting in rear of the heights of Ligny that force with which, when he saw that the Prussians had no reserve remaining, he so suddenly assailed and broke the centre of their line.[40]

French capture and lose Saint-Amand

Napoleon's dispositions having been completed, the battle commenced, about 14:30, with an attack upon the village of Saint-Amand, by Lieutenant General Lefol's Division of II Corps (Vandamme's). The attack, which was made in three columns, proved successful; the three battalions of the 29th Prussian regiment which defended it, were compelled, after a stout resistance, to give way to greatly superior numbers, and were driven out of the village.[41]

General Steinmbtz, whose Brigade was posted in rear of Saint-Amand, pushed forward all the Sharpshooters of the 12th and 24th Begiments to their support.These, however, being unable to make head against the French, who already made a disposition to debouch from the village, the 12th and 24th Regiments were led forward to renew the contest. In the mean time, just as the French appeared at the outlet of the village, a shower of grape and canister was poured right down amongst them from the Foot Battery No. 7.[42]

Immediately upon this, both battalions of the 12th Regiment descended into the ravine, rushed upon the inclosures, and, driving the shattered French Infantry before them, regained possession of the village. The 24th Regiment advancing by wings of battalions — the one in line and the other in column of reserve respectively — supported this attack upon the left, and established itself in the lower part of Saint-Amand.[42]

Prussians hold Ligny

In the course of this short prelude, the batteries ranged along the little eminences which rose on either side of the valley of the Ligny, opened a furious cannonade along the whole extent of the front lines of the contending armies. Ligny, as also Saint-Amand (when repossessed by the Prussians), both of which lay so directly under the French guns, seemed devoted to destruction. Their defenders, sheltered in a great degree by stone walls, hollow ways, and banked up hedges, appeared perfectly motionless while the deluge of shot and shell poured fast and thick around them; but no sooner did those in Ligny discover a dusky mass emerging from the clouds of smoke which enveloped the heights above them, and wending its course downwards upon the lower portion of the village, than they rushed out of their concealment, and lining with their advanced skirmishers the outermost enclosures, prepared to meet the onset which would probably bring them into closer contact with the French, and lead to a struggle in which physical strength and innate courage combined with individual skill and dexterity, might effect a result unattainable by a recourse to projectiles alone.[43]

It was the 2nd Battalion of the 19th Prussian Regiment, which, issuing from its cover, where it had stood in column, rapidly deployed, and, by a well directed volley, shook the advancing mass, which it then threw into disorder-by following up this advantage with a well sustained fire.[44]

"Ligny Castle, showing the field of battle where the Prussians and French fought on the 16th June. Sombreffe is seen in the distance, as are also the mill, church, and heights of Brie". Painted shortly after the battle by C.C. Hamilton and engraved by James Rouse (1817)

Twice was this attack repeated on the part of the French IV Corps (Gérard's), but with a similar result. A second French column now advanced against the centre of the village, and shortly afterwards a third was launched against the upper "paxt of it, near the old castle; but their attempts to penetrate within its precincts proved equally futile, and the four Prussian battalions of Prussian 4th Brigade (Donnersmarck's) gallantly maintained the post of Ligny. As the French column withdrew, their batteries played with redoubled energy upon the village, and fresh French columns prepared for another assault.[44]

French retake Saint-Amand

The troops of French II Corps (Vandamme's) renewed the attack upon Saint-Amand with the utmost vigour; and forcing back the 12th and 24th Prussian Regiments, which suffered most severely, penetrated into the village, where the fight became obstinate, and the fire most destructive. Steinmetz, the commander of the Prussian 1st Infantry Brigade, had only two remaining battalions at his disposal — the 1st and 3rd battalions of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr — and these he pushed forward into the village, to restore confidence to the defenders, whose numbers were so fearfully reduced, and, if possible, to stemthe progress of the assailants. They had scarcely engaged however, when their commanding officers were wounded, and both Battalions gave way before the furious onset of the French, the 3rd Battalion leaving numbers of its men killed, along the outlets of the village.[45]

The Prussian 1st Infantry Brigade, which, within a short period, had suffered a loss of 46 Officers and 2,300 men, having rallied in rear of Saint-Amand, retired into position between Brye and Sombreffe, and the three battalions which had first occupied the village, marched to rejoin the 3rd Infantry Brigade; whilst the loud shouts of "Vive 'Empereur!" which immediately followed the cessation of the sharp rattle of the musketry, heard even amidst the incessant thunder of the artillery, proclaimed the triumph of the French Infantry.[46]

Prussians repel the French at Ligny

In the meantime, another assault was made upon Ligny, whose defenders had been reinforced by the two remaining battalions of the Prussian 4th Brigade (Donnersmarck's). The French now changed their mode of attack. They advanced simultaneously against the centre with the view of gaining the churchyard, and against the lower end of the village in order to turn the left flank of the defenders.[46]

Taking advantage of the unusually great height of the corn, the French line of skirmishers, strengthened by whole battalions so as to give then a decided superiority over that of the Prussians, approached so cautiously and silently as to continue unperceived until they suddenly possessed themselves of the outermost hedges and gardens.[46]

A hand to hand contest ensued, and the Prussians, pressed in front by superior numbers, and taken in flank at the same time, were forced to give way. Presently, however, stimulated by the combined exertions of the commanding officers, Majors Count Göbkn, Kuylenstierna, and Rex, they recovered themselves, rallied, and again faced the French.[46]

The battle, on this part of the field, now presented an awfully grand and animating spectacle, and the hopes of both parties were raised to the highest state of excitement intermingled with the quick but irregular discharge of small arms throughout the whole extent of the village, came forth alternately the cheering "En avant!" and exulting "Vive l'Empereur!" as also the emphatic "Vorwärts!" and the wild "Hourrah!" whilst the batteries along the heights, continuing their terrific roar, plunged destruction into the masses seen descending on either side to join in the desperate struggle in the valley, out of which there now arose, from the old castle of Ligny, volumes of dark thick smoke, succeeded by brilliant flames, imparting additional sublimity to the scene.[47]

The Prussians gradually gained ground, and then pressing forward upon all points of the village, succeeded in clearing it of the French; who, in retreating, abandoned two guns which had been moved close down to the principal outlet on that side. The Prussian 3rd Brigade (General Jagow's) had made a change of front to its left, and approached the village; the 3rd Battalions of both the 7th and 29th Regiments had been detached to the right, to protect the Foot Batteries Nos. 3 and 8, and to remain in reserve; the four remaining battalions descended into the village as a reinforcement.[47]

Light assaults on Bognée and Tongrinne

Beyond an occasional cannonading, the action on the eastern side of the field, between the Cavalry Corps of Grouchy,[lower-alpha 15] and of Thielemann, was comparatively languid: being limited to a contest, varied in its results, for the possession of the village of Bognée, and subsequently, of those houses of Tongrinne which were situated along the bottom of the valley; as also to some skilful manoeuvring on the part of Grouchy with his Cavalry, with a view of menacing the Prussian left.[47]

French take Saint-Amand-la-Haye

In the mean time, the French maintained possession of Saint-Amand, but Zieten's twelve pounder batteries, which were now moved forward, presented a formidable obstruction to their debouching from that village.[48]

Napoleon directed General Girard, on the extreme Left, to take possession, with his division, of Saint-Amand-la-Haye; and this operation having been successfully accomplished, gave the French the advantage of outflanking from thence any attack upon Saint-Amand itself.[48]

Blücher ordered General Pirch II to retake this village; whereupon the latter advanced with his brigade (2nd Brigade of the I Corps ) from the height of Brye, and withdrew the 1st Battalion of the 6th Regiment from the Windmill of Bussy, which was then occupied by the 2nd Battalion of the 23rd Regiment (8th Brigade), and near to which the 1st Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry remained during the whole of the action.[48]

Prussians fail to retake Saint-Amand-la-Haye

At the same time, the Prussian Chief, fully sensible of the very critical position in which he would be placed, were the French, following up the advantages they had already gained upon his right, to debouch from Saint-Amand and Saint-Amand-la-Haye in sufficient force to over-power I Corps (Zieten's), and thus cut off his communication with Wellington; he decided upon occupying the village of Wagnelée, whence repeated attacks might be directed against the French left flank; and, with this view, he desired General Pirch I, who commanded the II Corps, to detach the 5th Brigade (General Tippelskirch's) to the latter village, and to place it under the orders of General Jürgass, who was also sent to that part of the field, with Lieutenant Colonel Sohr's Brigade of Cavalry (consisting of the 3rd Brandenburg, and 5th Pomeranian, Hussars), together with two Squadrons of the 6th Neumark Dragoons, and the Horse Battery No. 6. Colonel Marwitz, of Thielemann's Corps, was also ordered to join these troops with two reiments of his Brigade, the 7th and 8th Uhlans.[49]

The 7th Brigade of (General Brause's), which had been rejoined by detached battalions, was pushed forward as far as the Roman road, to occupy the position vacated by the advance of General Tippelskirch's Brigade, to which was to act as support if needed.[50]

It was 16:00 when General Pirch II who had formed his Brigade for the attack of Saint-Amand-la-Haye, having his left flank protected by the 12th Regiment, which had reassembled in rear of Saint-Amand, moved his front line against the former village. As it advanced, however, its ranks were dreadfully shattered by the fire from the French artillery, nor were they less thinned by that of the musketry as they entered the village; and such was the determined resistance on the part of the French, that they were unable to penetrate beyond the centre of the village; and though reinforced by the 1st Battalion of the 6th Regiment, from the second line, they found it quite impracticable to drive the French out of a large building which was surrounded by a stone wall, and which formed the point of connection between the two villages. The Prussians having got into great disorder, and being closely pressed by the French, were compelled to abandon the village, in order to collect their scattered remnants, and to reform. General Girard fell mortally wounded while directing the defence of the village.[50]

Prussians recover Saint-Amand-la-Haye

Blücher now decided on a renewed attack upon Saint-Amand-la-Haye, in order to occupy the front of Girard's Division, while he should carry into efifect his previously projected movement against the French left flank; and,anxious to ensure the due execution of his instructions and to direct the attacks himself, he repaired in person to this part of the field. General Tippelskirch's Brigade, having advanced along the Roman road, was already formed in brigade order, in rear of Wagnelée, while Jürgass had posted his cavalry more to the left, and opposite to the interval between that village and Saint-Amand-la-Haye, where he could with considerable advantage fall upon the French, should the latter venture to debouch in that direction.[51]

These movements did not escape the watchful eye of Napoleon, who detached a division of the Young Guard and a battery of the same Corps in support of his Left Wing, as also General Colbert's Brigade of Lancers from Count Pajol's Corps, to reinforce the Cavalry on the Left, and to preserve the communication with Ney.[52][lower-alpha 16]

When all was ready for the attack, Blücher, who felt how much depended on its result, galloped up to the leading Battalions, and thus earnestly and impassionately ordered the advance: "Now, lads, behave well I don't suffer the Grande Nation again to rule over you! Forward! In God's name — forward!".[52] Instantly his devoted followers rent the air with their re-echoing shouts of "Vorwdrts!".[52]

Nothing could surpass the undaunted resolution and intrepid mien which Pirch's Battalions displayed as they advanced against, and entered, Saint-Amand-la-Haye, at a charging pace; they completely swept the French before them; while Major Quadt, who commanded the 28th Regiment, supported by some Detachments of the 2nd Regiment (from Tippelskirch's Brigade) gained possession of the great building.[52]

The 1st Battalion of the 6th Regiment, after having forced its way right across the village, sallied forth from the opposite side, in pursuit of the French, with a degree of impetuosity which its Officers had the utmost difficulty in restraining, while numbers of the men were on the point of plunging into the very midst of the French reserves.[53]

Prussians consolidate their hold of Saint-Amand-la-Haye

The Prussian cavalry on the right of Saint-Amand-la-Haye seemed to have caught up the intrepid spirit and enthusiastic devotion of the Infantry; and, as if impatient to join in the struggle, a squadron of the Brandenburg Uhlans supported the attack of the village by a charge upon the French cavalry; after which, the remainder of this regiment, with the 1st Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, advanced under General Treskow, into the plain on the left of the village, of which the whole contour now bristled with the bayonets of the Prussian 46th Regiment, while the 28th Regiment held the post of the great building, which it had so gallantly carried, and the 2nd Westphalian Landwehr stood in second line, as a reserve.[54]

So completely absorbed was the attention of the twelve pounder Battery No. 6, which stood in a somewhat isolated position, by the contest in Saint-Amand-la-Haye, which it covered by its fire, that it had not noticed the stealthy advance of a Troop of the French horsemen, wearing the uniform of the Light Artillery of the Guard, and most unexpectedly found itself attacked in flank by these bold adventurers. This give rise to a curious scene, for the Prussian Gunners, in the first moment of surprise, could only defend themselves with their rammers and handspikes; but with these they plied the intruders with so much adroitness and resolution as to hurl their leaders to the ground, and force the remainder to hasty flight.[54]

Prussian cavalry sent to extend the right wing

Blücher had, in the meantime, on perceiving Colbert's French Lancers hovering upon, and stretching out beyond, his extreme right, ordered General Pirch I to detach two more cavalry regiments — the Queen's Dragoons and the 4th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry — as a reinforcement to the cavalry of Zietbn's Corps.[54]

Prussians fail to take Wagnelée

The nearly simultaneous attack upon Wagnelée by Tippelskirch's Brigade, previously mentioned as having taken post in rear of that village, was not as successful as the counterattack on Saint-Amand-la-Haye.[55]

The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 25th Regiment advanced in column through the centre of Wagnelée; but on debouching, the 2nd Battalion, which led the advance, was suddenly assailed by a fire from the French skirmishers who lay conceialed in the high corn. Although its order was thus considerably disturbed; it succeeded, nevertheless, in deploying. The 1st Battalion also deployed, but, in doing so, its left wing covered the right of the 2nd Battalion; and while executing a second movement, intended to clear the front of the latter, the French battalions pressing forward, drove in the Prussian skirmishers upon the Regiment, which consisted mostly of young soldiers; when, notwithstanding the conspicuously meritorious exertions of all their officers, they were overthrown and dispersed in such a manner that it became impracticable to lead them back into action in any other way than by separate Detachments. The 3rd Battalion of this regiment shared nearly the same fate; for, having plunged into the high corn, it received a volley which disordered its ranks, killing its three senior Officers; and although it maintained for some time a fire in return, it was eventually compelled to retire, as were also the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 5th Westphalian Landwehr, under precisely similar circumstances.[55]

The Brigade was reformed, under the protection of the 2nd Prussian Regiment, which now advanced from the reserve, boldly encountered the French, and aided by the effective fire of the Foot Battery No. 10, stemmed the further progress of the French, and thus gained time for the remaining Battalions to reform in rear of Wagnelée. Upon the advance, however, of a French column towards its left flank, it fell back as far as the entrance into the village.[56]

Desperate fight in Saint-Amand-la-Haye

The French now renewed their attacks upon Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and made their appearance simultaneously in front and in both flanks of that village. The fighting again became desperate.[57]

The 2nd Brigade (Pirch II's) had exhausted both its ammunition and its strength, when Blücher pushed forward the 3rd Battalion of the 28rd Regiment (from the 8th Brigade — Colonel Langen's), and soon afterwards the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Regiment, together with the whole of the 26th Regiment (from the 6th Brigade — Greneral Keafft's); whereupon General Pirch withdrew his battalions, which had suffered so severely, to the rear of Brye.[57]

The Foot Battery No. 3, belonging to Birch's Brigade, had at an earlier period moved to its left, and had taken up a position near the quarries on the right of Ligny, by the side of the Foot Battery No. 8, of Jagow's Brigade.[57]

Panic among the Prussians at Ligny

While the contest for the villages in front of the right of the Prussian position continued, so to did the fighting in and around Ligny. After the Prussians repelled the French at Ligny which left the Prussian 4th Brigade (Donnersmarck's) in possession of the village supported by the 3rd Brigade (General Jagow's); the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Regiment (of Jagow's Brigade) were ordered to traverse the village, and to advance in column against the French. Just as they debouched, they found in their immediate front, several French Battalions, in close column, moving directly against the village.[58]

Both parties at once came to a halt; the Prussians without being able to deploy in the defile, and the French without attempting to do so, probably unwilling to lose the time which such a movement would require.[59]

An exchange of musketry started which lasted half an hour, and caused much loss. Other Prussian battalions now hastened across the village, but all at once, a rumour flew rapidly among them, that the French were in possession of the Churchyard, and in a moment several muskets were aimed in that direction, and either thoughtlessly or nervously discharged. Those battalions that were in front, at the outlet of the village, became alarmed by this unexpected firing in their rear. At the same time, a discharge of grape, from some guns suddenly brought forward by the French, in their immediate front, augmented their confusion, and they retreated. They were closely pursued by the French, whose skirmishers made a dash at the colour of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Regiment, which they would have captured but for a very determined determined defence.[59]

More fighting in Ligny

"The ruins of the village of Ligny", painted shortly after the battle by C. C. Hamilton and engraved by James Rouse.

General Krafft, from whose Brigade (the 6th) five battalions had already been detached, namely, four for the defence of Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and one in aid of that of Ligny, now received Blücher's order with his remaining four battalions (the 1st and 2nd of the 9th, and the 1st and 3rd of the 1st Elbe Landwehr), to drive the French out of Ligny.[59]

The Foot Battery No. 15, was posted between the left of Ligny and the Bois-du-Loup, and the Foot Battery No. 37, was directed towards Saint-Amand. The other Batteries posted between Ligny and Saint-Amand received orders to retire accordingly as they expended their ammunition, for the purpose of refitting; and they were successively relieved by the Foot Battery No. 1, the Horse Battery No. 10, and the twelve pounder Batteries Nos. 4 and 8. The Horse Battery No. 14 was advanced across the stream between Ligny and Sombreffe, and took post on the other side of the valley, where it was much exposed to French cannonades, and lost 19 gunners and 53 horses.[60]

Greneral Krafpt moved forward, in the first instance, only two battalions, and kept the others in reserve ; but all of them soon became engaged; for the French, though driven back at first, received considerable reinforcements.[61]

Fighting outside Ferme d'en-Haut, Ligny by Richard Knötel.

The fight throughout Ligny was now at the hottest: the village was crammed with the combatants, and its streets and enclosures were choked up with the wounded, the dying, and the dead: every house that had escaped being set on fire, was the scene of a desperate struggle: the troops fought no longer in combined order, but in numerous and irregular groups, separated by houses either in flames, or held as little forts, sometimes by the one, and sometimes by the other party; and in various instances, when their ammunition failed, or when they found themselves suddenly assailed from different sides, the bayonet, and even the butt, supplied them with the ready means for prosecuting the dreadful carnage with unmitigated fury.[61]

The entire village was concealed in smoke; but the incessant rattle of the musketry, the crashing of burning timbers, the smashing of doors and gateways, the yells and imprecations of the combatants, which were heard through that misty veil, gave ample indication to the troops posted in reserve upon the heights, of the fierce and savage nature of the struggle beneath. In the meantime, the relieving batteries on the Prussian side, which had arrived quite fresh from the rear, came into full play, as did also a reinforcement, on the French side, from the artillery of the Imperial Guard. The earth now trembled under the tremendous cannonade; and as the flames, issuing from the numerous burning houses, intermingled with dense volumes of smoke, shot directly upwards through the light grey mass which rendered visibility within village very difficult.[62]

Long did this fierce and deadly strife continue without any material advantage to either side. At length the French gained possession of a large house, as also of the churchyard, into which they brought forward two pieces of cannon. General Jagow vainly endeavoured with the 7th Regiment to retake this house. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd Westphalian Landwehr displayed the most inflexible perseverance in its endeavours to drive the French out again from the churchyard: it made three unsuccessful attempts to cross an intervening ditch, and subsequently tried to gain a hollow way, which lay in the flank of that post, but falling upon the French reinforcements that were advancing towards it, they were compelled to abandon the enterprise.[63]

The Prussian second lieutenant, Gerhard Andreas von Garrelts, later gave an eye-witness account of the agonies of the Belgian civilian population, caught unexpectedly in the centre of battle:

Ligny stood half on fire, locked in bright flames [...] on this occasion we found we were in a house, where all windows were destroyed, two old people, a man and a woman, showing no emotion and dazed sat at the hearth, without moving, his elbows on his knees and his head supported by his hands; the vision made us cry! Probably they had seen armed combat and were not surprised, how else could they distance themselves with death so near; we too were familiar with death, we felt compassion for these old people, but they could not be convinced to move from their home.
Gerhard Andreas von Garrelts.[64]

Blücher sends fresh troops into Ligny

Fresh victims were still required to satiate the "King of Terrors", who might be said to hold a gala day in this "Valley of Death".[63] Blücher had ordered th 8th Brigade (Colonel Langen's) to follow in succession that of General Krafft. The position vacated by the former, in front of Sombreffe, was taken up by the 12th (Colonel Stülpnagel's) of III Corps (Thielemann's), and the chain of skirmishers of the 12th Brigade extended along the rivulet as far as Ligny. As soon as Colonel Langen had reached the immediate vicinity of Ligny, he posted the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 21st Regiment upon an eminence near the village, and the Foot Battery No. 12, covered by two Squadrons of the 5th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, upon the left of the road leading to Ligny.[65]

The 21st Regiment made no less than six different attacks, partly in conjunction with the other troops that fought in Ligny, and partly isolated, without succeeding in disturbing the position of the French in that portion of the village which lies on the right bank of the Ligny.[66]

Colonel Langen, observing the increased fury and obstinacy of the fight in Ligny, sent in the 1st Battalion of the 23rd Regiment, and the 2nd of the 3rd Elbe Landwehr: he then took up a position, with the remainder of his brigade, near the Mill of Bussy, into which he threw the 2nd Battalion of the 23rd Regiment. The 1st Battalion of the 23rd Regiment, having formed two columns, rushed into the village, and, after crossing the stream, received a sharp fire from the windows of the houses on the opposite side. The left column of the battalion stormed a farm house, of which, after it had burst in the gates with hatchets, it gained possession, and thus protected the advance of the right column.[66]

Decisive French attack on Ligny

At this moment, Napoleon's final and decisive attack commenced on this point; but fighting elsewhere along the line of battle continued.[66]

Fighting in Saint-Amand-la-Haye

While the battle for the village of Ligny continued, on the right, the 5th Brigade (Tippelskirch's) was ordered to renew the attack upon Saint-Amand-la-Haye; and, as an auxiliary movement, a bold push was to be made upon the group of houses in rear of that village, and of Wagnelée, called the Hameau de Saint-Amand. Both of the 3rd Battalions of the 2nd and 25th Regiments, under Major Wftzleben, advanced against the latter point, while the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 2nd Regiment, the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Westphalian Landwehr, and a battalion of the 25th Regiment made a direct attack upon Saint-Amand-la-Haye.[66]

Both movements were supported by the Foot Batteries Nos. 10 and 37, and Colonel Thümen was detached (from the II Cavalry Corps), with the Silesian Uhlans, and the 11th Hussars, to cover the right of the Brigade: the 1st and 2nd Squadrons of the 5th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry were posted in reserve. The 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment opened the attack upon the Hameau de Saint-Amand, and being well protected on their right by the 11th Hussars, carried it by storm.[67]

The French appeared determined to regain this point, which from its position, was, in fact, the key to the defence of the three villages of Saint-Amand, Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and Wagnelée; and the struggle for its possession was most obstinate and sanguinary. All the Battalions of the Prussian 5th Brigade (Tippelskirch's) became successively engaged. Four times was Saint-Amand-la-Haye lost and retaken by the 2nd Regiment, which suffered severely. General Jürgass ordered forward the Horse Battery No. 6, on the right of which the Foot Battery No. 10 then took post.[68]

The Silesian Uhlans and the 11th Hussars suffered considerably from their exposure to the French artillery. Colonel Thümbn was killed at their head, by a cannon shot, and was succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Schmiedeberg, who ordered both these regiments to make a change of front to the right; when the Prussian Lancers dashed forward to meet the advance of a French regiment, which they completely defeated, and having followed up the attack with a vigorous pursuit, fell all at once among the French reserves; but the reserves immediately recovered themselves, and rallied with great celerity, order, and precision. [68]

Prussians run short of ammunition

About this time, the Light Cavalry Brigade of Colonel Makwitz, had completed his manoeuvre from the left, reached the right flank, and was formed up in two lines: also the four Battalions that had been detached from the 6th Brigade (General Krafft's), arrived upon the right of Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and came into action. The battle on both sides on this part of the Field continued to rage with unabated violence and with such indefatigable ardour did the Prussians continue the struggle, that when the fire of their skirmishers was observed to slacken, from the men having expended their ammunition, the soldiers of the 11th Hussars rushed into the midst of them, and supplied them with such cartridges as they had of their own; an act of devotion to which many of them fell a sacrifice.[69]

Greneral Jürgass ordered forward the 7th Brigade (General Brause's) in support of that of the 5th Brigade (Tippelskirch's), which had suffered a very severe loss. When General Brause had, at an earlier period, taken post at the Trois Burettes,[lower-alpha 9] upon Tippelskirch advancing from that point to Wagnelée;(as previously explained), he stationed both the 3rd Battalions of the 14th and 22nd regiments upon an eminence on the left of the high road, for the purpose of keeping up the communication with Tippelskirch ; and he pushed on the other two battalions of the 14th Regiment towards Brye, that they might be nearer at hand, if required, for the contest in the villages of Wagnelée and Saint-Amand-la-Haye, while the two squadrons of the Elbe Landwehr Cavalry, attached to his brigade, kept a look out upon both sides of the road.[69]

These two battalions, thus posted, caught the eye of Blücher as he looked round for the nearest available force, and he immediately ordered them to advance, and join in the contest; and General Brause, on being made acquainted with this disposition, led forward the 3rd Battalions of the 14th and 22nd Regiments, and the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Elbe Landwehr, while the four remaining battalions of his brigade, making a change of front to their left, formed up, in reserve, in rear of the Namur road. On approaching the more immediate scene of the action.[69]

Brause came upon the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Regiment, which had expended all its ammunition: he procured for it a fresh supply, and ordered it to return into the village, along with the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Regiment; while the 1st Battalion of this regiment threw itself into Saint-Amand-la-Haye, and relieved the 2nd Regiment, which now retired, as did also the remainder of Tippelskirch's Brigade to the rear of Wagnelée, where it reformed.[70]

Fight never slackens for a moment

Here, in these villages on the Prussian right, as well as at Ligny, the fight never slackened for a moment: fresh masses, from both sides, poured in among the burning houses as often as the fearfully diminished numbers and dreadfully exhausted state of the combatants rendered relief imperatively necessary; partial successes on different points were constantly met by corresponding reverses on others ; and so equally were the courage, the energies, and the devption of both parties balanced, that the struggle between them appeared, from its unabated vigour, likely to continue until the utter exhaustion of the one should yield the triumph to the greater command of reserves possessed by the other.[71]

The anxiety at that time on the part of Blücher for the arrival of either a portion of Wellington's forces, or the Prussian IV Corps (Bülow's), was extreme; and frequently, as he cheered forward his men in their advance to take part in the contest, did he address them with the exhortation, "Forward, Lads! we must do something before the English join us!".[71]

In fact, his only reserve remaining was the 9th Brigade (General Borcke's), the withdrawal of which would greatly expose his centre; and Napoleon, who had already entertained a suspicion that such was the case, resolved upon terminating the sanguinary combat in the valley, by boldly advancing a portion of his own intact reserves, consisting of the Guard and VI Corps (Lobau's) — that had just arrived and was posted on the right of Fleurus — against the Prussian centre.[72]

French cuirassier officer

For the execution of his project the French Emperor destined the Imperial Guard, with Milhaud's Corps of Cuirassiers in support. He wished to conceal this movement as much as possible from the Prussians, and caused it to be made to the right, along the rear of the IV Corps (Gérard's), a portion of whose batteries were ordered to be withdrawn, for the purpose of affording greater protection to the Guard, by diverting the Prussians's fire to other points, and of deceiving him as to the real object of the movement, if observed previously to the actual execution of the Emperor's design.[73]

Vandamme reports a Column in his rear

Napoleon received a message from Vandamme, informing him that a strong column, composed of all three arms (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), was advancing towards Fleurus; that it had at first been looked upon as the corps detached from Ney's forces, until it was discovered that it moved by a different road from that along which those troops had been expected, and in a direction towards the French left rear, instead of the Prussian extreme right; that Girard's Division had been consequently induced to fall back, and take up a position to cover Fleurus ; and that the effect produced upon his own Corps by the sudden appearance of this Column was such, that if Napoleon did not immediately move his reserve to arrest its progress, his troops would be compelled to evacuate Saint-Amand and commence a retreat.[74]

Napoleon halts the march of the Guard

This intelligence could not fail to create alarm in the mind of Napoleon, who concluded that the corps in question had been detached against his rear, as a diversion in favour of Blücher, from the Wellington's Anglo-allied, who had probably obtained some signal triumph over Ney. Another Officer arrived from Vandamme, reiterating the account previously given.[75]

The Imperial Guard, and Milhaud's Corps of Cuirassiers, were in full march towards the lower extremity of Ligny, where they were to cross the stream, when they were halted by an order direct from Napoleon, who had decided to suspend the movement, until he could ascertain the result of an incident that had occurred upon his extreme left, and which had placed him for the time in considerable doubt and anxiety respecting its real nature. He dispatched one of his aides de camp to reconnoitre the strength and disposition of the unknown column, and to discover the object of its movement.[76]

The commencement of the march of the Imperial Guard and Milhaud's 'Cuirassier Corps towards Ligny, had been conducted with so much skill, and the manoeuvring of these troops at one point in their line of march to shelter themselves from the fire of the Prussian Batteries, to which they had become suddenly exposed, bore so much the appearance of a retrograde movement, accompanied as it was by the withdrawal of a portion of the guns of Gérard's Corps, that the Prussians were completely deceived by it.[75]

Intelligence was hastily conveyed to Blücher that the French were retreating; whereupon he ordered the march of all the remaining disposable battalions of 8th Brigade (Colonel Langen's) upon Saint-Amand, to enable him to take advantage of the circumstance by pressing upon the French left.[75]

Cavalry on the Prussian Right

In the mean time, Colonel Marwitz had been menaced by the advance of a considerable line of French cavalry and a battery, which latter annoyed him but little. This cavalry did not, however, seem much disposed to risk a close encounter: once it put forward a detachment, which was overthrown by two Squadrons of the 7th and 8th Uhlans, and then a regiment of French Chasseurs à Cheval fell upon the skirmishers of the 2nd Regiment of Infantry, but was driven back by two squadrons of the 5th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry.[77]

Colonel Marwitz had been ordered by General Jrügass to send out patrols in different directions from the right flank, for the purpose of seeking out the communication with Wellington's forces. These brought in prisoners, from whom it was ascertained that a whole French Corps, (the I Corps under the command of Count d'Erlon), was in that vicinity.[78]

Subsequently, French cavalry were perceived between Mellet and Villers-Perruin; whereupon Colonel Marwitz, who had been reinforced by two squadrons of the Pomeranian Hussars, ordered a change of front of his brigade in this direction, then deployed his eight squadrons in two lines, with considerable intervals, and withdrew them, alternately, towards the high road; followed, though not vigorously, by three French regiments of cavalry and a battery, comprising Jaquinot's light Cavalry Division, attached to d'Erlon's Corps.[lower-alpha 17] As he approached the chaussée (high road), the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 2nd Elbe Landwehr, as also the 3rd Battalion of the 22nd Regiment, advanced to his support.[78]

Until about 18:00 the action along that part of the line which extended from Sombreffe to Balâtre, had not been carried on with any degree of energy, and the occupation of the opposing forces was generally limited to mutual observation. Now, however, the French Infantry (of which only a small portion was attached to Grouchy's Cavalry), penetrated as far as the precincts of the village of Tongrinne; but 10th Brigade (Colonel Kampfen's), having been successively reinforced by all the battalions of the 11th Brigade (Colonel Luck's) Brigade with the exception of one which was left in reserve, the French were easily repulsed, and the Prussians maintained full possession of all this portion of their original position.[79]

The column is d'Erlon's Corps

It was about 19:00 when the aide de camp returned from his reconnaissance, and reported to Napoleon that the column in the distance which had caused so much uneasiness proved to be French I Corps (d'Erlon's); that Girard's Division, upon being undeceived, had resumed its position in the line of battle; and that Vandamms's Corps had maintained its ground.[80]

This movement of d'Erlon's Corps admits of being satisfactorily explained. Napoleon, having received information that d'Erlon had been left in reserve in front of Grosselies, and inferring, perhaps, from this circumstance that Ney was sufficiently strong to be able to hold his ground at Quatre Bras, without further aid than what he had at hand, resolved upon employing the I Corps upon the Prussian right flank; but in the meantime, d'Erlon had, in pursuance of instructions from Ney, continued his march towards Quatre Bras; and having himself proceeded in advance, had reached Frasnes, at which place Colonel Laurent found him, and communicated to him Napoleon's order for the march of the I Corps upon Saint-Amand; adding that on coming up with the head of his column, he had taken upon himself to change its direction of march into that of Saint-Amand. D'Erlon hastened to comply with Napoleon's wishes, and despatched General d'Elcambre, his chief of the staff, to make known the movement to Marshal Ney.[80]

D'Erlon's Corps halts and retires

His route from Frasnes towards Saint-Amand, the point prescribed by the order, lay through Villers-Perruin, and the movement was altogether one of a retrograde nature. Hence the direction of the column, as seen in the distance, was well calculated to alarm the troops of the French extreme left; as also to excite surprise in the mind of Napoleon, who having formed no expectation of the arrival of any French troops in the field by any other direction than that from Gosselies upon Saint-Amand, or perhaps from Quatre Bras upon Brye, also participated in the opinion that the column in question, under its attendant circumstances and general disposition, could be no other than that of an Enemy. As d'Erlon debouched from Villers-Perruin, and advanced upon the prescribed point, Saint-Amand, he threw out his cavalry (Jaquinot's) to his left, for the protection of this flank; and it was before this cavalry that the Prussian brigade, under Colonel Marwitz, retired in the manner already explained, a movement which fully restored confidence to Gibard's division.[81]

All at once this column was observed to halt, to indicate an indecision in its intentions, and finally to withdraw from the Field. D'Erlon had in fact just received from Ney a peremptory order to join him without delay, with which he resolved to comply, probably concluding that he was bound to do so from the circumstance of his having been in the first instance placed under the Marshal's immediate command; having ascertained also from the Napoleon's aide de camp that he was not the bearer of any instructions whatever from Napoleon as to his future movements, and that the appearance of his corps upon that part of the field of battle had been quite unexpected. This pressing order had been despatched by Ney immediately previous to the arrival of Colonel Laurent on the heights of Gemioncourt.[81]

Napoleon now sends forward the Imperial Guard

If the first appearance of this column had caused alarm and perplexity among the troops of the French left wing, the apprehensions it excited on the Prussian right, when its cavalry was observed to advance and to drive back Colonel Marwitz' Brigade, which had been sent towards it in reconnaissance (as already explained), were still greater; and its equally unexpected disappearance (with the exception of its cavalry, and a portion of its infantry), at a moment when it was felt that its vigorous co-operation must have rendered the issue of the battle no longer doubtful, was looked upon as a particularly fortunate turn of affairs; and Blücher's hopes revived as he prepared to carry into effect his meditated attack upon the French left flank.[82]

There did not appear on the part of Napoleon any eagerness to resume the movement of the Imperial Guard towards the lower extremity of Ligny, but rather an anxiety to await calmly the most favourable moment for his projected attack. Doubtless he had discovered the march of the remaining battalions of Colonel Langbn's Brigade, from Sombreffe towards Saint-Amand, as a further reinforcement to the Prussian right, and calculated upon paralysing the attack which Blücher was evidently preparing against the French left flank, by executing a sudden and vigorous assault on the Prussian centre, with a preponderating mass of fresh troops.[82]

Fight on the Fleurus

At length, towards 20:00 the Napoleon gave the order for the Imperial Guard and Milhaud's Corps of Cuirassiers to resume their march. The same precautions were observed as before for masking the movement as much as possible, and so successfully, that Thielemann, on observing a French battery opposite Tongrinne entirely withdrawn, and Grouchy's lines of cavalry presenting a diminished extent of front, and conceiving, at the same time, that the contest in Ligny was assuming a change favourable to the Prussians, concluded that the moment had then arrived in which an attack might be made with every probability of success, upon the right flank of the Prussians.[83]

Blücher had only one brigade remaining of the cavalry of his corps, namely that of Colonel Count Lottum; the other Brigade, under Colonel Makwitz, having been (as already explained), for some time detached to the extreme right of the Prussian Army. General Hobe, who commanded III Cavalry Division, had previously moved forward Count Lottum's Brigade and posted it in rear of the 10th Infantry Brigade (Colonel Kampfen's). Thielemann now desired him to advance with Lottum's Brigade and the Horse Battery No. 19, along the Fleurus high road.[84]

In carrying this order into effect, General Hobe posted the battery, in the first instance, close to the twelve pounder Battery No. 7, which stood across the Fleurus high road, about midway between the junction of the latter with the Namur road and the bridge over the river Ligny. A cannonade was opened from this point upon the French guns on the opposite height, to which the latter replied with great spirit, and one of the guns of the battery was dismounted. The remaining guns were now advanced rapidly along the high road, preceded by two squadrons of the 7th Dragoons; on getting into position, two of the guns continued upon the road itself, on which the French had also posted two pieces, but scarcely had the squadrons formed up, and the battery fired a few rounds, when they were furiously attacked by the French 5th and 18th Dragoons of the I Cavalry Corps (Excelmans'): in an instant they were thrown into confusion; the two guns upon the road escaped, while the remainder fell into the hands of the French Dragoons, who closely pursued the Prussians.[85]

French dragoons retire

The commander of the Prussian 9th Brigade, Greneral Borcke, observing this mêlée upon the Fleurus road, immediately pushed forward the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Kurmark Landwehr, and posted them in rear of the hedges and walls running parallel with the high road, so as to flank the French cavalry; the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment followed the movement, and was finally stationed upon the road. In order to support these battalions, and to preserve the commimication with the 12th Brigade (Colonel Stülpnagel's) on his right, he occupied Mont-Potriaux and its outlets with the remainder of his brigade, excepting the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 8th Regiment, which he held in reserve.[86]

The 5th and 13th French Dragoons finding themselves likely to be thus seriously impeded both in front and on their left, and finally experiencing on their right a cannonade from the two batteries attached to Colonel Kampfen's brigade, which had moved forward from the height above Tongrinne to the rise of ground south of Tongrenelle, retired from this part of the field.[86]

It will be recollected that Colonel Stülpnagel's brigade, on relieving that of Colonel Langen in front of Sombreffe, had extended a chain of skirmishers along the stream as far as Ligny: these were now reinforced by both the 3rd battalions of the 31st Regiment and the 6th Kurmark Landwehr, with the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Kurmark Landwehr in reserve. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Kurmark Landwehr were posted on the height between Sombreffe and Bois-du-Loup, having on their right and somewhat in advance, two squadrons from each of the 5th and 6th Eegiments of Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, together with two guns from the Foot Battery No. 12. The remaining four Battalions of the Brigade were in reserve immediately in front of the inclosures of Sombreffe.[87]

"Hold Liguy half an hour longer"

"Leutnant von Schmeling near Ligny" by Adalbert von Roessler (engraving 1899), depicts Lieutenant von Schmeling defending the body of Captian Bellmer at the bridge next to Ferme d'En Bas (En Bas Farm), Ligny.[lower-alpha 18]

It was nearly 20:00, when Krafft despatched an aide de camp to the rear with a message stating, that it was only by dint of extraordinary efforts that the troops in Ligny could hold out against the French, who was continually advancing with fresh reinforcements. General Count Gneisenau (the Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army), in the absence of Blücher, sent word that the village must be maintained, at whatever sacrifice, half an hour longer.[89]

About the same time, Pirch II sent word to Blücher that his brigade, in defending Saint-Amand-la-Haye, had expended the whole of its ammunition, and that even the pouches of the killed had been completely emptied. To this Blücher replied, that the 2nd Brigade must, nevertheless, not only maintain its position, and also attack the French with the bayonet.[89]

In fact, the exhaustion of the Prussian troops was becoming more manifest every moment. Several Officers and men, overcome by long continued exertion, were seen to fall solely from excessive fatigue. The protracted combatant in the villages which skirted the front of the Prussian position, and was savage and relentless. The animosity and exasperation of both parties was uncontrollable. Innumerable individual combats took place. Every house, every court, every wall, was the scene of a desperate conflict. Streets were alternately won and lost. An ungovernable fury seized upon the combatants on both sides, as they rushed wildly forward to relieve their comrades exhausted by their exertions in the deadly strife — a strife in which every individual appeared eager to seek out an opponent, from whose death he might derive some alleviation to the thirst of hatred and revenge by which he was so powerfully excited. Hence no quarter was asked or granted by either party.[90]

The 19th century historian William Siborne states that when it is considered that a very great portion of the Prussian army consisted of young soldiers, who were under fire for the first time, their bravery and exertions in maintaining so lengthened a contest of this nature, with the veterans of the French army, cannot fail to be regarded with the highest admiration.[91]

"They are lost: they have no Reserve!"

Such were the distribution and the state of the Prussian troops throughout their line, when Napoleon arrived near the lower extremity of Ligny, with a formidable reserve. This consisted of eight battalions of the Imperial Guard, of Milhaud's Corps of Heavy Cavalry, comprising eight Regiments of Cuirassiers, and of the Grenadiers ct Cheval of the Imperial Guard. It was not, however, his sole reserve; for most opportimely VI Corps (Lobau's) had just arrived and taken post on the right of Meurus.

The troops which Napoleon held thus in hand ready to launch as a thunderbolt against the weakened centre of the Prussian Line of Battle, were perfectly fresh, not having hitherto taken any part whatever in the contest, and were the flower of his army. It was this consciousness of the vantage ground he then possessed which, upon his perceiving the comparatively unoccupied space in rear of Ligny, cause him to comment to Gérard, "They are lost: they have no Reserve remaining!".[91] He saw that not another moment was to be delayed in securing the victory which was now within his grasp, and gave his last orders for the attack at the very time when Blücher, whose right had just been strengthened by the arrival of the remaining three battalions of the 8th Infantry Brigade (Colonel Langkn's) (the Eighth), was making his dispositions for vigorously assailing the French army on its left flank.[92]

Imperial Guard pierces the Prussian centre

The projected movement that was to decide the Battle of Ligny was preceded, at about 20:30, by the rapid advance of several batteries of the Imperial Guard, which opened-up a destructive fire upon the Prussians posted within, and formed in the immediate rear of, Ligny. Under cover of this cannonade, Girard, with the 12th Infantry Division (Pécheux's), reinforced the troops that still maintained that half of the village of Ligny which lay on the right bank of the Ligny, and pushed forward with a determination to dislodge the Prussians from the remaining portion on the left bank.[93]

While the Prussian Infantry in rear of Ligny were in movement for the purpose of relieving their comrades who were already giving way before this renewed attack, they suddenly perceived, on the French right of Ligny, a column issuing from under the heavy smoke that rolled away from the well served batteries which had so unexpectedly opened upon them, and, which continued so fearfully to thin their ranks; and, as the mass rapidly advanced down the slope with the evident design of forcing a passage across the valley, they could not fail to distinguish both by its well sustained order and compactness, and by its dark waving surface of bearskins, that they had now to contend against the redoubted Imperial Guard.[93]

Prussians retreat in squares from Ligny

Ligny being thus turned, the Prussian Infantry, instead of continuing its advance into the village, was forced, by its inferiority in numbers, to confine its operations to the securing, as far as possible, an orderly retreat for the defenders of the place.[93]

Notwithstanding the Prussians' dreadfully exhausted and enfeebled state, and their knowledge that a body of fresh troops, was advancing against them, a body, too, which they knew was almost invariably employed whenever some great and decisive blow was to be struck, they evinced not the slightest symptom of irresolution, but, on the contrary, were animated by the most inflexible courage. The sun had gone down, shrouded in heavy clouds, and rain having set in, the battlefield would speedily be enveloped in darkness; hence the Prussians felt that it required but a little more perseverance in their exertions to enable them to counterbalance their deficiency of numbers upon any point of their line by a stem and resolute resistance, sufficient to secure for the entire of their Army the means of effecting a retreat, unattended by those disastrous consequences which a signal defeat in the light of day might have entailed upon them[94]

The 21st Regiment of Infantry boldly advanced against the French Column, with a determination to check its further progress; but soon found itself charged in flank by cavalry that had darted forward from the head of a column which, by the glimmering of its armour, even amidst the twilight, proclaimed itself a formidable body of Cuirassiers. It was, in fact, Milhaud's whole heavy cavalry corps, which had effected its passage on the other side of the village.[95]

The Prussian 9th Infantry Regiment fought its way through a mass of cavalry, whilst Major Wulffen, with two weak squadrons of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry, made a gallant charge against the French Infantry, which received it with a volley at a distance of twenty paces.[95]

The Prussian Infantry compelled to evacuate Ligny, effected its retreat in squares, in perfect order, though surrounded by the French cavalry, repelling all further attacks, made in the repeated but vain attempts to scatter it in confusion.[95]

Failure of Prussian cavalry charges

Blücher, who had arrived upon the spot from his right, having, in consequence of this sudden turn of affairs, been under the necessity of relinquishing his meditated attack upon the French left, now made a last effort to stem the further advance of his enemy, and, if possible, to force them back upon Ligny. The rain having ceased, it became lighter, and the French columns being more clearly discernible, Blücher immediately ordered the advance of three Regiments of the cavalry attached to the I Corps namely, the 6th Uhlans, the 1st West Prussian Dragoons, and the 2nd Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry. These regiments, which constituted the only cavalry force immediately at hand, had for some time been posted in reserve, and had suffered severely from their exposure to the fire from the French artillery.[96]

Röder directed the 6th Uhlans to make the first charge. The regiment was led on by Lieutenant Colonel Lützow, to whose Brigade it belonged. In the charge which was directed upon the French Infantry, Lützow and several of his officers fell under a volley of musketry.[lower-alpha 19] The Regiment, which was about 400 strong, lost on this occasion thirteen Officers and seventy men. A second attack, made by the 1st West Prussian Dragoons, and supported by the 2nd Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, seemed to offer a fair prospect of penetrating the French Infantry, when the former Regiment was unexpectedly charged in flank by the French Cuirassiers, and completely dispersed. The Westphalian, and 1st Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry, with several other squadrons of the Landwehr, were collected together, and formed a mass of twenty four squadrons, with which a further attack was made upon the French, but without success.[97]

The cause of this failure is to be attributed not to the want of sufficient cavalry, for indeed there was an ample number for the purpose, but to the confusion and disorder consequent upon the surprise which the French attack had occasioned, and which was augmented by the darkness that had set in upon the field. Nor was the failure caused by the absence of that most essential requisite in a charge of cavalry, good example on the part of the Officers who lead the well set squadrons into the midst of an enemy's ranks.[98]

Blücher hors de combat

Blücher, seeing that the fate of the day depended solely on the chance of the cavalry at hand succeeding, while there was yet light, in hurling back the French columns into the valley which they had so suddenly and so resolutely crossed, rallied his routed horsemen; and placing himself at their head, charged, in his old Hussar style, with the full determination of restoring, if possible, that equal footing with the French which had hitherto been so gallantly maintained. The French firmly stood their ground, and the charge proved ineffectual.[99]

Prince Blücher unhorsed, with Count Nostitz to his aid

As Blücher and his followers retired to rally, they were rapidly pursued by the French Cuirassiers, At this moment, the Blücher's fine grey charger — a present from the George, Prince Regent of England — was mortally woimded by a shot, in its left side, near the saddle girth. On experiencing a check to his speed, Blücher spurred, when the animal, still obedient to the impulse of its master, made a few convulsive plunges forward; but on feeling that his steed was rapidly losing strength, and perceiving at the same time the near approach of the French Cuirassiers, he cried out to his aide de camp: "Nostitz, now I am lost!".[99] At that moment the horse fell from exhaustion, rolling upon its right side, and half burying its rider under its weight.[99]

Count Nostitz immediately sprang from his saddle, and holding with his left hand the bridle of his own horse, which had been slightly wounded, he drew his sword, firmly resolved to shed, if necessary, the last drop of his blood in defence of his commander. Scarcely had he done so, when he saw the Cuirassiers rushing forward at the charge. To attract as little as possible their attention, he remained motionless. Most fortunately, the rapidity with which the Cuirassiers advanced amidst the twilight, already obscured by the falling rain, precluded them from recognising, or even particularly remarking, the group, although they swept so closely by that one of them rather roughly brushed against the aide de camp's horse.[100]

Shortly afterwards, the Prussian Cavalry having rallied, and reformed, in their turn began to drive back the French. Again the thunder of their hoofs approached, and again the flying host whirled past the Marshal and his anxious friend; whereupon the latter, eagerly watching his opportunity as the pursuers came on, darted forward, and seizing the bridle of a Noncommissioned Officer of the 6th Uhlans, named Schneider, ordered him and some Files immediately following, to dismount and assist in saving Blücher. Five or six powerful men now raised the heavy dead charger, while others extricated their commander, senseless and almost immoveable. In this state they placed him on the noncommissioned officer's horse. Just as they moved off, the French was again pressing forward with renewed speed, and Nostitz had barely time to lead the Marshal, whose senses were gradually returning, to the nearest Prussian infantry, which gladly received the party, and, retiring in perfect order, bade defiance to the attacks of its pursuers.[101]

Prussians retreat from Ligny

The Horse Battery No. 2, which had supported these cavalry attacks by directing its fire against the left flank of the French, became, all at once, surrounded by French dragoons. These vainly endeavoured to cut the traces, and the Prussian artillerymen defended themselves so well that they succeeded in effecting the escape of the Battery through an opening in the inclosures of Brye. The Foot Battery No. 3, however, was overtaken in its retreat by the French Cavalry, between the Windmill of Bussy and Brye,and lost one of its guns.[102]

During these cavalry attacks, the Prussian infantry, already exhausted, and broken up into separate divisions by the desperate contest in the valley, had collected together at the outlets of the villages. Some of the regiments presented a remarkable degree of steadiness and good order.[103]

At length the I Cavalry Brigade (General Treskow's), then comprising the Queen's and the Brandenburg Dragoons, and the Brandenburg Uhlans, were brought forward, and made several attacks upon the French infantry and Cuirassiers, Colonel Langen advanced, at the same time, from near the Windmill of Bussy, with the only battalion of his brigade remaining at his disposal, the 2nd of the 23rd Regiment, under, the guidance of General Pirch I, and covered by the cavalry of General Treskow; but all his efforts proved unavailing.[103]

Langen was wounded, and then driven over by a gun. The battalion, however, by continuing in admirable order, enabled General Pirch I., on whom, at this time, the defence of Ligny had devolved, to effect the retreat of the troops from the village. General Jagow retired, with a part of his brigade to Brye, and immediately occupied this point. Some battalions of General Krafft's Brigade (the Sixth) fell back from Ligny, towards the high road, leaving Brye on their left; others still more to the left towards Brye.[103]

Prussians make a stand at Brye

The 2nd Brigade (General Pirch II's) had been posted by Blücher in rear of Saint-Amand-la-Haye, preparatory to a renewed attack, was upon the point of proceeding to support the 7th and 8th Brigades, then heavily engaged, when Pirch II observed the retreat towards Brye. He immediately withdrew his brigade to this point, where he supported and facilitated the retreat of the troops from the village, with the assistance of the twelve pounder Battery No. 6, and the Foot Battery No. 34, as also of the Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry (Major Wulffen's), to which latter corps several dragoons that had become separated from their own Regiments, attached themselves.[104]

Major General Grolman, the Quartermaster General of the Prussian Army, foreseeing the consequences of the line having been thus broken by the French, hastened to Brye, and requested General Pirch II to cover the retreat by means of the troops here collected together. He then proceeded in the direction of Sombreffe, and finding near this place two battalions of the 9th Regiment (6th Brigade) he posted them in rear of a hollow road, leading from Brye towards Sombreffe.[105]

These battalions had, in their retreat from Ligny, defeated several attempts on the part of the French cavalry to break them. Grolman, on perceiving a twelve pounder had stuck fast in this hollow road, ordered the battalions to advance again in front of the latter, to assist in extricating the battery, and to protect its retreat; which was immediately accomplished within view of the French Cavalry.[105]

It was at this critical period of the battle, that the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr, which still continued in reserve, in rear of Brye, under the command of Captain Gillnhaussen, appeared upon the height in front, where it particularly distinguished itselt In the first place it succeeded in checking, by its vigorous fire, the French Cuirassiers, who were in pursuit of the Prussian infantry. Then it drove back French Cavalry which was on the point of making a fresh attack upon the Prussian dragoons. Afterwards it successfully withstood three charges by the Imperial Guard cavalry. General Grolman then ordered this battalion to join the 9th Regiment near Sombreffe; and, with the latter, to take up a position at the junction of the cross road from Ligny with that from Brye to Sombreffe. This position, which was in rear of the hollow road, was maintained until past midnight.[106]

Prussians hold Sombreffe

Such were the circumstances resulting from the French having forced the Prussian line at Ligny, and pursued in the direction of Brye: it is now necessary to explain what occurred at that time, at, and in the vicinity of, Sombreffe.[107]

The 1st Brigade (Steinmetz's), which had been placed in reserve, was ordered to take post, in Squares, upon the high road to Sombreffe, to check the pressure from the French Cavalry. Subsequently, when the direction of the retreat was decided upon, it fell back upon Tilly. The 4th Brigade (Donnersmarck's), with the exception of one or two battalions, advanced again through Sombreffe towards Ligny, just as the French cavalry pushed towards the high road. The battalions of the Brigade formed squares, and fell back upon the high road, whence they continued their further retreat.[107]

At the time the French troops were debouching from Ligny, the 12th Brigade (Colonel Stülpnagel's) was posted in front of Sombreffe; and Colonel Rohr had just pushed forward towards Ligny with the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Kurmark Landwehr, when he perceived three French cavalry regiments advancing against the right wing of the brigade; whereupon he gradually retired, and the whole brigade threw itself into Sombreffe, just as the French cavalry made an attack at the entrance of Sombreffe, and captured the two guns of the Battery No. 12, which had been posted there. Major Dorville faced about the rear division of the 6th Kurmai'k Landwehr Cavalry, and gallantly attacked the French cavalry, in the hope of checking their progress; but the lances of his troopers were shivered against the cuirasses of their opponents, and for a moment the former could only defend themselves with their broken poles. The Prussian Infantry, however, hastened forward in support; the French were driven out of the village; and one of the lost guns was retaken.[108]

Every exertion was now made by the Prussians to secure the possession of Sombret. Two battalions of the 1st Kurmark Landwehr of the 9th Brigade (General Borcke's) forward, which, during this movement, fired upon the flank of the French cavalry as the latter fell back. The defence of the entrance into the village from the side of Ligny was given to the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Kurmark Landwehr, under Colonel Rohr.[109]

Prussians retreat from Saint-Amand and Wagnelée

About this time, General Jürgass received orders to cover with his cavalry (of the II Corps) the retreat of the Prussian infantry from Saint-Amand-la-Haye and Wagnelée. General Brause, perceiving that the French had attacked the 1st Cavalry Brigade (Marwitz's, of the III Corps), on his right, and endangered his communication with the rear, hastened with the Fusilier Battalions of the 22nd Regiment (which had continued in reserve in rear of Saint-Amand-la-Haye) towards the high road, upon which the greater part of the 7th Brigade (Brause's) had by this time been collected. The Prussians, on retiring from Saint-Amand-la-Haye, were closely followed by the French. The 1st Battalion of the 14th Regiment was still in the Hamlet of Saint-Amand when it received the order to retire. During its retreat it was attacked whilst in a hollow way. It immediately showed a front on each flank, and succeeded in driving back the French. Jürgass now sent forward the 4th Squadron of the Brandenburg Hussars to attack French tirailleurs (skirmishers), who were beginning to advance from out of Saint-Amand-la-Haye. The latter were immediately forced back upon the village. Somewhat later, however, the French tirailleurs poured forth in greater numbers from out of Wagnelée, and threw themselves upon the right flank of the retreating Prussians. A mêlée ensued, in which Jürgass was shot in the shoulder.[110]

Gneisenau orders a retreat on Tilly

Gneisenau at the Battle of Ligny, by Richard Knötel.

When the centre of the Prussian Army had been broken by the French cavalry, and the Prussian commander, Blücher had been placed so completely hors de combat, Lieutenant General Count von Gneisenau, the Chief of the Staff, having undertaken the direction of affairs, ordered the retreat of the I Corps (Zieten's) and II Corps (Pirch I's) upon Tilly; and despatched Colonel Thile with directions to Thielemann (commander of III Corps), that if he could not effect a direct retreat upon Tilly, he was to retire upon Gembloux, there to unite with Bülow, and then effect a junction with the rest of the army.[111]

The occupation of Brye by General Pirch II offered a safe point of retreat to the disordered Prussian battalions; and, now that it had become quite dark, Pirch led all the troops from this post towards Marbais, where they reformed, and whence, soon afterwards, under the command of lieutenant General Röder, they continued the retreat upon Tilly. Marwitz' cavalry brigade, which was not pursued with much vigour by the French, fell back to the rear of the battalions formed up to cover its movement, and now joined the rest of the cavalry of the right wing, in the general retreat.[111]

The 5th Infantry Brigade (Tippelskirch's) was in full retreat upon Marbais when the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 22nd Regiment still continued posted on the high road, not far from the Trois Burettes. The good order and perfect steadiness of these Battalions, which were commanded by Major Sack, completely checked the further advance of the French cavalry, and greatly facilitated the retreat of the Prussian troops.[112]

After General Jürgass was wounded, the command of the rearguard devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel Sohr, of whose brigade (the Brandenburg and Pomeranian Hussars) it consisted. He executed this duty with great success, falling gradually back upon the cavalry posted in advance of Tilly by Lieutenant General Zieten; who then took command of the whole of the cavalry employed in protecting the retreat.[113]

Prussian left wing holds its position

During the retreat of the centre of the Prussian Army, which had been effectually broken, and of its right from Saint-Amand and Wagnelée, which, in consequence of Blücher's previous dispositions for his contemplated attack upon the French left, was better prepared to sustain a reverse of this kind; the Prussian left wing, under Thielemann, maintained its position, and contributed not a little, by its firm countenance, in diffusing a considerable degree of caution into the French movements in advance.[113]

This was strikingly exemplified by the conduct of the remains of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 30th Prussian Regiment (under the command of Major Dittfurth).[114] They were posted at Mont-Potriaux, and although their knowledge of what was passing on other points of the Line was very imperfect, still it sufficed to prompt their commander to cross the rivulet, and undertake, if not a vigorous attack, at least a demonstration, which, now that darkness had almost covered the field, would tend to impede, perhaps to paralyse, the French movements against the Prussian centre. Having effected their passage, they met at first but a feeble opposition from a line of skirmishers: a French Regiment of dragoons then advanced very close upon the 2nd Battalion, but was driven off; whereupon both these battalions pushed forward, and gained a height which was occupied in force by the French. Here they sustained two more cavalry attacks, which proved equally unsuccessful. [115]

A mass of infantry belonging to VI Corps (Lobau's), having its flanks covered by parties of cavalry, now advanced against the Prussian 1st Battalion; but having, in the dark, exposed a flank to the Battalion, it was also repulsed. [115]

Dittfurth, however, finding himself in too isolated a position, did not deem it prudent to advance further upon ground which he knew to be in full possession of the French, and therefore retraced his steps.[116]

A renewed attempt was made, at the same time, by the French Light Cavalry Brigade under Greneral Vallin, to push forward along the high road towards Sombreffe, and gain possession of the barrier; but the attack was as abortive as had been the former one upon this point.[116]

Close of the Battle of Ligny

With the darkness of night, now rapidly deepening, the din of battle, which had been terrific and incessant until the last faint glimmering of twilight, became gradually hushed: its expiring sounds still issuing from the heights in front of Brye, whence the flashes from the fire of artillery, and from that of skirmishers along the outskirts of this village (held by General Jagow with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 9th Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Westphalian Landwehr), indicated to the French army the extreme verge of its advance; while the still more vivid flashes emitted from the rattling musketry fire of the two Battalions of the 30th Regiment, which had so gallantly sallied forth out of Mont-Potriaux, under Major Dittfurth were still engaged, as also from the Prussian guns which defended the approach to Sombreffe, and frustrated the renewed attack along the high road towards that point, plainly intimated that the Prussian left wing (Thielemann's Corps) still firmly maintained itself in a position whence it might seriously endanger the flank of any further movement in advance against the centre.[117]

Losses on both sides

The loss of the Prussian Army on the 15th and 16 June, amounted in killed and wounded to about 12,000 men; that of the French to between 7,000 and 8,000. Few prisoners were taken on either side.[118]


French bivouac on the battlefield

The French III Corps (Vandamme's) bivouacked in advance of Saint-Amand, IV Corps (Gerard's) in front of Ligny, the Imperial Guard upon the heiglits of Brye, the Reserve Cavalry (Grouchy's) in rear of Sombreffe, and the VI Corps (Lobau's) in rear of Ligny.[119]

This possession of the battlefield, and the capture of 21 pieces of cannon, were the only advantages of which the French could boast as the immediate result of so severe a struggle. With these, however, it would seem that Napoleon was fully satisfied: if he had entertained any idea of pursuit, it was now abandoned; he took no measures for watching the movements and prying into the designs of the Prussians: but left his troops resting in their bivouacs, offering no molestation whatever to the Prussians, whilst he in person returned to Fleurus, where he passed the night.[119]

Prussian retreat towards Wavre

The contrast between the circumstances of the two armies during the night was very striking; for whilst the victors were indulging in perfect repose, the vanquished were completely on the alert, seizing every possible advantage which the extraordinary quietude of their Enemies afforded during the precious hours of darkness.[119]

The military historian Silborne writing in the middle of the 19th century thought that never, perhaps, did a defeated army extricate itself from its difficulties with so much adroitness and order, or retire from a hard fought field with so little diminution of its moral force.[119]

The Bülcher, Prussian Commander, was carried to Mélioreux, about 10 km (6.2 mi) in rear of Ligny, and the headquarters were established there for the night.[120]

The Prussian III Corps (Thielemann's) still retained possession of his original position in the Line of Battle; and General Jagow, with several detached battalions belonging to the I Corps (Zieten's), occupied Brye and its immediate vicinity. From this position Zieten quietly effected his retreat about an hour after midnight, taking the direction of Sombreffe, and thence proceeding to Gembloux, presuming, in all probability, that the general retreat would be towards the river Meuse. It was not until 03:00 on the 17 June, when the Field of Battle had been completely evacuated by the remainder of the Prussian Army, that Thielemann commenced his retreat, which he conducted slowly, and in good order, to Gembloux; near which the IV Corps (Bülow's) had arrived during the night.[118]

Movements, 17 June; and the Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815, detail showing Wellington on horseback.

Wellington anticipated that Napoleon would then come against him at Quatre Bras, so he spent 17 June retreating northwards to a defensive position he had personally reconnoitred the previous year at Mont-Saint-Jean a low ridge south of the village of Waterloo and the Forest of Soignes.[121] Napoleon, with the reserve and the right wing of the Army of the North, made a late start on 17 June and joined Ney at Quatre Bras at 13:00 to attack Wellington's army, but found only the rearguard of cavalry remaining on the site. The French pursued Wellington to Waterloo, fighting a small cavalry action at Genappe before torrential rain set in for the night. By the end of 17 June, Wellington's army had arrived at its position at Waterloo, with the main body of Napoleon's army following. It was at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815 that the decisive battle of the campaign took place.

Before leaving Ligny, Napoleon gave Grouchy 33,000 men and orders to follow up the retreating Prussians. A late start, uncertainty about the direction the Prussians had taken, and the vagueness of the orders given to Grouchy meant that he was too late to prevent the Prussian army reaching Wavre, from where it could march to support Wellington.

After Waterloo

After the French defeat at Waterloo, only Grouchy managed to retreat in good order to France with his force of nearly 30,000 organised French soldiers with their artillery. However, this army was not strong enough to resist the combined coalition forces. Napoleon announced his abdication on 24 June 1815, and finally surrendered on 15 July.


Tactical results of the battle

In consequence of this defeat, Blücher was compelled, in order to maintain and secure his close communication with Wellington, to abandon the line of the Meuse between Namur and Liège; but his orderly and unmolested retreat afforded him sufficient time to remove all his stores and material from these points to Maestricht and Leuven, which now constituted his new bases of operations.[118]

It was not, however, a defeat which involved the loss of every advantage previously gained. Blücher was not driven from the field; but, on the contrary, he maintained it during the night, with the exception of the villages of Ligny and Saint-Amand in his front; thus facilitating the orderly retreat of his own army, and, at the same time, affording a considerable degree of security to the direct line of retreat of Wellington.[122]

The defeat certainly compelled the latter to retire on the following morning, whatever might have been his success at the Battle of Quatre Bras; but so long as Blücher had it in his power to fall back in such a manner as to effect his junction the next day with Wellington, the advantage which accrued to the common object of the two commanders was of the highest importance.[123]

The military historian William Siborne postulates that the outcome of Quatra Bras and Ligny put the two Collation armies in a position where they could unite after the concentration of each army had been accomplished; hitherto, they had been compelled to meet their opponents before they had succeeded in collecting their respective forces. If, however, Wellington had been unable to maintain his ground against Ney, and Napoleon had in this manner succeeded in beating both armies in detail; or, if the Prussian defeat had been followed up by a vigorous pursuit, the loss of the Battle of Ligny might have placed both armies in a critical position.[123]

Siborne stats that the struggle at Ligny was undoubtedly of a most desperate and sanguinary character. It was, almost throughout, one continued village fight; a species of contest which, though extremely harassing and destructive to both parties engaged, was that most likely to prove of a long duration, and consequently to afford to the Prussians a better prospect of relief by the promised support from Wellington, or by the hoped-for junction of Bülow.[123]

Blücher's error during the battle

Siborne questions whether Blücher, had he confined himself during the latter part of the action to the same defensive system he had so successfully carried on up to that time, instead of detaching his reserves to the right, and preparing for an attack upon the French left, might not have fully maintained his original position until dark, and thus have saved his army from defeat by the arrival of the IV Corps (Bülow's) during the night, he would then have been prepared to meet his opponent on the following morning with a greatly preponderating force; whilst, on the other hand, Wellington, having concentrated a considerable portion of his army, would have been placed in an equally advantageous position as regards the already vanquished Ney in his own front.[124]

Silbone also states that when it is considered that along the whole extent of Blücher's line, the French had not gained any material advantage upon one single point, and that the Prussians continued to hold their ground with most exemplary firmness; the circumstance of his not having delayed the collecting of his reserves, for a grand attack upon the French Left, until actually joined by either Wellington's army or Prussian IV Corps (Bülow's ), can scarcely be explained except by a reference to the peculiar character of the Prussian chief, whose natural fiery temperament led him, in all probability to seize with avidity the first prospect which opened itself of a favourable opportunity of aiming a deadly thrust at his hated foe, rather than to adhere to that comparatively passive kind of warfare which so ill suited his own individual inclination and disposition.[125]

Napoleon's want of energy

Napoleon had undoubtedly gained the victory from the moment he succeeded in penetrating the Prussian centre; but it was not distinguished by that brilliant success, or by those immediate and decisive advantages, which might have been anticipated from the admirable manner in which the attack had been prepared, and the care with which it was concealed from the Prussians, at a moment when they had no reserve remaining, and when the co-operation of Wellington's army on their right, or the arrival of IV Crops (Bülow's) from Hannut, had become quite impracticable. This appears the more surprising when we reflect that he had a considerable corps of cavalry under Grouchy at hand to support this attack, and that the whole of IV Corps (Lobau's) was on the field, fully prepared for active operations.[126]

In the opinion of the military historian William Siborne the consequences resulting from the absence of energetic measures on the part Napoleon, in following up the defeat of the Prussians, on the evening of the 16 June and morning of the 17 June, was that Napoleon had squandered the advantage that he had gained by the confusion he has sown in the Coalition by his surprise attack through Charleroi on the 15 June.[127]


  1. Pigeard quotes historian Henri Houssaye, who speaks about 12,000 men dead or wounded (Pigeard 2004, p. 480).
  2. Siborne spells Sombreffe "Sombref"
  3. 1 2 "'Pirch I', the use of Roman numerals being used in Prussian service to distinguish officers of the same name, in this case from his brother, seven years his junior, Otto Karl Lorenz 'Pirch II'" [8]
  4. Siborne spells Tongrinne "Tongrines"
  5. Mont-Potriaux was south west of the centre of Sombreffe and on the north bank of the Ligny stream located at 50°31′18″N 4°35′57″E / 50.52160592°N 4.59919453°E).[10]
  6. Siborne spells Villeret "Vilrets"
  7. Siborn spells Bothey "Botey".
  8. Bois-du-Loup ("Wood of the wolf"): a small wood located (50°31′07″N 4°34′59″E / 50.5185453°N 4.5830094°E) just north of the Ligny stream about half way between the village of Ligny and the hamlet of Mont-Potriaux.[10]
  9. 1 2 Trois Burettes was located at the crossroads of the Namur high road and the Old Roman Road.
  10. At the start of the battle the French VI Corps (Lobau's), was on the march from Charleroi
  11. Frasnes-lez-Gosselies (which which Siborne spells Frasne) is a village about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) south of Quatre Bras slightly to the west of the Charleroi road, while Villers-Perwin (which Siborne spells Villers-Peruin), is about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Quatre Bras slightly to the east of the Charleroi road.[18]
  12. "So did [Wellington] promise to come to Blücher aid at Ligny? The answer is a simple yes ... Prussian accounts of the meeting make no mention of the qualifying 'providing I am not attacked myself', while von Müfflung [Prussian liaison officer seconded to Wellington's staff] does record those words. General von Dornberg, Prussian-born but serving in the British army [as commander of the 3rd British Brigade], recalled something similar; he claimed Wellington said 'I will see what is opposing me and how much of my army has arrived and then act accordingly.' Yet three Prussian accounts claim that not only did the Duke promise to come, but that he even offered Blücher the exact time he expected to arrive, though as one account says the expected arrival time was 2 p.m., the second 3 p.m. and the third von Clausewitz, who was not even present, 4. p.m. ... So the accounts differ, but Wellington had already seen for himself the French presence at Quatre-Bras and he would hardly have given a promise that he knew was most unlikely to be kept. He expected a fight at Quatre-Bras and must have warned his Prussian allies of that strong possibility. Geisenau always blamed Wellington for the outcome of Ligny, describing it as 'the defeat we had suffered because of him',..."
    Bernard Cornwell.[24]
  13. This note was slow in being delivered to Ney. It announced that the Prussians were posted between Sombreffe and Brye, and that at 14:30 Grouchy was to attack them with the III and IV Corps, and expressed Napoleon's wish that Ney should also attack whatever enemy forces might be in his front, and, after having repulsed the latter, fall back in the direction of Ligny, to assist in enveloping the Prussians. At the same time it stated, that should Napoleon succeed in defeating the latter beforehand, he would then manoeuvre in Ney's direction, to support in like manner the Marshal's operations. It concluded by requesting information both as to Ney's own dispositions and those of the enemy to his front. This despatch reached Ney at a moment when he was most seriously engaged, when the issue of the battle was extremely doubtful, and the probability of his being enabled to afford the support required by Napoleon most questionable. This was doubly so because shortly before this message arrived Colonel Laurent had arrived with a more recent order from the Imperial Head Quarters requiring Ney to detach the I Corps towards Saint-Amand. A Having fallen in with the head of the Column of that Corps, Laurent had taken upon himself to alter the direction of its march; and, on coming up with Count d'Erlon, who had preceded his Corps, and was then in front of Frasnes, he showed him the note, and explained to him where he would find the head of his Column. Shortly afterwards. General d'Elcaiore, Chief-of-Staff to the I Corps, arrived to report the movement which was in course of execution. Ney realising that he needed the services of the I Corps he sent Greneral d'Elcambre back to d'Erlon, with a peremptory order for the I Corps to return towards Quatre Bras.[28]
  14. Tombe-de-Ligny is a hillock south of Ligny. It is probably a Gallo-Roman tumulus and was used as a vantage point by Zieten during the night before the battle and late in the battle by Napoleon.[29] It is located at 50°30′00″N 4°34′15″E / 50.4998991°N 4.57079798°E.[10][30]
  15. At Ligny Grouchy commanded the French Cavalry Reserve: I Cavalry Corps (Pajol's), II Cavalry Corps (Exelmans's), the 11th Cavalry Division l'Héritier's, detached from III Cavalry Corps) and IV Cavalry Corps (Milhaud's).
  16. Louis-Pierre-Alphonse de Colbert commanded a Brigade of Lancers in the 5th cavalry Division of the II Corps. His brother Pierre David commanded the 2nd Brigade of the Imperial Guards Light Cavalry Division
  17. Siborne spells "Jacquinot" "Jaquinot". The Light Division contained 2 Brigades of 2 regiments each and the 2nd Company of the 1 horse artillery
  18. "The Berg fusiliers [of the Prussian 29th regiment] fought tooth and nail to defend [the body of Captain Bellmer the officer who lead them into Ligny], lieutenant Von Schmeling fighting off two Frenchmen while his fusiliers attempted to drag their former commander away. Schmeling suffered a bayonet wound and was shot in the left arm here. The 3rd battalion of the 29th regiment was gradually forced back, but not before Schmeling suffered two more wounds, one in his abdomen, the other in the leg. He was carried away on a limber".[88]
  19. Colonel Lützow was captured. He escaped the next day (either during or shortly after the Battle of Waterloo).
  1. 1 2 Pigeard 2004, p. 475.
  2. Leggiere, p. .
  3. Chandler 1967, p. .
  4. Longford 1971, p. 508.
  5. 1 2 Beck 1911, pp. 375.
  6. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 199.
  7. Siborne 1848, pp. 199–200.
  8. 2007.
  9. Siborne 1848, p. 200.
  10. 1 2 3 Clausewitz 2010, Chapter 27 Dispositions on the Front at Ligny: first map.
  11. Siborne 1848, pp. 200–201.
  12. Siborne 1848, p. 201.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 208.
  14. Siborne 1848, pp. 201–202.
  15. Siborne 1848, pp. 202–203.
  16. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 203.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 204.
  18. Siborne 1848, p. 115.
  19. Siborne 1848, pp. 118–119.
  20. Siborne 1848, pp. 123–124.
  21. Siborne 1848, pp. 204–205.
  22. Siborne 1848, p. 135–136.
  23. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 136.
  24. Cornwell 2015, p. ~230.
  25. Franklin 2015, p. 94.
  26. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 205.
  27. Siborne 1848, p. 205–206.
  28. Siborne 1848, pp. 182–183.
  29. Uffindell 2015, p. ~218.
  30. Accueil, Location on the Map.
  31. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 206.
  32. Siborne 1848, pp. 206–207.
  33. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 207.
  34. Siborne 1848, p. 209.
  35. Siborne 1848, pp. 209–210.
  36. Siborne 1848, p. 210.
  37. Siborne 1848, pp. 210–211.
  38. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 211.
  39. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 212.
  40. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 213.
  41. Siborne 1848, p. 213–214.
  42. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 214.
  43. Siborne 1848, pp. 214–215.
  44. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 215.
  45. Siborne 1848, pp. 215–216.
  46. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 216.
  47. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 217.
  48. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 218.
  49. Siborne 1848, pp. 218–219.
  50. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 219.
  51. Siborne 1848, pp. 219–220.
  52. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 220.
  53. Siborne 1848, pp. 220–221.
  54. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 221.
  55. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 222.
  56. Siborne 1848, pp. 222–223.
  57. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 223.
  58. Siborne 1848, pp. 223–224.
  59. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 224.
  60. Siborne 1848, pp. 224–225.
  61. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 225.
  62. Siborne 1848, pp. 225–226.
  63. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 226.
  64. Garrelts 1856, p. 172.
  65. Siborne 1848, pp. 226–227.
  66. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 227.
  67. Siborne 1848, pp. 227–228.
  68. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 228.
  69. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 229.
  70. Siborne 1848, pp. 229–230.
  71. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 230.
  72. Siborne 1848, pp. 230–231.
  73. Siborne 1848, p. 231.
  74. Siborne 1848, pp. 231–232.
  75. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 232.
  76. Siborne 1848, p. 231, 232.
  77. Siborne 1848, pp. 232–233.
  78. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 233.
  79. Siborne 1848, pp. 233–234.
  80. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 234.
  81. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 235.
  82. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 236.
  83. Siborne 1848, pp. 236–237.
  84. Siborne 1848, p. 237.
  85. Siborne 1848, pp. 237–238.
  86. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 238.
  87. Siborne 1848, pp. 238–239.
  88. Wit 2010, pp. 5–6 cites Wellmann, pp. 102–103
  89. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 239.
  90. Siborne 1848, pp. 239–241.
  91. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 241.
  92. Siborne 1848, pp. 241–242.
  93. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 242.
  94. Siborne 1848, pp. 242–243.
  95. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 243.
  96. Siborne 1848, p. 243–244.
  97. Siborne 1848, p. 244.
  98. Siborne 1848, pp. 224–245.
  99. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 245.
  100. Siborne 1848, pp. 245–246.
  101. Siborne 1848, p. 246.
  102. Siborne 1848, pp. 246–247.
  103. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 247.
  104. Siborne 1848, pp. 247–248.
  105. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 248.
  106. Siborne 1848, pp. 248–249.
  107. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 249.
  108. Siborne 1848, pp. 249–250.
  109. Siborne 1848, p. 250.
  110. Siborne 1848, pp. 250-251.
  111. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 251.
  112. Siborne 1848, pp. 251–252.
  113. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 252.
  114. Parkinson 2002, pp. 259–260.
  115. 1 2 Siborne 1848, pp. 252–253.
  116. 1 2 Siborne 1848, p. 253.
  117. Siborne 1848, p. 253–254.
  118. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 255.
  119. 1 2 3 4 Siborne 1848, p. 254.
  120. Siborne 1848, pp. 254–255.
  121. Longford 1971, p. 527.
  122. Siborne 1848, pp. 255–256.
  123. 1 2 3 Siborne 1848, p. 256.
  124. Siborne 1848, pp. 256–257.
  125. Siborne 1848, p. 257.
  126. Siborne 1848, p. 257–258.
  127. Siborne 1848, p. 258, 323.



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Coordinates: 50°31′13″N 4°34′53″E / 50.52027°N 4.58140°E / 50.52027; 4.58140

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