You have to feel a bit sorry for Belgium. There it sits, squashed between France and Germany, the perpetual playground on which they sort out their squabbles. In 1815 the French Empire were at battle with almost everyone in Europe, apart from Naples. The Seventh Coalition armies of almost a million men, was commanded by the Duke of Wellington, in his fine boots, 72 year old Gebhard von Blücher of Prussia and Frederick Bianchi, who despite his rather Italian name was an Austrian leader. Whilst the smaller opposition of 280,000 were commanded by Joachim Murat, the fabulously named Marquis de Grouchy and of course the mighty Napoleon I.
The battle had moved across Europe from mid-March taking in the sights of France and Italy. By mid June it was in what is now Belgium. Napoleon I had been declared an outlaw by the Congress of Vienna in March of 1815. This sounds rather wild west, but essentially meant that Napoleon was now not protected by the law, and anyone could do whatever they liked with him. Napoleon had done well though in protecting himself against impending doom. Based on previous actions Wellington expected Napoleon to move up through the paved roads of Mons. Napoleon was no fool, and predicted the predictions of Wellington, so made use of misinformation to encourage Wellington to believe that the Mons attack was exactly what he did plan.
However, his real intent was to not push Wellington’s troops toward his colleague Blücher, but rather to split them apart. Dividing his troops into three they were able to easily take several of the outposts at Charleroi, and seat Napoleon centrally opposite Ligny. Wellington, believing that the Charleroi push had been the meat, sent his army to Nivelles and Quatre Bras.
Zieten provided a rearguard that held off the French long enough for Blücher to move his forces to Sombreffe. Whilst Napoleon assuming that they wouldn’t attempt any further moves forward moved the reserve to Fleurus, and sent Marshall Ney off to take Quatre Bras.
In response to the French moves to Quatre Bras, Wellington and Blücher made the decision for Wellington to move his troops there, whilst the Prussians maintained their position in Sombreffe.
At around half past two on the afternoon of June 16th Napoleon heard cannon fire in Quatre Bras which indicated the left flank was safe, and launched the attack from his position in Fleurus. He sent Vandamme, who was regarded as one of the bad boys of L’Armée du Nord, to begin an attack on Saint-Amand-la-Haye, leading the 3rd Prussian brigade into a hasty retreat. In response Blücher sent Pirch to retake the hamlet, however they failed and Napoleon’s troops kept hold of Sain-Amand.
By three o’clock the French had started the Ligny portion of the battle. The Prussian artillery responded but the 12th infantry still successfully captured the village church. Unfortunately for them the Prussians were persistant and well armed and the commander Pécheux found himself reduced by 20 of his officers and 500 soldiers. With such reduced numbers they withdrew, being replaced by the French artillery, who set half the tiny village aflame with their 12-pound gun battery. Again the Prussians responded, and the 3rd Brigade rose from their previous failure to take Ligny back for the coalition.
At half past three Napoleon sent Comte de la Bédoyère with written orders for Ney. The orders instructed him to send d’Erlon and his troops to attack the Prussian’s rear right. However, before the message had made it to Ney, Comte de la Bédoyère coming across d’Erlon sent the troops off in Napoleon’s desired direction. Without the note Ney was unaware of Napoleon’s instructions, and sent them right back to Quatre Bras. D’erlon’s troops did not take part in the battle that day, which is probably just as well after all that walking.
By seven in the evening Wellington was in battle with Ney, and so unable to support the Prussians. Blücher strengthened his troops and led an attack on Saint-Amand, which was initially successful, but the French Imperial Guard then responded and the Prussians found themselves once more in retreat.
An hour later the Prussians had lost the battle altogether, with Gneisenau moving to a position ready to support Wellington. The French Empire was victorious again, but it was Napoleon’s last success in this war. Indeed, it was his last success in his career.
I have attempted to locate the belligerents on a map of modern Belgium, if I have any wrong please let me know!
If you want to get your Napoleonic battle off to a good start here’s the man himself , some artillery, for the opposition there are some rather jolly Prussians and Wellington, accompanied by Uxbridge and his ummm rug.
If you’ve a battle report from a Ligny based game we’d love to hear from you, either leave us a comment or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org