Waterloo campaign

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Waterloo campaign, last action of the Napoleonic Wars, ending with the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon I, who escaped from Elba in Feb., 1815, and entered Paris on Mar. 20, soon faced a European coalition. His only hope lay in attacking before the enemy could combine to attack him, although he could count on only about 125,000 men in the immediate future. His plan was to destroy the British and Prussian forces under Wellington and Blücher on the northern frontier, before dealing with the Austrians and Russians under Prince Schwarzenberg then gathering on the eastern frontier. To effect this, he decided to concentrate his forces near Charleroi, between Blücher's force of about 120,000 and Wellington's of about 93,000, and thus prevent their junction. Setting out for the front on June 12, he seized Charleroi while the allies still believed he was in Paris, and he defeated Blücher at Ligny (June 16). Assuming that the Prussians were retreating toward their base in Namur, he detached Grouchy with 33,000 men to pursue them. Meanwhile, Marshal Ney was battling Wellington at Quatre Bras; Napoleon now turned to his assistance, and Wellington, though victorious, was compelled to retreat toward Brussels. Wellington took up a strong position S of Waterloo, between Mont-Saint-Jean and Belle-Alliance, and awaited attack. On June 18, about noon, Napoleon began a massed attack against the British center, but the British stemmed the tide until the overdue arrival, late in the day, of the Prussian forces, who had eluded Grouchy by marching on Wavre instead of Namur. This event proved the turning point of the battle. Routed, the French retreated with the Prussians in pursuit. Napoleon left the field and signed (June 22) his second abdication. French casualties were about 32,000, the coalition's about 23,000. The campaign was marked by confusion and miscalculation on all sides. The battle figures prominently in European literature.

See J. Naylor, Waterloo (1960); D. A. Howarth, Waterloo: Day of Battle (1968); U. Pericoli, 1815: The Armies at Waterloo (1974).

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Waterloo, battle of, 1815. In June 1815, Napoleon struck into Belgium, hoping to destroy Wellington's Anglo-Dutch army and Blücher's Prussians before they could unite. After the battle of Quatre Bras on 16 June, Wellington's inexperienced army of 67,000 men (of whom less than a third were British) fell back to a ridge near Waterloo. The 89,000 strong Prussian army, badly mauled at Ligny on the same day, also retreated. The French Marshal Grouchy pursued Blücher with 33,000 men, fighting an action at Wavre on 18 June, but failed to prevent the Prussians from marching to Wellington's aid.

The battle began on 18 June with an unsuccessful attack on Hougoumont, a fortified farmhouse on Wellington's right flank. A major attack developed in the centre, but the French infantry were driven back. Then for about 90 minutes the French made a series of fruitless attacks with unsupported cavalry on unbroken allied infantry squares. The arrival of Prussian forces compelled Napoleon to send part of his élite Imperial Guard to his right flank. By 6.30 p.m. the key farmhouse of La Haye Sainte had fallen to the French, and an all-out assault might have broken Wellington's lines. However, Napoleon prevaricated, and only released his reserve—the Imperial Guard—at 7.00. The repulse of the Guard was the signal for the rout of Napoleon's army. With Blücher's men pouring on the field, Napoleon was finally defeated.

Gary Sheffield

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Waterloo, Battle of (June 18, 1815) Final engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought c.20km (12mi) from Brussels, Belgium. The Duke of Wellington commanded Allied troops against Napoleon I's slightly larger French forces. The conflict was stalemated until the Prussians, under Marshal Blücher, arrived to overwhelm the French flank, whereupon Wellington broke through the centre. The battle ended Napoleon's Hundred Days and resulted in his second and final abdication.

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Waterloo, Battle of a battle fought on 18 June 1815 near the village of Waterloo (in what is now Belgium), in which Napoleon's army was conclusively defeated by the British (under the Duke of Wellington) and Prussians. Waterloo is often used as a word for a decisive defeat or failure.
Waterloo ball a frivolous entertainment preceding a serious occurrence (with reference to a ball given in Brussels by the Duchess of Richmond on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo).