The Grand Battery – The Latest Evidence

The Massed Battery at Waterloo – A Review of the Evidence

One of the enduring questions from the Battle of Waterloo remains the Grand Battery placed on Napoleon’s right wing to soften up the opposition and to support the attack by Comte d’Erlon’s Corps in the first major attack of the battle. Did it actually exist? If it did, how many guns were involved? And where was the battery positioned? These questions have been argued over for two centuries and I will attempt to explain my view of these issues, utilising the latest information, but I certainly am not stupid enough to think that I will settle the argument for ever and I will as always welcome alternate views.
What is the evidence for the Grand Battery?
We know from his Memoirs that Napoleon ordered at 11am that the 12-pounder batteries of II and VI Corps would mass with that of the I Corps, that these 24 guns would bombard the troops holding Mont St Jean and that Comte d’Erlon would commence the attack, by first launching his left division, and when necessary, supporting it by the other divisions of the I Corps. Now, this established a battery of 18 x 12 pounders and 6 x 6 inch howitzers to batter Wellington’s line in advance of Mont St Jean , but this in itself does not establish the existence of a Grand Battery of more than fifty cannon.
Beyond this statement, we unfortunately have very few French sources for the arrangement of the cannon of I Corps during this attack, but one that does exist is of immense importance, being that of Marechal de Camp Desalles, who was no less than the commander of I Corps artillery at Waterloo and yet his statement is rarely quoted in regard to this subject. It is therefore fortunate that Andrew Field has recently brought it to prominence in his Waterloo – The French perspective.
Desalles begins by describing the orders he received soon after 11 am from the Emperor’s aide de camp Labedoyere, whilst he was in the presence of Comte d’Erlon. He records that Napoleon ‘had given me command of a battery of 80 guns’, so, we now have some evidence for a Grand Battery. This is further supported by Mauduit, who states that ‘To protect this exposed attack, ten batteries …. had been established’
The Dutch Cartographer Craan indeed shows eleven batteries on his map of Waterloo, placed at intervals along the front of I Corps, but unfortunately, they are not named.
Many of the British troops described the French preparations for the attack, although it is actually unclear how many truly had a view of the French line, given that most of the allied troops were stationed on the reverse slope. However, Captain Kincaid of the 95th Rifles was in such a position and he described in his memoirs, that ‘innumerable black specks were now seen taking post at regular distances in its front, and recognising them as so many pieces of artillery’
The length of front covered by the batteries was around 1200 metres as the frontage of an 8-gun battery was normally in the region of 90 metres, therefore it can be seen that there would have been only small gaps between each battery, as depicted by Craan. As the guns were therefore more of a congregation of individual batteries (although boosted by a number of reserve batteries) it is a moot point whether it can be called a Grand Battery. The guns were certainly massed for effect, but initially being little more than the guns lining the left wing of French army, so we can accept that there was a Grand Battery of sorts, indeed some now claim (following this argument to its full conclusion) that there was one huge Grand Battery stretching across the entire front of the French army.


How many guns were in the Grand Battery?
We know that Napoleon had supplied 24 reserve guns to the battery , whilst I corps had 4 divisional batteries totalling 24 x 6-pounders and 8 x 5.5 inch howitzers, and a horse battery of 4 x 6 pounders and 2 x 5.5 inch howitzers, giving us a total of 62 guns.
However, Desalles records that he had been given command of ‘a battery of 80 guns, which was to be composed of all my six pounder batteries, my twelve pounder reserve battery, and of the reserve batteries of the 2nd and 5th [6th] Corps which would actually give me 54 guns, of which twenty four would be twelve pounders’. He lists only 54 guns allocated to him . This discrepancy of eight guns is explained, in that he did not include Durutte’s battery, as this was (he presumably thought) was to be engaged against the Papelotte area.
Although Desalles was informed that he would have command of 80 guns, he fails to explain where the rest of the guns would have come from, perhaps indicating that they were either never allocated or at least (more likely) were not under his direct command. It would appear that a further 24 guns were allocated by Napoleon to support d’Erlon’s attack from the Guard artillery, although the specific order has not survived. These would increase the number of guns in the battery to 90 if all I Corps were available (although Desalles indicates they were not) or 82 guns if the one battery is removed as per Desalles. It is however usually stated that the Guard artillery were held in reserve near La Belle Alliance and were actually not engaged. The fact that they are not recorded as having been involved (not mentioned by Desalles) or suffered any known losses in the subsequent allied cavalry charges would tend to confirm this.
Therefore the Grand Battery would appear to have consisted of 54 guns (agreeable to Desalles statement), -Captain Leach 95th estimated it at 50 guns and another unknown officer of the 95th counted 40 – or 62 guns if Durutte’s battery is included. I choose to include all of the guns of I Corps because we know that Durutte’s division was involved in the attack on the allied ridge and only got involved in a serious attack on Papelotte later in the day , thus the associated guns were likely to have been fully involved in the barrage which commenced at about 1 pm.
Where was the Grand Battery Established?
This of the three questions seems to be the most contentious of all, with William Siborne and a number of modern historians (including Mark Adkin, Nick Lipscombe and John Hussey) opting for its deployment on an intermediate ridge some 400 metres in front of the main French front line, which ran along the lane running from La Belle Alliance towards La Haye and was between 1,000-1,200 metres from the allied ridge.
This premise has gained a great deal of credence in recent times because of the ideal range of French artillery of the period. Kevin Kiley and Stephen Summerfield have both shown that French cannon of 1815 had an ideal range (without any elevation) of 600-800 metres, depending on whether a 6-pounder or 12 -pounder. This would mean that the French artillery would seek to engage their enemy with aimed fire at no more that 700 metres and this would make the interim ridge almost perfectly placed on which to establish the Grand Battery.
But, was the battery initially organised for aimed fire? In fact, the evidence is very clear that it was not. Wellington’s troops were placed behind the crest of the ridge, with only skirmishers and the allied artillery obviously dotted on the ridge crest. Engaging such small individual targets was usually deemed a complete waste of time and effort and would have failed signally to soften up the allied defences in advance of d’Erlon’s attack. The task allocated to the Grand Battery was therefore to drop cannonballs and shells into the ‘blind area’ behind the allied crest, to destroy the allied formations undoubtedly stationed behind the ridge in close proximity to the guns on the crest. Their target was therefore an extensive area stretching 1000 metres along the allied ridge and extending back some 4-500 metres behind, where the allied forces were sure to be sited in depth. With the need to drop shot over a crest, rather than fire horizontally, the barrel would be elevated. A 1 degree elevation of the barrel would increase the range of the first bounce to 900-1,000 metres and 2 degrees elevation to 12-1400 metres, when we suddenly find that the main French line on the lane near La Belle Alliance is no longer too distant. In fact at 2 degrees elevation the maximum range of the guns was near 2,000 metres. If it is argued that fire from this distance was ineffectual and a waste of ammunition as claimed by supporters of the intermediate ridge, then we must accept that all of the cannon ranged in front of II Corps who engaged the allied line at similar ranges were wasting their time – something that the allied troops positioned on this wing, would undoubtedly hotly contest!
What do the eye witnesses state?
Our first port of call must be Desalles, who states ‘First I ordered all these guns to be put in battery on the position we now occupied, mid-slope [ie just in front of the infantry on the Belle Alliance track], in a single line and began firing all at once to astonish and shake the morale of the enemy’. Desalles states that the 3 x 12 pounder batteries were on the left, the three divisional batteries (minus Durutte) in the middle with their divisions and the horse battery on the right – he should know. Bro actually places the 12 pounders were in the middle and the divisional guns on the left , but he cannot be such a reliable witness, being in the cavalry.
Sergeant Canler of the 28er Ligne states that the battery was on the plateau of Belle Alliance, whilst Mauduit states that the batteries were established ‘on the mounds to the right of La Belle Alliance to the front of the divisions of I Corps’. Beyond this, there are no other specific statements from the French as to where the guns were sited, but as the only three we have all confirm that the guns were placed on the slope just in front of the I corps it would seem conclusive.
It must be stated that one allied witness claims that 74 guns were established on the intermediate ridge, this is Shaw-Kennedy, who is deemed a reliable witness, but he wrote many years after the event and is a lone claimant and was not personally involved in the action on the left wing. We know some guns were established there at some stage, and Shaw does not say when they got there, so the only real discrepancy in his account is the number of guns in the position. Sergeant Cotton also places the French guns on this ridge, but he can hardly be viewed as an eyewitness, his situation at the battle giving him no opportunity to see it for himself.
This would also answer two other problems regarding the placing of the guns so far forward, even raised by Mark Adkin, who is an advocate of the intermediate ridge as the site of the battery from the commencement of the action.
The first is the vulnerability of the guns on such an advanced position without any infantry or cavalry support, at the mercy of the allied cavalry. It has been argued that the French guns commanded by Senarmont at the Battle of Friedland had advanced alone to less than 200 metres from the Russian infantry, but in this example the enemy was formed in columns in the open and highly visible, the French infantry were close by, desperately trying to close up with the guns and could be seen by the Russians, Senarmont’s guns fired and moved by section thereby maintaining a constant and severe fire on the Russians, destroying all hope of forming a counter attack on the guns – none of which can be deemed appropriate to the position the French artillery found at Waterloo. Indeed, Desalles states that Ruty (overall commander of the artillery) ordered the guns to move onto the forward ridge, but Desalles discussed with Ney the dangers of attack by allied cavalry on the forward ridge and delayed the movement.
It is also clear that such a large battery ranged along the intermediate slope, would have had a huge number of caissons, horse teams and other paraphernalia drawn up in the hollow behind. All of this would have formed a massive obstruction for the infantry when they advanced. We are asked to believe that the troops formed into columns on the trackway near La Belle Alliance marched forward a few hundred yards, then filed singly through the gun line (all eighteen thousand men!) which would also have forced the guns to stop firing. They then reformed in front of the guns (the guns opening up again as the infantry moved lower down the slope) and then advanced on the allied position? I think not! No soldier on either side mention such a cumbersome and unmilitary set of manoeuvres, and Wellington (& Uxbridge) watched the French infantry perform this mess-up without seeing the opportunity of launching his cavalry whilst the French infantry were completely unformed and preventing the guns from operating. Surely the answer is that this never happened and not one interestingly not French eyewitness claims that it did.
Few of the allied troops were in a position to view the French batteries, but a few allied officers made statements. Lieutenant James Hope of the 92nd states that ‘About one o’clock, he (Napoleon) opened a most handsome fire upon our division from numerous artillery planted along the ridge on which his army was posted. Under cover of this cannonade, he pushed forward three columns of infantry.’ Whilst, Lieutenant Gunning of the Royal Dragoons, recalled the advance of d’Erlon’s troops and that ‘At 3 pm [sic], they advance steadily, as if at a review, covered by guns on their own left, that kept up a continued fire on our brigade’ . George Simmons 95th recalled watching the infantry form up but does not mention any movement from the French guns. These would all appear to confirm that the battery was on the main French ridge and continued to fire from there whilst d’Erlon’s troops advanced.


But further, such a huge battery of up to eighty guns, would not only have been a huge target for the allied cavalry, but would also have proven a major impediment to them in their advance, forcing them to pass around or through the guns. So what do the allied cavalry remember of cannon during their charge forward? The Scots Greys and the left wing of the Royals were struck by cannon fire as they crested the allied ridge, but where these guns were positioned is not made clear. Joseph Stratton states that ‘I am inclined to think that the artillery by which our left was annoyed, must have been placed on the opposite heights. We do not recollect coming on any guns accompanying the French column…’ Whilst Lt Colonel Wyndham records that [Paymaster] Crawford tells me that after this, they [the Greys] went up the high ground and took the guns, somewhere about 20’. Clark Kennedy of the 1st Royal Dragoons appears to indicate that the cavalry rode across the entire valley towards the guns, stating that ‘we continued to proceed on… getting under the fire of fresh troops stationed on the opposite height’. Yet again Regimental Sergeant Major Thomas Barlow of the Royals stated that ‘The enemy cavalry ran away and we pursued them for about half a mile’ , he also fails to mention passing any guns. Lieutenant Samuel Waymouth’s map of the action shows the positioning of the cuirassiers and red lancers [whether he identified them correctly is another debate] south of the intermediate ridge but does not indicate any French battery and does not indicate in his version of events that any guns obstructed their ride. Cornet Gape of the Scots Greys states that when down in the valley before their charge ‘we were just in the range of the 12 pounders…’ which could be read as at ‘extreme range’. None of these statements are categoric proof, but they do all seem to indicate that they were only bothered by serious artillery fire on the left, and that they did not encounter French guns in their charge until they got to the main ridge. This again would appear to dispel the notion of an eighty-gun battery along the intermediate ridge on two counts, firstly that they are not struck by heavy cannon fire from the front and secondly, that they did not encounter any guns whilst riding forward over this ridge and beyond.
In fact, Desalles confirms this scenario, as he says that he planned to move forward during the enforced lull in their firing as the infantry reached the allied crest, in series (battery by battery) to the forward ridge thus maintaining a high level of fire (if required in support) throughout, but his plans were apparently thwarted by Lt Colonel Bobillier who commanded the three 12-pounder batteries, whom he saw ‘move off with the reserves and go, without any precautions, to the second position [the intermediate ridge]’.
Desalles states further, that the reserve batteries arrived on the intermediate ridge and began to deploy, that he then sent his adc to order the other guns forward in support, but suddenly the French infantry were broken and pursued by the allied cavalry. ‘They arrived all mixed together with the enemy on the reserve artillery [on the intermediate ridge] whose fire was paralysed by the fear of killing their own men’. Desalles tried to rescue his own reserve battery and brought it into action but it was eventually overrun. The divisional guns do not appear to have had time to move forward at all, or perhaps a few had started to move, and these guns still firing from the main French position would have been the guns that were attacked by the allied cavalry (Greys, Inniskillings and Royals) who reached the guns on this ridge and were subsequently surrounded by the sweeping flank attack of the lancers whilst on the French slope.
The scenario painted by Desalles, where only the three batteries of the reserve artillery reached the left of the intermediate ridge is surprisingly confirmed by an allied witness. De Lacy Evans records that during the cavalry charge ‘we ascended the first ridge occupied by the enemy, and passed several French cannon, on our right hand, towards the road, abandoned’.
This also fits the scenario set by the Royals, who had suffered like everyone else during the initial bombardment, but only received cannon fire from the left as they passed over the ridge line. The guns on their left (French right) being the divisional guns of d’Erlon’s corps who remained in position firing whereas the guns on their right (French left) we know were in transit at the commencement of this attack by Ponsonby’s horsemen and were effectively out of action.
Confirmation of the fact that the cavalry rode right up the main French line to reach the guns comes from Lieutenant John Hibbert of the 1st Royal Dragoons, who states that having engaged with the French infantry and guns on the ridge ‘they saw their mistake too late, and a few (this is about half the regiment) turned and rode back again; no sooner had they got about five hundred yards from the French infantry than they were met by an immense body of lancers…The Greys I believe, acted in the same manner and of course got off as badly as we did.’ Five hundred yards from the intermediate ridge would have put the lancers on the slope of the allied ridge where we know the rocket troop and infantry were now deployed. It must mean that the guns were on the main ridge.
It would therefore appear from virtually all of the available evidence, that there was a Grand Battery and that it principally consisted of 62 guns (possibly joined by some Guard units), it was initially formed on the main French ridge just in front of the French infantry and that it was intended to move them forward to the intermediate ridge, but because of the allied cavalry attack only the three 12 pounder batteries ever reached there and deployed. These were the guns described as abandoned there. But the allied cavalry of Ponsonby’s Brigade (particularly the Greys) must have pursued further towards the original French front line (the 85er Ligne were left there by Durutte to protect his divisional guns and record having to fire on allied cavalry) and these were the allied cavalry who were surrounded by the French counterattack including Bro’s lancers.
I believe that this scenario completely ties with the evidence provided from both sides and hopefully ends the speculation regarding the Grand Battery being sited on the intermediate ridge, but I doubt it!

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Gareth Glover

11comments
Jim - a couple of months ago

I believe the de Salle’s 80 guns reference to 24 guns of the ‘reserve’ actually refers to the Imperial Guard’s three designated Reserve Batteries comprising of 18x 12 pounders and 6x howitzers in total. Which when added to the 54 guns of the 7 designated Foot Batteries of the 3 Corps, he named initially being in charge of, totaled almost 80 by the time the 3 Reserve batteries of the Foot Guard reached his firing line – and equalling the ten battery figure he gives. That resolves the dispute/ misunderstanding of DeSalle’s summary which he simply forgot to specify, in my opinion.

I’m in the Adkins and Stratton camp of the Grand Battery placement on the ‘intermediate ridge’ simply because of the French cannon range factor is logically correct. A curious thing DeSalle mentions is the battery deploying ‘mid-slope’. In such a position, the field of fire would be blocked if they were deployed on the La Belle Alliance line in mid-slope with the intermediate ridge of the same height in the way. The Scots Grey sections in the bottom of the valley in their attack that had decided to ‘Charge the Guns!’ could never see mid-slope placed guns if they were behind the intermediate ridge line. Furthermore, the French gunners were firing into the backs of the retreating Greys which again suggests

French cannon fire was striking Mont St.Jean farm and the Union Cavalry brigade regiments in the first bombardment. The Greys had to shift positions and dismount to avoid the French cannon shots which grazed over the Ohain Ridge to their front. The fire was so annoying that the Greys moved closer to the ridge in hopes of avoiding the shots flying overhead. The range they were being hit had to be around the average most maximum range for French cannons – 1500 yds and 1800 yrds for 6 pdrs and 12 pdrs respectively. Ranges of guns in detail by nation is a general study for Napoleonic tabletop wargamers wielding artillery bounce-sticks and such.

That could only be achieved by firing from the intermediate ridge. If the fire was from the La Belle Alliance ridge, only the most maximum shots from 12 pdrs could have toughed the Greys. I believe the number of those shots would have been very few to ‘annoy’ them to dismount and shift positions before D’Erlons attack struck.

So, the 500 yards from the French gunners firing from the intermediate ridge and hitting the Union brigade troopers positions 500 yards further north of the Ohain ridge with annoying frequency makes sense.
This is beyond the ‘effective range’ of 800 yards mentioned which was horizantal barrel elevation. From the intermediate ridge, French guns had to elevate their barrels to fire up at the higher Ohain ridge’s crest to guess-timate with their battle experience as gunners, was hitting the hidden allied soldiers, thus their range was more maximum ranged for shooting over 1000 yards. Thus the lobbing tail end of the shots going over the Ohain ridge with heavy effect into the Union brigade. Andrew Fields account of this tactic is described very well.

Consider also, that only from the intermediate ridge could French shots be firing obliquely across the Brussels highway and striking Mont St.Jean ridge Allied targets in the first and second lines and the back line where ammunition wagons exploded as noted in several allied accounts.

( What is further interesting is Desalle mentioning his guns being struck by counter-battery fire from the Allies; not just Mercer was defying Wellington’s orders to not do so ).

During D’Erlon’s attack a French battery moved up in support of D’Erlon’s right side – presumably a horse battery. A Frencg Cavalry Guard Grenadier – I recall- also mentions a 12 pounder battery moving up slowly to support Ney’s later cavalry charges – presumably nearer to Hougoumont area.

The main French line was the intermediate line as I see it. Had the line been along the La Belle Alliance line the Union Brigade battery attackers would have been very quickly pounced upon by Milhaud’s and the Guard Light cavalry stationed immediately behind that ridge. In contrast, the attack being further away on the immediate ridge makes sense with Jacquinot’s direct flank attack of his Lancers and the oncoming cuirassier brigade from Milhaud’s counter attack. None of the Greys accounts mention climbing an intermediate ridge and going onto a second ridge to attack their targeted battery.

Reply
    Gareth Glover - a couple of months ago

    Hi Jim

    Appreciate your thoughts

    The comment by De Salle on the number of guns – you are probably correct in assuming that is how the number of guns would reach 80 ish but his point was that they never arrived.
    As to De Salle mantioning the guns being mid slope and the range of the French artillery. You are right that if firing directly the best range to fire at is around 800 metres, however with only a few guns on the ridge to fire at, the guns were not used in this mode. In fact they were firing over the allied ridge, assuming that there were large troop formations hidden behind the ridge, to achieve this the barrels were elevated a few degrees. A document I discovered in the NAM written by an artilleryman in 1815 specifically says that 2 degrees of elevation gave a range of 1200 metres and 3 degrees 1500 metres. Suddenly the guns on the French ridge can fire beyond the allied ridge without moving forward (just as Reille’s guns did at a similar distance).
    If you walk this area at Waterloo it soon become obvious that they did not use the intermediate ridge for a number of reasons.
    1. Moving the guns out unprotected would have been suicidal (easily attacked) and is actually a long way from the French front line.
    2. De Salle says it didn’t happen
    3. Allied soldiers writing at the time mention no more than 30 guns firing on them and do not mention their depolyment forward
    4. The intermediate ridge is within rifle shot of La Haye Sainte and would have been obvious to its defenders – they don’t mention it or fire on it
    5. When the British heavy cavalry charge forward the 2nd Lifeguards and 1/2 of KDG cross road before reaching La Haye Sainte, I followed this route and it brings them out no more than 200 metres from the Intermediate ridge where they engage in cavalry action, no mention of seeing cannon on this nearby ridge
    6. If you stand in the shallow valley between the allied ridge and the intermediate ridge it is too compact for the cavalry action and the remnants of d’Erlon’s columns to fit.
    7. The allied troops & rockets descend into the valley to collect prisoners and fire off rockets – this would bring them within 200 yards of the guns but nobody sees them – this also restricts the room for a cavalry action still going on in front of the guns.
    8. The Greys say they rode for half a mile to get to the guns.
    9. De Lacy Evans actually says only a few (less than 6) abandoned guns on intermediate ridge which he passed in charging up to the French guns – beyond
    10. Light Brigade cross chaussee in final advance north of the intermediate ridge and cross it as they march towards La Belle Alliance, they encounter no guns here – encounter plenty close to La Belle Alliance.
    11. Nobody on either side who served in that area of the battlefield on either side states that they were on the intermediate ridge.

    Yes others went forward to support the push beyond La Haye Sainte and with the Guard but in these cases they went forward with the infantry not before them.

    Basically all of the historical evidence is against a major use of the intermediate ridge – the only ‘evidence’ for it is modern historians looking at incorrect maximum ranges of cannon – not taking into account that they could be elevated for lobbing over the ridge.

    Reply
      Jim - a couple of months ago

      Hello
      Thanks for the fast follow-up on a good debate.
      Yes, I do agree as mentioned in my initial reply about th barrel elevation necessary for maximum range firing. The reality is that firing from the La Belle Alliance (LBA) line, all the French 6 pounder guns and howitzers most maximum range shots could barely hit the Mont St Ridge summit – and the Union brigade start positions, and Mont St.Jean farm. The Grand Battery gunfire had no possibility of getting to the Allied second line which was over a mile away from LBA itself. The 12 pdrs could only hit targets 200 yards past the Mont St.Jean summit at maximum range. Maximum range as you know is a lobbed shot with hardly any subsequent bounce impetus left at its drop point. Gun-Ranges is my primary belief in the ‘ Intermediate Ridge ‘ theory.

      1. I’ll contend that D’Erlon’s planned attack was arrogantly confident nothing would stop them and that the French Grand Battery could slaughter any sudden counter attack. Indeed, Milhaud’s Cavalry Corps was only half a mile behind them as well as the immense Light Cavalry of the Guard Division – and Lobau’s corps was still in close support at mid-day.. My belief is that the Grand Battery had become the main line on the French right wing.

      2. Indeed – I can’t argue with what a soldier who was ‘there’ believes. But like the capture of Cambronne – many soldier’s ‘there’ on the spot can offer varying accounts of the same incident…. making Waterloo debates very rich.

      3. I do find it hard to imagine only 30 guns firing ‘area target’ style at out-of-sight targets could cause the Union Brigade regiments to dismount and shift positions.

      4. I would agree on that point only as far as the elements of Baring’s LHS Garrison riflemen assigned to the forward woods position would be the only Riflemen firing from the southern treeline could possibly snap off shots at maximum rifle range shooting up to the higher LBA crest astride the Brussels highway was on very high ground. Only one battery would possibly be within that slim maximum rifle range exposure. The rest of the battery had no worries of intrepid Allied skirmishers, besides which swarms of French skirmishers suppressed and displaced the Orchard defenders early in D’Erlon’s attack. The rest of the intermediate ridge extending from the forward LBS spur/ high banked road was not in range of the riflemen in the orchards or buildings. Brendan Simm’s, ‘The Longest Afternoon’, has a good overview of this situation in Chapter 4.

      5. + 6. I would conjecture that being in the dip of the valley one could not see beyond the crest of the higher intermediate ridge – but arguing against myself, Desalles claims the battery guns were mid-forward slope posted.

      7. Desalles does mention rockets hitting his battery.

      8. Intermediate ridge was 700 yards from the Ohain crest across from it and the LBA line around 1000 yards, it’s a literal gray-zone what half a mile could mean.

      9. The interesting account of Sgt. Archibauld of the Grey’s is a mix of details maybe referring to what DeLacy states; he mentions the Greys mopping up the first French line in the valley, and attacking Cuirassiers and Lancers ( the Guard ) in the third line before getting hit in the flank by the separate flank attack of Jacquinot. In the second line hit earlier he mentions the Greys destroying “a battery” on an ’eminence’ to their left – unfortunately no mention refers to the grand battery on either LBA or the Intermediate crest in his sector of deep charging. The loose Dickson account mentions the French gunners shooting the retreating Greys in their backs presumably with canister if from the intermediate ridge.

      10 – 11. I wonder if there’s some speculation on the Grand battery being a warped line of sorts. Ultimately its the field of fire range that persuades me which Fields seems tempted to partially go along with in his own assessment.

      Nice debate!
      Contact me if you can, as I have an interesting file from my site I’d like to send and share with you related to the Turner/ Hougoumont sketches your site has posted elsewhere here.

      Cheers

      Reply
Glyn Cussons - a couple of months ago

Hello there

I am only an amateur interested in the battle but have thought that Desalles 54 guns could be explained. He refers to his horse artillery but these may not be Jacquinot’s horse artillery when a half-battery of 3 guns were with the 7th Hussars under Marbot to the east. Desalles may not be including these guns nor Durette’s which may have been in 2 half batteries facing Pappelotte rather than joining in the barrage of the ridge. I have always wondered whether Desalles was referring to his 3 divisional batteries and the 3 reserve 12 pounders. That is 6 foot batteries of 8 guns ie 48 guns. With Lobau’s reserve were there not attached the auxillery marine horse artillery company of 6 guns? Would theses not have gone forward with Lobau’s 12 pounders and account for Desalles 54 pieces?

In the orders of battle I have there is no record of the CO. But could this not be the “Waudre” mentioned in his account?.

Regarding the forward position of the battery being unsupported. Desalles may be less than accurate on the movement as he wished to absolve himself of any responsibility for losing any guns . I presume this was an artillery officers worst shame, traditionally in the British army losing a gun was the same as losing the colours. But he does admit that some guns had gone forward including reserve 12 pounders.

As to being unsupported. Some accounts do not fit with all of D’Erlon’s divisions going forward on a wide front . This may have been speculation in later French accounts and there is some evidence that Donzelot did not advance to the hedges but formed 3 regimental squares behind the central part of the grand battery. The 13th Leger may have been used as light troops to attack La Haye Sainte and one battalion with Marbot. This would mean Quiot and Marcognet advanced on a smaller front on both flanks of the grand battery and did not have to pick their way through the battery and its supports nor would they mask most of the guns field of fire in their advance. They may have advanced to the intermediate ridge before the guns came forward and waited during the early barrage further supporting the advanced artillery.

Please feel free to shoot this down as I cannot verify the sources for this in a post. I would certainly be grateful if anyone can account for the guard 12 pounders and the marine horse artillery’s positions. Desalles probably would not have been given command of the guard 12 pounders explaining why he does not include them in the guns he was “given”. But were they left in reserve until very late in the battle? This seems unlikely, a waste and I remember a reference to at least one guard 12 pound company threatening to fire but actually having expended all their ammunition. That does imply it was firing for much of the battle. Napoleon’s order may have been for the guard 12 pounders to join the battery and this would account for statements that 80 guns would be involved. This could be explained because the ADC,s etc were referring to all of the 1st Corps foot artillery, the other corps reserve 12 pounders and the three guard 12 pounders. They may have overlooked the marine artillery as every else seems to?

Does this fit in with any one else’s interpretation?

Cheers

Glyn

Reply
Jim - last month

Hi Glyn,
– that’s an interesting inclusion regarding the auxiliary Marine Horse 6-gun battery. Do you have sources for the Donzelot artillery support role speculation? One French source – I think VI corps Lobau himself – refers to an Imperial Guard Horse battery deployed in a supprt role near Durette’s forward area, if I recall correctly; likely from the Guard Light Horse Division in the third line. Also, another source refers to Lobau’s Corps on its march to the Paris Woods, had halted and deployed in squares supposedly in reaction to the counter-attacking bands of Union Cavalry probing deep into the French right flank at that moment.

Here’s some more food for thought, based on the debate regarding the idea of Napoleon confusing Mont St.Jean village for La Haye Sainte in his June 18th orders. Supposedly, Napoleon took a nap* from 10 am – 11 am after determining his hoped for 9 am early morning attack was impossible due to the muddy ground. His orders after he woke up referred to Mont St.Jean as the target for his sledge hammer blow with D’Erlons corps. In strategic terms, the actual village of Mont St.Jean makes perfect sense, but if he meant La Haye Sainte, the latter makes more obvious sense.

The clue lies in his orders;
“Once the whole army is drawn up in battle, about one o’clock in the afternoon, when the Emperor gives orders to Marshal Ney, the attack will begin to seize the village of Mont- Saint-Jean, where is the intersection of roads. For this purpose, the battery of 12 of the 2nd Corps and that of the 6th will join those of the 1st Corps. These twenty-four [barrels] will fire on the troops of Mont-Saint-Jean, and the count of Erlon will begin the attack……. The companies of sappers of the 1st corps will be ready to barricade themselves on the spot in Mont-Saint-Jean.”

Initially, it could be supposed the 24 12 pdr guns in the initial deployment ( leaving out the later addition of the 3x12pdr Foot Guard batteries ) were ordered to fire at the ‘Mont St.Jean’ ridge, but the later reference in that order indicates the I Corps sappers were to barricade “Mont St.Jean” upon its capture. From that, I’m speculating the 3 batteries of 12 pdrs were assigned to pummel La Haye Sainte ( if going along with the mistaken name referral theory ) and then barricade it after it was stormed.

The support for that theory lays in Brendan Simms book account of the La Haye Sainte battle in its first stage – giving reference to the German LHS orchard defenders noting artillery fire crashing into tree branches overhead. This lends itself to the intermediate ridge battery-position theory; particularly to the significant thumb of high ground that protruded for several hundred yards north of La Belle Alliance astride the very sunken Brussels. highway. Apparently the 3x 12pdrs were assigned to attempt to solely blast LHS laying low in its own dip in the valley, but the obstructing orchard treetops likely much diminished the head-on direct fire of those 12 pdrs located around 300 yards directly south on that prominent height.

M.Damiens, and B.Coppens also have interesting theories in comparable articles. Good debate!

Reply
Gareth Glover - last month

It is certain that Napoleon actually meant Mont St Jean in his orders, which was of course a large village not just the farmhouse, laying where the two chaussees met. The capture of this village would split Wellington’s army in two. The capture of La Haye Sainte cannot have been thought to be that difficult given that only two units of d’Erlon’s attack was sent against La Haye Sainte. The rest went for the main ridge – directly on route to Mont St Jean.

As to the Grand battery numbers – few historians now believe there was a Grand Battery at all. Most believe that the cannon were placed between the divisions as normal. De Salle seems to be pretty accurate as he describes the three reserve batteries of 12 pounders moving forward alone towards the intermediate ridge. He says that only a few guns deployed there before the attack failed. If only one battery had deployed, it is likely that the other two hastily retired to safety. This would explain perfectly how De Lacey Evans only saw about 6 abandoned guns near the chaussee on the intermediate ridge and saw no other cannon in this area during the charge.
There is no evidence that the Guard batteries deployed in support at all.
La Haye Sainte actually suffered very little damage from cannonballs and what there was was in the roof. This indicates that the French guns could not see the walls (the intermediate ridge was in the way?)

Gareth

Reply
Glyn Cussons - last month

Hello Gareth and Jim

I keep an open mind on what constitutes a “Grande Battery” and where it was positioned. I have not been able to reconcile the evidence and varying accounts. So your “Good debate” is of great interest especially as Gareth’s extensive work is so important to any study of the battle.

A couple of points on your posts.

Jim you ask what evidence there is for Donzelot being in reserve or support to advanced guns.

The major source is Schmitz commanding the 1st Brigade of Donzelot’s division. The translation I have is “The enemy cavalry charged, and having routed these two divisions, the 2nd Division remained in the position where it stood, formed square by means of filling in the gap between battalions by the platoons from the flank, and in this position repulsed the cavalry with considerable loss to them.”

He states earlier that they were formed in square by regiment, although some sources translate this as by battalion. Hamilton-Williams interprets it as a square “en masse” of the Division.

He also explains that from this position they sent forward the 2 companies of voltigeurs from the 13th Legere to force the withdrawal of the “machines” and supporting cavalry. (Whinyates rocket carriage.) This supports them being in an intermediate and forward position.

Fleuret of the Ist Divison talks of crawling back to infantry squares and fire from [their] four faces. I think this may be Donzelot on the intermediate ridge and not Lobau. Lobau was brought onto the La Belle Alliance ridge to replace D’Erlon before being ordered to the right. Milhaud and Lefebvre-Desnouettes came forward to support Donzelot and took part in the repulse of British cavalry. This all seems to be in keeping with Napoleon’s original orders. There has been much speculation that Napoleon altered his timings of when Lobau was ordered to counter the Prussians. Also I wonder that many people have used Siborne’s original positions for other units rather than much of the French right wing closing up to new forward positions in support of D’Erlon.

Captain Hay of the 12th Light Dragoons “I observed on our left, three or four squares of French infantry were drawn up at the bottom of the ridge in their front which was covered thickly with skirmishers. This seems to fit Donzelot’s supporting squares rather than Quiot’s two columns and Marcognet’s one. I would have thought Lobau would be too far south for this description to fit. Mention of 3 or 4 squares would refer to either the 13th Leger being present and forming a square or the 85th forming a square to support a battery on the eastern flank.

Lt Heise’s map of his view of D’Erlons attack has a line on infantry supporting a forward French battery and Marcognet’s column advancing from its eastern flank. He was with Rettberg’s battery and had a good view especially of Marcognet’s column. Admittedly he does not show squares.

Paul Dawson’s books also quote about Colonel Bro’s account (and his map) which supports that Donzelot was in support of guns with the red lancers on the left rear flank and the chasseurs on the right. He is also of the opinion that there was no one “grande batterie” but several smaller elements. I wish he had published the map rather than just his interpretations of it.

There are not many clear references to where the guard 12 pounders were positioned but there are some quotes from historians and eye-witnesses.

I have a quote from my poor translation of Captain Coignet. My French is almost non-existant but I did my best with Google translate. .-
“I was sent for, and orders, given me to go a little to the right of the road to Brussels, to make sure of the position of the left wing of the English which rested on the wood. I was obliged, in descending, to go alongside of the road on account of a broad and deep ravine which I could not cross, and a hill where the artillery of the guard was in battery. I must mention that we were drenched with rain, and the ground was very muddy; our artillery could not manoeuvre. I passed near them, and when I came in front of that immense ravine, I saw some columns of infantry closely massed in the lower part of it. I crossed it, going a little to the right, and came upon an isolated barrack [garrison], a little way from the road. I stopped to look. On my right I saw some large rye-fields and their pieces in battery, but no one was moving. For a moment I did a little swaggering. I went near the rye-fields, and saw a body of cavalry behind them. I had seen enough of them. It appeared that it did not suit them to see me come near them: they saluted me with three shots from their cannon. I went back to tell the Emperor that on the right their cavalry was concealed behind the rye-fields, their infantry masked by the ravine, and that a battery had fired on me”.

It may be of interest that most translations of this original give the meaning to “taudis” (I think that was the original, I cannot put my hand on it at present) as hovel and conjecture that it was a poor cottage, may be far to the east. But when I researched it I found it can be translated as “poor quarters”, “barrack” or more appropriately “garrison”. Could this mean La Haye Sainte? Is this too much of a stretch but it does make some sense to me and what the ADCs were meant to be about.

Andrew Field quotes Mauduit on page 72 – “To protect exposed attack, ten batteries, of which three were twelve pounders, and several of the Guard, had been established on the mounds to the right of La Belle Alliance to the front of the divisions of the 1st Corps.” and supports this with Pentecoulant. This may be mistakenly referring to later re-inforcement with Guard horse artillery but it does seem to refer D’Erlon’s first attack.

Houssaye “During this fight (Hougoumont), the emperor was preparing his major attack. He was strengthened by the batteries of 1st and 6th corps and three batteries of the guard …”

Henri Bernard stated that two batteries of the guard were added to D’Erlon. I am, not sure how reliable he is, as he refers to 8 pound guns as well which were obsolete. He does specify there were 30 twelve pounders ie 5 batteries containing 6 each. If there were more than the 18 from the 1st, 2nd and 6th corps, they must have come from the guard.

My records are not as organised as they should be but if anyone wants chapter and verse (page numbers) on the original references I am sure I can find them.

Nothing is conclusive and I have been trying to map it out, especially as to what the middle squadrons, the Inniskillings, encountered. But there is quite a lot of evidence that Donzelot was in reserve or support and his role may have been to protect the otherwise vulnerable advanced artillery. When, where and for how long this advanced artillery formed is still up for “good debate”.

Cheers

Glyn

Reply
    Gareth Glover - last month

    I must be honest, I have found Mauduit a particularly poor witness. Very unreliable on the Final Guard attack

    Reply
Jim - last month

Hi Glyn and Gareth,

I’m inclined to believe -after being intrigued by this debate- that perhaps the Grand Battery developed in stages rather than all at once. Durette’s division came into the first attack at the last moment. While Scot’s Greys’ Sgt.Archibauld’s account don’t make specific references to encountering a huge battery position, Corporal Dickson’s retold* account mentions ‘a grand battery’ which Colonel Hamilton targeted for charging. In the latter’s retelling, he also states an encounter with two French batteries caught in support of the columns at the bottom of the hill.

I agree about La Haye Sainte not getting pounded; seems most of the Grand Battery were assigned to area-target fire the ridge-line and behind – in my support of the intermediate ridge position, those to its from perhaps designated to shoot at it had there fire interfered with by the Orchard treetops. That immense farmhouse would take many wasted hours to rubble is another reason – imo.

I was also a firm advocate that Napoleon meant Mont St.Jean village and road junction there itself as the logical goal to split Wellington’s army in two. He was a master of maps and logistics details after all. But I must admit being curious to suppose there was a mix-up going into the late stages of the battle with references to La Haye Sainte and Mont St.Jean [village] as it must have seemed Wellington’s center was ready to crack and the masses heading north by Ney’s eyes presumably seen from the La Belle Alliance heights ( and to the Prussians I Corps arrival area. area. Just like Zieten’s staff officer came back from his mission to scout Wellington’s late day position and confirmed Wellington was in full retreat, perhaps Napoleon had scout reports erroneously claiming LHS was captured, or even a scout mistaking LHS for Mont St.Jean – just speculations…..

Good composite of details there Glyn. Thanks.
As for the Coignet’to the right’ mission, it seems to me, regarding the immense ravine, he was referring to the rain-swollen waterway of the Smohain Brook which traversed the Saxe Weimar forward positions amid the Papelotte/Smohain/LaHaye /Frischermont sector which in Summer resembled the vegetation heavy area of Normandy WW2 bocage countryside; not favourable for cavalry nor artillery movement. And the ‘wood’ resting on the ‘english wing’, was undoubtedly the Paris Wood. I’m guessing that the deployed Guard battery mentioned may be the same as that Guard horse battery I earlier alluded to that was noted in a VI corps staffer’s account stationed on the east edge. It seems the spottings of ‘columns of infantry’ were Best’s Hanoverian brigade, and the artillery were attached Hanoverian or Netherland’s, and the cavalry – Vivian /Vandeleur’s regiments. I’m guessing the outpost he described crossing the Smohain Brook could be the lightly defended La Haye farm. These were the only Allied Cavalry that could be plainly seen from that right-wing scouting mission.

When looking at Ney’s own writings, he devotes much to infantry tactical attack thought -in theory. There was very careful planning in D’Erlon’s attack which incredibly lacked proper close cavalry support. But the evidence shows from those there that the French infantry were deployed in supportive roles. Grey’s Dickson mentions encountering a second column and then a third further behind of ‘fusiliers’ – maybe Donzelot’s formations you mention.

Not sure how these blogs work – but I hope there’s a way to communicate with you further by email if you like; or if it can be arranged. Since 2015 alot of the popular Waterloo debating dropped off considerably. Hopefully there’s a revival.

Reply
Gareth Glover - last month

Only today Andrew Field sent me a very interesting translation of the Campaign Journal of the 1st Corps published in French by Stephen Beckett. There are a couple of very interesting statements regarding the battery.

…80 guns of which 36 were twelve pounders commanded by Major Chaudon, were put under the orders of General Desalles…who established them in a single line on the summit of the height behind which the infantry formed, close to the road which went from la Belle Alliance to Ohain. As this line of artillery was very long and far exceeded the space occupied by the infantry columns, a regiment of the 4th Division was sent to the extreme right to cover the artillery and defend it from anything which was able to come from the far end of the height which went towards Smohain.

…the two cavalry columns having checked our squares [columns] moved on our numerous artillery and did it great harm, men and horses were killed or dispersed, but at the same time Milhaud’s cuirassiers which were formed close to the road towards La Belle Alliance and Jacquinot’s on our right charged the English cavalry and few of them regained their position.

This establishes WITHOUT DOUBT DeSalles version of having his guns along the trackway. The 80 guns according to De Salles was not achieved because the \Guard artillery did not arrive. This appears to be confirmed by a comment further on, which states

….the troops made a retrograde movement and the Emperor sent artillery of the Guard to replace that which, having lost its horses and personnel could not be used. (this probably proves that the initial Guard deployment had not happened as Desalles states)

Reply
    Jim - last month

    Hi Gareth,
    Thanks for that latest info. All the pieces slowly add up in varying degrees. Very good idea getting Mr.Fields input too. I imagine the battery starting off at the LBA track line, but further speculate still that there was movement of it up to the intermediate ridge just based on the other evidence of the late afternoon bombardment smashing into the Allied second and third lines and Mont St.Jean farm; I would therefore surmise the French 6lb-ers positioned advanced of the LBA track to have that range.

    Those collected 36x 12 pdr guns as a section among the stated 80 would mean those guns coming from 6 separate 12lb-er batteries, apart from each of their howitzer sections; thus my speculation of the I, II, VI corps and the 3x Reserve Foot Guard batteries – the tally fitting that stated planned composition by De Salles….. lending credence to the probabilty we seem to be sharing of the Grand Battery gradually building up rather than not all set-up initially.

    RE- the French extreme east flank…..
    Interesting thing about the Horse Guard battery deployed in the Lobau right flank area, I seem to keep mentioning so far 🙂 – While perusing the Adkin’s army set-ups, I saw in the Imperial Guard chart a note that the 5th Company Horse Guard battery was attached to the VI Corps.

    The VI corps movement to the right could make another good topic for debate; a couple of staff statements claim their orders were to support the Durette area of the I Corps attack; the controversy being if there was any real concern ‘shown’ for a Prussian flank attack; where was Marbots screen actually, despite his ‘claims’ which contradict the more realistic Prussian reports of no French presence east of Durette’s area… etc etc.
    Feel free to privately pass my contact info to Mr.Glyn if he would like it.
    Again. thanks for that extra update from Mr.Fields.

    Reply
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