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DROUET'S ACCOUNT OF WATERLOO
The following is the report of the battle of Mount Saint-Jean or La Belle Alliance, made by Count Drouet to the Chamber of Peers on the 23rd of June. His introduction, in which he notices some misrepresentations that had been made in the House, and professes his attachment to the emperor, his love of the country, and his enthusiasm for the national glory, we omit. The following includes his whole narrative.
"The French army passed the frontier June 15. It was composed of several corps of Cavalry, five corps of Infantry, and the Imperial Guard. The five corps of Infantry were commanded, the 1st by Count d'Erlon, the 2nd by Count Reille, the 3rd by Count Vandamme, the 4th by Count Gerard, and the 6th by Count Lobau.
They met some light troops on this side of the Sambre, dispersed them and took 4 to 500 men. They afterwards passed the river; the 1st and 2nd corps at Marchienne-au-Pont, the remainder of the army at Charleroy. The 6th corps, which remained behind, did not pass the river until the next day. The army marched in advance of Charleroy upon Fleurus. The corps of Vandamme, attacked, about 4 o'clock in the evening, a division of the enemy, which appeared to be 7 or 8000 strong, infantry and cavalry supported by some cannon, with its horse upon the road of Fleurus. This division was routed, its squares were overthrown by our cavalry, one of which was entirely put to the sword. In one of these charges of cavalry, France lost my brave and estimable comrade, Lieut. Gen. Letort, Aid-de-camp of the Emperor. Our advanced guard marched upon Fleurus. The next morning the French army entered the plain of Fleurus, which 21 years before we had rendered famous by one of the most splendid feats of arms. The enemy appeared in form of an amphitheatre, upon a hill behind the villages of St. Amand, and
Ligny. The right appeared to extend a little beyond St. Amand, the left stretched considerably beyond Ligny.
About noon, the 3rd corps of Infantry, supported by its cavalry, attacked the village of St. Amand, took possession of a wood in front of the village, and penetrated as far as the first houses. Soon after, it was vigorously repulsed. Supported by new batteries, it recommenced the attack, and after several very obstinate attempts, it remained master of the wood and the village, which it found filled with dead and wounded Prussians.
At the same time, the 4th corps attacked the village of Ligny. It met with great resistance, but the attack was directed and supported with most persevering obstinacy. Some batteries occupied the whole interval between the two villages, to oppose the artillery which the enemy had planted at the foot, and on the declivity of the hill. I witnessed this cannonade with satisfaction, because I perceived that we had decidedly the advantage. The troops who protected our batteries were at a distance, and being masked by the inequalities of the ground, could receive no injury. Those of the enemy, on the other hand, being disposed in amphitheatre, behind their batteries, suffered the greatest losses.
It appeared to be the intention of the Emperor to move the reserve beyond the ravine, and upon the position of the enemy, as soon as we should be masters of Ligny. The manoeuvre would have entirely cut off the left of the Prussians, and left them at our discretion. At the moment of executing this, between 4 and 5 o'clock, the Emperor was informed that Marshal Ney, who was far at our left at the head of the 1st and 2nd corps, was opposed to a very considerable English force, and wanted support. The Emperor ordered that the battalions of chasseurs of the old guard, and a great part of the reserve of artillery should march to the left of the village of St. Amand to the assistance of the two first corps, but it was soon ascertained that this reinforcement was not necessary, and it was recalled to the village of Ligny, by which the army was to debouch. The grenadiers of the guard passed the village, and overthrew the enemy, and the army, chanting the hymn of victory, took a position on the other side of the ravine, upon the field of battle, which it had rendered illustrious, by the most splendid military feats.
I know not what other trophies distinguished this great day, but those which I saw were several standards, and 24 pieces of cannon collected at one point. I have never under any circumstances, seen the French troops engage with a more noble enthusiasm. Their rapidity and valor inspired the highest hopes.
On the morning of the next day I went over the field of battle; I saw it covered with the enemy's dead and wounded. To the latter the Emperor ordered every assistance and consolation to be given. He left upon the field officers and men specially instructed to collect them. The peasants bore away with the greatest care, the French wounded; they seemed anxious to give them assistance; but we were obliged to employ menaces to compel them to take charge of the Prussians, to whom they showed a strong dislike.
According to the reconnoitring reports, it appears that after the battle the enemy's army had separated; that the English took the road of Brussels, and that the Prussians bent their course towards the Meuse. Marshal Grouchy, at the head of a large corps of cavalry, and the 3rd and 4th corps of infantry, was ordered to pursue the latter. The Emperor followed the route of the English with the 1st, 2nd and 6th corps and the imperial guard. The 1st corps, which was in advance, attacked and overthrew many times the rear guard of the enemy and pursued it until night, when it took a position upon the plain behind the village Mount Saint-Jean, its right extending towards the village of Braine and its left extending indefinitely in the direction of Wavre. It was frightful weather. Everybody was persuaded that the enemy took this position to gain time for its baggage and packs to pass the forest of Soignes, and that the army would make the same movement at the break of day.
At day light, the enemy was found in the same position. The weather was very stormy; and had so destroyed the roads, that it was impossible to manoeuvre with the artillery. About 9 o'clock it became fair, the fields became dried a little, and at noon the order for attack was given by the Emperor. Ought we to have attacked the enemy in position, with troops fatigued by a succession of marches, a great battle, and frequent engagements? Or ought we to have given them time to repose from their fatigues, and left the enemy quietly to fall back upon Brussels? If we had been successful, all military men would have declared it an unpardonable fault, not to have pursued a retreating army, when it was but a few leagues from its capital, to which we were invited by numerous partisans. Fortune has betrayed our efforts, and it is regarded as a great act of imprudence to have given battle. Posterity, more just, will decide.
The 2nd corps commenced the attack at noon. The division commanded by Prince Jerome attacked the wood which was situated in advance of the enemy's right. He first got possession of it and was afterwards repulsed, and did not remain entirely master of it until after several hours of an obstinate contest.
The 1st corps, the left of which rested upon the great road, attacked at the same time the houses of Mount Saint-Jean, established itself there and marched upon the position of the enemy. Marshal Ney, who commanded these two corps, stationed himself upon the great road to direct their movements according to circumstances.
The Marshal told me during the battle that he was about to make a great effort upon the enemy's center, while his cavalry was bringing together the cannon, which appeared not to be well supported. He told me several times, when I brought him orders during the battle, that we were about to gain a great victory. Meantime, the Prussian corps which had joined the English left, put itself en potence on our right flank and began to attack it about half past 5 o'clock in the evening. The 6th corps, which had taken no part in the battle of the 16th, was brought up to oppose it, and was supported by a division of the young guard and several batteries of the guard.
About 7 o'clock, there were perceived at a distance towards our right, a fire of artillery and musketry. There was no doubt but Marshal Grouchy had followed the movements of the Prussians, and had come to take part in the victory. Cries of joy extended along our whole line. The troops, fatigued by eight hours fighting, gained vigor, and made new efforts. The emperor regarded this movement as decisive. He pushed his whole guard in advance, ordered four battalions to pass near the village of Mount Saint-Jean, to march upon the enemy's positions, and to force with the bayonet all that resisted them. The cavalry of the guard, and all our cavalry that remained at hand, seconded the movement. The four battalions, on reaching the plain, fell back from the terrible fire of musketry and grape. The great number of wounded who were detached from them, gave rise to the belief that the guard was routed. A terrible panic spread to the neighboring corps, which precipitately took to flight. The enemy's cavalry, which perceived this disorder, moved forward upon the plain; it was restrained for some time by 12 battalions of the old guard,
which had not yet given way, but which drawn in by that inexplicable movement, followed, but in order, the retreat.
All the carriages of the artillery were precipitated upon the great road. They soon accumulated so that it was impossible to move them. They were for the most part abandoned on the way, and unteamed by the soldiers who led the horses. All precipitated towards the bridges of Charleroy and Marchienne, whence the wrecks were directed towards Phillippeville and Avesnes. Such is the history of this fatal day. It ought to have raised to its highest height the glory of the French army, to have destroyed all the vain hopes of the enemy, and perhaps have given very shortly to France, the peace so much desired. But heaven decided otherwise, it has destined that after so many catastrophes, our unhappy country should be again exposed to the ravages of foreigners."
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