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1815 WATERLOO CAMPAIGN

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 372 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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1815 WATERLOO CAMPAIGN. On February 27, 1815, Napoleon set sail from Elba with his force of boo men and 4 guns, determined to reconquer the throne of France. On March 1 he landed near Cannes, and proceeded at once to march on Paris. He deliberately chose the difficult route over the French Alps because he recognized that his opponents would neither expect him by this route nor be able to concert combined operations in time to thwart him. Events proved the wisdom of his choice. His advance to Paris was a series of triumphs, his power waxing with every league he covered, and when he reached Paris the Bourbons had fled. But he had soon to turn his attention to war. His sudden return, far from widening the breaches between the allies, had fused them indissolubly together, and the four powers bound themselves to put 15o,00o men apiece under arms and to maintain them in the field until Napoleon had been utterly crushed. So, from the first, France was faced with anothet war against an affrighted and infuriated Europe, a war in which the big battalions would be on the side of the Seventh Coalition; and to oppose their vast armies Napoleon only had in March the 150,000 men he had taken over from Louis XVIII. when the Bourbon hurriedly quitted the throne. Of this force the emperor could have drawn together some 50,000 men within ten days and struck straight at the small allied forces that were in Belgium at the moment: But he wisely refrained from taking the immediate offensive. Such an act would have proved that he desired, nay provoked a war; and further, the engagement of such small forces could lead to no decisive results. Napoleon therefore stayed his hand and proceeded to hasten forward the organization, almost the creation of an army, with which he could confront the coalition. Mean-while he sought to detach Great Britain and Austria from the alliance. But he did not permit his political enterprise to stay his military preparations; and, by constant attention to the minutest details, by June 1 he had got together p ;ara~~s an army of 360,000 for the defence of France, one half agog. of which was available for field service. In this army was comprised his whole means of defence; for he had no allies. On his return from Elba it is true that Murat, the king of Naples, took his side; but recklessly opening an offensive campaign, Murat was beaten at Tolentino (May 2-3), and he found himself compelled to fly in disguise to France, where the emperor refused him an audience or employment. Herein Napoleon wronged France, for he deprived her of the most brilliant cavalry soldier of the period. Shorn thus of his single ally, the emperor realized that the whole eastern land-frontier of France was open to invasion, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. By the end of May he had placed his forces as follows to protect his empire. D'Erlon's I. Corps cantoned between Lille and Valenciennes. Reille's II. Corps cantoned between Valenciennes and Avesnes. Vandamme's III. Corps cantoned around Rocroi. Gerard's IV. Corps cantoned at Metz. Lobau's VI. Corps cantoned at Laon. Grouchy's Cavalry Reserve at Guise. Marshal Mortier with the Imperial Guard at Paris. Rapp with the V. Corps (20,000) near Strassburg. 18,5oo more troops under Suchet, Brune and Lecourbe guarded the S.E. frontier from Basel to Nice, and covered Lyons; 8000 men under Clausel and Decaen guarded the Pyrenean frontier; whilst Lamarque led 1o,000 men into La Vendee to quell the insurrection in that quarter. In 1815 Napoleon was not supported by a united and unanimous France; the country 372 was weakened by internal dissensions at the very moment when it was needful to put every man in line to meet the rising tide of invasion surging against the long curving eastern frontier. Napoleon now pondered over his plan of campaign. In Belgium, across an almost open frontier, lay an ever-increasing force of Anglo-Dutch and Prussian troops under Wellington and Blucher. The Rhine frontier was threatened by Schwarzenberg's Austrians (210,000); Barclay de Tolly's Russians (150,0O0) were slowly coming up; and another Austrian force menaced the S.E. frontier of France. The allies determined that they would wage a war without risks, and they were particularly anxious to avoid the risk of defeat in detail. It was accordingly arranged that Wellington and Blucher should await in Belgium the arrival of the Austrian and Russian masses on the Rhine, about July r, before the general invasion of France was begun. Thereafter, whatever befell, the allied armies would resolutely press forward towards Paris, affording each other mutual support, and with the tremendous weight of troops at their disposal thrust back Napoleon upon his capital, force him to fight in front of it, and drive him when defeated within its works. The end would then be in sight. Thus they had planned the campaign, but Napoleon forestalled them.. In fact, the threatening danger forced his hand and compelled him to strike before he had collected a sufficient army for his defensive needs. Consequently he determined to advance swiftly and secretly against Wellington and Blucher, whose forces, as Napoleon knew, were dispersed over the country of their unenthusiastic ally. Thus he designed to crush a part of the coalition before the Russians and Austrians poured over the eastern frontier. Once Wellington and Bliicher were destroyed he would move southwards and meet the other allies on the Rhine. He might thus compensate for his numerical inferiority by superior mobility and superior leadership. His information showed that Wellington held the western half of Belgium from the Brussels-Charleroi road to the Scheldt, that his base of operations was Ostend, and that his headquarters were at Brussels. Blucher, based on Napoleon's plans. the Rhine at Coblentz, held the eastern half from the Brussels-Charleroi road to the Meuse, and had his headquarters at Namur. The emperor was convinced that nothing could be gained by invading Belgium from the S.E. or W.; such a stroke would surely drive the allies together, and that was never Napoleon's custom. On the other hand, if he struck straight at Charleroi-the allied junction point—he would drive the " Armee du Nord " like an armoured wedge between the allies, if only he caught them unsuspicious and unready. Forced asunder at the outset, each would (in all probability) fall back along his own line of communication, and the gap thus made between the allies would enable the emperor to manoeuvre between them and defeat them in turn. To gain the best chance of success he would have to concentrate his whole army almost within gunshot of the centre of the enemies' outposts without attracting their attention; otherwise he would find the allies concentrated and waiting for him. Wellington and Blucher were disposed as follows in the early days of June (Map I.). The Anglo-Dutch army of 93,000 with headquarters at Brussels were cantoned: I. Corps (Prince of Orange), 30,200, headquarters Braine-le-Comte, disposed in the area Enghien-Genappe-Mons; II. Corps (Lord Hill), 27,300, headquarters Atli, distributed in the area Ath-Oudenarde-Ghent; reserve cavalry (Lord Uxbridge) 9900, in the valley of the Dendre river, between Grammont and Ninove; the reserve (under Wellington himself) 25,500, lay around Brussels. The frontier in front of Leuze and Binche was watched by the Dutch-Belgian light cavalry. The
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SIR ERNEST ALBERT WATERLOW (1850- )

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