Friday, June 30, 2006

Meeting Between the Duke and Blucher at Waterloo

I hear, that not long ago, one of the many officers who have written memoirs of his campaigns wrote to beg permission to dedicate his book to the Duke. He declined the dedication in a civil kind manner, alleging as his reason the extreme difficulty of ascertaining the real facts in the midst of scenes of such confusion as great battles, and his reluctance to giving the sanction of his name to any inaccurate statement. He gave as an instance of his assertion, the story so frequently told, so universally believed as to have acquired the character of indisputable fact, that he met and conferred with Blucher at La Belle Alliance; the fact being that they did not meet till some hours after, and at another place, the name of which I have forgotten, if I ever heard.

Editor's note
The question, which was the real place of meeting, is one of interest and importance, artistically and historically ; for on it depends, first, whether Mr. Maclise's celebrated fresco is a true record of a memorable event; and secondly, whether the English army had pushed on far enough to take that share in completing the victory which the Duke claimed for it. The seventh volume of Staatengeschichte by M. de Bernard! contains a chapter on the battles of the 16th, 17th, and 18th, composed with admirable skill from Prussian authorities and the Prussian point of view. The main object is to prove that the flank attack of the Prussians decided the day ; that the final advance of the English line was a superfluous movement dictated by political considerations; and that, unless the English had halted at La Belle Alliance, they would have got mixed up with the Prussians.

There, consequently, he fixes the place of meeting, and there (he insists) it was that the Duke gave up the pursuit to the Prussians, on the ground that the English were too exhausted to follow it up.

On the other hand, the Duke says, in his despatch of the 19th June, 'I continued the pursuit, till long after dark, and then discontinued it only on account of the fatigue of our troops, who had been engaged during twelve hours, and because I found myself on the same road with Marshal Blucher, who assured me of his intention to follow the enemy throughout the night.' In a subsequent letter, dated Paris, June 8th, 1816, to Mr. Mudford, he saya: ' It. happens that the meeting took place after ten at night in the village of Genappe, and anybody who attempts to describe with truth the operations of the two armies, will see that it could not be otherwise. The other part is not so material, but, in truth, I was not off my horse till I returned to Waterloo between eleven and twelve at night.'*

Major Percy's account of the ride back by moonlight after the meeting with Bliicher, proves that it could not have taken place at La Belle Alliance, and confirms, if it needs confirmation, the Duke's statement that he continued the pursuit till long after dark. But he clearly did not continue it so far as Bliicher, who did not get farther than Genappe, where he and his staff halted for the night, the French having held it till eleven. ' When Gneisenau,' says M. de Bernardi, ' arrived at daybreak at the Emperor public-house, some thousand paces the other side of Erasnes, two miles and a half (German) from the field of battle, he had only with him about fifty Uhlans of the Brandenburgh Regiment, who also could go no farther for weariness. There ended the immediate pursuit.'

In the 'People's Edition' of Gleig's Life of Wellington, it is stated that the Duke ' pushed on, and drew bridle only when he and Bliicher met at the Maison du Roi;' and that ' he reached his head-quarters at Waterloo about ten o'clock at night.' Both these statements are at variance with the Duke's letter to Mr. Mudford, written when his recollection was fresh, yet both are based on information supplied by the Duke himself to the best and most trusted of his biographers. He also stated in conversation to Earl Stanhope that he arrived at his quarters at ten o'clock. He passed through Genappe when falling back from Quatre Bras, and mentions it in his despatch. Genappe is eight or nine miles from the battle-field, and Maison du Koi (or Maison Rouge) between two and three.

Captain Gronow says in his Recollections, that he witnessed the meeting at La Belle Alliance. Lord Arthur Hill (afterwards Lord Sandys) told Mr. Maclise that the meeting took place farther on, but that the Duke and Bliicher rode back to La Belle Alliance, where he saw them together. The picture was commenced under the fall sanction of the Committee on the Fine Arts, including eminent historians and statesmen and presided over by the Prince Consort, who personally assured the artist that the popular belief in the locality was well-founded.

With regard to the national claims, M. de Bernard will surely admit that the Duke and the British army cannot be mistaken in believing that they continued the pursuit after passing La Belle Alliance; whilst the supposition that our great commander, in the crisis of a great battle, was thinking of anything but the best way of winning it, is one which in England will simply excite a smile. M. de Bernardi's own statement, that the English generals near the Duke objected to the advance as hazardous, is in itself a refutation of his theory.
* Supplementary Despatches, vol. x. p. 608.

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