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The Battle of Waterloo
Battle of Waterloo, 1815 - The Duke of Wellington and Napoleon
Determined to make himself master of Europe once again the French Emperor Napoleon returned from his exile on the island of Elba and marched with an army across France, but the battle of Waterloo was to become his final defeat. The battle was fought on June 18, 1815 and was centered on the Belgian village of Mont St. Jean. Waterloo was another village just to the north of the battlefield.
The French army's opponents were the British and the Prussians (Germans). There were also other nationalities fighting with the British, particularly the Dutch. The Duke of Wellington was the leader of the British and the Prussians were under the leadership of Field Marshal Gebhard von Blucher. The British and Prussians also had the assistance of the Russians and the Austrians.
On June 16 Napoleon's French army attacked the Prussians at Ligny, south of Mont St. Jean and defeated them. Wellington attempted to come to their aid after holding off a French attack under Marshal Ney at Quatre Bras but was in a very difficult position. He believed he was likely to be defeated.
The Prussians retreated on June 17, and Wellington decided to march onward to Mont St. Jean and prepare to give battle there, provided he would have the support of Blucher. It was not until two o'clock the next morning that Wellington received Blucher's reply saying that he would be there. The British then decided to stand and fight.
As it had been raining in the afternoon of June 17 and again overnight the ground was sodden. Napoleon decided to wait until the ground had dried before lining his men and guns up against the British forces. Meanwhile, the British had taken up position behind a low ridge which sheltered them from most of the French army's gunfire. In front of the ridge were two farms, Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte, which were quickly occupied by the British.
The French Marshal Ney's forces were sent against the British whilst Marshal Grouchy attacked the Prussians. Ney unsuccessfully attemped to take La Haye Sainte then led his cavalry against the Duke of Wellington's foot soldiers, but the foot soldiers held firm. At about half past four in the afternoon Prussian troops arrived. La Haye Sainte was finally captured about an hour and a half later. Napoleon now thought it was time to use his older and more experienced troops, known as the Old Guard which up until now had been held back. The Old Guard drove back the Prussians and for a time it looked like the French were gaining the upper hand. However, the British succeeded in overpowering them, and at eight o'clock in the evening the Old Guard gave way.
Napoleon rode away from the field of battle and shortly after surrendered to the British. Later, Napoleon described the British as the most powerful, determined and generous of his enemies. The British then exiled him to the island of St. Helena where he later died.