Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide is FREE on Kindle!
To help remember the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, my book; Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide is free on Amazon Kindle worldwide until midnight on Friday 19th June.
On Sunday 18th June 1815, nearly 200,000 men faced off on a tiny parcel of land barely two and a half miles square to fight was has now become known as the Battle of Waterloo. Nowhere, either before or since this battle, have that many men got together on such a tiny piece of earth to have a fight. Not surprisingly the battle was brutal and bloody and casualties were high, but in the end it ushered in a prolonged period of peace and prosperity across Europe that hadn’t been seen for a long, long time.
The Battle of Waterloo really was the catalyst for the greater good during the nineteenth century (unless you were French, in which case the name Waterloo carried a much more sombre meaning).
Sadly, 200 years on, the appreciataion and knowledge of this Battle in the UK is very low if a small piece of research that I undertook at London Waterloo railway station a few months ago is anything to go by… I spoke to 200 people and asked them if they knew why London Waterloo was named as such – Only 39% knew why. Also, given a choice of Nelson or Wellington, 63% of the people asked thought Nelson was in charge at Waterloo.
I know my tiny piece of research is not statistically viable, but it does suggest to me that, yet again, despite the millions of pages that have been written on the battle of the years, the general public are largely uninformed of this important part of their history.
Has history telling failed again? I don’t know, but the results of this survey convinced me to complete this latest Layman’s Guide. I know that this one little book will not transform the population of Britain into a nation of Waterloo experts, but I do hope it helps a few thousand people understand the general who/where/why/what/when of the battle.
Giving it away for free duting the week of the anniversary is part of my plan to get the book into the hands of as many people as possible. So, if you don’t know much about the Battle of Waterloo and don’t want to spend any money at all – download Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide this week while it is free!
Below is a sample chapter from the book…
Close the gate! Hougoumont
The Hougoumont Château was a substantial stately home that included numerous barns, sheds, stables and smaller outbuildings, as well as houses for the resident gardener and farmer. All of the buildings within the complex were set within a boundary wall. The château faced north, towards the Allies, and a convenient sunken lane (known as the hollow way) allowed reinforcements, ammunitions and supplies to be delivered directly to the defenders through a large set of wooden gates. Attached to the east of the plot was a large walled formal garden, beyond which was a decent-sized orchard. To the south (the rear of the main house and facing the French) was a large wooded park and a couple of fields for livestock. All of this was protected by thick hedgerows and a flooded ditch to keep in the farm animals.
It was through the ditch, fields and woods that the first wave of Reille’s II Corps had to cross before they eventually got into the inner grounds of the château. As Reille’s forward Light Infantry detachment leapt the ditch, dived through the hedge and hid amongst the trees they engaged the Allied troops that were defending the outer-reaches of the complex. At about the same time Reille’s artillery opened up and started to fire low trajectory cannon in the direction of the buildings. It was a difficult job as they couldn’t really see what they were aiming at, but they were obliged to lend the advancing infantry a hand.
Almost immediately the Allied artillery guns that were position on the high ground beyond the north side of the château coughed into life and started to shell the infantry columns of the French II Corps that had been marching in good order towards the orchard but were still in the open. Those first opening barrages resulted in a good number of French casualties, indeed the damage was sufficient to force the French officers to move their men into a sunken lane which offered some shelter from the fire. From this lane they sent reinforcements into the woods and on towards the château, a few men at a time.
During the first hour of skirmishing the fighting was intense. The French found it difficult to advance across the open without being hit by artillery and the woods offered only partial shade from the accurate fire brought down by the German sharpshooters on the Allied side. However, dwindling llied ammunition and continuous French reinforcements forced the Germans to retreat and take up more defensive positions in the garden and the house itself.
It was most definitely round one to the French.
The advancing skirmishers reached the outer wall of the château but because it was over six foot high, and the Guards had managed to fortify some of the buildings within, they were not able to get over. Instead they shuffled round the circumference of this outer wall until they found a large gate at the rear of the property. The French tried to storm this gate but the Guards were waiting and ready for them, and their accurate and deadly fire drove their would-be assailants back into the woods. This first phase of the assault had ultimately failed. Meanwhile, a worried Duke of Wellington looked on from the high ground beyond Hougoumont. He could see the pressure being exerted on his strongpoint and his cannon were now struggling to give any adequate support as the attackers were well hidden out of sight. It was time for a new weapon to enter the fray: Wellington ordered up the howitzers.
Howitzers were a new kind of artillery gun – instead of the traditional cannon firing cast iron balls over a low, flat trajectory of about 300 yards, the howitzer could lob explosive shells at a much higher angle. These new shells would explode in mid-air and send fragments of deadly shrapnel over a wide area with murderous results. In theory they would be much more effective at clearing enemy infantry, and it was time to put them to the test.
Wellington gave the nod to his six howitzer guns and they let rip on the woods and the grounds surrounding the château. Very soon his Guards were able to move through the woods with bayonets at the ready, successfully pushing the French back to where they came from.
The howitzers worked a treat. It was round two to Wellington.
In retaliation, Reille ordered his artillery to fire directly upon the British guns in an effort to nullify their effectiveness. It worked, and despite Wellington’s direct orders to the contrary, almost all of the British gun batteries duked it out with their French counterparts, leaving the French ground troops free to dust themselves down and reorganise themselves for another go at the château. Once again, they got to the outer wall but again they found it too high to climb over. This time they pushed round the side of the buildings, through the orchard and on to the edge of the sunken road (the hollow way) to the north of the château. After a significant firefight, the Allies were pushed back and Colonel de Cubières, along with a hundred or so French soldiers of the Light Regiment rushed forward and made a determined effort to break in through the half-open north gate. At their head was a giant of a man called Lieutenant Legros, appropriately known as L’Enfonceur or the Smasher. Seizing an axe from one of the pioneers, he swung it repeatedly against the panels of the gate and quite literally smashed his way through to the inner courtyard. He was subsequently joined by a large group of French and for a few scary moments they threatened to overrun the entire château.
Unfortunately for the French, they were heavily outnumbered and were soon picked off one by one. Only an unarmed drummer boy was spared, even the man mountain Lieutenant Legros was killed near the château, his dead body still grasping the axe tightly.
As the fighting raged inside Hougoumont, more French Light Infantry tried force their way in through the gates. Lieutenant Colonel MacDonnell realised that it was vital that the great gate was closed and he quickly gathered a group of ten men, including brothers Corporal James Graham and Corporal Joseph Graham, to help him move the gate. Very slowly the two huge gates were pushed together sufficiently to allow a barricade to dropped into position.
The gates at Hougoumont were finally closed; the French had been kept at bay.
Wellington identified the closing of the north gates as the most critical moment of the entire day. Corporal James Graham had helped push the gates shut, slotted the barricade home, shot at point blank range a rogue French sniper who had his musket trained on Captain Henry Wyndham, and rescued his wounded brother from a burning building within the Hougoumont complex. Fittingly, he was later awarded a pension for life for being ‘the bravest man in the British Army at Waterloo’.
Corporal Graham had helped to keep Hougoumont in Allied hands. The French threw almost 14,000 men at Hougoumont during the day without success, although counting the steady stream of reinforcements that Wellington threw at the château; the Allies used a similar amount of men in its defence.
In the end Hougoumont would prove to be a very costly distraction for the emperor.
Get your free copy of Waterloo: A Layman’s Guide before midnight on Friday 19th June!