NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGN (PART THREE)

Cuirassiers charging

(FOR PART TWO GO HERE)

At Ligny the battle raged, as Napoleon drew Blücher and Gneisenau’s reserves into the vicious fighting around the villages and farms that warded the front of the Prussian position.

The battle began with the French columns advancing with bands playing and banners waving; against the cordon of villages behind the Ligny Creek.

All day, the French hammered the Prussians, with villages and buildings frequently exchanging hands, the battle swinging first one way and then another. Artillery took its toll of both sides, but particularly so the French heavy guns upon the Prussians. The fighting was often at close-quarters, house-to-house, even amidst burning buildings; set alight by the heavy bombardments. Thirty-two years later, Captain Maduit of the Grenadiers of the Old Guard recounts the intensity of the fighting:

“Ligny… Consisted of hand-to-hand fighting that lasted for hours together; and with this was combined, not a fusillade and cannonade carried out at ranges of four or six hundred yards as occurred in most other battles, but these were replaced by point-blank discharges of musketry and canister fired at fifty yards range. At Ligny, more than 4,000 dead soldiers were piled in an area less in measurement than the Tuileries’ (Napoleon’s palace in Paris) garden; some three or four hundred yards square.”

After hours of fighting, Blücher was beginning to run out of reserves to throw into the fight. He and Gneisenau kept looking for Wellington to march down the Nivelles-Namur Road from Quatre Bras; or for the arrival on the opposite (east) flank for von Bülow’s IV Corps, marching hard to arrive on the battlefield (it would fail to do so that day).

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Across the field, Napoleon watched from his windmill perch, as the battle developed. By late afternoon the time was near for the final push that would see the Prussians streaming from the field.

Napoleon was unaware of the magnitude of the battle raging at the crossroads….

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