Battle of Quatre Bras
June 1815
"(Marshal) Ney, outnumbered ... fought Wellington to a draw there,
giving somewhat more punishmnet than he took. ..." (4,140 vs 4,800 casualties)
"Wellington reported Quatre Bras as an English victory,
won over superior forces (actually the Duke enjoyed 2 to 1 advantage),
and so it has remained in British history.
As for the hangover, belgian legend has it that Ney and his staff
had billeted themselves on a Belgian dignitary who was famous for
his wine cellar, which they thoroughly reconnoitered." :)
John Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"

Prince of Orange leading the 
Dutch-Belgians to the attack 
at Quatre-Bras in 1816. 1. Introduction: Quatre Bras and Bossu Wood.
- - - Prince of Orange's troops. >
- - - Marshal Ney's troops. >
2. The First Blood.
- - - Skirmish in the morning. >
- - - Prince of Orange. >
- - - Wellington's troops and chaos on the roads. >
- - - Wellington rode to Blucher. >
3. The Battle.
- - - French attack. >
- - - Allies' reinforcements. >
- - - The Dutch repulsed French cavalry and drove off Jamin's brigade. >
- - - French lancers created havoc. >
- - - French infantry columns were halted by the British infantry. >
- - - Wellington's forward movement failed. >
- - - Allies suffered under fire. >
- - - With a 2 to 1 advantage in men Wellington decided to go over to the offensive. >
- - - Luneburg Battalion captured Pireaumont. >
- - - French cuirassiers captured British color
- - - and scattered several British units. >
- - - French chasseurs inflicted heavy casualties on the British Guards. >
- - - Wellington's offensive. Allies had maintained their positions they had held that morning. >
4. Aftermath.

The Netherlands troops had fought a combat with the French the previous evening.
They had done so on their own initiative, choosing not to carry out Wellington's
orders to move their entire force on Nivelles. Thanks to Constant Rebeque
and Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the French had just about been thwarted
in their attempt to drive the two Allied armies in Belgium apart.
- Peter Hofschroer

Introduction: Quatre Bras and Bossu Wood.
The Battlefield and Deployment of Troops.

Quatre Bras The landscape of Belgium is a contrasting landscape of flatlands in Flanders and rolling hills in Wallonia. In 1815 Napoleon's army entered Belgium to find and defeat the two Allied armies: Prussian under Blucher and British-German-Netherlands under Wellington.

While Napoleon was taking care of the Prussians, Marshal Ney was sent towards the village of Quatre Bras.

Quatre Bras was a very small village located near the important crossroards on the road to Brussels. Kincaid recounted: "Quatre Bras at that time consisted of only 3 or 4 houses ... "

French Marshal Ney Marshal Ney arrived at Quatre Bras around 2 PM. He immediately recognized the importance of the crossroads at Quatre Bras and the Bossu Wood. It was impossible to move along the road to Brussels while the enemy occupied the wood. The Bossu Wood consisted of tall trees and thick undergrowth, wide footpaths facilitated toop movements.

Nearby stood Gemioncourt. It was a large farm with large towers, walled gardens and orchards offering a strongpoint for the defence. H.Williams described the strongpoint: "Gemioncourt was typical of Belgian farms of the period: it was built strongly of stone, with the main house and subsidiary buildings grouped around a central courtyard entered by a single wooden gate, so that from without the farm presented the thick, windowless outer walls of its buildings and high connecting walls. With the simple addition of loopholes, such a farm became a formidable bastion"

The visibility was limited for both sides because of standing crops of tall rye, wheat and corn. The tree-lined brook banks offered good vantage line for skirmishers.

Fusilier and Carabinier
of 2nd Nassau Light Infantry. So far there were only few troops on the battlefield. The advance guard (Nassau and Netherlands troops) had fought a combat with some French the previous evening. They had done so on their own initiative, choosing not to carry out Wellington's orders to move their entire force on Nivelles. Thanks to Constant Rebeque and Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, the French had just about been thwarted in their attempt to drive the two Allied armies in Belgium apart.

Prince of Orange's troops.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Orange (1792-1849) commaded the Netherland troops. Although only 23 at Waterloo, he commanded the I Corps, the largest corps in the Allied Army. This command was given to him for entirely diplomatic reasons. Until Wellington arrived in Brussels in April, Prince of Orange was the commander-in-chief of Allied forces stationed in Netherlands. It was only after intense pressure and persuasion that his father, the King of the Netherlands, agreed to Wellington taking overall command. Nothing less than I Corps was acceptable to his father. (- Mark Adkin)
According to Erwin Muilwijk the Netherland troops in 1815 were "... typical new recruits with no campaign experience yet; just like every other army had large numbers of them in this period. Obviously the Jager and Line battalions were professional soldiers, but even these had large numbers of new men. The militia was all sort of conscripted, but there was no specific difference I think. Not a bad army, not a distinguishable army perhaps at the start; but it prooved its task, to me. Perhaps a study on its own........"

In the beginning of the battle of Quatre Bras, Prince of Orange had 9-10 infantry battalions and 16 guns.

- Bijleveld's Horse Battery
- - - - - - - 5 guns on a small hill
- - - - - - - 3 guns in the rear, near Quatre Bras
- Stevenart's Foot Battery
- - - - - - - 6 guns between Bossu Wood and Gemioncourt
- - - - - - - 2 guns near the south-western corner of the Bossu Wood
- all artillery wagons were withdrawn to behind Quatre Bras

- 27th Dutch Jagers Battalion under Grunebosch stood between the farms of Gemioncourt and Pireaumont, and guarded also the bridge near the Materne Pond. One company supported the artillery.
- 5th Dutch Militia Battalion under Westernberg stood on a hilltop north-west of Gemioncourt, one company was detached to the farm.
- III/2nd Nassau was in and beind the wood: 2 companies along the southern edge of the wood, and 2 companies in reserve north of the wood. The French Red Lancers didn't allow them to form in the open.
- I/2nd Nassau along the eastern edge of the wood
- I/Nassau-Orange along the eastern edge of the wood
- 8th Dutch Militia Battalion along the eastern edge of the wood (and a small detachment in Grand Pierrepont).
- II/2nd Nassau was held in reserve
- II/Nassau-Orange was held in reserve
- 7th Dutch Militia Battalion was held in reserve (but it soon was ordered to enter the wood)
- 7th Belgian Line Battalion arrived before 3 PM, was held in reserve for a short while, and then ordered into the wood

Marshal Ney's troops.

Marshal Ney had Reille's II Army Corps (5th, 6th, 9th Infantry Division, and 2nd Cavalry Division) and the elite Guard Light Cavalry.

- 5th Infantry Division under Bachelu (Husson's 4 battalions, Campi's 5 battalions)
- 9th Infantry Division under Foy (Gauthier's 5 battalions, Jamin's 6 battalions)
- 6th Infantry Division under Jerome Bonaparte was still on the road
- 2nd Cavalry Division under Pire (Hubert's 8 squadrons of chasseurs, Wathiez's 7 squadrons of lancers). The chasseurs were in the front line, while the lancers stood behind the infantry.
- Guard Light Cavalry Division under Lefebvre Desnouettes (4 sqadrons of Guard Red Lancers, and 4 squadrons of Guard Horse Chasseurs). In the beginning this unit stood as a reserve behind Bachelu's and Foy's infantry. Once the cuirassiers arrived the Guard Cavalry moved on the left flank.

General Reille General de Division Comte Honore-Charles-Michel Reille (1775-1860) commanded the II Army Corps. From 1810 until the end of Peninsular War he was fighting Wellington's troops and Spanish guerillas. His relationship with Marshal Soult was strained to the extent that Reille abandoned his post in 1814.

General de Division Baron Gilbert-Desire-Joseph Bachelu (1777-1849) commanded the 5th Infantry Division. He was a competent general, engineer by training. Bachelu was an outspoken, unrepentant republican. The first 10 years of his military service was as engineer.
General de Division Prince Jerome Bonaparte (1784-1860) commanded the 6th Infantry Division. It was the strongest infantry division in the French army in 1815. Jerome was Napoleon's youngest brother. He was first and foremost a socialite rather than a soldier.
General de Division Comte Maximilien-Sebastien Foy (1775-1825) commanded the 9th Infantry Division. He was a competent commander and staff officer.
General de Division Comte Hippolyte-Marie-Guillaume Pire ( 1778-1850) commanded the 2nd Cavalry Division. He was a very seasoned officer, and an excellent cavalryman. Pire was wounded at Borodino, and distinguished himself at Dresden, after which he was promoted general de division. "Pire handled his division brilliantly at Quatre Bras." (Source: Mark Adkin - "Waterloo Companion")


The cavalry that Wellington had confidently predicted to Blucher
would be at "Nivelles at noon" were, unknown to anyone, somewhere
between Enghien and Braine-le-Comte, caught in the infernal confusion
that had engulfed much of the British army.

The First Blood.
At 6 AM arrived Prince of Orange
and inspected the front line.
He was in command until Wellington
returned from his meeting with Blucher.

The French Red Lancers approached Frasnes and were greeted with artillery fire from a Dutch horse battery and musket fire from the II Battalion of 2nd Nassau. Lefebvre-Desnouettes decided that it was folly for cavalry alone to try to drive infantry out of a village, and called for infantry support.

A battalion from Bachelu's division would take time to reach the outskirts of Frasnes. Meanwhile the 1st Squadron of the Red Lancers (it was the famous Elba Squadron made of Poles) moved round the east of Frasnes and advanced, getting close to Quatre-Bras without encountering serious resistance.
Unfortunately the remaining squadrons were unable to follow the Poles due to artillery fire from Dutch battery. Their patrols were also driven in by the Dutch cavalry.

Captain Bijleveld of horse battery writes: "Towards the end of the afternoon we were attacked by French Lancers, but the precautions I had made with Major Normann, commanding the II Battalion of Nassau Regiment ... frustrated the French. ... As soon as I had arrived with my battery ... ordering them to load canister. The infantry drew up in line to the left and right. ... The French Lancers debouching from Frasnes were fired upon by canister by the whole battery which killed and wounded several men and horses. They retired to the village and sent out patrols. ... They posted sentries; we did also, maintaining our position till the next morning."

Ney wrote to Napoleon: "The troops that we found at Frasnes had not been fighting at Gossieles ... Tomorrow, at daybreak, I will send out a reconnaissance party to Quatre-Bras which will, if possible, occupy this position, because I believe the Nassau troops have gone ..."

Skirmish in the morning.
At 7 AM a small body of French troops probed enemy positions
but was driven back after a brief exchange of fire.

General Perponcher In early morning, about 5 AM General Perponcher deployed the 27th Jagers Battalion, replacing the posts of the III/2nd Nassau. Skirmishers covered the path along the southern edge of Bossu Wood. One battery was deployed on a heightened ground. Two companies of the II/2nd Nassau were sent to reconnoitre.
With them 50 men of the Prussian Silesian Hussars under Lieutenant Zehelin, they had been cut off from the Prussian army in the previous day's fighting. The hussars skirmished with flankers sent by the Red Lancers of Lefebvre-Desnouettes' division.

Netherland artillery Bijleveld's battery opened fire on the Red Lancers. The cavalry combat was short and both sides disengaged after light casualties. At 7 AM a small body of French troops probed enemy positions but was driven back after a brief exchange of fire. Colonel van Zuylen van Nuevelt writes: "At 7 o'clock the enemy [French] began to reconnoitre our position by making a few cavalry charges, which were however, repulsed with loss on his side ... Up to now the enemy had not appeared in great strength; the troops against whom we had to fight consisted, besides part of the line infantry, the Guard Chasseurs, Guard Lancers and Guard Horse Artillery ..."

An attempt by two companies of Nassauers to advance towards Frasnes was likewise repelled. French artillery arrived and large groups of skirmishers made demonstrations along the front line. At noon the III/2nd Nassau relieved the II/2nd Nassau which then went for lunch.

Prince of Orange.

At 6 AM arrived Prince of Orange and inspected the front line. He was in command until Wellington returned from his meeting with Blucher. Prince of Orange saw French foragers making their fires close by, behind them, in the tall crops near Frasnes, stood lancers.
It was a very hot day.

Wellington's troops and chaos on the roads.
The bottlenck was appalling, even by the
undemanding standards of the day.

Wellington There was chaos at the various choke-points on the line of march. Constant Rebeque found state of confusion on the road to Quatre Bras, as von Alten's and Chassee's divisions had arrived at the same time. The noise of battle could be heard by many troops on the road. The road to Nivelles was blocked by the baggage of the British 3rd Division. Nobody seemed to be in charge of traffic control. The chaos was such that much of Wellington's force would not arrive until the late evening, when the battle was over.

The cavalry that Wellington had confidently predicted to Blucher and Gneiseanu would be at "Nivelles at noon" were, unknown to anyone at Quatre Bras, somewhere between Enghien and Braine-le-Comte, caught in the infernal confusion that had engulfed much of the Allied army.
Wellington's orders had brought the cavalry down from Ninove to Enghien, where they began to lose themselves in the morass that was intermingled units of infantry. The bottlenck was appalling, even by the undemanding standards of the day.

Captain Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery writes: "The 23rd (Light Dragoons) floundered through ... About noon after threading through more mud and many watery lanes, doubtful if we were in the right direction, we came out upon a more open and dry country ... To the same point various columns of cavalry were converging, and under a park wall we found Sir Vandeleur's brigade ... Here we also dismounted to await the arrival of Major McDonald ...
All the corps as they arrived, I observed took this road, and continued onwards ... having waited a good half-hour, and no Major McDonald appeareing, I began to look around for some one to give me information, but no staff-officer was to be seen, and no one else knew anything about the matter. Corps after corps arrived and passed on, generally without halting, yet all professing ignorance of their destination. ...
Sir Ormsby cut my queries short with an asperity totally uncalled for, 'I know nothing about you sir ! I know nothing about you !' 'But will you have the goodness to tell me where are you going yourself ?' 'I know nothing about it, sir !
I told you already I know nothing at all about you !'
Finally Mercer's battery reached Braine-le-Comte. "Here as before I could obtain no intelligence respecting our march, the direction and meaning of which all I spoke to professed ignorance ..." Soon Mercer's battery became entangled with dragoons and hussars. "It was here that Major McDonald overtook us, and without adverting to the bivouac at Enghien, of which probably he had never heard, gave me orders to attach myself to the Household Brigade ..."

Wellington rode to Blucher.

Meanwhile Wellington rode to Blucher. Wellington speaking fluently in French asked Blucher and Gneiseanu: Que voulez-vous que je fasse ? (What do you want me to do ?) Prussian officer Muffling acted as translator for the discussion. Blucher's plan was simple; to give battle, aided by a significant force to be sent by Wellington.


"In this position the Division had been entirely by itself
and without cavalry all the time exposed to a heavy fire,
with alternate cavalry charges."
- Colonel van Nyeveldt
Netherlands army

The Battle.
"There is hardly anyone in the Bossu Wood,
we must take it at once." - Marshal Ney

Ney arrived and saw only the outposts made of the Germans and Dutch. He remarked to General Reille, the commander of II Army Corps: "There is hardly anyone in the Bossu Wood, we must take it at once." Bossu Wood was very important but the main attack was directed east of the wood, along the road to Quatre Bras.
Marshal Ney reasoned that, with attack along the road, the enemy in the Bossu Wood would be obliged to pull back their line to avoid being outflanked.

French attack.
The French artillery opened fire
and infantry columns moved forward.

Battle of Quatre Bras, 
the first stage Around 2 PM the French moved in force, and the Allied outposts retired to Grand-Pierrepont. The French artillery opened fire and infantry columns screened with skirmishers moved forward.

While Bachelu's division pushed back the Dutch 27th Jagers towards Gemioncourt, Foy's division moved against the center of enemy. Bijleveld's and Stevenart's batteries suffered considerable loss of gunners and horses.

Half of Foy's division (Gauthier's brigade) attacked the southern edge of Bossu Wood but was thrown back by I/Nassau-Orange and 8th Militia. The two battalions then were driven back 250 m into the wood by a new French attack. (During this battle, the brave Colonel de Jongh of the 8th Dutch Militia, had been wounded and had ordered his staff to tie him to the saddle so he can stay with his battalion.)

Duke Bernhard led the volunteers of the I/2nd Nassau and 2 comp. of the 7th Militia in a counterattack, and pushed the French back out of the wood.

Around 4 PM arrived Jerome Bonaparte's division. Marshal Ney ordered this large unit immediately to the Bossu Wood. The Nassauers fell back in rather good order. They still held the northern part of the wood and supported with fire the Netherlands troops defending Gemioncourt. Meanwhile Foy's division rallied on the road to Quatre Bras.

The 5th Militia suffered from French howitzers. Four companies of 27th Jagers were in the process of withdrawing when Pire's chasseurs struck them, inflicting casualties, and scattering many survivors.

Allies' reinforcements.
After 9 hours march (!) arrived van Merlen's Dutch Cavalry.
After Merlen, Picton's 5th British Division came,
and then the Brunswickers.

General Bijlandt Heavily outnumbered and hard pressed, the Netherlands troops under Bijlandt and the Nassauers were in a very critical situation. Before 3:30 PM arrived van Merlen's Cavalry Brigade (5th Light Dragoons, 6th Hussars) with 2 guns. Both regiments were Dutch.

Merlen was a seasoned general, his troopers however were exhausted. The horses had been saddled since the morning before, and they marched 9 hours (!) in oppressive heat that day.

Shortly after Merlen the 5th British Division under Picton came. Picton deployed his troops as follow: Kempt's and part of Pack's brigades in the first line, Best's Hannoverian brigade in the second, Hanoverian battery on the right, and British battery on the left.
General Picton Sir Thomas Picton (1758-1815) was one of the British hardest fighting generals, He was respected for his courage and feared for his irascible temperament. "In 1810, at Wellington's request, he was appointed to command a division in Spain. For the remaining years of the Peninsular War, Picton was one of Wellington's principal subordinates. The commander-in-chief, it is true, never reposed in him the confidence that he gave to Beresford, Hill, and Craufurd. But in the resolute, thorough and punctual execution of a well-defined task Picton had no superior in the army." (- wikipedia)

Next came several strong battalions of Brunswick infantry along with artillery and cavalry. They Brunswickers deployed between Bossu Wood and the road to Charleroi. Duke of Brunswick deployed two companies of the Vanguard Battalion in the wood, and the Jager Battalion in a ditch near Gemioncourt. The jagers were in groups of 4 at intervals of six paces.

The Dutch repulsed French cavalry
and drove off Jamin's brigade.

Netherland infantry in 1815 Meanwhile the French infantry captured Gemioncourt. With the 5th Militia dislodged, the British 28th also fell back, and the Allied centre was in immediate danger of collapse.

Despite all odds, the 5th Dutch Militia still hang on north of Gemioncourt. Seeing the arrival of fresh reinforcements the militiamen stormed the farm at bayonet point, and cleared away French skirmishers (of Jamin's brigade, Foy's division) from the walls and fields. Only a handful of Frenchmen held on in the farm itself.

Several companies of the militia then deployed to the south of Gemioncourt. They were then charged by the French 6th Chasseurs-a-Cheval. Supported by the fire of Bijlevald's battery, the 5th Dutch Militia delivered a deadly volley at close range and beat off the French. The chasseurs came back and charged again. And again they were thrown back. The third cavalry charge was made by the 6th Lancers. Meanwhile the militiamen were joined and encouraged by the brave Prince of Orange. The lancers were repulsed.

Prince of Orange leading the 
Dutch-Belgians to the attack at Quatre-Bras.
Engraving by Velyn, after painting by Van Bree. 
Musee Royal de l'Armee in Brussels. Several battalions of French infantry under Jamin (of Foy's division) moved east of Gemioncourt. Prince of Orange ordered Marlen's cavalry brigade to charge these forces, while the 5th Dutch Militia Battalion and 27th Dutch Jagers were to attack from the flank. The two units charged and drove off the French infantry.

French lancers created havoc.
"The Prince of Orange was caught in the rout,
but was saved by the speed of his mount...
[Wellington] with his steed also helping to extract
him from similarly precarious position."
- Peter Hofschroer

French lancers, 
picture by Detaille. Van Merlen's brigade was attacked by the 5th Lancers and 1st Chasseurs while they were still deploying. The Dutch cavalry fled in panic with the French hot on their heels. Prince of Orange's ADC, Major van Limburgh Stirum, was badly wounded.

The lancers followed through to Bijleveldt's and Stevenart's batteries and cut down many gunners. Then they hit the 5th Militia and 27th Jagers and inflicted heavy casualties. Hofschroer writes: "The Prince of Orange was caught in the rout, but was saved by the speed of his mount.
This was also the moment when Wellington returned from his meeting with Blucher at Brye, with his steed also helping to extract him from similarly precarious position."

The lancers were disordered by the charge and thus were easily repulsed by musket volleys fired by the II/Nassau-Orange and a British battalion. The cavalry slowly fell back.

Meanwhile the 5th Belgian Light Dragoons fought with French 6th Chasseurs. After a brief hand-to-hand the Belgians fell back, but the French did not pursue them. The Scots mistook the Belgians for French and fired. Williams writes: "There then occuredd one of those tragic incidents of war in which men die in error at the hands of friends.
Seeing the Netherlands in blue (hussars) and green (light dragoons) galloping wildly toward the crossroads and hearing them shouting in French, the Scots of the 92nd and 42nd Highland along the Namur road mistook them for French and were ordered to open fire on them.
Many horses in particular were brought down, as they presented the largest targets ... Pire's troopers, picking their way around Merlen's stricken horse, came under fire on the left of the crossroads from Rogers' battery firing canister, and withdrew, being unsupported by infantry or horse artillery. ... Merlen was left to reflect with sadness on the losses his unit had suffered and with bitterness that more had been caused by their 'Scotch' allies than by the French."

French columns were halted by the British infantry.
The French columns were greeted with volleys
fired by the British and Hanoverian infantry.
Then they were charged with bayonet and thrown back.

The Brunswick jagers deployed in the ditch had put their large hats on the bushes in front of them. It attracted a lot of musket fire from French voltigeurs. The 95th Rifles ( was unable to retake the village defended by Bachelu's infantrymen. Prince of Orange sent several companies of 27th Jagers to assist the British, but language proved a barrier to useful co-operation. Sir Andrew tried to encourage the Dutch to march forward in line with his men, but the Dutch tried to explain that the French are in too great numbers to attack frontally.

The French were in tall crop and unseen to Sir Andrew's men. Sir Andrew insisted and his riflemen went forward unaccompanied, only to be repulsed at once by a massive volley.
(This was typical problem arising from the mutual inability within Allied polyglot army to understand one another. The British troops were unfamiliar with the terrain at Quatre Bras. The Dutch on the other hand, had been on this ground skirmishing intermittenly with the French for nearly 24 hours.
The Dutch jagers, unable to speak English, tried to indicate by gestures the situation they faced. Some British soldiers undrestood while others not. Kincaid for example wrote: "... they [the Dutch jagers] were a raw body of men, who had never before been under fire; and they could not be prevailed upon to join our skirmishers."
The Netherlands officers and many troopers, having seen French service in Germany, Spain and Russia, had been holding their positions unaided all morning. It was from such unirformed comments as Kincaid's that the British myth of the 'cowardly' Netherlands troops grew.
Had they really been cowardly or sympathetic to Napoleon, they would have run away the previous evening or betray their position rather than do what they did: hold it alone against increasingly superior French forces, even against Wellington's orders. According to H. Williams "Siborne's attempts to impute cowardice on the Netherlands troops was a red herring to distract history's attention from the inept performance of the British staff officers.)

The Highlanders at Quatre Bras. Meanwhile Marshal Ney ordered Bachelu's division and half of Foy's division to advance. Five batteries were deployed between Gemioncourt and Pireaumont in support. Wellington deployed 7 British battalions 500 m south of Quatre Bras, and 4 Hanoverian battalions on the Namur road. This large force was supported by the 95th Rifles and Roger's battery. The British 28th of Foot was sent to support the Netherlands troops in Gemioncourt.

The French columns crossed the brook and were greeted with powerful volleys fired by the British and German infantry. The fire was tremendous and the French halted. Then they were charged by the Highlanders and Hanoverians. The French infantry fell back.

Wellington's forward movement failed.
"... our brave Colonel [Sir Robert Macara] fell at this time,
pierced through the chin until the point [of lance] reached his brain.
Captain Menzies fell covered with wounds."
- Sergeant Anton of 42nd Highland

The 42nd Highlanders 
being cut down by Pire's lancers.
Black Watch Museum, 
Dalhousie Castle in Perth. The Allies infantry was halted by French artillery fire and then was thrown into confusion by cavalry charge. Fortunately they managed to form squares. Hofschroer writes: "... squares of British infantry held off the French cavalry at first, but the square of the 42nd was broken and the 44th was thrown into disorder, the colour of the 44th being fought over."
Sergeant Anton of the 42nd Highland: "We were ready and in line ... and forward we hastened though we saw no enemy in front. The stalks of rye, like reeds that grow on the margins of some swamp, opposed our advance; the tops were up to our bonnets, and we strode and groped our way through as fast as we could. By the time we reached a field of clover on the other side we were very much straggled; however, we united in line as fast as time and our speedy advance would permit.
The Belgic skirmishers retired through our ranks, and in an instant we were on their victorious pursuers. ... Marshal Ney ... observed our wild unguarded zeal, and ordered a regiment of lancers to bear down upon us. We saw their approach at a distance, as they issued from a wood, and took them for Brunswickers coming to cut up the flying [French] infantry ... they were approaching our right flank, from which our skirmishers were extended, and we were far from being in a formation fit to repel an attack ... no preparative movement to receive them as enemies; further than the reloading of our muskets. ... a German [KGL] orderly dragoon galloped up, exclaiming 'Franchee ! Franchee !' and, wheeling about, galloped off. We instantly formed a rallying square; no time for particularity: every man's musket was loaded, and our enemies approached at full charge; the feet of their horses seemed to tear up the ground.
Death of Colonel Macara, 
commander of 42nd Highlanders.  
Sketch by Captain Jones. ... our brave Colonel [Sir Robert Macara] fell at this time, pierced through the chin until the point reached his brain. Captain Menzies fell covered with wounds. ... The grenadiers [of 42nd Highland], whom he commanded, pressed round to save or avenge him, but fell beneath the enemies lances."

The official report of the Hanoverian brigade described the action that followed: "... Verden Battalion was not able to fall back quickly enough and was largely ridden down or taken prisoner."

Wellington rallied the Brunswick hussars and, bringing up the remnants of Merlen's cavalry, prepared to go forward and plug the gap. Williams writes: "But before his cavalry was positioned to advance, Pire's superior forces struck, driving them and Wellington himself back beyond the crossroads." Wellington, to avoid death or ignominious capture, rode toward the 92nd Highlanders ... Calling out to the men to crouch low, he jumped his horse over their heads and found refuge nehind them." According to Best approx. 2 squadrons of French chasseurs attacked battalion of the 92nd Highland but without success.

Due to French cavalry charges, Wellington's forward movement failed. He was obliged to order Picton's division to retire from their present positions to the shelter of their original positions along the Namur road.

The Duke of Saxe-Weimar observed this scene from the Bossu Wood and the next day wrote: "... whilst I was defending the wood, the enemy drove our left wing [Picton] as far as Quatre Bras, at this moment the brave Duke of Brunswick was killed ..."

Allies suffered under fire.
Duke of Brunswick was struck and fell near the Leib Battalion.
He was rescued by jagers who carried him
using their weapons as a stretcher.

Brunswickers Wellington moved the Brunswickers (see picture) nearer Gemioncourt, and deployed on the north bank of the brook. Hofschroer writes: "As their flank was exposed, Pack's 42nd and 44th Foot, partly recovered from the French cavalry attacks, moved up along the road a little. On the left of the Brunswickers, on the Namur road, stood the Luneburg Landwehr Battalion who had replaced the 92nd Highlanders. ... The 3rd Line occupied several buildings on the Quatre Bras road with the 2nd [Brunswick] to its right, and a battalion of the 92nd [Highland] to its left, in the ditch along the roadside."

Because the Brunswickers and some Scots formed the first line, they suffered from artillery fire. The skirmishers of Foy's division had moved up the bushes and along the brook. More skirmishers were firing from the flank, from Bossu Wood. Their fire was quite annoying for the Allies. Major von Rauschenplat had his arm ripped off by a shell splinter, and Major von Cramm was fatally wounded. The under-fire Brunswick infantry retired a little bit, while their uhlan squadron attacked the French 1st Light (of Jerome Bonaparte's division) formed in square. One volley drove back the uhlans in a great disorder.

Duke of Brunswick and his horse were struck and fell near the Leib Battalion [Brunswick]. He was rescued by jagers who carried him to the battalion, using their weapons as a stretcher. It was a fatal wound, the musketball smashed through Duke's one hand, his abdomen and his liver. Major Prostler of the Leib Battalion tried to rally his men, but two French horse guns swept them with canister and they broke, reeling back toward the crossroads.

With a 2 to 1 advantage in men
Wellington decided to go over to the offensive.

"Wellington's force had swollen to 36,000 men and 50 guns.
With a 2 to 1 advantage in men and rough parity in guns
Wellington decided to go over to the offensive."

British artillery Before 5:30 PM arrived the 3rd British Division made of British and German troops. The French were outnumbered. Kielmansegge's Hannoverian brigade was sent towards Pireaumont, while Halkett's brigade deployed west of Quatre Bras. Hofschroer described what next happened: "Major Lloyd with 4 9pdrs moved up to the left of Rauschenplat's companies.
Ney responded by deploying two horse batteries from his reserve cavalry, which soon knocked out 2 of Lloyd's guns and killed a large number of the battery horses." The battered remnants of Lloyd's battery limbered up and withdrew.

French horse battery opened canister fire at British 33rd Foot 1st Yorkshire -West Riding. The redcoats broke up and fled to Bossu Wood.

Then Ney sent 3 battalions (one in line and two in column) followed by 3 battalions between the road and Bossu Wood, which was now largely in French hands. Five battalions under Gauthier (of Foy's division) advanced alomg the Charleroi road, with Pire's light cavalry to its rear.

A Prussian officer, Captain von Wussow, arrived at Quatre Bras. He was carrying a duplicate message from Blucher. (The first courier, Major von Winterfeld, had been shot by Bachelu's skirmishers.) Wussow recounted his experience: "I had to ride through enemy musketry, but managed to reach the English troops at Quatre Bras unscathed. Here I found the Duke of Wellington on foot, holding his telescope and watching the attack and movements of the enemy."

In the meantime the Emperor had been reflecting that Ney might not succeed in carrying out the movement of turning the corner at Quatre Bras but instead become enmeshed in an inconclusive fight with Wellington, with the result that d'Erlon corps would not get over to support him in time. But Napoleon considered that Ney should be able to carry out his primary mission of keeping Wellington from joining Blucher even without d'Erlon's corps. (Ney did not intentionally leave d'Erlon's 1st Corps behind.)

Ney was speechless with surprise and alarm when Delcambre informed him that in obedience to an order from Napoleon, d'Erlon's corps was marching off toward St.Amand to attack the Prussians at Ligny. How could the Emperor expect him to hold up an army with three battle-weary divisions ?

Ney decided to countermand Napoleon's order to d'Erlon. Meanwhile Count d’Erlon had moved from the high road between Gosselies and Frasnes upon the Roman Road leading towards Wagnele, and his advance had just come in sight of the field of battle when he received counter-orders from Marshal Ney.
(There has been much debate of what would have happened if d'Erlon's I Corps had engaged at either Ligny or Quatre Bras.)

Luneburg Battalion captured Pireaumont.
"It carried out this attack with such a force that,
despite determined resistance, it drove the enemy
out of all his positions, not only from the fields
and hedges along the road, but also out of the village of Pireaumont. ..."

Hanoverian foot soldier,
picture by Knotel Due to heavy artillery fire the Hanoverian troops were ordered to lie down. General Charles Alten writes: "Both sides now engaged in a heavy artillery bombardement, and the enemy tried several times to force the left flank, consisting of my division. I sent off the 1st Luneburg Battalion to drive him again out of the village of Pireaumont, to our fore, which the Brunswick infantry had been forced to leave.
Ltn-Col. von Klenke carried out this order with absolute determination, and he was able not only to retake the village, but also to throw the enemy back into a wood the far side of the village, and to repel his subsequent counter-attacks."

The official Hanoverian report added: "An English battalion and two companies of Brunswick jagers were the only troops that had until now been available to offer the enemy resistance on the left wing. They had just been attacked with such force, that they had been driven out of the village of Pireaumont and pushed back so far that the enemy skirmishers were able to fire on the head of the column of the 1st Hanoverian Brigade on the road.
The Light [Field] Battalion Luneburg, which was in the lead, was immediately ordered to deploy for an attack. It carried out this attack with such a force that, despite determined resistance, it drove the enemy out of all his positions, not only from the fields and hedges along the road, but also out of the village of Pireaumont and the tip of the wood adjoining it.
He only just manage to salvage a battery which he had moved up next to the village. As the resistance stiffened, particularly in the wood, the Grubenhagen Battalion was sent to support the Luneburg Battalion."

The French infantry attempted to retake Pireaumont. They came with stronger force but the Allies had already 2 Hanoverian battalions and 2 companies in the village, and 2 more Hanoverian battalions behind it. The French attack was beaten off.

Halkett's British brigade, followed by two Brunswick battalions (Life, and 1st Line) reached the fields of tall rye. The Brunswickers took up their positions in the ditches along the Nivelles road.
General Alten writes: "... several enemy columns moved forwards, so I detached the battalions Grubenhagen, Duke of York, and Bremen, against them. With artillery support from Cleves of KGL, the columns were driven back. On my right, enemy cavalry tried, with several charges, to force their way through, but, thanks to the resolute behaviour of my troops, were not successful. In this affair, the Landwehr Battalion Luneburg under Ltn-Col. von Ramdohr particularly distinguished itself. It let the enemy advance to 30 paces before firing a volley that threw back the cavalry with great loss."
According to Best report: "... the Luneburg Battalion had laid down in the ditch along the main road. ... Just as the enemy came into range, the Luneburg Battalion stood up and fired from 30 paces with such effect that the larger part of the enemy fell with many them killed. ... The fire was so well directed that only a few enemy cavalry survived, several falling only 5 to 6 paces from us."

French cuirassiers captured the color of the 69th Foot
and scattered several British units.

Cuirassier Henry and Maréchal-des-logis Massiet jumped to the ground
and picked up the king's color of the British 69th Foot from the arms
of ensign Clarke who had been hacked down by 23 saber cuts.
For this, Henry received the Legion of Honour.

Ney learned that d'Erlon's powerful I Army Corps had moved towards Ligny. This meant that there were no reinforcements for Ney. He was outnumbered and could not now crush the enemy.

Ney sent for Guiton's Cuirassier Brigade in one last attempt to win. The heavy cavalry charged with outstretched sabers, but without any support and without horse artillery. The British 69th Foot fired a volley at 30 paces. The British square was charged by the 8th Cuirassiers and broken up. Cuirassier Henry with the help of Maréchal-des-logis Massiet jumped to the ground and picked up the king's color of the II Battalion of the 69th (the South Lincolnshire) from the arms of ensign Clarke who had been hacked down by 23 saber cuts. For this, he received the Legion of Honour.

American historian John Elting writes: "The 69th at once ordered its regimental tailors to make up a new flag, and denied any loss. Unfortunately, Napoleon had already announced the capture." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 352)

The British color was not the only one taken by the French cavalry. W.Y.Carman wrote: "At Quatre Bras the French cavalry general, Donzelot [sic], captured the colours of the British 69th and also a Dutch colour. These were eventually sold in 1909 to an English officer. The Dutch colour was brought to me in 1956 for identification and I recognized it as the original relic. I was able to arrange that it went to the Netherlands Army Museum at Leiden. There it was identified as from the 2nd 'Nassauche Ligte Infanterie'. Only the centre remained at the time. On the light yellow silk was embroidered the shield of the Orange-Nassau coat of arms. The crowned rampant lion was on field filled (with) billets. ... The crown at the top showed five hoops and the oval area was limited by a wreath. The remnant was not in the best condition." (- Letter from W.Y.Carman in Tradition Magazine # 31)

The cuirassiers also scattered the British 33rd Foot. "The 73rd were panicked by the fate of the 69th, and they too broke and ran for the wood. The 33rd formed on a knoll, became the target of horse battery, which cut them up with canister, causing them to follow the others who had broken." (Williams - "Waterloo ..." p 220)

The brave 30th Foot held their ground.

The brave cuirassiers reached Quatre Bras. Wellington reacted immediately, he formed 2 Brunswick battalions in squares and posted them near the croassroads. Kuhlmann's horse battery had come on ahead and opened fire.

French chasseurs inflicted heavy casualties
on the British Foot Guards.

British 1st Foot Guards. 
Picture by de Beaufort Around 6:30 PM the British Foot Guards arrived. Their artillery deployed behind the ditch occupied by the Luneberg Battalion. It took the Foot Guards almost two hours to reach the southern edge of Bossu Wood, for the French infantry had disputed every tree and shrub of it. Also the Nassauers retook lost ground.

When the Foot Guards emerged from the wood in a broken line, heading for the Grand Pierrepont Farm, they and the adjoining Brunswickers were pounded by French artillery, then attacked by Pire's lancers and driven back into the wood.

Other sources claim that the charge was made by Pire's 6th Chasseurs and 1st Chasseurs. The green-clad chasseurs attacked, forcing some of the Allied infantry into squares.

French chasseur. 
Picture by Keith Rocco, USA They also caught the Foot Guards, the creme-de-lacreme of the British infantry, formed in line and in the open. The French charged from a "concealed positions in a depresion near Pierrepont" and routed the British Guard within a moment. [- Source: GdD Pire's letter to GdD Reille, June 25th 1815, in Arch. Serv. Hist.]

The chasseurs cut the guardsmen down inflicting very heavy casualties. Approx. 500 redcoats were killed and wounded, the survivors fled in panic towards the Bossu Wood. The French infantry followed them and their voltigeurs retook some of the lost terrain.

Meanwhile the 7th Cuirassiers attacked one of Saxe-Weimar's battalions.
The infantrymen sought refuge in the wood.

Wellington's offensive.
Allies had maintained their positions
they had held that morning.

Picture by Keith Rocco 
- The Lincolnshires Picture: British infantry in combat, by Keith Rocco > .

At 7 PM fresh reinforcements arrived for Wellington, these were 1st and 3rd Brunswick Light Battalions, and von Kruse's 2,800 Nassauers. Wellington ordered the Foot Guards, the 3rd and 5th Division to move forward. Prince of Orange moved his Netherlands troops to eject the French from the Bossu Wood. The heavily outnumbered French troops were pushed back. Allies had maintained their positions they had held that morning.

Night fell and the fighting died down. Officer Basil Jackson of the Staff Corps was on the road from Brussels and saw the evidence of the raging battle: "... we ... began to meet wounded men and stragglers ... There was quite a stream of disabled soldiers on the road, habited in red, blue or black ... some of our friends, belonging on the Staff, gave us in the meantime, an account of the battle; all agreeing that the Duke had never before been so severely pressed, or had so much difficulty to maintain his position." [*1]
[*1] - Jackson, in Colburne's United Services Magazine, 1847.
This is the original account by Jackson, not to be confused with the 1903 distortion 'edited' by Seaton. Jackson reported no cowardly foreigners fleeing along the Brussles road, only those foreigners who were aiding Allied wounded or even themselves wounded. Seaton also altered Jackson's "... all agreeing that the Duke had never been so severely pressed, or had so much difficulty in maintaining his position" to "... all agreeing that our troops had never been more severely pressed in maintaining their position."


"Ney, outnumbered ... fought Wellington to a draw there,
giving somewhat more punishmnet than he took."
- Colonel John Elting
American military historian

Ney's casualties: 4,140 killed and wounded
Wellington's casualties: 4,800

Dutch-Belgian infantryman in 1815,
picture by Steven Palatka Ney had little to reproach himself for in the day's proceedings. Thrown into his command at the eleventh hour, with only three infantry divisions and small cavalry force, he had by skill and courage succeeded in fulfilling the intent of his original orders: he had prevented Wellington from aiding the Prussians for the whole of the 16th. At Ligny the Prussians stood alone and were crushed. Ney however can be partially blamed for the mess with d'Erlon's corps.

Wellington had less with which to be content. He had fought the most confusedd battle of his military career. His staff had let him down badly over the concentration of his army. Fortunately, though, his Netherland, German and British troops had all worked well together.

American military historian, Colonel John Elting writes: "Had Davout, instead of Ney, commanded Napoleon's left wing, there can be little doubt that Quatre Bras would have been a French victory. Even thirteen-thumbed Michel Ney, outnumbered and quite possibly under the handicap of a thudding hangover, fought Wellington to a draw there, giving somewhat more punishmnet than he took. Victory at Quatre Bras would have shifted the fortunes of that campaign and probably of the whole war." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 644)

"Wellington reported Quatre Bras as an English victory, won over superior forces [actually the Duke enjoyed 2 to 1 advantage], and so it has remained in British history. As for the hangover, belgian legend has it that Ney and his staff had billeted themselves on a Belgian dignitary who was famous for his wine cellar, which they thoroughly reconnoitered." :)
(Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 732)

Retreat of the British army. At Quatre Bras Marshal Ney lost 4,140 men. The French also captured British color. Ney also successfully stopped any of Wellington's forces going to the aid of Blücher's Prussians.
Wellington suffered heavier casualties at Quatre Bras than Ney, approx. 4,800 were killed and wounded. The next day Wellingon's forces left the battlefield to the French and fell back.

In the opening years of the First World War the British Royal Navy constructed a monitor HMS M13. She was named for the French Marshal Ney. Designed for inshore operations it was equipped with two massive 15" naval guns. Originally, these guns were to have been stripped from one of the battlecruisers HMS Renown and HMS Repulse after they were redesigned.

Sources and Links.
Recommended Reading.

Hofschroer - "1815: The Waterloo Campaign"
Chandler - "Waterloo - the Hundred Days"
Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars"
Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"

Napoleonic Wars (maps)
Hundred Days
Prince of Orange
Hendrik Baron de Perponcher
Marshal Michel Ney
Pictures of Nassau Troops.
Pictures of Dutch / Belgian Troops.
Pictures of Brunswick Troops.
Travel to Quatre Bras

French Infantry ~ French Artillery ~ French Cavalry

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Napoleon, His Army and Enemies