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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter XIV - The Crushing of Napoleon, 1815


Third Battalion at Quatre Bras—The attack on the Squares— Waterloo—La Haye Sainte—The Royals and their Colours —The Fourth Battalion—Bergen-op-Zoom.

On February 26 Napoleon left Elba, and reached France on March 1. In three weeks he reinstated himself in power. Measures were instantly concerted by the Allied Sovereigns to meet the danger. An army was hastily assembled in the Netherlands, and placed under the command of Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington.

The third battalion embarked in May for Ostend with Lieut.-Colonel Colin Campbell in command. On the night of June 15 it was at Brussels, in Picton’s Fifth Division. When the alarm sounded, The Royals fell in quickly and marched through the dark forest of Soignies. As they were breakfasting there at eight o'clock, news came that the Allies were hard pressed at Quatre Bras, and they left their meal unfinished and set out again. No time was to be lost if the communications between the British and the Prussians were to be saved. Twenty-one miles were covered by 3 p.m., a great feat for hungry men marching in great heat through suffocating clouds of dust. Arrived at Quatre Bras, the division lined up along the Namur-Nivelle road. The light companies advanced against the French skirmishers and were followed by the whole division (except the Ninety-second), suffering heavily from musketry and heavy gunfire. Battalion squares were formed to resist the fierce assaults of the French cavalry. The Forty-second and Forty-fourth were surrounded in an especially exposed position: Picton led The Royals1 and the Twenty-eighth in quarter column through the French troops and ordered them to form a square.

The repeated and furious charges which ensued were invariably repulsed by The Royals and the 28th, with the utmost steadiness and consummate bravery, and although the Lancers individually dashed forward and frequently wounded the men in the ranks, yet all endeavours to effect an opening of which the succeeding squadron of attack might take advantage, completely failed. The ground on which the square stood was such that the surrounding remarkably tall rye concealed it in a great measure in the first attacks, from the view of the French cavalry until the latter came quite close upon it, but to remedy this inconvenience, and to preserve the impetus of their charge, the Lancers had frequently to recourse to sending forward a daring individual to plant a lance in the earth at a very short distance from the bayonets, and then they charged upon the lance flag as a mark of direction.

Despite shortness of ammunition The Royals never flinched. Charged again and again by an infinite superiority of numbers, they never gave way to the French cavalry. An eyewitness, who had been with the regiment all through the Peninsula from Busaco to Bayonne, wrote that they had never shown a more determined bravery—

Along the whole front of the central portion of the Anglo-Allied army, the French cavalry was expending its force in repeated but unavailing charges against the indomitable squares. The gallant, the brilliant, the heroic manner in which the remnants of Kempt’s and Pack’s Brigades held their ground, of which they surrendered not a single inch throughout the terrific struggle of that day, must ever stand prominent in the records of the triumphs and prowess of the British infantry.

When darkness fell the French retreated to the heights of Frasnes, and The Royals were left on the field with 26 dead and 192 wrounded.

A renewal of the attack was expected in the morning, but the French made none, and the division was moved back to high ground in front of the village of Waterloo, and reached the new position as the sun went down. The troops passed a miserable night, for rain fell in torrents, and a thunderstorm burst over them. It was therefore a wet, weary, and half fed regiment that woke to the morning of Waterloo.

The Fifth Division was in the British centre, and The Royals, now again brigaded under Pack and much reduced in numbers, were commanded by Major Robert Macdonald.

They stood on the north side of the Ohain road a little north-east of La Haye Sainte, and facing south. After pounding them for two hours with artillery, the Emperor sent 13,000 foot against Picton’s 3000. The attack was repulsed by crashing volleys, and by a counter-charge w’hich left many French prisoners in British hands. The cannonade began again, and Pack's brigade had to withdraw to its original position behind a sheltering ridge. Later in the afternoon the French captured the farm of La Haye Sainte and the brigade was searched cruelly by the enemy's riflemen, but the squares held their ground immovably and the French never crossed the Ohain road. The crisis of the battle took place in another part of the field, and, before the last effort of Napoleon's Old Guard, the firing from La Haye Sainte had become feebler and feebler until it ceased. About eight o'clock in the evening The Royals broke southwards across the road, and the long disputed farm was taken. On this day they lost less heavily than at Quatre Bras, 15 killed and 128 wounded, but on the two days their original strength of 624 was reduced by 363. Four officers and the sergeant-major in turn fell as they were carrying the King's colour. Amongst them was Ensign Kennedy. He was carrying a colour in advance of the battalion and was shot in the arm: he continued to advance, and was again shot, but this time killed or mortally wounded. A sergeant then attempted to take the colour from him but could not disengage his grip. He then threw the body over his shoulder and rejoined the ranks of his battalion, through the chivalrous action of the officer commanding the French battalion opposed to the Royals, who ordered his men not to fire on the sergeant and his burden.

In such fashion did The Royal Scots make history at Waterloo.

The battalion marched into France with the army of occupation, and after Napoleon’s flight “Waterloo” was added to the colours. The return home was delayed until March 24, 1817, and the third battalion was disbanded a month later, after fifteen years of glorious life. The men who were not due for their discharge were transferred to the first and second battalions.

The Fourth Battalion

We must now return to the other service battalion, the fourth, raised at the same time. It was used mainly as a depot battalion for providing the other three with drafts, and was recruited much from the Militia. It is worth noting that about this time The Royals, alw'ays pioneers in military reform, wfere the first to establish a regimental school, at the instance of their colonel, The Duke of Kent. Its teachers were often borrowed by other regiments, and its services to the general cause of education were real and valuable.

It was not until 1813 that the fourth saw active service as a separate unit.

The invasion of Russia by Napoleon, the burning of Moscow, the disastrous retreat of the French army from the North, and the separation of Prussia, Austria and other states from the interest of Napoleon, were followed by a treaty of alliance and subsidy between Great Britain and Sweden, in which it was stipulated that a Swedish army, commanded by the Crown Prince, should join the Allies. On August 2 the battalion embarked, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Muller, for Stralsund, in Swedish Pomerania, forming part of an expedition under the orders of Major-General Gibbs. Thus The Royal Scots went to the same part of the world to which a body of their daring countrymen, who formed the nucleus of this distinguished regiment, proceeded exactly two hundred years before to engage in the service of the Swedish monarch.

On Christmas Eve they were moved to Lubeck to support the army of the Crown Prince of Sweden.

In the meantime, the Dutch were making an energetic struggle to free themselves from the power of Napoleon, and a strong party had declared in favour of the Prince of Orange. A British force was sent to the Netherlands, under the orders of Sir Thomas Graham, and the fourth battalion of The Royals was ordered to join the troops in Holland. It began its march from Lubeck on January 17, 1814, and encountered many difficulties. While crossing the forest of Shrieverdinghen, 120 men were lost in a snowstorm; much suffering occurred during the journey, and on March 2 the men went into cantonments at Rozendahl. The battalion was then ordered to join the force destined to make an attempt on the strong fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom.

The attack was made on the night of March 8. The Royals crossed the Zoom and forced an entrance by the water-port. Having gained possession of the ramparts round the water-port gate, the battalion was exposed to a heavy fire of grape and musketry from two howitzers and a strong detachment of French marines. Two companies were detached to keep the enemy in check, and were relieved every two hours by two other companies of the battalion. They were thus engaged from eleven o'clock until daylight, when the enemy made a furious attack in strong columns, which bore down all before them. The two detached companies of The Royal Scots were attacked by a host of combatants and driven in. A heavy fire of grape was opened upon the battalion from the guns of the arsenal, and it was forced to retire by the water-port gate, when a detached battery opened upon it. Being thus placed between two fires, with a high palisade on one side and the Zoom filled with the tide on the other, the battalion could do no more. The colours were first sunk1 in the river Zoom by Lieutenant and Adjutant Galbraith; the battalion then surrendered on condition that the officers and men should not serve against the French until exchanged. The failure of the coup-de-main on Bergen-op-Zoom occasioned an immense sacrifice of gallant men. Forty-one were killed, 75 wounded, and 593 taken captive, but the prisoners were allowed to return to England on April 8, and a month later the battalion sailed for Canada, whence it returned in January 1816 and was disbanded.


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