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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 56 - The 18th of June


About eight o'clock on the morning of the 18th the storm suddenly abated, the rain ceased, the wind died away, the gray clouds began to disperse, and the sun broke forth in his glory. His warm glow was delightful after the chill of such a tempestuous night; and the wan faces of the soldiers brightened as they watched the dispersion of the vapoury masses, and beheld the morning sky assuming a pure and serene blue. Alas ! it was a morning sun which thousands were doomed never to behold setting at eve.

Immense masses of white mist were rising on all sides,—from the green woodlands of the Bois de Soignies,—from the swamps, the fields, and the puddles formed in the night; and as the vapour became exhaled, and floated away to mingle with the clouds, the grass grew more green, and the fields of flattened corn rose, and waved their yellow harvest to and fro in the morning breeze. Fires were lighted by the soldiers, to dry their clothes and cook a ration of beef, which had been hastily supplied to some corps of the army. An allowance of grog was also served out by the commissariat to every man, without distinction. It was swallowed gladly and thankfully, and the former cheerfulness of the troops began to revive, and they became as merry as men could be who had marched so far, passed such a night, and had yet their shirts sticking to their backs.

This was the morning of the eventful 18th of June, 1815.

Sir Dennis Pack's brigade had scarcely finished their wretched meal of beef, broiled on bayonets and ramrods amid the smoky embers of green wood, before the pipers of the Royal Highlanders, who were bivouacked on the right, were heard blowing their regimental gathering with might and main, summoning the old Black Watch to battle.

'Stand to your arms! The enemy are coming on!' was the cry on every side ; and aides-de-camp, majors of brigade, and other officers were seen galloping in every direction, clearing hedge and wall at the risk of their necks. The trumpets of the cavalry, the drums and bugles of the infantry, were soon heard sounding in concert over every part of the position, as the army got under arms to meet their old hereditary foe.

'Vive I'Empcreur!' A hundred thousand soldiers,—brave men as France ever sent forth, loaded the morning wind with the cry; and the hum of their voices, sounding from afar over the level country, was heard —like the low roar of a distant sea—murmuring and chafing, long before they came within range of musket-shot.

The soldiers of the allied army stood to their arms with their usual willingness and alacrity, but with that degree of gravity and calmness which always pervades a body of men before an engagement. It is a serious reflection that one may be in eternity in five minutes, and one feels rather sedate in consequence,—till the blood is up, and the true British mettle fairly roused. A battle was about to be fought, and that it would be a bloody one was evident, for it was between two splendid armies, equal in arms, in discipline, and in courage, and led by two of the greatest generals the world ever produced. But it is not my intention to recount a history of the battle of Waterloo. Generally, I will confine myself to the motions of the 9th Brigade, commanded by the brave Sir Dennis Pack. It consisted of four regiments, — namely, the third battalion of the 1st Royal Scots, the 42nd or Royal Highlanders, the second battalion of the 44th or East Essex Regiment, and the 92nd or Gordon Highlanders, with whom, I trust, the reader is tolerably well acquainted. The fighting at Quatre Bras on the 16th had considerably thinned their ranks, but they yet mustered five hundred bayonets.

Aides-de-camp, general and other staff-officers, were seen galloping on the spur over banks and ditches, through copse-wood and cornfields, bearing orders, instructions, and hasty despatches to those commanding corps and brigades ; the cavalry looked to their girths and bridles, the infantry to their locks and pouches; the artillery-guns, tumbrils, and caissons were dragged at full gallop among ripe fields of wheat and barley, through hedges and slough ditches, with matches smoking, the gunners on the boxes, the drivers on the saddle, rammers and sponges rattling and clanking, and the cavalry escort galloping in front and rear. Bustle and noise, but with perfect steadiness and coolness, prevailed, as the army of Lord Wellington formed in position on that memorable field, and awaited the approach of their enemy, who came on flushed with the success of the recent battle of Ligny.

'There goes Buonaparte!' cried Ronald to his friend Louis Lisle, who at that moment came up to him.

'There goes Napoleon! the Emperor and all his staff!' burst from many a tongue.

The whole attention of the British line was attracted by the appearance of Buonaparte, who rode along the ridge occupied by the French army. He wore his great-coat unbuttoned, and thrown back to display his epaulettes and green uniform, and had on his head the little cocked hat by which all statues of him are so well known. A staff, brilliant and numerous, composed of officers wearing a hundred different uniforms, followed him, but at the distance of seventy or eighty paces, riding like a confused mob of cavalry. He passed rapidly along the French line towards La Belle Alliance; but the fire of a few twelve-pound field-pieces, which had been brought to bear upon his person, compelled him to retire to the rear.

The right of the allied army rested on Braine la Leude, the left on the farm of Ter la Haye, and the centre on Mont St. Jean, thus extending along a ridge from which the ground descended gently to a sort of vale; on the other side of which, at the distance of about twelve hundred yards from the allies, the long-extended lines of the French army were formed in battle array, with eagles glittering, colours waving, and bayonets gleaming above the dark battalions of infantry.

The celebrated chateau of Hougoumont was in front of the right centre of the allies; the woods, the orchard, and the house were full of troops. Arms glanced at every window, bayonets bristled everywhere around it, and the tall grenadier-caps of the Coldstream Guards, and the shakoes of the Belgians and Brunswickers, were visible above the green hedges of the garden, and the parapet walls which enclosed the park and orchard. The farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, on the Charleroi road at the foot of the eminence, had also been converted into a garrison, loopholed and barricaded, with brass-muzzled field-pieces peeping through the honeysuckle and the rails of the garden around it.

All around the spot where these dire preparations had been made, the land was in a beautiful state of cultivation, and the bright yellow corn waved ripe in every field; but the passage of cavalry, brigades of artillery, and sometimes dense masses of infantry in close column of companies or subdivisions of five-and-twenty men abreast, the continual deploying on point and pivot as new alignements were taken up, made sad havoc among the hopes of the husbandman and farmer.

The Belgian and Hanoverian battalions were checkered as equally as possible with the British, and thus many different uniforms varied the long perspective of the allied line; while the French army presented one long array of dark uniforms,—blue, green, or the gray great-coat, an upper garment worn almost invariably, in all weathers, by the French troops when on service.

Near a tree, which grew on a bank above the Charleroi road, and which formed, or denoted, the very centre of the British position, Lord Wellington could be seen sitting motionless on horseback, observing, with his acute and practised eye, the motions of his mighty antagonist. His cavalry were, generally, posted in rear of the right, the centre, and left of the position, the artillery behind a hedge on a ridge which rises near Ter la Haye; and this screen of foliage concealed them from the enemy, who commenced the battle about half-past eleven o'clock.

A movement was seen taking place among the French, and in a few minutes the division commanded by Jerome Buonaparte attacked the chateau of Hougoumont. As they advanced upon it, Lord Wellington's artillery opened on them, and did considerable execution; but they pressed heedlessly on and assaulted the ancient chateau, which was resolutely defended, and soon became shrouded in a cloud of smoke as the volleying musketry blazed away from hedge and wall, barricade and window. Every bullet bore the fate of a human being; the French were strewed in heaps, and the chateau, into which they showered grape and musketry with unsparing diligence, seemed not likely to surrender soon. The foreign troops gave way, but the brave guards maintained the defence of the house and garden alone, and with the unflinching determination and courage of British soldiers.

Under cover of a formidable cannonade, which Napoleon's artillery opened from the crest of the ridge where his line was formed, three dense masses of infantry, consisting each of four battalions, moving in solid squares, poured impetuously down on the left and centre of the allied line. They rent the air with cries of 'Vive la France! Vive l'Empereur!' and on they came double-quick, with their sloped arms glittering in the sun. They were enthusiastically encouraged by their officers, whose voices were heard above even the mingled din of the battle-cry, cheering them on as they waved their eagles and brandished their sabres aloft. One of these columns poured its strength on La Haye Sainte, where it experienced a warm and deadly welcome; while the other two attacked that part of the position which was occupied by Sir Dennis Pack's brigade.

As they advanced, Campbell made a signal with his sword, and the eight pipes of the regiment commenced the wild pibroch of Donald-dhu, —the march of the Islesmen to Lochaber in 1431. It was echoed back by the pipes of the Royals and 42nd on the right, and the well-known effect of that instrument was instantly visible in the flushing cheeks of the brigade. Its music never falls in vain on the ear of a Scotsman, for he alone can understand its wild melody and stirring associations. The ranks, which before had exhibited all that stillness and gravity which troops always observe—in fact, which their feelings compel them to observe—before being engaged, for fighting is a serious matter, became animated, and the soldiers began to cheer and handle their muskets long before the order was given to fire. A brigade of Belgians, formed in line before a hedge, was attacked furiously by the French columns, who were eager for vengeance on these troops, whom they considered as deserters from the cause of the 'great Emperor,' whose uniform they still wore. The impetuosity of the attack compelled the Belgians to retire in rear of the hedge, oyer which they received and returned a spirited fire.

Pack's brigade now opened upon the foe, and the roar of cannon and musketry increased on every side as the battle became general along the extended parallel lines of the British and French. The fire of the latter on Pack's brigade was hot and rapid, for in numerical force they outnumbered them, many to one, and made dreadful havoc. The men were falling—to use the common phrase—in heaps, and the danger, smoke, uproar, and slaughter, with all the terrible concomitants of a great battle, increased on every side; the blood of the combatants grew hotter, and the national feelings of hatred and hostility, which previously had lain dormant, were now fully awakened, and increased apace with the slaughter around them. Many of the Highlanders seemed animated by a perfect fury,—a terrible eagerness to grapple with their antagonists. Captain Grant, an officer of the Gordon Highlanders, became so much excited that he quitted the ranks, and rushing to the front, brandished his long broad sword aloft, and defied the enemy to charge or approach further. Then, calling upon the regiment to follow him, he threw up his bonnet, and flinging himself headlong on the bayonets of the enemy was instantly slain. Poor fellow! he left a young wife at home to lament him, and his loss was much regretted by the regiment.

'This is hot work, Chisholm,' said Ronald with a grim smile to his smart young sub, who came towards him jerking his head about in that nervous manner which the eternal whistling of musket-shot will cause many a brave fellow to assume.

'Hot work,—devilish!' answered the other with a blunt carelessness, which, perhaps, was half affected.

'But I have something good to communicate.'

'What?'—'Blucher, with forty thousand Prussians, is advancing from Wavre. Bony knows nothing of this, and the first news he hears of it will be the twelve-pounders of the Prussians administering a dose of cold iron to his left flank, upon the extremity of the ridge yonder.'

'Good: but is the intelligence true?'—'Ay, true as the Gospel. I heard an aide-de-camp, a rather excited but exquisite young fellow of the 7th Hussars, tell old Sir Dennis so this moment.'

'Would to God we saw them!—the Prussians, I mean. We are suffering dreadfully from the fire of these columns.'

'Ay, faith !' replied the other, coolly adjusting his bonnet, which a ball had knocked awry, and turning towards the left flank of the company, before he had gone three paces, he was stretched prostrate on the turf.

He never stirred again. A ball had pierced his heart; and the bonnet, which a moment before he had arranged so jauntily over his fair hair, rolled to the feet of Ronald Stuart.

'I kent he was fey! Puir young gentleman!' said a soldier.

'I will add a stone to his cairn,' observed another figuratively; 'and give this to revenge him,' he added, dropping upon his knee and firing among the smoke of the opposite line.

Stuart would have examined the body of his friend, to find if any spark of life yet lingered in it, but his attention was attracted by other matters.

The Belgians at the hedge gave way, after receiving and returning a most destructive fire for nearly an hour. The 3rd battalion of the Scots Royals, and a battalion of the 44th (the same regiment which lately distinguished itself at Cabul), took up the ground of the vanquished men of Gallia Belgica, and after maintaining the same conflict against an overwhelming majority of numbers, and keeping stanch to their post till the unlucky hedge was piled breast-high with killed and wounded, they were compelled also to retire, leaving it in possession of the enemy, who seized upon it with a fierce shout of triumph, as if it had been the fallen capital of a conquered country, instead of the rural boundary of a field of rye.

It was now three o'clock in the afternoon. The strife had lasted incessantly for four hours, and no word was yet heard of the Prussians. For miles around the plains were involved in smoke ; and whether they were approaching or not no man knew, for a thick war-cloud enshrouded the vale of Waterloo. Three thousand of the allies had been put to the rout, and the dense mob-like columns of the enemy came rolling on from the ridge opposite to Lord Wellington's position, apparently with the determination of bearing all before them.

When they gained possession of the hedge before mentioned, Sir Dennis Pack, who had been with its defenders till the moment they gave way, galloped at full speed up to the Gordon Highlanders,—a corps reduced now to a mere skeleton, and barely mustering two hundred efficient bayonets.

'Highlanders!' cried the general, who was evidently labouring under no ordinary degree of excitement and anxiety, 'you must charge! Upon them with the bayonet, or the heights are lost, for all the troops in your front have given way!'

'Highlandmen! shoulder to shoulder,' cried Campbell, as the regiment began to advance with their muskets at the long trail, and in silence, with clenched teeth and bent brows, for their hearts were burning to avenge the fall of their comrades. 'Shoulder to shoulder, lads! close together, like a wall!' continued the major, as, spurring his horse to the front, he waved his sword and bonnet aloft, and the corps moved down the hill. 'Remember Egypt and Corunna,—and remember Cameron, though he's gone, for his eye may be upon us yet at this very moment! Forward—double quick!'

The column they were about to charge presented a front more than equal to their own on four faces, and formed a dense mass of three thousand infantry. Heedless of their numbers, with that free and fearless impetuosity which they have ever displayed, and which has always been attended with the most signal success, the bonneted clansmen rushed on with the fury of a torrent from their native hills, equally regardless of the charged bayonets of the French front ranks, the murderous fire of the rear, and often pieces of cannon sent by Napoleon to assist in gaining the height occupied by Pack's shattered brigade. It was a desperate crisis, and the regiment knew that they must be victorious or be annihilated.

A body of cuirassiers were coming on to the assistance of the vast mass of infantry,—all splendid troops, glittering in a panoply of brass and steel; and the slanting rays of the sun gleamed beautifully on their long lines of polished helms and corselets, and the forest of swords which they brandished aloft above the curls of the eddying smoke, as they came sweeping over the level plain at full gallop. The advance of the little band of Highlanders made them seem like a few mice attacking a lion,—the very acme of madness or of courage. Their comrades were all defeated, themselves were threatened by cavalry, galled by ten pieces of cannon, and opposed to three thousand infantry; and yet they went on with the heedless impetuosity of the heroes of Killiecrankie, Falkirk, and Gladsmuir.

The front rank of the enemy's column remained with their long muskets and bayonets at the charge, while the rear kept up a hot and destructive fire, in unison with the sweeping discharges from the field-pieces placed at a little distance on their flanks.

The moment was indeed a critical one to these two hundred eagle hearts. They were in the proportion of one man to fifteen; and notwithstanding this overwhelming majority, when the steady line of the Highlanders came rushing on, with their bayonets levelled before them, and had reached within a few yards of the enemy, the latter turned and fled! The huge mass, which might with ease have eaten them, broke away in a confusion almost laughable, the front ranks overthrowing the rear, and every man tossing away musket, knapsack, and accoutrements. The Highlanders still continued pressing forward with the charged bayonet, yet totally unable to comprehend what had stricken the foe with so disgraceful a panic.

'Halt!' cried Campbell. 'Fire on the cowards. D-----n them, give them, a volley!' and a hasty fire was poured upon the confused mob.

A cry arose of 'Here come the cavalry!'

'Hoigh! hurrah!' cried the Highlanders. 'The Greys—the Greys— the Scots Greys! Hoigh! our ain folk—hurrah!' and a tremendous cheer burst from the little band as they beheld, emerging from the wreaths of smoke, the squadrons of their countrymen, who came thundering over the corse-strewed field, where drums, colours, arms, cannon, and cannon-shot, killed and wounded men, covered every foot of ground.
The gray horses—'those beautiful gray horses,' as the anxious Napoleon called them, while watching this movement through his glass—came on, snorting and prancing, with dilated nostrils and eyes of fire, exhibiting all the pride of our superb dragoon chargers ; while the long broadswords and tall bear-skin caps of the riders were seen towering above the battle-clouds which rolled along the surface of the plain.
They formed part of the heavy brigade of the gallant Sir William Pon- sonby, who, sabre in hand, led them on, with the First Royal English Dragoons, and the Sixth, who came roaring tremendously, and shouting strange things in the deep brogue of merry 'ould Ireland.'

From the weight of the men, the mettle of their horses, and their fine equipment, a charge of British cavalry is a splendid sight : I say British, for our own are the finest-looking as well as the best troops in the world, —an assertion which few can dispute when we speak of Waterloo. Those who witnessed the charge of Ponsonby's brigade will never forget it. The Highlanders halted, and the dragoons swept on past their flank, towards the confused masses of the enemy. The Greys, on passing the little band of their countrymen, sent up the well-known cry of 'Scotland for ever!' ' Scotland for ever!' At such a moment, this was indeed a cry that roused 'the stirring memory of a thousand years.' It touched a chord in every Scottish heart. It seemed like a voice from their home—from the tongues of those they had left behind, and served to stimulate them to fresh exertions in honour of the land of the rock and the eagle.

'Cheer, my blue-bonnets !' cried Campbell, leaping in his saddle in perfect ecstasy. 'Oh, the gallant fellows ! how bravely they ride ! God and victory be with them this day!'

'Scotland for ever!' echoed the Highlanders, as they waved their black plumage on the gale. The Royals, the 42nd, the Cameron Highlanders, and every Scots regiment within hearing, took up the battle-cry and tossed it to the wind ; and even the feeble voices of the wounded were added to the general shout, while the chivalrous Greys plunged into the column of the enemy, sabring them in scores, and riding them down like a field of corn. The cries of the panic-stricken French were appalling ; they were the last despairing shrieks of drowning men rather than the clamour of men-at-arms upon a battle-field. Colours, drums, arms, and everything, were abandoned in their eagerness to escape, and even while retreating double quick, some failed not to shout Vive l'Empereur! Vive la Gloire! as vociferously as if they had been the victors instead of the vanquished.

An unlucky random shot struck Lisle's left arm, and fractured the bone just above the elbow. He uttered a sudden cry of anguish, and reeled backward several paces, but propped himself upon his sword. Ronald Stuart rushed towards him, but almost at the same moment a half-spent cannon-shot (one of the last fired by the train sent to dislodge the ninth brigade) struck him on the left side, doubled him up like a cloak, and dashed him to the earth, where he lay totally deprived of sense and motion. When struck, a consciousness flashed upon his mind that his ribs were broken to pieces, and that he was dying ; then the darkness of night seemed to descend on his eyes, and he felt as if his soul was passing away from his body. That feeling, which seemed the reverse of a terrible one, existed for a space of time scarcely divisible. There was a rushing sound in his ears, flashes of red fire seemed to go out from his eyes, and then every sensation of life left him for a time. The regiment thought him dead, as few survive a knock from a cannon-shot, and no one considered it worth while to go towards him save Louis Lisle. All were too intently watching the flashing weapons of the cavalry as they charged again and again, each squadron wheeling to the right and left to allow the others to come up, and the work of slaying and capturing proceeded in glorious style. Poor Ronald's loss was never thought of by his comrades.

'Stuart's knocked on the head, poor fellow!' was his only elegy. One life is valued less than a straw, when thousands are breathing their last in the awful arena of a battle-field.

Louis, whose left arm hung bleeding and motionless by his side, turned Ronald on his back with the right, and saw that he was pale and breathless. He placed his hand on the heart, but it was still. He felt no vibration. 'Great Heaven! what a blow this will be for my poor sister! Farewell, Ronald! I look upon your face for the last time!' He groaned deeply with mental and bodily agony as he bent his steps to the rear,— a long and perilous way, for shot of every size and sort were falling like hail around, whizzing and whistling through the air, or tearing the turf to pieces when they alighted. Hundreds of riderless horses, many of them grays, snorting and crying with pain or terror, were galloping madly about in every direction, trampling upon the bodies of the dead and the wounded, and finishing with their ponderous hoofs the work which many a bullet had begun. The slaughter among the French at that part of the field was immense; but their case might have been very different had they stood firm and shown front, as British infantry would have done.

One thousand were literally sabred, ridden down, or cut to pieces; two thousand taken prisoners, with two eagles—one by a sergeant of the Greys, and all the drums and colours; a catastrophe which scarcely occupied five minutes' time, and which Napoleon beheld from his post near La Belle Alliance with sensations which may easily be conceived, for these troops were the flower of his numerous army.

This was about half-past four in the afternoon, and over the whole plain of Waterloo the battle was yet raging with as much fury as ever.


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