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
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
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.
answered the other with a blunt carelessness, which, perhaps, was half
'But I have something good
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
'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
'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
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
'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
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
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.