Thursday, June 18, 2009
Today is the 194th anniversary of the great Battle of Waterloo. 25,000 Frenchmen killed or wounded, 7,000 captured, 15,000 missing; 22,000 Englishmen, Dutchmen and Germans killed or wounded; all in the space of an afternoon.
Lord Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington
Several myths and legends surround the Iron Duke; he was English coolness-under-fire, personified. One anecdote has him napping under a tree with a newspaper over his face when his subordinates alerted him to the nearby presence of the Emperor of France, Napoleon himself. "Shall we shoot at him, sir?" The cool-as-a-cucumber-reply, "Certainly not! Generals have far more important things to do than take potshots at each other."
Other notables include Prince William of Orange, future King of the Netherlands. This is back when royalty earned their titles, apparently; Prince William was wounded during the battle.
Prince William of Orange
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher arrived late in the day. His Prussian Legions tipped the balance of power on the battlefield and decided the issue.
Field Marshall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
At the height of the battle, the French cavalry charge the British lines:
The British Infantry squares held, of course. Here's how it looked to the oncoming French:
My neighbor in Stuttgart, an elderly gentleman who remembered the French coming to town at the end of World War II, said this of Napoleon: "Only Hitler was worse!"
When my youngest daughter was one, we used to joke and call her "Napoleon" because she had a curl like this in the middle of her forehead. She used to sulk just like this, as well.
Waterloo is a tiny village in Belgium, just south of Brussels. I was able to visit this place when I was stationed in Germany.
Viewing the great panoramic painting of the battle, inside the ancient museum. The panorama was painted by Demoulin at the turn of the century.
Team member VA Shepard once remarked, "Napoleon had his Waterloo, we had Gettysburg. The difference was, after Gettysburg our war still ran on for two more years."
I cannot imagine combat on this scale.