Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BATTLE OF WATERLOO ~ June 18, 1815

Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford

In the Battle of Waterloo (Sunday 18 June 1815 near Waterloo, Belgium) forces of the French Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte and Michel Ney were defeated by those of the Seventh Coalition, including a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher and an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington. It was the decisive battle of the Waterloo Campaign and Bonaparte's last. The defeat at Waterloo put an end to Napoleon's rule as the French emperor, and marked the end of Napoleon's Hundred Days of return from exile.

Upon Napoleon's return to power in 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilise armies. Two large forces under Wellington and von Blücher assembled close to the northeastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the Coalition. The decisive engagement of this three-day Waterloo Campaign (16 June - 19 June 1815) occurred at the Battle of Waterloo. According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."

Napoleon delayed giving battle until noon on 18 June to allow the ground to dry. Wellington's army, positioned across the Brussels road on the Mont St Jean escarpment, withstood repeated attacks by the French, until, in the evening, the Prussians arrived in force and broke through Napoleon's right flank. At that moment, the British counter-attacked and drove the French army in disorder from the field. Pursuing Coalition forces entered France and restored Louis XVIII to the French throne. Napoleon abdicated, surrendering to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.

The battlefield is in present-day Belgium, about eight miles (12 km) SSE of Brussels, and about a mile (1.6 km) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is today dominated by a large mound of earth, the Lion's Hillock. As this mound used earth from the battlefield itself, the original topography has not been preserved.
Image &

I'm not really sure how I first became fascinated with Napoleon Bonaparte. It may have been the movie Desiree, I saw as a very young boy. But I do remember one August at my grandfather's summer house, Zavikon. I sometimes talked and walked in my sleep, and wondered whether I might be able to meet Napoleon... at least in my dreams. I think I was six or seven at the time. Part of the fascination with Napoleon was, and is, that he was a "Great Man" with serious flaws, and almost literally a Prometheus figure: that is, chained to a rock. Of course he wasn't literally chained, but he was stuck there. But think if he had succeeded. There would have been no World War I or II, and Europe would have been unified economically more than it is today, and certainly much sooner. Nevertheless, there was that problem with hubris, and militarism.

I do believe Napoleon was poisoned by his Royalist aide on St. Helena. Supposedly when they exhumed his body more than twenty years later for his re-burial at Les Invalides, his flesh was still uncorrupted. That, I believe, is a symptom of arsenic poisoning. He might still be intact!!

Anyway, before I moved to California, an old lady from my Dad's church invited me over to her apartment and gave me a very handsome bisque bust of Napoleon. She said that I had admired it, and it was for my Napoleon collection. I had never seen it before. I'm acquisitive enough, that if I had seen it, I certainly would have remembered it. But I accepted it graciously. Then my first year in San Francisco, I found my stained glass window of Napoleon, and figured: "O.K. I guess I do have a Napoleon collection." So now I have dozens of books, coins, medals, wine glasses, busts, plaques, and original political cartoons. Who cudda figured?


June 18th, is also the 63rd birthday of the Kaczyński twins, the late President and the former Prime Minister of Poland. They were both short, absolutist, and both seemed -- and the survivor still seems-- to have a Napoleon complex!

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