very interesting conversations with the Duke
on the subject of the battle of Waterloo
. One of them took place in the ball-room at Devonshire House, as we stood watching the dancers.
He informed me that he had lately received a letter from a person about to write an account of the great battle, asking some information as to its details.
“I answered him,” said the Duke
, “that by comparing and studying the almost innumerable printed descriptions of the battle, English, French, and German, a man of sense could acquire a better knowledge of it at the present day than any body, even the commander-in-chief
, could get at the time, from personal observation.
Suppose any one,” he added, “should ask us to-morrow morning to describe the position and movements of all the groups of dancers in this small space before us, we should not be able to report any thing beyond what concerned a few of the more prominent personages on the floor.
Much less can any individual observation extend to the detailed movements of numerous bodies of men extended over several miles.”
If such was the modest reserve with which so consummate a chief as Wellington
habitually spoke of his personal knowledge of the details of the great event of his life — the memorable engagement fought under his own orders — how little can be expected of the most intelligent and active spectator, who necessarily occupies a post of safe observation, who is borne away in a tumultuous retreat, and writes a hurried report by the next mail!
There is reason to think that, though the United States forces engaged on the 21st of July under almost every conceivable disadvantage--(raw troops to a great extent, whose term of service was expiring, coming under fire for the first time, after a weary march beneath a blazing sun, contending on strange ground with fresh opponents sheltered by field-works, that had been in course of construction for weeks)--nothing happened beyond the average ill-luck of unsuccessful battles.
If such battles, instead of being described from carefully returned official returns, were habitually narrated in glowing newspaper reports from the first impressions of civilians who have hovered in the rear of the army, they would, I apprehend, in most cases exhibit similar scenes of panic and disorder.
After the fate of Wagram
was decided by the retreat of the Archduke Charles
, and Napoleon
had retired to rest for the night, he was roused by an alarm which seemed of the most formidable character.
The rear of his victorious army was thrown into confusion.
Artillery, baggage-wagons, stragglers, and camp followers fled in disorder toward the Danube
The plain was covered with fugitives, the entrance to the bridges was blocked up with carriages, and many, even after crossing the river, continued their flight, and never halted till they were safe within the walls of Vienna
“The alarm,” says Alison
, “spread like wildfire from rank to rank; the Guard even was shaken; the victors for a moment doubted the fate of the day. The ranks presented the appearance of a general rout, and yet the whole was occasioned by a single squadron of the Archduke John
's cavalry, which had been far advanced toward Wagram
, and seeking to regain, as he retired, the road to Presburg, had cut down some French marauders in one of the villages on the east of the field.”
Such was the effect of panic on the veterans of Napoleon
, reposing in his presence after a mighty victory!
Justly does the same historian exclaim, “Experience in every age has demonstrated, that, after the protracted excitement of a great battle, the bravest soldiers become unstrung, and at such a moment the attack of a few fresh troops often produces the most extraordinary results.
It is this which has so often chained success to the effort of a reserve in the close of an obstinately disputed day; which made Kellerman's charge at Marengo
snatch victory from the grasp of the triumphant Austrians
; and the onset of Sir Hussey Vivian
's brigade, on the flank of the old guard at Waterloo
, overthrow at once the military fabric of the French
But it will be said, Gen. McDowell
's army was not only worsted, it fled in wild disorder from the field.
I apprehend most defeated armies do that.
The Roman veterans of the army of Pompeius
did it at the battle of Pharsalia, and when those of them who had escaped to the neighboring mountain capitulated the next day, they threw down their arms, and wept as they begged for their lives.
A greater than Pompeius
was vanquished at Waterloo
; but the French
writers all but unanimously claim that they had the advantage till the arrival of the Prussian reinforcement at the close of the day. Then, says the English
historian of the battle, “the whole French army became one mass of inextricable confusion.
was like the scene of an immense shipwreck, covered with a vast mass of cannon, caissons, carriages, baggage, arms, and articles of every kind.
All the efforts of the guard to stem the flight or arrest the progress of the victors were fruitless.
They were swept away by the torrent, which streamed in resistless force over the whole plain.
Never had such a rout been witnessed in modern war. * * * * Before the pursuit ceased, from the inability of the British
through absolute exhaustion to continue it, 150 pieces of cannon, 850 caissons, and 6,000 prisoners had been captured; and of the vast French army, that morning so brilliant, not two companies were to be found together. * * The Prussians
continued the pursuit during the whole night.
Seven times the wearied French
, ready to drop down, formed bivouacs; seven times they were roused by the dreadful sound of the Prussian trumpet, and obliged to continue their flight without intermission.
Such was the fatigue, that the greatest part of the ”