As evening approached on June 18, 1815, the Allied forces were repelling the attack of the French Imperial Garde in the center and the Prussian forces had arrived from the east.
They decided Wellington’s troops should rest up, bury the dead, and then come toward France. The Prussians, relatively fresh, would pursue the French army.The two victorious generals met and agreed the Prussians woould continue to pursue the French troops south toward France. The Allied troops would bury the dead, treat the wounded, rest up and catch up soon. Neither man probably realized that for the most part, Napoleon was finished and they would be taking over Paris in weeks.
In the evening of the 18th, Prussian troops captured Napoleon’s carriage which he had to abandon and flee on horseback. Later the carriage was displayed in London where it was a famous attraction; it later was part of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, but was destroyed in a fire there in 1925.
Perhaps no one would have predicted it was, for all practical purposes, over – or would be in a couple of weeks. There was resistance and further fighting, but it was minimal, on a Napoleonic scale, that is.
The Duke of Wellington rode through the carnage back to his headquarters in the village of Waterloo where he would write his despatch to Lord Bathurst in London declaring victory. Later the Duke of Wellington said, “I hope to God I have fought my last battle…I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”
This painting by Turner was created after he toured the battlefield and sketched the scene. It emphasizes the tragedy of so many deaths, so many lost forever. It was the first battle in which Napoleon faced Wellington, and for both men, indeed their last military battle. The Battle of Waterloo left 9,500 dead; 32,000 wounded.
One of Wellington’s ADCs, Fitzroy Somerset (1788-1855), had his right arm amputated. Before they carried off the arm, he demanded to have the ring his wife (one of the Duke’s nieces) had given him removed from the lost hand. He learned to write with his left hand and was a secretary to Wellington for many years. He was named 1st Baron Raglan in 1852 and led the British Army in the Crimean War. He died before the Allied victory at Sevastopol was complete, partly of depression over criticism of his conduct of the war.
for more relics from Waterloo 200, click here
One of the gruesome aspects was the collection of the teeth. It was done after every battle in those days, as the teeth were valuable and much better than most false teeth – for many years, dentists advertised Waterloo Teeth.
After meeting with Blücher, the Duke returned to the village of Waterloo and wrote his despatches to Lord Bathurst and the Prince Regent. When the despatches were ready, on June 19, Wellington asked Major Henry Percy, either (according to which account you believe) the only unwounded ADC or the least-wounded of the eight ADCs Wellington had on June 18, to take the despatches and the captured Eagle standards and flags to London.
Percy got a chaise to the port of Ostend and embarked on the brig HMS Peruvian. Some accounts tell of the becalmed ship and the completion of the voyage by rowing – the Captain James White RN and Percy, with several other sailors, taking the oars themselves. From their landing at Broadstairs, Kent, about 3 pm on June 21, Percy hurried to London, changing horses at Canterbury, Sittingbourne, and Rochester. At first he could not find Lord Bathurst or Prime Minister Lord Liverpool. But with the French Eagles of the 45th and 105th sticking out of the windows of the carriage, they soon attracted a crowd, following them and cheering.
According to most accounts, the excited crowds following Percy’s mad dash around London were heard by those at the party. When the disheveled Percy, still in blood-stained uniform, came inside and laid the Eagles at the Regent’s feet, the Prince immediately promoted him to Colonel Percy. The Prince Regent withdrew to read the despatches and returned in tears at the carnage, but elated at the victory.
As the party dispersed without the planned dancing or supper, Mrs. Boehm was said to have observed that it would have been much better to have waited until after the party to present the despatches. No one else agreed of course. Mr. Boehm later died bankrupt. Mrs. Boehm lived out her life in a Grace and Favor apartment at Hampton Court.
Major, now Colonel Percy, retired in 1821, and became a member of the House of Commons in 1823; however, he died only a year later, age 40.
Among the many legends that have grown around the Battle of Waterloo, perhaps none is more controversial and even inflammatory than the story of the Rothschild fortune – or lack of it. Some versions say that banker Nathan Rothschild, who had been providing gold to the British government through his network of relatives in banking houses on the continent, learned about the Waterloo victory before anyone else in London and made a killing in stocks and/or bonds by buying low when hopes were dim and selling high when victory had been secured. Various versions of the story have him gaining the knowledge from his company spies at the exiled entourage of Louis XVIII, another that he communicated with the continent by carrier pigeon. Many other researchers claim all such stories are bunk, inspired by jealousy and anti-Semitism, even fueled by Nazi propaganda during WWII. A careful study of the variable rates in British markets of the immediate period around Waterloo would prove no one made a killing in stocks, consols, or bonds of any kind, many conclude.
To read the official publication of the Despatch in the London Gazette, click here.