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Battle of Rheims, 13 March 1814

Battle of Rheims, 13 March 1814

Battle of Rheims, 13 March 1814

The battle of Rheims (13 March 1814) was Napoleon's last significant success during the 1814 campaign, and saw his troops recapture Rheims in a night attack, briefly causing a panic amongst the Allied commanders.

Earlier in the campaign Napoleon had won a series of victories that kept the Allies off balance, defeating Blucher in the Six Days campaign around the Marne and Schwarzenberg at Mormant, Valjouen and Montereau (18 February 1814) on the Seine. His attempt to inflict more damage on Schwarzenberg's army around the Aube then failed because the Austrian was always willing to retreat if required, and so Napoleon turned north once again to deal with Blucher. Although he was able to force Blucher to retreat north of the Aisne, this part of the campaign ended with a defeat at Laon (9-10 March 1814), when Marmont's isolated wing of the French army suffered a heavy defeat. Napoleon was forced to retreat back to the Aisne.

The gap between the two main Allied armies was filled by a Russian force commanded by General St. Priest, a French emigre. He had originally been posted at St. Dizier, but on 12 March had moved north-west and taken Rheims. This placed him dangerously close to Napoleon on the Aisne, and the Emperor decided to take advantage of this mistake.

Napoleon ordered Marmont, with I Cavalry Corps, to lead the advance on Rheims, followed by the Guard cavalry, Friant's division and Boyer's brigade from the Guard, commanded by Ney.

After the capture of Rhiems St. Priest posted his Russian troops in the city and his Prussian troops in villages to the north and south of the road leading west towards Soissons. As the French advanced they ran into these Prussian troops, and won a series of fairly easy victories. The battalion at Rosnay, south of the road, retreated east to Gueux and was then forced to surrender a little further east, at Ormes. The battalions at Muizons, on the main road, and Thillois, on the same road but closer to Rheims were also surprised and were scattered.

St. Priest still didn't believe that he was facing a serious attack, but he did deploy the remaining part of his force west of Rheims, with his right on the Vesle river at Tinqueux and his left towards the village of Bezannes, where it was guarded by a stream called the Muire. The Allied army was thus on the south bank of the Vesle, while Rheims itself is on the north bank.

Marmont's forces arrived first. Napoleon decided to wait until Ney arrived, a move that helped convince St. Priest that he still only faced a small force. When the French did attack the Allies were routed. Their line was broken in half, and St. Priest was quickly forced to order a retreat. He was then mortally wounded by a salvo from the Guard Artillery, and the retreat turned into a rout. Elsewhere the French got a bridge across the Vesle, and began to threaten the Allied line of retreat north towards Laon. The surviving Allied troops fled south away from the disaster.

Napoleon entered Rheims at 1am on 14 March, and was greeted as a liberating hero. The city was lit up, and some accounts have the fighting carried out by lantern light.

The French lost around 700-800 men in this battle. The Allies probably lost 700-800 dead, 1,500-1,600 wounded, 2,500-3,500 prisoners and 11-14 guns as well as part of the Russian bridging train.

The fall of Rheims caused a brief panic in the Allied camps. Blucher withdrew back to Laon, while Schwarzenberg stopped his advance along the Aube and Seine. However Napoleon had already rejected the last Allied peace terms, so the war continued.

Despite this success the end was now near for Napoleon. His attempts to defeat the Allied armies in battle had failed to lift the threat to Paris, and so he decided to launch his armies into their rear areas, where he could join up with troops from his besieged fortresses and hopefully force Schwarzenberg and Blucher to pull back from Paris. Before moving east he attempted to inflict another defeat on Schwarzenberg by hitting what Napoleon believed to be his rearguard at Arcis-sur-Aube (20-21 March 1814). Instead, just as at Craonne and Laon, Napoleon ran into one of the main Allied armies and was luck to escape with his army intact. Only Schwarzenberg reluctance to attack on the second day of the battle saved the French from a heavy defeat. Napoleon continued with his plan, and moved east from Arcis to St. Dizier. Unfortunately for him the Allies captured a copy of his plans, and decided to ignore him. Schwarzenberg decided to head north to join up with Blucher and then head for Paris. Napoleon had left Marmont and Mortier to watch Blucher and defend Paris, but on 25 March 1814 they were defeated by Schwarzenberg at La-Fere-Champenoise. Many of Napoleon's battles earlier in the campaign had been nearer to Paris than this, but this time the Emperor wasn't present, and he was unable to intervene as the Allies advanced on his capital. Although the outnumbered defenders of Paris managed to hold the Allies up at Montmartre (30 March 1814), but that night they agreed to surrender Paris, and early on 31 March the garrison marched out and the Allies moved in. Many of Napoleon's marshals made it clear that they were no longer willing to fight on, and a few days later the Emperor abdicated for the first time.

Napoleonic Home Page | Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars


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Historical Events in 1815

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Feb 17 Treaty of Ghent ratified by the US Senate and signed by President James Madison ending War of 1812, over a month after it was signed in Europe

Event of Interest

Feb 26 Napoleon Bonaparte and his supporters leave Elba to start a 100 day re-conquest of France

    Sunday observance in Netherlands regulated by law Signing of Kandyan treaty by British invaders and Sri Lankan King US declares war on Algiers for taking US prisoners & demanding tribute Willem I proclaimed King of the Netherlands, including Belgium Napoleon enters Paris after escape from Elba, begins 100-day rule Handel & Haydn Society of Boston founded

Eruption of Mount Tambora

Apr 5 Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, has its first violent eruption after several centuries of dormancy

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Battle of Waterloo

Jun 18 Battle of Waterloo Napoleon and France defeated by British forces under Wellington and Prussian troops under Blucher

'Wellington at Waterloo', by Robert Alexander Hillingford, depicting Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, during the final confrontation against Napoleon

The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner

On a rainy September 13, 1814, British warships sent a downpour of shells and rockets onto Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, relentlessly pounding the American fort for 25 hours. The bombardment, known as the Battle of Baltimore, came only weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury and the President's house. It was another chapter in the ongoing War of 1812.

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A week earlier, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old American lawyer, had boarded the flagship of the British fleet on the Chesapeake Bay in hopes of persuading the British to release a friend who had recently been arrested. Key's tactics were successful, but because he and his companions had gained knowledge of the impending attack on Baltimore, the British did not let them go. They allowed the Americans to return to their own vessel but continued guarding them. Under their scrutiny, Key watched on September 13 as the barrage of Fort McHenry began eight miles away.

"It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone," Key wrote later. But when darkness arrived, Key saw only red erupting in the night sky. Given the scale of the attack, he was certain the British would win. The hours passed slowly, but in the clearing smoke of "the dawn's early light" on September 14, he saw the American flag—not the British Union Jack—flying over the fort, announcing an American victory.

Key put his thoughts on paper while still on board the ship, setting his words to the tune of a popular English song. His brother-in-law, commander of a militia at Fort McHenry, read Key's work and had it distributed under the name "Defence of Fort M'Henry." The Baltimore Patriot newspaper soon printed it, and within weeks, Key's poem, now called "The Star-Spangled Banner," appeared in print across the country, immortalizing his words—and forever naming the flag it celebrated.

Nearly two centuries later, the flag that inspired Key still survives, though fragile and worn by the years. To preserve this American icon, experts at the National Museum of American History recently completed an eight-year conservation treatment with funds from Polo Ralph Lauren, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Congress. And when the museum reopens in summer 2008, the Star-Spangled Banner will be its centerpiece, displayed in its own state-of-the-art gallery.

"The Star-Spangled Banner is a symbol of American history that ranks with the Statue of Liberty and the Charters of Freedom," says Brent D. Glass, the museum's director. "The fact that it has been entrusted to the National Museum of American History is an honor."

Started in 1996, the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project—which includes the flag's conservation and the creation of its new display in the renovated museum—was planned with the help of historians, conservators, curators, engineers and organic scientists. With the construction of the conservation lab completed in 1999, conservators began their work. Over the next several years, they clipped 1.7 million stitches from the flag to remove a linen backing that had been added in 1914, lifted debris from the flag using dry cosmetic sponges and brushed it with an acetone-water mixture to remove soils embedded in fibers. Finally, they added a sheer polyester backing to help support the flag.

"Our goal was to extend [the flag's] usable lifetime," says Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, the conservator for the project. The intent was never to make the flag look as it did when it first flew over Fort McHenry, she says. "We didn't want to change any of the history written on the artifact by stains and soil. Those marks tell the flag's story."

While the conservators worked, the public looked on. Over the years, more than 12 million people peered into the museum's glass conservation lab, watching the progress.

"The Star-Spangled Banner resonates with people in different ways, for different reasons," says Kathleen Kendrick, curator for the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project. "It's exciting to realize that you're looking at the very same flag that Francis Scott Key saw on that September morning in 1814. But the Star-Spangled Banner is more than an artifact—it's also a national symbol. It evokes powerful emotions and ideas about what it means to be an American."

Smithsonian photographers created this composite image of the Star-Spangled Banner in 2004 from 73 separate photographs. The flag's large size (30-by-34 feet) prevented photographers from capturing it in one image while conservators worked on it in the specially-built conservation lab. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History) Experts at the National Museum of American History recently completed an eight-year conservation treatment of the Star-Spangled Banner, which included removing a linen backing and cleaning the flag. The photo above shows a detail of the flag as it looks today. (Photo by Thomas Arledge, courtesy of the National Museum of American History) "Our goal was to extend [the flag's] useable lifetime,"says Suzanne Thomassen-Kruass, the conservator for the Star-Spangled Banner project. "We didn't want to change any of the history written on the artifact by stains and soil," she says. "Those marks tell the flag's story." The photo above shows a portion of the flag as it looks today. (Photo by Thomas Arledge, courtesy of the National Museum of American History) When the National Museum of American History reopens in summer 2008, it will include a state-of-the-art gallery for the Star-Spangled Banner, as seen in this architectural rendering. Protected by a glass wall, the banner will lie on a table, displayed according to the U.S. flag code. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History) Knowing that Fort McHenry was a likely target for the British during the War of 1812, Maj. George Armistead wanted a flag large enough so the enemy would "have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." (Courtesy of Maryland Historical Society) Maj. George Armistead commissioned Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore flagmaker, to make a 15-star, 15-stripe garrison flag in 1813 that would later be celebrated as "The Star-Spangled Banner." Pickersgill also made a smaller storm flag, likely in the same design, and received $574.44 for both pieces. (Courtesy of the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum) The Flag House in Baltimore, Maryland, is the 1793 home of Mary Pickersgill, the woman who sewed the Star-Spangled Banner. Eric Voboril, director of programs and collections at the Flag House, says, "Mary wasn't just a woman making a flag. She was a widowed woman running her own business, trying to make good in a very difficult time." (Courtesy of the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum) This 1816 print by J.Bower depicts the bombardment of Fort McHenry, known as the Battle of Baltimore. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History) "It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone," said Francis Scott Key when describing the Battle of Baltimore. The poem he composed after witnessing the bombardment in 1814 became America's national anthem in 1931. (Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD) This 1873 image is the first known photograph taken of the Star-Spangled Banner. It was made at the Boston Navy Yard on June 21, 1873. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts) The Star-Spangled Banner arrived at the Smithsonian on July 6, 1907, and was displayed and photographed at the Smithsonian Institution Building that same day. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History) On the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, 6,500 children dressed in red, white and blue formed a living flag at Fort McHenry. (Courtesy of the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum) In 1914, the Smithsonian hired Amelia Fowler to replace the canvas backing that had been added to the flag in 1873. Having worked on historic flags for the United States Naval Academy, Fowler had patented a method of supporting fragile flags with a linen support that required a honeycomb pattern of stitches. With the help of ten needlewomen, Fowler spent eight weeks on the flag, receiving $1,243 for the materials and work. (Courtesy of the National Museum of American History) The Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, features a glass window made in the exact dimensions of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry nearly 200 years ago. (Courtesy of the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum) Dressed in replica clothing of the early 19th century, the Fort McHenry Guard demonstrates its skills. (Courtesy of the National Park Service) This aerial photo shows star-shaped Fort McHenry, the location of the Battle of Baltimore on September 13-14, 1814. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)

The Flag's Beginnings

The Star-Spangled Banner's history starts not with Francis Scott Key, but a year earlier with Maj. George Armistead, the commander of Fort McHenry. Knowing that his fort was a likely British target, Armistead told the commander of Baltimore defenses in July 1813 that he needed a flag—a big one. "We, sir, are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy…except that we have no suitable ensign to display over the Star Fort, and it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance."

Armistead soon hired a 29-year-old widow and professional flagmaker, Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore, Maryland, to make a garrison flag measuring 30 by 42 feet with 15 stars and 15 stripes (each star and stripe representing a state). A large flag, but one not unusual for the time. Over the next six weeks, Mary, her daughter, three of Mary's nieces, a 13-year-old indentured servant and possibly Mary's mother Rebecca Young worked 10-hour days sewing the flag, using 300 yards of English wool bunting. They made the stars, each measuring two feet in diameter, from cotton—a luxury item at the time. Initially they worked from Mary's home (now a private museum known as the Flag House), but as their work progressed they needed more room and had to move to Claggett's brewery across the street. On August 19, 1813, the flag was delivered to Fort McHenry.

For making the Star-Spangled Banner, Mary was paid $405.90. She received another $168.54 for sewing a smaller (17 by 25 feet) storm flag, likely using the same design. It was this storm flag—not the garrison flag now known as the Star-Spangled Banner—which actually flew during the battle. The garrison flag, according to eyewitness accounts, wasn't raised until the morning.

After the Battle of Baltimore

Armistead remained in command of Fort McHenry for the rest of his life. Historians are not sure how the Armistead family came into possession of the flag, but upon Armistead's death in 1818, his wife Louisa inherited it. It is she who is thought to have sewed the red upside-down "V" on the flag, beginning the stitches for the letter "A." She is also thought to have begun the tradition of giving pieces of the flag away to honor her husband's memory, as well as the memories of the soldiers who defended the fort under his command.

When Louisa died in 1861, she passed the flag down to their daughter Georgiana Armistead Appleton over the legal objections of their son. "Georgiana was the only child born at the fort, and she was named for her father," says Thomassen-Krauss. "Louisa wanted Georgiana to have it."

The Missing Pieces

In 1873, Georgiana loaned the flag to George Preble, a flag historian who until that time had thought the flag was lost. That same year, Preble had the first known photograph of it taken at the Boston Navy Yard and exhibited it at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, where he stored it until 1876.

While the Star-Spangled Banner was in Preble's care, Georgiana allowed him to give away pieces of the flag as he saw fit. Georgiana, herself, had given away cuttings of the flag to other Armistead descendants, as well as family friends. She once noted, "[H]ad we given all that we have been importuned for little would be left to show." This family tradition continued through 1880 with Armistead's grandson giving away the last documented piece, says Thomassen-Krauss.

Several of these cuttings from the Star-Spangled Banner have been located over the years, including about a dozen that are owned by the American History Museum. "We're aware of at least a dozen more that exist in other museums and private collections," says Kendrick.

But a missing 15th star has never been found. "There's a legend that the star was buried with one of the soldiers from Fort McHenry another says that it was given to Abraham Lincoln," says Kendrick. "But no real evidence has surfaced to support these stories, and the true fate of the star remains one of the Smithsonian's great unsolved mysteries."

100 Years at the Smithsonian

After Georgiana's death, the flag passed to Eben Appleton, Armistead's grandson, who loaned it to the city of Baltimore for the 1880 sesquicentennial celebration. It then remained in a safe-deposit vault in New York City until Appleton loaned it to the Smithsonian in 1907. Five years later, he made the gift permanent, saying he wanted it to belong "to the Institution in the country where it could be conveniently seen by the public and where it would be well cared for."

When the flag arrived at the Smithsonian it was smaller (30 by 34 feet), damaged from years of use at the fort and from pieces being removed as souvenirs. Recognizing its need for repair, the Smithsonian hired Amelia Fowler, an embroidery teacher and well-known flag preserver, in 1914 to replace the canvas backing that had been added in 1873. Having worked on historic flags for the United States Naval Academy, Fowler had patented a method of supporting fragile flags with a linen backing that required a honeycomb pattern of stitches. With the help of ten needlewomen, Fowler spent eight weeks on the flag, receiving $1,243 for the materials and work.

For the next 50 years, with the exception of a brief move during World War II, the Star-Spangled Banner was displayed in what is now the Arts and Industries Building. Because of the flag's size and the dimensions of the glass case it was displayed in, the public never saw the entire flag while it was housed in this location.

That changed after architects designed the new National Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History, with space to allow the flag to hang. The Star-Spangled Banner remained in Flag Hall from 1964 until 1999, when it was moved to the conservation lab.

With the recent completion of the project, the Star-Spangled Banner will remain an icon of American history that can still be seen by the public. Says Glass, "The survival of this flag for nearly 200 years is a visible testimony to the strength and perseverance of this nation, and we hope that it will inspire many more generations to come."


Battle of Horseshoe Bend

Map of Horseshoe Bend On the morning of March 27, 1814, in what is now Tallapoosa County, Gen. Andrew Jackson and an army consisting of Tennessee militia, United States regulars, and Cherokee and Lower Creek allies attacked Chief Menawa and his Upper Creek, or Red Stick, warriors fortified in the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River. Facing overwhelming odds, the Red Sticks fought bravely yet ultimately lost the battle. More than 800 Upper Creek warriors died at Horseshoe Bend defending their homeland. This was the final battle of the Creek War of 1813-14. The victory at Horseshoe Bend brought Andrew Jackson national attention and helped elect him president in 1828. In treaty signed after the battle, known as the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creeks ceded more than 21 million acres of land to the United States. Massacre at Fort Mims On July 27, 1813, a small force of Mississippi Territorial Militia ambushed a party of Red Sticks returning from Pensacola with Spanish ammunition and supplies at Burnt Corn Creek, located near the border of what is now Conecuh and Escambia Counties. One month later, on August 30, the Red Sticks retaliated by killing 250 Creek and American settlers at Fort Mims, a stockade just north of Mobile. The Fort Mims Massacre, as it came to be known, turned the Creek civil war into a larger conflict, with U.S. forces from Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory launching a three-pronged assault into Creek territory. The governor of Tennessee appointed Andrew Jackson, a prominent state politician and militia officer, to lead a portion of the state's militia into Creek country. Jackson fought a slow and difficult campaign south along the Coosa River. In March 1814, reinforced by regular soldiers of the Thirty-ninth United States Infantry, Jackson left the Coosa with a force of 3,300 men, including 500 Cherokee and 100 Lower Creek warriors allied to the United States. He intended to attack a Red Stick refuge and defensive position in the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River. John Coffee At 6:30 on the morning of March 27, Jackson divided his army. He ordered Gen. John Coffee's force of 700 mounted riflemen and 600 allied warriors to cross the Tallapoosa about two and one half miles downriver from Tohopeka and surround the village. The 2,000 remaining men, led by Jackson, marched directly for the neck of the horseshoe and the barricade. Jackson knew that it would be difficult to attack the imposing barricade. He chose the Thirty-ninth Infantry, the most disciplined and best trained of his soldiers, to lead the assault. Before sending them forward, he decided to blow a hole in the wall with his cannon. The bombardment began at 10:30 a.m. For two hours, the guns fired iron shot at the barricade protecting the Red Sticks, who waited and shouted at the army to meet them in hand-to-hand combat. Only perhaps a third of the 1,000 warriors defending the barricade possessed a musket or rifle. Chief Menawa More than 800 Red Stick warriors were killed, with 557 counted on the battlefield and an estimated 300 shot in the river. Of Jackson's troops, 49 were killed and 154 wounded. The 350 Upper Creek women and children became prisoners of the Cherokee and Lower Creek warriors. Chief Menawa was wounded seven times but escaped the slaughter. By his own account, he lay among the dead until nightfall and then crawled to the river, climbed into a canoe, and disappeared into the darkness. Menawa remained a prominent leader in Creek society and continued to live along the Tallapoosa River until 1836, when he was forced to relocate to Indian Territory in what is today Oklahoma.

Treaty of Fort Jackson The Battle of Horseshoe Bend effectively ended the Creek War and made Andrew Jackson a national hero. He was made a major general in the U.S. Army and on January 8, 1815, defeated the British forces at the Battle of New Orleans. The battles of Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans made Jackson popular enough to be elected as the seventh president of the United States in 1828. During his presidency, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, a law providing for the removal of all the southeastern Indian tribes. A few months after Horseshoe Bend, on August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson and a gathering of Creek chiefs signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Thousands of American settlers poured into the vast ceded acreage, with much of the land becoming the state of Alabama in 1819. Today, the battlefield is preserved by the National Park Service as Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, near Dadeville.

Halbert, H. S., and T. H. Ball. The Creek War of 1813 and 1814. 1895. Reprint, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1969.


Duke of Wellington Battle of Waterloo 1815

The Duke of Wellington, born Arthur Wellesley, rose to glorious fame fighting Napoleon in the Peninsular Campaign in 1813. He was to lead the Allied forces to victory then and was able to watch Napoleon be sent into exile on Elba in 1814. He led a strong army and must have thought it a job well done. However history was about to take a different course in the Spring of 1815 when the Duke of Wellington found himself on the battlefield at Waterloo.

Napoleon’s escape from Elba

On the night of the 7th March 1815, a dispatch was received in Vienna. It announced that Napoleon had escaped from Elba the week before. By the 10th March, evading all attempts by the authorities to arrest him, Napoleon appeared at Lyons, announcing that he had come to save the French from degradation and that his ‘eagles’ once more upon the wing, would soon alight on the spires of Notre Dame in Paris.

Napoleon Leaving Elbe 26 Feb 1815 by Joseph Beaume

Napoleon returns to power

France was in a turmoil and the Revolutionary Militant was once more enthroned. The sovereigns of Europe assembled at Vienna, were outraged, they proclaimed Napoleon an outlaw, a disturber of the peace of the world. They ordered a mobilisation of the continent’s armies and appointed the Duke of Wellington to command the advance guard in the low countires, the gateway to the plains of France. He was to hold there, until the enormous armies of Russia, Austria and Prussia could reach him.

The army that had served in the Peninsular had been demobbed, so every man that could be raised from Britain was and sent to Flanders. The drums of war were beating once again.

‘The British Infantry are the best in the world, unfortunately there are not many of them’
Marshal Bugeaud

The buildup to the Battle of Waterloo looms

On the night of the 15th June, Wellington and many other important dignitaries, attended a ball in Brussels. It was apparent to many who attended that something was up. Wellington was seen engrossed in discussions, signing orders and his officers left early. By the early hours, the streets were filled by drums beating and troops gathering. They were filled with a positive air, something the locals took as a good sign. The hot summer sun beat down on the troops as they converged at the meeting point. They had walked through the beech forests and it was only upon emerging from the cover of the tree line and onto the plain that bounded the Sambre river to the north that they heard the dull thud of artillery and saw columns of smoke.

The Battle of Waterloo June 18th 1815

On the summer afternoon of June 17th 1815, Brussels was in a state of panic. The Allied troops had walked through the beech forests and it was only upon emerging from the cover of the tree line and onto the plain that bounded the Sambre river to the north that they heard the dull thud of artillery and saw columns of smoke. Napoleon had managed to cross the Sambre and get between Bulcher’s troops positioned on Wellingtons right and divide them.Divide and rule was his tactic to getting into Brussels. This, he thought, would ensure a capitulation by the Dutch and a collapse of the British government. He was certain that all would fall into his lap.

The eve of the Battle of Waterloo and confusion abounds

To the south of Brussels, the Duke of Wellington was in charge of 21,000 British troops and 42,000 German and Dutch troops, who were barring the way of 70,000 veteran troops, led by Napoleon. Fugitives from the battlefield poured into the town, each recanting a different story, Napoleon was defeated, Napoleon was victorious. The roads and waterways were jammed full of people fleeing. The roadside littered with men sporting blood soaked clothes and bandages. Rumour that Napoleon had promised his troops that they could sack the city brought terror too the women and children there. What a contrast to the city of gaiety and partying three weeks earlier. The great armies under Wellington had held the French at bay. The Prussian army of 113,000 men, had under Blucher, joined to hold the frontier from Ardennes to Charleroi. The British, Dutch, Hanoverian and Brunswick armies held the line from Mons to the North Sea under the Duke of Wellington. Never before had so many men been on the move. It is estimated that over half a million were making their way, British veterans from Spain and America, made their way to join Wellington. Their skills needed to bolster the young inexperienced troops fresh from Britain.

1816 Map of the Battle of Waterloo Battle field

It had seemed that Napoleons base was crumbling but in fact the opposite was true. Link to the map above from Australian Government digital collections to explore in more detail.

The night before the final day at the Battle of Waterloo June 18th 1815

At Quatre Bras, Marshal Ney, who had said Napoleon should be brought to Paris in a cage, was trying to defeat a weak Dutch force at the crossroads, who were preserving front line communication between the Prussians and the British Dutch alliance. It was a fierce and bloody spell of fighting in which the Picton Highlanders bravely fought and the Duke of Brunswick fell. Wellington and his men of 30,000 troops managed to hold the crossroads, he did not however manage to join Blucher in battle at Ligny against Napoleon. The 63,000 Frenchmen stood against 80,000 Prussians. There were 15,000 casualties but the Prussians managed to escape total annihilation because of incompetence in Napoleons troops. Whilst he had indeed sapped the strength of the opposing troops, the two groups had in fact managed to keep in touch. Wellington fell back towards Brussels covered by Lord Uxbridge’s cavalry and horse artillery. Wellington now concentrated his army on the ridge of Mont St Jean. Napoleon meanwhile was caught in the midst of a torrential storm and in a typically Flanders way, the troops became bogged down in the fields of Flanders.

The day of the 18th June dawned. The men were tired, wet and cold. Their weapons dirty and wet. Wellington rode down the lines, his mood positive because he knew he held the high ground quite literally and all he had to do was to continue to hold it until the remainder of Bulcher’s forces arrived in support. Wellington knew this ridge from another time when, twenty one years previously he had been part of another campaign where the ridge had held significance. If Wellington could hold the ridge he thought the allies could sweep Napoleon back to France.

The Duke of Wellington was the greatest master of defensive tactics in Europe.

He had chosen the perfect position for attack and cover. The beech forest would he decided, give his troops cover should they have to escape Napoleon. He was concerned about his troops. He was missing his regular troops, half of those under his command were foreign and unable to manoeuvre in the expected way. Some where reluctant to fight against Napoleon, others mere boys, all poorly armed. Fewer than an 1/8th of Wellington’s troops were front line seasoned men. He determined to use them wisely and despite opposition make each unit as international as possible. In a fascinating example of this Wellington wore the cockades of all the Allies in his hat and forbade the singing of ‘Rule Britannia’ at concerts. He wanted the troops to think of themselves as an international force.

The spine of Wellington’s army consisted f 21,000 regular British army soldiers, though many had not been under fire and the King’s German Legion. It was Cavalry rich, Infantry poor but what a fine spectacle it made, to see the Cavalry on fine horses ridden as for the most energetic hunt. There was little discipline amongst them though. Wellington was well supported in artillery but it was infantry he so desperately needed. He carefully manoeuvred them using them wisely. Wellington would be joined by Bulcher on his left but he felt anxious about his right and set about securing it in a defensive plan of great skill. He fortified an estate, Hougoumont, which without its position being held by him, Napoleon could not move on the right. Wellington continued to deploy his troops so that the French would have to advance through zones of fire.

Napoleon wasted no time in gathering his troops to advance. He rode amongst his troops, “Vive l’Empereur” he shouted. Napoleon was fixated on this attack, it would be revenge for all the humiliations the British had piled on him. Wellington was the only commander of might, who Napoleon had not defeated. He harangued his chief of staff

“You think him a great general! I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops and that this will be a picnic”

It is amusing that the French were hours late at their marshaling point because they were out searching for food but Napoleon was not concerned, he wanted the ground to dry out before he ventured forth. Sometime just before lunch, the first shots rang out at the estate of Hougoumont so wisely ofrtified by Wellington. The British inflicted great damage on the French in these opening gambits, attack after attack came but Wellington succeeded in keeping them off with little loss to the Allied troops. At one o’clock it had been Napoleons intention to launch his main attack but to his horror he saw the arrival of the Prussians. He had been trumped.

Castle of Hougoumont during the Battle of Waterloo

Napoleon decided to continue with the attack. He would take on the British and then deal with Bulchers Prussian troops. The French bombardment was brutal but took relatively few casualties. The French drove on, battalions driving up the hill, followed by companies of sappers. They swept upwards and outwards, driving back two companies of rifles. At the centre 8000 French troops faced one volley from hysterical Belgian troops who then turned on their heel but the British stood firm and held their fire until the French were upon them when they unleashed a volley, fixed bayonets and attacked. Lord Uxbridge lead the Household Brigade in person, the flashing red coats drove the French back into the artillery, more than 4000 were taken or cut down. Once let loose they behaved as though following the scent of a fox, they clattered into the French and were pursued to their deaths. Wellington’s Cavalry destroyed.

The Prussians were dragging their heels but Bulcher pushed the point

I have promised Wellington, you would not have me break my word

The Duke of Wellington’s brave men

The French came back again, with accurate range, the bullets found their target and Wellington withdrew his infantry. The French then did an odd thing, they attacked the ridge with cavalry, the ensuing battle was a strategic moment in the battle as discipline at last won out, the Squares held each waiting for their orders before opening fire. Wellington waited for his moment to push the French off the ridge. Like all good predators he exerted as little energy as was possible waiting for the foe to fall exhausted. Over and over again Wellington repulsed the onslaught, over and over again the French responded. At one time 9000 horses drove up the ridge to face hundreds and hundreds of dead horses and men. It was late afternoon and the stoicism of the English troops was remarkable. The men at the Hougoumont Estate showed equal courage.

It was late in the afternoon, the onslaught from the French continued but still the red coats remained standing. Napoleon however had a chance of victory as the young Prince of Orange made several tactical errors by deploying several battalions exposing them to the French cavalry. It was, potentially a point at which Napoleon could emerge victorious. His tactics and courage seemed to fail him and instead of driving home his advantage, he held back, giving Wellington time to muster all the troops he could. The Duke of Wellington was one of the only Allied leaders left standing and he took over command. The French leaders in turn, began to take the initiative and the battle became a bloodbath. So many men were falling, with the injured passing to the rear, that it seemed to many that the British were in retreat. The truth was the exact opposite and Wellington remained calm as he waited for the Prussians to come in support.

Napoleon’s secret weapons

In the early evening Napoleon launched his secret weapon, fresh battalions of the old guard. With these he took Plancenoit, a critical position. Napoleon drew alongside his troops who were inspired by his presence, calling ‘Vive ‘eEmpereur’.

Napoleon turned the Guard on the British centre but Wellington anticipated such a blow and such was his skill, narrowed the front through which the French could pass. He ordered his men to lie low until the French appeared and then sprung on them a terrible volley. There was confusion on both sides, daylight was failing, exhausted and wounded men confused by the noise, mistook orders. The men leading the battalions had to think on their feet. Daring do though, won the day, after charge and counter charge, the British line on the ridge began to advance. Wellington, his hat held aloft rode from unit to unit urging them forwards. The dying sun filtered through the smoke of the battlefield upon a retreating French army. The Old Guard fought on giving Napoleon time to escape.

The brave Lord Uxbridge caught a volley in one of the last battles of the day. He was hit in his right leg, necessitating its amputation above the knee. According to anecdote, he was close to the Duke of Wellington when his leg was hit, and exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”, to which Wellington replied “By God, sir, so you have!”

The amputation of Lord Uxbridge’s leg at Waterloo

The Duke of Wellington turned his horse towards Waterloo and the ridge he had held for the entire day of the battle. The battlefield contained the bodies of 45,000 fallen men, 15,000 British troops lay on the Flanders field.

Aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo

Three weeks after the battle the British army entered Paris, ironically 400 years after they had last done so, after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Napoleon had fled. The British did not see themselves as victors. They did not subjugate the French as the Prussians, Russians and Austrians did. They treated French property and people with respect. The British had put down tyranny abroad and now needed to turn their attention back to their home country as the victory against the French was short lived in the reality of its aftermath. The National Army Museum have launched Waterloo 200, to commemorate the 200 year anniversary.

The Massacre of Waterloo


Historical Events in 1811

    President Madison prohibits trade with Britain for 3rd time in 4 years Austria declares bankruptcy Egyptian king Muhammad Ali Pasha oversees ceremonial murder of 500 French Civil Code of Criminal law accepted by Netherlands Mamelukes in Cairo's Citadel Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from the University of Oxford for his publication of the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism 1st US colonists on Pacific coast arrive at Cape Disappointment, Washington Paraguay gains independence from Spain (National Day) Peninsular War: Allies defeat French at Albuera Battle of Las Piedras: The first great military triumph of the revolution of the Río de la Plata in Uruguay lead by Jose Artigas

Venezuela Declares Independence

Jul 5 Venezuelan Declaration of Independence: 7 provinces declare themselves independent of Spain

Historic Publication

Jul 11 Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro publishes his memoir on the molecular content of gases

    Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, leader of the Mexican insurgency, is executed by the Spanish in Chihuahua, Mexico

Victory in Battle

Sep 18 British East India Company force led by Baron Minto conquers Java, part of the Dutch East Indies, Stamford Raffles appointed lieutenant governor

Event of Interest

Oct 6 French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte visits Utrecht


Fort Mims Battle and Massacre

Massacre at Fort Mims On August 30, 1813, a force of about 700 Creek Indians destroyed Fort Mims, in present-day Baldwin County, killing 250 defenders and taking at least 100 captives, in the first major battle of the Creek War of 1813-14. Some 400 American settlers, U.S.-allied Creeks, and enslaved African Americans had taken refuge inside a stockade hastily erected on the plantation of Samuel Mims, a wealthy resident of the Tensaw District of the Mississippi Territory. The Creek attack on Fort Mims, and particularly the killing of civilian men, women, and children at the end of the battle, outraged the U.S. public, thus prompting military action against the Creek Nation, which controlled what is now much of modern Alabama. Tenskwatawa The Creek men who carried out the massacre were members of the Red Stick faction (named for the red wooden war clubs they carried), followers of Shawnee leaders Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) and his brother Tecumseh, who advocated death to any Indians who allied with the Americans and preached adherence to traditional Indian practices. In mid-1813, as the Creek Nation disintegrated in civil war, the Red Sticks determined to destroy a community of Creeks who had established plantations in the Tensaw District and had taken refuge at Fort Mims. A force of 700 Red Sticks, led by William Weatherford, Far-off Warrior (Hopvyç Tustunuke), and the prophet Paddy Walsh, rushed through the fort's open gate at noon. Half of the surprised, 100-man garrison of Mississippi Territorial Volunteers died with their commander, Maj. Daniel Beasley, in the first few minutes of battle. Capt. Dixon Bailey, a Creek, and his 45 American and Creek militiamen repelled the Red Stick onslaught and for four hours successfully defended hundreds of civilians huddled inside the flimsy, one-acre stockade. Only when the attackers set the fort's buildings ablaze with burning arrows did resistance collapse. Fort Mims State Historic Site The Red Sticks' assault on Fort Mims ranks as one of the great successes of Indian warfare. The massacre of civilians, however, rallied American armies under the cry "Remember Fort Mims." The ensuing Creek War culminated in a decisive victory for U.S. forces in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814, and the Creek Nation's subsequent cession of over 21 million acres of land to the U.S. in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Continuing outrage surrounding the massacre contributed to the eventual forced removal of Creeks and other Indians from the Southeast in the 1830s.

The site of the conflict is commemorated at the Fort Mims State Historic Site, which features a restored blockhouse and well and reconstructed stockade. The park is managed by the Alabama Historical Commission and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Halbert, Henry S., and Timothy H. Ball. The Creek War of 1813 and 1814. Edited by Frank L. Owsley Jr. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.


Battle of Horseshoe Bend

In the early 1800s, the Upper Creek Indians (the Red Sticks) of present-day Georgia and Alabama were deeply troubled by the continuing encroachment of white settlers onto their lands. Tribal leaders counseled restraint and also urged neutrality in the developing rift between the United States and Britain. In 1811, however, the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh visited the southern tribes and urged formation of a confederation to end the diminishment of Indian lands and ways of life. He won many ardent supporters among the younger warriors. When war erupted in 1812, a series of raids was launched against frontier farms and settlements, and losses were heavy. This regional sidelight to the War of 1812, known as the Creek War (1813-14) located in Attalla, reached crisis proportions in August 1813. Fort Mims, a small outpost north of Mobile, was overrun warriors ignored pleas for restraint from their leader Red Eagle (also known as William Weatherford) and slaughtered more than 300 settlers and militia men. Word of the "Fort Mims Massacre" was received by the ailing Andrew Jackson in Nashville. He was recuperating from a gunshot wound suffered in a brawl with Thomas Hart Benton. Jackson managed to raise a Tennessee militia force of more than 2,000 men and supplemented it with another 1,000 Lower Creek and Cherokee warriors. Beginning in the fall of 1813, Jackson's ill-trained force engaged the enemy in a series of indecisive battles. He stiffened the spines of his unreliable soldiers by executing several men who had panicked under fire. That action exerted an immediate salutary effect on the militia, but it would later be used by his critics in a number of political campaigns. The campaign's conclusive battle was fought on March 27, 1814. It occurred near an Upper Creek village on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Tallapoosa River near present-day Alexander City, Alabama. Jackson permitted the native women and children to cross the river to safety before he attacked. Then his men nearly wiped out the enemy force. Jackson wrote later that the carnage was "dreadful." The Upper Creek lost more than 550 killed, while Jackson's combined forces lost only 49. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was significant in several ways:

  • The power of the Upper Creek was broken and the brief Creek War came to a close. The tribe was forced to relinquish more than 23 million acres of their homeland and move farther west. Unfortunately for them, their suffering was not over they would be pushed into the present western areas of Arkansas and Tennessee, and finally in the 1830s to Oklahoma, a land that held no appeal for their starkly diminished numbers.
  • Extremely rich lands taken from the tribes in Georgia and Alabama were quickly opened to white settlers. The area rapidly became a prime source of cotton, the engine of the Southern economy, and helped to revive the flagging institution of slavery.
  • Jackson's reputation began to take on legendary status during the Creek War. When his militia unit was disbanded, he received a commission as a major-general in the U.S. Army. Without authorization, he led his forces across the international boundary into Florida and seized a Spanish fort at Pensacola (November 1814). His superiors were infuriated, but the frontiersmen roared their approval. Soon thereafter, Jackson achieved national fame in a heralded victory over the British at New Orleans (January 1815).

The Bombardment

At sunrise on September 13, the British ships in the harbor began to shell Fort McHenry. Sturdy vessels, called bomb ships, carried large mortars capable of tossing aerial bombs. And a fairly new innovation, Congreve rockets, were fired at the fort.

The "rocket's red glare" mentioned by Francis Scott Key in "The Star-Spangled Banner" would have been the trails left by the Congreve rockets fired from British warships.

The military rocket was named for its developer, Sir William Congreve, a British officer who was fascinated by the use of rockets for military purposes encountered in India.

The Congreve rockets are known to have been fired at the Battle of Bladensburg, the engagement in the Maryland countryside that preceded the burning of Washington by British troops.

One factor in dispersing the militiamen in that engagement was their reputed fear of the rockets, which had not been used before against Americans. While the rockets were not terribly accurate, having them fired at you would have been terrifying.

Weeks later, the Royal Navy fired Congreve rockets during the attack on Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The night of the bombardment was rainy and very cloudy, and the trails of the rockets must have been a spectacular sight.

Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer involved in a prisoner exchange who became an eyewitness to the battle, was obviously impressed by the rockets and incorporated the "rocket's red glare" into his poem. Though they became legendary, the rockets had a little practical impact during the bombardment.

In the fort, American troops had to patiently wait out the bombardment, as the fort's guns did not have the range of the Royal Navy's guns. However, at one point some British ships sailed closer. American gunners fired upon them, driving them back.

It was later said that the British naval commanders expected the fort to surrender within two hours. But the defenders of Fort McHenry refused to give up.

At one point British troops in small boats, equipped with ladders, were spotted approaching the fort. American batteries on shore opened fire on them, and the boats quickly retreated back to the fleet.

Meanwhile, British land forces were unable to make any sustained attack upon the fort.

On the morning of September 14, 1814, the Royal Navy commanders realized they could not force the surrender of Fort McHenry. And inside the fort, the commander, Major Armistead, had raised an enormous American flag to clearly demonstrate that he had no intention of surrendering.

Running low on ammunition, the British fleet called off the attack and began to make plans to withdraw. The British land forces had also been retreating and marching back to their landing spot so they could row back to the fleet.

Inside Fort McHenry, casualties were surprisingly low. Major Armistead estimated that about 1,500 British bombs had exploded over the fort, yet only four men in the fort had been killed.

The flag-raising on the morning of September 14, 1814, became legendary as an eyewitness to the event, Maryland lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key, wrote a poem to express his joy at the sight of the flag still flying on the morning after the attack.

Key's poem was printed as a broadside soon after the battle. And when the Baltimore newspaper, the Patriot and Advertiser, began publishing again a week after the battle, it printed the words under the headline, "The Defense of Fort McHenry."

The poem, of course, became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner," and officially became the national anthem of the United States in 1931.


Watch the video: The commemoration of - The Battle of the Imjin RiverGloucester UK (December 2021).