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Napoleon's Correspondence

June 18 through 21, 1815 (22060 - 22062)

Translation Note: Our English language translations of the Correspondence are machine translated. That is, most of the work is done by a computer. This method improves our ability to translate large documents such as these by reducing the enormous amount of time usually taken for such an endeavor. The machine translations however, are not as well tailored to English, and they lack the paraphrasing which makes human translated work more pleasant to read. Readers who notice slang or colloquial words and phrases which have been missed by our system are encouraged to let us know. As the system "learns" it (hopefully) makes fewer mistakes each time. Thanks for your support! Latest text correction for this page: 4-29-98


22060. - ORDER


June 18, 1815, eleven o'clock in the morning.

Once that all the army is arranged in battle, about an hour after midday, the moment when the Emperor will give the order to the marshal Ney, the attack will start to seize the village of Mount-Saint-Jean, at the intersection of the roads, to this end, the battery of 12 of the 2nd corps and that of 6th will meet with that of the 1st corps. These twenty-four pieces of ordnance will fire on the troops from Mount-Saint-Jean, and the count d' Erlon will begin the attack, while carrying ahead his left division and supporting it, following the circumstances, by divisions of the 1st corps, 2nd corps will advance accordingly to keep in line with Count d'Erlon

The companies of sappers of the 1st corps will be ready to be barricaded at once in Mount-Saint-Jean.

According to the copy. War Depot.


Laon, June 20, 1815.


The 16th in the morning the army occupied the following positions:

The left wing, commanded by the marshal duke of Elchingen, and composed of 1st, and the 2nd corps of infantry and of 2nd of cavalry, occupied the positions of Frasnes.

The right wing, controlled by Marshal Grouchy, and composed of 3rd and 4th corps of infantry and the 3rd corps of cavalry, occupied the heights behind Fleurus.

The headquarters of the Emperor were in Charleroi, as were the imperial Guard and the 6th corps.

The left wing had the order to march on Quatre-Bras, and the line on Sombreffe. The Emperor went to Fleurus with his reserve.

The columns of Marshal Grouchy being moving saw, after having passed Fleurus, the enemy army, commanded by field-marshal Blucher, occupying the moulin de Bussy plateau to the left of the village of Sombreffe, and prolonging his cavalry far ahead on the road to Namur: His right side was in Saint-Amand and occupied this large village with great forces, having in front of it a ravine which formed his position.

The Emperor reconnoitered the force and positions of the enemy, and resolved to attack at once. It was necessary to make a change of face, the line in front while pivoting on Fleurus.

General Vandamme marched on Saint-Amand, General Gerard on Ligny and Marshal Grouchy on Sombreffe, the third division of the 2nd corps, commanded by General Girard, marched in reserve behind the corps of the General Vandamme, the Guard lined up on the height of Fleurus, as well as the cuirassiers of General Milhaud.

At three hours after midday these dispositions were completed, the division of General Lefol, forming part of the corps of General Vandamme, began first and seized Saint-Amand, from where it drove out the enemy with the bayonet. It was maintained during all the combat, with the cemetery and the bell-tower of Saint-Amand. But this village, which is very-wide, was the site of various combats during the evening; all the corps of General Vandamme was committed there, and the enemy forces engaged there were considerable.

General Girard, placed in reserve of the corps of General Vandamme, turned the village by his right and fought there with his accustomed valor. The respective forces were supported on both sides by about sixty pieces of ordnance,

On the line, General Gerard engaged with the 4th corps at the village of Ligny, which was taken and re-taken again several times.

Marshal Grouchy, at the extreme right, and General Pajol fought at the village of Sombreffe, the enemy showed from 80 to 90,000 men and a great number of artillery pieces.

At seven o'clock, we were Masters of all the villages located on the edge of the ravine which covered the position of the enemy; but this one still occupied with all his masses the plateau of moulin de Bussy.

The Emperor went with his Guard to the village of Ligny; General Gerard debouched general Pécheux with what remained to him of the reserve, almost all the troops having been committed in this village. Eight battalions of the Guard emerged with the bayonet, and behind them the four duty squadrons, the cuirassiers of General Delort, those of the General Milhaud and the grenadiers à cheval of the Guard. The old Guard approached with the bayonet the enemy columns which were on the heights of Bussy, and in an instant covered the battle field with dead. The duty squadron tackled and broke a square and the cuirassiers pushed the enemy in all the directions. At seven-thirty, we had forty artillery pieces, many wagons, standards and prisoners, and the enemy sought his safety in a precipitate retreat. At ten o'clock the battle was finished, and we were masters of all the battle field.

General Lützow was made prisoner. The prisoners ensure that field-marshal Blucher was wounded. The best of the Prussian army was destroyed in this battle. His loss cannot be less than 15,000 men; ours is of 3,000 killed or wounded men.

On the left, Marshal Ney marched on Quatre-Bras with a division which had fallen on an English division which was placed there, But, attacked by the prince of Orange with 25,000 men, part English, part Hanovriens in the pay of England, he pulled back on his position at Frasnes. There he engaged in multiple combats; the enemy endeavoured to force it , but in vain, the Duke of Elchingen awaited 1st corps, which arrived in the night; he restricted himself to hold his position. In a square attacked by 8th regiment of cuirassiers, the flag of the 69th regiment of English infantry fell into our hands, the Prince of Brunswick was killed, the Prince of Orange was wounded. It is sure that the enemy had many persons and generals of note killed or wounded. The loss of the English is given to be 4 or 5,000 men; ours, on this side, was very-considerable: it is upwards of 4,200 men killed or wounded, This combat finished in the evening, Lord Wellington then evacuated Quatre-Bras and went on to Genappe.

In the morning of the 17th, the Emperor went to the Quatre-Bras, from where he marched to attack the English army; he pushed to the entry of the forest of Soigne, with the left wing and the reserve. The right wing went by Sombreffe, against field-marshal Blucher, who moved on Wavre, where he appeared to want to place himself.

At ten o'clock in the evening, the English army, Mount-Saint-Jean occupied by its center, was in position in front of the forest of Soigne; It would have been necessary to be able to have three hours to attack it; we were obliged to postpone until the following day.

The headquarters of the Emperor was established at the stone farm close to Plancenoit. The rain fell in torrents. Thus, on the day of the 16th, the left, the right-hand side and the reserve were also committed at a distance of about two leagues.


At nine o'clock in the morning, the rain having decreased a little, the 1st corps was put in motion and placed, the left on the road to Brussels and opposite the village of Mount-Saint-Jean, which appeared in the center of the position of the enemy, the 2nd corps supported its right to the Brussels road, and his left at a small wood, within range of the English Army's cannon. The cuirassiers went in reserve behind, and the Guard in reserve on the heights. The 6th corps, with the cavalry of General Domon, under the orders of Count Lobau, was intended to go behind our right, to oppose a Prussian corps which appeared to have escaped Marshal Grouchy and with the intention to fall on our right flank, the intention which had been known to us by our reports and [by] the letter of a Prussian General that an ordinance taken by our runners carried. The troops were full of ardor.

We estimated the forces of the English army at 80,000 men; it was supposed that the Prussian corps, which could be in position about the evening, could be 15,000 men, the enemy forces were thus of more than 90,000 men; ours were fewer.

At midday, all the preparations were finished, and prince Jerome, commanding a division of the 2nd corps, intending to form the extreme left, moved on the wood of which the enemy occupied a part. The cannonade began; the enemy supported with thirty artillery pieces the troops that it had sent to hold the wood. Our ends also on our side of the provisions of artillery. At one o'clock, Prince Jerome was master of all the wood, and all the English army withdrew like a veil. Count d'Erlon attacked the village of Mount-Saint-Jean and supported his attack by eighty artillery pieces, He engaged a terrible cannonade, which did much to make the English army suffer, All the blows related to the plateau. A brigade of the 1st division of the count d'Erlon seized the village of Mount-Saint-Jean; a second brigade was charged by a corps of English cavalry, which inflicted severe losses on it, At the same moment, a division of English cavalry charged the battery with count d' Erlon on his right, and disorganized several sections; but the cuirassiers of General Milhaud charged this division, whose three regiments were broken and slashed.

It was three hours after midday. The Emperor advanced the Guard to place it in the plain, on the ground which the 1st corps at the beginning of the action had occupied, this being the corps already ahead. The Prussian division, of which we had seen the movement, then started to begin with the tirailleurs of Count Lobau, while plunging his fire on all our right flank. It was suitable to undertake nothing elsewhere, to await the result which this attack would have. To this end, all the means of the reserve were ready to go to the help of the count Lobau and to crush the Prussian corps as it advanced.

That done, the Emperor had the idea to conduct an attack by the village of Mount-Saint-Jean, [from] which we expected a decisive success; but, by a movement of impatience so frequent in our military annals, and which was often so disastrous to us, the cavalry of the reserve, seeing a retrograde movement made by the English to be safe from our batteries, of which they had already suffered, crowned the heights of Mount-Saint-Jean and charged the infantry, This movement, which, made at the time and supported by the reserves, was to decide the day, made separately and before the affairs on the right were finished, became disastrous. Not having any means to contermand, the enemy showing many masses of infantry and cavalry, and two divisions of cuirassiers being committed, all our cavalry ran at the same time to support their comrades. There, for three hours, were made many valorous charges which broke several squares and six flags of the English infantry, favors out of proportion with the losses which our cavalry [suffered] by the grapeshot and volleys. It was impossible to have our reserves of infantry until we had pushed back the flank attack of the Prussian corps. This attack was always prolonged and perpendicular to our right flank, the Emperor sent general Duhesme with the young Guard and several batteries of reserve. The enemy was contained, pushed back and recoiled; he had exhausted his forces and we did not have anything any more to fear from it. It was this moment which was indicated for an attack on the center of the enemy.

While the cuirassiers suffered from the grapeshot, we sent four battalions of the Middle Guard to protect the cuirassiers, to support the position, and, if it were possible, to disengage and keep the plain clear for our cavalry. We sent two other battalions to keep close on the extreme left of the division which had maneuvered on our flanks, in order to not have any concern there; the remainder was available in reserve, part to ocupy the crossing behind Mount-Saint-Jean, part on the plateau behind the battlefield which formed our position of retreat.

In this state of affairs, the battle was gained; we occupied all the positions which the enemy occupied at the beginning of the action; our cavalry too early and having been badly employed, we could not hope for decisive successes any more, But marshal Grouchy, having learned the movement of the Prussian corps, went on behind this corps, which ensured us a bright success for the following day. After eight hours of fire and charges of infantry and cavalry, all the army saw with satisfaction the battle gained and the field in our possesion.

At eight-thirty, the four battalions of the Middle Gard which had been sent onto the plateau beyond Mount-Saint-Jean to support the cuirassiers, being hampered by the grapeshot of the enemy, marched with the bayonet to remove his batteries, the day finished; a charge made on their flank by several English squadrons put them in disorder; the fugitives passed by the ravine; the adjoining regiments, which turned back some troops belonging to the Guard in the stampede believed that it was of the Old Guard and shook: the cries All is lost! The Guard is pushed back! were made. The soldiers even claim that at several points some malevolents shouted Save yourselves! At all events, a panic [and] fear spread all at the same time on all the battle field: they precipitated in the greatest disorder on the line of communication: the soldiers, the gunners, the caissons pressed themselves to arrive there; the old Guard which was in reserve was assailed, and itself involved.

In an instant, the army was nothing more than one confused mass, all arms in a melee, and it was impossible to reform a [single] corps. The enemy, who realized this astonishing confusion, debouched columns of cavalry; the disorder increased; the confusion of the night prevented rejoining the troops and from showing them their error. Thus a finished battle, a day's work done, errors repaired, great successes assured for the following day, was all lost by one moment of panic [and] fear. The duty squadrons even, arrayed beside the Emperor, were collapsed and disorganized by these tumultuous floods, and there was not anything to do but follow the torrent. The ready reserve, the baggages which had not passed back across the Sambre, and all that was on the battle field, fell into the hands of the enemy. There was not even the means of awaiting the troops of our line; one stumble, that is what the bravest army in the world, when it came to fight and its organization did not exist any more.

The Emperor passed the Sambre at Charleroi on the 19th, at five o'clock in the morning. Philippeville and Avesnes were given for point of meeting. Prince Jerome, General Morand and the other Generals already rejoined part of the army there, Marshal Grouchy, with the corps of the right, made his movement on the lower Sambre.

The loss of the enemy must have been very great, to judge by the flags that we took from them and by the retrograde steps that they had [made]; Ours will be able to be calculated only after the rallying of the troops, Before the burst of disorder, we had already experienced considerable losses, especially in our cavalry, so fatally and yet so bravely committed. In spite of these losses, this valorous cavalry constantly kept the position which it had taken from the English, and gave up it only when the tumult and the disorder of the battle field forced it, In the middle of the night and with the obstacles which encumbered the road, it could not preserve its organization.

The artillery, as usual, was covered with glory.

The carriages [wagons] of the headquarters had remained in their ordinary position, retrograde movement not having been considered necessary. In the course of the day, they fell into the hands of the enemy. Such was the exit of the battle of Mount-Saint-Jean, glorious for the French armies, and yet so disastrous.

[ extracts from the Monitor of June 21, 1815 ]


Elysee palace, June 21, 1815.

Mr. President, after the battles of Ligny and Mount-Saint-Jean, and after having provided for the rallying of the army at Avesnes and Philippeville, for the defense of the border places and that of the towns of Laon and Soissons, I returned to Paris to coordinate with my ministers on defense measures, and to listen to the Chambers on all that the safety of the country requires.

I formed a committee for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Carnot and the Duke of Otranto, to renew and follow negotiations with the foreign powers, in order to know their true intentions, and to put a term for the war, if that is compatible with the independence and the honor of the nation, But the greatest union is necessary, and I count on the co-operation and the patriotism of the Chambers and on their attachment to my person.

I send to the Chamber's midst, as police chiefs, prince Lucien and the Foreign Ministers, of war, the interior and the general police force, to carry this message, and to give the communications and the information which the Chamber will be able to wish.


According to the original. Files of the Legislative Corps.
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