With Napoleon defeated, the
British were looking forward to peace after nearly 28 years of war with France.
However, Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26th February, 1815, and was
soon back in Paris as Emperor with the support of most of the French
population. The Allies (Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria) began assembling
an army to deal with him, but it was a slow process. The 2nd
Battalion was sent to Belgium in May with the 2nd Guards Brigade to
join Wellingtonís army.
On the 15th June, 1815,
Napoleon launched a surprise attack across the border at Charleroi heading for
Brussels where Wellington had his headquarters. Wellington was taken
completely by surprise but he deployed his troops and awaited developments.
On the 16th,
Napoleon attacked and defeated a Prussian army at Ligny, but Blucher, the
Prussian Commander, withdrew to Wavre so that he was in a position to support
Wellington. In the meantime, Napoleon had ordered Marshal Ney to capture the
strategic crossroads at Quatre Bras. At the time of the attack, Quartre Bras
was defended by only 8,000 Dutch and Belgian troops, but they held on until the
afternoon when British reinforcements began to arrive. The two Guards Brigades
were dispatched, and the 2nd Battalion marched 26 miles in thirteen
hours arriving at 1700hrs, where they were immediately sent into action. By
nightfall the French were outnumbered and Quartre Bras was secure.
The next day, Wellington
ordered his troops at Quartre Bras to return to his defensive position on the
ridge of Mont St Jean which was three miles south of the village of Waterloo.
Soon after arriving at about 1900hrs, the Light Companies of the two guards
Brigades were ordered forward to occupy the farm and orchard of Hougoumont. The
Light Companies were the last to arrive and were the most exhausted.
The Coldstream Light
Company occupied Hougoumont itself, whilst the Third Guardís Company occupied
the large garden and area surrounding the farm. The Light Companies of the
First Guards occupied an orchard 500 yards to the east. Soon after
arriving, some French cavalry appeared hoping to seize the position
but they were seen off with a few volleys of musket fire. The night was
spent preparing the position for defence by building barricades, making
fire-steps and loopholes. However, the North Gate was kept open to
enable the position to be re-supplied.
Hougoumont was on the
extreme right of the British line, and approximately halfway between the
opposing armies. It was vital that it was held
otherwise the British flank
could have been turned and any escape to the coast would have been cut off.
The battle began at
approximately 1130hrs. Napoleon intended that the attack on Hougoumont was
only to be a diversion. He hoped that Wellington would send
reinforcements from his main position and so weaken the centre of his line.
The first attack was easily beaten off but the French commander, Napoleonís
brother, Jerome, was determined to prove his worth and kept on attacking.
The French launched attack after attack against the South Gate, but it was
never forced. Wellington declined to
troops from his main line thus thwarting Napoleonís plans.
The French next attacked to
the west of the farm where the open ground was held by the Third Guards. They
were overwhelmed and forced to retire through the North Gate pursued by the
French. Despite trying to shut the gate, between 50 and 100 Frenchmen forced
their way through. These men were eventually all killed less one unarmed
Drummer Boy who was spared. More Frenchmen were trying to force their way in
and Lieutenant Colonel Macdonell called on three Coldstream officers to help him
close the gates, they were joined by Cpl James Graham (later promoted to Sgt for
his bravery) and his brother Joseph, also a Corporal, and four men from the
Third Guards. Between them they managed to close the North Gate and secure it.
The rest of the 2nd
Battalion were posted on the main position on the hill. While two companies
remained there with the colours, the remainder of the Battalion were sent down
to Hougoumont to clear the French from near the walls. They then joined the
defenders of Hougoumont.
At about 1300hrs, Napoleon
started his attack against the rest of Wellingtonís troops advancing a force of
18,000 men against the British centre. This attack was repulsed by a British
cavalry charge. Napoleon then fired incendiary shells at Hougoumont and set the
place on fire.
Marshal Ney launched the
first of two French cavalry charges but the British formed squares and the
French were unable to break them and finally withdrew. The fact that Hougoumont
remained in British hands helped to defeat the cavalry attacks as they were
able to fire into their flanks. This forced the cavalry to bunch and so
presented an easier target for the British artillery.
The climax to the battle
came at 1930hrs. With the arrival of the Prussian troops on Napoleonís right
flank, he had to either withdraw or commit his reserves for one last desperate
attack. He opted for attack and sent in the so-far-invincible Imperial Guard
against the centre of the Allied line. The attack failed and they were forced
At Hougoumont neither side
was aware of the fate of the Imperial Guard and the exhausted men battled on
until the Allied line advanced up to them and drove the French off.
The Coldstream lost 348 of
all ranks, whilst the Third Guards lost 236. Of approximately 6,000 Allied
troops who were at some stage involve in the defence of Hougoumont, some 1,500
became casualties while the French lost more than 5,000.
The events at Hougoumont
are amongst the greatest achievements of the Regiment and Sergeant Grahamís
bravery is still commemorated to this day by the ceremony of Hanging the Brick
which is carried out by the Sergeantsí Mess every December, where ever they are
His defeat at Waterloo
finally marked the end of Napoleon. He was exiled to the island of St Helena
where he remained until his death many years later.
Hougoumont Farm NOW (a)
Hougoumont Farm NOW (b)
The plaque at Hougoumont Farm
The Capstar at Hougoumont Farm