Napoleon Bonaparte


Waterloo and Saint Helena

Summary Waterloo and Saint Helena


Declared an outlaw by the Congress of Vienna, Napoleon did what he always did when he was in trouble: he went on the offensive. With his newly raised army, he attacked Belgium, where the British and Prussian armies were camped. His hope was that he could separately destroy these armies before the Russians and Austrians arrived. The British army was commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army was commanded by Marshal Gebhard Blucher. The French army engaged the Prussians first at Ligny, on June 16, 1815. The battle was indecisive, and both sides regrouped.

Napoleon decided next to attack the English, then at Waterloo, a village near Brussels. On June 18 1815, the British, aided by the Prussians, defeated Napoleon for the last time. Their victory signaled the end of a more-than-ten- year period filled with battles largely instigated by Napoleon. Napoleon's Hundred Days were rapidly coming to an end.

Napoleon abdicated on June 22, 1815, hoping that his son would rule France. He tried to board a ship for the United States, but the British Navy foiled him again, preventing any ships from leaving the port where Napoleon intended to embark from. Napoleon, afraid of execution at the hands of a restored Louis XVIII, then asked the British to protect him. He hoped to perhaps go back to Elba, where he had been reasonably happy. But Britain would never make that mistake again, and sent him to the remote island of Saint Helena, in the South Pacific. Napoleon protested his sentence wildly, but there was nothing he could do. On October 15, 1815, Napoleon left for the South Atlantic. Only a handful of friends accompanied him this time.

On Saint Helena, Napoleon lived at Longwood Manor, previously home to the lieutenant governor of the island. The former emperor was given freedom to move about, although he had to be accompanied by an English officer at all times. Napoleon became depressed, usually slept late and never went outdoors. He worked on his memoirs, called the Memorial de Sainte-Helena. His life was fairly boring, especially for someone who had lived as exciting an existence as Napoleon. With no hope of a return to Europe, he lived out his last years in a reclusive existence following a very repetitive daily routine.

By 1817, Napoleon's health was declining, and he wrote a will requesting that his ashes be strewn on the banks of the Seine, "in the midst of the French people which I have loved so much." Napoleon died on May 5, 1821.


At Waterloo, Napoleon had 72,000 troops, Wellington commanded 68,000 troops, and Blucher 45,000. The ground was muddy on the day of the battle, and Napoleon made the critical mistake of waiting for the ground to dry before attacking Wellington's forces in the afternoon. This delay allowed Blucher's forces to reach Waterloo in time to make a difference in the outcome of the battle. While the French made assault after assault on the British, they were slow to make progress, and Blucher's Prussians advanced against the French army's eastern flank. Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon's best commanders, orchestrated a combined attack of soldiers and artillery, and came very close to breaking Wellington's line. However, Napoleon could not reinforce Ney's attack, since he was forced to divert a large number of troops from fighting the British, including his crack Imperial Guard, in order to face the Prussians. In the confusion, the French army was overrun, and fled in disorder. 25,000 French soldiers died, while 8,000 were taken prisoner. 15,000 British and 7,000 Prussians died. Napoleon reportedly joined one of his retreating regiments, dismounted, and walked among them, weeping that France had lost and that he had not been killed in the battle. Napoleon's military career was over.

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