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Half-yearly Examinations at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst 555
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'UNITED SERVICE JOURNAL.
THE CRISIS AT WATERLOO.
MAJOR GAWLER'S ANSWER TO SIR HUSSBY VIVIAN'S “ REPLY," &c.
Belfast, Aug. 3, 1833. I felt much regret at being prevented, by some of those unavoidable occupations to which military men in active employment are subject, from replying in the last Journal to your objections. Like regret in many other cases, however, this I believe had no just foundation; for the subject at issue is not of a nature that interest in it should fade in a month, and the delay enables me to be more sure that I continue to adhere to a resolution, with which I, from the first, set out, of advancing neither assertion nor argument without good grounds and careful consideration.
The accuracy of your account of the movements and charges of your own brigade, allowing for those minor misconceptions from which, under such circumstances, no man can be surely exempt, I will not presume to question. No one then present can have a better, and few 80 good a claim to correctness on those points as yourself. I therefore gladly receive your details, as far as they are positively defined, as valuable additions to the history of Waterloo ; and will take the liberty of turning them to advantage in a future corrected account of the crisis and close. But while admitting, almost without a doubt, the correctness of your narrative of facts, I must dispute, to a great extent, the justice of your inferences; for while in matters of fact our narratives may be shown to be in almost complete accordance, in matters of inference, they certainly are at almost as complete variance; and having made public both facts and inferences, I am bound to defend either, without respect of persons, against all assailants, as far as I continue to believe them to be consistent with truth.
The paramount feature of inference, in which your reply differs from my account is this : You conceive, that the crisis of Waterloo extended to the British altack upon the French position * ; while I describe the crisis us terminaling with the last repulse of the French from the British position. In pursuing this question, it is of course essential
• " When I had fully quitted the position, and was probably about midway towards thal of the enemy," is your description of the ground on which the 6th brigade formed for its first charge.-U. S. Journ., p.316.
U.S. JOURN, No. 58. Sept. 1833.
never to lose sight of the fact, that, like the concluding scenes of every other well-fought field, those of Waterloo fell under one or the other of two perfectly distinct periuds ;—under that of the crisis, which, as to the result of the action, is the climax of doubt; or under that of the close, the immediately consequent period of certainty. Now, of all the numerous accounts of the action and portions of the action which have come before the public, until your reply, there never, I think, was one which questioned the fact that victory was certain to the allies from the moment the Imperial Guard was fairly beaten off the British position : all, of course, at the same time admitting that the extent of the destructive effects of that victory upon the French army was not established for some hours afterwards. You yourself, while holding forward the inference that the certainty of victory was not established until after the charges of two regiments of the 6th brigade of cavalry *, do not advance a single argument to prove that at the commencement of these charges, victory, absiractedly as victory, was at all doubtful, and your own narrative exhibits conclusive evidence of the opposite fact.
Your charges commenced not from the rear, or from the summit, or from the slope of the British position ; from these the charge of Adam's brigade had already driven the enemy; but it commenced from about midway between the two positions-(this is an important statement of yours, " about midway towards that of the enemy")—and, as the valley between was not more than 500 yards across, the troops upon whom the charges were directed must have been on the first rising of the French position, (about in the line of the squares of the Old Guard, though probably much to their left,) not making any effort to restore the battle, but employed solely in covering the retreat. The remains of the enemy's cavalry your brigade gallantly dispersed, the artillery they took, and the columns of infantry which were not attacked, attempted no forward movement, but hastily retired from the field-it must be supposed, for nothing more is heard of them until half a mile farther to the rear they are charged by Vandeleur's brigade ; and you cross and recross the ground with but two or three attendants.f. And 80 certainly at that time was retreat the object of the whole French army, that after the first charge of your leading regiment of hussars, when a portion of it, in full success pushing forward rapidly beyond the ground at which the charge commenced, was thrown under the fire of a square of the Old Guard farther to the rear than La Belle Alijance, and half a mile in a direct line from the summit of the British positioni;
* After quoting my account of the conclusion of the charge of the 52d upon the qolumus, of the Imperial Guard, you observe" Here, you say, ended the battle (my word is crisis) of Waterloo : the subsequent movements were only directed to complete the victory.... but I must beg to put in a few words for the troops engaged in what subsequently took place,"—directly implying that you wish to extend the crisis to their subsequent charges, and your other principal arguments have certainly the same object.
" I had with me only an orderly dragoon, and two other men of the 18th.”U. S. Journ., p.317.
1 " The square retired by descending into the hollow road....and then proceeded up it until it reached the high road beyond La Belle Alliance."--U S. Journ., p. 318. An attentive consideration of the plau in the July Number of the U. S. Journal, with
even that square was engaged in making its retreat, and even at that distant point, a regiment of red-coated infantry was coming close upon it in full pursuit.
The period which I have set apart as the crisis, the climax of uncertainty, is of a different character from that in which your earliest charge was made. It cannot be said that victory was certain to the allies, when 10,000 fresh and fine grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, seconded by 6000 of the 1šť corps, and supported by as many more of the 2d, pressed desperately up the centre of the face of a position, on the whole length of which stood, I have said 35,000 men, but you say 10,000 less,—"a mere handful,” the greater part of them thoroughly exhausted soldiers or very indifferent auxiliaries.
It cannot be said that victory was certain to the Allies, when a portion of the allied force gave way before the fury of this attack, and when, at a point defended only by Maitland's and Halkett's exhausted brigades, (the first reduced to the numbers of a weak battalion, and the latter to those of a few companies,) the headmost grenadiers of the Guard gained the summit of the British position, and, still unchecked, pressed desperately forward, with deafening shouts of " Vive l'Empereur ! Vive Napoleon !”
But, on the contrary, when emerging from the reverse cover of the British position, the 52d, with 900 bayonets, covered by the 71st, with 700 more, had wheeled up upon the flank of these desperate mass
esses, had poured in a most destructive fire, had charged, broken, and driven them, with those who seconded them, in one wild mingled mass of confusion, across the whole front of attack to the rear of La Haye Sainte, and when the greater part of the French army, panic-struck at the event, was seen on the face of their position, cavalry, infantry, and artillery intermingled, and rushing in similar confusion to gain the chaussée to Genappe ;-then, indeed, as to the abstract question of victory, the period of doubt had completely passed away, it was unchangeably certain to the Allies, and so decided in its character, that even from that moment confidence might have assumed the place of expectation in proclaiming that the sun of Napoleon had set for ever with the sunset of Waterloo.*
I hold, therefore, that there are still unshaken grounds for maintaining the passage- -" Thus ended the grand crisis of Waterloo. From this period the success of the Allies was established beyond a doubt; and their subsequent movements were only directed to complete the victory."
This is the essential point of difference between us. Compared with it, all others sink into insignificance. For you yourself have declared that the charges of your brigade were subsequent to the events which I have marked out as the crisis. You yourself have admitted that those events may have taken place as I have described themt; and that if regard to the road you describe, will, I think, bring conviction that the square charged by the 10th is very near its proper place, and you do not dispute it.
* It appears to me, on consideration, that in the Narrative the time was given a quarter of an hour too early, and that the sun really set during the repulse of the Imperial Guard. I do not say this to make a coincidence, but a correction,
† “ Nor do I pretend at all to interfere with (excepting to correct what appears to me an error in distance) your statement as regards the attack of the 52d, immediately in advance of La Haye Sainte.”—Page 317.
they did indeed comprehend the crisis, that, certainly, the glorious close of the victory is, in a very great measure, to be attributed to the 5:20 regiment * Begging you, therefore, to observe and bear in mind, constantly the comparative insignificance of all the other points which you impugn, I proceed to examine these also.
To the narrative of the movements of Adam's brigade in the period which I have marked out as the crisis, you make two, and but two objections. These are on very secondary points, and arise almost entirely from inference.
You object to the passage, “the headmost companies of the Imperial Guard crowned the very summit of the position." Your grounds of objection are, not that you saw the head of the column of the Imperial Guard, and that it was repulsed before it reached the summit; but that, in front of your own brigade, the French did not crown the summit; and that, on the next day, the mass of the enemy's dead and dying lay below the crest. With regard to the first ground of objection, the extreme right of your brigade was probably 300 yards to the left of the point at which the Imperial Guard attacked, and the smoke was intensely thickt; it is therefore quite conceivable, that the Imperial Guard may have stood on the very summit, and not have been perceptible to you. In front of the 6th brigade, those of the enemy who beat back the Nassau troops upon your horses' heads, must, at the least, have been very close upon the summit; and it is possible that, on portions even of this front, some may actually have reached it without coming under your personal observation.
With regard to the second ground of objection, I quite agree with you that the mass of the enemy's dead and dying lay below the crest; and when you say further, that a few French infantry lay within our line, we are still at agreement, and you support the very fact against which you appear to be objecting : for the course of our line was rather in rear, than in front of the summit; and I think it will not be contested, that between the two great roads, the Imperial Guard and the crowd of skirmishers which went with it, penetrated at the least as far, as any infantry during the day. I have not stated that many fell on the summit: those who attained it were engaged in flank with the left companies only of the 52d, and began very soon to give ground to the right and rear. What also in other places would be called many, might, on such a field, appear a few. I did not see the head of the imperial column, but officers and men who were on the left of the 52d have been decided in the assertion, that it really crowned the summit of the position, so that the left flank of the regiment, stationed as it was behind the summit, was almost turned when the order was given to advance. My attention on the right was principally attracted by the
“ With respect to the inferences you have drawn, as indeed with anything you have stated, I have little to say, excepting only as regards the 6th brigade of avalry:"—Page 320.
* “If so, certainly the glorious close of that victory was, in a very great measure, (taking your account of the movements of the 52d to he correct,) to be attributed to that regiment."- Page 315.
+ “The smoke at this moment was so dense on the side of the hill, that it was scarcely possible to see ten yards before us."-Page 313.