last action of the Napoleonic Wars, ending with the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon I, who escaped from Elba in Feb., 1815, and entered Paris on Mar. 20, soon faced a European coalition. His only hope lay in attacking before the enemy could combine to attack him, although he could count on only about 125,000 men in the immediate future. His plan was to destroy the British and Prussian forces under Wellington and Blücher on the northern frontier, before dealing with the Austrians and Russians under Prince Schwarzenberg then gathering on the eastern frontier. To effect this, he decided to concentrate his forces near Charleroi, between Blücher's force of about 120,000 and Wellington's of about 93,000, and thus prevent their junction. Setting out for the front on June 12, he seized Charleroi while the allies still believed he was in Paris, and he defeated Blücher at Ligny (June 16). Assuming that the Prussians were retreating toward their base in Namur, he detached Grouchy
with 33,000 men to pursue them. Meanwhile, Marshal Ney was battling Wellington at Quatre Bras
; Napoleon now turned to his assistance, and Wellington, though victorious, was compelled to retreat toward Brussels. Wellington took up a strong position S of Waterloo, between Mont-Saint-Jean and Belle-Alliance, and awaited attack. On June 18, about noon, Napoleon began a massed attack against the British center, but the British stemmed the tide until the overdue arrival, late in the day, of the Prussian forces, who had eluded Grouchy by marching on Wavre instead of Namur. This event proved the turning point of the battle. Routed, the French retreated with the Prussians in pursuit. Napoleon left the field and signed (June 22) his second abdication. French casualties were about 32,000, the coalition's about 23,000. The campaign was marked by confusion and miscalculation on all sides. The battle figures prominently in European literature.
See studies by J. Naylor (1960), D. A. Howarth (1968), U. Pericoli (1974), A. J. Guy, ed. (1990), T. Clayton (2014), B. Cornwell (2015), A. Forrest (2015), and P. and D. Snow (2015).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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