The French cavalry is set to charge, Marshal Ney leads the finest Napoleonic cavalry                                         to its destruction.                            

View point 3


This is perhaps the best preserved of all. It is on the lane at the other side (the west) of the Waterloo Lion: the scene of the French cavalry attacks in the afternoon led by Marshal Ney, and the final attack of the Garde Imperiale of the Imperial Guard.


The track turns off the motor road immediately behind the hill  you leave the hill on your left. About 150 yards beyond the hill, you see this part of the lane exactly as it was when the infantry manned it, except that the lane itself is now tarred. The cavalry and the reserves were again behind the line, on the undulating ground to your right. If you walk past the first field and up to the skyline on your left, where there is now a fence, you look across again to La Belle Alliance; but now La Haye Sainte on your left is bidden, and Hougoumont can be seen among the trees to your right.


Here the infantry regiments were a mixture of British, Belgian, Dutch and German. When the artillery bombardment started, Wellington ordered them back 100 yards from the skyline, telling them to lie down, to make smaller targets for the shot and shell, but his own artillery stayed on the ridge, as did many officers. Wellington himself rode to and fro on the ridge all day, apparently unconscious of the danger. It was from this spot, at about 4 p.m., that they saw an immense mass of French cavalry approaching from beyond La Belle Alliance with Marshal Ney at its head. The great lines of horsemen, 12 ranks of 500 abreast, advanced up this slope at a slow trot. They stretched right across from La Haye Sainte 'to Hougoumont; and as both ends of the ranks came under musket fire from the farms they bunched together, so that some men in the centre said afterwards: their horses were lifted off the ground by the pressure. British officers watched in admiration as the glittering ranks came up towards them in silence, seeming to flow like waves of the sea across the folds in the ground.



       


They watched also in astonishment, because the French were using cavalry alone: there were no infantry in sight. It was Marshal Ney who ordered this attack and led it, and it is still something of a mystery why he did so - for against cavalry alone, a line of infantry had an almost impregnable defence: to form squares. Wellington gave the order 'Prepare to receive cavalry!'


And each regiment stood up and formed its square either on the lane or just behind it: each side of the square three ranks deep, the front rank kneeling with the butts of their muskets on the ground and the bayonets pointing up and outwards. Cavalry could not break

such a square, provided it closed its ranks when men were killed, largely because horses could not be made to charge such a hedge of bayonets. Wellington also ordered up a battery of horse artillery which was in reserve. It came up at the gallop, and its commanding officer, Captain Mercer, wrote afterwards that he placed his guns behind a small bank so that their barrels were almost at ground level. On the right-hand side of the lane, there is still a bank which is undoubtedly the very one where Mercer halted; and standing there you can see how close the French cavalry were before they came into

view.


Likewise, the French could not see the squares until they were almost on top of them.

Here then they came over the ridge at a steady canter, to be decimated by grapeshot from Mercer's and other batteries, and by musketry from the squares, at an opening

range of about 50 paces.






Pressed on by the ranks behind, they charged past between the squares, losing their formation as they did so. Lord Uxbridge came up with the survivors of the Household Brigade, and the infantry watched a bloodthirsty cavalry battle which raged all round them. At least ten times the French cavalry retreated down the hill, or round by the Nivelles road, reformed their ranks and attacked again, until all this ground between the lane and the ridge was so covered with dead men and horses that they could not ride over it.


After each attack the French artìllery opened fire again and caused terrible casualties among the infantry in the squares: the inside of each square, it was said, was like a hospital or a morgue. But between the French Napoleonic cavalry and infantry there was a deadlock, which had never been seen before in battle.


The cavalry rode slowly round the squares, seeking a way to break in. The infantry found that if they fired, the cavalry med to attack before they could reload - so they stopped firing. Towards the end, they sometimes stood and looked at each other, three or four yards apart, and neither side could do anything.


The French cavalry attacks lasted altogether about an hour and a half, lull. Wellington formed the infantry in line again. and made them lie down.


Continue tour visit the Waterloo panorama painting of the charge of the French cavalry


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