Many historians have written about the decision of the Duke of Wellington to maintain a force of over 17,000 men at the town of Halle whilst engaged in a bloody battle at Waterloo. Some historians say he should have directed these troops to support the struggle on this day of 18 June, but none clearly see how he had already received a promise from Blücher to add the similar amount of troops on the battlefield. In fact, the Prussians rushed over with another two additonal army corps to enage the French army and thus defeat Napoleon.
In our history "Standing firm at Waterloo" we do explain the reasons why this Allied force at Halle was necessary, including the various accounts from officers who were present here. In this news item we present a few things that are also available in our wonderful third volume, entitled Standing firm at Waterloo. Read on for further information and first hand accounts!
(The positions at Halle on 17 & 18 June; map presented in Volume Three)
The situation was most uncertain during the Allied retreat on 17 June, as for example was retold by 1st Lieutenant Büser of the 16th Jägers Battalion:
I remember a small event regarding our General d’Hau [sic] on seventeenth June, that I will tell here. It was on that day that I commanded the advance guard of our brigade and I had a Mounted Guide with me, whom I had ordered to follow closely. We had already marched several hours, when the general accompanied by an adjutant, came riding forward with all the might he had and from afar called to me: “Lieutenant, stab the man, he is a traitor and will deliver us into the hands of the enemy.” Having approached he fell about with terrible words of scorn at the guide, who kept his calm and composure, maintaining he pointed the right road. The general drew his sabre and gave him such a frightful spanking, that he huddled from the pain, and he had us immediately counter march; with the result that after one and a half hours, he saw his error, had us counter march again, so that we, following a march and double counter march of about five to six hours, found ourselves again where the good guide had been punished so entirely undeserved. I felt regret for the brave man, the unnecessary fatigue of our troops, the needless loss of time, but especially since the commander had abused his authority and had shown himself to be entirely unacquainted with the terrain over which he led his brigade, despite a wagon full of maps, which an orderly carried behind him.
Another good is example comes from Major-General De Eerens, commanding one of the infantry brigades of Stedman's 1st Netherlands Division, as he settled his troops during the night of the 17th upon the 18th:
In the evening of 17th June at six o’clock we left Enghien and in a downpour we marched across Tubize, the woods and hollow roads of Glabbeek to take up a position at Braine-le-Chateau and its surroundings. During the night, at two o’clock in the morning I arrived in the position with about two companies of jäger and established myself in a military fashion. The inhabitants expected the French any moment and several wounded who arrived told how they were standing at a short distance. I thus took precautions against an incursion and prepared my brigade for the night, which was only assembled together at dawn; being the 18th Jäger Battalion and the 18th National Militia Battalion. The remainder were placed on the road between Tubize and my headquarters.
Braine-le-Chateau lies in a valley and has a castle encircled with walls and similarly a? church with graveyard. Here was the only defensive position which provided no retreat, as it passed through a gorge the heights of which could be occupied by the enemy without hindrance. I was ordered to hold the position and thus the defence was my task. My only concern was to make this as honourable and stubborn as possible. I barricaded all the entrances into the valley and loopholed the walls of the castle and graveyard and awaited the enemy with determination.
(The famous hand drawn map by the British Engineers Corps is reproduced in our Volume Three on several occasions, or in greater detail when it concerns specific topics!!!)
So are we going to reveal all information here? No of course not, but nonetheless there was also a very interesting comment on the position of the Allied troops at Halle from Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Carmichael Smyth, one of Wellington's superior engineer officers. He wrote:
If the allied army had been obliged to fall back from Waterloo, what steps the Duke of Wellington might have thought proper to take, it is impossible to say; but the loss of the army does by no means appear to have necessarily followed as the consequence of a retrograde movement, as has been insinuated. The roads from Braine-la-leud , meet upon very strong ground about a mile and a half in front of Brussels. There exists a very excellent position extending across these three chaussées, the right of which may be said to be at Uccle upon the Senne, its centre at Vleugat, and its left thrown back at Ixelles; in which the Netherlands troops from Braine-la-leud, the British from Waterloo, and the Prussians from Wavre, might have been assembled without any difficulty. As the division from Tubise, and the Netherlands corps under Prince Frederick of Orange, would in that case have fallen back by the Mons chaussée towards Brussels, they might have occupied the right of this new position, and in which, supposing the French to have been successful at Waterloo, they might still have found an army more numerous than that with which they had been engaged, drawn up and in readiness to receive them. It may also be observed, that if circumstances had compelled the Prussians to retreat to the Meuse instead of to Wavre, and the Duke of Wellington had thought proper for the moment to abandon Brussels in consequence, the British army could have retreated towards Antwerp, until reinforced from Germany, as Marshall Bathiani did in 1746; or have crossed the Scheldt, and from behind the Ghent canal have awaited succours from England by the way of Ostend.
If all of this intrigues you to learn more on the Battle of Waterloo, the positions at Halle and in relation to this the role of the Dutch-Belgians: purchase our wonderful studies!