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Waterloo 200: retreat to Waterloo (17 June 1815)

On this day all of Wellington's forces drew together towards two new positions, being the fields south of the hamlet Mont St. Jean and positions south of the town of Halle.

Both the Prince of Orange and his brother Prince Frederik accompanied their troops and found a bit more comfortable shelters for the night, although the first just resided in his field bed at Chenois, just north of Braine l'Alleud, together with his chief of staff Constant-Rebecque sleeping on a chair... Frederik found a much more suitable place at Halle for the night and soon other headquarters at the village of Hondzocht. (...see more photos at the end of this news item!)

You can all read about the retreat in Volume Three "Standing firm at Waterloo"

The ordinary soldiers had to find shelter and food for themselves, as they arrived on the fields of Waterloo. One such example is Private Sebastiaan Allebrandi of the 7th National Militia Battalion. His unit and all other battalions of Bijlandt's brigade initally were placed upon arrival between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont on the reverse slope! Did you know that? Well, let's see what Allebrandi told in his memoirs:

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Waterloo 200: defiant generals save the day! (16 June 1815)

Two hundred years ago on this very own day the Battle of Quatre Bras was fought. 

If it had not been for a few defiant generals of the Netherlands army, no troops would have been present at all on this morning to oppose the further march towards Brussels by Marshal Ney's army corps. The previous evening the Duke of Wellngton had issued his orders top concentrate his divisions and the one commanded by General Perponcher was told to assemble at Nivelles. But that same evening the Nassau brigade had already met opposition just south of the crossroads of Quatre Bras. Its commander Colonel von Sachsen-Weimar informed his superiors about the instant threat.

Fortunately the chief of staff of the Allied I Corps Constant-Rebecque realised the danger, and recommended Perponcher to send his other infantry brigade to Quatre Bras for support. The general had already acted on his own, to do just that! When the Prince of Orange returned early on 16th June from the Duchess of Richmond ball he was informed of the situation and agreed with all the measures taken. (... read on below...)

General Perponcher de Sedlnitzky

Portrait of Lieutenant-General Perponcher de Sedlnitzky

A few years later it was Napoleon himself while in exile on St. Helena, who credited the defiant behaviour of the Netherlands generals who understood the tactical importance of Quatre Bras. In his Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de France en 1815 (page 100) the former emperor wrote about the decision of the Prince of Orange to stand his ground:

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Waterloo 200: Frasnes (15 June 1815)

Right about this time 200 years ago the few troops of the Netherlands army positioned around the hamlet of Frasnes, just south of Quatre Bras, noticed an ever increasing sound of gunfire and more and more local civilioans and farmers fleeing north.

What was happening? Well, the French army marched north since it concquered Charleroi. The Imperial Red Lancers rode ahead with Marshal Ney. They thought to quickly pass the crossroads, appropriately named in French Quatre Bras (four arms). However, one battalion of Nassau troops and a horse artillery battery blocked their path. Under the overall command of the Duke Bernhard von Sachsen-Weimar, these brave men serving in the Netherlands field army, blocked the further advance of the French army.

Historicaly this is an important event for the remembrance of 200 years of our Dutch army, its history and commitment in the 1815 campaign, as it was the first engagement against a hostile force.

Souvereing House Books presents the most detailed account of this first ever engagement of the Netherlands army! Bernhard Duke of Saxen Weimar

Portrait of Berhard Duke von Sachsen-Weimar

More to come

Of course our recent investigations have led to even more precise information on this small skirmish north of Frasnes. 

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Waterloo 200: 15th June 1815

Two hundred years ago the war started on this morning with Napoleon's forces invading the southern provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

That very morning of 15th June the Prince of Orange rode once more towards the border for one of usual inspections. When he arrived at General van Merlen's headquarters in St. Symphorien, he was quickly informed about this news of the invasion. Without much further ado, he sent a note to General Chassé to concentrate his infantry division at once. Next the prince quickly got back to his army headquarters in Braine-le-Comte and informed his staff, before deciding to ride in person to Brussels.

Arriving there in the mid afternoon, the prince was the first to inform the Duke of Wellington about the start of the war.

Facsimile of the order to Chassé, written by the Prince of Orange

You can read all about this in our Volume One "From Mobilisation to War"

Bijlandt's brigade behind the hollow road

Sometimes it is by sheer luck, fortune and having the right contacts among those vast numbers of friends that are interested in the Battle of Waterloo, that you are provided with additional information that supports your own account on the battle, and its primary sources you have used to write that history.

Such is the case with the position of Major-General Van Bijlandt's brigade at the start of the battle. Popular history has it placed on the forward slope of the Ohain road where it was subsequently shot to pieces during the opening barrage of the French grand battery. Which resulted in the rout of the entire brigade and its disgraceful behaviour. Of course in our own publication Standing firm at Waterloo, we have discussed this at length and proven beyond any doubt the infantry brigade had already re-deployed behind the hollow Ohain road just after 9 a.m. in the morning. Well in time before the actual battle started.

Ofcourse the position of the brigade was already depicted in 1816 on Craan's famous map, but somehow the historiography of the battle later on relied more on the information provided by William Siborne and the maps he produced.

Bijlandt brigade Waterloo 1815

Above: part of Craan's map showing Bijland't brigad behind the hollow Ohain road

New evidence

Now there is surprsing new evidence from a completely unexpected resource, being the accounts and memoirs from the Hannoverian army that fought alongside and was part of the Duke of Wellington's army in 1815. 

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