TRANSCRIPT: Episode 005 Quatre Bras, the chance to change history.

  1. Now came the critical point of the campaign. Men had marched with heavy loads and sore feet. Boots didn’t come fitted for left and right. They were both the same, and had to be broken in. Some soldiers feet were so swollen by the end of a march that boots either had to be cut off, or left on with the attendant risks of trench foot and infections. A large number of soldiers were already dead or wounded along with horses and animals. Civilians across the area’s affected would have fled, or if not they would have hidden their valuables as best they could from the inevitable looting that would always accompany armies whether friendly or not. A very few brave and enterprising folk stayed and tried to turn a profit by selling everyday items to troops at vastly inflated prices.

  2. Think about how that actually impacted the civilians. There was no social security or disaster relief fund. No international aid agencies or United Nations to help. Unlike todays disaster zones where mechanised transport of some kind is usually available to help with evacuations, or make repairs, in 1815 it was muscle power, sweat and maybe horses that were used to rebuild. Imagine having to scoop up your children and leave your home because an army is marching through. Are they friendly? Even if they are, is it safe to remain? Friendly armies might confiscate your food, requisition your horses, maybe even conscript your children, or force you to act as a guide. Leave the decision too long though and you might not have time to flee. Friends and foes aren’t always easy to identify at a distance.

  3. Where do you go? Do you flee to a nearby city? Risk being trapped there penniless and perhaps under siege in the future? Or do you try to head to the wider countryside, perhaps to starve or die of exposure or disease. Robbers will prey on the weak and the isolated. Cavalry from the various armies might chase you or you might be mistaken for a spy and hung.

  4. Even if you did avoid the armies, you might return to your home to find it a burnt out shell. With no insurance or government programs to assist you, no banks or savings accounts to draw on, no organised charities, the loss of a house or a farm due to a stray foraging party being careless with a torch or having it reduced to rumble by battle could leave you destitute. You might have to flee to the city or hope neighbours can help. Starvation and death were real possibilities.

  5. This is the horrific dilemma that was being faced as Europe in 1815 prepared itself for a war that it thought was over. All across Belgium people had to decide. To stay, to run, to fight the French or to oppose them, or somehow wait long enough to know. All Frenchmen and women asked themselves “What sane man or woman would want another war?” And yet, and yet the fat French king had replaced the great old soldiers and heroes of France with preening boys in his royal guard. The hated Austrians had worked with the Prussians and occupied Paris, and now, and now the Emperor had returned to right the wrongs. Many French people wondered how could any true Frenchman not march at this hour, with the returned veterans. Iron hard men who had fought at Austerlitz and Borodino.

  6. Perhaps the new soldiers noticed that the Sergeant had lost half his fingers in the cold of Russia? Maybe they thought “surely today, after the beating of the Prussians yesterday, surely the Marshal would crush the hated British, those cold hearted money lenders who paid Germans and Austrians to kill Frenchmen so they could sit back in safety and steal French land.” Wasn’t this what they had joined for? To march under Le Rougeaud Marshal Ney himself, that brave winner of battles. Fiercest of the Marshals with great victories to his name.

  7. If most people have heard of Marshal Ney at all, it is probably only as a blunderer at Waterloo. I’m probably going to give him a bit of criticism here too, so I want to give a picture of the man before we get into detail. It isn’t fair to reduce a historical persons life to just one brief snapshot and then heavily criticise them. I can’t cover everyone the podcast mentions, but I can at least try to give you a background on Ney. If you wanted to find an example of a real life D’Artanian of the Three Musketeers, you could certainly pick Ney. He was born in a working class family, on French German border. After a getting bored of civilian life he joined the army. Because pre-revolutionary France would only allow aristocrats to be officers he had to join the cavalry as a private. He showed immense talent and bravery, rising to sergeant and then officer in the post revolutionary army. He was periodically wounded and lead various cavalry charges. He rose to the rank of General and Marshal in 17 years. He commanded a corp successfully, decisively winning battles like  Echlingen, and being instrumental at Jena. He also managed some successes in Spain, including a clever rearguard action against Wellington despite being heavily outnumbered, but his fiery temper lead to clashes and dismissal from command. His shining hour came in the disastrous Russian campaign. Here he was instrumental in holding the battered and frozen rear guard together. His courage became legend. He shouldered a musket with his troops in the bitterest cold, under Russian artillery fire and cavalry charges by savage cossacks. Bearded, frost covered and unbroken, he was separated from the army and thought lost, only to emerge from the snows like a hero from a novel.

  8. Here’s a quote from Napoleons Marhals describing it [QUOTE] He was the last man to cross the Niemen at Kovno and reached German soil. General Dumas, one of the officers of the general staff, relates how he was resting in an inn at Gumbinnen, when one evening a man entered clad in a long brown cloak, wearing a long beard, his face blackened with powder, his whiskers half burnt by fire, but his eyes sparling with brilliant lustre. “Well here I am at last he said “what General Dumas, do you not know me?” “No, who are you?” “I am the Rear Guard of the Grand Army Marshal Ney. I have fired the last musket on the bridge of Kovno: I have thrown into the Neiman the last of our arms, and I have walked hither as you see across the forests” [END QUOTE] In the difficult year of 1813 he lead at least five desperate infantry charges with conscript troops, but his overall strategic movements were erratic and poor.

  9. He was almost as famous in the army as Napoleon. He was loved by the men. The Bravest of the Brave. The picture that emerges is of a clever, aggressive, difficult man. One who was tactically brilliant in action, but sometimes haphazard and not at his best in independent command. His later career displayed elements of a strange indecisiveness and some commentators have suggested he might have suffered from PTSD. Being always in the heart of the action under fire for years at a time would certainly be enough to trigger it. In a strange way he was a bit like Blucher. A born fighter, loved by the men, he needed a brilliant and detail oriented chief of staff to ensure that the basics were covered. He was simple in his tastes, hating society, with plain manners and difficulty reading. He was the very image of the bluff,  blunt plain soldier. If you are a Bernard Cornwall fan, then he is very much like Sharpe himself. His wife was by contrast a high spirited society lady, pushing him to be more ambitious.

  10. As dawn broke on 16 June 1815 near Quatre Bras, the fiery, aggressive Marshal Ney, seemed curiously quiet. The Marshal spent the morning half heartedly massing some elements of his I & II Corp plus conducting reconnaissance. Here though was the moment for him to change history. The cross roads at Quatre Bras were still lightly held. Napoleon marched to crush the Prussians. I want to emphasise again that right now, at this point, Napoleon was on cracking form. He had performed the nineteeth century equivalent of a blitzkrieg. The daring, the speed and success of his opening moves was astonishing.

  11. An early assault by Ney would push the British back, and perhaps if he had moved fast enough he would not only have captured the cross roads with the vital road to Nevilles that linked the British and Prussians. Perhaps he could have caught the scattered elements of the British army as it marched to Quatre Bras. If this had happened, then it is possible the British would have suffered a military catastrophe on a scale equal to Dunkirk or worse. The annihilation of the main British field army in Europe under their best commander would probably have destroyed the British government, wrecked the army for a decade and cut the finances off from the coalition. Napoleons defeat of the Prussians would have probably knocked the Prussians out of the war, secured Belgium, instilled an inferiority complex of no mean order in the allies to remind them that the Master of War had returned, and it would have made him politically supreme in France.

  12. With that in mind, it is no exaggeration to say that Marshal Neys actions were crucial and have been the subject of intense scrutiny. What is certain is that orders from Napoleon were received by Ney by 10:30, allowing for the imprecise nature of time keeping and recording. Please remember that timings might sound precise, but they aren’t. It is unlikely that officers watches would have been in strict synchronicity with each other. Here is Napoleon’s order to Ney:

  13. [QUOTE] “There, according to circumstances, I shall decide on my course, perhaps at three in the afternoon, perhaps this evening. My intention is that, immediately after I have made up my mind, you will be ready to march on Brussels: I will support you with the Guard which will be at Fleurus or Sombreffe, and I shall expect you to arrive at Brussels tomorrow morning. You will march this evening if I make up my mind early enough for you to be informed of it today, and to accomplish three or four leagues this evening, and to be at Brussels at seven o’clock tomorrow morning. You should dispose your troops in the following manner: the first division at two leagues in advance of Quatre Bras, if there is no hindrance; six divisions about Quatre Bras, and one division at Marbais.” [END QUOTE]

  14. Similar orders were sent from Marshal Soult to Marshal Ney and must have been received shortly after Napoleon’s orders as Ney replied to Soult at 11:00. Also you are hearing an English translation of this order written in French. You are hearing it with a C21st century mindset, absent the contexts and subtexts that would probably have been clear to someone in 1815. Certainly Ney didn’t seem to see any problems with Napoleon’s order. He replied to Soult, saying [QUOTE] All information to hand tends to show that there are around 3,000 hostile infantry at Quatre Bras and very few cavalry. I think that the Emperors arrangements for the advance on Brussels will be carried out without great difficulty.” [END QUOTE]

  15. What seems really poor of Ney was that it was only after receiving the Emperor’s orders that he began drafting orders to get General Reille moving. The key thing to remember about all of this is that Marshal Ney was a senior Marshal of France, a tier only just below the Emperor himself. A man in this position had to demonstrate leadership, courage, initiative, high level organisational skills, tactical and strategic abilities of the 1st rank, and the rare ability to identify the pivotal moment and seize it. Ney had an amazing career as a marshal.

  16. Sometime in the morning a more urgent order was sent from Napoleon via Soult to Ney. It read [QUOTE] Monsieur le Marechal, an officer of the lancers has just informed the emperor that the enemy has appeared in force near Quatre Bras. Concentrate the corps of Counts Reille and D’Erlon and that of Count Valmy, who is just marching to join you. With these forces you must engage and destroy all enemy forces that present themselves. Blucher was at Namur yesterday and it is unlikely that he has sent any troops towards Quatre Bras. Thus you will only have to deal with the forces coming from Brussels. Marshal Grouchy is moving on Sombreffe as I informed you, and the Emperor is going to Fleurus. You should address future reports to His Majesty there. [END QUOTE] Napoleon left for Fleurus at 10:00 so this order was probably with Ney by around 11:30 to 12:00. This order was clear and unequivocal. The enemy at Quatre Bras was to be engaged and destroyed.

  17. No military command of Ney’s level can really sit on their hands and wait orders in a situation like this. Ney had to be ready to act, organised and able to do so as required. He knew that he had an enemy of some kind to his front, that his Emperor was seeking the Prussians and that he had to be ready to be in Brussels the next day. He had orders to have troops at Quatre Bras, and by mid day had been told of Napoleon’s plans for the day, which even included Napoleon’s accurate prediction of the arrival of allied re-enforcements from Brussels during the day. Even if Ney thought the enemy didn’t have many troops there, or that they would swiftly retreat, he should have been moving to carry out his mission. He should have already had his troops ready to carry out these orders. First light was at 04:00 so he had plenty of time to be up at 05:30 if he was resting the troops and have them moving by 09:00. Then he would have had his two corp up in position just south of Quatre Bras by the time he received the first order from Napoleon. He would have been able to make an overwhelming attack at Quatre Bras at 11:30 if he didn’t act on the first order. The first real allied re-enforcements wouldn’t have arrived until 15:00 so the allies would have been cut off from each other. At 14:00 Ney had 18,000 troops against the Anglo-Allied force of 7,000 but only 4,000 French were put into action.

  18. He certainly sent orders to his core commanders Generals Reille, and D’Erlon. Neither of these officers displayed much sense of urgency. They delayed and muddled their marches somewhat. Ney seemed content to let things drift and Reille also waited for orders before even getting his spread out troops concentrated ready to move, in almost a mirror of his commanders behaviour. By 08:00 the troops Reille commanded were up and armed ready to go, but the orders to move weren’t given.  D’Erlon was badly held up in his march because he was behind Reille. Worse, Reille decided to delay his move further, ignoring Ney’s eventual order to move, because he was worried about enemy troops on his flank. This was idiotic. Any small Prussian units on his flank were for the army centre or army right to deal with as they moved. This was a fact that should have been obvious to a senior general like Reille.

  19. So here at a crucial point in the campaign, a campaign that the fate of France rested on, apathy and delay reigned.

  20. Now that is a fairly conventional narrative that I’ve given you. It is worth briefly pointing out that some historians have a very different view on this. I’m conscious that there is always dispute between historians on most topics. The alternative view is that Ney was justified in waiting for Napoleon’s order, and that Napoleon was waiting on changing events as the day developed. This alternative view is much more dependent on the “if there is no hinderance” phrase in Napoleon’s order, and the idea that Ney was justified in waiting for more positive orders. This is not the majority consensus amongst historians. It seems somewhat undermined by later orders as well to be honest.

  21. By 12:30 though, Ney had a good force to take Quatre Bras but didn’t actually fully start the battle until 14:00 when he finally launched an attack. So for hours in the morning Ney could have sent three divisions against the single, weak and poorly supplied Dutch division that was bravely holding the cross roads. Indeed at the start of the action at 14:00 Marshall Ney had 10,000 men and 30 guns with 2000 cavalry and an emergency reserve of 2,400 Guard Cavalry, facing only 8,000 infantry, some with only 10 rounds of ammunition, and 16 guns.

  22. The lack of action had not escaped Napoleon’s notice. Cannon fire can be heard for miles and the absence of sounds of cannon fire from Ney’s direction told the emperor that the attack hadn’t started. At 13:00 he penned a furious note to Ney [QUOTE]Monsieur le Prince de la Moskova, I am surprised at your great delay in executing my orders – there is no more time to waste. Attack everything in from of you with the greatest impetuosity. The fate of France is in your hands. [END QUOTE]

  23. The delay until 14:00 gave the allies hours to repair the situation. Wellington had had time to reach the Prussians to talk to Blucher and learn that the Prussians intended to stand their ground and fight. He returned to Quatre Bras to find that despite all the delays, Ney was putting the position under immense pressure. Worryingly Ney had received reinforcements of 3 of Kellermans finest Cavalry Brigades but he stationed them 5km back and forgot about them. In all Ney had around 40,000 men under his command, but his failures to get them up, moving and in position early meant he was fighting with far, far fewer.

  24. Allied re-inforcements had already started to arrive at 15:00 just before Wellington himself. The situation was desperate for the British though. Ney’s delay had robbed him of an easy victory, but the British force was close to cracking. Wellington even ended up nearly getting cut down by French cavalry at one point, but his arrival had stabilised the situation with fresh troops arriving on the allied side. He knew it was in the balance saying in reflection on the battle [QUOTE] By God if I had come up 5 minutes later the battle was lost [END QUOTE] The battle was on a knife edge and included moments of epic bravery on both sides, but allied troops kept arriving to support the beleaguered defenders. The French cavalry nearly shattered the British and Dutch, but heroic efforts kept the defenders together, then as Ney prepared a hammer blow for the British at 15:30 re-inforcements arrived spearheaded by the 95th Rifles. I’m sure the Sharpe fans out there can picture him arriving on the battle field in the knick of time at a critical moment.

  25. What made the battle especially difficult for the French was that the British were experts at concealing troops in terrain, and suddenly leaping out to deliver punishing volleys at close range. Ney was becoming frustrated, but seemed to be in a strong position after early gains. He was now positioned for his main assault. Three regiments of British Infantry – 1st (Royals), 32nd (Cornwall), and the 79th (Cameron Highlanders) were viciously engaged with the General Bachleu’s division but eventually pushed them back. According to some of my sources, this appeared to cause the French to be more cautious in their attacks just at a time when vigorous assaults were needed. My sources also suggest the French were mentally put on the back foot by being reminded of the constant defeats at the hands of Wellington in Spain. I’m not sure how much weight to put on those opinions. Without a lot of first hand evidence, it is easy to project onto people in the past. How many of Ney’s men had actually fought in Spain for instance. A far simpler explanation is that the French weren’t well co-ordinated and they suffered for their delays. It doesn’t require complex psychology to see that troops suffering heavy casualties in an assault against a smaller force might well be a bit battered and more cautious. The French assaults were a fair way ahead of their supporting artillery. Bachleu’s division were pushed back to their start position by the British counter assault. The British who followed the retreating French then came under intense French artillery fire as the French fell back and into range of their artillery.

  26. Skirmishing between the lines was vicious in the extreme, and the Rifles on the British left were eventually pushed back by French skirmishers. The Namur Road was now occupied by the French and the Allied flank was exposed. The French had hardly any troops but the Rifles were the only thing holding Wellington’s flank and preventing the French Rolling it up. Ok, I’ll make a really short explanation of flanking. The flank is basically the side of a military unit or position. Imagine  a line or two of 100 men. standing shoulder to shoulder. It is hard to break through that line when you run at it, with them all shooting at you. But if you come round the side, suddenly instead of facing 100 men, you are only facing the one or two on the end of the line. You can then push through them and cause chaos, rolling them up like a blind. Regiments and even armies would sometimes attempt to flank the enemy to get round the sides and rear to shatter the enemy. It required co-ordination and timing. You had to pin the enemy in place with a small force in front whilst you moved your troops around the sides. You needed to have reserves ready to exploit the chaos. You could be very vulnerable to counter attack as you moved.

  27. At around 16:30, some hard pressed Brunswick regiments attempted to withdraw to a stronger position but were broken by French Lancers. The Duke of Brunswick was killed. The chaos spread and the 42 Highland regiment mistook French cavalry for friendly Brunswick cavalry. They didn’t form square quickly enough. Hundreds of men of the light company were ridden down and sabred or lanced by the French 6th Lancers. All in all the 42nd lost 284 men. The French cavalry alone couldn’t take the cross roads, and despite the odd disaster, the Allies formed squares and beat off the enemy horsemen. The allies were hurting though and the men were aware that this was a hard fought affair.

  28. Meanwhile Napoleon had been hammering the Prussians at Ligny. He had them pinned at Ligny under intense artillery fire. It was a brutal battle. The Prussians had declined Wellingtons advice to deploy on the reverse of a sloop to shelter from French artillery. They suffered for it. The battle swung between the two sides, but the French began to gain the upper hand. Napoleon had carefully managed his Imperial Guard reserves and after brutal fighting was positioned to launch them at the desperately weakened Prussian centre. He scented an opportunity to exploit the victory and turn it into a annihilation of the Prussians. He had formed the idea that he could by late afternoon expect the victorious Ney to swing his troops around from Quatre Bras and catch the Prussians in the flank and rear. To assist him, the Emperor sent an order to General D’Erlon to change direction from going to support New at Quatre Bras, and march to aid him at Ligny instead. D’Erlon had been delayed badly but was finally getting towards a point where he could have soon arrived at Quatre Bras to support Ney. His arrival at around 16:00 would have probably tipped the balance decisively in Ney’s favour. Ney was waiting anxiously for him. The Allied reinforcements had stopped Ney’s great assault and the crisis of the Allies of 15:00 had stabilised but if D’Erlon and his 20,000 men arrived, nothing would have stopped Ney. When Ney learned that the Emperor had redirected D’Erlon he was furious and countermanded the order. D’Erlon duly swung his march from Ney to Napoleon and then back to Ney. An almost in excusable blunder. If French reinforcements had arrived on the Prussians flank, it is likely that Napoleon would have broken them and trapped them between the two French forces. He would then have been free to swing the entire Armee Du Nord to face the remnants of the allies.

  29. Finally, in a last desperate effort, and a foreshadowing of Waterloo, Ney ordered his heavy cavalry to seize the crossroads. By now he was virtually raving saying [QUOTE] Ah those English balls, I wish they were in my belly [END QUOTE] Ney sent for Guiton’s Cuirassier Brigade in one last attempt to win. The heavy cavalry charged, but without any support and without horse artillery. The British 69th Foot fired a volley at 30 paces. The British square was charged by the 8th Cuirassiers and broken up. Cuirassier Henry with the help of Maréchal-des-logis Massiet jumped to the ground and picked up the king’s colour of the II Battalion of the 69th (the South Lincolnshire) from the arms of ensign Clarke who had been hacked down by 23 saber cuts. For this,  Cuirassier Henry received the Legion of Honour. Alas despite the desperate bravery of the late charge, the cavalry couldn’t hold the cross roads and were driven back.

  30. By the end of the day Ney had blundered his way to losing a battle that was handed to him on a plate. He had delayed for no purpose, lost sight of his troops and muddled his command. His former fiery aggression and ability to know how to time an assault seemed to have deserted him. The mix up with D’Erlon had certainly cost him the chance for victory, but frankly he should have seized it earlier without him. His interference though with the Emperors order to D’Erlon meant that the opportunity to utterly annihilate the Prussians was lost. In the end D’Erlon and his corp spent a day marching from place to place, missing all the fighting. Certainly Ney had fought a hard battle. He inflicted higher causalties on the enemy than he suffered, and he was able to take Quarte Bras on the 17th June when the British began to withdraw, but whilst some historians have called this a victory, which it is if you just compared the number killed, overall it was a strategic defeat.

  31. Now as the sun set, the campaign was all but decided. Napoleon had won his last victory – Ligny, but he had all but lost the campaign. The last great, brilliant gamble of the great emperor was almost over. All through the night, exhausted, hungry and wounded men tried to rest and recover. The worst wasn’t close to over though. The survivors would now have to face the hell that was Waterloo. But before we close this episode, we actually need to quickly deal with the missing day between Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

  32. Exhausted and hungry men and even some women would have collapsed into sleep that night. The next day broke with pleasant weather. The Allies had been mauled badly. By 09:00 Wellington received messages telling him about the near disaster of Ligny. Now was the time for the British to retreat otherwise they would be cut off from the already retreating Prussians. Here was a last chance for the French. The Prussians in retreat, and the British army having to pull back alone and unsupported. Yet again though, Ney seemed lethargic. Napoleon toured the battlefield of Ligny, assessing it, talking to the wounded and re-organising his troops. Messages finally crawled in from Marshal Ney informing Napoleon of events at Quatre Bras the day before. The Emperor finally arrived at the realisation of what was actually going on. His enemies were in retreat whilst his Marshal sat on his hands again, but with swift action, the enemy could be at his mercy. Napoleon’s first words to Ney were the vicious “You have ruined France” Napoleon began to drive his army hard in pursuit. Marshal Grouchy was dispatched with 30,000 troops to chase the Prussians

  33. Now happens one of those strange, intangible events in history. A random occurrence that no one at the time could predict, but which changed things irrevocably. Throughout the morning, the weather had got hotter and heavier. Men tired from marching removed great coats, stripped down to thin shirts, rolled up sleeves and abandoned excess baggage in the extreme heat. Suddenly though, as the French cavalry began their intense pursuit, the storm clouds gathered and darkened. The British cannon covering the retreat opened fire, and as they did, the storm broke with fury. Temperatures plummeted and the open fields were turned into mud baths. Horses that tried to move off the roads into the open fields quickly sank. Pursuit slowed to a crawl as the roads become clogged. Muskets misfired, and the cold rain made the hot sweat freeze the bodies of men and horses.

  34. Gradually the Anglo-Allied force struggled to the ridge at Mont St Jean later known as Waterloo. This was the last obstacle between the French and Brussels. The gloom of night gathered, but tired men could find almost no food or shelter. Officers paid inflated prices even for looted chairs to avoid sleeping in the mud. Uniforms colours dissolved as the dyes ran out of them. Rifle green became mud soaked black, whilst the bright red coats of the line regiments typically turned a washed out brown scarlet. Many men hadn’t eaten for days, but a lucky few “acquired” food from various sources. Luckier still were those men who found a sheltered sleeping spot. Unluckiest of all were those cavalry units sent out on picket duty. The murk made this job difficult, tired the already exhausted horses, and left them exposed to the elements on top of horses but not allowed to sleep in the saddle. Horse artillery men would sleep on their limbers if they could, and generals ousted people from farm houses to get shelter for the night. Exhausted gunners who had been in action all day, dragging their guns through the mud sank down for rest.

  35. Finally orders ceased and men took what rest and shelter they could as the rain raged on through the night of misery. Not that the French had things any better as they halted on the ridge at La Belle Alliance opposite the Anglo Allied force. Even the vaunted Imperial Guard suffered, although not to  the same degree as the line troops. So passed the night; brutal and with only the promise of battle on the next day.

  36. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. What I find fascinating here, is not the military actions. It is the hints of the psychology at work underneath. Why did clever, experienced soldiers make such terrible mistakes? Was it just the normal confusion of war, or was it more? Was there PTSD? Did the pressure of command lead to myopic focus on the wrong things? Was it just inevitable? Things go wrong in war and Ney was a man who was not good in an independent command? There’s an old expression “the reasons you get into trouble, are the reasons you don’t get out” Putting Ney in the position he was put in was perhaps the cause of the trouble, so Ney was the reason the French army didn’t get out of it. Why was an aggressive assault oriented commander suddenly so hesitant? Why did he suddenly switch from hesitancy late in the battle to almost insane aggression with his cavalry? He was an experienced commander, he’d won battles before, so why did he do so badly? Ultimately we will never know. Perhaps only Ney could know what was going on in his head. The stress of combat is beyond anything most people experience, but for a fighting commander in the Napoleonic Wars it was incredibly stressful. Command was at the front, under artillery fire with thousands of mens lives directly in the hands of the commander. Ordering men forward into the face of muskets and cannons. Watching them get shot, limbs blasted off, trampled by horses, closing up their ranks and marching onwards. That added to the stress load on a commander immensely. Commanders were probably always wondering if they had done enough, been clever enough, or fast enough.

  37. Ultimately though Ney and the French did what they did and things turned out how they turned out. They would have to deal with the situation as it was, not as it might have been. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Join me next time as we examine Waterloo.


Maps courtesy of the USMA, Department of History.
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