Those Terrible Greys part 4.

The Rest of the Battle.
3 – 11 PM 18 June 1815.

 

image

The Retreat.

Trumpets were now sending the repeating couplets of rally. Elsewhere across the ridge the rest of Union Brigade had dealt similarly crushing blows to the other two Divisions of the I Corps. Leaving but one unscathed and still able to retreat in good order. On the other side of the Brussels road Lord Uxbridge had personally lead the Household Brigade down the ridge and scattered Dubois’ Cuirassiers. The Kings Dragoon Guards had even captured an eagle. Success had attended on all fronts, now should have been the time they regrouped and retired. Behind them the 92nd were gathering up prisoners, nearly 2-3,000 of them, and the route of the retreat was marked by a trail of abandoned equipment, weapons, drums and corpses. The dragoons however were now at the bottom of the ridge, and getting out of control, chasing the giant mob of fugitives towards the French guns.
General Ponsonby was down in the valley with his staff, yelling himself hoarse trying to get the milling brigade in hand. Some heeded the trumpet calls and between 30 and 40 men had already gathered around them. Trumpeters of the Greys were also having some success recalling their squadrons when an officer, presumed to be no less than Lt Colonel Hamilton himself, rode up to these formed troops and called on them to charge for the guns. Whether he meant the guns brought up in the rear of D’Erlon’s divisions to support the attack we will never know, but most assumed that he meant the main battery on the ridge beyond. Dickson was amongst them and followed right into their mouths, it was the last time he saw his Colonel. They went riding past General Ponsonby at as much speed as could be managed. The other dragoons followed them, forcing the General to follow their path hoping to recall them. Now it was a mad dash across the muddy fields to the long line of enemy gun batteries ranged in front of them, the horses exerted themselves heroically, sinking up to their knees in mud. Regiments mixed together, officers and NCO’s were ignored or carried away themselves, 1,500 men were riding on the crest of an ecstatic wave, that would end in death or glory. Lt Wyndham was not one of them, for he had been hit in the foot and couldn’t keep his seat, so had turned back for the ridge.

The Grande Batterie had resumed its fire, irrespective of hitting their own fleeing men. The manual ordered that cavalry should always flank a battery and never charge it head on, but there was no longer a reserve, and the dragoons went careering in amongst the largely defenceless gunners and sabred them wherever they found them, managing to overturn as many as 15 cannons, killing anyone they found and laming many horses. Still more valuable gunners were chased away and the traces of the horse harnesses were cut to prevent them being drawn off. In short they overran the French artillery and temporarily put it out of action. General Desales was not so concerned with the loss of equipment but the loss of gunners, dead wounded and fleeing, who had been in painfully short supply and were all but irreplaceable. Cornet Clape had reached the guns to witness those frenzied moments. Amongst those chasing down and sabring the gunners was Dickson, each cut eliciting a curse and a hiss of air through the teeth as the blade went home. Colonel Hamilton saw that they were now disorganised and terribly exposed, he rode amongst the guns calling out “Rally, the greys!” to provide some kind of formed force, but there was none to be found. This was the last sight Clape had of him. Uxbridge, Somerset and Ponsonby had similar problems, for both brigades had lost their reserves. Dickson was starting to turn for home when his companion noticed that Rattler was wounded and that he’d better dismount. As the corporal swung down from his faithful steed, she collapsed from exhaustion, and Dickson had to abandon her and snare a stray officer’s horse with which to escape, as the heavies began to withdraw, the net was closed in.

Colonel Louis Brô had been commander of the 4th Lancers since Napoleon’s return in March, and they were his pride and joy. A veteran cavalryman of 14 years service he longed to lead his new regiment to the charge under the eyes of the emperor. They had all watched with dismay as D’Erlon’s columns disintegrated, and needed no encouragement to move forward. The 4th were positioned on the extreme right of General Jacquinot’s 1st (Light) Cavalry Division. Not waiting for Count D’Erlons call for assistance, they now moved forwards from behind the right flank of the Grande Batterie and swung around its side to come onto the flank of the milling redcoats. The division halted and dressed ranks. General Jacquinot pointed his sword and pressed into a walk, his trumpeter sounding the advance. At the thrilling notes Brô drew his sword from his scabbard and turned exultantly to his lancers. “Let us go my children! We must knock over this rabble!” A roar of “Vive L’Empreur!” Came back, he lofted his sabre and the 4th advanced. At the same time as the 1st Division came up, two brigades of Cuirassiers (Farine’s and Travers’) were moving forwards from behind the battery. Breastplates and helmets glinting in the watery sunlight. Jacquinot’s Chasseurs and lancers picked their way across the wet ground, increased their pace and charged, sweeping across the field, the lance pennants of the 4th fluttering as they came down to the engage.

The Brigades of Travers and Farine, and Jacquinot's Light cavalry division counterattack the union brigade.

The Brigades of Travers and Farine, and Jacquinot’s Light cavalry division counterattack the union brigade.

The next thing Dickson knew he was halfway back across the field with a gaggle of Greys, Royals and Inneskillings, when their retreat was suddenly cut off by squadrons of lancers slicing across their path overturning the men in front and chasing down the wounded and stragglers. If they turned around they would have seen the French Heavies break upon the abandoned gun line, and suddenly it was every man for himself. Dickson’s group was without leadership, and preparing to ride against the lancers, a voice shouted “That’s the way home!” indicating the enemy, and they gripped their swords to cut their way through to safety. Corporal Sam Tar, another F Troop man, was first into them and those behind had the horror of seeing him disappear in a flurry of stabbing lances. At that moment a Cornet of the Royals named Sturges appeared crying out “Stick together lads!” Their best chance was to keep in a group. Had they been freshly mounted they might have stood a chance of overturning their opponents, but by know their horses were exhausted from their charge, and having to ride through the soft, cloying earth. They were also disorganised and unable to form a coherent front. Still the fugitives made a pathetic try, Sabres at the guard, the lancers were ready meet them. The horses struggled to drag their exhausted feet through the clay, they bumped rather than crashed into the enemy whose distance weaponry immediately told. The desperate heavies nevertheless put up a stiff fight, standing in stirrups and fighting over their horses necks to make up the distance of the lancers reach. Even General Durutte had not realised the superiority of the lance over the sabre until he saw Jacquinot’s boys going to work. Dickson’s desperate parrying and cutting was no match for them, a Lancer killed his horse with an expert thrust and he fell heavily to the ground with the animal. Certain death seemed imminent.

Cavalry actions were a blur of flashing sabres and lances. A charge being one of the most adrenaline pumping things a man can do. Most often a soldier in a melee will not be aware of a wound, until he suddenly feels a wave of weakness sweep over him, or a limb stops working as it should, the body telling the brain that it cannot do what it’s told.
Jacquinot’s division, and executed a right wheel and sent his men against the heavies in open order, the men shouting long live the Emperor and “To the death!” Dealing great execution after their first charge, which allowed Durutte’s squares to safely disengage from the hamlets, and as soon as they were amongst the enemy, they immediately set to pursuing them. Due to the lack of formed resistance the lancers and Chasseurs seemingly had a free hand to spread out and hunt in packs or alone. Brô gathered a group of riders together and charged a group of British dragoons attacking a beleaguered eagle, this mysterious event is unsupported but there is no reason to discount it. He rode down on the man who was a breath away of losing the 3rd eagle of the day and rescued it. In the tangle of horses and men, he cut down three dragoons with his sabre, two more managed to escape him. Cries from behind alerted him to the fact that his adjutant-Major was in danger, and he turned to help, he let his sword drop from its knot and drawing his pistol he fired and as he did, his right arm seized up. Suddenly the energy began to ebb out of him, the adrenaline rush that had filled him as he led his proud lancers to the charge was replaced by an uncertainty and fear of what was happening. With his senses leaving him he sagged in his saddle, a British dragoon launched himself at him, and Brô managed to get his sword into his left hand and parry off the attack and escape. Then a dizziness hit him and he had to drunkenly clutch onto his horse’s mane to keep in the saddle as shock set in, with clouding eyes the dauntless cavalier, realised it was all up and looked to call to Major Perrot to take command of the regiment, but no sound escaped his lips. Noticing his plight General Jacquinot rode to the side of the Colonel of the 4th, and supported him, with one look he saw a ghastly wound that had nearly severed Brô’s right arm. “You must withdraw!” He cried. Major Motet was next on the scene, he ripped open the wounded colonel’s tunic and applied a crude dressing, then bringing his face close, he told Brô that the wound was not mortal but he could not stay in the field. Brô wept at the prospect of leaving his lancers but allowed himself to be taken to the rear. As it was, his men needed little assistance.

The death of General Ponsonby. Here the Lancers close in and Brigade Major Reignold's of the Grey's attempts to hold them off. A scene typical of many during the French counterattack. Mariusz Kozik

The death of General Ponsonby. Here the Lancers close in and Brigade Major Reignold’s of the Grey’s attempts to hold them off. A scene typical of many during the French counterattack. Mariusz Kozik

Lt Hamilton had followed General Ponsonby to the guns, but as the heavy brigades began to withdraw, having done all the damage men without spikes or means to drag the artillery away could do, they were hit by the Cuirassiers and light cavalry. The confusion he and an accompanying ADC lost contact with Sir William. Hamilton began riding back but as he checked over his shoulder he saw a lancer riding hard on his tail, furthermore he was quickly gaining on his tired horse. Hamilton gritted his teeth and wheeled about to met the lancer. He made a wild parry and an uncaring cut, then hared away as fast as possible on a different line, leaving the confused lancer behind him. With his horse blowing hard he made the hedge-line, and was reunited with the ADC at the top of the ridge. Their anxious enquiries to each other about Sir William lead them to hope that he had been captured, and they immediately went to try and drum up support for the beleaguered heavies and to hopefully help the General.
Captain Felton, one of the other Spanish veterans amongst the Greys, had made it back and was rounding up his squadron as Hamilton and the ADC went for help. First they met Lord Edward Somerset, but his brigade was as useless as the Union at that point, and replied he could not help. Riding further to the rear they found a regiment of Hanoverian Hussars, and after asking the officer commanding in French for help, they were told that he could not move without orders. They then crossed back to the extreme left flank where the Hussar and Light Dragoon Brigades were, here Hamilton met with a Peninsular acquaintance but despite this, General Vandeleur refused to move without orders. Hamilton and the ADC rode off in disgust. Meanwhile there was Hell to pay in the valley.
Sergeant Ewart was riding back up the slope, the flag of the 45th Ligne wrapped around his bridle arm, having been directed by General Ponsonby to take it to the rear after the first charge. After getting out of the mire of the fields below the ridge Ewart suddenly found himself pursued by a lancer. The sergeant was not one to panic. The lancer made a stab at him, but he parried the blow off, “Right Protect”, the lance still grazing him enough to cause a good deal of bleeding, and he made a mighty cut upwards through the lancer’s teeth “Cut III”. With the lancer dead, he went on, where a French straggler suddenly rose up and took a shot at him, not waiting for the smoke to clear the man then charged with his bayonet. Ewart parried and cut him through the head. All in all Ewart had shown a cool and merciless resolve of an expert swordsman.
The inactivity of Vivian and Vandeleur caused great resentment in the heavy brigades. Blaming much of their loss on the light cavalry’s refusal to advance. Vandeleur was a soldier who knew Wellington’s way of fighting a battle. Numerous times men who acted on reckless initiative got the sharp end of the Duke’s tongue, so he waited for orders, as did Vivian, who being posted on the extreme flank, and indeed was the flank had a better excuse than Vandeleur. In the first part of the charge De Lacey Evans had asked that Sir Jame’s Kempt come forward with his infantry to support them. Sir James said he would advance a little, but could not quit his ground without orders, and besides infantry would not serve to effectively support cavalry. Evans had rejoined the ride to the guns, he like all the other officers could see what was happening and shouted themselves hoarse, but to no avail. Luckily he was mounted on a superb Bay gelding, and those who had the best horses had the best chance of escape. He arrived back at the ridge line after being shot at by some stragglers halfway up the hill. His escape is also put down the lancer’s preference to stab the wounded rather than chase the mounted. He changed horses for a fresh brown mare, his gelding had received a nasty sword cut starting at the eye and ending the mouth and he didn’t want to risk him any further, he was right to worry as his fresh mount was soon shot dead.
Vandeleur and Vivian seem to have been repeatedly asked to advance, even by General Muffling, the Prussian Liaison, but they stubbornly held their own each time. They sympathised with Muffling’s remonstrances but could only shrug and tell the Prussian that it would not do to disobey the Duke.
Luckily for men like the downed Dickson, General de Ghigny didn’t give a hang for Wellington’s personal orders, Uxbridge had earlier told his commanders to use their initiative and he used it now. The 1st Netherlands Light Cavalry Brigade moved in column up a lane towards left of Picton’s division, arriving behind Vandeleur, who could stomach his inactivity no longer and ordered the advance as well.
The 4th Light Brigade charged and overran an unidentified column of withdrawing infantry. They then clashed with the right flank of Jacquinot’s Division. De Ghigny pushed down in his wake as far as he could, driving the French light cavalry before him until elements of the 20th Infantry division of Lobau’s Corps, (observing the French right) halted them. Vandeleur’s men who after their successful charge had failed to rally and copied the mistakes of the heavy brigades. His brigade now retired, staving off the counter attacking French as they went. Meanwhile having done all that could be done, de Ghigny retired by echelons in the face of enemy infantry skirmishers and supporting cavalry. His measured withdrawal dissuaded the enemy horsemen from pushing Vandeleur too far or gaining the ridge to attack the allied infantry, which had formed square in anticipation.

Dickson was surely about to die as the lancers loomed over him, helpless on the ground, but suddenly they were overturned and put to flight by the charge of the 16th Light Dragoons of Vandeleur’s Brigade. He had staggered up and stumbled onwards, catching another horse he rode it to the crest, where it dropped dead. Somehow he made it to the regimental rallying point, not far from where he had woken up that morning. To the right rear of the farmhouse of Mont St Jean, which was now overflowing with wounded. Here in a shallow dip near a clump of trees, the French cannon balls and shells were overshooting the sheltering troops. While the guns thumped away on the right and centre, the shells burst over the road, round shot bounding overhead to crash into the woods and the Heavy brigades rallied. Dickson was lying dazed on the ground with no memory of how he had got there. So many were wounded, so many were no longer there.
To his surprise, Rattler had returned and was standing with the other riderless horses, she was wounded but standing, taking comfort from being near the other horses. Captain Cheney was reorganising the regiment, the trumpeters still sounding rally. With him was Lt’s Wyndham and Hamilton. Cornet Clape was somewhere around too, examining a bullet he had found in his rolled cloak and blaming the Light Cavalry for their tardiness, mumbling about the whole farcical affair. Another young officer, 18 year old Lt. Gape dismounted to find a bullet had passed through his rolled cloak, similarly ruining it and Hitting his saddle. He remembered at the beginning of the attack being fired on from less than 20 yards. To his surprise he also found one in the rear seat. Fenton and Wemyss were still on their feet too. But there was no sign of Reignolds or Colonel Hamilton and everyone hoped they were taken prisoner. This was sadly not so, there were a few, like Captain Poole who was actually a prisoner, but Reignolds and Hamilton were dead, like Kinchant. A fact sergeant Ewart was deeply aware of. He had arrived with his prize to the cheers of all who witnessed him, being told by every officer he met to get the thing to Brussels, but just as in the valley Ewart was both reluctant to leave his comrades, few as there were. Dickson did not see more than 30 Greys present but Sergeant Archibald Johnston arrived numbers seem to have been swelled by 30 more men. The entire brigade numbered less than 130 at most, and together with the Household the two formations could only have numbered just over 300 sabres, many of whom had lost their horses. General Ponsonby was nowhere to be seen. Indeed he would never be seen alive again, nor would Hamilton or Reignolds. It was a stunning loss.
Ponsonby had been left stranded as his brigade charged the guns, and was again isolated as they retreated, during the confusion of the retreat, he had tried to escape by riding around the left flank of Jacquinot’s division, many others had tried this too, but he was killed by a lancer, who either took him down as he tried to escape, or murdered him with Reignolds when he could not be captured safely. A French account reports that he was shot dead somewhere between the Grande Batterie and the foot of the hill. Accounts differ and I personally cannot reconcile them. Hamilton died terribly, having lost the use of both arms before being mercifully shot down, a famous account of his demise states he was seen riding with the reins in his teeth and was never seen again. An officer of great courage but little tactical sense as far as adjutant Macmillan subtly hinted not long after the battle.

Lord Uxbridge returned alone to the ridge. He had found only the Blues in any kind of order to extricate the Household Brigade. Returning, he found Wellington near the crossroads with his staff. The Duke, like the Earl, had been on the right flank when D’Erlon had begun his attack. He had arrived rather too late to influence anything and it was certainly impossible for him to recall any of the foundering heavies. Uxbridge met Wellington’s frosty gaze with a mixture of pride and shame for it was clear in the Earl’s mind that, though the first charge had been attended with utmost success, he should not have lead the charge personally. Nevertheless Wellington’s staff was all congratulation for his brilliant stroke, all considering the battle won. As well it should have been so. All except the Duke, who was still aware of the gunfire coming from the right at Hougoumont, the centre at La Haie Sainte, and to he left at the hamlets. At only 3 o’clock The battle was not over for anyone, not by a long way.

The sword that saw the Heavy cavalry through Waterloo. Le Marchant's 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sabre, with a spear tip... A "Waterloo Point" if you will.

The sword that saw the Heavy cavalry through Waterloo. Le Marchant’s 1796 pattern heavy cavalry sabre, with a spear tip… A “Waterloo Point” if you will.

Death of the Greys.
The tough Irish voices of the Inneskillings’ NCO’s telling the large flock of French prisoners to get moving signalled the last act of the beginning of the battle. The lull that they had caused by crushing Napoleon’s first awkward throw of the dice, was seen by some to be the natural end of the battle. Perhaps it should have been. Time was not on Napoleon’s side, and Wellington was determined the eek it out, every minute gained was another victory point. However the rumble of artillery fire did not diminish, the remaining guns of the Grande Batterie resumed firing as draughts from the infantry were brought up to man them, slowly the fire resumed its former ferocious tone, and the crash of musketry intensified from La Haie Sainte and from the right.
The recuperating remnants of the Heavy brigades might have had good reason to think that their part was over. However Wellington was going to need every horseman available in the next few hours. At 4 O’clock they received the order to mount and move across the Brussels Road to support the right. The weary Scots dragoons were now under the command of Captain Clarke, supported by Cheney as second in command. The two brigades, now marching together with a strength something akin to a respectably understrength regiment, must have resembled a battle line of mismatched toy soldiers gathered by a boy who, due to the exigencies of the playground battlefield, preferred numbers of Sabres to symmetry of uniforms.
The Greys now entered the longest portion of the battle and that which is the hardest to find a solid chronology for. The Union and Household Brigades were directed to the centre rear of the position. Here the smoke was all but encompassing, the bang of artillery explosions and crash of massed musketry louder. The infantry were all drawn up in squares, some more regular than others and some just plain rectangles. On the fringes of this checkerboard were all the cavalry available, and that was a mishmash of Hanoverian, KGL, Belgian, Dutch and British regiments, all of varying calibre. It soon became obvious that they were to have hot work as the infantry were beset by an eddying tide of French cavalry. They were riding in huge numbers at uneven speeds around the hedges of bayonets. Unsurprising the devastated British Heavies were not Lord Uxbridge’s first choice to fling at the sea of French cavalry, but he would soon need every man who could sit a saddle. The Earl was as much master of the field as Ney or Wellington at this point, he rode across the maelstrom watching for the right moment, when the enemy’s great numbers were nullified by disorder and loss of momentum. When he saw the Cuirassiers falter and begin mindlessly riding the ring of bayonets, desperately looking for a weak spot, he placed himself at the nearest cavalry brigade and lead them to the charge. These well timed counterattacks were all but irresistible to the disorganised French cavalry who were repeatedly bundled off the ridge, and subjected to the renewed fire of the allied artillery. Unfortunately as the French tide receded their hail of iron resumed its downpour, and a vicious circle of grinding endurance unfolded along Wellington’s right centre. This cycle of attack, counterattack and simultaneous bombardment soon took its toll, and whereas more and more French cavalry were fed into the assault, Uxbridge was soon running low on resources. It shows his desperation that he eventually turned to the mangled Heavies now ostensibly under Somerset, to aid his efforts to throw the French back. Indeed it was as Ney brought up infantry support that the Heavies were called on to descend the slope to check the columns of General Bachelu. The Union and Household brigades dropped down from the ridge top to confront two enemy squares, already retreating after being checked by the allied infantry and suffering heavily from allied artillery fire. The British cavalry were unable to do a blind thing, as they launched their first charge the Household brigade swerved in the face of a volley and collided with the Union. In the confusion Lt Hamilton remembered ramming into directly into Lord Edward Somerset. “Bad work this!” he spat, to which the general just shook his head. Thus confused the French poured another volley into them, emptying many saddles and the heavies were soon recalled. Worse was to come.

Major Baring’s garrison in La Haie Sainte had ran out of rifle ammunition. Unable to hold they fled the farm and the French quickly occupied it. As the cavalry attacks began to wane amongst the squares, Ney pushed all available troops up to within musket shot of the allied infantry. The Prince of Orange unwisely countermanded an order to stop a counterattack which caused the destruction of a Hanoverian battalion by French cavalry. Had most of the French cavalry not been sacrificed over the last two hours, or had Napoleon released the Garde, perhaps Ney could have salvaged a fairly undistinguished but not distasteful victory for the Emperor. But nothing happened. Wellington saw that his centre was fracturing and immediately began shuffling troops to shore up the breach. All available brigades were now brought up to the Brussels road, a batch of young and unsteady but nevertheless reassuringly strong looking Brunswick regiments were brought forwards, and the ravaged Hanoverians pulled back. The sight of steady cavalry was always heartening and Uxbridge was making sure to block the exit with his horsemen. He had been having issues with finding steady cavalry though.
At the height of the cavalry attacks he had reason to complain that there was not a squadron in the army that did not want spurs. On several occasions he found himself galloping alone at the enemy accompanied by only a few staff officers. Though unspecific about which unit, he was especially displeased with one of his Dutch Heavy Cavalry Brigades, who point blank refused to follow him. The Duke of Cumberland’s Hanoverian Hussars, were no better and fled from the field to a man after sustaining a paltry number of casualties.
Now he ordered up the red coated heavies that had saved the day earlier.
Into this precarious situation rode the conglomerated heavies. Uxbridge ordered the brigades to be formed up in a single unit so as to give the impression of strength, as hours wore on, this facade was harder and harder to keep up for they were forced to maintain their position in a hail of lead that thinned their already anorexic ranks with every passing minute. The hoarse voices of the officers croaking out at every instant “Dress on the centre. March!”. Slowly the brigade began to shrink from the flanks inwards, leaving a sad line of corpses to mark their stand. It seemed to young Cornet Clape, dangerously close to commanding a regiment at 16, that this was the real battle and what had passed before was nothing, that they had been posted only to be shot down. Captain Vernor’s horse was shot through the head, the bullet passing through the poor creature’s skull and hitting him in the shoulder.
Everyone would have seen Captain Clarke, out in front regulation length from the centre sitting tall, fall and remount only to lose this horse too and have to quit the field wounded. With a deep breath and not a little molar grinding, Cheney pressed what might have been his second horse of the day forwards two horse lengths from the front. The men then watched in awe and increasing concern as Cheney proceeded to fall and continually spring clear of a succession of three unfortunate animals and each time pick himself up and fatalistically remount as if he’d just taken a tumble while hunting. Meinwhile Wemyss’s horse was killed and he went to the rear with a wounded arm and Caruthers too fell mortally wounded. Adjutant Macmillan sat waiting for death as bullets riddled his rolled cloak and wounded his horse in the shoulder. The mostly Glaswegian NCO’s stolidly kept their men in line and watched the as regiment slowly died before their eyes, with hard, smoke stained countenances they bellowed in incomprehensible torrents of brogue for the gaps to be filled.
There was a saying that NCO’s taught men how to fight and officers taught them how to die. If any regiment retired without being reinforced, it was likely the whole centre would go. The spirit that kept the line steady after La Haie Sainte fell lived in the calm way in which Captain Cheney remounted his next horse.
Uxbridge had just rallied a regiment of wavering infantry, when he heard the Prussians had made contact with the left flank. This released the light cavalry brigades, having already pulled as many brigades from the left as he dared, he now concentrated his mounted force. As Wellington rallied the Brunswick Squares, Vivian’s superb Hussars, fresh and as yet uncommitted, came up and allowed the heavies to retire.

Ewart's Eagle.

Ewart’s Eagle.

Deaath & Glory.

Since the height of the French cavalry charges the Prussian pressure on Napoleon’s right and rear, had become impossible to ignore. Even before that they had been slowly massing for the attack and carefully probing the outskirts of Plancenoit. Now about Three full army Corps were biting into the French army’s eastern perimeter. The gunfire from Plancenoit was now intense and clearly audible. Napoleon had relented in his attacks and Ney, was left floating with no way to press his now stale advantage. Wellington watched for the last act. Would Napoleon withdraw, or try once more? The sudden appearance of French Royalist deserters confirmed that Napoleon was going to try and break through once more. For the men of the Union Brigade, the attack of the Imperial Garde lacked any kind of visual image. An attack was coming, that much was certain, first word had spread like the gunfire at the beginning of the day, from right to left. Then from the musketry that suddenly roared along the front, and the busy way that the reserves came doubling up to the ridge. Uxbridge had timed everything perfectly once more, and having done all imaginable to aid the final victory he was famously wounded at his moment of triumph, the Grey’s saw Horace Seymour leading his stretcher party away.
His cavalry, lead principally by Vivian’s and Vandeleur’s Brigades, the former had which already started moving, were in motion as soon as he saw the square of the Garde fall back in the face of the Dutch counterattack. The Hussars spilled over the top of the ridge, followed by Heavies, while all along the line the entire Middle and Old Guard save a few stubborn battalions, were flung back and within minutes the French army was in irretrievable rout.
The cavalry followed closely on the heels of the retreating French. Now the brigade had to hold back until the enemy squares broke, coming under and held in check in check by Cuirassiers, with both sides deciding to shoot carbines and skirmish with each other for fear of exposing the infantry. A soldier was killed but did not fall and had to be removed from his horse and carried back so as to not scare the men.

Perhaps this man was the last Grey to die in the action at Mont St Jean. As night drew on Hamilton watched the Prussian Guns flashing in distance. After the general advance he was sent back to bring up stragglers. He rode to the small town of Waterloo and collected as many as were to be found and caught up with the regiment the next day to take command of his troop. The rest of the regiment rode up into the French positions and slept on the verge of the carnage they had witnessed. At worst several accounts confirm that the Greys could only muster 16 men on parade in the days immediately after the battle, and certainly no more than 30 men at most. That night they buried 8 officers, including Kinchant, Reignolds, Colonel Hamilton, and five others whose names I don’t know, but Caruthers died of his wounds on the 19th. These then were the names of some of the Greys that had made up that proud regiment back in March, and this was their story, as well as I could tell it. Who by winning their regiment, and the army immortal glory had won the cold comfort of their own corner of a foreign field. Their lasting memory, thanks to Lady Butler, is of a band of red coated horsemen galloping to destiny on their famous grey horses. Now they are all gone, to wherever Greys go when they die, riding forever to glory in our imaginations, epitomising the courage tragedy and grandeur of Waterloo. Those Terrible Greys.

 

Sources
British Cavalryman 1792 – 1815: Phillip J Haythornwaite
British Cavalry Equipments 1800 – 1941: Mike Chappell
Wellington’s Heavy Cavalry: Bryan Fosten
Waterloo Myth and Reality: Gareth Glover
History of the Second Dragoons (Scot’s Greys): Edward Almack
Norfolk Annals: Charles Mackie
Scum of the Earth: Colin Brown
Royal Scots Greys: Charles Grant
Peninsular War Roll Call.
Rootsweb.com
http://www.napoleonichistoricalsociety.com/articles/scotsgreys.htm
napoleonseries.org
http://britisharmywaterloo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/a-squadron-scots-greys-finished.html
http://www.greysandglory.org/
The Battle: Alessandro Barbero
Waterloo new perspectives: David Hamilton Williams
Wellington’s Regiment’s: Ian Castle
A Near Run Thing: Ian Castle
The Waterloo Companion: Mark Adkin
One Leg: Marquis of Anglesey
Radical General: Edward M Spiers
With Napoleon at Waterloo: Edward Bruce Lowe
Who was who at Waterloo: Christopher Summerville
Waterloo Archive: The British Sources, vol 1
Waterloo Archive: The British Sources, vol 3
Waterloo Archive: The British Sources, vol 4
Waterloo Letters: Gareth Glover
Waterloo Letters: Maj-Gen H.T. Siborne
The Waterloo Campaign: William Siborne
The Battle of Waterloo, a series of accounts by a near observer, 1815.
Instructions and Regulations for the formations and movements of the cavalry. 1799-1800.
With deepest thanks to:
Napoleonic Wars Forum Members: JF42, jasonubych, Jonathan Hopkins, StudentOf1812, Andrew W Fields. For their ever generous assistance and helpful, friendly input.
And to the Scots Military Research Group on Twitter.

Dedicated to the memory of the Officers and men of the old Royal Scots Greys who served in 1815, many of whose stories I have come to know so well and have tried to tell here, and to the men of their descendant Regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards who carry on their fine traditions today.

One thought on “Those Terrible Greys part 4.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s