The amazingly turbulent life and times of Napoleon Bonaparte drew to a swift and final climax on 18 June 1815 with the iconic Battle of Waterloo, fought on a Sunday afternoon in present-day Belgium.
After a period of exile Napoleon had returned to power in France in early 1815 but was challenged soon after by the so-called Seventh Coalition – a combined Anglo and Prussian force opposed to his rule.
Napoleon’s army at the time numbered some 73,000 troops, including 252 guns, with the Coalition forces able to field a larger army of 118,000 men but with a smaller artillery muster of 156 guns.
The battle was joined on a wet field around 15 km to the south of Brussels when the French forces closed with the Anglo army, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, in a wild and seesawing fight that lasted well into the evening.
The Anglo army was in a strong defensive position along a ridgeline and were progressively reinforced during the day by elements of the Prussian Army, who were arriving after simultaneously fighting the French on a different front.
A feature of the battle was its highly concentrated nature. More than 150,000 men were joined in desperate hand-to-hand fighting in an area approximately 6.5 by 3.5 kilometres, producing an appalling maelstrom of noise and carnage that raged for several hours.
Ultimately the Prussian forces were able to break through on the French right flank, and Wellington then ordered his troops to attack the French centre, leading to the decisive defeat of the Napoleons’ army. Around 25,000 French were killed compared to a toll of some 5000 from the Coalition forces.
Although a conclusive victory, Wellington later remarked that the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”.
Waterloo signalled the end of an era and soon after Napoleon was exiled to the remote island of St. Helena, in the South Atlantic.
Image: The Battle of Waterloo – from a painting by the Irish artist William Sadler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.