Napoleon and Waterloo

Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,367
Australia
After reading a book or two on the Waterloo campaign, I can't help but marvel at Napoleon's conduct. His plans were brilliant, yet unfortunately his staff failed him. For example, the major ones are the absence of an entire corps, which failed to appear at either Quatre Bras or Ligny, the latter of which would have enabled Napoleon to completely surround and annihilate the Prussian army. Or Grouchy, or leisurely followed the Prussians with a third of Napoleon's army.

Even during the battle, even with Ney's pointless mass cavalry charges against the British center unsupported by infantry, Wellington's line in that sector almost collapsed. The Prussians came just in time.

It's such a shame, considering Napoleon's quite brilliant plans along with his brilliant crossing into Belgium that surprised Wellington and Blucher.

Do you think Napoleon's generals are to blame ? Or was this Napoleon's fault ?
 
May 2013
395
Hays Kansas (ex Australian)
Do you think Napoleon's generals are to blame ? Or was this Napoleon's fault ?
Napoleon appointed his generals. If they failed through lack of ability, then it becomes his problem. If they failed because of battle field conditions, that's just the fortunes of war
 

funakison

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,381
Between a rock and a hard place
After reading a book or two on the Waterloo campaign, I can't help but marvel at Napoleon's conduct. His plans were brilliant, yet unfortunately his staff failed him. For example, the major ones are the absence of an entire corps, which failed to appear at either Quatre Bras or Ligny, the latter of which would have enabled Napoleon to completely surround and annihilate the Prussian army. Or Grouchy, or leisurely followed the Prussians with a third of Napoleon's army.

Even during the battle, even with Ney's pointless mass cavalry charges against the British center unsupported by infantry, Wellington's line in that sector almost collapsed. The Prussians came just in time.

It's such a shame, considering Napoleon's quite brilliant plans along with his brilliant crossing into Belgium that surprised Wellington and Blucher.

Do you think Napoleon's generals are to blame ? Or was this Napoleon's fault ?
And who was it that promoted Grouchy and Ney, it wasn't the first time that either of these two failed in their appointed tasks.
 

funakison

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,381
Between a rock and a hard place
Napoleon appointed his generals. If they failed through lack of ability, then it becomes his problem. If they failed because of battle field conditions, that's just the fortunes of war
Drat, you beat me to it.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,667
Sydney
.
Should napoleon succeeded in breaking wellington , it would have been only the start of the 1815 campaign , the austrians were coming , another Prussian army was on the Rhine
the Russians were turning back toward France .
during the 1814 Campaign of France in spite of some notable victories , Napoleon was simply overwhelmed by his opponents
unless there was some negotiations , it would have been the same all over again
and Waterloo only a minor battle in a larger campaign
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,790
Eastern PA
.
Should napoleon succeeded in breaking wellington , it would have been only the start of the 1815 campaign , the austrians were coming , another Prussian army was on the Rhine
the Russians were turning back toward France .
during the 1814 Campaign of France in spite of some notable victories , Napoleon was simply overwhelmed by his opponents
unless there was some negotiations , it would have been the same all over again
and Waterloo only a minor battle in a larger campaign
I agree 100%. A French victory at Waterloo just would have meant that Napoleon would have had to face additional battles against opponents who outnumbered him at least five to one.

Undoubtedly, the probability of all these armies combining as a single force was extremely low, but even if Napoleon was successful in a series of piecemeal battles, attrition would have ultimately doomed the French campaign.

Napoleon was feared and hated by virtually every sovereign in Europe. They were united behind the concept that he should not be permitted to rule a nation ever again. I cannot think of any set of circumstances that would find Napoleon as the ruler of France in January 1816.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,983
After reading a book or two on the Waterloo campaign, I can't help but marvel at Napoleon's conduct. His plans were brilliant, yet unfortunately his staff failed him. For example, the major ones are the absence of an entire corps, which failed to appear at either Quatre Bras or Ligny,
Napolen was sloppy about line of command stuff. His encouraged his marshals to bicker. (politically he liked them divided rather than united) He never sorted out precedence issues. He let a lot of ill discipline in his Generals go by.

No more so that the Prussian staff stuff up that had Blucher down a entire corps himself. The Noise of war, Napoleon for most of his career had the better armies, better subordinates, and usually the numbers in his favour. With advantages you survive things going wrong better.

Wellington also made a major blunder in not concentrating his forces immediately when the intel arrived at head quarters, he should have been at Quatre Bras in force.

the latter of which would have enabled Napoleon to completely surround and annihilate the Prussian army.
if the Allies armies had worked perfectly, napoleon would have been the one crushed. Napoleon plan only looks good because of allied failures.

Or Grouchy, or leisurely followed the Prussians with a third of Napoleon's army.
Grouchy started late because Napoleon didn't get around to ordering it late. Napoleon also assumed the Prussians were beaten. Napoleon repeatedly made such optimistic evaluations of situations on limits for no data. The Austrians would not fight at marengo for example. A consistent failing of Napoleon's.

Even during the battle, even with Ney's pointless mass cavalry charges against the British center unsupported by infantry,
Napoleon's pointless cavalry charges. He was in command. he never left the field. The sth that he left the field and headed over command is one of the great biggest out of the Napoleonic excuse factory.

Wellington's line in that sector almost collapsed. The Prussians came just in time.
The Prussians were in pretty much constant communication with Wellington during the day. They arrival was a known factor wellington was working with.


It's such a shame, considering Napoleon's quite brilliant plans along with his brilliant crossing into Belgium that surprised Wellington and Blucher.
Much overstated. The were not that surprised. They received intel in time to conform with their plan, but things went wrong, one Prussian Corps failed to turn up as it should have , and Wellington delayed concentrating which was a major blunder, and was really only saved by his underlings disobeying orders to arrive at Quatre Bras as they did.


Do you think Napoleon's generals are to blame ? Or was this Napoleon's fault ?
Of course Napoleon's to blame. His was in command. Sure sometimes he carries the can for others mistakes, sometimes he steals their glory. Napoleon was more to blame than other commanders in period as he definitely had much greater control over the appointment of Generals and could have had whoever he wanted.
 

paranoid marvin

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
Which would the Allies prefer, Napoleon to use his troops to dig in and heavily fortify towns and cities, daring his enemies to attack and have to bleed for every metre of ground.... or to be out in the open, where one major defeat, or even several minor victories, would see him down to his last few troops?

Napoleon's return from Elba was miraculous, the way he built up a formidable army so quickly was amazing, but it was ultimately flawed. He never got the backing of the inportant people in Paris, and his assumption that the Allies would simply allow him to slide back onto his throne naive.

The whole Waterloo campaign was a fiasco; he failed to finish off Blucher (something he NEVER would have done in his prime) and compounded the error by send a large proportion of his army in vain pursuit several hours later.

Napoleons only hope was for swifr, decisive victories with minimal casualties, something only achievable with overwhelming superiority of men on the battlefield. His choice of Ney as second in command (presumably as reward for his treachery ) was misguided in the extreme.

Waterloo was not a battle that had to be fought, certainly not one you would choose to fight with half your men running round the country looking for an enemy you should have destroyed). Even if he had won it would have been a pyhrric victory with the loss of so many men.
 

Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,687
Ontario, Canada
I don't know who Napoleon could have placed in those charges though. The only guy he had at hand was marshal Soult. Grouchy was a distinguished general who would have been promoted eventually due to the notable absences of many marshals that either died or did not join Napoleon during the Hundred Days.

@Pugsville, Napoleon thought that the Austrians were retreating prior to Marengo because he had received information that claimed as such. In reality this was a plan leaked by Zach and Melas using an Austrian double agent. Though sorry if I derailed the Waterloo discussion.
 
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Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,367
Australia
Napolen was sloppy about line of command stuff. His encouraged his marshals to bicker. (politically he liked them divided rather than united) He never sorted out precedence issues. He let a lot of ill discipline in his Generals go by.
Possibly, but as Nobunaga pointed out, at this point in time Napoleon really didn't have a choice in who to choose.

No more so that the Prussian staff stuff up that had Blucher down a entire corps himself. The Noise of war, Napoleon for most of his career had the better armies, better subordinates, and usually the numbers in his favour. With advantages you survive things going wrong better.
Firstly, you can't discredit Napoleon for having the better armies and subordinates, because he made them. His reorganization of the French army was magnificent, the wars of his era are named after him, and all the armies of Europe copied him. This should be a credit in his favor, not a discredit.

Napoleon usually had similar numbers to his opponents, at least in the major battles. And in the case of Leipzig he was severely outnumbered and surrounded, yet managed a successful orderly retreat as well as overall inflicting more casualties on the enemy than the other way around.

Wellington also made a major blunder in not concentrating his forces immediately when the intel arrived at head quarters, he should have been at Quatre Bras in force.
Indeed, he was quite slack with his response, which is a discredit on Wellington, not Napoleon.

if the Allies armies had worked perfectly, napoleon would have been the one crushed. Napoleon plan only looks good because of allied failures.
That's pointless conjecture. I can respond by saying that if Napoleon's subordinates had worked perfectly, they would have crossed into Belgium quicker, and Napoleon would have completely surrounded and annihilated the Prussian army, isolating an outnumbered Wellington. No one works perfectly. If someone makes a mistake, it's their fault. Therefore, the allies are at fault, especially Wellington, for reacting slowly. And Napoleon can be at least credited with making such a bold and unexpected move.

Grouchy started late because Napoleon didn't get around to ordering it late. Napoleon also assumed the Prussians were beaten. Napoleon repeatedly made such optimistic evaluations of situations on limits for no data. The Austrians would not fight at marengo for example. A consistent failing of Napoleon's.
No... I'm pretty sure Grouchy reported to Napoleon during the day of Waterloo that the Prussians were retreating on Wavre, showing that Grouchy hadn't followed up properly.

Napoleon's pointless cavalry charges. He was in command. he never left the field. The sth that he left the field and headed over command is one of the great biggest out of the Napoleonic excuse factory.
Napoleon did not order any general cavalry charge. No accounts or eye witness testimonies put Napoleon as the mastermind of this pointless charge. Ney's charge may have been followed up by a lot of the reserve cavalry, mistaking it for a general advance. In fact, when the French cavalry reformed and performed a second charge on Wellington's lines, Napoleon reluctantly sent his Guard cavalry to follow it up, seeing that Wellington's lines were about to break from mere shock alone.

The Prussians were in pretty much constant communication with Wellington during the day. They arrival was a known factor wellington was working with.
I know.

Much overstated. The were not that surprised. They received intel in time to conform with their plan, but things went wrong, one Prussian Corps failed to turn up as it should have , and Wellington delayed concentrating which was a major blunder, and was really only saved by his underlings disobeying orders to arrive at Quatre Bras as they did.
Regardless, it was Wellington's blunder.

Of course Napoleon's to blame. His was in command. Sure sometimes he carries the can for others mistakes, sometimes he steals their glory. Napoleon was more to blame than other commanders in period as he definitely had much greater control over the appointment of Generals and could have had whoever he wanted.
He didn't have much of a choice, he needed marshals with experience.