Why did Napoleon attack at Waterloo

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,094
#11
Let's say that's... ungenerous. But hey, it's the "Corsican Ogre" so what does anyone expect?

We are talking an activity that at the best of times involves serious risk taking, highs stakes, involving death and destruction for thousands, and where information is never going perfect and you're still going to have to act on that imperfect information.

You're also only arrogant if you get it wrong. And it still famously was "a near-run thing".

There's a reason generals in the early modern period, at the end of which Napoleon and his contemporaries sit, talked about "hazarding a battle" when they committed to one. Most of the time it was akin to waging it all in one fell swoop in a game of chance. Sure it might look good in advance, but once the battle was underway, things could end up all over the place. So careful generals avoided them like the plague, sometimes for an entire career.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,130
#12
Let's say that's... ungenerous. But hey, it's the "Corsican Ogre" so what does anyone expect?

We are talking an activity that at the best of times involves serious risk taking, highs stakes, involving death and destruction for thousands, and where information is never going perfect and you're still going to have to act on that imperfect information.

You're also only arrogant if you get it wrong. And it still famously was "a near-run thing".

There's a reason generals in the early modern period, at the end of which Napoleon and his contemporaries sit, talked about "hazarding a battle" when they committed to one. Most of the time it was akin to waging it all in one fell swoop in a game of chance. Sure it might look good in advance, but once the battle was underway, things could end up all over the place. So careful generals avoided them like the plague, sometimes for an entire career.
Never the less, when going into battle , generals would try to get all possible odds in their favor (numbers, terrain, etc....)... Napoleon does not seem to have done that....
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,130
#13
Having seemingly Broken the Prussians at Ligny, Napoleon could surmise that the Prussian had been put out of commission for the forseeable future. At least to the extent they wouldn't make a battle-winning appearance at Waterloo.
Well, not quite, since he sent Grouchy in pursuit of the prussians (thus depriving himself of some 30 000 men for the Waterloo battle).....
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,676
#14
Well, not quite, since he sent Grouchy in pursuit of the prussians (thus depriving himself of some 30 000 men for the Waterloo battle).....
It was way to many men, if the Prussians were broken and falling back on their supply lines as Napoloen thought, why were so many men needed. My recent reading has Soult taking Napoloen to task over that and being over ridden.

Napoleon always was Cocky, and rather unconcerned about possible problems.
 

Edratman

Ad Honorem
Feb 2009
6,469
Eastern PA
#15
Napoleon was playing a bad hand with time and numbers against him. This situation was the end result of choices and decisions that Napoleon made over the previous decade. Ascribing blame to Napoleon's subordinates in the denouement misrepresents the the vast majority of factors that preceded, and led to, the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was forced by the circumstances of limited choice to immediately attack, and defeat, everyone and anyone because all other options led to an end of his comeback.

It is easy to infer that Napoleon was fully aware that his situation required a low probability series of battlefield successes to enable him to continue his second reign on the throne of France. That inference explains why he fled the battlefield immediately following the battle, abandoning his army while hoping for some undeserved outcome without regard for the fates of the soldiers who risked death for the sake of Napoleon's ego and ambition.
 

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,669
Dispargum
#16
The Waterloo Campaign was a classic example of "Maneuver from the Central Position." If the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch armies had combined they would have greatly outnumbered Napoleon. His first priority was to keep his two enemy armies separated. To do so, he inserted his own army between them and then tried to push the two enemy armies farther apart. Napoleon failed to do this, but this is what he was thinking and attempting. Time was critical. He had to destroy Wellington before Blucher could arrive. Had Napoleon defeated or even destroyed Wellington he next would have turned the entire French army upon Blucher and would have fought him next.

Napoleon almost always attacked. He was a great believer in the attacker's power to decide the time, place, and other circumstances of battle. The defender must accept battle on the attacker's terms. Napoleon always prefered to control the battle through the use of offensive action. For Napoleon to surrender the initiative and let Wellington attack him would have been out of character. It also would have allowed Wellington to wait for Blucher to reinforce him.
 
Nov 2010
7,515
Cornwall
#17
Because that's what he did. He was the agressor, the invader. That's why Wellington had marked the site long before. He knew he'd be fighting a defensive battle against a French attack. He didn't know the Prussians would be defeated when he planned it.

If you look at it in isolation of course it doesn't make too much tacrtical sense, but he nearly did it. If he wasn't going to attack just as well stay in Paris - or Elba for that matter!
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,130
#18
Because that's what he did. He was the agressor, the invader. That's why Wellington had marked the site long before. He knew he'd be fighting a defensive battle against a French attack. He didn't know the Prussians would be defeated when he planned it.

If you look at it in isolation of course it doesn't make too much tacrtical sense, but he nearly did it. If he wasn't going to attack just as well stay in Paris - or Elba for that matter!
I guess another way of rewording and simplifying my question would be , why there and then ? Why could he not use manoeuver to destabilize Wellington and force him to fight on a less favorable battlefield for example ?
Again in a context with limited French man power Napoleon should have been loss averse.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,094
#19
I guess another way of rewording and simplifying my question would be , why there and then ? Why could he not use manoeuver to destabilize Wellington and force him to fight on a less favorable battlefield for example ?
Again in a context with limited French man power Napoleon should have been loss averse.
If you have space and time on your side that's fine.

Above all he was running out of time.
 
Nov 2010
7,515
Cornwall
#20
I guess another way of rewording and simplifying my question would be , why there and then ? Why could he not use manoeuver to destabilize Wellington and force him to fight on a less favorable battlefield for example ?
Again in a context with limited French man power Napoleon should have been loss averse.
Because Wellintgton knew what he was doing. Might be worth studying Salamanca. Manouvres all day until Marmont made an error.