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The substance of the following essay was originally prepared for
the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, and was read before
the Society on Monday evening, Oct. 8, 1877. The introduction was
written at a later period for the Atlantic Monthly. The essay is
now sent to '"tho mc mbo r o (rf ^he^Btferety with the author's compliments.

Marshal Grouchy published or printed, in Philadelphia, two
pamphlets, which are in the Library of the Pennsylvania Historical
Society in Philadelphia. The writer of this essay has not been able
to find them elsewhere, and he would be greatly obliged to any one
who would put him in the way of adding them to his collection of
works on the Campaign of Waterloo. Their titles are given below.


53 Temple Street,
Boston, Mass., 16 May, 1881.

1. Observations sur la Relation de la Campagne de 1815 publiee par
le General Gourgaud, et Refutation de quelquesunes des assertions
d'autres eciits relatifs a la Bataille de Waterloo. Par le Marechal de
Grouchy, Philadelphie. De I'imprimerie de J. F. Hurtel, l!^o. 124,
2"" Rue Slid, 1818. -h l^^^i^^rL-


2. Doutes sur I'Authenticite des Memoires Historiques attribues
a Napoleon, et premiere Refutation de quelquesunes des assertions
qu'ils renferment. Par le Comte de Grouchy, Philadelphie. Imprime
par J. F. Hurtel, No. 126, Second Rue Sud, Avril, 1820.


Who Lost Waterloo?





WHO LOST WATERLOO ? /S^ Pt^t ^•. :^C'V^

The interest so generally revived in
the life of Napoleon the First, awak-
ened by the publication of the Memoirs
of Madame de R^musat and of Prince
Metternich, might be a sufficient apolo-
gy for a discussion of the subject named
at the head of this article. But vphen
it is remembered that the campaign of
Waterloo has been studied anew since
the advent of the second empire ; that
it has been thoroughly investigated by
those whose aim was not strictly a his-
torical aim, but a partisan aim, who en-
deavored by the conclusions at which
they arrived either to support or to de-
stroy the prestige of the first Napoleon,
it may well be admitted to be capable
of receiving a more impartial treatment
than it has yet obtained, now that polit-
ical affairs have taken such a turn in
France that, for the moment at least,
the prestige of the great emperor is
not a material factor in public opinion.
Add to this that the complete, the over-
whelming defeat suffered at Waterloo
by such a master of the art of war as
Napoleon confessedly was must always
awaken curiosity and surprise. It was a
total failure, suffered by a man whose
genius for war has never been surpassed,
and whose experience in war has prob-
ably never been equaled. The world
is never tired of asking, How did it
come about that such a man met such a
crushing disaster, such a Waterloo de-

Now it is not the object of the pres-
ent pages to answer this question fully.
I have room to deal with only one of
the subjects suggested by that question.
But this is perhaps the most important
one of all : it relates to the failure of
Marshal Grouchy, commanding the right
wing of the army, either to prevent the
Prussians from joining the English, or
to joiD, himself, the main army under

VOL. XLVii. — NO. 284.. 50

the emperor. It will generally be ad-
mitted that Napoleon had a force suffi-
cient to defeat the motley army under
the Duke of Wellington, had Grouchy
prevented the Prussians from uniting
with it. He would have been able U>
use against it the 16,000 men with which
he kept the Prussians at bay all tlie after-
noon. It may fairly be contended that
if the two corps under Grouchy had re-
inforced the main army they would at
least have averted the rout of the French
army, even if the Prussians had joined
the English. But Grouchy neither pre-
vented the union of the allies, nor did
he join his master. Wellington and
Bliicher effected an unopposed junction
of their forces, and overwhelmed the un-
assisted army of Napoleon. Grouchy, in
fact, was, at the critical moment, some
seven or eight miles off, on the other
side of the Prussians.

Naturally enough, a controversy arose
out of this state of things. It has lasted
down to our time, and cannot yet be said
to be closed. The emperor and his
friends have laid the blame of the loss
of the battle upon Grouchy ; the mar-
shal and his friends have maintained
that he obeyed faithfully the orders of
the emperor. Grouchy's cause has been
taken up by th^se French historians
who, like Charras and Quinet, wrote
during the second empire with a view
of exploding what they termed " la le-
gende napoUonienne ;" and also by Colo-
nel Chesney in his able Waterloo Lect-
ures, General Shaw-Kennedy, and oth-
ers. Napoleon's side of the question has
been maintained not only by Thiers, but
by several other writers, of more author-
ity, though of less repute. The whole
matter has been treated with a great deal
too much of heat and partisan feeling.
It is possible, I think, to arrive at a more
correct conclusion than any to be found


Who Lost Waterloo?


in the books, and I trust that the dis-
cussion may prove not uninteresting.

What, then, are the facts in regard to
this celebrated controversy ?

The emperor invaded Belgium on
June 15, 1815. He divided his army
into three portions : intrusting to Ney
the left wing, consisting of the first and
second corps, to Grouchy the right wing,
consisting of the third and fourth corps,
and retaining the sixth corps and the
guard under his own immediate control.
Orders, which it is not necessary to quote
here, were issued on the morning of the
16th, the day on which were fought the
battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, giving
to each of these marshals the charge of
these wings of the army.

Napoleon's object in the campaign
was to separate the allied armies, and
beat them in detail. Their cantonments
extended over a hundred miles of ground
from east to west, and forty from north to
south; and, speaking generally, the Eng-
lish were to the westward and the Prus-
sians to the eastward of the great turn-
pike which runs north from Charleroi to
Brussels. There was a fine road run-
ning from Namur northwest to Nivelles
and Braine-le-Comte, which crossed the
turnpike at Quatre Bras. The English
base of operations was the sea, — say,
at Ostend and Antwerp ; the Prussian
on the Lower Rhine, in the direction
of Namur and Liege.

Having, on the 16th, beaten the Prus-
sians at Ligny, and, by the action fought
by Ney at Quatre Bras, prevented the
English from joining them, the emperor
had so far succeeded. He thought it
probable that the Prussians would re-
treat on their base ; that is, towards Na-
mur or Li^ge. The capture at five in
the morning of the 17th of some can-
non and prisoners near Le Mazy, on the
Namur road, by General Pajol, of the
cavalry, confirmed this view. Now the
-emperor's plan was to move at once
^v -against the English in the direction of
•■'.' Brussels, and it would not do to allow


the Prussian army, at or near Namur,
to reorganize and attack his communi-
cations. Therefore, although by no
means certain that the Prussians had
fallen back in this direction, he deemed
it wise to send his whole right wing in
pursuit of them, and push them vigor-
ously. We can hardly suppose that if
he had thought it more likely that the
Prussians would retreat to the north and
unite with the English, he would have
thus divided his army. There would
have been no reason for such a course.
If, however, the Prussians should retire
to the eastward, and seek to rally and
return upon the French communications,
while the emperor was manoeuvring or
fighting near Brussels, the 34,000 men
under Marshal Grouchy would be none
too many, and yet might be enough to
answer the purpose of delay. At the
same time, it was certainly possible that
Bliicher might not retreat in the direc-
tion of his base, and so separate himself
from the English, but might, on the con-
trary, seek to join Wellington, and try
the fate of another battle. And of this
possibility it was of course necessary to
warn Marshal Grouchy, so that he might,
in this event, operate so as to keep the
Prussians separated from the English.

That the defeated Prussians should
have been pushed the night of the battle,
and the direction of their retreat ascer-
tained, no one can deny. Some writers
lay blame on Grouchy for this over-
sight ; but to my mind the emperor and
Soult, his chief of staff, are much more
to be blamed. No one went out in
search of the enemy but Pajol, with two
regiments ; and whether he was sent, or
went of his own motion, does not clear-
ly appear.

The next morning, also, the 17th, the
emperor wasted, undoubtedly, a great
deal of time. However, near noon. Na-
poleon gave Grouchy a verbal order to
take his two corps (the third and fourth,)'
of Generals Vandamme and Gerard, and
the cavalry of Generals Pajol and Exel-

? <?


Who Lost Waterloo ?



mans, and jjut himself in pursuit of Mar-
shal Bllicher. And here it is impor-
tant to ascertain what Grouchy's orders
actually were. Grouchy himself made,
in 1819, the following statement : -^ —

" I told him [Napoleon]," says Grou-
chy (page 12), " that the Prussians had
commenced their retreat the evening be-
fore, at ten o'clock," and so forth. " These
observations," he goes on to state, " were

1 Observations siir la Relation de la Campagne
do, 1815, publi^e par le G^n^ral Gourgaud; et Re-
futation de yuelques-unes des Assertions d'Autres

not well received. He repeated to me
the order which he had given me, add-
ing that it was for me to discover the
route taken by Marshal Bliicher ; that
he was going to fight the English ; that
I ought to complete the defeat of the
Prussians in attacking them as soon as
I should have joined them ; and that
I should correspond with him by the
paved road which leads from a point

Merits relatifs a la Bataille de "Waterloo. Par le
Comte de Grouchy. A Paris. 1819.


Who Lost Waterloo f


near where we were to Quatre Bras.-^
Some moments of conversation which I
had with the chief of staff [Soult] re-
garded only the detaching of certain of
my troops which were to be sent to
Quatre Bras. Such are," Marshal Grou-
chy solemnly states, "word for word,
the only dispositions which were com-
municated to me, the only orders which
I received."

To the same effect, he says further on
(page 30), " But why, says the author
of the work which I am criticising
[Gourgaud], — why does not Marshal
Grouchy publish the text of the orders
which he has received ? The reason is
simple. It is because they were trans-
mitted verbally only. Those who have
served under Napoleon know how rare-
ly he gives them in writing ; and at the
moment when he commenced to perceive
the loss of precious time, on the morn-
ing of the 17th, less than ever did he
think of putting his instructions in writ-
ing'. It is convenient, I know," the
marshal adds, " to be able to attribute to
the non-comprehension of verbal orders
false movements which have been the
result of their faithful execution," etc.

And again, page 31 : " Besides, if it
was of real importance to show that
they (my orders) were only verbal, I
could find, if not a proof, at least a
strong indication of it in Marshal Soult's
letter, ... in which, speaking of my
march to Sarravalain [Sart-a-Walhain]
he expresses himself in these terms :
'This movement is conformed to the
dispositions which have been communi-
cated to you.' He would not have failed
to say, ' to the orders which I have
transmitted to you,' or ' to which you
were subject,' if I had received any save
verbal orders."

With equal emphasis Grouchy states

1 This implied that Grouchy's movement was
to be on this road, which, as I have said, runs
from Quatre Bras to Namur.

2 Fragments Historiques relatifs a la Campagne
de 1815, et a la Bataille de Waterloo. Par le Ge-
neral Grouchy. Lettre a Messieurs M^ry et Bar-

in another work, published ten years
later, in 1829,^ " The orders of Napo-
leon were, ' Put yourself in pursuit of
the Prussians, complete their defeat in
attacking them as soon as you shall join
them, and never lose sight of them. I
am going to reunite to the corps of Mar-
shal Ney the troops I carry with me, to
march upon the English, and to fight
them if they will stand this side of the
forest of Soignes ; you will correspond
with me by the paved road which leads
to Quatre Bras.' I attest upon my honor
that these were his own expressions, that
I received no other instruction, that the
injunction to outflank the right of the
Prussian army was not given to me, and
that I did not receive until the next day
the order to go to Wavre. This was
given on the 18th of June, at ten o'clock
in the morning. . . . This letter and that
dated from the field of battle of Water-
loo, at one o'clock, [p. m.] are the only
ones^ that I received on the 17th and
18th. The order-book and the corre-
spondence of the major-general [Soult,
chief of staff] prove this. This [book]
reports the hours at which the orders
were given, and the names of the oflicers
who carried them, and its details do not
permit a suspicion of an omission any
more than of a misstatement."

The terms of this verbal order are
somewhat differently given by Grouchy
in another place : * " Far from modify-
ing his first orders, the emperor corrob-
orated them in saying, ' Marshal, make
your way to Namur, for it is on the
Meuse that, according to all probability,
the Prussians are retiring ; it is therefore
in this direction that you will find them,
and in which you ought to march.' "

In these verbal orders not only is
there not a single word about a possible
intention on the part of the Prussians to

th(51emy. Paris: Firmin Didot Frferes. 1829.
Pages 4, 5, and note.

3 The italics are mine.

4 Le Mar^chal de Grouchy en 181-5, page 21.
M^moires, vol. iv. p. 47.


Who Lost Waterloo ?


unite with the English, but there is a
distinct injunction to take a southeaster-
ly course in pursuit of the Prussians,
which would indicate that Napoleon had
made up his mind that the Prussians
had no thought whatever of effecting
a junction with the English. To show
that this was the only idea in Napo-
leon's mind was plainly the object of
Grouchy's narrative, and of these re-
peated declarations.

But in spite of these persistent deni-
als, there was a written order, dictated
by Napoleon himself, and written, in
the absence of Soult, by General Ber-
trand (which fact accounts for a copy
of it not being found in the archives of
Marshal Soult, the chief of staff), and
received by Marshal Grouchy on the
afternoon of the 17th. According to
some authorities,^ it first appeared in
a biography of Marshal Grouchy by a
M. Pascallet,2 in 1842 (page 79). It is
also cited ^ from a work entitled Rela-
tion Succincte de la Campagne de 1815,
en Belgique, Pieces et Documents Offi-
ciels Inedits, Paris, Delanchy, 1843.
At this time the marshal was still liv-
ing. Nevertheless, it was not known
to Siborne, who wrote in 1844, or to
Van Lobeu Sels, who wrote in 1849 ;
still less to the Count Gerard, who car-
ried on his celebrated controversy with
Grouchy in 1830. Charras, however,
with his exhaustive research, discovered
it, and published it in his History in
1858. It appears, also, in a small work
published in 1864, some years after

1 Napolt^on a Waterloo. Paris : Dumaine. 1866.
Page 199, note ; page 238, section 4.

2 Pascallet's work is a popular biography of
Marshal Grouchj', and quite eulogistic of him. It
is not unliliej(y that the old marshal sent him all
his papers, and that among them he found this
Bertrand letter, and, naturalh- enough, published
it. After this, it was of course impossible to con-
ceal it longer. The title of the book is Notice Bio-
graphique sur M. le Marechal Marquis de Grou-
chy, Tair de France, avec des Eclaircissemens et
des Details Historiques sur la Campagne de 1815
dans le JNIidi de la France, et sur la Bataille de Wa-
terloo. Par M. E. Pascallet, Fondateur et R^'dac-
teur en chef de la Revue G^nerale Biographique,
Politique, et Litt^raire.

Grouchy's death, by one of his sons, the
Marquis de Grouchy,* and it is repeat-
ed in the elaborate Memoirs ^ of the
marshal, published by the marquis's son
in 1874. There is thei-efore no question
about its authenticity. I quote from
these last-named works : —

" Finally, and as if to take away all
doubt, Grouchy received about the same
hour from the emperor the order writ-
ten below : —

"LiGNY, June 17, 1815.6
" March to Gembloux with Pajol's
cavalry. ... You will explore in the
direction of Namur and Maestricht, and
you will pursue the enemy ; explore his
march, and instruct me as to his move-
ments, so that I can find out what he is
intending to do. I am carrying my
head-quarters to Quatre Bras, where the
English still were this morning. Our
communication will then be direct, by
the paved road of Namur. If the ene-
my has evacuated Namur, write to the
general commanding the second mili-
tary division at Charlemont to cause
Namur to be occupied by some battal-
ions of the National Guard and some
batteries of cannon which he will or-
ganize at Charlemont. He will give
the command to some general officer.

"/if is important to find out what
Bliicher and Wellington are intending to
do, and if they purpose to reunite their
armies to cover Brussels and Liege in
trying the fate of a battle? In all cases,
keep constantly your two corps of in-
fantry united in a league of ground,

3 Pajol, G^n^ral en Chef. Paris: Dumaine.
1874. Vol. iii. p. 215.

4 Le Marechal de Grouchy du 16 au 19 Juin,
1815. Avec Documents Historiques Inedits et Re-
futation de M. Thiers. Par le Gen(^^ra! de Division,
Senateur Marquis de Grouch}'. Paris: Dentu.
1864. Page 26.

5 Memoires du Marechal de Grouchy. Par le
Marquis de Grouchy, Officie.r d'Etat Major. Paris:
Dentil. 1874. Tome iv. p. 50.

6 The hour is given as towards three o'clock,
but this must be an error, as Napoleon was not at
Ligny at that time, but at Quatre Bras. The hour js
not given in Pascallet's text, nor in Delauchy's, and
is, without doubt, au unauthorized interpolation.

7 The italics are mine.


Who Lost Waterloo?


having several avenues of retreat, and
post detachments of cavalry intermedi-
ate between us, in order to communicate
with head-quarters.

" Dictated by the emperor in the ab-
sence of the chief of staff.

(Signed) The Grand Marshal,


It seems impossible that Marshal
Grouchy should in 1819 have forgotten
this dispatch. There is not, however,
in the memoirs written by his son and
grandson, a single word of explanation
of the absolute denials by the marshal,
which we have just read, of the exist-
ence of any such order.-' However we
may account for it, this order remained
concealed or forgotten for nearly thirty

Let us examine its contents for a mo-
ment. Grouchy is at first ordered to
Gembloux; he is next told to explore
in the dii-ection of Namur, the route
which the emperor thought it very like-
ly the Prussians would take, and to
push the enemy if they are retreating
on that road. It is then urged upon
him that he must discover what they
are proposing to do, and the text given
by Charras"^ and by Pascallet,^ which
varies a little from that given in the
Grouchy Memoirs, puts the alternative
with even more clearness : " It is im-
portant to find out what the enemy is
intending to do : whether he is separat-
ing himself from the English, or whether
they are intending still to unite to cover

1 No notice seems to have been taken by Ches-
ney of this extraordinary circumstance. He was
too much interested, apparently, in exposing the
mistakes made by Napoleon (who was endeavor-
ing at St. Helena to recollect almost alone and
unassisted, the details of the campaign, and of
course made mistakes) to turn his attention to the
willful concealment by Grouchy of this most im-
portant paper.

2 Histoire de la Campagne de 1815. Waterloo.
Par le, Lieutenant-Colonel Charras. Fifth edition.
Leipzig, Vol. i. p. 241. The first edition of this
valuable work was published in 1857 or 1858.

3 Page 80.

* The order, as printed in Le Mar^chal de

Brussels and Liege in trying the fate of
a new battle." *

Li^ge is coupled with Brussels in this
connection simply as an alternative sup-
position : if Brussels was to be covered,
the Prussians must unite with the Eng-
lish ; if Liege was to be covered, the
English must join the Prussians. This
suggestion, therefore, does not in the
least injure the point of the injunction,
which is to prevent the union of the
allied armies, if they are seeking to
effect a union ; otherwise, to push the
Prussians as far to the east as he could.

Now, as the Prussians, if they were
going to unite with the English at all,
would be obliged to do so on the right
of Napoleon's army, and as he had or-
dered his whole right wing, with plenty
of cavalry, to find out what they were
proposing to do, and had said in so
many words that they might be intend-
ing to unite with the English to cover
Brussels in trying the fate of another
battle, the emperor, one would think,
had a right to dismiss the subject from
his mind. It is inexplicable to me how
Colonel Chesney ® can say, immediately
after quoting the clause of which I am
speaking, " Such was the tenor of this
important letter, which serves to show
two things only : that Napoleon was now
uncertain of the line of Blucher's re-
treat, and that he judged Gembloux a
good point to move Grouchy on, in any
case." To my mind, while the letter
undoubtedly shows these two things, it
shows a third thing quite as clearly,

Grouchy en 1815, page 27, and in the M^moires
du Marechal Grouchy, page 51, does not contain
the words in italics. They appear, however, in a
citation from the order in an Allocution said to
have been addressed by the marshal to his ofHcers
on the morning of the 19th. Le Marechal de
Grouchy en 1815, page 118; M^moires, page 292.
They are undoubtedly genuine. The italics are

5 Waterloo Lectures : A Study of the Campaign
of ]8I5. By Colonel Charles C. Chesney, R. E.,
late Professor of Military Art and History in the
Staff College. Third edition. London: Long-
mans, Green & Co. 1874. Page 152.


Who Lost Waterloo f


namely, that he foresaw the possibility
of the junction of the allied armies, and
warned Grouchy to prevent it.

That evening Grouchy got only as
far as Gembloux. From that place he
wrote to the emperor an important let-
ter, dated ten p. m., in which he uses this
language : —

" It appears, according to all the re-
ports, that, arrived at Sauvenieres, the
Prussians divided into two columns :
one has taken the road to Wavre, in
passing by Sart-a-Walhain ; the other
column seems to be directed on Perwez}

" One can perhaps infer from this
that a portion is going to join Welling-
ton, and that the centre, which is the
army of Bliicher, is retiring on Liege ;
another column, with artillery, having
retreated on Namur, General Exelmans
has the order to push this evening six
squadrons on Sart-a-Walhain, and three
squadrons on Perwez.

" According to their report, if the
mass of the Prussians retires on Wavre,
1 shall follow it in that direction, in order
that they may not be able to gain Brussels,
and to separate them from Wellington.

" If, on the contrary, my information
proves that the principal force of the
Prussians has marched on Perwez, I
shall direct myself by that city in pursuit
of the enemy." ^

This dispatch first appeared in Count
Gerard's Dernieres Observations,^ pub-
lished in 1830, and is a most important
one. The mass of the Prussians, says
Grouchy, are retiring in one of two di-
rections, and I shall soon know in which.
They are going either east, by way of
Perwez, separating themselves from the
English, or north, by way of Wavre,
towards the English. If the latter, I

1 The italics are mine.

2 The italics are mine.

8 Dernieres Observations sur les Operations de

1 3

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