This Day in History : [ 18 / Jun ]

Napoleon defeated at Waterloo

At Waterloo in Belgium Napoleon Bonaparte suffers defeat at the hands of the Duke of Wellington bringing an end to the Napoleonic era of European history.The Corsica-born Napoleon one of the greatest military strategists in history rapidly rose in the ranks of the French Revolutionary Army during the late 1790s.By 1799 France was at war with most of Europe and Napoleon returned home from his Egyptian campaign to take over the reigns of the French government and save his nation from collapse.After becoming first consul in February 1800 he reorganized his armies and defeated Austria.

In 1802 he established the Napoleonic Code a new system of French law and in 1804 was crowned emperor of France in Notre Dame Cathedral.By 1807 Napoleon controlled an empire that stretched from the River Elbe in the north down through Italy in the south and from the Pyrenees to the Dalmatian coast.Beginning in 1812 Napoleon began to encounter the first significant defeats of his military career suffering through a disastrous invasion of Russia losing Spain to the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula War and enduring total defeat against an allied force by 1814.Exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean he escaped to France in early 1815 and set up a new regime.

As allied troops mustered on the French frontiers he raised a new Grand Army and marched into Belgium.He intended to defeat the allied armies one by one before they could launch a united attack.On June 16 1815 he defeated the Prussians under Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher at Ligny and sent 33000 men or about one-third of his total force in pursuit of the retreating Prussians.On June 18 Napoleon led his remaining 72000 troops against the Duke of Wellingtons 68000-man allied army which had taken up a strong position 12 miles south of Brussels near the village of Waterloo.

In a fatal blunder Napoleon waited until mid-day to give the command to attack in order to let the ground dry.The delay in fighting gave Bluchers troops who had eluded their pursuers time to march to Waterloo and join the battle by the late afternoon.In repeated attacks Napoleon failed to break the center of the allied center.Meanwhile the Prussians gradually arrived and put pressure on Napoleons eastern flank.

At 6 p.m.the French under Marshal Michel Ney managed to capture a farmhouse in the allied center and began decimating Wellingtons troops with artillery.Napoleon however was preoccupied with the 30000 Prussians attacking his flank and did not release troops to aid Neys attack until after 7 p.m.

By that time Wellington had reorganized his defenses and the French attack was repulsed.Fifteen minutes later the allied army launched a general advance and the Prussians attacked in the east throwing the French troops into panic and then a disorganized retreat.The Prussians pursued the remnants of the French army and Napoleon left the field.

French casualties in the Battle of Waterloo were 25000 men killed and wounded and 9000 captured while the allies lost about 23000.Napoleon returned to Paris and on June 22 abdicated in favor of his son.He decided to leave France before counterrevolutionary forces could rally against him and on July 15 he surrendered to British protection at the port of Rochefort.He hoped to travel to the United States but the British instead sent him to Saint Helena a remote island in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa.

Napoleon protested but had no choice but to accept the exile.With a group of followers he lived quietly on St.Helena for six years.

In May 1821 he died most likely of stomach cancer.He was only 51 years old.In 1840 his body was returned to Paris and a magnificent funeral was held.

Napoleons body was conveyed through the Arc de Triomphe and entombed under the dome of the Invalides.