Today on June 18, 1815, Napoleon was decisively beaten for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo.
The Battle of Waterloo was an epic showdown that pitted the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, against the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The two armies fought in present-day Belgium on a field near Waterloo. Napoleon had only recently emerged from his short-lived exile on the island of Elba. His empire quickly crumbled after being utterly defeated at the Battle of Leipzig in 1814. He was subsequently forced to abdicate the throne by signing the Treaty of Fontainebleau. On February 26, 1815, he daringly escaped and returned to Paris within weeks. Napoleon seized control over the government and began preparing for war. This period is now known as the Hundred Days.
Napoleon’s strategy anchored on taking the offensive. He simply could not allow his enemies to unite and coordinate a joint attack. Therefore, he immediately mobilized an army and marched north-east to invade Belgium. On June 16, he first engaged with the Prussian army under General von Blucher at Ligny. While defeated, Blucher was still able to retreat in good order. The British-led coalition under Wellesley subsequently withdrew and took up a defensive position along an escarpment known as Mont-Saint-Jean (near the main Brussels Road). Blucher sent word that he could reinforce the British on the next day.
On June 18, Napoleon made an early mistake by delaying his attack. The battlefield was waterlogged from a rainstorm, making it difficult to move cannons and horses. Known for his lethal artillery attacks, he eventually began with a massive bombardment; although this proved ineffective as the British positioned themselves behind a defensive ridge. The French infantry proceeded to advance in their usual column formations but was quickly cut down by the long-thin British lines. Reportedly in poor health that day, Napoleon was forced to remain away from the action. Blucher made good on his promise by arriving later in the day. In a last-ditch effort, Napoleon ordered his elite Old Guard to charge, but even they were pushed back. Several tactical and communication errors played a vital role in the outcome.