The Hundred Days
It was February of 1815 when Napoleon stepped off Elba to seek a return to power in Europe. The period that formed his time after Elba and while in
power for the second time came to be known as “The Hundred Days”. It has been so named because his freedom was short lived and his second attempt
at power ended no better than his first. Upon settling into his second term as Emperor of France, it soon became clear that the Austrians, British,
Prussians and Russians saw him as a dire threat. Those nations began the immediate preparations for war, again.
Napoleon raised an army in short order and recognized the threats aligning against him. His plan was as simple as it was flawed. He intended to strike
the allied nations individually and with overwhelming force to insure quick suppression before moving to the next. This was intended to prevent a
united front against him, which he seemed to realize he could not successfully fight.
In June of 1815, the French forces crossed into Belgium and engaged the Prussian forces camped at Ligny. This was a military victory for Napoleon but
it was not complete. He failed to destroy the Prussian force. In what came to be one of a couple flaws he made to seal his fate, he chose to turn
toward a fresh fight rather than finish the one he had just engaged in with the Prussians.
The Battle of Waterloo
Two days following the break in contact from Prussian forces and what was considered a victory at Ligny, Napoleons army of some 72,000 men marched on
the British army near a small village called Waterloo. The British numbered around 68,000 and that was not good for their chances against an army on
the march and known for fighting hard. Elements and circumstances all turned against the Emperor in this engagement, and his past judgment failed him
for recognizing it in time
The evening before the battle saw a fierce rainstorm. This left the field of battle waterlogged and muddy. In a fatal blunder, Napoleon felt it would
be beneficial to wait until mid-day and some time had allowed the sun to dry the ground he was about to engage across. If things were as they seemed
to his eyes at that moment, his decision would likely have been a sound one. They were not as they seemed, however, and his decision couldn't have
The French forces mounted a strong and costly attack against the British forces. Some accounts suggest Waterloo may have gone down as a British defeat
and another major victory for the French. Any possibility of that happening was effectively removed by the poor judgment shown a couple days earlier
in fighting the Prussians, as events unfolded to prove.
In what must have been a staggering shock to the General turned Emperor, the defeated Prussian force reappeared at the worst possible moment.
Late in the day and after considerable fighting had already weakened both armies, Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher came into view with the surviving
Prussian force, still estimated to number near 30,000 men. The introduction of this relatively fresh group is what turned the tide and made Waterloo a
profound lesson in military success turned to crushing defeat in the time it takes to describe it.
Across a battlefield only measuring four miles long and two miles wide, French losses are estimated at around 33,000 men for the engagement. That came
from a starting total of near 72,000. Combined British and Prussian forces numbered around 100,000 men by the time Blucher’s command joined the
British in the fight. In hindsight, it is easy to see that Waterloo was a battle which was lost before the first hostile act had been taken by either
side, though neither side could possibly have known that at the time. The aftermath was not kind to Napoleon, however.