Battle of Waterloo : Fact and Summary
After more than a decade of glory, the collapse of the French Empire and the departure of Napoleon in 1814 Left France in a state of total chaos not unlike that which it had experienced during the Revolution. Amazingly, at this point the Bourbon monarchy was restored, but Louis XVIII ruled for only 10 months.
Napoleon, grew restless during his exile, and returned to France. He was welcome in Paris with open arms, mostly for nostalgic reasons, as he represented France’s glorious past. For a brief 100 days from March 10, 1815, the clock seemed to have been turned back a decade.
However, his old rivals, especially the British, were not at all pleased that he was back on the throne. Napoleon knew that he would soon be attacked and that he had to move quickly if he was to restore his empire. He had to gamble that a fast victory would bring the states of Europe toppling down like a line of dominoes.
A large British/Prussian/Dutch force, under the command of the Prussian General Gebhart Leberecht von Blucher (1742-1819) and Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), the Duke of Wellington, had been gathered in Belgium. At first, things went well for Napoleon. His large and superbly equipped force drove a wedge between Blucher and Wellington, and defeated the Prussians at Ligny on June 16. The British retreated to a little crossroads village called Waterloo, where Napoleon caught up with them on June 17. Napoleon prepared to attack Wellington on June 18, but rain the night before made it difficult to move his canons into position. Napoleon finally attacked at 11 am and the battle raged for 10 hours. Blucher’s remaining force joined Wellington in the late afternoon, and this helped to turn the tide. By the morning of June 19, the French had been defeated and 50,000 men lay dead dying. Napoleon himself retreated to Paris, where he abdicated, for the second time, four days later. He surrendered to the British and was taken to the island of St. Helena in South Atlantic where he lived until his death from cancer on May 8, 1821.
Waterloo was one of the major turning points in European history because if Napoleon had won, he stood a good chance of re-establishing his empire France the dominant power in Europe- and possibly the world –for the rest of the nineteenth century.
As it was, France would never regain the power and influence that it had enjoyed under Napoleon. He had lost the French Empire in Europe and he had sold an even larger area-Louisiana-in North America to the United States. Waterloo marked the beginning of Pax Britannica, a period of more than a century during which Britain reigned as the world’s leading superpower.