The painful surprise of Napoleon is well known. Grouchy hoped for,
Blucher arriving. Death instead of life.
Fate has these turns; the throne of the world was expected;
it was Saint Helena that was seen.
If the little shepherd who served as guide to Bulow, Blucher's lieutenant,
had advised him to debouch from the forest above Frischemont,
instead of below Plancenoit, the form of the nineteenth century might,
perhaps, have been different. Napoleon would have won the battle
of Waterloo. By any other route than that below Plancenoit,
the Prussian army would have come out upon a ravine impassable
for artillery, and Bulow would not have arrived.
Now the Prussian general, Muffling, declares that one hour's delay,
and Blucher would not have found Wellington on his feet. "The battle
It was time that Bulow should arrive, as will be seen. He had,
moreover, been very much delayed. He had bivouacked at Dion-le-Mont,
and had set out at daybreak; but the roads were impassable, and his
divisions stuck fast in the mire. The ruts were up to the hubs
of the cannons. Moreover, he had been obliged to pass the Dyle on
the narrow bridge of Wavre; the street leading to the bridge had been
fired by the French, so the caissons and ammunition-wagons could
not pass between two rows of burning houses, and had been obliged
to wait until the conflagration was extinguished. It was mid-day
before Bulow's vanguard had been able to reach Chapelle-Saint-Lambert.
Had the action been begun two hours earlier, it would have been
over at four o'clock, and Blucher would have fallen on the battle
won by Napoleon. Such are these immense risks proportioned
to an infinite which we cannot comprehend.
The Emperor had been the first, as early as mid-day, to descry
with his field-glass, on the extreme horizon, something which had
attracted his attention. He had said, "I see yonder a cloud,
which seems to me to be troops." Then he asked the Duc de Dalmatie,
"Soult, what do you see in the direction of Chapelle-Saint-Lambert?"
The marshal, levelling his glass, answered, "Four or five
thousand men, Sire; evidently Grouchy." But it remained motionless
in the mist. All the glasses of the staff had studied "the cloud"
pointed out by the Emperor. Some said: "It is trees." The truth is,
that the cloud did not move. The Emperor detached Domon's division
of light cavalry to reconnoitre in that quarter.
Bulow had not moved, in fact. His vanguard was very feeble,
and could accomplish nothing. He was obliged to wait for the body
of the army corps, and he had received orders to concentrate his
forces before entering into line; but at five o'clock, perceiving
Wellington's peril, Blucher ordered Bulow to attack, and uttered
these remarkable words: "We must give air to the English army."
A little later, the divisions of Losthin, Hiller, Hacke, and Ryssel
deployed before Lobau's corps, the cavalry of Prince William of
Prussia debouched from the forest of Paris, Plancenoit was in flames,
and the Prussian cannon-balls began to rain even upon the ranks
of the guard in reserve behind Napoleon.