On This Day: 18 June 1815

On this Day 200 years ago The Black Watch were present at the Battle of Waterloo, which took place in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (now modern day Belgium). The Battle was between a French Army under the command of Napoleon and the armies of the Seventh Coalition, which was comprised of an Anglo-allied army, under the command of the Duke of Wellington and a Prussian army, under the command of Gebhard von Blücher.

The prospect of Napoleon’s return to power caused enormous anxiety and upon his ascension, the many states that opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilise armies. Wellington (the British commander) and Blücher (the Prussian commander) assembled two large forces close to the north-eastern border of France.  Napoleon attacked in the hope that they could be destroyed before they could organise a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the coalition. The Battle of Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon’s last. According to Wellington, the Battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.” Both sides suffered enormous losses and casualties, with the Anglo-allied and Prussian forces losing a total of 24,000 men and the French Army suffering almost double that of their enemies, with a total of 41,000 killed, wounded, captured and missing.

During the final stages of the Battle, the Highland Brigade was attacked by the elite Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard. As they advanced, an officer carrying the colours of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders fell dead. Although the French rushed to seize the colour, an unidentified soldier from The Black Watch ran forward to recover it. Unable to prise the Colour from the officer’s hand, he picked up his body and made for his own line. Impressed by his bravery, the French paused briefly, allowing the Highlander to reach safety.

This incident was immortalised by Charles Achille d’Hardiviller in An Incident of Waterloo (1837), which is on display at The Gordon Highlanders Museum and available online here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/an-incident-of-waterloo-106215

unknown highlanderThis print drawn by Vasslard, shows the ‘Unknown Soldier’ at Waterloo carrying the body and colours of the 92nd Gordon Highlanders away from the French lines.

The French defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French, and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. Waterloo definitively ended the series of wars that had shaken Europe since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. Coalition forces entered France and restored King Louis XVIII to the French throne and Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to abdicate, ending not only his political and military career, but also the First French Empire. Bonaparte eventually surrendered to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon, part of the British blockade, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.


About blackwatchmuseum

The Museum of The Black Watch offers an insight into one of the British Army's if not the world's most famous fighting units. Scotland's Black Watch is an elite military regiment whose history stretches back almost three centuries.
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