Part 3 of the Battle of Ligny. The battle of Ligny and the battle of Quatre Bras occurred simultaneously in June 1815.
The NWA Napoleonic group put on another of their New Year big battles also recreating both battles at the same time. Read this report about the Ligny battlefield.
The Battle of Ligny (part 3)
Click to go back to part 1 of the battle of Ligny
Click to go back to part 2 of the battle of Ligny
Cavalry Actions on the West
To cover the flank of Prussian II Corps while it advanced, the entire II Corps cavalry moved against the French chasseurs of 3rd Cavalry Division with the intent of quickly destroying them. The Cuirass of 1st Brigade 13th Division were brought up to support the isolated chasseurs.
At 4:45pm the two cavalry forces stood either side of the Ligne Stream west of Wagnelee. Horse artillery batteries were deployed and firing at each other. The French artillery fire was incredibly accurate dismounting 3 guns from Horse Battery #7.
Upon seeing the mass of Prussian cavalry, Milhaud ordered the 2nd Brigade of 13th Cavalry Division to support the French cavalry taking up a position threatening the Prussian infantry approaching St Amand la Hammond.
Sent only to distract the French Cavalry, the Landwehr Cavalry of 3rd Brigade found themselves facing the 3rd Cavalry Division. The 4th and 9th Chasseurs a cheval charged the 4th and 5th Kurmark Landwehr Cavalry. Both sides held their ground. The French were then reinforced by the 12th Chasseurs a cheval and charged again. This was too much for the Prussians and they broke losing 600 men killed, wounded and captured.
The 4th Cuirassier Regiment advanced across the Ligne Stream. Von Sohr saw this as an opportunity to eliminate them and lead the 1st and 6th Dragoons in a charge. After a brief fight the cuirassiers pushed the Prussians back to their starting position. Supporting artillery fire from the Prussian horse batteries eventually forced the cuirassiers to withdraw.
The French tried to follow up their success against the Landwehr cavalry by pushing around the pond thus gaining the rear of the Prussian position. The Prussian 11th Hussars were sent to guard the rear of the pond. They were joined by the 4th Hussars, who had been on flank guard duty but were now required to support the Prussian cavalry. The narrowing terrain by the small lake of Etang de Wagnee was used to great effect in limiting the superiority of the French cavalry. Also, Prussian horse artillery redeployed to fire on the flank of the French cavalry as it tried to pass the pond. After a few unsuccessful charges against the 11th Hussars the French withdrew to a position safe from artillery fire. Stalemate had been reached and the flank became quiet.
The Prussian Assault Stalls
With 7th Division in retreat, the flanks of 11th Division were unguarded. Berthezene therefore began to pull back to a new defensive position behind St Amand la Hammond. 10th Division, still trying to take the last section of St Amand la Haye, conformed to this movement and also fell back.
Vandamme, seeing the threat of the Prussian advance, put himself at the head of the two divisions. Realising he could not defeat the Prussian infantry he resolved to hold them for as long as possible. This would allow Napoleon to defeat the Prussians with the Guard. Skilfully giving ground and frustrating the Prussians he formed a defensive line south of St Amand le Hameau. The advancing Prussian infantry could not move past St Amand Le Hameau without exposing their flank. Tippelskirch therefore brought up 6pdr Battery #10 to point blank range and began firing. The 1/Fus/2nd Infantry Regiment personally led by Tippelskirch then charged the village. The charge was successful and 1/12th Line was driven out. This allowed the 2/2nd Infantry to charge the flanks of the 11th Divisional and III Corps reserve artillery. The gunners fled to a part of the village still held by the French. The 12pdr battery had been pinning down the 25th Infantry and the 5th Westphalian Landwehr Infantry it was no longer able to do so.
At 4:45 Napoleon reluctantly sent the 14th Cavalry division to support the right flank. The 1,500 Cuirassiers were supposed to take a position in the rear of Vandamme’s III Corps to counter any breakthrough. Delort, seeing the cavalry battle on the extreme flank, exceeded his orders and forced marched his division to support the French cavalry.
The 9th and 26th Prussian Infantry then advanced passed St Amand Le Hameau. Vandamme, judging this as his time to counter, lead 10th Division and elements of 11th Division against these two regiments. 4,000 Prussians counter charged 3,000 Frenchmen but were unable to do more than push the French back. Fatigued, disordered and with the French constantly giving ground, the Prussians were unable to capitalise on their numerical superiority.
Thielemann had ordered Borcke’s 9th Brigade and Lucks 11th Brigade to redeploy to a position between Sombreffe and the Ligne Stream. He deployed his brigades into lines around III Corps reserve artillery which had been sent to engage the Old Guard battery.
Luck deployed his Landwehr in line on the left while Borcke deployed to the right with 8th Lieb Infantry Regiment on the Ligne Stream edge supported by the 36th Infantry Regiment and 1st Kurmark Landwehr Infantry Regiment. Neither Borcke nor Luck thought to place a garrison in Sombreffe, to their rear.
This omission was, initially, unobserved by Blucher. By the time he noticed it, it was too late to send a counter order.
Gerard seeing the movement of the Westphalian Landwehr Cavalry south of Ligny sent a scrambled message to Napoleon “Large Prussian cavalry unopposed on my flank request immediate cavalry support”
Upon receiving the message, Napoleon shifted his attention to this section of the battlefield and immediately became alarmed. The Prussian Cavalry was unopposed and could march directly into the French baggage. To counter this threat Napoleon ordered Exelmans II Cavalry Corps into a covering position.
Exelmans moved his corps in a column of regiments towards the Westphalian cavalry and the rear of 2nd Brigade. Disaster threatened the Prussian lines should this cavalry corps break through. Von Roeder ordered 1st Cavalry Brigade of I Corps, the only force available, to counter this threat. Treskow II, apparently misunderstood his orders and instead of supporting the Westphalians, deployed behind squares of the 1/29th and 2/7th Infantry.
The narrow terrain forced the French to deploy one regiment at a time. The 5th Dragoons led and were charged by the Westphalian Landwehr. The Westphalians, knowing that they were the last hope of 2nd Brigade, were stoic in defence. They managed to hold the French back for 45 minutes until Exelmans was able to bring the 13th Dragoons into the front line. These Fresh horsemen were too much for the Westphalians who retreated. 2nd Brigade, facing the French cavalry was forced to form square.
The French Guard Attacks
At 4:30 the decision was made to commit the Guard. The immortals were ordered to advance right of Ligny, where a Guard grand battery of 56 cannon was being established. The Grenadiers were deployed on the left, the Chasseurs on the right. The 4th Grenadiers and the 4th Chasseurs were held in reserve.
At 5pm Blucher, noting the mass of Guardsmen marching towards Thielemanns’ fragile lines, ordered Pirch to use the last Prussian reserve. 7th and 8th Brigade were to counter any Old Guard attack. Pirch failed to act on his orders and Blucher was required to resend them. Pirch eventually sent the following order to Bose, commanding 8th Brigade “Counter any breakthrough of the Old Guard by attacking the flank as it passes through Thielemanns forces. Good luck”. As had happened with Pirch himself, Bose failed to implement the order. Pirch resent the order and at 5:45 7th and 8th Brigade finally began to move. To help Pirch, Blucher ordered Roeder to send 2nd Cavalry Brigade to his support Pirch. Also, the Grand Battery, assembling behind Ligny, was ordered to move to oppose the expected French breakthrough.
At 5:15 the Guard grand battery unleashed a terrible fire on the men of Borcke’s 9th Brigade and Luck’s 11th Brigade. The battery paused to allow the 1st and 2nd Grenadiers to take position in the hollow ground by the Ligne Stream before opening up again. The French gunners concentrated on Borcke’s brigade, deployed in line on the heights in front of Sombreffe, the 8th Leib Infantry Regiment and the 2/1st Kurmark Landwehr Regiment were decimated. This was too much for the Prussians and they began to break. Seeing the wavering infantry the Grenadiers a cheval launched a charge and swept away all resistance taking hundreds of prisoners. The fate of the Leib Infantry Regiment broke the morale of 9th Brigade which began to flee. In following up their victory, the Grenadiers a Cheval rode past the Prussian Grand Battery that had just assembled. Some sections of the Prussian grand battery were able to fire on the flank of the Grenadiers a Cheval and force them to retire.
General de Brigade Petit leading the 1st and 2nd Grenadiers a Pied advanced towards the Prussian grand battery. Pushing away the stragglers of Luck’s 11th Brigade which retired after 9th Brigade fled, Petit paused to decide hat to do next. He had to deal with 48 cannon supported by the 6000 men of 8th Brigade Bose had brought forward. Not wanting to give the Prussian artillery the chance to fire he advanced to engage the Grenadiers frontally. Bose had advanced too far and had opened his flank to General de Brigade Harlet leading the 4th Grenadiers and 4th Chasseurs a Pied. These units charged the flank of the 21st Infantry Regiment. Being taken in the flank by 1,500 charging guardsmen was too much for the Prussians. They fled towards and through the grand battery taking the artillerists with them. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Grenadiers a Pied then advanced through the abandoned enemy guns to the heights behind Ligny pushing back what remained of 8th Brigade.
Meanwhile the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chasseurs a pied had advanced on the Point du Jour road to the edge of the Ligne Stream. It appeared that they were to assault 12th Brigade, 1,000 yards to their front. After crossing the brook the Chasseurs veered to the left and entered the town of Sombreffe which, as previously stated, had been left unoccupied. The right flank of the Chasseurs was covered by elements of 14th Division. The Chasseurs, supported by the Empress Dragoons, continued their advance unopposed into the rear of the Prussian I and II Corps.
It was at this point that Blucher recognised defeat. The Prussians broke off and began their retreat.
After the Battle
I Corps had lost its entire cannon. The reserve artillery of II and III Corps was also lost. 1st, 8th, 9th and 11th Brigades were all in retreat. Most of 4th Brigade had been made prisoner. As there was no French Light cavalry at the point of the French breakthrough I and II Corps were able to retreat directly to Wavre. II Corps was still in good order with relatively light casualties and formed the rearguard. Under its light cavalry screen III Corps rallied its retreating brigades and was forced to take a wider route to avoid French pursuers.
Blucher was determined to unite with the 30,000 men of IV Corps which was still enroute. He hoped this would allow him to take the offensive to recapture his 120 cannon from Napoleon. Blucher believed the lost battle to be only a temporary setback.
Click to go back to part 1 of the battle of Ligny
Click to go back to part 2 of the battle of Ligny