Battle of Quatre Bras (part 1) 6-Jan-09


090106pictonPart 1 of the Battle of Quatre Bras. 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 battle between Marshal Ney and the Duke of Wellington. 

The Battle of Quatre Bras – part 1

Click for part 2 of the battle of Quatre Bras

Click for part 3 of the battle of Quatre Bras

Quatre Bras

Ney received a message from Soult at Napoleon’s headquarters around 1pm

“To your Excellence the Prince of Moscow
Group the corps of Counts Reille and d’Erlon with that of the Count of Valmy. With these forces, you must beat and destroy all the enemy corps which may present themselves. Blucher was in Namur yesterday and it is not likely that he will have moved troops towards Quatre Bras. So you have to deal only with what comes from Brussels.”

However it wasn’t until 2pm that the French columns advanced pushing back the Dutch-Belgian pickets.

After viewing the Prussian dispositions at Ligny, Wellington remarked to Colonel Hardinge, his liaison officer at Prussian Headquarters, “If they fight here, they will be damnably mauled”. Despite this lack of confidence in the Prussian ability to hold off the expected French attack, Wellington returned to Quatre Bras to oversee the continuing Allied concentration and ensure Blucher’s right flank was covered as best possible.

Both Wellington and Picton arrived at Quatre Bras around 2.15pm. At this time, the position was defended by 2nd Netherlands infantry division under the command of HRH William, Prince of Orange and Lt-Gen Baron Perponcher-Sedlnitzky. The defensive positions were almost exclusively on the main road to Brussels or to its west. There was nothing of any consequence east of the road.

At 2:30 Ney received a scribbled pencil note from Napoleon.

“I am surprised at your great delay in executing my orders – there is no more time to waste. Attack everything in front of you with the greatest impetuosity. The fate of the empire is in your hands.”

The French advance was pushing back the southernmost defenders. The closest French formations were approximately a mile south of the cross-roads. Their left was formed by Bachelu’s 5th infantry division which advanced with its left on the Charleroi-Brussels highway, Piré’s 2nd cavalry division was to Bachelu’s right. Foy’s 9th infantry division formed the right wing, advancing west of Hutte woods. By 2.30 pm, the advance was approximately level with the southern edge of the Bossau woods. The Allied response was to move the skirmish line, 3rd/2nd Nassau, away to the north and west whilst Bijleveld’s Dutch horse battery retired northwards from its exposed position south-west of Gemioncourt. The 2nd/2nd Nassau battalion occupying Gémioncourt received orders to hold the position for as long as possible.

The 1st/95th leading Kempt’s 8th brigade were posted under cover at the southern edge of Cherry wood whilst the remaining units, 1st/28th, 1st/32nd & 1st/79th moved through Quatre Bras turned left at the crossroads and entered the sunken road which runs for about half a mile in an east-south-east direction out of Quatre Bras. Pack’s 9th brigade (3rd/1st, 1st/42nd, 2nd/44th & 1st/92nd) followed behind 8th brigade and also moved towards the natural defensive position in the sunken road.



The Forces Continue To Deploy

The French advance continued with the front being extended. Bachelu’s units turned slightly left to threaten the hill-top position held by Stievenart’s Belgian artillery battery on the south eastern flank of Bossau woods. Piré’s cavalry moved north and Foy’s infantry angled off to the right towards the east of Cherry woods.

The Allied force starts to develop a defensive position east of Quatre Bras. 3rd/2nd Nassau (original line of skirmish companies), now attached to Kempt’s brigade, take position on the edge of Cherry woods. Best’s 4th Hanoverian brigade move towards Cherry woods and support the line in the sunken road. Also, unseen by the French, van Merlen’s 2nd light brigade of the Netherlands Cavalry division moved towards the extreme right of the Allied position. In the centre, Bijleveld’s and Stievenart’s batteries take up position on a spur of clear high ground on the eastern edge of Bossau wood, approximately 500 yards south of Quatre Bras.

The French advance continued with no clear indication of where the main thrust would be. Foy’s division advanced to the north-east. One brigade of Bachelu’s division moved towards the south-eastern corner of Bossau woods whilst the other advanced north with Piré’s cavalry on its right. The first artillery shots are fired by the Dutch-Belgian battery in the Allied centre, to no apparent effect.

The French right sends out a heavy skirmish line, all 3 battalions of 4th Légère, towards Cherry woods. 1st brigade of Bachelu’s division and a brigade of Chasseurs pushes up the Brussels road crosses the bridge over the Gémioncourt stream and cuts off 2nd/2nd Nassau in Gémioncourt. Baron Campi’s brigade of 5th division supported by the divisional artillery attack Gémioncourt farm. Jerome’s 6th infantry division appears on the field left of Bachelu, south of Bossau woods. Elements of Bachelu’s first brigade (Husson) enter the south-eastern corner of Bossau woods.

There is some desultory and inconclusive skirmish combat in both Bossau and Cherry woods. The Duke takes time to re-arrange the troops holding the sunken lane. Rogers’ and Rettberg’s batteries are brought up and positioned to cover the 200 -300 yard gap between Cherry woods and the sunken lane. The first elements of the Black Brunswickers arrive in Quatre Bras



The Attack on the Bossau Woods

The 1st and 6th Chasseurs à Cheval deployed north of the Gémioncourt stream charges Bijleveld’s and Stievenart’s batteries which, by firing and retiring to a square, do enough damage to force the cavalry to retreat with some loss. More French units begin to push into Bossau woods to discover the Dutch-Belgian defenders. The artillery hammers at Gémioncourt with nearby French infantry ready to assault. Kellerman arrives behind the centre, right of the main road with a brigade of cuirassiers. The far right moves through Thyle and crosses the bridges over the stream heading directly for Cherry woods.

The Dutch-Belgians in Bossau woods accept the challenge of the French assault, using the cover of the woods to maximum advantage. Jerome’s left, 2nd brigade, is caught by surprise when a column of cavalry shows up on the road through Bossau wood and an infantry battalion hidden in the southernmost spur of the woods fires on his flank. With the situation still slightly uncomfortable, the Wellington splits up the Brunswickers. The cavalry are ordered to support the Allied left, the Uhlan squadron into the gap between Cherry woods and the sunken road, the 2nd Hussars to the eastern flank. The Line battalions are used to support the centre whilst the light units, unseen by the French, move to the right using Bossau woods as cover.

Well over an hour into the battle, the 2nd Légère of Jerome’s 1st brigade are the first French unit to attempt a charge. Unfortunately, for the French, this charge does not go well and is seen of by a Nassau battalion with some help from the cover afforded by the woods. Initially 2nd Légère appeared to be broken but though close to panic, they stayed with the eagles; retreating in some disorder and with heavy losses. Elsewhere in Bossau woods there are a number of small arms encounters which prove to be inconclusive mainly due to the cover afforded to both sides. On the far left, Jerome’s 1st battalion, 1st Légère is broken by a charge from the 5th Belgian Light Dragoons who had moved out of the track though the woods. The unit attempted to form closed column but with cavalry charging its front and enemy infantry to the left rear, the unit panicked and took off for the rear in total confusion.


Click for part 2 of the battle of Quatre Bras

Click for part 3 of the battle of Quatre Bras


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