Battle of Quatre Bras (part 2) 6-Jan-09


090106frenchPart 2 of the battle of Quatre Bras. As the figt continues, Gémioncourt farm is captured, but Jérome’s attack stalls. Allied reinforcements continue to march onto the battlefield.

The NWA Napoleonic group put on another of their New Year big battles recreating th ebattle of Ligny and the battle of Quatre Bras at the same time, as occurred historically. Read this report about the Quatre Bras battlefield. 

The Battle of Quatre Bras – part 2

Click for part 1 of the battle of Quatre Bras

Click for part 3 of the battle of Quatre Bras

The Capture Of Gémioncourt Farm

The artillery bombardment of Gémioncourt farm continues with the French centre doing little or nothing else.

The Brunswick cavalry units are brought into their assigned positions. The Line battalions are moved forward to cover the direct approach to Quatre Bras. The Allied right is holding off the only attack worth mentioning. It is now 4:00pm and with the exception of Jerome’s movements, Ney has been very cautious in his approach to this battle. His Grace appears calm and unruffled, as usual.

Just after 4:00pm, the 2nd/2nd Nassau battalion holding Gémioncourt is broken by the continuous artillery fire. They retreat to the north moving swiftly up the Brussels road. They had been completely surrounded at one time but French movement had allowed them an escape route. With Gémioncourt farm no longer a problem, Bachelu’s 2nd brigade which were waiting the signal to assault are released and advance north on the line of and east of the Brussels road. Foy’s division, on the French right continues to advance at a snail’s pace. The Allied forces have no threat that requires a counter but watch their enemy closely. Wellington is in conversation with HRH William, Prince of Orange and is now so relaxed, he appears almost jovial!

Jérome’s Attack Stalls

The fight for Bossau woods, especially on the French far left, is not going their way. Their precipitate advance has left them in trouble from cavalry and flanking infantry. Piré’s cavalry begin to move out towards the right wing to allow Kellerman’s cuirassiers to advance northwards. Five battalions of Jérome’s 2nd brigade attempt to charge Bijleveld’s and Stievenart’s batteries; their left is hit by flanking musketry from Hanoverian infantry lining Bossau woods. This is enough to deter them and force a retirement. Their attempted charge is followed up by a forward movement from II corps reserve artillery, the battery commander, Captain Valnet, leads his guns too close to the deployed Dutch-Belgian artillery and the battery is hit whilst trying to unlimber. Valnet, his two lead guns and crews are hit by a storm of canister and are cut down. Now leaderless and with the five retiring infantry battalions adding to the sense of panic, the remaining men of Valnet’s battery abandon their guns and flee in panic.

Rogers’ and Rettberg’s batteries are no longer required to cover the gap between Cherry wood and the sunken road and are pulled out northwards. The 2nd Brunswick Hussars manoeuvre to keep the French guessing as to their intentions. Fire from Bijleveld’s and Stievenart’s batteries plus the shock of the other running units breaks a French infantry battalion. The 5th Belgian light dragoons and the Brunswick light infantry push into the front line on the extreme right flank of the allied position.

At 4:15pm the French appear to have run out of ideas and heart. Ney wrote a message to Napoleon at Ligny

“Situation deteriating. Jerome’s Division badly mauled, am breaking him o and re-deploying. Am breaking off Bachelu and Foy also, in the face of superior numbers. Falling back along the Namur Road. Will attempt a rear guard action at Thyle. A timely arrival of d’Erlons corps would be nice”

Following Ney’s orders the 6th Infantry division on their left disengages from the Allied right. Wellington observed that the French centre and right are no longer thinking in terms of victory. Instead they appear to be much more interested in survival. The only good news for the French is that a very one-sided skirmish combat between three battalions of 4th Légère and a couple of companies of Nassau Jaegers runs in their favour. However, as the French skirmishers push further into the eastern side of Cherry woods they discover a formed line of British and Hanoverian troops which brings their advance to a rapid halt.

At 4:30 Ney sent an updated message to Napoleon

“Am attempting to acquire the cross roads at Quatre Bras but not only am I facing 3000 Dutch Belgian but also the greater part of Wellingtons forces. My previous assessment may have been a bit optimistic. Don’t expect any help from me soon. D’Erlons where abouts would be useful.”

With the French seemingly disinclined to offer any offensive threat, the Duke decides to accept the initiative. The far right begins to sweep forward, more or less directly eastwards, following up the French disengagement. Wellington himself leads the British battalions out of the sunken road in an oblique advance on the French troops to the south-west. As flank cover for this move, the 1st/79th move forward, from the gap between the sunken road and Cherry wood, in closed column and are charged by the 6th Lancers who were perceived as the main threat to Wellington’s advance from the road. The outcome is predictably a stalemate and both units retire with loss (Picton’s first casualties of the day).


Ney Continues To Retire

The French infantry to the front of Wellington’s movement, at first, look as though they will accept the challenge but suddenly break off for the rear leaving Kellerman, with 8th and 11th Cuirassiers and supporting horse artillery as rearguard. The change of front required gives the British units threatened by the cuirassiers a chance to change formation which is gladly taken. Marcillac’s horse battery opens fire on 1st/32nd but scores a direct hit on Wellington’s staff. There is consternation as Lt-Col C.F.Canning, 3rd Foot Guards, is mortally wounded whilst riding beside and conversing with Lord Wellington! The French left continues to fall back whilst their right attempts to use skirmishers to annoy the line in Cherry woods.

The use of skirmishers in Cherry woods is totally ineffective and the allied troops push them back without taking casualties. On the right, the Allied eastwards advance continues. In the centre British units in square are used to block any charge from the cuirassiers whilst 1st/32nd, with a visibly annoyed Wellington urging them on, charges Marcillac’s battery. The French bravely fire at the charging British in defence of their guns but are overwhelmed and killed or made prisoner, Marcillac himself is wounded and taken. In the centre of the field, there are now 14 French cannon sitting abandoned except for the corpses of their crews. The time is 5:00pm.

9th Infantry division’s advance towards Cherry wood, apparently a diversion, is now reversed with the infantry and the skirmish screen starting to pull back across the stream in the direction of Thyle. In the centre, 1st/32nd, having overrun the horse artillery is in a rather precarious advanced position and Kellerman’s cuirassiers manoeuvre to get into position to charge. An unidentified French artillery battery positioned on the southern bank of the Gémioncourt stream causes the 1st/32nd casualties with flanking fire.

In trying to position itself for a charge, the 8th Cuirassiers expose a flank to 1st/92nd which moves up in square breaks the 8th with flank fire and also ensures that the 11th cannot charge. This brilliant piece of work by Major MacDonald’s highlanders allows 1st/32nd to retire from its exposed position, and begin the movement back to the sunken road. Alten’s 3rd British infantry division arrive in Quatre Bras and are moved eastwards.


Click for part 1 of the battle of Quatre Bras

Click for part 3 of the battle of Quatre Bras


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