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Bicentenary Waterloo 1815: a bit of history
The Battle of Waterloo is the final act of a four day military campaign during which the future of Europe was to be decided.
The four days were marked by the sheer number of casualities (100000 injured and fallen), all along the bloody Napoleon trail in Wallonia.
The return of Napoleon from Elba and his swift return to power started a formidable war movement against him. Close to a million men from several allied nations converged to France's borders to restore the order of the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna.
To counteract them, Napoleon launched a lightning offensive in Belgium, with the aim of simultaneously beating two of his major enemies who had set up camp there, Blücher's Prussian forces and the allied forces of the Duke of Wellington.
With an army of 120000 men, he attemps to cross the border on 15 June via Hestrud and march on Charleroi. His deployment was a success, as his adversaries did not have enough time to gather their forces and face him with a large numerical advantage.
Napoleon subsequently engaged his troops on two fronts simultaneously on 16 June, maréchal Ney faced Wellington at the battle of Quatre-Bras and Napoleon himself took to the battlefield against the Prussians at the battle of Ligny.
The French forces win both of these battles, which Napoleon hoped would be decisive, but they were only half-victories, as his enemies regrouped well. Wellington retreated towards Brussels while Blücher, in a decision that would prove crucial, retreated towards Wavre despite their natural line of retreat being towards Namur and Liège.
Napoleon underestimated the importance of this decision, which enabled the Allies to envisage a regrouping of their forces against Napoleon's pursuing army before Brussels. This would fatefully take place in Waterloo.
The ultimate battle took place on 18 June. A battle that has remained rooted in collective memory for nearly two centuries. After a series of offensives and numerous manouvres, the victor and the defeated are finally revealed at nightfall, follwing considerable casualties on both sides and an enormous show of courage from all beligerants.
The memories live on in the site.
Philippe Raxhon, Historian and Professor at the University of Liège