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Battle of Waterloo
Dawn’s first light cascades through the tent’s entrance. I glanced at my pocket watch. It is early in the morning. I am deprived of sleep. The enemy’s line is not far from our camp. We are nearing the crossroads at Quatre Bras. It is June 16, the year of 1815. I busy myself with the documents on my desk. My thoughts are elsewhere. I can only think of the casualties that my troops and I have suffered. Emperor Napoleon hasn’t sent his plans to me. At this point I am clueless and frustrated at the slow progress we are making. A voice by the entrance of the tent disrupts my thoughts. I look up from my papers to see a young messenger wearing a dark blue jacket and khaki trousers, French uniform. I wait for him to speak:
“Marshal Michel Ney?”
“Messenger Henry at your service. I have a letter addressed to you from his Excellency.”
Henry pulled out a small, wrinkled letter from his canvas bag, slowly handing it to me. I watched as his worn out hands trembled from fear as he pushed it closer. Seeing me observe his hands he hesitated. I quickly looked away and snatched the letter from his hands, perhaps too roughly for he slightly cringed back. I looked at the long awaited item sealed with the emperor’s mark. This has to be it! I ripped open the report to read its contents. Yes, yes, yes! I thought. Napoleon has dispatched us to seize the crossroads at Quatre Bras today and as soon as possible! Through the corner of my eye I see the messenger watch me intently, waiting for my response.
“Did his majesty send anything else?”
“Very well, you are dismissed.”
Henry’s face lit up with relief although he tried to hide it. I watched as he curtly bowed and left the tent, leaving me in my own excitement. My mind was racing with new strategies and tactics to use against the Duke of Wellington. I quickly summoned the commanding officer:
“Tell the troops to get ready; we are leaving to Quatre Bras in twenty minutes! Don’t ask questions.”
The officer looked at me astonished.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Come on move it, move it!”
It didn’t take long for the troops to get ready. It barely took twenty minutes but my patience was getting to me. I watched as the soldiers, scraped and bruised from head to toe, positioned themselves before me. I was situated on my stallion, black as the midnight sky and fierce like the roaring waves. He was a magnificent steed. Each troop fell into line as we began our march. The shuffle of feet and gallop of hooves were the only sounds that broke the silence. I glanced at the troops walking beside me. Their faces were stolid and worn out. Others were bandaged and swollen. My determination to defeat Wellington faded as we inched closer to the destination. Fear and doubt spread like a disease and infected our minds. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of the dangers and tragedies ahead of us. To rid myself of those thoughts I looked around. It was a peaceful midsummer day. The sun was bright and warming. The wind breezed past our bodies, cooling us off. From ahead I could see the cross roads. We have arrived at Quatre bras. I gave orders to the commanding officers:
“Ready the troops for battle and make it quick for time is pr-“
The sound of a bullet followed by a scream interrupted me. I frantically searched where it came from. A sea of red jackets emerged from the woods. There were too many to count, but my army was bigger. I screamed orders to the officers and troops. We charged towards them. The silence was replaced by the firing of muskets and the clashing of swords. The fresh afternoon air was soon compensated by the smell of gun powder. My nostrils flared and my eyes burned from the smell. I ignored it and fought alongside my soldiers.
One by one Wellington’s army began to fall. A glimmer of hope to our victory. My army wasn’t doing so well either. Veterans from my right and left dropped every few seconds. I commanded my officer to send in back up. Apparently my other corps, Jean Baptiste Drouet d’Erlon, was separated at Ligny without me knowing. Terror struck me as Wellingtons reserve began to arrive. It dawned on me then that Wellington bluffed the size of his army. This small portion was to keep us on standstill until they arrived. I refused to give in and encouraged my troops to fight until they die. We fought mercilessly and aggressively, killing the approaching enemy. I sent messengers to retrieve Jean, hoping we could hold off the enemy’s attacks until he emerged.
Word was told that Jean and his troops were rushing back. I desperately hoped they would make it in time for our army couldn’t last much longer. It appeared the same for Wellington. His army was decreasing in size even after the reserves showed up. The final battle had begun. Wellington’s men clashed into mine. We fought long and hard. My body was sore, tired, and in pain. The lack of sleep was coming onto to me. My joints screamed in agony from the constant fighting, tension, and overuse. I knew that at any moment my body would collapse. I told myself over and over again to keep fighting. Wellington assaulted my troops with two battalions and counterattacks through the woods. This is it; I thought this is the end. The demeanor on my soldier’s faces stopped me in my tracks. How could I be so craven? My troops are laying out their lives for France and here I doubt them. I felt ashamed. It was well past evening and the battle was going nowhere.
“Retreat!” I yelled “Everyone head back to the camp.”
My men obediently followed my orders. I watched over my men as they resigned. To my surprise Wellington called it a draw and retreated as well. A flood of relief overwhelmed me. I arranged the camp near the battlefield but far enough from the rotten smell of decaying flesh. I was too exhausted to do anything, not even set up my own tent. I walked around my soldiers tents examining the damage that was done. Many veterans collapsed on the ground from fatigue and starvation. We suffered Wellingtons check but at least we weren’t defeated. After a good meal of porridge and bread, peace entered our camp. The melody of laughter once again arose. It was like music to my ears to hear my troops recover so fast. With those last thoughts I drifted to sleep waiting once again for daylight.
June 17, 1815. Recovery day. Nurses bandaged the wounded and cared for the sick. I spent my time cooped up in my tent thinking of new strategies to use against Wellington. My troops slept most of the time. Others ate freshly baked cookies, a delicacy in the war. Only a few trained and prepared their gear whilst the others drank and laughed merrily with their comrades. I watched them, amused by their behaviors, wondering if they were feeling the same emotion that I was. Fear.
My soldiers and I spent most of the morning marching to the village of Waterloo a few miles south of Belgium. It is already June 18. We left our camp at seven in the morning and have been marching since then. I noticed that our pace was too slow. We were no longer walking but dragging our bodies to the battle. I offered to walk with my troops instead of riding my horse. Their faces beamed with gratitude at this action. A sign on the road read: La Haye Sainte. I glanced at my pocket watch, 12:55. Five more minutes until we launch our attack.
“Men, prepare for battle and fight! Fight for the Emperor, fight for France, and fight for your freedom!” I screamed proudly.
A roar of shouts bellowed in the air. I could feel my fighting spirit strengthen and I knew that we would win. A flash of red from behind a farm caught my attention. Wellington and his army are here I thought. I signaled the men to move into a line and surround the farm. With a swift gesture, my soldiers began to shoot.
Wellington’s army rushed out and fought my men. It was a bloody battle and for once my men were winning. Confident of the outcome I pressed my men further into Wellington’s formation. We slowly advanced on his legion while they retreated. Something doesn’t feel right, I thought. Wellington would never give in this easily. That thought clouded my mind. I searched for any reserves or flaws. I found none. Abruptly they pulled back. I was debating if we should finish them off or stay back when my soldiers started chasing them. I was furious. They responded without my consent. Its six o’clock. We needed to replenish our strength. I jumped on my horse and hastily followed my men.
We were very close to Waterloo. Up ahead I could see Wellingtons army and another corps. They were wearing dark blue jackets and khaki trousers, Napoleons army. Elation engulfed every cell in my body. I was happy to see the Emperor fighting alongside. He was riding on his stallion, commanding orders. His troops were battling Wellington’s army. I quickly changed tactics and conducted my men to pierce into the enemy. We fought our way through the plethora of both the living and the dead. I plunged deeper into the crowd, battling towards the core of the unit. Six thirty. At last we broke through. I have never been more excited in my life. The sheer excitement tingled all over my body. My men felt it too. The battle didn’t last long. My soldiers experienced more hardship. We were deprived of food and strength to fight back. Bit by bit the enemy’s attacks compressed us. Napoleon was failing too. I never thought that the omnipotent Emperor would lose. My men were driven off the battlefield. I watched in horror as the adversary plunged the last standing French soldier off the field. Although our pride refused, it was time we called it a defeat. Unwillingly, I had no choice but to surrender. My troops and I trembled in fear for the upcoming punishment. I knew that Napoleon would experience the worst mortification. My last glance at the pocket watch besides me read seven thirty. The time Wellington defeated Napoleon. The time Napoleons empire came crashing down.