Plains of Waterloo (VIII), The
DESCRIPTION: "On the eighteenth day of June, my boys, Napoleon did advance." "The fight did last from ten o'clock until the close of day." The Belgians desert the Britons on the field but "the Prussians with the English join'd so nobly drubb'd their foe"
EARLIEST DATE: before 1856 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 11(91))
KEYWORDS: battle France Napoleon
June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (2 citations):
GreigDuncan1 153, "Waterloo" (1 text, 1 tune)
DallasCruel, pp. 204-206, "With Wellington We'll Go" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bodleian, Harding B 11(91), "Plains of Waterloo" ("On the eighteenth day of June, my boys, Napoleon did advance"), W. Jackson and Son (Birmingham), 1842-1855; also Harding B 11(3020), Harding B 25(1503), Firth b.25(507), Firth c.14(28), Firth c.14(7), Harding B 15(239a), "The Plains of Waterloo[!]"
cf. "Hanoverian March" (tune, per broadsides Bodleian Firth b.25(507), Firth c.14(28))
cf. "A-Hunting We Will Go" (tune, per DallasCruel)
NOTES: Broadside Bodleian Harding B 11(91) is the basis for the description. - BS
The song conforms to the general outline of the Battle of Waterloo: Napoleon with most of his army attacked Wellington. He came fairly close to victory, but was defeated when the Prussian forces under Blucher arrived and gave the allies a decisive edge in numbers, guaranteeing a French defeat.
It should be noted that there was no nation of Belgium at the time of Waterloo; it was a later creation. Still, the army of Wellington did contain soldiers from this part of the Low Countries -- and he didn't trust them much, and made sure to alternate them with reliable English soldiers.
The times in the song are inaccurate. There was some minor fighting in the morning around the strong British position at Hougoumont (see David Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, Macmillan, 1966, p. 1072, but Napoleon did not begin his big push until 1:00 p.m. on June 18, to let the ground dry out (Chandler, p. 1067). Few British forces were involved until the latter attack began. And even when Napoleon began his artillery bombardment, the British were mostly hidden behind a ridge line, keeping them safe (Chandler, p. 1073).
Fighting continued at some points of the line until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening (Chandler, p. 1090), as the light faded. By that time, Napoleon's left was completely stalled (it had been stalled all day), his center had been repulsed, and his right had been bent back into a hairpin salient and was starting to crumble (see the map on pp. 1082-1083 of Chandler).
The French army was not completely ruined, as is sometimes asserted -- indeed, it did some good rearguard fighting -- but it was definitely defeated. Napoleon turned the task of rallying the troops over to Marshal Soult and prepared to head for Paris to try to hold his government together (Chandler, p. 1090). But though France was probably physically capable of fighting on, no one except Napoleon wanted to continue the fight. He ended up riding all the way into exile, and was sent to Saint Helena. - RBW
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