This is the first piece in our series to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, written by one of our History tutors. In this post, the scene is set for the Battle of Waterloo, and we meet Lord Uxbridge: the commander of the Allied Cavalry.
The days leading up to the Battle of Waterloo had been tense, as both the allied forces and the French attempted to outmanoeuvre one another. With their cavalry fighting a desperate rear-guard action, the Allied forces (under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington) retreated to a field near the village of Waterloo. On the 18th of June 1815 this field would see about 190,000 soldiers face off in a day-long conflict that would decide the future of Europe. On the one side were over 70,000 French troops with 252 cannon. Opposing them were just under 70,000 British, Dutch, and German soldiers, supported by 156 cannon, hoping to hold the French in check long enough for 50,000 Prussian troops to arrive on the field. It was a bloody day. In spite of their victory the Allied Forces suffered terribly, with 24,000 of their men killed, wounded, or missing.
This battle, the culmination of the conflicts that had begun with the outbreak of the Revolutionary Wars two decades earlier, saw so many wounded that the surgeons were forced to work almost unceasingly for days. In spite of exhaustion and the less than ideal conditions, these doctors made decisions that would decide the fate of their patients. They were often forced to amputate mangled limbs, but with no knowledge of bacteriology, and hospitals packed full of the wounded, conditions were poor and the risk of infection high. Nevertheless, without these doctors and their hard-won knowledge the number of deaths would have been far greater. Here, over several posts, we’ll be looking at the Lord Uxbridge, one of the British soldiers wounded at the battle, and the medical treatment he received.
Henry Paget, the Earl of Uxbridge, was the commander of the Allied cavalry at Waterloo. He had previously eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s sister-in-law (the Duke’s brother’s wife), and so was perhaps not Wellesley’s first choice of commander, but, supported by royal patronage, he nevertheless received the posting. In spite of Wellesley’s personal gripes, Uxbridge was probably the right man for the job. He had fought in numerous engagements often leading his cavalry to success.
During the retreat to Waterloo the Allied forces had been harried by French pursuers and the duty of screening the retreat fell to the cavalry. The fighting had been thick and fierce, but the cavalry managed to hold back the French and the retreat had been completed in good order. Uxbridge himself, not the sort to command from behind his men, had hurled himself into the thick of the fighting. So brutal and dangerous was it that rumours of Uxbridge’s death had spread through both soldiers and civilians. Amazingly, he was in fact unharmed, and would be able to lead the cavalry into the decisive battle.
In our next post: it’s the day of the battle, will Uxbridge’s luck hold out?
Written by Matthew Gracey-McMinn
A MyTutor History and Japanese Tutor