The 52nd at WaterlooThe movement and deployment of the 52nd is of course of interest to us as they were in Adam.s brigade along with the 2/95th.
I have lifted some text form G.C Moore's 'Life of Sir John Colborne' published 1903 which is relevant and detailed. Note that these are extracts and not the continuous text:
The 52nd at WATERLOO
At about half past seven p.m. Adam's Brigade,
consisting of the 52nd and ;71 st regiments, the 2nd
Battalion and part of the 3rd Battalion 95th Regi-
ment was posted on the high ground immediately
to the eastward of Merbe Braine, its particular place
in the position in which the Duke of Wellington
intended to fight next day. Here it passed the
We will therefore give an account of the part
played by Colborne in the battle, based on accounts
furnished by himself,* and by Captain W. C. Yonge,
of the 52nd,f and by Mr. Leeke, of the 52nd,J who
were both connected with him by marriage.
The 52nd moved from its original position near
Merbe Braine soon after 3 o'clock, or four hours
after the action commenced, and advanced with the
other regiments of the brigade to the right centre of
the front line. Here the brigade formed squares,
taking the place of the Brunswick Light Infantry
Battalions, which, in close columns, repeatedly
charged by cavalry and pierced through by showers
of cannon shot, had suffered severely.
The fight still smouldered about the wood and orchard
of Hougomont, and, apparently for the support of
the troops engaged there, after a halt of about half
an hour on the summit of the ridge, the brigade,
advancing down the slope of the hill, took post in
the plain to the left of the enclosures, the 7ist in
battalion square next the wood, the 52nd in squares
of wings to their left, and the 95th in echelon further
to the left and rear.
Here the brigade remained for an hour or two.
Two of the enemy's guns were on a high bank or
ridge in front of the 52nd at about 200 yards' distance,
though only to be seen by the mounted officers, and
these guns and a howitzer fired constantly on the
The Duke of Wellington now sent orders to Sir
John Colborne by Colonel Hervey to withdraw the
regiment up the hill. Colborne desired Colonel
Hervey to tell the Duke, if the order had been given
from the vicinity of the enemy's guns, that the 52nd
was protected by the ground in front. Colonel
Hervey promised to convey this message.
However, half an hour later, seeing the Nassau
Regiment running in disorder out of the wood of
Hougomont, and supposing that Hougomont
would be abandoned and the flank of the 52nd
exposed, Colborne began to retire the regiment
through Colonel Gold's guns to the cross-road on
the ridge. The 7ist fell back at the same time.
Meanwhile the 52nd had been halted on the
summit of the hill. Colonel Gold's guns in front
of them on the cross-road were silent
Sir John Colborne's anxious attention was given
to a column rapidly advancing, in agreement with the
warning of the French colonel, to a point somewhat
to the left of the 52nd. He could see no prepar-
ations to resist the attack and was alarmed lest the
British line should be pierced. The only remedy
appeared to be to attack the column in the flank.
Accordingly without any orders from his
superior officer he took upon himself the bold
measure of advancing the 52nd and wheeling its
whole line on its left as a pivot, as if it had been a
single company, so as to bring it nearly at right
angles to its previous formation and facing directly
on the line of march of the attacking columns.
The 52nd having been thus placed in two lines
nearly parallel with the moving columns of the
Imperial Guard, Colborne ordered a strong company
to skirmish in front. At this moment Sir Frederick
Adam, commanding the brigade, rode up and
inquired what Colborne intended to do. He replied,
'' To make that column feel our fire." Adam
approved, ordered Colborne to move on, and rode
off to the 71st to order that regiment to follow. The
Duke at the same moment had sent Colonel Percy
to order the 52nd to advance, but his order had been
anticipated by Colborne.
The company of skirmishers having been ordered
to advance without any support except from the
battalion and to fire into the French column at any
distance, the 52nd formed in two lines of half com-
panies after giving three cheers, followed, passing
along the front of Maitland's Brigade of Guards,
panies of the 2nd Battalion 95th were on the left of
the 52nd, the ;ist and the rest of the division a little
behind. As soon as the French column felt the fire
of the skirmishing party a considerable part of it
halted, and, facing to their left towards the 52nd,
opened a very sharp fire on the skirmishers and on
The 52nd advanced till they found themselves
protected by the hill from the fire of the Imperial
Guard. The two right-hand companies having been
thrown into some disorder, Colborne called a halt to
rectify the line. He then ordered the bugles to
sound the advance and the whole line charged.
'* The Imperial Guard, without waiting for the
charge, broke, and rushing in confusion obliquely
to the rear, involved in their disorder the other
troops in echelon* to their right, suffering immense
loss from the running fire of the 52nd at point-blank
distance. The 7ist, too, opened fire on the retreat-
ing multitude, which to these regiments standing on
the higher ground showed, as it crowded the valley
towards La Haie Sainte without a vestige of ranks
remaining, like the vast wreck of a great army.
Never was disorganisation more sudden or com-
The two regiments and the four companies of the
95th, bringing up their left shoulders still in line,
followed the, routed Guard at double-quick.
Near the Charleroi road three squares of the
Guard* remained formed and fired on the 52nd and
7 1st, but as soon as these regiments began to ascend
the hill the squares ceased firing, faced to the rear
as if by word of command, and were soon out of
sight to which movement some, cannon shot
passing from the rear over the heads of the two
regiments, and giving them the first intimation of the
approach of the Prussians, was doubtless, as it is
said, an additional inducement.
At 500 or 600 yards beyond La Haie Sainte the
52nd came out on the Charleroi road, having in their
rapid advance left behind a confused mass of guns,
tumbrils and several hundreds of the enemy who
Sir John ordered the 52nd to " pass the road," and
having passed to form line and wheel to the right.
The 52nd then moved on in line, keeping their right
on the road, and passing La Belle Alliance, were
joined by skirmishers belonging to Billow's corps of
Prussians, which shortly after that came obliquely
from the left. No part of Sir H. Clinton's Division
but the 52nd crossed the Charleroi road, the rest
having struck to the right towards Rossomme. At
nightfall the 52nd halted and were shortly afterwards
passed by Bullow's Corps in column, going in pursuit
of the routed army.
Captain Yonge thus comments on the story which
has been told :
" The action which has been related is for several
reasons worthy of particular notice. First the
wheeling of a battalion in line, though under such
circumstances the only practicable mode of changing
front, was altogether unprecedented; just one of
those promptings of inspiration that mark the mind
of a great general. Executed amid a continual
roar of artillery that rendered words of command
inaudible, trusting chiefly to the further companies
that they would be guided by the touch to their
inward flank, it could hardly have been ventured at
all but for the previous precaution of the commanding officer, who, when the order was given by
the Duke that all the regiments in the centre should
form four deep, rather than loosen his files by that
formation, had preferred to double his line by placing
one wing closed up in rear of the other; another
instance to show how the knowledge of details and
constant attention to them are essential in order to
enable an officer to apply his men to the best pur-
pose. Second. That owing to the skill with which
the movement was made, seizing the very acme of
time, never, perhaps, was more signal service done
by a body of troops so disproportionate in number
to the force attacked; that force being composed
of the elite of the enemy's army, the most veteran
troops in Europe. A line on the flank of a column
exhibits in the highest degree the triumph of skill
over numbers. The column has only the alternative
of flight or destruction. Third. That this adven-
turous movement was undertaken, upon his sole
responsibility, by the commanding officer of a single
battalion, and that from the first onset of the 52nd,
that regiment and the 7ist proceeded to the close of
the day without receiving orders from any general
officer, whether of brigade or division, the 7ist con-
forming to the movements of the 52nd. Fourth.
That the successful charge and immediate pursuit
of the broken column carried Adam's Brigade far
ahead of the rest of the army, constituting them, as
it were, an advanced guard to the main body of the
Miss Charlotte Yonge writes of him : " I heard
him myself only excusing the Duke by saying
nobody knew how difficult it is to write a despatch
after a battle, and that the Duke was distressed by
the sufferings of his wounded staff-officer in the
house and room with him. Moreover, that there
had been a messenger sent after himself, who had
failed to find him as he was looking after his
wounded, or probably there would have been no
such omission. That entire absence of self-
assertion has always seemed to me one of the most
striking signs of a really great nature I ever saw.
" Once at dinner at Paris the Duke was giving a
description of the battle of Waterloo, when Sir F.
Adam asked him across the table, " Pray, what would
your Grace have done if the French Guards had not
been dispersed ? ' ' Oh,' said the Duke, ' I should
have retired to the Bois de Soignies and given battle
again the next morning' ' But if you could not
have done that ? ' said Adam, pressing him. ' It
never could have been so bad as that, you know,'
said the Duke hastily, and got up and called
for coffee, rather ruffled, I think, at the question
being put. "
Tomorrow afternoon I will be conducting a short commemoration to Sir John at his graveside in Newton Ferrers near Plymouth. Details of his life will be read, a wreath laid and the Last Post sounded.
Great stuff Eddie, and not too far removed from our conduct in the field on the second battle. Everyone at the time scratched their heads when we deployed skirmishers to the front of the brigade prior to completing the wheel, when in fact our esteemed Brigade Commander was nodding to history with his Rifle Coy.
Both Rob and I worked very hard to ensure a nod to history was made throughout the second battle, as it has been in our blood from day one and what a better day to do it.
I say stand fast and hear the bugle call when made.
Re enactors come in all shapes and sizes with very variable levels of interest but in my view it is little more than dressing up and playing soldiers unless you do, at the least make - ' the nod' towards the actual history of what you portray and to acknowledge with respect the actual men who were the real Soldiers of that period.