This is one of the two eagle standards captured at the Battle of Waterloo, which became the most treasured trophies of the battle. A French Regiment’s eagle, personally given by Napoleon, was mounted on top of its standard, and represented the honour and pride of the soldiers who fought under it. For the enemy to capture an eagle was a terrible blow to the French Army, and a great honour to the man who took it.
If there is some confusion with respect to the eagle of the 45th, regarding the timing of its capture and the identity of the man from whom it was taken, there is at least little question as to who actually captured it. Not so the second eagle taken during the battle, that of the French 105th Regiment of the Line.
That it was lost is undeniable, for it remains to this day in the National Army Museum as a fine example of the 1815 pattern of Eagle, that was issued to all French regiments in the aftermath of Napoleon’s return from Elba. That much is certain, as is the fact that it was captured, like that of the 45th, during the great charge by the British heavy cavalry that turned back the first major French infantry attack during the early afternoon of June 18th.
The 105th formed part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, of the French I Corps, which was charged by the British 1st (Royal) and 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. Captain Alexander Clark led his squadron of the Royals around the French flank, but then caught sight of the eagle and made a dash at it. He later told how he ran the eagle bearer through the right side above the hip, and then again through the body, but was unable to grab the standard, which fell across the horse of Corporal F. Stiles. Clark then sent Stiles to the rear with the Eagle.
Unfortunately, there are problems with this version of events. The Porte-Aigle (standard-bearer) of the 105th was Jean Chantelat, whose service papers show that he survived Waterloo but was wounded by a gunshot in the leg. It may be, of course, that this had already taken place and another officer was carrying the eagle, but if this was the case then there were others prepared to take the credit for cutting him down. A Lieutenant Gunning later claimed that he had dispatched the French officer, and that it was Stiles, not Clark, who captured the eagle. Stiles, interestingly, was the only one to be rewarded for the capture, being made a sergeant and later made an officer be being awarded an ensigncy.
This controversy highlights two important points. Firstly, eyewitness recollections of a battle are by nature confused and contradictory. Secondly, the capture was in truth a team effort, with officers and men working together, which is in many ways more laudable than individual heroics.
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This object is in the collection of National Army Museum