The 100 days from Napoleon’s escape from Elba to the Battle of Waterloo
26 February 1815 Napoléon escapes from exile on the Island of Elba with about 1000 men.
1 March Lands at Golfe-Juan near Antibes, around 17.00. They spend the first night on the beach at Cannes. Their route to Grenoble is as follows:
2 March Cannes – Grasse – Séranon
3 March Séranon – Castellane – Barrême
4 March Barrême – Digne – Malijai
5 March Malijai – Sisteron – Gap
6 March Gap – Corps
7 March Corps – La Mure – Grenoble. In six days the soldiers have marched 300k. The 5th Regiment is ordered to intercept Napoléon and does so south of Grenoble. Napoléon approaches the regiment alone and shouts – ‘Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish!’ The soldiers rally to him and march with Napoléon towards Paris.
13 March At the Congress of Vienna the Allies declare Napoléon an outlaw. The Congress is a conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by the Austrian, von Metternich, and held Nov. 1814 – June 1815: its objective being the redrawing of the continent’s physical map, and establishing the boundaries of France and its erstwhile satellites or conquests, after Napoléon’s defeat at Leipzig [16-19 Oct. 1813] and the first invasion of France. Wellington was Britain’s representative.
14 March Marshal Ney, who had been ordered to arrest Napoléon at Auxerre by King Louis XVIII, and who had said that Napoléon ought to be brought to Paris in an iron cage, joins him with 6000 men – an ultimately fatal act of treason.
15 March Hearing of Napoléon’s escape, Joachim Murat, King of Naples and Napoléon’s brother-in-law, declares war on Austria (breaking an earlier treaty with Austria he had signed to preserve his crown), because Austria and the Allies were committed to the restoration of Ferdinand IV.
17 March Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia, members of the Seventh Coalition, agree to mobilise 150,000 men each, to defeat Napoléon.
20 March Napoléon enters Paris, the (official) start of the Hundred Days.
8-9 April Murat is defeated at the Battle of Occhiobello. In Lombardy (Austrian-ruled since Napoléon’s defeat in 1814) there were 40,000 Italian partisans, veterans of Napoléon’s army, waiting to join Murat if he reached Milan. But Austrian troops, assembled for an invasion of southern France following Napoléon’s return, move south to block Murat, who is forced eastwards towards Ferrara. During the two day battle, on April 8 Murat tries to cross the border via a lightly-held bridge on the Po at Occhiobello, but Austrian artillery defeats repeated charges, causing 2000 casualties and prompting mass desertions in Murat’s 25,000 strong army. Most of his artillery has been diverted to besieging Ferrara. He is forced to retreat to his original HQ at Ancona.
3 May General Bianchi’s Austrian I Corps crushes Murat at the Battle of Tolentino [May 2-3]. At the climax, Murat orders an infantry attack in squares, normally a defensive formation, anticipating a cavalry counter-attack which does not come; instead his troops are devastated by musket fire. Murat suffers 4120 casualties, and his army is unable to halt the Austrian advance through Italy.
20 May Murat flees to Corsica, and the pro-Napoléon Neapolitans, now commanded by General Michele Caracosa after Murat’s flight, sign the Treaty of Casalanza with the Austrians (and British), agreeing to the restoration of Ferdinand IV.
23 May Ferdinand IV restored to the Neapolitan throne.
15 June With available forces of 200,000, Napoléon decides to go on the offensive to drive a wedge between the advancing British and Prussian armies, and defeat them separately before enforcing a favorable armistice. The French Army of the North crosses the frontier into the United Netherlands [now Belgium].
16 June Napoléon defeats, but does not destroy, the Prussian Field Marshal Blücher, who narrowly escapes with his life, at the Battle of Ligny. Marshal Ney and Wellington fight the inconclusive Battle of Quatre Bras. D’Erlon’s 1 Corps wanders uselessly between battles, its presence at either might have routed their enemy. Blücher retreats NE towards Wavre, Wellington N to stand and fight on the Mont St. Jean ridge, S of Waterloo. Blücher agrees to support Wellington in the coming battle, despite Gneisenau, his Chief-of-Staff, doubting that the Anglo-Dutch Belgian army would stand, and advising withdrawal along their LOC.
18 June Battle of Waterloo, the climax of the Hundred Days and the Napoléonic Wars, and the defeat of Napoléon and his government on the field. When Napoléon learnt that Wellington’s army and the Prussians had retreated on divergent lines he decides to advance on Wellington, while Marshal Grouchy pursues the Prussians to his right. For the battle, Napoléon adopts a blunderbuss strategy, hoping that artillery and frontal attacks would knock out Wellington’s centre (as they had done Blücher’s at Ligny) before the Prussians (80,000) could arrive from the NE. But he waits until about midday to attack to allow the ground to dry so artillery and cavalry could manoeuvre, which allows Blücher time to join Wellington late in the day. The brave but impulsive Ney, to whom Napoléon unwisely delegates tactical command, depletes his forces with unsupported cavalry attacks on unbroken British squares, fails to spike British guns, lets Prince Jérôme’s diversion on the British right at Hougoumont swallow excessive numbers and releases his final onslaught prematurely (although Napoléon can be blamed for refusing to reinforce Ney when the British centre wobbled). The day ends around 8 when the resilient Allies’ polyglot army (68,000 with 146 cannon) halts the Imperial Guard’s attempt at breaking through, with a sudden rifle volley into their flank. The French are beaten. The non-arrival of Marshal Grouchy’s 40,000 French troops, and the appearance of Blücher’s army advancing on Napoléon’s right flank, had helped destroy French morale. Allied losses are about 22,000 killed and wounded (7000 of these were Prussian); French losses about 37,000. The Prussians harass the retreating French throughout the night.
The concurrent Battle of Wavre continues until the next day when Marshal Grouchy wins a technical victory against General Johann von Thielmann, but suffers a strategic defeat. Although the Prussians retreat, with Grouchy cutting their lines of communication to the east, this lasted only 30 minutes.
The Prussians stand long enough for 72,000 of their troops to reach Wellington at Waterloo. Their rearguard of 17,000 ties down 33,000 French troops that could otherwise have been decisive at Waterloo.
After the Battle of Waterloo
21 June Napoléon arrives in Paris.
22 June Napoléon abdicates in favour of his son.
29 June Napoléon quits Paris for the west of France.
7 July Graf von Zieten’s Prussian I Corps enters Paris.
8 July Louis XVIII is restored and the Hundred Days ends.
15 July Napoléon, thwarted in his desire to sail to America by the Royal Navy, surrenders with his entourage to Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon. His plea to live in England like a country gentleman is refused, and he is exiled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he dies, almost certainly from stomach cancer, in 1821, aged 51.
13 October Joachim Murat is executed (a fate also suffered by Ney on Dec. 7 in Paris) by order of Ferdinand IV, in Pizzo, Calabria, having landed there five days earlier hoping to regain his kingdom by fomenting an insurrection.
20 November Treaty of Paris signed by France, Britain, Russian, Austria and Prussia. The Allies repudiate ‘the revolutionary system reproduced in France’ and impose substantial reparations on her.
© Waterloo 200