William’s Story, by Colin Heape
Captain William Wharton’s military obituary records that he took part in the Walcheren Expedition with 85th Regiment of Foot (Bucks Volunteers) in 1809, and was present at the Siege of Flushing. He also fought in the Peninsular Wars at Fuentes d’Onor and Badajoz with the 85th in 1811. He took part in the Stralsund Expedition under Major General Gibb in Swedish Pomerania with 2nd Battalion of 73rd (Highland) Regiment. He served with them in the Netherlands during1813-14, and was present at the Battle of Gohrde in Hanover. He fought with 73rd in the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo in 1815, and was severely wounded at Waterloo.
His Early Life
His story begins with finding the will of a wealthy gentleman named Samuel Wharton dated 23rd May 1797,which was discovered by Janice O’Brien in the records of St. George’s Parish Church, Hanover Square. Mr Wharton was lodging in the Neat Houses in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square. He left his estate to his son Samuel Wharton, who was living in the Stables Yard at St. James Palace. Both father and son were employed in the Royal Households of King George III, and the Prince Regent. Samuel Wharton junior became Clerk Comptroller of the King’s Kitchens. He married Mary Killick at St. George’s Parish Church in February 1783. They had three children named William, Barbara and Catherine. William Wharton was born on 31st January 1785 and baptised at the church of St. George in Hanover Square in February that year. The family connection with St. George’s Church is interesting. His father and mother were married there, and his parents were obviously members of that congregation. There were many military connections with Hanover Square and its church, which was built with a donation from General Sir William Steuart in 1721. General Sir Thomas Picton was buried in the family vault in this church after being killed at the Battle of Waterloo. Hanover Square was named after the Royal House of Hanover and has always been a fashionable part of the city to live in. William must have spent his childhood in the Royal Palace at St. James nearby, and would have come into contact with some military gentlemen through his father.
William had decided that life in the Royal Household was not what he wanted, because he joined the Army in 1806 as an Ensign in 5th Regiment of Foot without having to purchase his commission. The price of a commission as an Ensign in a Regiment of the Line was £450 in those days. His father’s connection with the Royal Household, and the rapid expansion of the Army at that time might have helped him to obtain a commission. He must have been a bright lad, because he was promoted to Lieutenant in 7th Garrison Battalion on 11th December 1806. He then joined the 2nd Batt. 35th Regt. in Manchester in September 1807. He was also ambitious, because he wrote a letter from Manchester dated 1st October 1808 to Lieut. Col. Gordon, asking him to recommend to the Commander-in-Chief that he should be removed to some Light Infantry Battalions about to be formed, as he was anxious to be employed in a Service more active than recruiting.
The letter was important, because it has been preserved among his papers in the Royal Archives (see appendix 1). Col. Gordon was probably a Military Secretary to the C.I.C. in the Secretariat at the Horse Guards. He may also have known William’s parents. War Office Record (ref: WO17/145) contains the Adjutant General Returns of 35th Regt. to 1813, which showed that he was transferred to 85th Regiment in 1808. I have the original document granting “Our trusty and well loved William Wharton, gent” a commission (without purchase) as a Lieutenant with 85th Regiment of Foot (Bucks Volunteers) given at the Court of St. James on 6th October 1808. William Wharton’s Military Papers in the Public Record Office (ref: WO/25/777) provide a record of his service in the Army from 1806 to 1828.
The records of the 85th Regiment in the Shropshire Regimental Museum at Shrewsbury, and the 73rd (Highland) Regiment in the Black Watch Museum at Perth provided details about the campaigns and battles he fought in. I am indebted to the Archivists of both these museums. Captain Wharton commanded No.10 Company of the 2/73rd Regt. at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. The Battle of Waterloo was the most famous military engagement of the century. The defeat of the Imperial Army of France by the Duke of Wellington was a defining moment in 19th century European history and anyone who fought there on Sunday 18th June 1815 assured himself of a place in the history of his country. He was severely wounded at Waterloo, being shot through both thighs by musket ball. He was lucky to die peacefully in his bed in Wales 40 years later.
A soldier’s life in the early years of the 19th century was extremely tough. They had to walk or ride every inch of the way; exposed to all the elements with clothing made out of wool or linen. They had no thermal vests or modern waterproof jackets to keep them warm, and their clothes must have become threadbare. No wonder the price of wool rocketed when the country was at war. Just imagine how many pairs of woollen socks a man needed to march for 500 miles, or leather boots for that matter. It is fortunate that Sergeant Thomas Morris of the 73rd Foot, who was in the same battalion as William Wharton, wrote a personal account of his experiences during the Napoleonic Wars. His book provides a graphic description of what their lives were really like. What follows is an account of William’s life as a soldier of that period.
Lieut. Wharton first saw active service with 85th Regt. in the Netherlands in 1809. The Book of “The 85th King’s Light Infantry ” records that the Regiment was stationed at Brabourne Lees near Canterbury in 1808 and were brigaded with the 68th Regt., another newly organised Light Corps. The Adjutant General Returns for the 85th Regt confirm that Lt. William Wharton joined the regiment at Brabourne Lees on 6th October 1808. In June 1809, they moved to Gosport and embarked at Blockhouse Point on 16 July on board the men-of-war Resolution and Plover to sail for the Netherlands to take part in the Walcheren Campaign commanded by the Earl of Chatham. Because of bad weather, the ships were forced to shelter in the East Scheldt and they landed near the heights of Briscard on the Isle of Walcheren on 30th July. The Regiment first saw action on 1st August, when they drove the French back to Flushing. This must have been the first time William saw action, his baptism of fire. The siege of Flushing lasted 11 days and the enemy surrendered on 16 August 1809. The Regiment occupied the town until December and the casualties suffered in the fighting were small compared with the number of men, who died from Walcheren fever, which was probably malaria caused by the mosquitoes from the surrounding swamps. At one time 498 soldiers died from fever in a fortnight. William caught the fever, and he was one of the lucky survivors. On 18th December 1809, the remnant of that fine battalion, which had left England six months before, embarked on board the transports Nile and Friendship. They landed at Dover on 28th of the month and returned to their quarters at Brabourne Lees.
The Peninsular Campaign
The Regiment remained in quarters at Brabourne Lees until 1811, when they received orders to proceed on Foreign Service again. They marched back to Portsmouth and embarked for Portugal on 27th January 1811. The ship arrived off Lisbon on 5th March after a rough crossing of the Bay of Biscay. The 85th joined the 7th Division of Lord Wellington’s Army. By 21st March they were camped near the village of Carrapinha, which was known as “Starvation Camp” owing to the lack of food available for the troops. They had to go without bread or spirits, having only tough rations of beef killed and served “instanter”, i.e. half raw. Such hardships were common during the Peninsular Campaign. The 7th Division took part in the pursuit of the French Army under General Messana, who had fallen back from the lines of Torres Vedras. On 3rd May 1811 the 85th and the 51st were involved in the Battle of Fuentes d’Onor, where the 7th Division was stationed on the left towards the centre of the line. They were charged by French Cavalry and suffered many casualties from the guns of the French Artillery. By all accounts young soldiers of the 85th and the 51st stood firm and repulsed the attacks by the cavalry with steady volley firing. A lieutenant and 12 men were killed and 2 officers and 25 men were wounded. The regiment then marched on to Badajos where 7th Division took part in the siege of that city. The assaults on the heavily defended city of Badajoz involved some of the fiercest fighting of the whole campaign. Volunteers were picked from the 85th and the 51st to lead the storming parties. The men leading the assault were known as the “ Forlorn Hope” because they seldom survived. The Challis Peninsular Roll records that William Wharton took part in the second Siege of Badajoz. He was not awarded the Badajoz clasp to his General Service Medal, because it was only awarded to those present at the final assault and capture of the fortress in April 1812. After these battles, the 85th were so reduced in numbers that they were ordered to return to England. Lord Wellington considered that it was better for a regiment to recruit from the militia at home rather than fill up its ranks, while abroad on active service. They marched back to Lisbon, crossing the Spanish frontier on 3rd September, and finally reaching Lisbon on 5th October. This involved marching about 200 miles from Badajos to Lisbon. The total distance these men must have marched during that campaign was over well 500 miles in seven months. 20 officers and 246 men out of a total of 27 officers and 459 men arrived back in their old quarters at Brabourne Lees on 13th December 1811. William Wharton returned from the Peninsular a seasoned campaigner, one of the select band of men, whom the Duke of Wellington called his “Spanish Infantry”.
The following year, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He then joined the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot. The Adjutant General Return for the 2/73rd (ref: WO 17/194) shows Captain Wharton in command of a company stationed at the Tower of London in December 1812. Private Thomas Morris told an interesting little story about a rough ugly-looking dog that attached itself to 73rd Regt., while the battalion were guarding the Tower. The dog was adopted by the men and taken with them when the Battalion went overseas. It became a great favourite, because it would warn them when the Officer of the Watch was approaching, by gently nipping their legs, if they were asleep. The punishment for sleeping on duty was a flogging, and so the dog was very popular and used to share the men’s rations. One day while the Regiment was stationed in Holland, the dog stole part of a soldier’s rations, and the man killed it. His comrades were so annoyed with him for brutally killing the poor dog that he had to be confined in the Guard House for several days afterwards to save him from the vengeance of his comrades. William Wharton must have known about this incident, which would have been talked about in the Officer’s Mess.
The 2nd Battalion of the 73rd was raised in 1808, and commanded by Colonel William George Harris. Although nominally a Highland Regiment, Col. Harris had obtained permission to abandon Highland Dress, in order to bring his new Battalion up to the full strength of ten companies as quickly as possible, by encouraging volunteers from all parts of the kingdom.
Lord Harris, second Baron Harris, was only 3 years older than William Wharton. His entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as being a good athlete and swimmer as a young man. He was an experienced soldier by the time he took command of the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd in 1809. He had served in India with the 74th Highlanders, and he was well liked by both his officers and men. His policy of recruiting more widely paid off. The strength of the battalion increased to ten companies totalling 45 sergeants, 22 drummers and 800 rank and file in 1813. Captain Wharton commanded No.10 Company and there are a number of English names among his men.
I am indebted to Thomas Morris’s wonderful book “Sergeant Morris of the 73rd Foot” and “The 2/73rd at Waterloo” by Alan Lagden & John Sly for some of the following details. On 25th May 1813, the battalion (32 Officers and 560 men) sailed from Harwich to join the expedition to Stralsund in Swedish Pomerania commanded by General Thomas Gibbs. The 2/73rd took part in the Battle of Gohrde in Hanover on 16th September 1813 and contributed greatly to the victory over the French. Col. Harris charged with his battalion, capturing a French battery in gallant style, and causing panic among the defenders. Captain Wharton’s obituary confirmed that he took part in this battle. After this, they were ordered to join the Allied Army commanded by Sir Thomas Graham in the Low Countries. Morris relates how they left the Baltic on 2nd November and spent three weeks in Gothenburg, where the ships were frozen in. Morris recorded that there was a serious outbreak of dysentery among the men while they were in Gothenburg. Conditions aboard the ship below decks must have been ghastly, because Morris was forced to sleep on deck in the freezing weather. Many of them were still ill when they reached Yarmouth at the beginning of December 1813. The women and children were left behind in Yarmouth, along with those still suffering from dysentery. Captain Wharton was one of those, who were too ill to travel further, and he had to stay behind in Yarmouth. He wrote a letter from London dated 14th January 1814 to General Harris, stating that he was now fully recovered and wished to rejoin his Regiment.
This letter has also been preserved with his papers, and Neil Barnes has kindly given me a copy .Once again, the 2/73rd distinguished themselves at the storming and capture of the village of Merxem in February 1814. Lieutenant Acres of the Grenadier Company charged up the main street and captured two cannons. I do not know if Captain Wharton had managed to rejoin his regiment by then. The Regiment also took part in the unsuccessful battle for Bergen-op-Zoom on 3rd March. The 73rd were part of the Light Brigade, which was commanded by Col. Harris. They remained in the Netherlands after the Peace of 1814, and became part of 3rd Division in the Allied Army. According to Thomas Morris, they were billeted for a time in Rostock where the inhabitants kept large flocks of geese. The abundance of the birds enabled the people to indulge in the luxury of the finest feather beds and food was plentiful there. They were lucky to have such a comfortable billet. The winter of 1814 was very severe. The soldiers suffered in the intense cold, because of inadequate clothing and poor accommodation, often having to spend the night in cold churches with only some dirty straw for bedding. The fate of the poor wives and camp followers was even worse. Morris recounts coming across a beautiful young woman, the wife of a sergeant of the 55th, who was found lying frozen to death beside the road with her dead baby at her breast. Sometimes the men had to march all night in blizzard conditions, afraid of freezing to death, if they stopped and lay down. The battalion was billeted in Ghent at the beginning of 1815. Morris’s book gives interesting descriptions of the various places, where he was billeted.
The Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon Bonaparte was born at Ajaccio in Corsica on 15th August 1769, and rose to command the Army during the French Revolution. He is one of the most celebrated Military Commanders of all time. Napoleon conquered practically the whole of Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. He created himself Emperor of France on 2nd December 1804. He was forced to abdicate by the French Senate assembled at the Palace of Fontainebleau on 14th April 1814, and was banished to the Island of Elba. When he escaped from Elba on 26th February 1815, it sent shock waves through the delegates at the Congress of Vienna. They quickly appointed the Duke of Wellington to command the Allied forces assembled in Belgium. Napoleon had prophesied that he would return to Paris before the violets were in bloom. He landed at Golfe Juan near Antibes on the south coast of France on 1st March 1815. Then followed what became known as “The Flight of the Eagle”, when he marched north with his small force of volunteers, via Grenoble, Lyon and Fontainebleau to Paris at the start of his Hundred Days Rule. He displayed great physical courage when he faced down a far larger force of Royalist troops in “The Meadow of the Meeting” beside Lake Laffrey near Grenoble on 7th March. He addressed his soldiers in Grenoble on 9th March ending with the famous proclamation “Victory will advance at the charge”. The delegates gathered at the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw on 13th March. Having previously boasted that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris in an iron cage, Marshal Ney changed sides on 18th March and joined him. This was a turning point in Napoleon’s fortunes. He reached Paris in triumph on 20th March, and immediately set about taking control of the country again. The French King Louis XVIII fled to Ghent in Belgium. Napoleon signalled the re-establishment of his imperial authority by ordering the firing of 100 gun salutes from all the main fortresses in France on 29th April. He assembled an army of 123,000 soldiers and marched north from Paris on 12th June to confront the Allied Armies of Europe.
Lord Wellington arrived in Brussels on 5th April. He took over command of a polyglot army of approximately 112,000 men made up of units from Britain, Hanover, Nassau, Brunswick, Holland and Belgium. A minority of the soldiers spoke English. The 2/73rd Regt. was ordered to join the 5th Brigade under the command of Maj. Gen. Sir Colin Halkett. They were part of the 3rd Division commanded by General Sir Charles Alten. The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine commanded by Field Marshal von Blucher numbered slightly over 130,000 men at the start of the campaign, but 10,000 of them deserted, and after the heavy casualties suffered in the Battle of Ligny, there were less than 100,000 men available on 18th June.
Three battles between the French Armee du Nord, the Anglo-Allied Army and the Prussian Army took place in Belgium between the 15th and 18th June 1815. Napoleon’s stratagem was to attack on two fronts with the aim of defeating the Prussian Army, before engaging the Anglo-Allied Armies. Unfortunately for him, he did not finish off the Prussians at Ligny on 16th June, and they were able to come back to the aid of the Allies at Waterloo two days later.
The French Army crossed the Belgium border and captured the village of Charleroi on 15th June. They were only 15 miles from an important road from Nivelles to Namur, which provided the vital link between Wellington’s forces and his Prussian allies. On the night of 15th while Napoleon slept at Charleroi, Wellington and many of his senior officers were attending a Grand Ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels only 30 miles away. When he was given the news that the French Army had crossed the border, the Duke is reputed to have said “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God. He has gained twenty-four hours march on me”. He set out from Brussels at 3 a.m. on 16th June and rode to the Brye windmill overlooking the battlefield of Ligny, where he meet Field Marshal Blucher at 11 a.m. Looking through his telescope, Wellington set eyes on the Emperor Napoleon for the first time. Both men were the same age, both had attended military academies in France, and they both spoke French as their second language, but they had never faced each other on the field of battle before. They were not destined to that day. Wellington rode off to organise his forces at Quatre-Bras leaving the Prussians to face Napoleon.
At 8 a.m. on Friday 16th June, Napoleon had been informed that the Prussian army was at Sombreffe on the Namur to Nivelles road. He set off to meet them, instructing Marshal Ney, commanding the left wing of his Army, to capture the crossroads at Quatre-Bras. The battles at Quatre-Bras and Ligny developed simultaneously later that day only about 7 miles apart. Napoleon routed the Prussians at Ligny, but it was a stalemate at Quatre-Bras, where the British managed to stop Ney from capturing the vital crossroad. Over 9,000 lives were lost at Quatre-Bras, roughly equally by each side, but without strategic advantage to either. 16,000 Prussians were killed or wounded at Ligny, including Marshal Blucher, who had his horses shot from under him, but survived. In his absence, General August von Gneisenau ordered the Prussian army to retire to Wavre. 10,000 Rhinelander’s deserted the colours and returned home. But the decision to send the rest of the Prussian Army to Wavre meant that they were able to come to the aid of the Allies again at Waterloo two days later. Wellington described this as the decisive moment of the century.
On the morning of 15th June, the roll of drums and the call of a bugle summoned the men of the 2/73rd. The battalion then marched to the village of Soignes, where they joined the 3rd Division commanded by the Hanoverian General Baron Von Alten. They were part of the 5th brigade, which also included the 30th, 33rd, and the 69th British Regiments of Foot. After receiving one day’s ration, they set off at midnight to march to the town of Nivelles. The next day, as they were about to cook their meal, an officer on horseback galloped up ordering them to fall in. They were being summoned to go to the aid of the Prince of Orange, whose Dutch-Belgium Division was guarding the crossroads at Quatre-Bras. As they marched off to battle, they passed a wounded private of the 92nd who called out to them “Go on the 73rd given them pepper, I got my Chelsea commission.” He survived his terrible wounds to boast of his experiences to his grandchildren years later..
Marshal Ney had been slow in attacking the forces of the Prince of Orange at the crossroads. The fighting did not start until about 2.30 pm on 16th June. The French would have overwhelmed the Prince of Orange’s men had not General Picton’s 5th British Division and General Atlen’s 3rd Division arrived on the scene about 5 pm after a forced march from Nivelles. When they reached the scene of the fighting, the 5th Brigade were caught out in the open by French Cavalry and the 69th lost their King’s Colours. The 73rd and 33rd ran for safety in Bossu Wood, where they were rallied by their Commander Major-General Sir Colin Halkett, who personally held aloft the Colours of the 33rd. The survivors beat off the cavalry by firing volleys from their muskets. The 5th Brigade suffered heavy casualties at Quatre-Bras. Morris tells how the survivors suffered from thirst during the battle. They were unable to refill their water bottles from a stream, because the water was so full of dead bodies. The firing ceased about 9 pm and they were glad of the opportunity to lie down to rest among the dead and dying after the fatigue of such a long day. They rose early on the morning of 17th June and endeavoured to chew the hard ships’ biscuits, which was all they had with them to eat.
At midday, they were ordered to retire and take up a new position further north. Morris relates how, as they were ascending a hill, the sky darkened and they were suddenly enveloped in dense cloud. A torrent of heavy rain started to fall making the ground very slippery, and it became difficult to keep their footing as they descended the steep slope. The sky was filled with flashes of lightning and the loud sound of the thunder mingled with the distance sound of canons firing. They marched on in the pouring rain until they reached the ridge of Mount St. Jean about 5 kilometres south of the village of Waterloo, where the Duke of Wellington had made his headquarters in the old coaching inn.
The battlefield of Waterloo is situated in the French speaking southern half of Belgium some 20 kilometres due south of Brussels. It is difficult to appreciate how small the area of the battlefield was. The actual site covered an area of about 4000 x 4000 metres of rolling farmland, which was partly covered in chest high standing corn. The Duke selected the Mount St. Jean ridge facing south, on which to deploy his Army. This position had several strategic and tactical reasons for its selection. Firstly, it barred Napoleon’s main route to Brussels. Secondly, it was the last suitable defensive position south of the Forest of Soignes, and thirdly it was only 12 kilometres from Wavre, where the Prussian Army was regrouping. Napoleon deployed The French Armee du Nord on either side of the Charleroi- Brussels road with the hamlet of La Belle Alliance at the centre. The Battle of Waterloo was fought in the old way. Both armies faced each other across a gap that was never more than 1200 metres wide at most and sometimes as little as 300 metres wide. Towards the end of the fighting, after the Prussian Army had arrived, some 200,000 men with 60,000 horses and 537 guns were engaged in this small area. After the fighting had ceased the ground was literally carpeted with dead and dying men and horses.
The principal tactical formation of the British Infantry was a Battalion, which was divided into ten Companies. The companies were formed up in numerical order from right to left with the Grenadier Company on the right and the Light Company on the left. For some reason, 2/73rd Regt. numbered its Grenadier Company No.6 and its Light Company No.8. No.10 Company commanded by Captain Wharton must have been on the left of the line next to the Light Company. The tactics employed were relatively simple. Each side took up their positions in sight of each other and pounded away with their artillery, hoping to breach the ranks of men opposing them. This would allow the cavalry to charge through and scatter their enemy. The infantry formed squares to defend themselves against the charges by the cavalry. In front of each army was a line of skirmishers, who gave warning of the approaching forces.
The men of Sir Colin Halkett’s 5th Brigade were ordered to take up their position on the Mount St. Jean ridge in the centre of the front line between the chateau of Hougoumont and the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte. The 5th Brigade formed two squares in the front line between the 1st Guards Brigade on the right and 1st Hanoverians on the left. The 69th and 33rd Regiments combined to form one square on the right and the 30th and 73rd the other on the left. They were made to form two squares instead of four, because all four regiments had suffered heavy casualties at Quatre Bras. They were on slightly elevated ground, which meant they were very exposed to artillery fire later on in the battle. According to Thomas Morris they took up their position halfway between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont with the Guards on their right. They could see the enemy taking up their positions opposite them. The French artillery fired some shots at them that evening and killed two members of their light company. The storm continued unabated and they were wet through. They were ordered to pile their arms and remain in their position so there was no chance of seeking a lodging for the night. The only food they had were the biscuits that had been issued to them on 16th and they had already eaten most of them. They had to spend the whole night standing knee deep in mud in the pouring rain. There was no question of lying down. They collected armfuls of corn and made bundles to sit on with their blankets over their heads to keep warm. They could see the watch fires of the enemy about 900 metres away in the distance. The men spent the night discussing their prospects for the forthcoming battle, and the general opinion was that it would be a very severe one. Two of the greatest Generals the world had ever seen were about to cross swords. The troops seemed animated by the thought of what was to come on the morrow.
Soon after daybreak on the morning of 18th June the rain ceased, and the men were able to collect some firewood from the Forest of Soignes nearby. By six o’clock the sun had started to shine, which cheered everyone up. They began to look about themselves and clean their muskets in readiness for the battle. Staff Officers were already riding about issuing orders. Morris obtained permission to collect a rations of ‘Hollands’. It was the calm before the storm. It is interesting to speculate what my ancestor was doing that morning as he stood stiff and cold beside his men of No.10 Company. The Adjutant’s Roll listed 3 Sergeants, 1 Corporal, 2 Drummers and 38 Private Men in Captain Wharton’s Company at the Battle of Waterloo. The Battalion was well under strength and only totalled 558 men.
The Emperor Napoleon was in his saddle by 9 am and rode down the whole length of his army to show himself to his troops, who responded with cries of “Vive l’Empereur” It must have been an imposing sight. But the wet weather of the previous night delayed the start of the battle, because many French units were late in arriving. Had Napoleon known that the Prussians would come to the aid of the Allies later on, he might have started his attack earlier. The French Grand Battery of 80 guns fired the opening cannonade of the battle at about 11.20 am that morning (the exact time is not generally agreed). The fighting continued all day until about 9 pm that night.
The art of warfare in the Napoleonic era depended on using the three main elements of infantry, cavalry and artillery in the right combination. Each branch of the army had its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of manoeuvrability, firepower and offensive potential. A regiment of infantry formed into a hollow square was almost impregnable to charging cavalry, but was very vulnerable to artillery bombardment or volleying by another infantry unit in line formation. Charging cavalry could cause havoc among an artillery battery, because they were able to cover the ground so quickly. The key in a fast changing battle was to deploy each unit to best advantage. The French Commanders failed to do so on several occasions that day.
The opening bombardment did not seriously affect the men of the 73rd, who had been ordered to lie down behind the ridge. In fact Thomas Morris said he fell asleep! However, later on when they had formed a square with the men of the 30th, there were many horrific incidences of soldiers being cut in two by canon shot or having their heads and limbs blown off. The effect of an exploding shell could be devastating. One shell killed or wounded seventeen men according to Morris. The inside of the square became full of dead and dying men calling out in agony. One man was quoted as saying, “we were nearly suffocated by the smoke and the loud cries of the wounded was most appalling”. It is incomprehensible to us today to imagine how men coped with the sounds, sights and smells of such a battle. The stench of burning buildings and gunpowder mixed with the smell of blood, sweat, vomit and excrement of thousands of men and horses must have been frightful. After the artillery bombardment came the French cavalry. Marshal Ney, who Napoleon called “The Bravest of the Brave”, led 10,000 French Cuirassiers in repeated charges against the British. The 5th Brigade commanded by Sir Colin Halkett was in the thick of the battle at this point. The Square formed by 30th and 2/73rd was charged eleven times by the French cavalry. For roughly two hours, between 4 –6 pm wave after wave of French horseman charged Wellington’s infantry. Each time the horses came within musket range, about twelve paces from the square, the kneeling ranks of infantrymen poured volleys of musket fire at them causing the horses to veer away. Not a single British Square was broken by the French Cavalry that day and the steadiness of the British Infantry at Waterloo became a byword for future generations of the British Army. Wellington himself rode his famous horse Copenhagen back and forth to where ever the fighting was fiercest, giving orders, directing artillery, looking to plug the gaps and for opportunities to exploit. Almost all his personal staff were either killed or wounded that day, but he came through unscathed. The Duke took shelter in the square formed by the 30th & 73rd during one attack, asking Sir Colin Halkett how his men got on. Sir Colin replied, “My Lord, we are dreadfully cut up. Can you relieve us a little?” “Impossible” replied the Duke. Finally, Napoleon called on his Imperial Guard in a last throw of the dice. These battle-hardened soldiers were the personal creation of the Emperor and were more feared than the ordinary soldiers. They were all big men and their high hairy caps with long red feathers waved with the nod of their heads, as they kept time to the beating of the drums, enhancing their gigantic appearance. Sir Colin Halkett’s Brigade was badly cut up in the artillery bombardment, which preceded the attack by the Imperial Guard. He received a bullet through the face, the ball passing through his mouth. It may have been at this point in the fighting that Captain Wharton received his wounds. He was shot through both thighs by musket balls. His Commanding Officer Col. Harris was also severely wounded. All five company commanders in the 73rd, who are named in the Waterloo Roll, were either killed or wounded that day. The men had become mixed up by the frequent changes of formation. There was some confusion and the Duke of Wellington spotted the danger himself. He sent Major Dawson Kelly to sort it out. Major Kelly ordered the men back in the line and instructed them to check their flints and prime their muskets. As the attacking column of the Imperial Guard appeared through the smoke, a well-directed volley stopped them. Some 9-pounders from the rear also poured grape-shot into them. The slaughter was dreadful. When the smoke cleared the backs of the Imperial Grenadiers could be seen retreating down the slope. It was about 9 pm and the battle was over.
The picture by Richard Scollins is of Lieut. Leyne, the most senior officer left standing, calling the roll of the remnants of the 73rd after the battle. It is a sketch of a group of men standing about after the battle including sergeant Burton and private Morris sharing a dram of “Hollands” from Morris’s flask to celebrate their survival. Captain Wharton is not in the picture. He was not among the men left standing, but must have been lying wounded nearby. Barely 50 men of 2/73rd Regt. and only 5 Officers were still alive and unwounded at the end of the day. According to Morris the battalion was in such a shattered state that they had to spend the night near the spot where they had been fighting all day. The wounded were crying out for water, but they had none to give them. The survivors spent their third night on the battlefield listening to the groans and shrieks of the poor wounded men around them. Morris commented that it was fortunate they had been deafened by the noise of gunfire during the battle. Belgium peasants, who came to rob the dead and dying, had stripped many of the bodies naked by morning. The battlefield presented the most awful appearance next day, the 19th June. The ground was still strewn with hundreds of poor men, who had been severely wounded and had not yet been attended to. Nearly 55,000 men were killed or wounded at Waterloo. Wellington himself remarked: “Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.”
The Duke of Wellington met Marshal Blucher, the Commander of the Prussian Army, outside the inn at La Belle Alliance after the battle. The two victorious generals shook hands cordially. Speaking the only language both men understood, Blucher is reputed to have remarked “Quelle affaire”. The long eighteen-century conflict with France had finally been brought to an end. Wellington admitted that it had been “ a damned nice thing – the nearest thing you ever saw in your life. By God, I don’t think it would have been done if I had not been there.” He freely admitted that the timely arrival of Marshal Blucher and the Prussian Army contributed greatly to the Allies victory. As for the French, they fled from the scene in confusion, pursued by the Prussians, who hated them. Napoleon himself went back to Paris, where he soon realised that the game was up. One month after Waterloo, he surrendered to Admiral Maitland aboard the Royal Navy man-of-war HMS Bellerophon in the French port of Rocheport. To escape capture by French Royalists, he gave himself up to the British, whom he considered the most powerful, most steadfast and most generous of his enemies. He had hoped that the British would allow him to escape to America. Instead, he was taken to exile on the lonely island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic, where he spent the last six years of his life complaining about his treatment. He died there in May 1821. It was a sad end for a man, who had defeated practically all the armies of Europe and had proclaimed himself Emperor of France.
Morris relates how on the day after the battle, his battalion left the field about noon, and started their long march south. They passed over the ground on which the Imperial Guard had fought so desperately. It was littered with their corpses. They were following in the wake of the Prussians and witnessed some of the horrors, which those soldiers had inflicted on the local inhabitants. The Duke of Wellington had issued peremptory orders that the locals should not be abused and anyone caught looting would be shot. When Morris was billeted with a local tailor that night, he was well received. He had his face wounds dressed and enjoyed a good night’s rest. It is interesting to note that Thomas Morris was not officially listed as wounded. Only those who were disabled by their wounds were classified as “wounded.” Captain Wharton had been shot through both thighs. His daughter Emma said that her father had been so badly wounded that he had been taken for dead and put on a cart. Luckily, neither leg was broken and he recovered quickly. Broken limbs would normally have been amputated. He managed to stay with his Regiment somehow. The Muster Roll of the 73rd records that by 24th June 1815 they were camped in the Bois de Boulogne on the outskirts of Paris. The men had marched from Belgium to Paris, a distance of over 200 miles in five days. William Wharton is mentioned as wounded in the Pay Roll on 21st September, so he must have been carried to Paris on a cart. For the first week after they arrived the men of 73rd were fully occupied in felling trees, fixing tents and forming parade grounds. British troop were not permitted to enter Paris without a written pass. They remained in camp in the Bois de Boulogne during the occupation of Paris by the Allies. In the latter part of August, the Duke of Wellington held a military review. It was a very grand occasion. The troops marched past the Duke mounted on his favourite charger Copenhagen, surrounded by Princes, Dukes and Generals of the Allied Armies. The streets of Paris were densely crowded and the windows of the houses lining the route were filled by gaily-dressed ladies, waving their handkerchiefs and greeting the soldiers as they passed by in open columns of companies.
So what of the spoils of war? The Duke wrote a memorandum to the Government from his Head Quarters in Paris on 6th November 1815 stating that in his opinion the Government should pay prize money to the Officers and troops present with their Regiments in the battles on 15th, 16th, 17th &18th June and to those at their posts up to 7th July, when the Army entered Paris. In the event, the British Government was generous to all those who had fought at Waterloo, and any “Waterloo Man” could count on an extra two years service towards his pay and pension. Two years later prize money was awarded as follows:
The Commander-in-Chief £61,000 0s 0d
Generals £1,275 10s 11d
Colonels and Field Officers £433 2s 5d
Captains £90 7s 4d
Subalterns £34 14s 9d
Sergeants £19 4s 4d
Corporal, drummers & privates £2 11s 4d
There was also His Majesty’s Royal Bounty or Waterloo Subscription for War Widows and disabled Officers. The considerable sum for those days of £518,288 was raised. Mary Buckley the widow of Captain William Buckley, who was killed at Quatre-Bras, received £60. She had been left in distressed circumstances with four infant children to bring up, the last child being born only three weeks after her husband’s death. The fate of war widows has not changed much in 200 years.
The Victor of Waterloo was well rewarded. In addition to his prize money, a grateful nation also gifted the stately home of Strathfield Saye in Hampshire to the Duke of Wellington in 1817. He was created Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo and Grandee of Spain 1st Class as Victory Titles by Spain for ridding them of the French Army in the Peninsular. His descendents still hold his titles and Estates. In 1985, Jane and I met Brigadier Arthur Wellesley, 8th Duke of Wellington and Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo on his Spanish Estate near Granada. We were trying to interest him in purchasing some cashmere goats for his Estate. We did not succeed, but we shared a bottle of excellent sherry with him, and he showed us over his farm.
The Duke of Wellington held very grand receptions for surviving Officers, Royalty and the Nobility on the anniversary of the battle every year until his death. He held his last Waterloo Banquet at his London home Apsley House on 18th June 1852. Prince Albert attended on this occasion together with eighty-four veterans. The Duke drank three toasts while the band played “See the Conquering Hero Comes.” He died peacefully at Walmer Castle on 14th September 1852. The last known British survivor of the battle was Private Morris Shea formally of 2/73rd Foot, who died aged ninety-seven in 1892.
The British Government awarded Waterloo Medals to all soldiers present at the battles of Ligny and Quatre-Bras on 16th June and Waterloo on 18th June. It was the first medal on which the recipient’s name was impressed around the rim and also the first campaign medal to be awarded to the next-of-kin of men killed in action. Wm. Wharton is listed as one of the Captains in the Waterloo Roll Call for 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot.
The 73rd did not stay long in Paris. They embarked on 23rd December from Calais, and after what Morris described as a rather boisterous crossing, their ship reached Ramsgate on Christmas Day 1815. They were not allowed much time for celebration and were marched off to Nottingham to deal with some disturbance in the manufacturing district there. The Regiment returned to their old barracks at Colchester in 1816, where they received a rapturous reception, the word “Waterloo” having a magic influence on the inhabitants. Morris describes a party they were given on the first anniversary of Waterloo at which they sang the following chorus:
“Every 18th day of June, if we live, we’ll do the same,
In remembrance of those heroes who fought at Waterloo.”
By 1817 the Government started to reduce the size of its Standing Army, as all Governments are still wont to do in times of peace. The 2/73rd were posted to Chelmsford, where the Battalion was disbanded. Some of the men were sent out to Ceylon to join the 1st Battalion. William applied for a pension, but was told that his wounds did not qualify him for one. The letter dated 26th July 1817 advising him that his case did not fall within the limits of the regulations, has been preserved with his Army Record. What is interesting about this letter is that it was sent to him at an address near Abergavenny in Wales. Why he was living in Wales at the time, we shall never know, but he went back to live in Wales several years later.
He then applied for the post of Sub-Inspector of Militia on the Isle of Corfu, which had been placed under the jurisdiction of Britain following the Peace of Versailles. He was posted there on Christmas Day 1817. He returned to London for his wedding to Sarah Turner on 18th May 1818 at Holy Trinity Church in Clapham.
Both his parents Samuel and Mary Wharton were witnesses at their marriage. Ann and Elizabeth Turner, who may have been her aunt and her mother, represented Sarah’s family. William and Sarah were given two small pictures of King George III and Queen Charlotte by the Royal Family as a wedding present. These etching are still in the possession of the descendents of Aubrey Wharton. William and his new bride returned to Corfu, where their first child named William Plato was born on 27th April 1819. Captain Wharton’s name appears in the Army List of those officers placed on half-pay on 1st June 1820. William and Sarah came home again in January 1821 to have their son baptised at St. George Parish Church in Hanover Square. Captain Wharton gave his abode then as the Isle of Corfu, and his profession as Captain in the Militia. By July, they were back in France, where their second son Henry Samuel was born in the town of Antony south of Paris. Sarah was a redoubtable woman to give birth to two baby boys so far from home. It is interesting to speculate how they travelled with their young family in those days. They must have been travelling overland by coach, which would have been an ordeal for Sarah, who was pregnant for the second time. They stopped in the town of Antony, where according to the records in the French Government Archives, she stayed with Madame Gorguereau during her confinement. Henry Samuel’s Acte de Naissance, which I obtained from the archivist in Antony, states that he was born there on 22nd July 1821.
Surgeon Pierre Thomas delivered him at one o’clock. His father William Wharton, Captain of the Armies of His Britannic Majesty, Monsieur Boucher Proprietor and Surgeon Thomas, signed the document in the presence of the Deputy Mayor of Antony on 23rd July.
I do not know if they ever went back to Corfu after the birth of their second child. William had been transferred to the 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot in 1820. They must have stayed in France, because William was issued with a French Hunting Permit for the district of Antony in August 1822.
It bears his signature and gives a description of him as being 1.7 metres tall with an oval face and chestnut coloured hair. He may have stayed on in France on official business, involving negotiations with the French Authorities over the administration of Corfu, or he may just have been there for pleasure. I like to think of him hunting wild boar in the woods around Antony with his friend Monsieur Boucher. They had returned to London again by December 1822, when Henry Samuel was also baptised at St. George’s Parish Church. Captain Wharton gave his abode as Buckingham Palace on that occasion. He would have been staying with his relations or friends on the staff of the Royal Household. He had by that time applied for the post of Barrack Master at Brecon in Wales, where he went in December 1822. What were his reasons for choosing Wales? He was not a member of the Brecon Militia. The post of Barrack Master was a civilian posting, and was paid out of the Ordnance Department budget. He was responsible for running the Barracks and purchasing all the equipment. It was not exciting work, but helped to support his wife and family. Watton Barracks in Brecon was constructed by government contract in 1805 to house the town Armoury. It was converted into accommodation for 270 men a few years later. The building is now the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh. The Brecknock County Militia were stationed there in those days. The Militia were the forerunners of the Territorial Army and each county was required to raise a certain number of men locally to provide trained soldiers for the regular Army in times of national emergency. The Adjutant of the Brecon Militia at that time was another Waterloo veteran, Capt. Egerton Isaacson of 51st Foot. At the end of the Peninsula Campaign, the Militia had been stood down from active service and were not embodied again until 1852. Very few records were kept for periods when the Militia were stood down.
Officers on half-pay could be recalled for active service at any time. In 1828, the War Office required all officers on half-pay to submit a return confirming whether or not they were willing to serve on active service again. William’s return is still amongst his military service records.
It gives details of all his postings up to 1828. He is listed as holding a Civil Situation as Barrack Master, and his salary was £137 pa plus free accommodation in the Barracks. He was asked to state if he was desirous of further active service, and he stated that he was not on account of having a wife and four children. If he had agreed to return to active service, he would probably have been posted to India. This Return also provides details of his marriage to Sarah Turner and their children, who are listed as William Plato born 27th April 1819, Henry Samuel born 22nd July 1821, Emma born 11th June 1824 and Frederick born 17th March 1828. Frederick must have died as an infant, because there is no further mention of him in any records. A fifth child named Elizabeth was born in 1834. Emma and Elizabeth are both shown on the 1851 Census for Wales as still living with their parents at Ashbrooke Place in Brecon. Henry Samuel is shown in the 1851 Census as a General Practitioner, living in Merthyr Tydfil. There was no trace of William Plato. I found out that he spent most of his life in an asylum at Briton Ferry. He was admitted to the asylum suffering from melancholia in 1846 and died there in 1891.
William was still living in the Watton Barracks with his wife Sarah, his sister Barbara, his daughter Elizabeth and his servant named Margaret Price in 1841. He retired later that year, and went to live at Ashbrooke Place in Brecon. William died there on 5th February 1855 aged 70. His old age must have been rather sad. One son had died in childhood, and his eldest son was in an asylum. His two daughters were unmarried. He had been gradually becoming paralysed by an old injury to his back. His death certificate lists “injury of cervical vertebra” as a partial cause of death. His faithful servant Margaret Price was a witness on his death certificate. He is buried at St. John’s Parish Church in Brecon. At the time of his death, he was still technically serving as an Army Officer on half-pay. His wife successfully applied to the War Office for a pension. She continued to live in Brecon with her unmarried daughter Emma and Margaret Price until 1861. Sarah Wharton died in Alverstoke in Hampshire in 1867. She left the miniature picture of her husband and his medals to her son Dr Henry Samuel Wharton (my great grandfather). He had settled in Alverstoke by 1861, where he was practising medicine. He married Emma Evans from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales in 1855. They had two children, John Henry Samuel Wharton and Enid Wharton (my grandmother). Dr Henry Wharton died in Alverstoke in 1885. Emma lived on until she was 95 years old. She died in 1922, and my mother Anice Chandler was present at her funeral in Alverstoke. It was Emma’s daughter Enid, who so proudly held her grandfather’s medals in her hands in 1960.
© Colin Heape.
No part of this work may be reproduced without prior permission of the author.
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WO 12/8062 Quarterly Pay-List for 2/73rd Regt. from 25th March –15th Sept. 1815
WO 17/194 Adjutant General Return for 2/73rd Regt. to December 1812.
WO 17/206 Adjutant General Return for 85th Regt. for November 1808
WO 31/262 Letter to Lieut. Col. Gordon at Horse Guards, London 1st October 1808
WO 1/213 Correspondence by Duke of Wellington re capture of Paris
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Shropshire Regimental Museum, The Castle, Shrewsbury, SY1 2AT
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Chandler Family Papers
Lt. William Wharton’s Commission in 85th Regiment (Bucks Voluteer).
French Hunting Permit issued to W Wharton in Ville Antony in 1822.
Barnes Family Papers
Notes compiled by Neil Barnes
Pictures of William and Sarah Wharton
Letter written by Capt. Wharton to General Harris dated 14th January 1814
Archives Communales d’Antony, www.ville_antony.fr
British Army in the Low Countries 1813-1814, www.napoleon-series.org/military
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Brief Biograoy of the author, Colin Heape
Colin Heape was born in London in 1938 and taken out to the West Indies by his mother as an infant to join his father, who was Colonial Secretary/Resident in Grenada. He spent the war years with his parents in Grenada, Bahamas and Guyana and did not return to, England until May 1945.
He was educated at Wellington College and did his National Service with the Royal Marines. He joined the Colonial Police for a short time in Northern Rhodesia. He then became a Land Agent in Scotland where he now lives with his wife, Jane.