Wellington Dined Alone

I have been reading about the Battle of Waterloo in the Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes and in Howard Keegan’s brilliant book The Face of Battle. Both works quote original sources, but the former quotes them at length and the latter quotes them sparingly while giving the reader an overview of the battle.

I find the combination of the anecdote and the overview is very instructive to one who wishes to understand the battle, not as a move in some European political chess game that Napoleon might conceivably have won, which is utterly ridiculous, but as a great tragedy, a needless waste of men and horses.

In the end, Napoleon was sending his cavalry (because that was all he had) against infantry squares, which actually welcomed the cavalry charges because they meant a break from the ravages of artillery bombardments.

The cavalry would gallop around the squares, and then they would either retreat or get shot or bayoneted. So many men and horses died needlessly.

Napoleon had not reckoned on the ability of the British and allied armies to withstand blistering atrtillery fire. And Wellington, knowing he could not rely on his Belgian allies to take the offensive, disposed them in defensive positions under the command of British and German troops of proven loyalty, blah blah blah.

Now the anecdote. After the victory at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington returned late at night to his company mess hall, where they were awaiting the return of his staff. He went in and ordered his dinner, and he kept looking up to see if any of his staff officers had made it back.

Every single one had been killed or wounded. Wellington dined alone.