The Duke of Wellington’s Waterloo Despatch

Wellington’s despatch reporting the battle of Waterloo was written on the following day, and published in The Times and the London Gazette Extraordinary on Thursday, 22 June 1815. It is a masterpiece of concise Wellingtonian prose, if not always entirely factually accurate in every regard, since the Duke was writing immediately after the events and only heard about some aspects of the battle from others.

The despatch was sent as a letter to Earl Bathurst, the Secretary for War, and summed up all the actions that had taken place since the start of the campaign; here is an edited version, retaining Wellington’s spelling and grammar:

   Waterloo, June 19, 1815

   My Lord,

Buonaparte having collected the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th corps of the French army and the Imperial Guards, and nearly all the cavalry on the Sambre, and between that river and the Meuse, between the 10th and the 14th of the month, advanced on the 15th and attacked the Prussian posts at Thuin and Lobez, on the Sambre, at day light in the morning.

I did not hear of these events till the evening of the 15th, and immediately ordered the troops to prepare to march, and afterwards to march to their left, as soon as I had intelligence from other quarters to prove that the enemy’s movement upon Charleroy was the real attack …

[Of the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras:] The Prussian army maintained their position with their usual gallantry and perseverance, against a great disparity of numbers, as the 4th corps of their army, under General Bulow, had not joined, and I was not able to assist them as I wished, as I was attacked myself, and the troops, the cavalry in particular, which had a long distance to march, had not arrived.

We maintained our position also, and completely defeated and repulsed all the enemy’s attempts to get possession of it. The enemy repeatedly attacked us with a large body of cavalry and infantry supported by a numerous and powerful artillery: he made several charges with the cavalry upon our infantry, but all were repulsed in the steadiest manner …

Although Marshal Blucher had maintained his position at Sambref, he still found himself much weakened by the severity of the contest, in which he had been engaged, and as the fourth corps had not arrived, he determined to fall back, and concentrate his army upon Wavre; and he marched there in the night after the action was over.

This movement of the Marshal’s rendered necessary a corresponding one on my part; and I retired from the farm of Quattre Bras upon Genappe, and thence upon Waterloo the next morning, the 17th, at ten o’clock…

The position which I took up in front of Waterloo, crossed the high roads from Charleroy and Nivelle, and had its right thrown back to a ravine near Merke Braine, which was occupied: and its left extended to a height above the hamlet of Ter la Haye, which was likewise occupied. In front of the right centre and near the Nivelle road, we occupied the house and garden of Hougoumount, which covered the return of that flank; and in front of the left centre, we occupied the farm of la Haye Sainte. By our left. we communicated with Marshal Blucher, at Wavre, through Ohaim; and the marshal had promised me, that in case we should be attacked, he would support me with one or more corps, as might be necessary.

The enemy collected his army, with the exception of the third corps, which had been sent to observe Marshal Blucher, on a range of heights to our front, in the course of the night of the 17th and yesterday morning: and at about ten o’clock he commenced a furious attack upon our post at Hougoumont … I am happy to add, that it was maintained throughout the day with the utmost gallantry by these brave troops, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of large bodies of the enemy to obtain possession of it.

This attack upon the right of our centre was accompanied by a very heavy cannonade upon our whole line, which was destined to support the repeated attacks of cavalry and infantry occasionally mixed, but some times separate, which were made upon it. In one of these the enemy carried the farm house of La Haye Sainte, as the detachment of the light battalion of the [King’s German] legion which occupied it had expended all its ammunition, and the enemy occupied the only communication there was with them.

The enemy repeatedly charged our infantry with his cavalry, but these attacks were uniformly unsuccessful, and they afforded opportunities to our cavalry to charge, in one of which Lord E. Somerset’s brigade, consisting of the life guards, royal horse guards, and 1st dragoon guards, highly distinguished themselves, as did that of Major General Sir W. Ponsonby, having taken many prisoners and an eagle.

These attacks were repeated until about seven in the evening, when the enemy made a desperate effort with the cavalry and infantry, supported by the fire of artillery, to force our left centre near the farm of La Haye Sainte, which after a severe contest was defeated, and having observed that the troops retired from this attack in great confusion, and that the marc[h] of General Bulow’s corps by Euschermont upon Planchernerte and la Belle Alliance, had begun to take effect, and as I could perceive the fire of his cannon, and as Marshal Prince Blucher had joined in person, with a corps of his army to the left of our line by Ohaim, I determined to attack the enemy, and immediately advanced the whole line of infantry, supported by the cavalry and artillery. The attack succeeded in every point; the enemy was forced from his position on the heights, and fled in the utmost confusion, leaving behind him, as far as I could judge, one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, with their ammunition, which fell into our hands. I continued the pursuit till long after dark, and then discontinued it only on account of the fatigue of our troops, and because I found myself on the same road with Marshal Blucher, who assured me of his intention to pursue the enemy throughout the night; he had sent me word this morning that he had taken sixty pieces of cannon belonging to the Imperial Guard, and several carriages, baggage, &c, belonging to Buonaparte, in Genappe…

It gives me the greatest satisfaction to assure your Lordship, that the army never, upon any occasion, conducted itself better …

I should not do justice to my feelings or to Marshal Blucher and the Prussian army, if I do not attribute the successful result of this arduous day, to the cordial and timely assistance I received from them.

The operation of General Bulow, upon the enemy’s flank, was a most decisive one; and even if I had not found myself in a position to make the attack, which produced the final result, it would have forced the enemy to retire, if his attacks should have failed, and would have prevented him from taking advantage of them, if they should unfortunately have succeeded.

I send, with this despatch, two eagles, taken by the troops in action, which Major Percy will have the honour of laying at the feet of his Royal Highness.

I beg leave to recommend him to your Lordship’s protection. I have the honour, &c,


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