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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

For all discussions relating to the Hundred Days and Napoleon's final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Iain » May 16th, 2017, 2:39 pm

Quote JF:
"Moreover, enemy occupying a wood under such bombardment could easily withdraw then advance again to oppose the advance of one's own infantry, who would still have to clear the wood eventually. Any damage to trees from artillery fire, fallen trunks and limbs, would only make that task more complicated."

Quite true JF !
A lot of logic there.
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby MarkW » May 16th, 2017, 3:23 pm

Having never heard of these small company colours before....why would it be 'no. 15', only 10 companies per regiment, one a light one....why is #15?...did all the other companies possess their own? if not why not?
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 17th, 2017, 10:30 am

If number 15 is the light company colour Ian then that is a organisational thing, but it won't have been carried by any but the Colour party and the stand will have stayed on the ridge. Light companies didn't use colour's and it was unusual to carry colour's into buildings that were under heavy attack, where their use would be limited and they could more easily be captured.

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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Iain » May 17th, 2017, 2:35 pm

Josh and Mark..., please forgive me for this error.
I posted RHQs reply to Josh's CG Couour post on the wrong page.

I'll delete it immediately and transfer it to the correct thread. Sorry !

:oops: ..., Iain.
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Iain » May 19th, 2017, 7:43 am

Hi Mark…, great to see you back with us again.
Promise I’ll email you by the weekend.

Firstly, I think JF has answered your initial question.
As for which haystack ? Well, believe it or not; but that’s suddenly become an interesting issue !

So far and according to my limited historical knowledge, the only person who ever mentions a second haystack is Mathew Clay in his narrative. (just before entering the farm) To the best of my knowledge, even all the good Waterloo books have only one southern haystack indicated on their sketches. In the meantime and in relation to the northern “clover stack,” I believe that this stack is the most informative. It provides many answers to quite a few questions. For example…., it tells us the where the northern end of the kitchen garden is situated because Clay could see the northern gate from there.
Any further north and the stack would be on the Chemin du Goumont…, lol. (and ‘knee-deep’ in water)

But your question provides an interesting dilemma !
Wellington mentions that the haystack caused the farm to burn ! Obviously wrong because of the distance of the southern haystack to the Great Barn and if it was to burn anything, it would have been the gardener’s house. (so a southerly wind !)
But just imagine for a minute or two that Wellington was talking about the northern ‘clover stack.’ (a northerly wind !)
From just about anywhere along the ridge, the northern haystack is nearly invisible. It’s surrounded to the north and west by a large hedgerow, it’s on a dip in the terrain, partly covered to the east by the farm and along the lane, there’s a row of tall poplar trees. (poplar ??)
Of course, smoke rises and gives away its position.

Firstly and to all intents and purposes, it should be the northern haystack that was on fire !!
Why ? Well…, I’ve always asked myself why it was only the northern half of the chateau-farm that caught fire ? The great barn, the chateau, the farmer’s house and the stables are all in the northern half; whereas the chapel, the byres and all the buildings along the southern side were untouched…, a neat division ! This obviously indicates the direction of the French battery with a high trajectory to miss the treetops. (meaning that they were probably quite close to the wood) It also indicates that the shots didn’t come from the French Horse Artillery to the west.
As such, I ask myself; shouldn’t the southern haystack have been spared…, especially with it being in close proximity to the high trees being near the wood.

The main contradiction to a northern haystack fire comes from Clay once again. No ‘lamp swinging’ here, just a general chat relative to his whereabouts following the battle.
Note; I interpret the following quote as him being part of a search party looking for the wounded; and perhaps being accompanied by an unmentioned corporal taking notes for the Company Returns.

Quote:-
“The heaps of the enemy’s slain laying about the exterior of the farm, (The ‘Killing Ground’) showed the deadly effect of our fire from within, and on passing near to the site of the circular stack, as stated before, I found that it had been totally destroyed by the enemy’s fire and also that many of our comrades had fallen near the spot, and apparently entire, but on touching them, found them completely dried up by the heat.” He then goes on as a follow-up to his haystack visit…, “ON PASSING DOWN BY THE SIDE OF THE GARDEN WE FIRST ENTERED bla, bla, bla.”
“On passing DOWN by the side of the garden we first entered,” means that he was talking about the southern haystack because from there, the lane goes down, not up.

Another pointer to the southern fire: The northern haystack didn’t have that much hand-to-hand fighting. The only dead Guards around that stack were probably a few from the group of ‘Courts Martialed’ and shot in the back as they retreated north to rejoin their regiments.

Also…, nearly all Allied activities around the northern stack were finished before 12h00. (except for the Coldstreamers who came down later to empty the kitchen garden before entering the farm using the western door)
I’d like someone to contradict me here as last year, I seem to remember John mentioning that the Guards and perhaps the Nassau ventured out through the western door during the afternoon. Linked in some way to the Drummer Boy. But I doubt it ! (still waiting for that confounded unpublished letter from Dashwood !)
Nonetheless and even if they did, I see no reason for them to turn right !

…, Iain.


PS When midair incendiary devices explode, I suppose their projectiles go in all directions. (one unlucky southern haystack !)
I’d like to learn more about these shells… Any good URLs would be very welcomed. Thanks.
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby jf42 » May 19th, 2017, 1:20 pm

destroyed by the enemy’s fire
is an amibiguous phrase.

Is it possible the fire in the haystacks were caused as much by sparks and flash from infantry firelocks as by artillery projectiles? Round shot and caseshot did not give off incandescent heat to any great degree. The artillery shell or 'grenade' was not, per se an incendiary projectile. The explosion of the internal charge would generate momentary heat and flame, perhaps with some glowing particles, but not for any great distance.

Similarly, the extent to which the shell fragments of an 'airburst' would retain heat, let alone enough to ignite damp haystacks, seems doubtfull to me. It would have required the explosion of shells in very close proximity to set a wet haystack on fire, expecially after a night of such torrential rain as fell on the nght of 17th-18th June 1815.

Were the French firing 'carcass' at any point in the Hougoumont fight- was this a standard load available to French field artillery?
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby MarkW » May 19th, 2017, 2:37 pm

i have always felt that the haystack fire must have been set accidentally from flintlocks; French did launch some projectiles around mid-afternoon into the buildings but there is no point to aiming for the southern haystack...Iain, is right is that it suggests the main fire on the buildings however, was caused from the fire and the wind caused by that haystack...and therefore there must have been a decent wind blowing south to north (further masking Wellington's line further)...as for Clay moving north to south for safety rather than south to north is unlikely...and as for 'Legros' being the man to enter the norther gate, the recent reading here plus the gut feeling re this person's name seems very much like a myth - the man that broke is considered 'Le Gros' rather than anything else....
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Iain » May 22nd, 2017, 12:56 pm

JF…, musket flames is an excellent hypothesis ! But as you say, the haystacks were soaking wet but that was not the case for the great barn.
Alasdair White mentioned that the barn’s roof tiles had been loopholed with the Germans and Guards firing from the rafters. Falling gunpowder on the dry hay while reloading during hours of firing would have created a perfect ignition site.

As for the incendiary projectiles…, I thought it was a certainty that it was the French ! (?)
The French did have one howitzer near the orchard for a short period of time. Do they fire that type of shot ?
I searched everywhere on the ‘Weapons and Tactics’ page to read-up on them but found nothing.
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby jf42 » May 22nd, 2017, 2:40 pm

I was wondering, Iain, do you have contemporary evidence of hay stored in the great barn? Is that Alastair White's suggestion, or is it your assumption?

By midsummer 1815, last year's hay had presumably been eaten or sold and this year's cut, at least in theory,was drying in stacks outside.

I suspect that on June 18th incendiary 'carcass' rounds would not have been available in great numbers, if at all. I stand to be corrected on that matter.

Are there not contemporary accounts that state whether artillery rounds caused the fires in the farmstead?

Once again, sparks from the ignition of firelocks, lodging in the dust, cobwebs and general debris in the rafters, may have contributed to the fire in the roof space.
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Re: First cannon fire at Waterloo, on 18th...

Postby Iain » May 27th, 2017, 9:20 am

Good morning JF…
Sorry for not getting back to you on this one…, I didn’t notice it !

So very true !
As for the barn being partially filled with hay is partly an assumption on my part. Not being a farmer I took that for granted. (lol)
I’ll be keeping a vigilant eye on my neighbour’s barn at the foot of our garden next month.
Amazing how the time flies…! Only 98 years to go for the Tri-Centenary ! ;)

Clay also mentions; Quote:
“Being now prepared for the day’s encounter, I went to the farm of Hougoumont for straw to sit upon, the ground being very wet, I entered the gates facing the wood (error) into the farmyard and on my left was a building in which was a quantity of dry straw. It being yet early in the morning, some of our troops were yet taking rest on the top of a mow.”

Not to forget that when the men were being burned alive inside and with the intense heat stopping the men outside to save lives…, something must have been on fire. An empty barn would not have presented the same effect.
When I was sketching out this part of my manuscript, I had imagined the hay to vary in height (as you say, end of season) and as a consequence, I have the walled loopholes varying in height.
In the meantime, if the barn was ‘empty,’ then the loopholes should be just above the grey foundation stones.
I’ve still not found the time to take more images of that wall, but I hope to do so next month.

Also, don’t forget that there were pigs in the byres. (the SG Light Company ate one before taking up their kitchen garden position)
Of course, pigs eat ‘slop’ and I don’t know if they need hay for bedding. (the piglets perhaps)
As you know, they did have an exceptionally hot period before the battle and we can be sure that the two haystacks we know about were certainly not solitary.

Alasdair White didn’t talk about hay, he only mentioned that the barn’s tiled roof had been holed for loopholes and that’s confirmed by Adkin (page 342) when he writes; quote:
“At 10h00, the Light Companies of the Guards (ie; four Companies) were relieved by a Battalion of 800 Nassau light troops; part of this corps was stationed IN THE LOFTS, buildings, yards and out-offices;”

In the meantime, he did mention that he doubted the idea of any loopholes along the western wall because they were too thick. I measured them and in relation to the grey-stone foundation wall; there, he’s probably correct. But above the grey stone, the walls are like all the others. (note; I have the architect’s plan of the building)

As for the French incendiary canisters; lol…, I know absolutely nothing about them. Like the hay, I took that for granted !
In the meantime, the neat dividing line of the chapel and byres with everything north being burnt to a cinder clearly points to the angle of the incendiary devices having been fired from the other side of the wood.

As a total newbie to cannons, I’m a bit surprised with this artillery question as I thought the French guns and firepower had been a subject well analysed.

Kind Regards…, Iain.
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