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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Hougoumont’s first hour :

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

Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » February 26th, 2017, 9:11 am

Hi All…

Thought I might add a little interesting info found recently on Facebook.
On https://www.facebook.com/groups/projecthougoumont/ …, please see the post concerning the walls and loopholes.

As you can read, Alasdair White mentioned that the Great Barn roof was probably loopholed.
This is important because up till now, the specialists have had no written proof that the western wall had been protected.
Seems totally illogical not to have it protected as it's the most potentially vulnerable wall on the farm. Being the reason why I’m researching it !

I had come to the conclusion that the smoke given off by all the muskets inside a building would have made it impossible to aim correctly through loopholes following about 10 minutes of firing. (no ventilation)
On the other hand, holing the tiled roof would have had plenty of ventilation. (see the 3 round ventilation holes in the image which would have created an excellent draft)

As such, independent of the ventilation holes upstairs above the western door, the roof would have been an excellent position to ‘stop’ any French moving north along the cornfield. (AND REDUCING THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE DEAD FRENCH by the north gate originated from the west)
Impossible of course to see the lane, (they’re too high) but my next visit will look for HD telltale signs of brick repairs halfway up the wall. (loop-holing the inside…, they would have been standing on bales of hay)

…, Iain.

PS The following was added on the 17th of April 2017: I have since seen Hougoumont model makers with loopholes in the curtain wall between the western door and the gardener's house. That seems totally logical !
I've also seen a window in a sketch where the gardener's wall (loft) has one looking west. (but that could be 'fantasy')
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby jf42 » February 27th, 2017, 12:36 am

Iain wrote: they would have been standing on bales of hay.


Whatever they might have used to create a firing step, it wouldn't have been bales of hay as the mechanical baler had yet to be invented. Hay was usually stored in free standing stacks, although local custom varied.
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » February 27th, 2017, 4:53 am

jf42 wrote:
Iain wrote: they would have been standing on bales of hay.


Whatever they might have used to create a firing step, it wouldn't have been bales of hay as the mechanical baler had yet to be invented. Hay was usually stored in free standing stacks, although local custom varied.


Lol…, yes, quite true JF. I suppose I should have said sheaths.
Tying the string around the centre…, I’m of that generation that used to make them. ;)
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby jf42 » March 1st, 2017, 5:18 pm

'Sheaves', no? Tied with twists of straw, in those days (until the arrival of the mechanical reaper-binder) and leant in stooks to dry in the field. Not that they would have made very stable footing, but that is more likely to been the cereal harvest and, in June 1815, that year's crop was still green in the fields. Hay would have gone straight to the stack yard. Perhaps bags of the previous year's threshed grain would be more likely although, for the farmer's sake, one would hope that they had been put out of harm's way.
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » March 6th, 2017, 8:52 am

Quite true JF…
I’m pleased you corrected me on that and as such, I'm now changing the topic slightly.

Concerning food, I always assumed that June's fruit would have been an excellent supplementary source for all the soldiers but when I noticed that our ‘Bi-Centenary’ apples were less than 1 centimetre in diameter, I started doing a little research.
(contradicting my ideas; “how is it possible they could have been so hungry”?)

That pushed me to write to a friend in Scotland to ask exactly what he had in his garden. (colder climate)
He replied :
“We are eating - fresh picked - over wintered kale and celery, chives, tree onions, sweet red onions, rhubarb, wild garlic bulbs (having finished the leaves and flowers around Easter) nettles , dandelions and nasturtium leaves - - and many herbs - rosemary, thyme, marjoram, parsley and various mints.”
Of course, we all know that the gardener had strawberries and ripe cherries. (annexed)

As for your interesting remark; “Perhaps bags of the previous year's threshed grain would be more likely although, for the farmer's sake, one would hope that they had been put out of harm's way.”
Not quite sure about that ! The fact that there was beer in the farm, indicates that all available carts were probably used to salvage furniture and precious belongings before the onslaught. They only had 24 hours warning.

I say “beer” because I don’t think beer was on the list of drinks available to the troops.
Nonetheless, according to Captain Evelyn the next day in the Bruxelles hospital and following his wound by the north gate, he mentions that his Guardsmen surrounded him for protection and he was “comforted by their flasks of water and beer.”
The only source of beer could have been the chateau cellars. (Lambic)

As such, I suppose the Hougoumont Men were probably not that hungry. Especially with the pigs in the farm and the pigeons above the well.
And of course horse meat must have been in abundance.

…, Iain.
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » April 17th, 2017, 5:53 am

Hi All…

Just a quick question about French artillery during the opening moments of the battle.
(independent of the ‘11h30’ salvo towards the ridge)

If you were Jérôme facing the southern wood and as yet, your skirmishers have not opened up any musket fire and have certainly not had any hand-to-hand fighting…, would you have ‘softened up’ the wood with artillery before any major advance towards Hougoumont ?

Taking into consideration that it was the ‘bounce’ (or lack of it) that stalled the ridge’s salvo; the easy-target wood would have created a multitude of injuries from flying splinters.

Thoughts please…, Iain.
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » April 26th, 2017, 6:18 am

Something which is never talked about in any analysis of the north gate infraction is the fact that some Frenchmen escaped from the event to tell the story.
Please read John’s paragraph relative to Legros at the bottom of the page.
viewtopic.php?f=43&t=2442&start=50

Here, John is not only casting a doubt relative to Legros and his axe, but for me, what’s more important is the fact that one or more Frenchmen survived to tell the tale.

Had this Frenchman gained entry, he’d certainly have been shot. Meaning that my hypothesis of the CG reserve section by the haystack (doing exactly what they were put there to do) attacked what remained of the enemy outside. (now confirmed) Meaning that the French 'Officer' and some of his Men were driven off. (which seems to me TOTALLY logical..., why wait around to be killed when you're outnumbered) They then would have headed North West to swim to safety.
(they couldn’t have gone west or east, so they could only have used the Chemin du Goumont…, which is now partially underwater)
Thanks John... ;)

…, Iain.

PS Sorry John…, I’m being a bit of a teaser for the moment. :) I know you’d love to reply !
Anyway, if ever I write a book, I now know who NOT contact !
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Re: Hougoumont’s first hour :

Postby Iain » June 23rd, 2017, 7:36 am

Hi All…

Just discovered something interesting in relation to the ‘form-up’ of the Guards sub-divisions in the kitchen garden and perhaps even an insight into the internal security of the northern gate, prior to the attack on the wood !
Note: Ensign Henry Gooch was in command of the Coldstreamer’s reserve sub-division ! (at the back by the NW corner)

Many of John Franklins’ posts here and more especially his books, indicate that the 4 Guards sub-divisions to the west, (before the French onslaught via the wood) had the SG lining the total length of the kitchen garden’s hedgerow, (not, including the southern haystack and its clover field) while the two CG sub-divisions “lined the northern wall.”

Well; ‘Doubting Thomas’ here has always wondered how more than 100 men (two platoons of 50) could ever have fitted along the 8-yard stretch of wall between the gates and the NW corner. (?) If you are preparing an attack, you don’t want some of your men so far away that they’d be lining the formel garden's hedgerow !
For this reason, I had Windham’s CG platoon in the kitchen garden by the northern haystack to allow for Gooch’s reserve platoon to be placed along the wall; stretching about 50 yards. (and even that’s slightly illogical)

In the meantime; taking into consideration that John and everyone else including Büsgen, maintain that the farm was empty when the Germans took over its defence; so why spread your Coldstreamers along the wall when all you have to do is put yourself and your men inside the courtyard by the gate. (?)
Of course…, on Büsgen’s arrival, despite the farm being ‘empty,’ this temporary situation could have provided the illusion, that the CG still controlled the northern courtyard and gate ! (see below)

Thanks to JF, I read the following:
‘Project Hougoumont’: https://projecthougoumont.com/defence-of-hougoumont/
Despite the multiple errors, they cite the following…

“It took some time to march across the face of the whole army and on arrival just after 10 a.m. Büsgen placed three companies, totalling four hundred men, in the orchard and three companies within the farm complex, which he found empty but prepared for defence. The light companies of the Coldstream and 3rd Guards having previously moved into the western lane area.” (perhaps another reason for upholding Wyndham’s position by the haystack)
“The Grenadier Company of the Nassau battalion occupied the gardener’s house and guarded the south gate, planting their colour defiantly on the rooftop; the other two companies lined the garden wall. Part of the light company of the Coldstream Guards continued to hold the buildings of the lower courtyard and defended the north gate.”

On the same page, the following can be found…, “and the Nassau troops were never in the northern courtyard.”
Although I’d be inclined to disagree as the great barns’ loopholes in the tiled roof and its western wall needed manning !
But of course, the Germans could have entered the barn using the southern courtyard access and were therefore, indirectly, ‘not in the northern courtyard’!

Back to the Guard’s attack on the southern wood :
When the 3 platoons advance towards the wood, (Dashwood – Wyndham – Standen) Gooch’s reserve platoon obviously leaves the farm and northern wall with its 50-odd Coldstreamers to position itself on the lane, in order to listen for any bugle calls; and in doing so, Gooch hands over the ‘gate-responsibility’ to the Germans. (who immediately close them)
Of course, the Germans, (in short supply because they had already been dispersed to all the southern/western loopholes) means that there weren’t many spare men to man the ‘unimportant’ northern gate.

In the meantime and to emphasise my prior posts…, the kitchen garden is ‘chock-a-block’ with elite Guardsmen protected by German Sharpshooters using the southern and western loopholes; (before the fires) so it’s impossible that the dead French by the north gate originated from the wood or the field.
Remember…, the north gate infraction was done before, the entry of Fraser and Clay; but after Macdonnell and Evelyn because Evelyn was shot during the incursion. So we are talking about a very short period of time because Macdonnell had sounded the retreat from the wood and was moving fast downhill.

…, Iain.
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