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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Hougoumont; an internal conflict ?

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Hougoumont; an internal conflict ?

Postby Iain » June 18th, 2017, 12:35 pm

Hi all…

I suppose you have to have served in the Guards to understand the real camaraderie and rivalry that exists between the regiments.
On the other hand…, perhaps not !!
In any case, this combination is certainly one of the aspects that provide the Brigade with its outstanding reputation. But this rivalry runs deep…, very deep ! (Nulli Secundus)

The reason for this post is to ask if anyone knows about a published article describing any conflict between Colonel Macdonnell (CG) and Sergeant Ralph Fraser. (SG)

With the Coldstream Guards being an ‘English’ Regiment since they were obliged to lay down their arms at the Tower, is it possible the Regiment continued to have a chip on its shoulder ? After all, at the time…, it was only ‘65’ years ago today !
Is it possible there was some regimental jealousy when fighting alongside a Scottish Guards Regiment ?
Could Macdonnell have been jealous of the fact that it was Ralph Fraser who downed Cubières ? Then seeing Fraser ride into the farm on a Colonel’s horse like some Amazon hero before helping to close the northern gate alongside Brice McGregor at which Macdonnell was absent ?
Then, with Wellington announcing it was the closing of the gate that was one of the most decisive factors leading to a victory, could Macdonnell have been furious that the event had to be shared with the SG and in particular, with a ‘lowly’ Scottish sergeant ?
Or was there some other more 'sinister' reason for his dislike of Fraser ?

Why do I ask ?
Well…, reading the Leeds Times published on March the 22, 1862; it provides a brief report on the death and funeral of Ralph Fraser.
On page 7, it mentions the following: Quote:

“Death of a Waterloo Hero,--
A few days ago, Sergeant-Major Ralph Fraser expired at his residence, 18, West-street, Pimlico…, bla, bla, bla.
In addition to the above, (military events) the gallant soldier was in possession of two additional military honours, and had more medals and honours than any officer or private in the whole of the British service, enumerating altogether sixteen.
During the eventful day at Waterloo, Sergeant Fraser was under the command of the late General Macdonnell, who has ever accorded to him the full credit due for his successful efforts and the part he acted in the defence of the post at Hougoumont.”
Bla, bla,bla…
Sergeant-Major Fraser had been for the last twenty years of his life an ‘armsman’ in Westminster Abbey, and the gallant veteran was followed to his final resting place at the Brompton cemetery by several of his old comrades.”

Lol…, Scottish funerals, especially in those days was a good excuse to empty a few bottles of whisky. And during the knees-up, the ‘Old Comrades’ would have certainly spilt the beans to the press.

Any comments would be appreciated…, Iain.

PS
Personally, I don’t believe Macdonnell assisted in pushing the gates shut ! He can’t be in two places at the same time !
During this event, he has been mentioned on several occasions by competent sources as participating with the elimination of the French inside the farm. Then, following the closure of the gates, perhaps someone shouted for help on noticing that the cross-bar had been broken. Macdonnell then disappears to find a log !
Last edited by Iain on June 20th, 2017, 4:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hougoumont; an internal conflict ?

Postby MarkW » June 18th, 2017, 2:55 pm

interesting idea, never considered that part to be under scrutiny, but makes sense that every incident comes under the magnifier. Trying to think where i read that Macdonell was carrying a log to close the gates...Now could not he be carrying it while the troops dispatch those inside and others are fighting at the gate...as commanding officer he realizes that something needs to be done to close them while the privates are caught up in the fight and the immediacy of it all...now while there is the rivalry as we have seen with other officers and troops bigging up their role (even Decoster did the same) and supposedly asking Siborne to place them in particular spots etc, is it possible that they might have felt a camaraderie as a result of their combined fight and effort at the farm...while none of the privates could say a word about their officers officially and whilst in the service, following accounts years later have never contradicted the original story (though we know many original stories are falling by the way side)...

the distance from the ridge from where two companies of Guards came down from, that would not have taken too long, and the clearing of the gate from the outside would have happened quickly - even time for those caught outside to realize they are screwed and decide to head back up the ridge to safety

was Wellington the first to give credit to Macdonell, as he would only give credit to a superior officer

did a real Legros exist or is it a made-up name that in French just means big man, convenient for the story

between the chateau and the barn is about twenty yards so the gap is narrow, how many could have got in and is a indicator to how bloody the fighting must have been and how the bodies must have been piled up..therefore moving them out of the way to allow for movement becomes crucial
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Re: Hougoumont; an internal conflict ?

Postby jf42 » June 19th, 2017, 1:38 am

Iain, I imagine you are familiar with this summary of events at Hougoumont. How much it consists of conventional wisdom regarding Hougoumont and how much up-to-date, contemporary thinking, you will know better than I.
https://projecthougoumont.com/defence-of-hougoumont/

However, I refer to it because it does record that, after gathering the group that succeeded in forcing the North gate closed, Col. Macdonnell's personal contribution was to take the wooden bar that had been dislodged earlier, replace it in its brackets and thus secure the gate properly. That is to say, it does not appear to have been 'a log' from somewhere else, (despite Mathew Clay's observation to that effect).

Do you have any particular reason to think that Macdonnell suffered from such a defect of character as to be jealous of a 'lowly Scottish sergeant' (Wasn't Fraser born in Westminster?) bearing in mind that Macdonnell was himself a Scottish gentleman, late of the 78th Rosshire Buffs, as you know, and as such perhaps less likely to be prone to such peevishess? This especially when Fraser's comrades reported that Colonel and later General Macdonnell "ever accorded to him the full credit due for his successful efforts and the part he acted in the defence of the post at Hougoumont.'

Any officer worth his salt, as I believe Macdonnell to have been, would be aware that without doughty sergeants like Ralph Fraser no Foot Guards regiment, no infantry regiment, would function effectively.

Jealousy, such as you posit, towards the Third Foot Guards seems to me to be unlikely. The Coldstreams could afford to be generous towards the junior regiment. Now, if Macdonnell had been forced to take men of the First Foot Guards under his command... well...

In closing, I feel I should point out that the Lord General's Regiment took on the status of Foot Guards 154 years before the battle of Waterloo, That is to say rather than '65'. :geek: (I am also fairly sure they weren't obliged to do this under armed guard. Their laying down their arms was a symbolic gesture to indicate transfer of allegiance :ugeek: ).
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