Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

18.6.08

Waterloo

Today (June 18th) is the 193rd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo - the final defeat of Emperor Napoleon and the eclipse of France's dominance on the Continent by nascent Prussia.

Though the Emperor had been deposed the previous year (after the disastrous march on Moscow in 1812 decimated the Grande Armée) and exiled to l'Isle d'Elbe in the Tyrrhenian Sea, he escaped from captivity and returned to Paris in March 1815. With the remnants of his army rallying around him, Napoleon marched on the British and Prussian forces in Belgium before additional allies could rally and organize a defense.

John Keegan, in The Face of Battle, describes the conditions with impeccable and compelling details - down to the weather the night before, the conditions of the crops on the road near Soignies, and the mood of the troops. While Napoleon commanded total loyalty from his forces, the forces on the field near Braine-l'Alleud were not the same seasoned veterans with whom he conquered the Continent in previous years.

Today, the site of the battle is marked by a tall (40') pyramid, atop which stands a lion in repose. On my very first visit to Europe, 1992 into Brussels, my first "tourist activity" was to take the train south from Brussels to Braine-l'Alleud and a cab to the Butte de Lyon. Since it was early (redeye from CONUS), the omelet fromage I had at a bistro near the train station in Braine-l'Alleud remains one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in my life.

After the battle, the Duke of Wellington is reported to have said, "There is nothing as melancholy as a battle lost -- except, perhaps, a battle won." The second defeat of Napoleon saw the deposed Emperor exiled not to the comfortable confines of l'Isle d'Elbe, near his family's roots in Corsica, but rather to the remote island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic. He died six years later, and is today interred in L'Hôtel des Invalides in Paris (in seven concentric sarcophagi).

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