Waterloo 200: Six key artefacts from the Battle of Waterloo

By Ben Miller | 13 January 2014

Having won £96,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Waterloo 200 Digital Legacy Project will host listings and events and showcase 200 objects from the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Here are six which could feature

A photo of a drum with paintings on it from the 19th century
Side drum (circa 1815)© National Army Museum
Carried by the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards at Waterloo in 1815, this was the side drum of a regiment who suffered heavy losses in the campaign – about 450 officers and men in the 2nd Battalion and nearly 600 in the 3rd.

At the climax of the battle the regiment defeated what were believed to be the Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard, being renamed The First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards as a reward.

A photo of a small golden emblem of an eagle from a 19th century army
The eagle standard of the French 105th Regiment, captured at Waterloo (1815)© National Army Museum
The eagle, a popular emblem of empire builders throughout history, was a rallying point in battle for Napoleon's veteran regiments. Soldiers fiercely defended their standards, as they were symbols of both the French Emperor and their unit identity.

This eagle standard of the French 105th Infantry Regiment, captured by Captain AK Clark of the 1st (or Royal) Dragoons, was one of nearly 100 presented by Napoleon to his army in 1815. These eagles replaced those of 1804 that had been destroyed during his first exile in 1814.

A photo of a model of a battlefield showing green mossland and houses in red
Model of the field of Waterloo with troops positioned as at 19.45 hours, 18 June 1815. Made by Captain William Siborne (1797-1849)© National Army Museum
In 1830, Captain William Siborne obtained official approval for his suggestion that a model be constructed of the Battle of Waterloo. He took leave from the Army and undertook an eight-month survey of the battlefield.

He then sent a circular letter to surviving British officers who had served at Waterloo. This asked them where their units had been at 'about 7 PM,' what enemy formations were to their front, what the crops were like in their vicinity, and inviting further comments about the parts played by their regiments. About 700 replies were received and these formed the basis for Siborne's work.

The model was completed in Ireland in 1838 and shipped to England in 39 sections. It was assembled for public display in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly.

Although the model attracted an estimated 100,000 visitors, paying one shilling each, receipts did not cover Siborne's costs. He was left seriously in debt.

The model was returned to Ireland in 1841 and placed in storage. In 1851, a subscription was raised among the British regiments depicted and the model was purchased.

It was brought back to London for display in the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, as part of the Royal United Service Museum. When that museum was forced to close much of its collection, including the model, was presented to the National Army Museum.

A photo of a map from an early 19th century battle in yellow, green and black
Plan of the Battles of Ligny, Quatre Bras & Waterloo fought on the 16 and 18 June 1815 by the Allied armies commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Prince Blücher© National Army Museum
On 15 June 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the River Sambre in the Netherlands in an attempt to drive a wedge between Wellington's Allied army and Blücher's Prussians. The following day at Ligny the main part of his army defeated the Prussians who were forced to retreat with losses of over 20,000 men. French casualties were only half that number.

That same day, Wellington beat off a French attack on the crossroads at Quatre Bras. However, the defeat of the Prussians at Ligny meant that he too had to retreat or risk being outflanked and overwhelmed. On 17 June, in pouring rain and pursued by Napoleon's main force, Wellington fell back to the ridge of Mont St Jean just south of the village of Waterloo.

Napoleon had detached Marshal Grouchy's 33,000 men to follow the Prussians, but he lost contact. Unknown to the French, the Prussians, although defeated, were still in decent shape. They were retreating, not eastwards along their lines of communication, but northwards towards Wavre.

This meant that, instead of moving away from Wellington, the Prussians were able to keep in contact with him. Emboldened by Blucher's promise to send troops, Wellington resolved to stand and fight on 18 June until the Prussians could arrive.

The following morning Napoleon waited for the ground to dry before attacking, but the initial assaults of Reille's and D'Erlon's corps were repulsed. Repeated charges by French cavalry then failed to break the defensive squares of allied infantry.

Only the capture of the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte threatened Wellington's position. By late afternoon the army of Prussian Marshal Blucher started arriving to reinforce Wellington.

Desperately, Bonaparte made a last throw to win the day. Across a field littered with dead and dying men, he launched the Imperial Guard. France's elite stormed towards the British but was overwhelmed by shattering musket fire.

A general retreat began - the French Army was routed. Three days later the Emperor abdicated.

An image of a painting from a 19th century battle showing troops sparring in front of a house
Defence of the Chateau de Hougoumont by the flank Company, Coldstream Guards, 1815. Watercolour by Denis Dighton (1815)© National Army Museum
The Chateau de Hougoumont was a strong-point in the British defensive line during the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Hougoumont was not taken in nearly nine hours of continuous fighting.

The nearest the French came to capturing the chateau was when a determined attack by Sous-Lieutenant Legros (nicknamed 'L'enfonceur' or 'The Smasher'), wielding a huge axe, managed to break through the North gate.

The commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell and his Guardsmen managed to shut the gate, trapping 30 Frenchmen inside. They were all killed apart from a young drummer boy, who was spared.

A photo of two engraved dark yellow stirrups once owned by a 19th century soldier
The Earl of Uxbridge's stirrups, owned by Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, 1815 (c)-1854© National Army Museum
In 1812, Paget became the 1st Earl of Uxbridge and, at the Battle of Waterloo, he commanded the British cavalry and horse artillery in Wellington’s army. He lost his leg when it was shattered by a piece of shot which narrowly missed Wellington.

These were most likely made for Paget during his service after Waterloo, as the design of one stirrup appears to have been made to accommodate his artificial leg.
He was created Marquess of Anglesey for his services at Waterloo and became Field Marshal in 1846. He died in 1854.

These are made from brass, in a flattened D-shape with stylised scrollwork and leaves along the outsides. They have ridged treads.

The eyes are covered by the face of a bearded and moustachioed man with three lobed crown, base of branches appear to be stylised lion’s face. One stirrup tread is partially filled with a notched and bent brass bar affixed by two brass screws.

  • Waterloo 200 will highlight 200 artefacts and host listings for public events and exhibitions taking place across the UK, partnered by the National Army Museum and Culture24. Visit nam.ac.uk/online-collection for more from the museum collection.

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I have fond memories of the Banquetting Hall exhibits and look forword to seeing the model again.

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