La Haye Sainte (sacred hedge) is a walled farmhouse compound at the foot of an escarpment on the Charleroi-Brussels road. It has changed very little since it played a very important part in the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. The road leads from La Belle Alliance, where Napoleon had his headquarters on the morning of the battle, through where the centre of the French front line was located, to a crossroads on the ridge which is at the top of the escarpment and then on to Brussels. The Duke of Wellington placed the majority of his forces on either side of the Brussels road behind the ridge on the Brussels side. This kept most of his forces out of sight of the French artillery. During the night from the 17th to the 18th, the main door to the courtyard of the farm was used as firewood by the occupying troops. Therefore, when the King's German Legion (KGL) was stationed in the farm at the morning of the battle, they had to hastily fortify La Haye Sainte. The troops were the 2nd Light Battalion KGL commanded by Major Georg Baring, and part of the 1st Light Battalion KGL. During the battle, they were supported by the 1/2 Nassau Regiment and the light company of the 5th Line Battalion KGL. The majority of these troops were armed with the Baker rifle, as opposed to the normal Brown Bess musket of the British Army.
Both Napoleon and Wellington realized the strategic value of the position and it was fought over and around most of the day.
At 13:00, the French Grand Battery of heavy artillery opened fire before d'Erlon's Corps (54th and 55th Ligne) marched forward in columns. The French managed to surround La Haye Sainte and despite taking heavy casualties from the garrison, they attacked the centre left of Wellington's line. As the centre began to give way and La Haye Sainte became vulnerable, Picton's division was sent to plug the gap. As the French were beaten back from La Haye Sainte, the heavy cavalry brigades under Somerset and Ponsonby attacked. This action relieved the pressure on the fortress farm.
At 15:00, Napoleon ordered Marshal Ney to capture La Haye Sainte. While Ney was engaged in the glorious but futile 8,000 man cavalry attack, unsupported by infantry or cannon, on Allied squares on the Brussels side of the ridge, he failed to take La Haye Sainte.
At 17:30, Napoleon re-issued orders for Ney to take La Haye Sainte. The French had worked up close to the buildings by this time.
At 18:00 Marshal Ney, heavily supported by artillery and some cavalry, took personal command of an infantry regiment (13th Legere) and a company of engineers and captured La Haye Sainte with a furious assault. "The light battalion of the German Legion, which occupied it, had expended all its ammunition" and had to retreat. Allied forces were unable to counterattack immediately, as they were in squares over the ridge. The French brought up guns to fire from its cover, but riflemen of the 1/95 in the "sand pit" to the east of the farm, picked off all the gunners, so the guns were ineffective.
At 19:00, thanks to the French garrison in La Haye Sainte, the Imperial Guard was able to climb the escarpment and attack the Allies on the Brussels side of the ridge. This final attack was beaten back and became a rout around 20:10 as the French forces realised that with the arrival of the Prussians from the east, they were beaten. During the French retreat, La Haye Sainte was recaptured by the Allies, some time before 21:00, when Blücher met Wellington at La Belle Alliance.
Today, La Haye Sainte is privately owned as a family home. On the walls are memorials to the KGL and the French. Opposite the house is a monument for the officers and the soldiers of the KGL.
- Barbero, Alessandro, The Battle of Waterloo. Walker and Company, 2005, ISBN 0-8027-1453-6.
- Beamish, N. Ludlow, History of the King's German Legion Vol. 2. 1832-37 (reprint: Naval and Military Press 1997 ISBN 0-9522011-0-0)
- Chappell, Mike, The King's German Legion (2) 1812–1815. Botley, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-85532-997-2
- Hofschröer, Peter, The Waterloo Campaign – The German Victory. Greenhill Books London (1999) ISBN 1-85367-368-4
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