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View of the Hougoumont farm from the south, including gate on that side
Château d'Hougoumont is a large farmhouse situated at the bottom of an escarpment near the Nivellesmarker road in Braine-l'Alleudmarker, near Waterloomarker, Belgiummarker. The escarpment is where British and other allied forces faced Napoleon's Army at the Battle of Waterloomarker on June 18, 1815.

The name "Hougoumont" is derived from "Gomme Mont" which means "Gum hill". It was built on a little hill with pine trees around it, from which pine gum was collected to make turpentine.

June 1815

Gate on the north side assaulted by the 1st Legere who were led by sous-lieutenant Legros
Napoleon planned to draw Wellington's reserve to Wellington's right flank in defence of Hougoumont and then attack through the centre left of the British and allies' front near La Haye Saintemarker.

Before the battle started, Hougoumont and its gardens, located on the allies' right flank, were garrisoned and fortified by the 1st Battalion, 2nd Nassau Regiment, with additional detachments of jägers and landwehr from von Kielmansegge's 1st (Hanoverian) Brigade. The light company of the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards under the command of Lt-Colonel Henry Wyndham, was also stationed in the farm and chateaux, and the light company of the 2nd Battalion, Third Guards, under Lt-Colonel Charles Dashwood, in the garden and grounds. The two light companies of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, First Guards were initially positioned in the orchard, under the command of Lt-Colonel Lord Saltoun. Lieutenant-Colonel James Macdonnell, Coldstream Guards, had overall command of Hougoumont. (The Guards units were all drawn from General John Byng's 2nd (British) Brigade.)

Wellington recorded in his despatches "at about ten o'clock [Napoleon] commenced a furious attack upon our post at Hougoumont" Other sources state that this attack was at about 11:30. The historian Andrew Roberts notes that, "It is a curious fact about the battle of Waterloo that no one is absolutely certain when it actually began." (Although this may be put down to the fact that the time pieces of the French and British present were set to their 'local' times and would have had a 1 hour difference).

The initial attack by Maréchal de Camp Bauduin's 1st Brigade of the 5th Division emptied the wood and park, but was driven back by heavy British artillery fire and cost Bauduin his life. The British guns were distracted into an artillery duel with French guns and this allowed a second attack by General de Brigade Baron Soye's 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division. They managed a small breach on the south side but could not exploit it. An attack by elements of the 1st Brigade of the 6th Division attacked the north side was more successful. This attack led to one of the most famous skirmishes in the Battle of Waterloo — Sous-Lieutenant Legros, wielding an axe, managed to break through the north gate. A desperate fight ensued between the invading French soldiers and the defending Guards. In a near-miraculous attack, Macdonell, a small party of officers and Corporal James Graham fought through the melee to shut the gate, trapping Legros and about 30 other soldiers of the 1st Legere inside. All of the French who entered, apart from a young drummer boy, were killed in a desperate hand-to-hand fight. The French attack in the immediate vicinity of the farm was repulsed by the arrival of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards. Fighting continued around Hougoumont all afternoon with its surroundings heavily invested with French light infantry and coordinated cavalry attacks sent against the troops behind Hougoumont.

Wellington's army defended the house and the hollow way running north from it. In the afternoon Napoleon personally ordered the shelling of the house to cause it to burn, resulting in the destruction of all but the chapel. Du Plat's brigade of the King's German Legion was brought forward to defend the hollow way, which they had to do without any senior officers, who were then relieved by the 71st Foot, a Scottish light infantry regiment. Adam's brigade, further reinforced by Hugh Halkett's 3rd (Hanoverian) Brigade, successfully repulsed further infantry and cavalry attacks sent by Reille and maintained the occupation of Hougoumont until the end of the battle.

The battle's significance

The Hougoumont battle has often been characterised as a diversionary attack to cause Wellington to move reserves to his threatened right flank to protect his communications, but this then escalated into an all-day battle which drew in more and more French troops but just a handful of Wellington's, having the exact opposite effect to that intended. In fact there is a good case that both Napoleon and Wellington thought Hougoumont was a vital part of the battle. Certainly, Wellington declared afterwards that "the success of the battle turned upon the closing of the gates at Hougoumont".

Hougoumont was a part of the battlefield that Napoleon could see clearly and he continued to direct resources towards it and its surroundings all afternoon (33 battalions in all, 14,000 troops). The French forces sent in to attack Hougoumont included:
  • nearly the entire II Corps under the command of General Count Honore Reille, consisting of detachments of the 6th Division under the command of Jerome, (Napoleon's brother), the divisions of Comte Maximilien Foy (9th), Guilleminot and Joseph Bachelu (5th)
  • Kellermann's cavalry corps


Similarly, though the house never contained a large number of troops, Wellington devoted 21 battalions (12,000 troops) over the course of the afternoon to keeping the hollow way open to allow fresh troops and ammunition to be admitted to the house. He also moved several artillery batteries from his hard-pressed centre to support Hougoumont.

Hougoumont today

Hougoumont remained an active farm until the end of the 20th century after which it became the property of the Intercommunale (1815). By June 2006, the farm appeared to be in a degraded state. The walls which were once near pristine white had become a dirty yellow. Several walls are cracked and parts are clearly damaged, most notably the right-hand door post of the north side gate.

Project Hougoumont, supported by amongst others, the current Duke of Wellington, writer Bernard Cornwell and historian Richard Holmes, has been set up to oversee the funding through to restore and preserve Hougoumont for the long-term future.Image:Coldstream_guards_hougoumont.jpg|Remembering the Coldstream GuardsImage:800px-North gate Hougoumont.jpg|Gate on the north side attacked by French 1st Legere defended by British GuardsImage:Zicht_hougoumont.jpg|HougoumontImage:Omwalling1_hougoumont.jpg|Wall on the south side

Notes

  1. The Great Gate of Hougoumont
  2. Hofschroer, pp. 71-75
  3. Nofi, pp. 181, 189
  4. Paget & Saunders, pp. 33-34
  5. Barbero, pp. 113-114
  6. Wellesley, Arthur Wellington's Dispatches 19 June 1815
  7. Note that the British watches were kept on London time, and so the times given in some British accounts can be one hour before the true time. Barbero, p. 95
  8. Roberts, p. 55.
  9. Barbero, p. 298. Seeing the flames, Wellington sent a note to the house's commander stating that he must hold his position whatever the cost.
  10. See, for example, Longford pp. 552-554.
  11. Roberts (2005), p. 57
  12. Barbero, p. 298
  13. Barbero, pp. 305-306


See also



References

  • Barbero, Alessandro (2005); The Battle: A New History of Waterloo; Atlantic Books (paperback 2006); ISBN 1843543109
  • Hofschroer, Peter (1999); 1815: The Waterloo Campaign: The German Victory; Greenhill Books; ISBN 1853673684
  • Longford, Elizabeth; Wellington the Years of the Sword; Panther (1971); ISBN 0586035486
  • Nofi, Albert A. (1993); The Waterloo Campaign: June 1815; Combined Books; ISBN 0938289292
  • Paget, Julian and Derek Saunders (1992); Hougoumont: The Key to Victory at Waterloo; Pen and Sword Books ISBN 0850527163
  • Roberts, Andrew; Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Gamble, 2005, London: HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0007190751
  • Wellesley, Arthur Wellington's Dispatches 19 June 1815


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