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Tupper Carey- Reminiscences of a Commissariat Officer at Waterloo

Wounded Grand Square Brussels

The following pages are taken from the memoirs of Commissary-General Tupper Carey. He joined the Commissariat Department in 1808 at the age of sixteen, and was immediately sent out to the Peninsula. He accompanied the Light Brigade of Cavalry on their retreat to Vigo. With the exception of a few months, when he was invalided to Lisbon, he went through the whole of the Peninsula Campaign, and was present at the battles of Talavera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Nivelles, Orthes, and Toulouse.


In 1812, at the age of twenty, he was placed in charge of the Commissariat Department of a whole Division, and this post he held during the Waterloo Campaign.


β€œThe Peace of Europe having existed for some months previous to my arrival at home from the Peninsula in the beginning of February 1815, and Napoleon being safely established (as it was thought) at Elba, arrangements were made by the authorities (in England, as well as throughout Europe), to reduce their armies to the lowest footing. I accordingly received a letter dated the 8th February intimating that I was to consider myself on half pay. Having come home in an impaired state of health, I was not sorry to have some repose after the preceding campaigns, and was recommended to go through a course of medicine, to which I submitted. While I was undergoing treatment, Europe was suddenly convulsed by the astounding information that Buonaparte had escaped from Elba, and, unperceived by the men-of-war cruising round that island, had made a disembarkation in the South of France with some of his old Guard, and was proceeding with all haste towards Paris in a triumphal procession.


This of course put an end to the further progress of reducing the army, which was immediately put on the war establishment. While confined to my room I received orders to proceed instantly to join the army in the Netherlands, in answer to which I sent a medical certificate proving my inability to do so; but, feeling anxious to do my duty as soon as possible, I declined going on with prescriptions, and having received a further summons from the Treasury, I was patched up by the doctor and left Guernsey on the 22nd April for London, taking with me my younger brother, Sausmarez, on the chance of getting him some appointment with the army. We reached London without loss of time, and were not long in making our arrangements for clothes, saddlery, &c. I bought two good
horses for fifty guineas each, and started at once for one of the ports of embarkation. My brother and groom rode the two horses, while I myself went down in a post chaise.

Louis XVIII


On the 3rd of May we reached Ostend, and started next day for Bruges, where we halted for the night. The next day saw us on the road to Ghent by canal, a novel and interesting mode of conveyance, and the horses by road. Ghent was the temporary residence of Louis XVIII and of his adherents, who had followed him out of France. I tried to get a peep at him, but failed to do so, as I found that he lived in great retirement. On the 6th I arrived at Brussels, the headquarters of the Duke of Wellington, and reported myself to my chief, Commissary-General Dunmore, in whose office I found an official letter appointing me to the 2nd Division of Infantry, at Ath, under Sir Henry Clinton. On the 8th I started from Brussels, travelling on my own horses, and next day arrived at Ath, and immediately reported myself. The place was enlivened by our troops quartered there and in its neighbourhood, but the inhabitants were, I thought,. indifferent towards us, and the general opinion entertained of them was that they preferred belonging to France than to the union which had been formed for them with Holland.


The cause of this was attributed to the fact that their staple manufacture of linen was prohibited from entering France, and so they were obliged to seek a new channel for its sale. The month of May passed without any movement. The only news which transpired related to the preparations made by Napoleon to commence active operations. But his arrangements were then considered incomplete and not likely to lead to the opening of the campaign before the end of June. I had, however, occasional inquiries from my chief on the progress made for a possible move. These I could not answer satisfactorily, owing to our being unprepared with adequate transport, &c. In the meantime, the troops had field days to accustom the several brigades to each other, and to act in unison, on one of which we went near the fortified town of Conde on the French frontier, but with no hostile intention, the demonstrations of both parties being as yet on the defensive. The troops continued in their cantonments, the army in general occupying a wide range of country for the purpose of being better fed and accommodated. As no concentration of troops took place in the front during the first fortnight in June, we had no indication of any immediate movement.


The troops, however, were held in readiness to march from one day to the other. In this state of affairs an order unexpectedly arrived during the night of the 15th for the Division to move early next morning, first to Enghien, thence to Nivelles, and there await orders, our destination pointing towards Quatre Bras.

Quatre Bras Map


I did not leave Ath before the middle of the day, having to make various arrangements for sending supplies after the troops. But as I rode fast and the march was a very long one, I overtook the Division on the road. As it was only during the night that we reached Nivelles, we were too late to assist in the affair of Quatre Bras. The opinion entertained at the time of that action was that we were surprised in our extended and outspread cantonments by the great celerity of Napoleon, which allowed no time for the concentration of the troops at the point of attack. As a proof of this, during the greatest part of the period the fight lasted, there were neither cavalry nor artillery to support our infantry, who had just made a march of upwards of twenty miles in a summer sun. When thus fatigued they had to contend with Cuirassiers, Lancers, infantry of course, and a powerful artillery, by which they suffered most severely. Had it not been for a great fault committed by Napoleon in withdrawing a corps of his army in reserve, it was to be apprehended that the results would have been very serious to us. On the morning of the 17th, orders were received to proceed on the road to Waterloo leading to Brussels. We reached Hougoumont and continued a short distance onwards, then halted on the left of the Chaussee (ed.an historic term used for early, metalled rural highways, designed by road engineers, as opposed to the traditional, unpaved country roads) , on which we had been marching, where the Division remained as a support in the rear of the right of our position. From the length of march we had made, and from the bad state of some of the cross roads, the baggage, tents, and provisions had not come up, so that we were without any of the little comforts they afforded. Owing to the active operations which immediately followed they only made their appearance some days after, very much diminished, a large proportion having been lost in the panics of the 17th and 18th. On the ground which the troops occupied there were no houses or other shelter, under which they might find accommodation. They were therefore obliged to make cover for themselves by cutting down the standing corn. During the 17th the troops were arriving from all directions to take their respective places in the position, and it appeared to me, having witnessed the movements of our army in the Peninsula previous to a battle, that the concentration of our troops in this instance was attended with confusion. Fortunately the consequences were not bad, owing to the slow advance of the enemy, which enabled us to complete during the day all the necessary arrangements for the expected fight on the following morning. During these movements we had thunder storms and heavy rain, which drenched us all.

Finding my Division was likely to be stationary, I left them, and went into the village of Waterloo, where the head-quarters had been established, that I might, if possible, obtain supplies or at least ascertain what was to be done to get them. I found nothing but bustle and confusion in the village, which was encumbered with troops. I therefore determined to ride on at once to Brussels, as there only I hoped to effect my object, and at the same time to get a fresh horse, expecting to find my groom, who was on it and had orders to look out for me. It was late in the afternoon and the road was thronged with waggons loaded with supplies of bread and forage, corn, baggage, animals, and other conveyances belonging to the army. I had hardly proceeded a mile when suddenly a panic seemed to have seized everyone at the cry of the enemy being at hand. It seemed ridiculous to me, who had just arrived from the front, where all was quiet, except the occasional booming of guns at long distance; but when a cry of the sort occurs among a set of men without anyone to control them, the disorder which ensues is hardly to be conceived. It gathers strength and to stem it is impossible. Never did I witness a scene of such confusion and folly. To add to its bad effects, it was raining hard, and we were in the Forest of Soignies.

The servants got rid of their baggage, let it drop on the ground, then, jumping on their animals, galloped off to the rear. Others dispersed in various directions in the wood. The peasantry, carrying provisions in the country waggons, cut the traces of the harness and ran away with the horses, abandoning the waggons. As the tumult progressed down the road with approaching darkness, the apprehension of danger became so general, with the followers of the army as well as with officers and detachments of troops on their way to join their regiments, that the whole went towards Brussels like a sudden rush of water increasing as it went. With other mounted officers I endeavoured to get ahead of the current (seeing the impossibility of checking it) by galloping in the forest away from the road, but we were brought up so often by enclosures and other hindrances that we were obliged to return to it, and follow the stream. Thus we were obliged to creep on by degrees as the tide flowed, until two 0′ clock in the morning, when we at last got’ into Brussels.

The rain was coming down in torrents the whole night, but, fortunately for myself, had a cloak strapped on the pummel of my saddle, which helped to keep me, when on, free from a good portion of wet. Many there were, however, round about me who had not that advantage, being in their uniforms. One poor man in particular (a brother officer), who was next to me, was in full dress, with his gold epaulettes and white duck pantaloons, which from their brightness appeared to have been put on for the first time. Help him I could not. The destruction of property was very serious in this unaccountable affair, particularly for the officers, who could not for a length of time replace what they had thus lost. The cause of it originated, it is supposed, in the fears of a few cowardly individuals, who fancied the enemy were at hand. After all, it turned out that there was not the slightest foundation for panic. I went immediately to an inn, but it was so full that room to lie down could hardly be found. I therefore got into a quiet corner of the saloon, and after resting two or three hours rose, and having seen my horse well fed, went to the office of the Commissary-General and was there informed that all the supplies were on the road, but where they had got to was not known. Finding that I could do nothing, and that I might be considered too long absent from duty if I stayed, I started again for Waterloo, after having in vain inquired for my groom and second horse. I passed through the sad relics on the road of the preceding night’s adventure, and arrived about eight o’clock on the ground occupied by the Division, hoping that. the baggage and provisions expected by roads different from that from Brussels would have made their appearance and put us at ease in regard to provisions and other comforts; but there were no tidings of them. Some meat and biscuits had been given to the men.

For these three days’ march, 16th, 17th and 18th, but, with their usual improvidence, it is very likely little remained for the last days consumption. Spirit’s they had none, and they therefore fought the battle without any artificial stimulant to their courage.

Whilst on this subject I must mention that a French Chief Commissary told me afterwards that during the action casks of brandy were brought on to the ground, the heads knocked out, and the men about to attack were’ allowed to help themselves. This admission was accompanied by an observation that we no doubt did the same, but to this I can give a direct contradiction, for I can positively assert that during the time I was with the troops, both in the Peninsula and Waterloo, no spirits were issued previous to any action, but only in the evening when all was over, and, in this instance, none had come up to be issued before or after the battle. It nevertheless was an idea entertained by the French military, arising no doubt from the gallant and determined way in which they were repulsed and afterwards attacked by our troops.


While on the field an individual came up to me and inquired if I spoke French, and having answered in the affirmative, he told me he had in his charge, a little distance off, several waggon loads of biscuits for the Dutch troops, but as he could not find them, and as the drivers were afraid of remaining any longer where they were, and threatened to throw their waggons, he did not know what to do with them. I demurred for a moment as to what I should do, the temptation being great, but finding the man very urgent and knowing that no one would derive any benefit from the biscuit if left on the ground, I desired him to bring it up to the Division. This was done without delay. The heads of the casks in which the article was contained were then knocked out in an instant and the contents soon found a vanishing-point down the throats of those who needed it. At a distance from which we were situated, the French army was perceived congregating in dark masses on the ground whence they made their attack, but from the extreme bad weather and consequent muddiness of the roads of the day and night before, their artillery must have had a toilsome march to reach it. This must have impeded the intended hour of falling upon us. Our troops were permitted to cook while all remained quiet, but as the onset was momentarily expected on the troops in our front, the chance of succeeding was very precarious. It so happened that those whose meat was preparing for soup had at last to throw the liquor away, for at about eleven o’clock the me were ordered to fall in and stand to their arms, and very shortly afterwards we heard the commencement of the skirmishing which was soon followed by the first attack on Hougoumont a little before midday. The cannonade speedily became violent, but the balls did not reach us. The General, seeing me still with the Division, called me to him and told me that I was no longer required on the field, but requested me to endeavour to find them out when the action was over and if possible bring up supplies. I remained a little longer looking on, until the troops received orders to change ground, and then I joined other Commissariat officers similarly situated as I was. We retired a short distance to the rear watching the progress of the action, but as it spread from right to left the whole position became enveloped in a dense smoke, and nothing could be perceived. We thought it therefore advisable to ride to the fork where the two Chaussees met leading to Brussels, to enable us more readily to learn what was passing, and, in case either of success or disaster, to be prepared to do our duty or to follow in the retreat.


After remaining there some time I conceived it necessary to go into Waterloo with two of the officers under my orders to endeavour to secure, if possible, some provisions. But we had hardly entered it when another panic, worse than the last, seized the followers of the army and renewed the scenes of the previous evening, which put an end to any transaction of business. In this instance, however, there was some reason for it, for the Belgian troops had commenced deserting their standards, spreading reports as they came along that the enemy was at their heels. I followed the stream, hesitating for a time as to what it was best to do; but considering what my duty required of me, I turned back, repassed the village, and went a little way towards the field to judge for myself; and never did I see a more extraordinary scene.

Eagle of 105th Regt. Captured at Waterloo by the 1st The Royal Dragoons, Ed. The Inniskilling’s did not capture an Eagle.

The road was thronged with Belgian fugitives in whole companies, both horse and foot, intermingled with numerous wounded officers and soldiers giving sad and desponding accounts of the progress of the action, together with “numerous prisoners of all ranks and sorts, forming a melancholy exhibition of the usual occurrences in the rear of a general action. Shouts were heard at a distance, and immediately after a group was seen approaching and producing a singular and exulting contrast to the scene around us. It consisted of a detachment of Scots Greys and Inniskilling Dragoons bringing in two eagles just captured from the enemy. Every man was wounded or disabled. One eagle was still on the pole of the standard, and was held up high in the air; the other had been broken off the pole in the scuffle, and was in the possession of two other men~ who equally did their utmost to show their trophies to the best advantage. The appearance of the men was not less striking. Some had lost their helmets in the fray, and had handkerchiefs bound round the heads, from which the blood was still trickling; others had their arms in slings, while others had their clothes tattered, as if they had been in personal conflict hand to hand, and been dragged in the mire. The horses appeared to have equally suffered by sabre cuts and other wounds in various parts of the body. In particular, I perceived one as it passed me had had a large portion of flesh torn off his rump by the splinter of a shell. In short, I never witnessed such a grim and motley scene; for, though showing demonstrations of the most enthusiastic exultation, the men’s countenances had not lost that air of ferocity which the mortal combat in which they had just been engaged must have produced. The tricolour flags attached to the eagle poles appeared to be about a yard square, fringed with gold, and quite new. The group could not have consisted of less than from twenty to twenty-five individuals, who continued on their way towards Brussels as fast as the encumbered state of the road would enable them. The scene would have been a fine subject for a painting. These eagles had been captured between one and two o’clock, in the successful charge made by our troops against the attack of the enemy on our centre.


In the midst of this confusion one of my brother Commissaries, with whom I was in company, got quite savage at the desertion of the Belgian troops, and rushed at one of their commanding officers, remonstrated with him, and ordered him to return to the field with his men. But it was all in vain, the crowd carried him away, and had he not speedily extricated himself from them his life would have been in danger, for they had determined on flight, and would not be stopped. Having nothing to do in all this turmoil but to watch events, I, with several others, returned to Waterloo, and followed the crowd in hopes that the panic might be over, or lessened, at least. We got into the Forest of Soignies; and no wonder that an alarm could at such a moment be easily propagated, for the reverberations or echo of the cannonade of the action (in which from three to four hundred guns were at work) was astounding, and enough to frighten those not under military discipline. The fugitives were not in such considerable numbers as the evening before, but they looked as frightened, and as the enemy were not far off, it was easy to apprehend that some detachments of theirs might have found their way to the rear of our army. The road, too, as well as the forest,swarmed with Belgian deserters, horse and foot, dressed much like Frenchmen, and in espying some of these fellows emerging from different points, it was not difficult to conjure them into the shape of enemies. This kept up the impetus of running away, and as this time the right and left of the road was encumbered by the debris of the former panic, the scene altogether was most disheartening. On each side of the Chaussee there was a ditch, in which lay the country waggons upset, with their loads of sacks of corn and biscuit burst out and soaked with wet. In other places remnants of baggage, among which there lay the carriage of the Duke of Richmond upset and set aside as everything else, to enable the ammunition waggons to come up from the rear. One of the curious incidents which took place and showed the power of discipline was that of a detachment of artillery with ammunition deliberately going up to the front against the stream of fugitives pursuing their way in the opposite direction. It was a lesson to those whose duty it was to be with or near the army.

Having seen quite enough, I returned to Waterloo, and there joined other Commissaries who, like myself, must wait the result of the battle to be of any use. These were most anxious moments for us all, especially as the reports brought in the from the front by the wounded were most discouraging. In this state of things no one dared to get off their horses, much less leave them for a moment, for in the confusion they might have been unceremoniously laid hold of by those who had none, and who were hurrying to the rear.

Mont St Jean


Tired beyond anything at this state of suspense, I rode, about_five o’clock, towards the village of Mont St. Jean, with two or three other individuals, for information. Wounded officers and men continued to come down, and now and then a cannon ball was seen bounding along, but nothing could be heard or seen except clouds of smoke over the hills, and an incessant clatter of great guns and musketry. Having passed the boundary line of disorder, everything appeared to be well regulated in the rear of the position, with no confusion, as far as we could see. We were not able to see any part of the action, and the cause of it was owing to its being fought on the other side of the hills on which our troops stood, in a valley between the two armies. While thus in expectation we heard, much to our satisfaction, that the heads of the Prussian columns were at last coming up to our left, and had been announced by a detachment of cavalry, who, for a moment, were taken for French and nearly maltreated. Evening was advancing, and nothing decisive had taken place; and thus we remained, riding here and there in no pleasing state of mind; for no one can conceive, without having experienced it, what the suspense was in which we found ourselves.

The wounded, who reported on what was going on, were most despondingly asserting that many of the regiments were almost annihilated, though when closely questioned they knew nothing more than what had occurred on the spot on which they had fought. As the sun was setting the cannonade appeared to redouble and come nearer to us, as if the enemy was advancing. This continued for some time, and then the sounds seemed to recede. We of course remained on the tip-toe of expectation to know what had occurred, but it was only about nine o’clock that ‘we began to learn that our troops had at last repulsed the final attack of the enemy and were in pursuit. The certainty became soon after known from officers coming down from the field and announcing the victory, which gave us all a contentment hardly to be described. The extent of so glorious an event was, however; only ascertained next morning, when it was found that the French had not rallied to oppose their conquerors, but had become a disordered mass of fugitives escaping as they could out of our reach, and more especially out of that of the Prussians, who were foremost in the chase.

Wounded Grand Square Brussels
Wounded Grand Square Brussels


During the anxieties of such a day, and of the disorders occurring all along the road, it was altogether impracticable to obtain supplies, and as it was useless to go to the troops empty handed, and equally impossible to find them in the dark, intermixed as they must have been after their advance beyond the French position, it was the unanimous opinion of my brother officers similarly situated as I was, that we would best perform our duty by proceeding at once to Brussels, which was the grand depot of provisions. Thither we accordingly proceeded about ten o’clock. The road was not so encumbered as the day before, but there were many melancholy scenes of the wounded endeavouring to get away, as they thought, from the reach of the enemy and obtain shelter, the villages of Mont St. Jean and Waterloo being already full of them. We arrived at our destination at about twelve o’clock or one in the morning. Though reports of our victory had already arrived, many of the people we still met in the streets would not believe it, so that the excitement was kept up until it was found that at least our army was not in retreat, nor the enemy approaching. We were of course cross-questioned about it, and though speaking positively, there was as yet a great deal of incredulity with many whose fears exceeded their reason. We lost no time in going to the first inn that could receive us, and were glad to get a sofa or carpet on which to lie down.

A little after three o’clock in the morning we got on our legs again to attend to our duty. I received orders to take a convoy of provision waggons, with which I started before I could obtain any intelligence of my second horseman, who had no doubt been panic-struck, and with many others had started for Antwerp or Ostend. Our route lay through the Forest of Soignies. The Chaussee road, from the recent heavy rains and immense thoroughfare during the last three days,was a mass of mud. My horse most unluckily case a foreshoe in the midst of it, and in a short time began to get lame. What to do I did not know. To find such a thing as a resident farrier at that time was impossible. I could not lead my horse for long and walk, without doing him up as well as- myself. I was therefore in despair at the idea that in not reaching the troops I should be considered as having neglected my duty. In this frame of mind and disagreeable dilemma, I walked on without hope of relief, when all at once I spied, in a small nook of brushwood off the road, a farrier forge of one of the cavalry regiments. I at once went up and requested to have my horse shod. The farrier refused, being strictly forbidden to do so to any horse not of the cavalry. For a time all my remonstrances were ineffectual, until I thought of the only expedient which might probably overcome the difficulty. I pulled out of my pocket a Napoleon, which I offered him. For a time he hesitated what to do, but on my again telling him that the public service absolutely required it, he set at once about the work, and relieved me from a great load of embarrassment.


Our march was very slow, of course, and we passed through Waterloo, now a busy scene, the medical officers being fully occupied in collecting and attending to the wounded. Thence we proceeded to Mont St. Jean, and arrived about nine o’clock at the fork of the road, leading on the one hand to Charleroy and on the other Nivelles. Here it was necessary to decide which to take, and I unfortunately took the wrong one, that leading to Charleroy. It was a great oversight on some officer’s part, whose duty it was to do so, not to have stationed a person at that particular spot to point out to all going to the army the right path, in consequence of which the convoy, instead of reaching its destination at about one o’clock, only got there at night. We Journeyed on a short distance and reached our position of battle. It was dreadful to see the numbers of the killed, both men and horses, on each side of the road. Many bodies were already stripped of their clothes.

La Haye sainte Taillou

As we descended down towards In La Haye Sainte, the scene of carnage was still more developed. All round the Haye Sainte and on the Chaussee leading to the French position, the dead were innumerable, French and English intermixed. Those who had fallen in the road had been trampled upon by horses and wheels of artillery, into a mass of blood, flesh, and clothes, hardly to be distinguished one from the other. In the hollow between the two armies on each side of the road, there lay piles of dead Frenchmen and horses, among whom were many of the Imperial Guard. Their large bear-skin caps, which they had thrown away in the struggle, strewed the ground. To add to the numbers were many dead Cuirassiers, still with their cuirasses on, some of which I could easily have brought away had I had time or some one to assist me in stripping the dead bodies. With the exception of a few parties wandering in the quest of wounded men, as well as plunder, all was quiet as a churchyard. In examining the Haye Sainte. I perceived the mistake which had occasioned its capture by the enemy. The great gate of its entrance being exposed to the French fire, was barricaded and could not be opened. The enclosures all round were also loop-holed, excepting the face looking towards our position, which required no such mode of defence. It was there that small opening ought to have been made large enough to introduce a barrel of gunpowder. This neglect led to the serious impression which was made in the centre of our position, for, so long as its little garrison had ammunition, they succeeded in keeping the post, but as soon as this began to fail their defence became feeble,
and they were at last almost all of them bayoneted.

We followed the Chaussee in the midst of this field of death, which, in addition to men and animals, was strewed with arms of every description, until we reached the foot of the French position, where it was said Napoleon took leave of his guard moving on to the final attack. On ascending to the top of the eminence we came upon the French guns scattered in various directions, evidently in the way of being dragged to the Chaussee from different positions. This attempt had failed owing to the muddy state of the ploughed land and the rapidity of our advance, which obliged the drivers of the gun carriages to flee for their lives by cutting the horses’ traces. I perceived that some of the guns had engraved on them Egalite, Fraternite, and others the letter ‘N.’; many of the guns had the number of the English regiments which had captured them chalked on them: a mode usually adopted in the Peninsula. The carriages were sunk in the ground almost to the axle-trees. As we proceeded, we fell in with the Prussian columns coming up from our left marching to join their army. They began to plunder the biscuit convoy most unceremoniously, and I had great difficulty in preventing it. Perceiving some troops to our right I rode up to them and found they were a part of our Division – the 52nd Regiment – commanded by Sir John Colborne (now Lord Seaton), moving across the country towards Nivelles. I applied to him for a guard to protect the convoy, but he refused it with some unmeaning excuse, and I was therefore left to my own resources to get out of the difficulty as well as I could. The Prussians kept moving by us occasionally, and I would most certainly have been plundered by them of the best portion of the biscuit, had it not been for the opportune arrival of a detachment of our German Cavalry (the King’s German Legion). The Commanding Officer, seeing my dilemma, immediately ordered some of his men to draw their swords and accompany the convoy, and thus we moved on to Quatre Bras through Genappe. I there beheld, in addition to many other debris of the French Army, Napoleon’s carriage on the spot where it had been overtaken and plundered. Around it were Prussian soldiers scraping and sifting the ground, in consequence of a report that some diamonds had fallen from their settings in the night scramble. When once past Quatre Bras we fortunately saw no more of the Prussians, and jogged on quietly until we reached Nivelles, not, however, before night-fall, but in time for a most acceptable distribution to the troops. This day’s journey was a most troublesome one, and glad I was when it was over. But as yet no baggage had arrived or been heard of, and I was necessarily obliged to continue in the same linen and clothes in which I had been wet several times, for no cloak could completely withstand the heavy and continuous rains which had fallen during much of the past three days.


The Battle of Waterloo was a momentous event for the whole world,and when the composition of our army is taken into consideration, the wonder is that such a victory was achieved. It showed a combination of skilful commanders and brave soldiers; the former being of incalculable value and not often found in the British army. In expressing my own humble observations as an eye-witness, ‘I can assert with confidence that the Duke never commanded, as a whole, a worse composed body of soldiers. They consisted of a mixture of veterans (his old Spanish Infantry, as he called them), recruits, Dutch and Hanoverian troops, and the ill-affected Belgians, who, in not understanding each other’s language, must have occasionally caused misunderstanding. From this, one can gain some conception of the material with which the Duke had to oppose to Buonaparte’s army, which consisted of 70,000 men of one nation, principally veterans, the remains of his grand military organisation, beautifully clothed and appointed, and led by old experienced officers who ought to have annihilated us long before the Prussians came to our assistance; for they were elated with their recent victory at Ligny, and full of enthusiasm in their Emperor’s cause.


I have confined my description to what passed under my notice, and do not borrow from the narrative of others, yet I cannot forbear quoting the following extract from the narrative of a medical officer who was employed in attending to the wounded in the neighbourhood of Mont St. Jean after the battle, exemplifying the spirit which actuated our soldiery.

He writes:- “After we had been a day or two here, a short, thick-set, stout English soldier came into the farm with a cudgel in his hand, but with scarcely the vestige of a countenance; he stumbled upon me (having inquired for a surgeon) and said he would be obliged to me if I would put up his face. He had been struck by a shell, and the whole of the integuments of his countenance had been torn off, excepting at one point, and were hanging over his shoulders, these he had been resolute to preserve, but had not met with professional assistance. The forehead, the skin round one eye, the soft parts of the nose, a portion of both cheeks, the lips, and one ear (I forget which) were literally detached and lying where I described them. Seeing the extent of the yet remaining attachments, and that the separated parts manifested no sign of putrefaction, I deemed the undertaking of replacement far from hopeless. By the aid of diachylon plaister, I certainly did succeed in restoring this poor object to the possession of the “human face divine”; no persuasion could induce him to remain where he was. “No; he was in good health, thank God, had a good stick, the French were licked, and now that we was a man again he would go to Brussels.'”


As to the arrangements of the Commissariat, they were not complete when the army was called upon to act, for many of its members were inexperienced and not mounted as they should have been. Had marches, therefore, and active movements been prolonged for some days before this decisive action, the troops would, I am afraid, have been seriously inconvenienced from want of food, but it is not the case, as was asserted, that they were without it on the 18th. The Duke, nevertheless, got angry without reason, and in consequence we were deprived of the Medal, though it was given to a division of the army at Halle in observation, which never heard the cannonade of the action, as well as to many officers and men who were not actually in the field but only on the effective returns of their corps. Had he made the least inquiry he would have found that there was a vast quantity of supplies in waggons near Waterloo equal to several day’s consumption for the whole of the army, which, as I have described, became useless owing to the panics occasioned by the followers of the army, and for which the Commissariat were in no way accountable; for, had an investigation taken place, the fault, I am confident, would have been ascribed in great measure to the disorder in which the troops, with their baggage, &c., arrived from their various cantonments; for, whatever may be said to the contrary, the army was not concentrated as it should have been to meet so immediate an event as took place. In the Duke’s character there is a defect which at times showed much inconsistency in taking prejudices against individuals, which, when once established, could never be removed by any explanation, and by which several deserving officers, and I may include my own department, suffered most unjustly.”


Tupper Carey
Assist. Com. Gnl.

Taken from Waterloo Journal Ed. for Web