Date added: 3 Jun 2015
The battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history. Traditionally it is seen as a great battle between the French, led by Napoleon, and the English, led by Wellington, but in fact it was far more complex than that. The French, after conquering much of continental Europe, but losing battles in the Russian campaign were forced to retreat and Napoleon was exiled. After just less than a year in exile Napoleon returned to Paris with a thousand supporters and was welcomed home as a hero. He raised an army of some 78,000 men and marched on Belgium. After fighting the Prussians, Napoleon and his men continued to march and encountered an opposing allied force of about 68,000 men made up of British, German, Dutch and Belgian soldiers led by the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley).
Private James Mantle was a member of the 71st Highland Regiment of Light Infantry during the Battle of Waterloo. The 71st were one of just a few elite veteran regiments left behind after the Peninsular War, which was a conflict between the allied French and Spanish forces against the British and Portuguese to gain control over the Iberian Peninsula. During the conflict the British Army, including James Mantle’s 71st regiment, developed most of their tactics to counter the unusual strategies used by Napoleon. After the war most Peninsular army regiments were disbanded or sent to America. The 71st was one of only three regiments regarded as being capable of consistently holding a square formation against the French cavalry attacks and because of this they were placed in a key position along the right flank during the Battle of Waterloo. During the battle the 71st were assigned to the Light Brigade and were under command of General Frederick Adam.
There are few historical records describing the history of the 71st. They were probably formed in1758 and were involved in raids during the Seven Years War. After this they were disbanded and not recalled again until the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775. After this they fought several battles and ended up in India. They did not return to Scotland again until 1802. There they regrouped and retrained until 1815, when they were called up to fight against Napoleon in Continental Europe and won the decisive battle at Waterloo.
James Mantle was born in the area of York and joined the army as a young man first serving in another regiment before joining the 71st. There are no records which would explain why he joined a Scottish regiment, but it was probably because he married and moved to Scotland. It is not clear when James Mantle was born but it was most likely around the 1760s. He was discharged from the army in 1816 after serving in the 71st for 16 years and 196 days. He had also served in another regiment for 1 year and 32 days, which brings his total military service to 17 years and 228 days. After leaving the army it is unknown what he did next, but later in his life he joined the Chelsea pensioners. As he was a private during his career in the military he would have been in the front lines of his regiment at the battle of Waterloo.
The night before the battle would have been terrible for James Mantle due to the heavy rain leading up to the battle. This was made worse by the poor sleeping conditions because at the time soldiers slept in makeshift tents with no cover over them and their beds were made out of materials that the soldiers themselves had gathered for example potato sacks and spare planks. Furthermore there was very little food and water as only small quantities of supplies had arrived.
During the Battle of Waterloo the 71st were positioned on the right flank where they were bombarded by French artillery battalions for two hours leading up to the battle. When they finally mobilised they had no choice but to leave their wounded behind as seven cavalry charges by the Heavy Cuirassier regiment ensued. The Heavy Cuirassiers were an armoured unit who opted to use pistols when charging rather than lances causing havoc amongst units on the right flank where James Mantle would have been positioned. However his unit was later commended as “keeping their formation in the face of the enemy”. All charges by the Heavy Cuirassiers directed at the 71stwere deflected but many soldiers were wounded. It is know that Field Marshal Wellington was with the 71st during one of the attacks and took cover amongst them. As the battle progressed into the evening the 71st, along with the 52nd and the 93rd regiments, engaged the elite French Guards who were leading a final charge and drove them off. Later the 71st were in the vanguard of the final advance during which they assaulted the reserve position of the French Guard. At some point they secured one of the French artillery batteries and turned a gun around to fire at the retreating enemy. It is thought that they fired the final shot of the battle.
During the battle of Waterloo the 71st lost 16 officers, 11 sergeants and 187 other regular soldiers. After the battle 798 medals were awarded to members of the 71st. The regiment later fought in the Crimean War before being amalgamated with the 74th Regiment in 1881.