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Commander's Horses

Waterloo 200

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Artefact researched by: Richard Tennant BCMH

Date added: 31 Jul 2016

Commander’s horses at Waterloo

Whilst greys were generally reserved for trumpeters in most armies of this period, they were also favoured bycommanders as they were highly visible on the battlefield. Not only would this have been beneficial to the morale of the troops seeing their commander, but it also made the command group visible to the ADC's and staff officers trying to locate them through the 'fog of war' on the battlefield.

Napoleon and his horses

Napoleon had acquired at least seven Arab horses during his Egyptian and Syrian campaigns of 1798-9 some being named after famous battles and sieges: Jaffa, Wagram, Austerlitz, Pyramid, beside Marie and Ali. The white Arab became part of the Napoleonic legend, together with his grey greatcoat and black bicorne hat.

When Napoleon left France for Elba in 1814 he took with him the following horses :

'Wagram' a grey Arab that had carried the Emperor at that battle in 1809 and that was a favourite.

'Montevideo' a large bay.

'Emin' a chestnut.

'Gonsalvo' a big bay.

'Roitelet' an English-Limoisine cross.

'Taurus' was a silvery grey, slightly dappled Persian gifted to the Emperor by the Tsar of Russia during their meeting at Erfurt in 1809, referred to as one of the 'White Chargers'. This horse accompanied him back to France in 1815.

'Intendant' was a pure white Norman and the other 'White Charger'.

Pictures of Napoleon at Waterloo always depict him on a grey or white horse. Several mounts would have been made available and it is known that he rode three at Waterloo: Marie and the greys Desiree and Marengo. He must have left the battle on Desiree as two of Napoleon's horses, one being Marengo, were found abandoned at the farm of La Caillou. (refer to the page for Lieutenant Henry Petre of 6th INNISKILLING DRAGOONS)

Blucher and his horses

Marshal Blucher is also always depicted on a grey/white charger, both at Ligny, Waterloo andon earlier campaigns. With all the Prussian staff officers dressing in the same way, riding a white charger would ensure that he was always easily recognisable.

At the Battle of Ligny on 16th June, his horse was shot from under him. This horse had been given to him by the Prince Regent when hevisited England in 1814. The artist Pius Ferdinand Messerschmitt depicted this as a pure white. As with the senior commanders of all the armies, Blucher would have had several chargers available to him for the campaign. It can be readilyassumed that his replacement horsewas equally a grey/white as depicted in the paintings of the evening meeting of Blucher & Wellington.

Wellington & Copenhagen

Like Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington had numerous chargers during his command – he lost twelve during the first three years in the Peninsula – but inevitably, it is the animal he rode at Waterloo that has achieved fame. Copenhagen was a chestnut thoroughbred stallion, 15.1 hands, a good looker, but of somewhat uncertain temperament.

Foaled in 1808, he was of aristocratic blood, for his grandsire was the unbeaten Eclipse 9 bred by another great soldier, the Duke of Cumberland, while his dam, Lady Catherine, was sired by John Bull, winner of the 1792 Derby. Lady Catherine was the charger of Colonel ( later Field Marshal ) Earl Grosvenor, who took her on the expedition to Copenhagen in August 1807. Here she was found to be in foal and, as befitting a lady of breeding, was promptly evacuated to England. As a sort of private battle honour, her colt was christened after the victorious siege.

Lord Grosvenor sold the animal to Sir Charles Stewart, Adjutant-General to Wellington in the Peninsula. On returning home in 1812, Stewart sold his young charger to his chief for 400 guineas and he served for rest of the Peninsular War.

Copenhagen, whilst not the fastest horse, nor the most comfortable ride, was reliable, steady and had superb stamina. He behaved with remarkable composure under fire but, as a spirited thoroughbred, had a reputation as a kicker, and veterans of the Peninsular War who had come too close to his hindquarters before kept a respectable distance. The Iron Duke was seldom given to sentiment, least of all over a horse, but he was moved the tribute “There may have been faster horses, no doubt many handsomer; but for bottom (meaning character) and endurance I never saw his fellow”. Both Wellington and his charger miraculously survived unscathed on the field of Waterloo. It is stated that perhaps the nearest that Wellington got to being wounded was when he dismounted from Copenhagen in the evening and slapped the horse affectionately on the quarters, to be answered by a double-barrelled kick that only just missed his head.

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