N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Battle of Quatre Bras

Date and place

  • June 16th, 1815 near the Quatre-Bras crossroads (province of Namur, Wallonia, Belgium).

Involved forces

  • French army of the North (20,000 to 25,000 men) under the command of Marshal Michey Ney, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskowa. 
  • Anglo-Dutch army (8,000 men initially then just under 40,000) led by the Duke of Wellington. 

Casualties and losses

  • French army: just over 4,000 killed, injured or missing. 
  • Anglo-Dutch army: 4,800 killed, injured or missing. 

Aerial panorama of Quatre-Bras battlefield

The Quatre-Bras battlefield, seen from the road to Charleroi, near the Gémioncourt farm.

General situation

On the morning of June 16, 1815, Napoléon I sent Marshal Michel Ney towards the Quatre Bras crossroads [50.57141, 4.45325] thinking that he would find only weak opposition there.

This movement aimed to prepare the following movements towards Brussels [Bruxelles] The Grand-Place of Brussels The Grand-Place of Brussels, at night where the Emperor then was hoping to enter in the very short term. It was to have a false idea of the strength and position of one's adversaries.

The forces present

Marshal Ney received command of an army of nearly 40,000 men, composed of the troops of Jean Baptiste Drouët d'Erlon Jean Baptiste Drouët d'Erlon (I Corps), Honoré Charles Reille Honoré Charles Reille (II Corps) and three cavalry divisions. The importance of this detachment suggested that Napoleon did not yet know that he would soon have to face three-quarters of the Prussian army.

Towards the middle of the day, the situation became clearer. Napoleon now knowed that he would fight Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher at Ligny, but he believed that Ney, not having considerable forces in front of him, would be able to complete the victory by falling back on the right and the rear of the Prussians.

The field

The Quatre-Bras of Baisy-Thy was a strategic road crossroads in Walloon Brabant, at the intersection of the road from Nivelles to Namur and that of Brussels to Charleroi. The fighting took place mainly on either side of the latter, south of the crossroads.

The Quatre-Bras crossroads and farm, demolished in 2016
The Quatre-Bras crossroads and the eponymous farm, unfortunately demolished in 2016

The fights

While, on the same afternoon, the majority of Napoleon I's army faced Marshal Blücher's Prussians and won the Battle of Ligny 15 kilometers to the southeast, Michel Ney opposed Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington's troops.

For long hours, the fields The battlefield of Quatre-Bras The battlefield of Quatre-Bras, near Petit-Pierrepont and woods surrounding the farms of Grand-Pierrepont Grand-Pierrepont farm [50.55172, 4.43703], Petit-Pierrepont Petit-Pierrepont farm [50.54737, 4.43027] and Gémioncourt Gémioncourt farm [50.56097, 4.45355] were the site of fierce fighting.

The Gémioncourt farm
The Gémioncourt farm

Nightfall, around 9 p.m., put an end to the confrontation. Ney withdrew in good order to Frasnes The surroundings of Frasnes, three kilometers further south, leaving the battlefield to Wellington.

Aftermath

Strategically, the Battle of Quatre-Bras will allow the Allied victory of Waterloo two days later because the failure of the envelopment of the Prussian army by Ney's troops, and in particular by D'Erlon's corps, allowed Blücher to leave Ligny with little damage, and with a good half-day's lead over Emmanuel de Grouchy, whom Napoleon will belatedly launch in pursuit.

Picture - "The Prince of Orange at the Battle of Quatre-Bras" by Jan Willem Pieneman (1779–1853).

Napoleonic Battles - Picture of the battle of Quatre-Bras -

The battlefield was at the time more wooded than today, forests offered by William I of the Netherlands to the Duke of Wellington following the victory of Waterloo (in particular the Bois de Bossu, in the heart of the fighting) having been cut down for the purpose of profit; many hedges have also disappeared.

Acknowledgments

We express our gratitude to Mr. Dominique Timmermans, who introduced us to this battlefield, the day before the bicentenary.

Photos Credits

 Photo of Lionel A. Bouchon Photos by Lionel A. Bouchon.
 Photo of Marie-Albe Grau Photos by Marie-Albe Grau.
 Photo of Floriane Grau Photos by Floriane Grau.
 Photo of Michèle Grau-Ghelardi Photos by Michèle Grau-Ghelardi.
 Photo of Didier Grau Photos by Didier Grau.
 Photo of various authors Photos made by people outside the Napoleon & Empire association.

Video credits

The shots are by Didier Grau, the editing by Lionel A. Bouchon. The soundtrack was produced by Lionel A. Bouchon using sound effects obtained from https://universal-soundbank.com/