Marshal Ney fell upon the Allied left, quickly securing and occupying the small farmhouse
of Papelotte. Wellington deliberately kept that arm of his force weakened in the hope that
the Prussians would arrive before the whole affair ended in defeat, because the French,
despite their early mistakes in the conduct of the battle, were still a formidable
fighting force to oppose with a mixed bag of troops such as the Iron Duke had under his
From the moment the
Rifles has taken up position on the knoll near the crossroads they had busied themselves
in collecting branches of trees and other things, for the purpose of making an abatis to
block up the road between the knoll and the farmhouse. It soon looked, and was, formidable
enough to break the charge of the French cavalry, although the act of a troop of British
light dragoons riding though it from the wrong side caused it to need rebuilding.
The space in front of Picton's division started to fill up with
Frenchmen. The main body seemed to consist of about ten thousand infantry. A smaller body
of infantry and one of cavalry moved on their right; and, on their left, another huge
column of infantry, and a formidable body of cuirassiers, while beyond them it seemed one
D'Erlon's great infantry attack was defeated by the stubbornness of
Picton's slender lines, and by the sudden and overwhelming onfall of the Life Guards,
Inniskillings and Scots Greys. Skirmishers in the form of the Rifles took their toll on
the French centre, before falling back from their knoll to the main lines, and the whole
force, once the French showed their heads over the knoll, delivered such a volley of fire
that the advancing French wavered and hung back a little, until cheered on by their
officers out in front, they boldly advanced to the opposite side of the hedge and began to
deploy. The 5th Division's front line, in the meantime, was getting so thinned that Picton
found it necessary to bring up his second, but fell in the act of doing it. The command of
the division at that critical moment fell upon Sir James Kempt, who was galloping along
the line, animating the men to steadiness. The line was then charged by French
Cuirassiers, who were themselves blocked by a force of Life Guards. Hundreds of the
infantry threw themselves down, pretending to be dead, while the cavalry galloped over
them, and then got up and carried on as before.
Wellington had given orders that the troops were on no account to leave
their positions to follow up any temporary advantages. By this time a great many of the
Dutch and Belgians had already quit the field, assured of defeat. To reinforce the badly
damaged 5th Division, Wellington sent Sir John Lambert to their support with the 6th
Division, and they soon stood prepared for another struggle.
By two or three o'clock things were tolerably quiet on the centre left
of the British front, except for the noise of a thundering cannonade from the French, who
by this time were making every well-aimed shot count. An occasional gun beyond the plain,
far to the left, marked the slow approach of the Prussians. On the right the roar of
cannon and musketry had been incessant from the time of its commencement.
For most of the day, Quiot's Brigade had been throwing itself against
the King's German Legion housed in La Haye Sainte. By three or four o'clock the Germans
had expended all their ammunition and fled from the post, leaving it open to the French.
The Rifles on the crossroads were then involved in heavy fighting as the French took
possession of the farmhouse, and as it flanked the knoll upon which they were based, they
had to fall back once more to the main lines.
The loss of La Haye Sainte afforded the enemy an establishment within
the Allied position. They immediately brought up two guns on the British side of it and
began serving out some close-quarter grape shot; but they were so near that their
artillerymen were wiped out by the British 95th before they could fire a second round.
By this time, Napoleon had sent elements of the Middle Guard to attack
the British centre right, and they had been repulsed by the regular volleys of the
battered British and German troops.