Good afternoon Gareth; and thank you for accepting to read through my timeline of events.
(11h00 to 12h00)
Firstly…, I must mention that for the time being, I have absolutely ‘no interest’ what-so-ever with Quatre Bras or even the main battleground events.
The only thing that concerns me is Clay and what he saw, heard, smelt and did from the time he passed La Belle Alliance on the evening of the 17th to the evening of the 18th.
This strategy permits me to focus intensely on everything ‘Hougoumont;’ without any distractions.
(For those reading this and have never heard about Matthew Clay..., he was in 2SG Left Flank <The Light Company>)http://blidworthhistoricalsociety.co.uk/10501.html
My chief concern is my 2014 newbie attitude where I accumulated a ton of information and didn’t register any of the sources. Because of it, I’m not certain if the French skirmishers attacked the wood before 11h30.
If they didn’t, then I’ll simply have to advance my timeline. In the meantime, much of what I’ve written below is based on two extremely important events:
>The dead French bodies by the north gate; before Clay leaves the northern haystack in the western kitchen garden to enter the farm.
>And the 36 Courts Martialed Guardsmen following the battle.
Both provide enormous hints as to the time and more especially their related consequences.
The western defence : (as you already know)
Quote John: “Please also note that only the right sub-division of the 3rd Guards Light Company and the left sub-division of the Coldstream Guards Light Company advanced against the French when defending the west lane. The remainder of the Coldstream stayed close to the north gate.”
Although John only mentions 3 sub-divisions here instead of 4, we can obviously assume that he meant that Clay and his, sub-division remained by the southern hedge and haystack bordering the wood.
As such, there ‘shouldn’t’ be any French bodies by the north gate as the kitchen garden is chock-a-block with Guardsmen; especially with the Nassau-Usingen troops in the farm using the western loopholes, ventilation holes and perhaps even the western door/s.
As such; the dead French by the gate, obviously originated from the orchard !
Hougoumont : Some important questions !
>When was the infamous north gate breached ? (just before 12h00)
>Was this the first incursion ? (absolutely yes)
>Was Clay in the farm before the gates were forced ? (no)
>Did Macdonnell enter the farm before the French forced the gate ? (yes)
>When did the Fraser/Cubières incident take place ? (just before 12h00)
>Before Clay’s entry; where did the dead, north gate Frenchmen come from ? (from the orchard, along the northern wall)
>Where was Macdonnell when the French forced the gates ? (probably in the garden while quickly inspecting the defences…, up until the internal firing near the Great Barn and stables)
>Where was Clay during the north gate intrusion ? (by the western door)
>Did Clay participate in the hand-to-hand fighting with the 30-odd intruders ? (obviously not)
Gareth, I’ve been reading your narrative since 2014 and there’s a passage in the notes at the back (N°18) that I totally neglected to take into consideration when writing my manuscript.
“This appears to indicate that Clay entered Hougoumont via the northern gates just after the time when the famous ‘Closing of the Gate’ episode had just occurred. His description of Macdonnell helping to carry wood to bolster the doors would tie in with this period.”
To confirm your theory about Clay entering the farm after the north gate intrusion, please see below, relative to Clay’s musket exchange. (in red
At about 11h15, the French have now taken a large part of the wood and because of the Guards in the garden and the firepower from the south gate defences; the French obviously concentrate on the eastern side of the wood to push the Germans up through the orchard. Some of them retreat down the western lane while passing the Guards.
At about 11h15, the Guards counter attack using the two SG and CG sub-divisions.
Two mini battles are now underway. One in the wood and the other in the orchard…, the difference being that the orchard has a physiological momentum towards the north. (Germans on the retreat)
Via the orchard, the French now approach the sunken lane’s loopholed hedgerow and they automatically fan out. Those to the east have no other option but to advance, while their western force move left along the northern wall.
This event obviously triggers Saltoun’s attack and in doing so, he divides the French advance in two !
Those to the east retreat back to the wood; but the others who moved along the northern wall are suddenly isolated with no other option but to continue west. (towards the north gate and the CG sub-division by the northern haystack in the western kitchen garden)
At about 11h35 and probably before the French have turned the orchard’s corner to move west; Macdonnell sounds the retreat from the wood. Being overpowered and also hearing the sudden and intense cannon fire, he moves back down the western lane with what’s left of his two sub-divisions. (about 30 men out of 90 acording to Captain Evelyn when dictating the events to his sister in a Bruxelles hospital)
Part of Clay’s sub-division probably joined them ! (quote Clay; “suddenly, finding ourselves alone”)
Before the north-gate activities and while the Guards are still in the garden; the gates, as usual, are open. Macdonnell and companies then enter the farm.
By this time, the French are now moving along the wall. Macdonnell sees them and orders his CG rear sub-division in the garden to stand fast. The 36+ ‘Courts Martialed’ continues to fight in the wood and are supported by what’s left of Clay’s Company…, blocking any French advance from the wood.
Meaning that the CG by the NW corner have just one small target ! (Note: The CG are ‘fresh’ while the French are nearly on their knees)
With Macdonnell inside, he tells the German Piquet Officer in charge of the gates to close them immediately. He then orders his CG troops to take up the loophole positions they created the night before and as this is a first entry for the SG, they, are ordered off !
Following these orders, Macdonnell could very well have ran over to the formal flower garden (no horse) to quickly ‘way up’ the defences and the situation. Wherever he is, he’s obviously in deep conversation with Büsgen and other German officers who are able to speak English.
While the CG sub-division in the garden prepare themselves for a confrontation and being assisted by some SG/CG stragglers from the wood, the French advance along the northern wall; then suddenly stop ! At this point, they commence to force the gates. (why confront the CG when it’s their mission to take control of the farm ?)
As such, the CG are obliged to advance and during this movement, the gates are forced with 30-odd Frenchmen entering the farm.
Now…, did the inside Allies close the gates fully following this incursion; or were the gates just partially closed for all sorts of reasons ? Imagine the following hypothesis if you will:
Following the intrusion, dozens of French continue to push the gates inwards while the Allies continue to push them back. As the outside French continue to shove, they are also being attacked by the Coldstreamers. In the meantime, there’s probably a one-meter gap between the two doors with about 30-odd French outside in a ‘bundle.’
Now…, these men are in no way ‘battle-active’! They are tired, frightened, ill-equipped and simply pushing like frustrated spectators at a football match wanting in and as such, they are incapable of reloading or using their bayonets with any proficiency. On the other hand, the inside Allies have swords, bayonets and loaded muskets.
AS SUCH…, it is impossible to contradict, when I say that there is more than one dead body on the ground, blocking any complete closure of the gates…, for as long as the inside pressure remains in force. Logic !
Also, thanks to recent research in relation to ‘Crowd Dynamics’ and more especially the ‘Wisdom of the Crowd,’ the CG sub-division had obviously eased their way around the left of the enemy to contain the group; and would have easily eliminated the inactive, ‘squashed’ soldiers being pushed against the wall and the gate. As such, there’s every logical reason to believe that the exterior enemy were very quickly anayalated. (not to forget that they were also being fired on from a height)
Clay’s quote 15 minutes after the incident; “…, one I particularly noticed which appeared to be a French officer, but they were scarcely distinguishable, being to all appearance as though they had been trodden upon, and covered with mud.”
Proving that it was obviously the 'crowd' and the CG who had trampled them !
Macdonnell’s tree trunk is CERTAINLY NOT securing the gate at this stage as the gates are still open to allow the Coldstreamers to enter. ALSO to be allowed in, are the walking-wounded who gathered by the lane’s NW corner waiting for the fighting to stop, plus Fraser and the remainder of Clay’s Company. So the gates are not yet closed !
As such, the CG ‘casually’ enter the farm but could very well continue to participate with the elimination of the dispersed enemy inside.
Then, when the wounded, the stragglers, Fraser and Clay’s Company are inside, the gates are then finally closed using Macdonnell’s log.
As for the 36 Courts Martialed now locked out, they are obliged to return to their regiments on the ridge.
Ralph Fraser: IMPORTANT
Moving back to the activities and the whereabouts of the 36 Courts Martialed:
The fact that these heroes continued to fight in the wood to the very last minute, provides us with an approximate timing for the Fraser/Cubières incident and it also tells us that Fraser and Clay were extremely lucky not to have been included on the Courts Martial list.
Earlier, while the remainder of Clay’s sub-division was still standing fast by the southern wood’s hedgerow/haystack…, the wounded Cubières on his charger would NEVER have left the wood.
Remember that the 36 ‘+’ Courts Martialed are still fighting in the northern part of the wood, not far from Clay; and they are probably grouped right-of-centre as we look at it from the kitchen garden…, near the diagonal road that heads south towards La Belle Alliance.
Cubières became CO only an hour earlier because his predecessor did exactly what he was ‘about’ to do…, expose himself ! As such, he remains hidden by the trees ! (probably to the west by the cornfield as this would have been an easy and protected trot for his horse)
Because of this, my ‘talking timeline’ tells me that Fraser is in the vicinity and controlling what remains of the SG.
Fraser, while watching Macdonnell’s retreat; orders Clay and Company to head north. In the meantime, the Courts Martial heroes continue to stall the French by fighting on*!
Back to Fraser and his SG retreat !
The keen-eyed Cubières (like Ney
) is now encouraged to advance and this event would have created the Cubières/Fraser conflict. Probably near the western door according to French post-battle witnesses.
Clay then proceeds down the lane using the inclined stretch of grass along the wall; (quote; “high ground”) but he stops after 20 meters in order to return fire. (by the recessed corner, just before the western door) (quote Clay; “musket stoppage”!) As such, he exchanges his musket with, quote; “one on the ground from a dead Grenadier.”
Now, this is obviously a harmless error on his part as there were never any ‘Grenadiers’ on the western lane. (‘regiment,’ or company) As such; it was obviously a Coldstreamer’s musket.
But why a Coldstreamer’s musket ?
This clearly proves that Macdonnell has just passed this position and the poor CG fellow was probably shot in the back. There’s no other reason why a dead Coldstreamer could be found here unless he had been shot during or before the attack on the wood. However, if that was the case, then his musket would have been cold
Clay then reloads his new, WARM
musket; while listening
Note: He’s now standing next to a thin ‘curtain wall’ that simply links the gardener’s house and the byres and it must be mentioned that there was NO cow-dung shed behind this wall as many specialists and their drawings would like us to believe. In fact, it was as it is today, following Julie’s renovation of the farm. As such, all musket shots from inside the farm would have been enhanced by echoes in the small court yard in front of the gardener’s house.
Clay then quotes from his western door position… “Our company from which we were separated had now opened a fire from within
An extremely important note: Clay, is TOTALLY unaware about any north gate infraction at this moment in time.
On reading your narrative over the past couple of years, I have always understood that sentence to mean that his company had entered the farm and were now firing at the enemy from the loopholes…, but that’s impossible because the Germans are already manning them.
IMPORTANT: This obviously means that Clay could hear the internal musket-fire being used against the French intruders. Meaning that the ‘forcing of the gate’ was underway; about 10 minutes before Clay entered the farm. (10 minutes = the time needed to exchange muskets, run to the northern haystack, fire a few more rounds, signal to Gann that the gate is open; then run over to the gate)
Clay, last in line, probably followed Fraser who is now on the Cubières horse and they all enter the farm. Clay then mentions that he saw Macdonnell carrying a tree trunk to help secure the gates.
As such, the final ‘closing of the gate’ was certainly a ‘relaxed’ affair with no enemy in sight. A theory that will almost certainly upset many and without doubt will be contradicted by the traditionalists !
As for Macdonnell, his oncoming work for the afternoon is to circulate throughout the formal garden and the farm with speed, while giving orders…, as such; he would probably have replaced his wounded charger with the Cubières horse !
What’s the time ?
If we take into consideration that the departure time for the attack on the wood was about 11h15, (to be confirmed by John’s book; ‘The Struggle for Hougoumont’ and in particular his unpublished letter written by Macdonnell) plus the time it took to do a bloody battle in the wood (about 30 minutes) plus the retreat from the southern haystack by Clay, (another 15 minutes) …, then the storming of the north gate was probably over and done by 12h00.
What’s more, during all these events and with the farm being protected by fresh, alert, elite German soldiers, (and as yet no fires) not one Frenchman could ever have scaled the southern or eastern walls, or have forced the south gate.
As a consequence, the infamous north gate intrusion was obviously the first !
Have a nice weekend. And thank you for your time.
Kind Regards…, Iain.
The ‘start time’ for the SG/CG attack depends on a lot of things. If no French entered the wood before the first cannon fire at about 11h35, then the French Horse Artillery could have ‘softened-up’ the wood plus the western hedge and wall. If this was the case, then perhaps I’ll have to advance the timeline by about 30 minutes.
Concerning the Courts Martialed Guardsmen:
These men are either courageous, have no option, or didn’t hear the bugle call to retreat. (or all three)
Note: We have a southerly wind because LATER; Wellington mentions that he could see the southern haystack on fire and that it had lit the farm buildings. Totally false of course but nonetheless, it does tell us the direction of the wind.
Following many Facebook posts to Brigade musicians, they nearly all admit that when sounding a bugle call into the wind, (like whistling into the wind) the Drum Major upfront has difficulty in hearing it. (this is particularly relevant for the bass drummer and how on a parade ground the soldiers can find themselves out of step) Also, during my early service period as a piquet piper; I can also confirm that a frontal wind carries the sound backwards..., lol..., the Lone Piper on the Edinburgh Castle wall during the Tattoo can't be heard if he has a frontal wind !
As such and especially in a wood under battle conditions, the Guardsmen probably didn’t hear the call to retreat.