16 June 1815

The battle of Ligny was the last victory of Napoleon Bonaparte's brilliant career.

It was a bruising affair and began after he got the jump on his British and Prussian foes and had his army almost on them before they had time to react.

Bonaparte's plan for the 100 Days Campaign was to get in between the two armies and defeat each in detail before they could join together and outnumber him.

It was a toss of the coin to see who he would attack first, but the advanced Prussian position at Ligny offered the perfect chance to knock Marshal Gebhard Blucher out of the war.

The Prussians were in a strong position - sitting on ridges behind the Ligny brook and with several of the nearby villages heavily garrisoned - but Bonaparte had planned for a corps under General D'Érlon to hit the enemy on the flank and, together with a frontal assault, trap and destroy them.

The initial stages went well and after very heavy fighting the Prussians looked on the verge of collapse, but Marshal Michel Ney's countermanding of D'Érlon's orders delayed his arrival until it was too late to launch the killing flank attack.

Sending in the Imperial Guard finally broke the Prussians, who only managed to escape through the blind courage of the elderly Blucher who led a cavalry charge to save his army.

The Prussians still lost 25,000 men to Bonaparte's 11,000, but were able to retreat in reasonable order along a parallel course to the British who had just beaten off Ney's assault at Quatre Bras.

Two days later would come the deciding battle at nearby Waterloo.




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