Royal Scots Greys
Did it really
happen this way?
" ...The Greys moved straight to their front, through the ranks of the
Gordons. The head of the French Division was now only 20 yards away
and the Greys simply walked into the 1st/45th Infantry of the Line. There
was no gallop and no charge."
Comments on the Charge of the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo by
W. A. Thorburn, late curator at the National War Museum of Scotland
Composition of the Regiment in 1815
Up to the return of Napoleon from Elba, the Royal North
British Dragoons (Scots Greys) had 8 troops, but in 1815 this was
increased to 10 troops, the total strength of officers and men in
the 10 troops being 946.
Only 6 troops went to the Netherlands to join Wellington
-- 4 remaining at Ipswich. The officers who went with the 6 troops
were Lt. Col. James Inglis Hamilton and Majors Isaac Blake Clarke
and Thomas Pate Hankin. The Adjutant was Lieutenant Henry McMillan;
Assistant Surgeon James Alexander; and Veterinary Surgeon John Trigg.
The captains were Edward Cheny, James Poole, Robert Vernor, Thomas
Reignolds, Charles Barnard, Thomas Fenton and Edward Payne. These
captains commanded the 6 troops except Reignolds who was a Brevet
Major and was Brigade Major to Sir William Ponsonby. The Lieutenants
were John Mills, Francis Stupart, George Falconer, James Wemyss,
James Carruthers, Archibald Hamilton,Thomas Trotter, James Gape,
Charles Wyndham and James Graham. These were 3 cornets: Edward
Westly, E.C. Knichant and Lemuel Shuldham.
The troops varied in strength at various times, but
the normal strength was about 70 to 80 men. However, at Waterloo
the Union Brigade (formed by the Greys, Royal Dragoons and Inniskilling
Dragoons) with a paper strength of 1150, only mustered 900 sabers
altogether, the Royal Dragoons and Inniskillings, like the Greys,
being represented by 6 troops each.
The French Advance
When the battle started, the Union Brigade was posted
to the rear of Picton's infantry division; the Greys at the left
rear of the Inniskillings, who were in line with the Royals on their
right. Pack's Brigade of Picton's division, consisting of the 55th
, 92nd (Gordons), 42nd (Black Watch) and 1st Foot (Royal Scots),
were in front of the Inniskilling Dragoons and Greys. The Royal
Dragoons were further to the right, behind Kempt's Brigade (28th
Foot, 79th (Camerons) and 32nd Foot).
The French advance was made by d'Erlon's Corps, which
consisted of four divisions; those of Marcognet, Donzelot and Bourgois
being front of Picton's division with Marcognet heading for Pack's
brigade. French divisions were composed of 4 regiments, each regiment
having 2 battalions; 2 regiments or 4 battalions forming a brigade.
The French attack was made in divisional columns, the
leading battalion of the leading Brigade being only about 15 files
wide. Marcognet's Division was led by the 1st battalion, 45th Infantry
of the Line commanded by Colonel Chapuset. Intervals of 5 or 6 yards
separated the battalion columns. The column method has been much
criticized; although it presented a very small front, and a theoretically
well protected continuous flank with high fire potential, the whole
mass of troops was difficult to control if the "wedge"
method of attack was disrupted. As each battalion closely followed
the one in front of it, as a continuous formation, deployment from
the front could cause confusion.
The 1st/45th at the head of Marcognet's Division appeared
in front of the 92nd (Gordons) and at a distance of only about 30
yards, began to deploy. At this point they received a volley
from the Gordons who were very hard pressed and likely to be overrun.
Donzelot's Division, although not so close, menaced Kemp's Brigade.
The Counterattack by the Union Brigade
The Union Cavalry Brigade was now ordered forward. The Inniskilling Dragoons
passed through the ranks of the Royal Scots and the Black Watch, and the Royal
Dragoons, further to the right, went through the 28th Foot and passed the right
flank of the Royal Scots.
The Greys, who had been in a theoretical reserve position,
moved straight to their front, which took them through the ranks
of the Gordons. The head of the French Division was now only 20
yards away and the Greys simply walked into the 1st/45th
Infantry of the Line. There was no gallop and no "charge."
It is clear from the French report that they did not
expect to see British cavalry materializing through the ranks of
the British infantry. When the cavalry hit them, the 45th were in
the act of forming line, and their 1st battalion was at once thrown
into violent confusion, already shaken by the fire of the 92nd.
The regimental eagles were carried by the 1st battalion of all French
infantry regiments, and in a few minutes the Greys were in the midst
of the battalion, at which stage Sergeant Charles Ewart of Captain
Vernor's troop captured the eagle of the 45th. He was ordered to
take it to the rear, which he reluctantly did, but sat on his horse
for sometime watching the engagement before finally setting off
for Brussels with his trophy.
The rest of the French columns believed what they saw
could only be an advance guard, and were now under the mistaken
impression that they were being attacked by large numbers of cavalry.
The Royal Dragoons and Inniskilling charged Donzelot's Division
and the Eagle of the 105th Regiment was taken by the Royal Dragoons.
These were the only two Eagles captured during the entire Waterloo
At this point the divisions of Marcognet and Donzelot
were not completely shaken, although contrary to romantic legend,
the Union Brigade did not, and could not, defeat at Army Corps of
some 16,900 infantry on their own. Having carried out a highly successful
defensive action in support of infantry, the Union Brigade lost
all cohesion and refused to recognize or hear any orders. The Greys
were given the "recall" several times but were so out
of hand that no notice was taken. Instead they went off on a wild
rampage down the interval between the French Divisions, NOT
through the troops themselves; many Greys when shot by the surprised
and somewhat bewildered rear French battalions, who were still advancing, unaware
of the confusion on their own front, or of the defeat of their leading
brigade. In fact, the French infantry, expecting what they thought
must be the main cavalry attack (by their own massive standards),
finally brought themselves to halt, made an effort to form "to
receive Cavalry", and finally fell back in considerable confusion.
The Union Brigade is Destroyed
Meanwhile, the Greys were no longer a regiment of cavalry
but a disjointed series of ad hoc detachments, just galloping about
cutting at whatever they could see. A few got to d'Erlon's divisional
artillery batteries, by which time the inevitable French reaction
was under way. Lancers attached to d'Erlon's Corps were set in motion,
as was Milhaud's Cuirassier Division. Travers' brigade of Cuirassiers
(7th and 12th Regiments) collided with the British Household Brigade
which was composed of the Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, and King's
Dragoon Guards. Farine's Cuirassier brigade (6th and 9th Regiments),
also from Milhaud's command, went for the scattered Union Brigade.
This highly dangerous French cavalry force created havoc among the
British regiments. After their brush with the Household Brigade,
the 7th and 12th Cuirassiers also became involved in chasing down
the scattered remnants of the Union Brigade. In fact, the 7th Cuirassiers
claim the credit for the destruction of the "Grey Scots Dragoons",
although it was the 6th and 9th who arrived on the scene first.
The Greys' casualties were very heavy and they could only attempt
to find their way back in small groups. While they strove to shake
off the well controlled charges of the cuirassiers, the 3rd and
4th French Lancers got between them and the British lines, not that
the confused Greys Troopers by now were quite sure where they were!
One of the myths of Waterloo is that the 45th of the Line was an elite
formation. No French regiment was called the "Invincibles";
this was invented by British enthusiasts to enhance the value of
their captured emblem. The 45th was a line regiment recruited in
Paris, and their only nickname was "Les Enfants de Paris."
The 45th was simply unlucky enough to be at the front of the force
struck by the Greys. Their eagle was the standard issue to all French
regiments; in fact, it and the regimental color are "Hundred
Days" pattern, i.e., a utility version of the more elaborate
1812 model, turned out in a hurry during the months before Waterloo
to replace those destroyed by order when Napoleon was sent to Elba.
The eagle and color are now preserved in the National
War Museum of Scotland (formerly the Scottish United Services
Museum). The Napoleonic eagle did not become a Greys badge until
40 years after Waterloo. Even this is given extra significance,
as it has the laurel wreath awarded only to an elite group of French
regiments, of which the 45th was not one.
Charles Ewart was born in 1769 at Bedoes farm near
the source of the Clyde near Elvanfoot and worked on the farm until
he went to Kilmarnock -- the nearest recruiting center -- and enlisted
in the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons in 1789 at the age of twenty.
He took part in the campaigns in the Low Countries of 1793-1795
and was taken prisoner for a short period. During the retreat of
the British Army through Holland, he was noted for his discipline
and strong character, and was soon promoted to sergeant. By the
time of Waterloo he was 45 years old and a veteran of 25 years with
the colors. He was fencing master of the regiment, and respected
by all ranks. He was reasonably educated for the period, and could
read and write and found no difficulty in conversing with his officers.
After the capture of the Eagle at Waterloo, he was
paraded around the country bySir Walter Scott, and made to give
speeches at dinners and receptions about his feat at the battle.
He was himself a simple and honest soldier, but certainly the story
got larger by the telling, to people eager to establish the feeling
of great victory on the basis of this one episode, so that in time
the destruction of his regiment became forgotten -- only the few
minutes of glory remained. Ewart himself regretted having to leave
the field with the trophy, waiting for sometime before ordered again
to take the Eagle away from the battle.
He was given the Freedom of the city of Irvine and
lionized in Kilmarnock where he had enlisted. The regiment gave
him a silver cup some years after Waterloo; sadly, this was stolen
from him and never seen again. As a reward for his services, Ewart
was given a commission as an Ensign (2nd Lieut.) in the 5th Veteran
Battalion in February 1816. This unit of old soldiers was disbanded
in 1821, and he retired with the full pay of an Ensign for life.
He was married but had no children so there is no direct male line.
He spent his last years at Davyhulme near Manchester. He died there
in March 1846 aged 77, being buried in the graveyard at Salford.
Over the years the grave became covered and forgotten. In the 1930's
it was found under a builder's yard, and in 1938 the regiment reburied
his remains on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.
This article is reprinted by permission from the Scabbard, Journal of the
Military Miniature Society
© 1998 Military Miniature Society of Illinois.
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