The folks who hang their hats around the little Belgian village of Waterloo are shortly going to have a lot of company. That’s because an expected 139,000 spectators will be heading their way for the upcoming bicentennial reenactment of a battle that made the global headlines 200 years ago. Here’s a short version of what happened there to prompt the expression, “Napoleon’s Waterloo.”
It's June 18, 1815, and 170,000 guys are about to shoot, stab, jab, slash and otherwise mangle each other on this spot about 10 miles south of Brussels. On one side, Napoleon Bonaparte – back from exile on the island of Elba – is betting his French Grande Armée will send the Anglo-allied forces led by the British Duke of Wellington scurrying back across the Channel.
The battle pitted Napoleon's 72,000 nattily dressed foot soldiers, cannoneers, sabre-waving cavalry, lancers and pistol-packing cuirassiers (horsemen with armored breastplates) against Wellington's coalition of 50,000 troops mostly waiving the Union Jack of Great Britain and the Dutch tricolors. Late in the day, after hours of bloody attacks, counterattacks and counter-counterattacks, the coalition was bolstered by another 50,000 lads fighting under the mean-looking black eagle of Prussia. Historians say this was the battle’s game-changer, allowing the allied forces to break through Napoleon’s flank to win the day, and the war.
After suffering as many as 33,000 casualties, what was left of the Grande Armée went limping back to France. Later on, Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena, where he died in 1821.
His defeat at Waterloo ended 23 years of constant turmoil among Europe's major powers, ignited mostly by Napoleon. England, Prussia, Austria and the other big players thought they were finally rid of “the Little Corporal” when his Russian invasion flopped in 1812. After that, Napoleon abdicated the French throne and ended up banished to the island of Elba -- but he escaped, and a little over 100 days later turned up at Waterloo.
The reenactment (www.visitwaterloo2015.be) -- for which tickets are all sold out – will be staged over a four-day period (June 18-21) with a cast of 5,000 “soldiers” decked out in authentic 19th century battle garb.
According to the Belgian Tourist Office (www.visitbelgium.com), the battle will be
aired on June 18 on the Smithsonian Channel.
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