The battlefield of Ligny was on the watershed between the rivers Scheldt and Meuse. The Ligny stream rises to the west of Fleurus and meanders in a north east direction through the small village of Ligny to the confluence at Sombreffe. The stream was only few meters wide, at its edges however swampy in parts, so that the bridges at Saint Amand and Ligny were strategically important. This dictated that villages of Ligny, and St Amand and Wagnelée – connected by the hamlets of Saint Amand-le-Hameau and Saint Amand-la-Haye – were the best defensive position because they were sturdily built and surrounded by trees. The remaining parts of the battlefield consisted of fields of grain as high as a man. The windmill of Brye on a hill north west from Ligny, was a suitable vantage point and Blücher made it his headquarters during the battle. Napoleon placed his headquarters in Fleurus, where he also had a good view of the battlefield from the windmill of Naveau.
Napoleon watching the battle from Neveau Mill at Fleurus
|At 2:15 pm|
Saint-Amand:Napoleon delayed his attack until about 14:30 when he heard cannon fire coming from the direction of Quatre Bras, and thus knew that his left flank was secure. This delay also gave Gérard's IV Corps more time to deploy as it had only recently arrived in Fleurus from south west, and had an important role to play in the Napoleon's plan of attack on Ligny. Both delays meant that there was less time to win a decisive victory before night fell.
Napoleon began the attack with a cannonade by the Guards artillery positioned around Fleurus. Shortly afterwards Vandamme's III French Corps (Girard's 7th Infantry Division attached on its left) attacked the hamlet of Saint-Amand-la-Haye. Jagow's 3rd Prussian Brigade, defending Saint-Amand-la-Haye, could not withstand the pressure of Lefol's 8th Division and was forced to retreat. Shortly afterwards a counter attack by General Steinmetz with six battalions of the 1st Brigade recaptured the hamlet. A renewed attack by Vandamme's troops led to a bitter fight in which the Prussians lost approximately 2,500 men and possession of Saint-Amand-la-Haye.
With the loss of Saint-Amand-la-Haye, Blücher's right flank threatened to give way, so he ordered Pirch II's 2nd Prussian Brigade to retake Saint-Amand-la-Haye. Although Girard was mortally wounded (he died in Paris on 25 June of his wounds) the French held the hamlet, so Blücher ordered Tippelskirch to envelop the French with an attack by units of the II Corps on the left flank of the hamlet. French reinforcements, (Vandamme's III Corps,) deployed in front of Wagnelée prevented this happening, attacking Tippelskirch's brigades as they marched out of the grain fields to get into position for their attack. They were driven into the hamlet.
Blücher left his observation post in the windmill of Brye and intervened personally in the fight. Under his guidance the Prussian counter-attack on the French, very weak from the preceding actions, succeeded, and Saint-Amand-la-Haye was again in Prussian hands. Thus at 19:00 Saint-Amand, Saint-Amand-la-Haye and Wagnelée were still held by the Prussians.
At 15:00 Gérard's IV French Corps opened the battle around Ligny. Under heavy Prussian artillery fire Pécheux's 12th Infantry Division succeeded in capturing the church in the village of Ligny. With this success however, came a price as the division now found itself under a violent bombardment from three sides. In a short time Pécheux's division lost 20 officers and 500 men and had to withdraw. Napoleon sent a battery of 12-pounders to support another attack and with the IV Corps artillery set numerous buildings in Ligny aflame. Another attack followed with vicious house to house fighting. Jagow's 3rd Prussian Brigade counter-attacked and recaptured Ligny again.
The Prussian second lieutenant, Gerhard Andreas von Garrelts, later gave an eye-witness account of the agonies of the Belgian civilian population, caught unexpectedly in the centre of battle:
|“||Ligny stood half on fire, locked in bright flames [...] on this occasion we found we were in a house, where all windows were destroyed, two old people, a man and a woman, showing no emotion and dazed sat at the hearth, without moving, his elbows on his knees and his head supported by his hands; the vision made us cry! Probably they had seen armed combat and were not surprised, how else could they distance themselves with death so near; we too were familiar with death, we felt compassion for these old people, but they could not be convinced to move from their home.||”|
—Gerhard Andreas von Garrelts
At about 17:00 Field-Marshal Blücher employed the still-fresh II Corps under the command of General Pirch I and ordered him to deploy his corps into the area south of Brye. At about the same time Vandamme on the left French flank sighted a force of twenty to thirty thousand men advancing on Fleurus, which he incorrectly took to be enemy troops. Napoleon, who was preparing to launch a crucial attack at the centre of Blücher's line, was very surprised by this news, because at 15:30 he had sent Comte de la Bédoyère with a written note to Marshal Ney at Quatre Bras ordering him to send d'Erlon's I Corps to attack the rear of the right Prussian flank. Instead it seemed that the troops seen by Vandamme threatened the French left flank.
D'Erlon had gone on ahead of his corps (marching west towards Quatre Bras) to reconnoitre. Bédoyère, realising that time was of the essence, had on his own initiative ordered the I Corps to turn east towards Ligny. Its leading elements came into view at 17:00, that is to say, earlier than Napoleon expected. Marshal Ney, unaware of Napoleon's instructions, sent an order to d'Erlon to immediately turn around and march back towards Quatre Bras. D'Erlon, who had caught up with his troops, turned them around only a few kilometres away from Ligny. Crucially, the I Corps did not fight in either battle that day.
Blücher took advantage of the hesitation of the French by ordering an attack on the French left flank. From his observation post in the mill of Brye, Blücher could observe how his troops fared to the west of Saint Amand. Vandamme's III Corps received unexpected support from Duhesme's Young Guard and the Prussians were thrown back to their original positions.
|French infantry on the march, June 1815|
|The determined French initial assault on our Left Flank.|
|A view from the Left Flank perspective. My, and our initial belief was that hopefully the BUA's and terrain would slow the French down until reinforcements could come up.|
|A view of the determined French and our reserves coming up!|
|And a view of the Center. The finger troops are still holding out for now to the Left along the hedgerow.|
|And the action towards Wagnelee.|
|An overall view of the French first turn as they come on strong in their assault.|
|Our Prussian 12 lbs take aim and amazingly due some pretty heavy damage to the French gun batteries coming up over the ridge crest! Things may not be so bad for us after all?|
|The Prussian batteries come up in the Center also, but I'm not so sure what they'll be able to reach? Possibly our second error?|
|The Prussian Left Flank gets bogged down into a huge mass/mess.|
|Hopefully our reserves arriving in the Center will be able to help stem/turn the tide!|
|A view of the Prussian positions in the Center at the top of the photo.|
|Hopefully these reserves will help to hold the center as well. Remember my plan was to hope the Center and Left held/delayed and I could sweep the French Left flank, but Murphy popped up and Wagnelee would immediately become contested as well.|
|Ibid. Center reserves to the bottom Right.|
|The French forces I'll be facing racing towards Wagnelee.|
|The French don't even bother to secure our objective and hastily bypass it. Hopefully the bridge choke points will funnel and slow them down before my troops (Tippleskirch) can arrive.|
|The view of Wagnelee so far and our second bridge/choke point. He who controls the church controls the bridge! A flaw which our French adversary forgets.|
|General Guy' & Guy Jr's batteries take a licking, but keep on ticking!|
|The finger forces are quickly overrun and fall back. The second set of hedgerows on the Right, or in the buildings may have been a better initial set up option for us?|
|On the second turn the French deploy batteries, seize part of Wagnelee and it appears are racing for the bridge. Uh Oh it appears my initial plan is turning to "merde". Looks like I'll have to come up with something else! GREAT!!!!!!!|
|The French press on towards the Center as well (Top of Photo).|
|The Prussian Left continues to remain in chaos.|
|HUZZAH! Our reserves are coming up in the center. Will it be enough, or to late?????|
|The Prussian Left flank players are saying "Wholly Crapaud" as they bear the brunt of the fighting!|
|And the French bring up their batteries!|
|On the spot decisions are made and hopefully the hand of wrath will not fail our side!|
|Our commanders in the center quickly react as well with "Fist fulls of Resistance".|
|Ibid, overall view of 2nd turn|
|The bridges and BUA's become vital choke points for both sides maneuverability!|
|As well as make it hard for the Prussian artillery to become truly effective.|