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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo

Wellington at the Battle of Bussaco

As a general Wellington was noted for his meticulous and determined nature. He left little to chance, or to the decisive capabilities of others. Indeed, whilst remarkable personal commitment – combined with remarkable fitness and bravery – helped Wellington to inspire the trust of his soldiers, it also meant that he had little tolerance for a lack of diligence in others. Indeed, Wellington was often critical, even despairing, of those who served alongside him. 

It was the way in which his troops behaved off the battlefield that disturbed him most. In India Wellington had learnt the rewards of a good relationship with local populations. By purchasing supplies from locals, and by making every effort to show respect for their customs, he was able to benefit from local support and intelligence, as well as ensuring that his army was comparatively well fed and clothed wherever he fought. Crucially the French, who lived off the land, missed out on these advantages.

And indeed, despair of them as he might, Wellington also knew the value of his men. Whilst Napoleon used conscription to replace the troops he threw into battle, Wellington had no such luxury, and was careful never to commit troops unless he had to. The defensive tactics for which he was famed were specifically designed to ensure victory – often against numerically superior forces – whilst minimising loss of life.

Panoramic view of the Battle of Bussaco, with cavalry and infantry visibleBattle of Bussaco, 1810The Battle of Bussaco (1810), shown here, is a good example of the use of these tactics.

As at Waterloo, Wellington made expert use of landscape, concealing and thereby sheltering his forces (who were supported by the local militia) in a reverse slope at the top of a steep ridge.

From this position he was able to see the enemy coming, whilst they were forced to contend with uncertainty as to the exact numbers and deployment of Wellington’s men.

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