The Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, was Napoleon’s final military encounter and a defeat from which he would not recover.
On June 17, 1815, heavy rains struck the area around Mont-Saint-Jean, and the military operations of both the French and the British forces experienced a delay. The next day the land had not dried sufficiently, which crippled the efficiency of the French cannon. Cannonballs during that era were not explosive and reached the enemy by repelling themselves off the ground, an action impossible if the moisture trapped them.
In addition, Napoleon experienced an outbreak of his chronic malaria which hindered his ability to direct his troops. Grouchy, the calculated and cautious marshal, was fighting successfully at Wavre against Thielmann’s corps of Prussian decoys, thus unable to attend the battle of Waterloo.
A majority of the decisions on the field would thus be made by the daring but rash and impulsive Marshal Ney. Through tactics that placed French lives on the line, such as a massive cavalry charge unsupported by infantry or artillery, Ney augmented the poor situation of the Armée du Nord, which also suffered from epidemics of cholera and smallpox. Nevertheless, Wellington found it difficult to repel French attacks and was forced to withdraw to his initial positions by the middle of the day.
Napoleon would have triumphed at Waterloo if not for the arrival of the Prussians on the battlefield while Grouchy was preoccupied and could not assist the Emperor. A massive Prussian assault broke through the right wing of the French army, and even a charge of the Imperial Guard could not thwart the onslaught. The soldiers now had within their minds one goal: to form a square around their Emperor and thus allow him to safely escape the carnage. This they did, and Napoleon fled the battlefield to Paris.
The Allied forces pressed into France from all directions and, not wishing to witness any more destruction of the land he loved, Napoleon abdicated the throne a second time. “Napoleon at first hoped to reach America; however, he surrendered to the commander of the British blockade at Rochefort on July 3, hoping to obtain asylum in England. Instead, he was sent into exile on the island of St. Helena. There, he spent his remaining years quarreling with the British governor, Sir Hudson Lowe, and dictating his memoirs. He died on St. Helena, after long suffering from cancer, on May 5, 1821.” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 309).
“Napoleon died of unknown causes. Some say that he was poisoned by the British. Others say that he was sick or died of cancer.” (“A Paper on Napoleon.” Norfolk Academy, VA, 5). In 1840, his corpse was relocated from St. Helena to an elaborate tomb at the Maison des Invalides in Paris, where thousands of tourists yearly still visit to pay their respects to the greatest military leader of all time.