How the Prussians Captured Napoleon’s Military Carriage During the Waterloo Campaign

Wellington and Blücher. Public Domain.

One prized possession of Napoleon’s was his military carriage (sometimes called his traveling carriage). He loved it so much that he used it on many of his military campaigns and while exiled on Elba. In fact, when he escaped Elba the one thing he ordered his troops to take was his military carriage, which was carefully packed and shipped to Cannes.

When Napoleon faced down the British-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstatt at Waterloo, the military carriage was with him. It was also during the Waterloo campaign that Napoleon’s carriage was captured.

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Dennewitz commanded the fourth corps of the Prussian army. He arrived at Zaberne at four o’clock in the afternoon on 18 June and was ordered to form an advance guard with the 16th brigade that was commanded by General von Hiller. Major Heinrich Eugen, Baron von Keller also received orders to “form the head of the advance guard with two battalions of fusiliers, to proceed toward Planche-noit, in the direction along the heights; and to direct his particular care to the left wing.”[1]

Keller obeyed orders and promptly repulsed the enemy. The conflict soon became general, and Hiller at length stormed Planchenoit and with the 16th brigade took it. As Hiller was storming Planchenoit, Keller took his forces around the village and came upon the right flank of the enemy. He then pursued them down a road that led to Charleroi, where he joined up with some other Prussian light infantry, whom he attached to his corps.

The capture of Napoleon’s carriage by Major von Keller. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

Under orders, Keller and his troops then arrived at Genappe around 11pm. The town had been barricaded to secure it, and when Keller and his soldiers approached, artillery and musketry were fired. Then according to one source:

“At the entrance of Genappe, Major Von Keller met the travelling carriage of Buonaparte with six horses. The postillion and the two leaders were killed by the bayonets of the fusileers. The Major then cut down the coachman, and forced open the door of the carriage. At that moment he observed Buonaparte mounting a horse at the opposite side. In his precipitation, Napoleon let fall his hat, sword, and mantle, which were sent to Prince Blucher the next morning.”[2]

Keller at once took possession of the abandoned carriage seizing it as his booty. He had accomplished a coup and “captured the most valuable baggage of the whole French head quarters, and took more than three thousand prisoners; among whom were Generals, Adjutants, and Secretaries of Napoleon.”[3] The capture of Napoleon’s carriage proved to be a windfall of personal possessions, and besides Machiavelli’s annotated copy of The Prince, the carriage also contained:

“[A] gold and silver necessaire, including above seventy pieces; a large silver chronometer; a steel bedstead with two merino mattrasses; a pair of pistols, a green velvet cap; a pair of spurs; linen, and many other things for the convenience of travelling. There was also a diamond head dress (tiara), hat, sword, uniform, and an imperial mantle. The booty made was equally considerable and remarkable: several boxes of mounted and unmounted diamonds, large silver services with the arms of Napoleon, and gold pieces, with his name and portrait, filled the haversacks of the soldiers of that battalion.”[4]

A windfall of other diamonds were also discovered, most of which were in the powder wagons. The following day after news of the discovery of these diamonds spread, soldiers were on their hands and knees searching in the mud to find any that might have been missed. Later, some of these same diamonds were used by King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia’s in his crown jewels.

Immediately after the battle, Blücher wrote a letter to his wife:

“You well remember what I promised you, and I have kept my word. The Enemy’s superiority of numbers obliged me to give way on the 17th; but on the 18th, in conjunction with my friend Wellington, I put an end at once to Buonaparte’s dancing. His army is completely routed, and the whole of his artillery, baggage, caissons, and equipages, are in my hands … It will soon be all over with Buonaparte.”[5]

A second letter dated “Gosselies, June 20” by Blücher mentioned Napoleon and his carriage:

“Napoleon escaped in the night, without either hat or sword. I send both sword and hat to-day to the King. His most magnificently embroidered state mantle, and his carriage, are in my hands; … Napoleon was in the carriage to retreat, when he was surprised by our troops: he leaped out, jumped upon his horse without his sword; losing his hat, which fell off; and so he probably escaped under favour of the night. The consequences of this victory are incalculable, and Napoleon’s ruin will be the result of it.”[6]

Pour le Mérite with Oak Leaves. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It was a magnificent victory for Napoleon’s enemies, and besides being lauded and receiving one of the highest honors in Prussia, the Pour le Mérite, Keller became wealthy from the booty he seized. Curiosity about Napoleon’s carriage was so great, Keller sent it to Düsseldorf where it was displayed after arriving on June 25. A high-ranking Prussian officer who saw the carriage there wrote a letter on 26 June that stated:

“Buonaparte’s costly travelling carriage, which is provided with every convenience, and which was taken … arrived here yesterday afternoon. What various thoughts and feelings must the sight of this carriage inspire! It was naturally an object of general curiosity. Upon being examined, it was found to contain several private drawers, filled with various articles of value; among other things, some articles belonging to Buonaparte’s toilet; various articles for the table, mostly massy gold.”[7]

After displaying the carriage in Düsseldorf, Keller sold the carriage to the British for £2,500 and invested in a spa in Breslau. The Prince Regent ended up with the coach and eventually a man named William Bullock obtained permission from the English government to display it, and, at some point, he purchased the carriage from the Prince Regent. When Keller took the carriage to England, he also sold some of the diamonds to a diamond merchant on the Strand named Mr. Mawe. Bullock purchased some of the diamonds Mawe bought, and one diamond, Bullock had made into a pin, which he wore for many years.

References:

  • [1]The Military Carriage of Napoleon Bonaparte, Taken After the Battle of Waterloo; Together with Its Superb and Curious Contents and Appendages; Now Exhibiting at the Bazaar, Baker Street, Portman Square, Accurately Described, Etc, (London, 1843), p. 13.
  • [2] ibid., p. 14.
  • [3] ibid., p. 13–14.
  • [4] ibid., p. 14.
  • [5] The Battle of Waterloo, containing the series of accounts published by authority, British and foreign [&c.]. (London: J. Booth, 1815), p. 141.
  • [6] ibid., p. 142.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 143.

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