It's June 18, 1815, and a third of a million guys are about to slug it out on the battlefields of Waterloo, about 10 miles south of Brussels. One one side, Napoleon Bonaparte – back from exile on the island of Elba – is betting the farm that his French Grande Armée can defeat the Anglo-allied forces led by the British Duke of Wellington.
Bugles blare, troops charge, muskets blast, swords slash, cannons roar...and Napoleon's army is cut to bits.
His defeat ended 26 years of constant turmoil among Europe's major powers, ignited mostly by Napoleon. England, Prussia, Austria and the other biggies 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 on Elbe...but he escaped, and 100 days later turned up at Waterloo.
The main battle pitted Napoleon's 125,000 nattily dressed cuirassiers, chevau-legers, and grenadiers against Wellington's coalition of 210,000 troops mostly waiving the Union Jack of Great Britain, the Dutch tricolors and the mean-looking black eagle of Prussia.
In the final hours of the fight, Wellington's forces were dug in atop the steep slopes of Mont-Saint-Jean, and Napoleon couldn't get them to budge. Suddenly, Prussian troops broke through Napoleon's right flank, and then the rest of Wellington's army counterattacked to win the day, and the war.
Beaten, 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.
History lovers won't want to miss a replay of this granddaddy of all European battles during its bicentennial celebration, set for June 17-21, 2015. Among highlights of the five-day program, more than 5,000 colorfully uniformed “soldiers” and 100 cannons will blast and slash away at each other during two big battle reenactments.