Why We’d Be Better Off if Napoleon Never Lost at Waterloo

There was no denying that the Battle of Waterloo had been catastrophic. Except for the Battle of Borodino, which Napoleon had fought in Russia in his disastrous 1812 campaign, this was the costliest single day of the 23 years of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Between 25,000 and 31,000 Frenchmen were killed or wounded, and vast numbers more were captured. Of Napoleon’s 64 most senior generals, no fewer than 26 were casualties. The losses for the Allies were severe, too—Wellington lost 17,200 men, the Prussian commander Marshal Gebhard von Blücher a further 7,000. Within a month, the disaster cost Napoleon his throne.

Walking the battlefield today, it’s all too easy to understand why he lost. From the 140-foot-high Lion’s Mound, which was built in the 1820s on top of Wellington’s front line, one can see what Napoleon could not: the woods to the east from which 50,000 Prussians started to emerge at 1 p.m. to stave in the French right flank, plus the two stone farmhouses of La Haie Sainte and Hougoumont, which disrupted and funneled the French attack for most of the day.