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Edinburgh at Waterloo: Ensign Ewart

Waterloo archive anecdotes: 18 June 1815


Jun 18, 2015

Two hundred years ago on 18 June 1815, the armies of the Duke of Wellington were outnumbered as they faced the full might of Napoleon’s Grande Armée at Waterloo. For over nine hours Wellington’s men resisted repeated attacks from the French until finally reinforced by Blücher’s Prussian army arriving from the east. Wellington and Blücher then combined and the tide turned. When the previously undefeated French Imperial Guard began to retreat, Napoleon, sensing defeat, fled the field of battle.

Scottish regiments had played a major role in holding the line against repeated French assaults. Within the British ranks, Scottish foot regiments, organised in defensive squares, repelled wave after wave of ferocious attacks from the French. In spite of the carnage suffered in each attack, their courage held and their defensive lines held until the Prussians arrived.

Scottish cavalry also played an influential role in the battle. At one point defeat loomed fo Wellington's men but morale was boosted by a heroic cavalry charge by the Scots Greys, as part of the Union Brigade. The Greys launched themselves on the French infantry shouting “Scotland for ever”. This charge resulted in one of the most notable individual acts of the battle.

Amid furious fighting Sergeant Charles Ewart of the Greys rode at the standard bearer of the French 45th Ligne, bested him and captured the Eagle of the 45th French Regiment. Although there is evidence that he was assisted by others, his personal efforts were nevertheless remarkable. He later gave this account:

‘One made a thrust at my groin – I parried it off and ... cut him through the head. One of their Lancers threw his lance at me but missed ... by my throwing it off with my sword ... I cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, I was attacked by a foot soldier, who, after firing at me charged me with his bayonet, but ... I parried it and cut him down through the head.’

The Greys suffered heavy casualties in the attack with over 100 men killed, around 100 wounded and over 200 horses lost. Ewart’s survival was assured as he was ordered to leave the battle field and take the Eagle to safety in Brussels. The captor of the 45 Eagle was a remarkable man described by a contemporary as “a man of Herculean strength, and of more than ordinary stature, being six foot, four inches, and of considerable skill as a swordsman.”

Following his triumph at Waterloo, Ewart was commissioned to the rank of Ensign. On leaving the army, he was given a pension of 5/10d per day. He settled in Salford where he supplemented his income by teaching swordsmanship.

He died in 1846 but in 1938 his remains were moved from Salford to a memorial grave on Edinburgh Castle esplanade.


Acknowledgements:

Illustration of 45 Eagle: copyright The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, Edinburgh Castle

Painting of Ewart: Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting

Grave of Ensign Ewart Edinburgh Castle: photo by Kim Traynor - Own work.



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