He found that Grouchy had made little progress beyond the town.
Meanwhile two long hours had been wasted on the right whilst Grouchy and Vandamme deliberated over their plan of action in front of the Prussian brigade at Gilly; and it was not until the emperor himself again reached the front, about 5.30 P.M., that vigour replaced indecision.
Grouchy, however, went to Gembloux as ordered.
It was therefore put off first of all until 9 A.M., and later until 11.30, to permit the sodden ground to dry sufficiently for the mounted arms to manoeuvre freely and give time to the French army to close up. During the night the emperor had received a report from Marshal Grouchy, dated Gembloux, 10 P.M., 17th, which stated that the Prussians were retiring in two columns towards Wavre and Perwez.
Grouchy was now urged by his generals, especially by Gerard, to march to the sound of the firing, but he refused to take their advice, and pushed on to Wavre, where he found the Prussians (Thielemann's corps of 16,00o men) holding the passages across the Dyle.
But this is just what the despatch does not state verbally and precisely, and accordingly Grouchy, like Ney on the 16th and 17th, misread it.
Instead of concentrating his force upon one bridge over the swampy and unfordable Dyle, Grouchy scattered it in attacks upon several; and when the emperor's despatch arrived, saying Billow was in sight, the marshal was powerless to move westward.
Grouchy now pushed on towards Fleurus, which was still held by Blucher's troops, and there the advance came to a.
To assist this operation the reserve would move at first to Fleurus to reinforce Grouchy, should he need assistance in driving back Blucher's troops; but, once in possession of Sombreffe, the emperor would swing the reserve westwards and join Ney, who, it was supposed, would have in the meantime mastered Quatre Bras.
Marshal Soult was appointed chief of the staff, a post for which he possessed very few qualifications; and, when the campaign began, command of the left and right wings had perforce to be given to the only two marshals available, Ney and Grouchy, who did not possess the ability or strategic skill necessary for such positions.
Although the emperor wrote to Ney again at noon, from Ligny, that troops had now been placed in position at Marbais to second the marshal's attack on Quatre Bras, yet Ney remained quiescent, and Wellington effected so rapid and skilful a retreat that, on Napoleon's arrival at the head of his supporting corps, 1 There appears to be no reason to believe that Grouchy pushed any reconnaissances to the northward and westward of Gentinnes on June 17; had he done so, touch with Blucher's retiring columns must have been established, and the direction of the Prussian retreat made clear.
And on the morning of the 18th of June he was foremost in advising Marshal Grouchy to march to the sound of the guns.
Hoche himself, with the French admiral, had been driven far to the westward in an effort to avoid capture; the attempt of Grouchy, in his absence, to land a force was defeated by the weather, and by the end of the month the whole expedition was in full retreat for Brest.
Far from the grouchy expression he had put on at the beginning of the ride, now his eyes flashed with humor, and his lips were twisted in a friendly smile.
When he had left for the front, the emperor proceeded with Grouchy to reconnoitre the Prussian position at Gilly; and handing over the command of the right wing to the marshal, whom he ordered to capture Gilly, Napoleon returned to Charleroi, to hasten the passage of the French army across the Sambre and mass it in the gap between the allies.
He was in front of a force of unknown strength which appeared resolved to stand its ground, his men were tired, and the cannon-thunder to his right rear proclaimed clearly that Grouchy had not made much headway on the Fleurus road.
The right wing, under Grouchy, had come to a halt in front of Fleurus.
Amand, whilst Gerard attempted to storm Ligny; on the right Grouchy held Thielemann in play, and in the centre near Fleurus were the Guard and Milhaud in reserve, close to the emperor's headquarters on the mill.
By nightfall the situation was all in favour of the allies; for Grouchy was now actually outside the four Prussian corps, who were by this time concentrated astride the Dyle at Wavre.
Grouchy added that if he found that the bulk of the Prussians were moving on Wavre he would follow them and separate them from Wellington.
By following the Prussians Grouchy, who had taken up a position outside the Prussian left flank, would inevitably drive the allies together.
Its meaning will then clearly be, that Grouchy was to endeavour to place his force on the inner Prussian flank and hold them back from Waterloo.
This order at least was precise and clear, but it was sent 12 hours too late, and when Grouchy received it he was unable to carry it out.
It was on this place that Grouchy advanced on the day of Waterloo, gaining a useless success here over a Prussian corps while the fate of the campaign was being decided elsewhere.