There were 3500 of them. They formed a front a quarter of a league in extent.
They were giant men, on colossal horses.
There were 27 squadrons of them [...]
They wore casques without horse-tails, and cuirasses of beaten iron, with horse-pistols in their holsters, and long sabre-swords.
That morning the whole army had admired them, when, at nine o'clock, with braying of trumpets and all the music playing "Let us watch o'er the Safety of the Empire" they had come in a solid column, [...] so cleverly arranged by Napoleon, which, having on its extreme left Kellermann's cuirassiers and on its extreme right Milhaud's cuirassiers, had, so to speak, two wings of iron.
Aide-de-camp Bernard carried them the Emperor's orders. Ney drew his sword and placed himself at their head.
The enormous squadrons were set in motion.
Then a formidable spectacle was seen.
All their cavalry, with upraised swords, standards and trumpets flung to the breeze, formed in columns by divisions, descended, by a simultaneous movement and like one man, with the precision of a brazen battering-ram which is effecting a breach, the hill of La Belle Alliance, plunged into the terrible depths in which so many men had already fallen, disappeared there in the smoke, then emerging from that shadow, reappeared on the other side of the valley, still compact and in close ranks, mounting at a full trot, through a storm of grape-shot which burst upon them, the terrible muddy slope of the table-land of Mont-Saint-Jean.
They ascended, grave, threatening, imperturbable; in the intervals between the musketry and the artillery, their colossal trampling was audible.
Being two divisions, there were two columns of them; Wathier's division held the right, Delort's division was on the left. It seemed as though two immense adders of steel were to be seen crawling towards the crest of the table-land.
It traversed the battle like a prodigy.
Nothing like it had been seen since the taking of the great redoubt of the Muskowa by the heavy cavalry; Murat was lacking here, but Ney was again present. It seemed as though that mass had become a monster and had but one soul.
Each column undulated and swelled like the ring of a polyp. They could be seen through a vast cloud of smoke which was rent here and there. A confusion of helmets, of cries, of sabres, a stormy heaving of the cruppers of horses amid the cannons and the flourish of trumpets, a terrible and disciplined tumult; over all, the cuirasses like the scales on the hydra.
These narrations seemed to belong to another age. Something parallel to this vision appeared, no doubt, in the ancient Orphic epics, which told of the centaurs, the old hippanthropes, those Titans with human heads and equestrian chests who scaled Olympus at a gallop, horrible, invulnerable, sublime.
Gods and beasts.
Behind the crest of the plateau, in the shadow of the masked battery, the English infantry, formed into 13n squares, the stocks of their guns to their shoulders, taking aim at that which was on the point of appearing, waited, calm, mute, motionless.
They did not see the cuirassiers, and the cuirassiers did not see them.
They listened to the rise of this flood of men.
They heard the swelling noise of 3000 horse, the alternate and symmetrical tramp of their hoofs at full trot, the jingling of the cuirasses, the clang of the sabres and a sort of grand and savage breathing.
There ensued a most terrible silence; then, all at once, a long file of uplifted arms, brandishing sabres, appeared above the crest, and casques, trumpets, and standards, and 3000 heads with gray moustaches, shouting, "Vive l'Empereur!".
All this cavalry debouched on the plateau, and it was like the appearance of an earthquake.[...]
Sixty cannons and the thirteen squares darted lightning point-blank on the cuirassiers. The intrepid General Delort made the military salute to the English battery.
The whole of the flying artillery of the English had re-entered the squares at a gallop. The cuirassiers had not had even the time for a halt. The disaster of the hollow road had decimated, but not discouraged them. They belonged to that class of men who, when diminished in number, increase in courage.[...]
The cuirassiers hurled themselves on the English squares.
At full speed, with bridles loose, swords in their teeth pistols in fist, such was the attack.[...]
Then it was terrible.
All the faces of the English squares were attacked at once.
A frenzied whirl enveloped them.
That cold infantry remained impassive: the first rank knelt and received the cuirassiers on their bayonets, the second ranks shot them down; behind the second rank the cannoneers charged their guns, the front of the square parted, permitted the passage of an eruption of grape-shot, and closed again.
The cuirassiers replied by crushing them. Their great horses reared, strode across the ranks, leaped over the bayonets and fell, gigantic, in the midst of these four living wells.
The cannon-balls ploughed furrows in these cuirassiers; the cuirassiers made breaches in the squares.[...]
The form of this combat was monstrous.
These squares were no longer battalions, they were craters; those cuirassiers were no longer cavalry, they were a tempest. Each square was a volcano attacked by a cloud; lava contended with lightning.[...]
The cuirassiers, relatively few in number, and still further diminished by the catastrophe of the ravine, had almost the whole English army against them, but they multiplied themselves so that each man of them was equal to ten. Nevertheless, some Hanoverian battalions yielded.
Wellington perceived it, and thought of his cavalry.[...]
All at once, the cuirassiers, who had been the assailants, found themselves assailed. The English cavalry was at their back.
Before them two squares, behind them Somerset; Somerset meant fourteen hundred dragoons of the guard. On the right, Somerset had Dornberg with the German light-horse, and on his left, Trip with the Belgian carabineers; the cuirassiers attacked on the flank and in front, before and in the rear, by infantry and cavalry, had to face all sides. What mattered it to them? They were a whirlwind. [...]
This conflict lasted two hours.
The English army was profoundly shaken.
This extraordinary cavalry petrified Clinton, who had seen Talavera and Badajoz. Wellington, three-quarters vanquished, admired heroically.
He said in an undertone, "Sublime!"