Sunday, August 15, 2010

Warped Sense of Humor?

Yesterday, while driving east on US 6, I saw a sign that makes me want to laugh every time I see it. (I've only seen it once or twice before; continued exposure could evoke a different reaction.) There is a section of highway between Kendalville and Waterloo (that's Waterloo, Indiana, not Waterloo, Belgium) that has been designated "Grand Army of the Republic Highway."

Seeing the sign brings to mind an image of Napoleon and his troops marching toward Belgium in June 1815, smugly confident of victory. Unfortunately for the French, a few days later, they were racing back the way they'd come, pursued by the Prussians.

Although Napoleon and the bulk of the French army defeated the Prussians under General Bl├╝cher at Ligny on 16 June 1815, Marshal Soult and the rest of the French army could manage only a stalemate against the much smaller Anglo-Dutch-Belgian forces at Quatre Bras. Two days later, on 18 June 1815, the entire French army (less one corps searching for the Prussians), under Napoleon's command, was defeated by the much smaller Anglo-Dutch-Belgian army under the Duke of Wellington. The Prussians were supposed to be there, too, but they had to march from Wavre, nine miles away, and were delayed by boggy ground and a fire. The Prussians' arrival, though late (4.00 to 6.00 pm, depending on the source), was timely. The Anglo-Dutch-Belgian ranks were sorely decimated, and the Allied army was holding off the French with sheer determination. The arrival of the Prussians disheartened the French, despite Napoleon's attempt to boost their spirits by spreading the rumor that the arriving soldiers were the laggardly General Grouchy and his men, whom Napoleon had sent in search of the Prussians, then (a few hours earlier) ordered to return.

When the invincible Old Guard was routed by the stout-hearted British, Dutch, and Belgian soldiers in their squares, the French army---and its generals---took to their heels. (Or their horses or carriages.)

More about the Battle of Waterloo, the lead-up to it, and its aftermath another time. (Do note, on the map above, that the Battle of Waterloo was not fought at Waterloo, Belgium; it was fought at Mont St. Jean. Wellington, however, always named battles after the town in which he'd stayed the previous night. On the night of 17-18 June 1815, Wellington stayed at Waterloo.)

A bit of research last night told me that the "Grand Army of the Republic Highway" is totally unrelated to Napoleon and Waterloo. The Grand Army of the Republic Highway (which is all of US6, not just the section between Kendalville and Waterloo) was so named to honor the Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. I also learned that it passes through Napoleon, Ohio, as well as Waterloo, Indiana.

Named for Union soldiers or not, whenever I'm on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway heading toward Waterloo, I think of Napoleon and the soon-to-be-defeated French.


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