It was here that Napoleon spent his last night before his empire crumbled for a second time. About two miles up the road to the north, the Duke of Wellington‘s multinational army bivouacked for the night. Not quite three miles behind them, in the village of Waterloo, Wellington himself fretfully spent the night preparing.
Tomorrow there would be a battle in the farm fields just outside the town of Waterloo. If Napoleon won–as he had so many times, the allied armies lined up against him would be in disarray and there would be nothing stopping him from marching north to claim Brussels and thence reclaiming much of Europe. If he lost, well . . . One suspects Napoleon didn’t spend much of that night contemplating what might happen if he lost.
Napoleon dined alone, in a room in the farmhouse of Le Caillou. In an adjoining room, another table had been set for his aides-de-camp and several high-ranking officers, among them Colonel Combes-Brassard, the VI Corps chief of staff. In the course of the officers’ dinner, one of them spoke in a loud voice about the battle awaiting them on the morrow, and the emperor heard him. Napoleon burst into the room and took a few paces with his hands behind his back; then, without turning around, addressing no one in particular, he exclaimed: “A battle! Gentlemen! Are you sure you know what a battle is? Between a battle won and a battle lost, there are empires, kingdoms, the world—or nothing.”Alessandro Barbero, The Battle (2009)
His officers had commandeered the farmhouse to serve as Napoleon’s headquarters on the eve of battle. It was well appointed as farmhouses go. They nevertheless had most of the existing furniture moved out of the building–along with the farmer’s family–so that the Emperor’s entourage could set it up for his use.
But not all the furniture. The kitchen tables stayed. Napoleon’s senior officers ate their dinner there. More importantly, after breakfast on the morning of the battle, the tables were pushed together and the maps of the battlefield laid out. A masterful map reader, Napoleon explained to his officers crammed into the room over breakfast how he wanted the battle to unfold.
Had Napoleon ordered his army to attack first thing in the morning, as he was usually inclined to do, events might have unfolded quite differently. But heavy rains the day before and overnight had turned the farm fields to mud. Dragging canons through heavy mud is slow going. And the speed and agility of the cavalry is undermined.
So Napoleon bided his time. The battle would joined at the very civilized hour of 11:30am. As it happened, the delay was enough that late in the day the Prussian army under Field Marshal Blücher could connect up with Wellington’s exhausted army. It may or may not have made a difference in the end—so many other factors came into play during the battle—but it remains one of history’s great what-ifs. As he stepped out on the farmhouse’s front steps to mount his horse to the cheering of his troops, the air was pregnant with possibility.
The farm is known in French as Ferme du Caillou. In English it translates as Pebble Farm.
By that evening, he was scrambling to flee on horseback after his carriage got bogged down in the chaos of the retreat. Four days later, he abdicated for the second time and the Napoleonic era was over.
You can’t quite see the actual battlefield from the farmhouse’s front steps. It’s obscured just beyond the same deceptively gentle undulations that Wellington took such good advantage of during the battle. But as you wander through the museum’s few rooms where Napoleon spent that historic night and morning, it’s fascinating to imagine what it must have been like on the night of June 17, 1815.
Photos of Ferme du Caillou
More About Ferme du Caillou
- Known as Napoleon’s Last Headquarters during the Battle of Waterloo.
- Located approximately 4 kilometers from the Waterloo Battlefield.
- Houses a museum dedicated to the events leading up to the battle.
- Displays artifacts and personal items of Napoleon, including his camp bed.
- The site of Napoleon’s strategic planning for the Battle of Waterloo.
Ferme du Caillou, also known as Napoleon’s Last Headquarters, is a historic site situated about 4 kilometers from the Waterloo Battlefield in Belgium. It was here that Napoleon Bonaparte made his final preparations and devised his battle plan before engaging the Allied forces on June 18, 1815.
The site is now home to the Caillou Museum, which welcomes visitors to learn more about the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo. The museum features a range of artifacts and personal items that belonged to Napoleon, including his camp bed, and provides a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers during the bivouac. Visitors can explore the farm’s grounds and gain an understanding of the strategic importance of this location during the battle.
Ferme du Caillou also serves as a reminder of the significant human cost of the battle, with a small ossuary containing the bones of fallen soldiers found in the area. The site offers a unique perspective on the Battle of Waterloo and allows visitors to appreciate the full scope of the conflict that took place on the nearby fields.
What’s Nearby to Ferme du Caillou
- Waterloo Battlefield: The site of the historic battle between Napoleon’s forces and the Allied troops.
- Lion Mound: A large artificial hill offering panoramic views of the Waterloo Battlefield.
- Wellington Museum: A museum dedicated to the life and military career of the Duke of Wellington.
How to Get to Ferme du Caillou
Ferme du Caillou is located in the town of Vieux-Genappe, near the Chaussée de Bruxelles, in Belgium. The nearest major airport is Brussels Airport (BRU), which is approximately 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the site. From the airport, visitors can take a train or taxi to Vieux-Genappe and then explore Ferme du Caillou and the surrounding attractions.
What to Know Before You Go
Napoleon’s last headquarters is now a museum. It’s small but interesting. The ingeniously mobile camp cot that Napoleon attempted to get some sleep on is there. The kitchen tables on which he laid out his battle plan are there. There are various Napoleonic knick-knacks, period artifacts, and ammunition and weapons recovered from the battlefield. There’s also a skeleton of a hussar killed during the battle laid out and rather exposed in a glass cabinet in the middle of the room, a jarring reminder that it wasn’t all rousing tales of courage and colorful uniforms.
While you can buy entry tickets individually for each of the nearby attractions related to the Battle of Waterloo like the Butte du Lion and Wellington’s headquarters, it’s much more cost-effective to buy one of the passes that offers entry to all of them. Ask about them at the ticket counter at any of the venues.
Napoleon’s Last Headquarters FAQs
Where is Napoleon’s Last Headquarters located?
Napoleon’s Last Headquarters is located in Vieux-Genappe, Belgium, about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) south of the Waterloo Battlefield.
What are the opening hours of Napoleon’s Last Headquarters?
Napoleon’s Last Headquarters is open daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, except for Mondays outside of the summer season. This is subject to change, and it’s worth checking with the official website.
How much is the entrance fee for Napoleon’s Last Headquarters?
The entrance fee for Napoleon’s Last Headquarters is 7 EUR for adults, 6 EUR for seniors and students, and 5 EUR for children aged 7 to 17. Children under 7 years old can enter for free. This is subject to change, and it’s worth checking with the official website.
How long should I spend at Napoleon’s Last Headquarters?
Visitors typically spend around 1 to 1.5 hours exploring Napoleon’s Last Headquarters.
What can I see at Napoleon’s Last Headquarters?
At Napoleon’s Last Headquarters, you can see the farmhouse where Napoleon stayed before the Battle of Waterloo, period furniture, historical artifacts, and displays about the battle and Napoleon’s strategy.
Is Napoleon’s Last Headquarters wheelchair accessible?
Napoleon’s Last Headquarters is partially wheelchair accessible. However, some areas, such as the upstairs rooms, may be difficult to access due to stairs and narrow passages.