To mark the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, for this “The stories they tell” blog we focus on one of the soldiers who fought on that day. The Archives and Manuscripts holds the letter that Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ferrior wrote to his brother in Pembrokeshire a few days before the battle: it was to be his last letter as he died at Waterloo.Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Ferrior (1772-18 June 1815) was born in Pennar, Pembrokeshire. A career soldier, he first appears as a cornet in the First Life Guards in 1797 and remained with this regiment, becoming a captain in 1802, a major in 1810 and subsequently a lieutenant colonel.
At Waterloo, the First Life Guards were part of the First (or Household) Brigade of Heavy Cavalry under the command of Major General Lord Edward Somerset.
Ferrior was in the thick of the action and led eleven charges during the battle. He is said to have died late in the day of the 18th June after leading a final charge, believed to be at dusk when the cavalry was ordered forward to harry the retreating columns of the Imperial Guard. The record shows that he was killed, although it is likely that he died of wounds. In the Waterloo Roll Call, Charles Dalton, notes that it “is said to have led his regiment to the charge no less than eleven times and most of the charges were not made till after his head had been laid open by the cut of a sabre and his body pierced with a lance”.
On 7 June, when he was encamped in Flanders with his regiment, Ferrior wrote a letter to his brother Benjamin at the family farm of Pearson, St Brides in Pembrokeshire. This was, as the note on the back states, to be his final letter. In it he describes the British army assembled for the Waterloo campaign, reviews of the troops by various dignitaries, and the countryside of Flanders and their farming methods. It also contains a heartfelt tribute to his brother for his kindness and friendship.Ferrior’s letter is also written in a style reminiscent of official correspondence and despatches, very formal in tone and concise in details. There was a common tradition of soldiers’ correspondence being shared much more widely, not merely among friends and family but also in published form. This is a letter which Ferrior wrote on the eve of a momentous battle, perhaps conscious that it could be his last missive. The tone and the style represent both the image of the brave and sanguine officer ready to do his duty: “I have the satisfaction”, Ferrior wrote at the conclusion, “of finding myself compleately equipped according to my rank in the service.” “We marched as I expected a few days after I wrote my last letter, we embarked at Ramsgate and landed at Ostend on the 3rd May without any casualty of consequence, we continued our march to a village three miles this side of Ghent, were we halted for the first day since we left Hyde Park Barracks. We remained there 7 or 8 days and then came here which is the headquarters of the cavalry. L[ieutenan]t General the Earl of Uxbridge who commands the cavalry is quartered at a convent adjoining the town which before the French revolution was a most magnificent place, but now in a state of decay, Bonaparte having thrown away all the fine pictures, destroyed the furniture and sold the large territories attached to this convent, but the church is still very fine. The rest of the cavalry are in cantonments in the surrounding villages, the King’s German Legion cavalry more in advance and nearer the French frontier. The First Life Guards is brigaded with the 2nd Life Guards, the Blues, and First Dragoon Guards, in all 10 squadrons all in most excellent condition and fine order and allowed to be as fine a body of cavalry as was ever seen and I think that my Reg[imen]t is not the worst amongst them. Lord Edward Somerset commands the brigade as Lord Wellington is at Brussels about 15 miles from hence, which is the headquarters of the army and about there our infantry are quartered. We are at present all quiet, we have no news, and we look at the London papers to see how the world is going on. We believe, and I am of that opinion, that as soon as the Prussians come up and join us, no time will be lost in commencing hostilities. A part of them, we hear, are now on the Rhine. It cannot therefore be long before we begin…”
Ferrior goes on to describe being presented to the King of France, whose court he described as “not very splendid” and the King as fat, unwieldy and suffering with gout.
He then describes how they had been reviewed three times since they had arrived:
“The first time the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Life Guards and Blues and being the senior officer, I had command of the three regiments in the field. Lord Uxbridge inspected us minutely and was pleased to express his entire approbation of the appearance and movements of the 3 regiments. Our second review was of the whole heavy cavalry, Lord Uxbridge wishing to pay a compliment to the Princes of Orange. The Prince accompanied by many foreigners of distinction reviewed and was much gratified by our appearance. Our third review as however superlatively grand by Field Marshal His Grace the Duke of Wellington accompanied by the Princes of Orange, by old Blucher, the Duke of Brunswick, by Marmont and by foreigners of different nations of high distinction. We were drawn up in three lines, the Hussars in the first line, the heavy cavalry in the second and the Light Dragoons in the third line, the artillery at different points of the line, in all 40 squadrons beside 9 troops of Horse Artillery, about 6000 men. The First Reg[imen]t had the [honour] of giving the guard of honour of one troop with its officers to Lord Wellington on the ground and a squadron received him at the convent, Lord Uxbridge’s quarters, where a grand dinner was prepared for the Princes, general officers and heads of departments and officers commanding regiments. It was very brilliant and Lord Wellington did me the high honour to come up to me and address me by saying that my regiment was in very fine order…”
After a long description of the countryside and the farming methods, Ferrior concludes his letter with the following message to his brother: “I can never sufficiently thank you for your kindness and real brotherly friendship for me”.
A reading of an extract of Ferrior’s letter can be accessed and downloaded at MS88. You also can find a discussion of and reading of WP1/471/4 the condolence letter that the Duke Wellington sent to Lord Aberdeen on the death of Aberdeen’s brother Lieutenant Colonel Sir Robert Gordon at Waterloo. Both provide a glimpse of the individuals who took part in this military campaign and of the human cost of war.