Sergeant Major Edward COTTON

at the

Battle of Waterloo

Sergeant Major Edward COTTON was born on Isle of Wight around 1792 and served at Waterloo in the ranks of the 7th Hussars which was part of General Grants Brigade - the 5th British Cavalry Brigade. Fortunately, Edward COTTON survived the carnage of the battle on that fateful day of 18 June 1815, in which there were over 50,000 casualties of the some 150,000 troops engaged, to become a local hero.

He particularly distinguished himself by saving fellow Hussar GILMOURE as he lay trapped under his wounded horse in front of the main battle line. COTTON could see the French cuirassiers coming on again and, knowing that they rarely spared a foe outside of the protection of the infantry squares, he sprang from his horse and rushed to extricate GILMOURE and to bring him back to safety as the army of French horsemen came up to Wellington's line.

After leaving the army, COTTON lived at Mont St Jean village (where the battle was centred) where he soon gained a reputation as a fine battlefield guide. In 1845, the Naval and Military Gazette described him as an intelligent, active and good looking man of fifty-three and the very cut as a Hussar. From the many fellow Waterloo veterans who visited the battlefield, COTTON built up a formidable knowledge of the battle and published a book called 'A Voice from Waterloo'. His collection of memorabilia occupied a building at the base of the Lion Mound, but has now been dispersed.

“I sincerely hope” wrote veteran, Lieutenant-General Sir Hussey VIVIAN, to COTTON in 1839, “that occupation which you have undertaken, you will derive the means of passing the remainder of your days in competence and comfort; and thus heap the rewards of your intelligence, on a field where you had proved your courage”.

Edward COTTON died on 24 June 1849. He had been ill for some time but had soldiered on and, only two days before his death, he had shown an English family around the battlefield. He was buried in the gardens of Hougoumont (*), and rested there until the 18 August 1890 when he was disinterred for reburial at Evere Cemetery in the north-east suburbs of Brussels.

(*) Hougoumont is a chateau (complex of farm buildings really) that sits on the battlefield. Hougoumont was on the right flank of Wellington's position during the battle of Waterloo and was hotly contested during that fateful day, with many French casualties being incurred in attempts to take it. The chateau was held by contingents of the British Foot Guards together with small numbers of other allied troops including Brunswick, Hanoverian and Nassau soldiers.

In my opinion, the gardens at Hougoumont would be a far more fitting resting place for Edward COTTON than the Evere Cemetery in Brussels, some 12 miles north of Waterloo. I am also sure that Edward would sooner have laid alongside so many of colleagues who fell during the battle and whose corpses were never recovered.

 

The above article was adapted and published with kind permission of my cousin Keith Bryant who is a keen researcher of this and other battles. As an Islander, Keith would like to learn more about Edward COTTON's early life, in particular, his date and place of birth.

If Edward COTTON features in your tree, or you have further details which might be of interest to Keith, please e-mail me at gordon@childsweb.net and I will pass the message to him.

Addendum 1
Many thanks to Val Sprack who has found Edward's baptism of 20th Jan 1793, the son of Robert & Jane of Northwood. Furthermore, Val suggests Edward's likely parents were Robert COTTON and Jane BULL who were married in 1777 at Godshill.

Addendum 2
I am indebted to Trevor Rutter of Waterloo Battlefield Tours who has since contacted me with further information about Edward Cotton and kindly supplied the photographs below for display.

CottonGrave.jpg (23143 bytes)

A recent photo of two tombstones in the meadow of Hougoumont. The larger one in the foreground is that of Captain John Lucie Blackman and the one behind is that of Cotton. The wall behind is the original garden wall of Hougoumont that was defended so effectively on 18 June 1815. Not one single Frenchman got over it.

CottonHouse1.jpg (19356 bytes)

A recent photo of Cotton's house on the battlefield (opposite the modern Visitors' Centre). It is believed Cotton owned the whole building, which would have included his inn, museum and living quarters. Quite an impressive building. He made a lot of money from battlefield guiding and died a rich man.

CottonHouse2.jpg (16066 bytes)

This picture shows some battlefield tourists, probably Victorian, in front of Cotton's house - compare the first and second floor window lines in the two pictures.

For further information about the Battle of Waterloo, or to arrange a guided tour, please visit Trevor's excellent website - Waterloo Battlefield Tours at http://waterloobattletours.users.btopenworld.com

 

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