Waterloo 200 Descendants Book

Mercer is a popular chap, and as he has no direct descendants to speak up for him, it seemed only right to give him an entry in the Waterloo 200 Descendants Book. We were asked to write it, and you can visit the Descendants Book here.

Hopefully we’ll see many tales of RHA officers and men building up in the Descendants Book. You can also add your own Tribute pages to the Mercer Celebration entry.

At the time of writing there is some confusion within the Descendants Book between “Mercer’s D Troop” and “Dickson’s G Troop”, which is currently being tackled by their technical team. Dickson (who achieved fame as commander of Wellington’s artillery in the Peninsula) was awarded the first captaincy of G Troop in 1815, but never took command, and hence G Troop is generally known as Mercer’s Troop. Dickson met Mercer briefly at Quatre Bras, but commanded the siege train of heavy artillery necessary to subdue hostile fortified towns on the subsequent march to Paris. Once at Paris, Mercer was promoted to first Captain of D Troop, whose Captain Bean was killed at Waterloo. So don’t worry if it looks wrong to you … for those of us who care deeply about such things, it is being sorted. [Update 20th May: Mercer’s page is now fixed, other G Troop entries will be corrected soon]

Here is the Mercer Celebration entry:

Captain Alexander Cavalié Mercer, G Troop Royal Horse Artillery

Surely the most famous and quoted of all junior officers at Waterloo, the name Mercer has become synonymous with ‘saving the Brunswickers’ and the repulse of French cavalry on the afternoon of 18th June 1815.

Today a stone monument on the allied ridge marks the last position of Mercer’s famous troop of six guns. Across Belgium and the Netherlands the name Mercer is also cited and celebrated by local historians thanks to a French translation of his outstanding work, Journal of the Waterloo Campaign.

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The original Mercer’s Journal of the Waterloo Campaign

Amidst all the first-hand accounts of the battle, Mercer’s Journal of the Waterloo Campaign stands out as the most extensive and finest account of the campaign, perhaps of any military campaign, ever. So who was this man?

Descended from the Mercers of Aldie and Meikleour, his ancestors being buried in St John’s Kirk Perth since the 12th century. There is added spice from the Cavalié origins, yet our Mercer was very much an Englishman. Born in 1783 in Cottingham near Hull, Mercer’s father was a General in the Royal Engineers. At 6 months old Mercer and his family moved to London whilst his father took a posting to Jamaica, an unhealthy destination due to the risk of disease.

Enjoying a charmed upbringing amongst the Ambassador set, his father returned to London when Mercer was 6, just as the French Revolution was kicking off, taking the family with him on his latest posting to Guernsey. An unsettled schooling and the death of his mother in childbirth left Mercer to follow his elder brother’s footsteps into the artillery just as he turned 15. Having learned his trade at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, he was posted first to Plymouth and then to Ireland, dealing with domestic riots and uprisings.

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Mercer’s Waterloo sword, currently on display at Firepower, Woolwich

Attachment to the Royal Horse Artillery in 1804, amongst the élite of the armed forces, was followed in 1806 by a transfer to G Troop RHA, which was to remain his home until beyond Waterloo. Under the tutelage of Augustus Frazer, the finest horse artilleryman of his time, Mercer and G Troop were honed into an efficient fighting machine.

His first overseas campaign in 1807 was an ignominious one. Two invasions of South America, focused on Montevideo and Buenos Aires, led to surrender, and Mercer covered the retreat. Back in England whilst his colleagues were achieving glory and fame under Wellington in the Peninsula, in 1809 G Troop was posted to Woodbridge, Suffolk to defend the coast.

Years of barrack duty and practice went unrewarded, although Frazer did secure a transfer to the Peninsula and so Mercer, whilst still a 2nd Captain, took command. Mercer married in late 1813, yet the exile of Napoleon to Elba in 1814 brought hope of advancement to a close. The barracks of Woodbridge were broken up, and the Troop moved to Colchester to await reductions. The news of Napoleon’s return brought one last opportunity to achieve recognition, and G Troop had the pick of horses and equipment as they set off on campaign.

Mercer’s Journal of the Waterloo Campaign tells of the journey to Ostend, through Bruges, Ghent and on to the lush farmland of the Dender valley awaiting the start of hostilities. A keen and often amusing observer of people, landscape and architecture, Mercer’s Journal is also a great companion for sightseeing in the area. At the British cavalry parade on 29th May Blücher, commander of the Prussian forces commented that each of G Troop’s outstanding horses was fit for a Field Marshal.

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Strytem Chateau today, where Mercer was billeted for 6 weeks

Awoken early on the morning of 16th June, G Troop marched with the cavalry in sweltering heat, unsure of their orders, only to arrive too late to participate at the battle of Quatre Bras.

Yet the 17th was to bring heroics, as Mercer recounts in his Journal, commanding his G Troop in the retreat through torrential downpours. It seems the day was made for Mercer when he spotted Napoleon, who had long been the scourge of Europe.

On the morning of 18th, G Troop formed part of the reserve artillery. Mercer’s initial desire to support Major Lloyd’s foot artillery led to a reprimand, following which he was posted to the right rear of the allied line. Receiving some light incoming fire, Mercer disobeyed Wellington’s orders and commenced counter-battery fire, only to receive the attention of much heavier fire. He desisted, but only after G Troop had sustained its first casualty.

Mid afternoon Frazer galloped up with the urgent order to move to the centre of the line, and to expect attack by cavalry on arrival. Mercer’s Journal describes; “We breathed a new atmosphere – the air was suffocatingly hot, resembling that issuing from an oven. We were enveloped in thick smoke, and malgré the incessant roar of cannon and musketry, could distinctly hear around us a mysterious humming noise, like that which one hears of a summer’s evening proceeding from myriads of black beetles; cannon-shot, too, ploughed the ground in all directions, and so thick was the hail of balls and bullets that it seemed dangerous to extend the arm lest it should be torn off.”

Mercer just had time to slap his guns into position when the French cavalry crested the rise 100 yards away. Double-shotted with case-shot (canisters containing hundreds of musket balls) and roundshot his cannon piled up French men and horses before them, as each fresh discharge increased the carnage before them. Charge after charge, the effect was the same.

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The blind French Cavalry slope, above which Mercer stood with his guns

Over his shoulder the Brunswick infantry in square were composed of young soldiers, and Mercer decided to remain at his guns, again against orders, rather than retire to the safety of the infantry squares. When the French cavalry retired they took individual shots at Mercer, and yet despite close shaves from both bullet and cannon-ball he remained untouched.

Towards the end of the day the French artillery fire became hotter than ever, and G Troop were enfiladed from the side until saved by fresh allied artillery. Exhausted by their exertions, they collapsed and slept where they had fought. Firing over 700 rounds on the day, at last Mercer and G Troop had their moment of glory.

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Mercer’s G Troop memorial on the Waterloo battlefield today

On the morning of the 19th Mercer’s Journal reflects seriousness, sensitivity and compassion as his men sought to give succor to the wounded.

Mercer’s Journal of the Waterloo Campaign then tells of the march to Paris, and his frustration at finally achieving promotion to full Captain, but at the cost of leaving his beloved G Troop. Briefly returning to England in the Autumn he found his wife seriously ill, his first son dead and a newborn infant also dead. His father died in 1816, and sadly his wife died following childbirth in 1817, although that son, named Cavalié, went on to lead an accomplished life.

Left alone in the world with a young son to raise, Mercer also found himself a victim of post-war reductions. He served firstly in the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers, before being placed on half-pay. Rejoining in 1823, he sailed to Quebec, and after breaks of leave and a return to England, he was posted in 1938, now as Lt Colonel, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. His paintings from the time are now treasured by Canadians as an early record of their nation.

After a period commanding at Dover, he settled in Exeter, a City that he had often delighted in during his younger days. He never fully retired, reaching the rank of full general in 1865, just three years before his death at the age of 85.

One of eight RHA troops at Waterloo, why has Mercer become the most famous? The other RHA troop captains had already achieved brevet promotions to the army rank of Major or Lt Colonel, some carrying a knighthood or CBE. These RHA troops led by Bean, Bull, Gardiner, Ramsay, Ross, Webber-Smith and Whinyates all performed with gallantry, with Bean and Ramsay killed in action, and Bull, Webber-Smith and Whinyates wounded.

Many artillery officers also left first-hand accounts of the battle, most particularly in response to Siborne’s requests in compiling a cartographic and written record of the Battle. Yet none left such a distinguished literary account of the entire campaign. Whilst many were exposed to fire and danger for longer, none delivered such a sustained intensity of fire. Mercer’s fame is also partially due to his disobeying of orders, and to the fact that he was, by far, the most junior RHA troop commander at Waterloo (and the British do have a habit of admiring the under-dog).

Mercer did not live to enjoy his fame. His son published his Journal in 1870, two years after Mercer’s death. Today the proud memory of Mercer’s G Troop RHA are sustained by G Parachute Battery (Mercer’s Troop), 7 Para RHA who remain based at Colchester.

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Mercer’s grave, pre-restoration

Today, Mercer’s Waterloo sword is on display at Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, a highly recommended visit.

Mercer’s grave is also being restored for the Waterloo 200 commemorations, and a book of Mercer’s prized watercolours has also been published. You can learn more and get involved by visiting www.gtrooprha.co.uk

Mercer’s direct DNA expired on the death of his son, yet many Mercers remain rightly proud of their kin’s achievements. In the absence of any direct descendants, this article has been written by Mercer historian Robert Pocock.

Sources: Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, General Cavalié Mercer, published by William Blackwood and Sons 1870 / Royal Artillery Historical Trust / Photos courtesy of Robert Pocock

Waterloo & Mercer talks 6th June!

Thank-you to everyone who attended, 72 in all, across all age groups, kindly hosted by the Exeter Civic Society. Visitors from Yorkshire, Leicestershire and London, including descendants of a Bombardier who, with his cousin and another family member all served in G Troop at Waterloo! Special indeed.

It was a pleasure to share so much and to receive such positive comments and information-sharing afterwards.

We are now available for other talks to spread the word and continue to raise funds for the Mercer Grave Restoration Project. Please let me know if you are interested.

Dr Neal Dando is a lecturer in Military History at the University of Exeter. Gordon Read is the author of the book available through this site (see here), and Robert Pocock is the man behind this site and the Mercer Grave Restoration project (see here).

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The Paintings of Alexander Cavalié Mercer 1838-1842

For the first time, a book of Cavalié Mercer’s paintings is available in the UK exclusively though this site, sold in aid of the Mercer Grave Restoration project.

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Exclusively available in the UK for the first time!

British Artillery officer Alexander Cavalié Mercer is most famous for his detailed account of his experiences leading up to and including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Fewer know him as an amateur artist, but Mercer often composed what he called “souvenirs”, paintings and sketches of his postings in Europe and North America. While posted in Halifax, Mercer painted nearly 80 watercolours of the area between 1838 and 1842.

Halifax in Watercolour showcases 50 of Mercer’s best sketches, including paintings of the Citadel, the Commons, Artillery Park, Bedford Basin, Dartmouth, and the Northwest Arm. Additional photographs, maps, and historical context from author Glenn Devanney help the reader situate the site of the painting in the present-day. This is Halifax and history as it was before photographs, a visual treasure trove of the time.

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Alexander Cavalié Mercer’s Point Pleasant Battery, Halifax, Aug 6 1842

Most Waterloo afficianados will know of the black and white head portrait of Mercer. In this book Glenn Devanney has uncovered a full-length colour portrait of Mercer. There will be more on that in a future blog, but you can secure your copy in the book!

Reviews of the book include:

“There are only a handful of cities in Canada with a history as rich and deep as that of Halifax. As a key deepwater port for the British Empire, the city was at the heart of many major movements and conflicts.

In Halifax in Watercolour, Glenn Devanney takes readers on a visual journey back to early-to-mid-1800s Halifax as seen through the eyes — and the paintbrush — of watercolourist Alexander Cavalié Mercer. A British artillery officer who fought against Napoleon at Waterloo, Mercer visited Halifax for only a short time, but his output was extremely productive — more than eighty paintings of landscapes, street scenes, and coastal views.

I found this book a revelation. It depicts a historic Halifax that once was, and of which traces can still be seen today.”

— Mark Reid; Canada’s HISTORY Magazine

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A few of the 100 copies waiting to find a good home

We have 100 exclusive new copies waiting to find good homes in the UK! This book, published in Canada by Nimbus Publishing is only available through this website and is not available in UK  bookshops, Waterstones or Amazon.co.uk.

To secure your copy, just complete the form below, either e-mail it or send it to us, together with your £20 cheque or pay by Paypal. UK Postage is free, and your book will be sent promptly in a protective Jiffy bag. Please ask if you require overseas delivery.

For an extra £5 you can add a copy of Gordon Read’s dramatic poem on the 27th Inniskillings at Waterloo. More on the book here.

Please email me if you would like any copies Christmas or Birthday gift-wrapped and sent with a message of your choice; I’m happy to oblige!

G Troop RHA Book Order Form


Please send me: copies of "Halifax in Watercolour. The Paintings of Alexander Cavalié Mercer 1838-1842, by Glenn Devanney" at £20 each (UK postage included). Profit of £10 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.

Please send me: copies of "The Way of War in the Search For Peace, the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment at Waterloo, a poem by Gordon Read" at £5 each (UK postage included). £5 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.


Method of payment (tick as appropriate

I am enclosing a cheque to the value of made payable to "G Troop RHA" and posted to G Troop RHA, Hamilton House, 9 Old Rydon Ley, Exeter EX2 7UA. (Please print and send with your payment).

I am paying the following amount via Paypal . Payment made by Paypal to donations@gtrooprha.co.uk (please use your surname as a reference) or use the drop-down below to pay directly online.


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Donations to the Mercer Grave Restoration project

If you like what you see, you can make a contribution to the Mercer Grave Restoration Project.

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By purchasing either, or both books, you will be donating to the Mercer Grave Restoration project, including the permissions, restoration of the grave, the signage, and a fund to maintain the grave for the next 100 years. Please open and complete the form below:

G Troop RHA Book Order Form


Please send me: copies of "Halifax in Watercolour. The Paintings of Alexander Cavalié Mercer 1838-1842, by Glenn Devanney" at £20 each (UK postage included). Profit of £10 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.

Please send me: copies of "The Way of War in the Search For Peace, the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment at Waterloo, a poem by Gordon Read" at £5 each (UK postage included). £5 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.


Method of payment (tick as appropriate

I am enclosing a cheque to the value of made payable to "G Troop RHA" and posted to G Troop RHA, Hamilton House, 9 Old Rydon Ley, Exeter EX2 7UA. (Please print and send with your payment).

I am paying the following amount via Paypal . Payment made by Paypal to donations@gtrooprha.co.uk (please use your surname as a reference) or use the drop-down below to pay directly online.


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They Died in Square, the 27th Inniskillings at Waterloo

At the centre of Wellington’s line, the 27th Inniskillings performed prodigies of valour in holding their exposed position despite devastating losses. Ever since they have been lauded as one of the greatest examples of regimental motivation and cohesion under fire.

Rushed from Bermuda, the 27th arrived just in time to serve at Waterloo. Of their 730 officers and men they lost 103 killed and 360 wounded, many of whom later died of their wounds. These losses of 63% were the highest of any allied unit.

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100 copies waiting to find good homes!

In 2005, author Gordon Read, living in Mercer’s home city of Exeter, published his poem “The Way of War in the Search for Peace, the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment at Waterloo”. The 44 page book was written in memory of a friend who had been British Liaison Officer at the French Military Academies at St Cyr. It provides a graphic account of Life and Death in one of Wellington’s famous Squares.

Delightfully presented, the book is available on this site for just £5 (including UK P&P) compared to its original list price of £7.50!

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A sample of the original page layout

Gordon is kindly donating all revenue from his book sales, so the entire £5 goes to the Mercer Grave Restoration Project. You can purchase the book now by completing the form below:

G Troop RHA Book Order Form


Please send me: copies of "Halifax in Watercolour. The Paintings of Alexander Cavalié Mercer 1838-1842, by Glenn Devanney" at £20 each (UK postage included). Profit of £10 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.

Please send me: copies of "The Way of War in the Search For Peace, the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment at Waterloo, a poem by Gordon Read" at £5 each (UK postage included). £5 per sale to be donated to the Mercer Grave Restoration project.


Method of payment (tick as appropriate

I am enclosing a cheque to the value of made payable to "G Troop RHA" and posted to G Troop RHA, Hamilton House, 9 Old Rydon Ley, Exeter EX2 7UA. (Please print and send with your payment).

I am paying the following amount via Paypal . Payment made by Paypal to donations@gtrooprha.co.uk (please use your surname as a reference) or use the drop-down below to pay directly online.


Your details

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Book & donation choice





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