Alexander Cavalié Mercer is arguably the most famous junior artillery officer in British history, and certainly the most quoted on the topic of Waterloo.
After a frustrating military career during the height of the Napoleonic wars, he achieved his destiny at Waterloo where, in 1815, he led his six-gun ‘G Troop’ of the Royal Horse Artillery to fame. As remarkable as his exploits were, he received true renown only after his death when his son published, in 1870, “Mercer’s Journal of the Waterloo Campaign”.
The finest witness account of the Waterloo campaign, his two-volume Journal is now much admired, quoted and debated by historians and enthusiasts alike.
Mercer’s achievements are legendary. By far the most junior and inexperienced RHA troop commander at Waterloo, he became the most celebrated. Often credited with saving the Brunswickers and turning the tide of the massed French cavalry attacks, he famously used his initiative, for better or worse, in defiance of the Duke of Wellington’s orders.
Born in 1783, he lived to the ripe old age of 85, and is buried in the City that he chose as his home, Exeter. Although he eventually rose to the rank of General, his true fame was as 2nd Captain, commanding ‘G Troop’ throughout the Waterloo campaign and the subsequent march on Paris.
On 16th June 1815, having marched all day in sweltering heat, Mercer’s six-gun horse artillery troop arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Quatre Bras, but the next day it distinguished itself with the cavalry rearguard, retreating through apocalyptic weather storms. During the afternoon of 18th June ‘G Troop’ were called into the thick of the fighting near the centre of the line. There they achieved conspicuous success, repulsing repeated charges by French heavy cavalry until evening brought both total victory and total exhaustion.
Today the position of Mercer’s G Troop is marked in a prominent position on the allied ridge with a fine memorial, here being admired by HRH Prince Charles accompanied by the current Duke of Wellington:
Mercer’s Journal vividly portrays the countryside of Belgium, the architecture, his colleagues, the local populace and the sensations of battle. It mentions his old dog Bal and his little horse Cossack, who both accompanied him on campaign. The Journal demonstrates the many qualities of its author, his culture, sensitivity, humour, professionalism, bravery, honesty and compassion.
After Waterloo Mercer twice served in British North America before being appointed commander of Dover Castle. Many of his fine watercolours are now treasured by Canadians as an early record of their nation’s history.
Commissioned into the Royal Artillery at the age of 16, Mercer fondly recalled his early visits to Exeter. By 1850 he had established a home on the edge of Exeter at Cowley Cottage, Cowley Hill. His sister Theodosia lived nearby in Elm Grove Road. Their father, General Alexander Mercer of the Royal Engineers is buried in Exeter Cathedral.
Today Mercer and his men are remembered through the Honour Title awarded to and proudly celebrated by his troop, G Parachute Battery (Mercer’s Troop), 7 Para RHA, which, like Mercer’s ‘G Troop’ in early 1815, is still based in Colchester.
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P.S. Our extended piece on Cavalié Mercer is in the Waterloo 200 Descendants Book. You can read more about it here.