Ensign Charles Ewart lived from 1769 to 23 May 1846. He is remembered for capturing the regimental eagle of the French 45th Regiment of the Line at the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday 18 June 1815. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Charles Ewart was born at Biddles Farm near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire in 1769. At the age of 20 he enlisted in the army, joining the Royal North British Dragoons, a cavalry regiment better known by its unofficial name of the Scots Greys. Ewart saw action a number of times during the French Revolutionary Wars between 1792 and 1802, being briefly captured by the French on one occasion.
At the time of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 he was a 45 year old sergeant in the regiment and viewed as an expert rider and swordsman. He was said to be a heavily built man well over six feet tall "of Herculean strength". At the start of the battle the Scots Greys formed part of a heavy cavalry brigade held in reserve by Wellington. They entered the fray by passing through the 92nd Regiment of Foot, the Gordon Highlanders, completely surprising the French 45th Regiment of the Line who were engaging the Gordon Highlanders at the time. The French regiment broke apart and the eagle serving as the regimental standard was seized by Sergeant Ewart in the midst of fierce hand to hand fighting. Ewart was ordered to return the captured eagle to safety and took it to Brussels while the battle continued.
Ewart's capture of the eagle rapidly entered folklore and he became a celebrity after being invited by Sir Walter Scott to address a Waterloo dinner in Leith in 1816. Ewart was promoted to ensign (second lieutenant) and retired from the army in 1821, moving with his wife to Salford near Manchester. Here he supplemented his army pension by teaching swordsmanship. When he died in 1846 Ewart was buried in the graveyard of a Salford church. The area was subsequently redeveloped and the graveyard paved over. Ewart's body was located and exhumed in 1938 and he was reburied beneath a large granite memorial on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. He is also remembered in the name of the Ensign Ewart, a pub at the top of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.