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would immediately withdraw from the Danube, and would
sacrifice without a struggle the grand object of the whole
campaign.^ The Elector, ardent by nature and thirsting
for revenge, was eager to fall upon an enemy whom he
regarded as already in retreat. Tallard apparently had some
misgivings. He wanted at first to remain at Hochstadt,
but he deferred to the opinion of Max Emanuel and Marsin,
who knew the country, and also of those French officers who
had served in it under Villars. None of the three com-
manders had any certain intelligence of the allies' movements
or designs. Letters from Donauworth to the Elector de-
clared that the Margrave of Baden was still at Tngolstadt.
Having no independent evidence by which to check the
veracity of this statement, Marsin and Tallard recommended
that some prisoners might be captured and interrogated on
the point. For the purpose of this somewhat unscientific
test of truth, the skirmish at Tapfheim was arranged. It
produced four witnesses, who unanimously deposed that the
Margrave and all his men had joined the army of Eugene
and Marlborough. Possibly the Elector regarded the state-
ments of these hardy liars as a complete confirmation of
the news which he had received from Donauworth. But
Tallard was somewhat nervous, and proposed the con-
struction of a redoubt on the highroad which runs from
Donauworth to Dillingen. The Elector begged him not to
disturb the earth. D'Arco, untaught by his melancholy
experience at the Schellenberg, dismissed the idea of an

^ In the MS. I found only the form Blindheim. but Blenheim being more
generally known I have distinguished between the name of the battle and
the name of the village, by using in the one instance the English version
Blenheim, and in the other the German form Blindheim. — G. W. T.

' Feuquieres, t. iii., pp. 3G4, 3G6, 367.



assault upon the French position with contemptuous ridicule.
Had Tallard been absolutely convinced of the fact that the
Margrave was still at Ingolstadt, he too would have been
quite easy in his mind. For Tallard was at least as incapable
as his colleagues of believing that Eugene and Marlborough
could be so neglectful of the rules as to deliver a frontal
attack upon a numerically superior force occupying a strong
position. The whole situation is a good example of the
paramount importance in war of understanding the mentality
of your antagonist and of procuring reliable information as
to his numbers and probable intentions. When the Elector
and the Marshals went to their beds that night, they were
already half beaten. They imagined that the campaign was
as good as over. But all their hopes and plans were built
upon a rotten foundation of assumption and conjecture.

The French and Bavarians took their suppers gaily. The
Comte de Merode-Westerloo, a Flemish officer, who was
serving in Tallard's army, and who survived to realise the
tragic irony of that last evening, has recorded \\ith what
hearty appetites and in what exalted spirits his comrades
sat down to eat and drink in the village of Blindheim. He
has recorded also how he himself slept better than he ever
slept before.-^ But only five miles away, on the banks of the
Kessel, there was joy of a sterner kind. And Marlborough
in his tent was on his knees.

At 2 o'clock the allied forces were in motion. Unen-
cumbered by their baggage, which had been sent back
towards Donauworth, they passed the Kessel at 3, over
bridges previously prepared, and advanced towards the
Reichin. Marlborough's army marched upon the left, and
Eugene's upon the right, and each in four columns. Arrived
at the Reichin, they halted, whilst the Duke with the help
of the troops that had been posted at Tapfheim drew out
a fifth column on his extreme left. The advance was then
resumed until Schweiningen was reached, when Marlborough
and Eugene rode forward with an escort of forty squadrons
to observe the enemy. A dank , white mist lay thickly on the
plain; but at 6 this party was discovered by the French
outposts, who immediately fell back and alarmed the detach-
ments stationed at Unterglauheim and in the water-mills

^ M&moires de MSrode-Westerloo (1840), p. 298.


before Blindheim. Meantime, assisted by a Prussian officer
who had fought at Hochstadt in the preceding year, the
aUied generals surveyed the ground before them, so far
as it was visible through the clinging haze. They had
decided that Marlborough's army, which numbered 34,000
men, should attack from the Danube to Oberglauheim,
while Eugene's, which numbered only 18,000, should attack
from Oberglauheim to the mountains. As therefore the nine
columns moved slowly forward from Schweiningen over the
ever-broadening plain, their lines of march continually
diverged, until the whole array, 52,000 in all, spread out
towards the French position Hke the ribs of a gigantic fan.
So unconscious of their peril were the Elector and the
Marshals that at daybreak they had dispatched some con-
siderable parties of cavalry to forage. They had early
intelligence that the enemy was stirring; but their attitude
was one of " perfect tranquillity and infinite satisfaction at
having forced M. le Prince Eugene and M. de Marlborough
to quit Bavaria."^ The reports of the outposts, who had
been startled by the appearance of the forty squadrons,
did not disturb them. Assuming, as they had all along
assumed, that the allies must now retire to Nordlingen, it
was only natural that the movement should be masked by a
screen of cavalry. In those early morning hours, Tallard
himself, the least complacent of the three, was actually
writing to Versailles that the enemy were on the move, and
that according to " the rumour of the countryside,"^ they
were bound for Nordlingen. But now the mists began to
roll away, and by 7 the landscape stood revealed in the
radiance of the August sun. The allied army was plainly
visible; but even now its intentions were not apparent to
commanders blinded by their own preconceptions. Eugene's
infantr}^ marching in two columns along the skirts of the
mountains, and protected on the side of the French by the
two columns of his cavalry, was at first assumed to be the
vanguard of the allies on their way to Nordlingen. But
the direction taken by the five columns under Marlborough
did not coincide with this hypothesis. Coming steadily on
towards the French right and centre, they halted and began
to deploy. At last the reality of the situation was recognised.

^ Feuquieres, t. iii., p. 367. ^ Campagnede Tallard (i'j62),t.ii., p. 140,


The silent camp sprang instantly to life. Drums beat, and
trumpets pealed. The soldiers poured from their tents
and hastily assumed their places in the ranks. Cannon
were discharged to recall the foragers from the fields. The
baggage- waggons of Tallard's army rushed precipitately out
of Blindheim to seek a safer position in the rear. The
Elector and the two Marshals ascended the steeple of that
village to view the dispositions of the enemy. And here and
there upon the plain the smoke of flaming hamlets rolled up
against the blueness of the sky. To impede the march of
the allies and to deprive them of all cover, the French and
Bavarians set fire to vSchwenenbach, Berghausen, Wolper-
stetten, Weilheim, and Unterglauheim, and also to the mills
before Blindheim. This operation forms a curious com-
mentary on the horror which its authors had so recently
expressed at the devastation of Bavaria. The ethical dis-
tinction between destroying private property for strategical,
reasons and destroying it for tactical ones is not easy to

The three armies drew up in the order in which they had
encamped. Tallard's on the right, Marsin's in the centre,
and the Elector's on the left. Numbering in all some
56,000 men, they had an advantage of at least 4,000
over the forces of their assailants. The space between
Blindheim and the Danube, which measures about a furlong,
was secured by a barricade of waggons, and defended by
twelve squadrons of dismounted dragoons, whose horses
had perished of a malady contracted in Alsace. Blindheim
itself was occupied by sixteen battalions of Tallard's foot
and half a battalion of artillery, who fined the palisades and
hedges, loop-holed the walls, and closed the openings with
improvised obstacles of every kind. In rear of the village
stood eleven more battafions, in readiness to reinforce the
garrison, or to expel the enemy, if by any chance he should
succeed in capturing the post. On the brow of the slope,
from Blindheim nearly to Oberglauheim, Tallard's cavalry,
5,500 strong, were ranked in two lines. They were supported
by the infantry behind Blindheim, and by nine battalions
and four squadrons of dismounted dragoons, drawn up
behind their centre. Towards Oberglauheim they came into


touch with thirty-two squadrons of Marsin's cavalry, which,
likewise in two lines, extended behind and beyond that village.
Oberglauheim itself was defended by fourteen battalions
of Marsin's foot. To the left of the thirty-two squadrons
the line was continued by seventeen battahons of infantry
and terminated in front of Lutzingen by fifty-one squadrons
of French and Bavarian horse. The extreme left was pro-
tected against a flank attack by nine battalions of Bavarian
foot, thrown back en potence. The artillery, consisting of
eighty-two field-guns and eight pieces of heavier calibre,
was judiciously distributed from end to end of the entire line.
This order of battle has been censured by judges, both
competent and incompetent, with an almost unparalleled
severity. Feuquieres^ professes to have detected in the tac-
tics of his countrymen no fewer than twelve specific blunders,
of which six at least may be described as errors of disposition.
But in justice to both victors and vanquished it must
be admitted that this form of criticism has been somewhat
overdone. Louis' generals had already committed grave
faults; but neither Tallard nor Marsin was a fool, and the
Elector was an experienced, and even a distinguished
soldier. All three acted in concert and were jointly re-
sponsible for the preliminary arrangements. The Bavarian
officers and many of the French ones were thoroughly ac-
quainted with the ground, which indeed was recognised
by both sides to have been well adapted for the purposes
of defence. The presumption is that the dispositions made
must have been suitable in the main to the line of country
which it was proposed to hold. That presumption is not
greatly shaken by the arguments of the critics. It is said,
for example, that Tallard ought not to have shut up twenty-
eight battalions of foot in the village of Blindheim. He
ought not; and he did not. The battalions which he placed
in Blindheim numbered sixteen. Yet this untruth, accom-
panied by appropriate commentary, is to be found in almost
all the writings on the subject. It is said that Tallard's
army ought not to have encamped and fought as a separate
unit. But Tallard's horses were infected with a dangerous
disease, which would have been communicated to those of

^ Feuquieres, t. iii., pp. 382-387.


Marsin and the Elector, if the troops had coalesced. It is
said that, as a result of this division, the centre of the whole
line was composed of the cavalry of the inner wings of both
armies. But though it was usual at that period to form the
centre of infantry, the rule was not so sacrosanct that it
could not be broken, if the nature of the ground or other
circumstances favoured such a course. The Elector and the
Marshals had plenty of time to make whatever dispositions
they considered proper; and the fact that they adopted an
exceptional formation suggests that, in their judgment,
the occasion was exceptional. That the}^ should have ven-
tured under any conditions to depart from one of the cast-
iron customs of the orthodox school, is evidence that they
were soldiers of a less pedantic order than most of their
contemporaries. Moreover, it is not strictly accurate to
say that their centre was composed of cavalry alone. For
behind this cavalry were nine battalions of Tallard's foot,
while before it, in the village of Oberglauheim, were fourteen
of Marsin's. It is evident that the Elector and the Marshals
considered that, from Unterglauheim to the mills, their line
was so well protected by the Nebel swamps that no serious
attack was to be anticipated in that quarter.

While Marlborough's columns were deploying, and
Eugene's were still filing toward their appointed places on
the right, the two commanders made a careful scrutiny of
the enemy's line. Whether they discovered at this time,
or at any time, those numerous mistakes which subsequently
became apparent to the critics, may well be doubted. They
could not fail to observe, however, that the distance between
Blindheim and Oberglauheim was too great to be entirely
swept by a converging fire from the cannon in those villages.
On the other hand, officers whom they had sent to examine
the Nebel and its banks, reported that the ground from
Unterglauheim to the mills, though superficially hardened
by the summer sun, was difficult for infantry and well-nigh
impossible for horse. Below the mills the stream could be
easily forded ; but there the village of Blindheim, which the
enemy appeared to be converting into a fortress, barred the
way. Above Unterglauheim a similar obstacle was presented
by the village of Oberglauheim. From this point onward


to the mountains there seemed to be some opportunity of
engaging the enemy upon terms of comparative equaUty.
His left flank, though shielded by the wooded heights, was
certainly less secure than his right. Marlborough and
Eugene concluded that the quarter, in which he derived least
advantage from the nature of the ground, was exactly the
quarter in which he would expect to be assailed most strongly.
Determined to encourage him in that idea, they agreed that
Eugene should deliver a vigorous attack upon the hostile
left. If it succeeded, the position would be turned. But
whether it succeeded or not, it would serve as a feint, which
would distract the attention of the defenders, while Marl-
borough sought to strike a decisive blow at the point where
it was least anticipated.

That precise point the Duke had still to ascertain. But he
was disposed to find it on the long low ridge where he saw
the squadrons of Tallard stretched out in a double line from
Blindheim to Oberglauheim. He knew that the marshes
were a formidable obstacle; and he inferred, from the un-
orthodox arrangement of the enemy's army, that Tallard,
who of course knew it also, relied too strongly on this fact.
He therefore resolved to traverse the marshes as best he
might, and endeavour with superior forces to pierce the
enemy's line upon the ridge beyond.

But Marlborough did not assume, as the critics have
assumed, that his opponent was an idiot. On the contrary,
he took it for granted that Tallard had a rational plan,
and that his own business was to penetrate that plan. Now,
there are four ways of defending a stream, and each of the
four may be justified by success. Firstly, you may occupy
positions upon the enemy's side, and resist his approach.
Secondly, you may hold the bank upon your own side and
dispute the actual crossing. Thirdly, you may permit him
to attempt the passage and fall upon him in the midst of the
operation. And fourthly, you may allow him to come over
and to thrust himself into a prepared position from which he
will not easily escape. It was plain that Tallard had not
adopted the first of these methods. And judging by the
distance of his lines from the brink of the Nebel, he did not
propose to adopt the second, or even the third. Apparently,
I. 14


he had selected the last. Apparently, if the allies should
after all attempt to pass the Nebel in force (a contingency
which Tallard deemed improbable), the Marshal would wait
till they were safely over, only to charge them in the front
with horse, while the infantry of Blindheim and Oberglau-
heim sallied out upon their flanks. Attacked on three sides,
they would be pushed back into the marshes and there anni-
hilated. vSuch in reality was Tallard's plan. It was con-
ceived in the true spirit of defensive warfare. Had it suc-
ceeded, the critics would have compared it to Hannibal's
manceuvre at Cannae, and would have acclaimed its author
as a masterly tactician. Because it failed, they denounce
him as a criminal blunderer. Marlborough fell into no such
error. He saw the trap, or the risk that there was one.
He saw also what was necessary to be done. BHndheim
and Oberglauheim must be assaulted so strongly that the
infantry which held them would be far too busy to partici-
pate in the combined movement necessary to the success of
Tallard's tactics. H either or both of those villages could
be carried, so much the better. But, in any event, their
garrisons must not be permitted to assail the flanks of that
force which was to pass the marshes and hurl itself against
the cavalry upon the ridge.

Although the Duke must have suspected that he might be
allowed to pass the Nebel without serious opposition, he
did not rashly take it for granted. In anticipation of every
eventuality, he deployed his troops, other than those of the
column on his extreme left, in a fashion not recommended
in the text-books.-"- He arranged them in four lines, the in-
fantry in the first and fourth, the cavalry in the second and
third. The infantry in the first were destined to traverse
the stream and secure the opposite bank, while the cavalry
of the second and third were crossing; and the infantry of
the fourth were to line the hither bank in support of the
operation. The engineers were ordered to the front. Five
pontoons were laid; the stone bridge at Unterglauheim,
which the enemy had broken down, was hastily repaired;
and the thirty-five squadrons of the second line of horse
were commanded to collect fascines.

The opportunity, which the motions of the allied army

^ "Bizarre," Feuquieres, t. iii., p. 370.


presented to artillery, did not go unobserved by the enemy's
gunners. Between 8 and 9 they opened fire by the right;
and in quick succession, all their ninety pieces, from
Blindheim to Lutzingen, came into action. Marlborough's
batteries, working under the eye of the Duke himself, replied
at once; but Eugene's, which were greatly impeded by diffi-
cult and broken ground, were very late in opening. The
allies had only fifty-two guns in all, and on the whole they
had the disadvantage of position. In these circumstances,
the odds in such a duel were at least two to one in favour
of the French, who moreover exhibited all their traditional
skill in the manipulation of this arm. Men were falhng fast,
when Eugene took leave of the Duke and rode off to super-
intend the deployment of the columns of the right.

For Marlborough and his army there now ensued a long
and anxious pause. Their artillery was splendidly served,
but it was overmatched ; and horse and foot were constrained
to endure the slow torment of the French cannonade through
hour after hour of galling inactivity. They bore their punish-
ment as only troops, in which the Teutonic strain predomin-
ated, could have borne it. The Duke's example consoled
and inspired them all. He commanded the chaplains to
conduct a service of prayer and intercession at the head
of every regiment. He instructed the surgeons as to the
proper stations for the field-hospitals. In full view of the
enemy's gunners he cantered slowly down the lines, observ-
ing with satisfaction the order and the spirit of the men.
A round-shot struck the earth beneath his charger's hoofs.
With a thrill of horror the soldiers saw him vanish in a cloud
of dust. But graceful and serene as ever he emerged un-
scathed ; and a great sigh of reUef went up from the thousands
that had given him their love and trust. "He told me,"
says Burnet, " he never saw more evident characters of a
special Providence than appeared that day."-"-

The Duke had need of all the strength that he could derive
from his natural resolution and his religious faith. It is
" a truth of the first importance," said Clausewitz, " that to
attack an enemy thoroughly inured to War, in a good position,

1 Burnet, vol. iv., p. 51 (compare the remark of Wellington, after
Waterloo, " The linger of God was upon me ").


is a critical thing. "-^ To the allies the strategical conse-
quences of failure would be appalling. To Marlborough him-
self the personal consequences would be ruin and disgrace.
And the material circumstances, artillery, numbers, situa-
tion, homogeneity of forces, the unexpected and costly
delay upon the right wing, all appeared inimical to the pros-
pects of success. But in war the things that are seen count
for far less than the things that are not seen. The story of
the Schellenberg was still fresh. It was common talk among
the soldiers upon both sides. The confidence of the French,
founded though it was upon long years of triumph, had been
shaken. The confidence of the alhes had risen to great
heights. Moreover, as Clausewitz also has observed, " one
of the most important principles for offensive War is the sur-
prise of the enemy. The more the attack partakes of the
nature of a surprise, the more successful we may expect to
be."^ This advantage Marlborough and Eugene had al-
ready secured. The popular idea of a surprise is an ambus-
cade like Sanna's Post, or a nocturnal scramble like Sedge-
moor. But the word has a far wider interpretation in
war. The French and Bavarians had six hours to prepare
for action. Nevertheless they were effectively surprised.
When an army which is assumed not only to be afraid to
give battle but to be actually retreating on its base, is sud-
denly discovered to be marching boldly to the attack, a
moral surprise of immense value has been achieved. Work-
ing on the imaginative and mercurial temperament of French
soldiers, such a surprise may produce great results.

Totally unmoved by any sense of personal danger, the
Duke completed his inspection. He then permitted him-
self to take some refreshment. But every minute his anxiety
increased. Until Eugene informed him that the right was
in position, the attack could not begin. But the columns
of the right were still wading through streams, and stumbling
over shallow ways, and painfully extending themselves
under the fire of Marsin's artillery and the Elector's. Horse-
man after horseman dashed off from Marlborough to his
colleague; but always the answer came back that the time
was not yet. The sun shone brilliantly on acres of yellow

1 Clausewitz, On War, vol. iii., book vii., ch. ix.

2 Ibid., vol. iii.. Summary of Instruction.


grain, slashed with long, glittering lines of scarlet, blue, and
steel. The music of both armies rose and fell in challeng-
ing pseans. And always the cannon boomed across the
marshy stream, and men and horses were cut down, now
singly, and now in swathes, and the dismal procession of
wounded trailed slowly to the rear. The heat became in-
tense, for it was now high noon. The day was half spent, and
already the casualties of the allies amounted to 2,000, when
an aide-de-camp of Eugene's came racing from the distant
right. The moment had arrived.

Down by the Danube that ninth column, which Marl-
borough had formed at Tapfheim, had deployed into six
lines, four of infantry and two of horse. Most of the
troops were British. The Duke commanded Lord Cutts to
launch them against Blindheim. At a quarter to i, Rowe's
Brigade, which formed the first line, and a brigade of Hes-
sians, which formed the second, inclined a little to the right,
marched briskly down to the mills, and passing the fords
under a heavy fire from the cannon posted in and about
Blindheim, halted for a moment on the opposite bank. Here
they obtained some partial shelter from the ground, which
swelled up towards the village. At the same time, the re-
mainder of Marlborough's army, directed by the Duke in
person, moved slowly towards the Nebel.

He, who beyond all others should have been a vigilant
spectator of this advance, saw nothing of it. Prepossessed,
Hke his colleagues, with the notion that the real attack was
to be made at the opposite extremity of the position, and
imagining that the deployment of the enemy was still far

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 44)