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The wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) online

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from completion, Tallard had ridden to the left to observe
the preparations of Max Emanuel and Marsin. A quarter
of an hour after his departure Marlborough's men were ob-
served to be in motion. It was precisely at this juncture
that the moral advantages possessed by the allies bore deadly
fruit. The officer entrusted with the defence of BHndheim,
Lieutenant-General the Marquis de Clerembault, seems to
have been one of those whose firmness had already been
shaken by the confident and wholly unexpected strategy
of Marlborough and Eugene. For now when he beheld
the scarlet lines descending to the Nebel and reahsed that he
himself was actually confronted by the very troops, whose



214 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

astonishing resolution at the Schellenberg was in the mouths
of all men, he lost his head. Although the forces in Blind-
heim were already adequate, and more than adequate, for
its defence, in an access of nervous apprehension he called
in to their assistance the eleven battalions which Tallard
had disposed in rear of the village. This movement danger-
ously weakened the French army in the open, while in Blind-
heim it produced inconvenient and unnecessary congestion.
But the Marshal was not there to see and countermand it.
Clerembault's fault was gross, and more than any other com-
mitted on that day contributed to the loss of the battle.

General Rowe dismounted, and sword in hand stepped to
the front of his brigade. Straight up the slope he went, and
after him in perfect order and silence went the five British
battalions. The French, well covered by their defences,
and outnumbering their assailants by five to one, waited
like the veteran troops that most of them were, till the dis-
tance had dropped to thirty yards. Then all the crowded
front of Blindheim village broke into long sheets of spluttering
flame. The redcoats fell like leaves; but tightening their
ranks, and fixing their eyes upon the figure of their leader,
erect and shadowy amid the blinding smoke, they still held
on. From those tortured lines no answering shot leapt back,
for Rowe had ordered that not a trigger should be drawn
until he reached the palisade. Unscathed he reached it.
He struck his sword into the timber, and looked round. It
was the signal. The English volley crashed, and fortunate
indeed were Tallard's men that they did not receive it in the
open field.-"^ The officers sprang forward. Steel clashed
on steel across the hedges and stockades. But the odds
were too overpowering. Some of the finest regiments in the
French service were in action here. Their unshaken volleys
swept the Enghsh down. Already one-third of Rowe's
brigade were slain or disabled. Already Rowe himself had
got his mortal wound. Sullenly the shattered ranks receded.
But they had still to reckon with the mounted arm. On
the right of the foremost Hne of Tallard's horse rode that
illustrious body of troops, the Gendarmerie, three
squadrons of whom now passed the village at the trot, and

^ Fontenoy, Quebec.



BLENHEIM 215

driving in upon the English flank, captured the colour of
the 2ist. But their triumph was a brief one; for the Hessian
foot, moving smartly up to the support of comrades, of
whom they were well worthy, hurled back these splendid
cavaliers with ringing volleys. By German hands the
English banner was torn from its captors. The three
squadrons recoiled, and never rallied till they had passed
the Maulweyer. But seeing that others were now in motion,
and realising that the attack on Blindheim could not be
prosecuted under such conditions, Cutts sent back an urgent
request for cavalry. By General Lumley's orders, five
English squadrons from the left of Marlborough's line,
fording the stream and struggling through the marsh, drew
up in good order on the threatened flank. Thereupon eight
squadrons of Gendarmerie rode out as if to charge them;
but to the astonishment of the English, these resplendent
horsemen, who had the double advantage of numbers and
of ground, stopped short, and opened fire with carbines from
the saddle. They were instantly taught the futility of such
tactics in the face of a well-trained cavalry. Marlborough's
troopers went through them sword in hand, and chased them
from the field. But the infantry in Bhndheim poured in a
galling fire upon the flank of the victors, who simultaneously
were charged by fresh squadrons from the right of Tallard's
second line, and driven backward almost to the Nebel. Here,
however, the Hessian infantry again intervened, and by
steady shooting compelled the pursuers to retire.

The remainder of Cutts' infantry now passed the stream;
and Rowe's brigade, reinforced by Ferguson's, resumed the
attack on Blindheim. The French guns, which had been
firing on the fords, were hastily withdrawn. The English
forced their way into the outskirts of the place, but they could
make no permanent impression on the body of it. Three
times they tried, and three times were driven out with cruel
loss. Then Marlborough stopped the slaughter. It had
not been in vain. It had convinced the defenders of Blind-
heim of the serious nature of the attack on their position
and of the resolute character of the men engaged in it. So
long as Cutts' brigades remained within striking distance,
it was unlikely that any of the garrison, very excessive though



2i6 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

it was, would be permitted to quit the village. How very
excessive it was, Marlborough could now conjecture. He
did not know the exact numbers of the foot that were masked
by Tallard's horse, but he was assured now that they were
few. For it was evident that a small army had been placed
in Blindheim. In the Duke's mind the probabihty that
Tallard's squadrons on the ridge were the vulnerable part
of the enemy's line, had now become almost a certainty.
To augment his own preponderance at the decisive point,
he now withdrew the Hanoverians from the fourth hne of
Cutts' detachment, and re-formed them behind the centre.
But to impose upon the defenders of Blindheim and hold them
always at their post, he instructed Cutts to maintain a false
attack upon the village. This order was skilfully executed.
Continually advancing and firing by platoons, these sixteen
or seventeen battalions occupied the attention of twenty-
eight of the enemy besides twelve squadrons of dismounted
dragoons.

During the four assaults on Blindheim and the cavalry
charges which followed on the first repulse, the main body
of Marlborough's army had drawn down towards the Nebel.
With the assistance of pontoons and planks, the infantry
of the first line picked their way across the rivulet and marsh
at various points between Oberglauheim and the mills, and
drew up as rapidly as possible on the opposite bank. The
cavalry followed. Some dismounted and led their chargers;
others threw in fascines; each in his own way endeavoured
to effect a crossing. The operation was necessarily attended
with some disorder. But Tallard, whom the echoing
thunders of the attack on Blindheim had recalled to his own
command, did not yield to the temptation to depart from
his original plan. He permitted the French artillery to
concentrate its fire upon the disorganised groups of men and
horses; but apparently he still adhered to his opinion that
nothing serious was to be anticipated from the alHes in this
quarter. If however they insisted upon thRisting themselves
into his trap, the more of them he could catch, the better he
would be pleased. Unfortunately for himself he neglected
to recall to their proper position the infantry which Clerem-
bault had ordered into Blindheim.



BLENHEIM 217

Riding on the left of the line, the EngHsh squadrons were
compelled to cross two arms of the Nebel and the swampy
island between. But so keen were they to come at the
enemy, that they were the first of the alHed horse to pass
through the intervals in the infantry and ascend the rise.
No sooner were they perceived by Zurlauben, the Swiss
veteran who commanded Tallard's cavalry, than he charged
them in person at the head of the Gendarmerie and some
contiguous squadrons. This movement in no way contra-
vened the general plan of the French Marshal. For Zur-
lauben must naturally have regarded the advance of the
English as merely a renewal of the previous attempt to cover
the flank of the brigades assaulting Blindheim. Aided b}?^
the fire from the village, he drove them back upon their foot,
who shooting steadily at thirty paces brought him at once
to a standstill. Thereupon he was charged in turn by
cavalry from Marlborough's second line, supported by five
English squadrons, drawn from the fifteen under Lord Cutts.
The French were chased to the farther side of the Maulweyer;
but a tremendous fire of musketry from Blindheim forced
the allied horsemen to relinquish the ground which they had
gained.

At the opposite extremity of Marlborough's line the
Danish and Hanoverian cavalry under the Duke of Wiirttem-
berg furnished the gunners in Oberglauheim with an excellent
target as they struggled across the stream. Before they had
time to recover their order, Marsin, who did not adapt his
system of defence to the plans of Tallard, launched the
squadrons of his right upon them, and drove them backwards
to the very brink of the Nebel and even beyond it. But
Churchill's infantry repulsed the pursuers; and Wiirttemberg
quickly rallied his troops. Returning to the charge, he
found it impossible to endure the flanking fire from Ober-
glauheim. This post had been long and vigorously cannon-
aded by Marlborough's artillery; and eleven battalions under
the Prince of Holstein-Beck had been chosen to attack it.
At the head of his men the Prince now passed the Nebel a
little above the village. Blainville, who commanded there,
was a stronger tactician than Clerembault, and he knew how
to execute Marsin's idea to perfection. No sooner had the



2i8 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

two leading battalions of the allies set foot upon dry ground
than he drew out of the village as many as nine, including
the Irish Brigade in the service of France, and prepared to
charge. Perceiving his peril, the Prince sent instantly to
the nearest squadrons of Eugene's cavalry for aid. By a
rapid advance they could have saved his right flank, which
the enemy's longer line was threatening to envelop. But
they refused to stir. Blainville gave the word; and dashing
furiously down the slope, the torrent of Keltic valour carried
all before it. One of the Prince's two battalions was annihi-
lated. He himself was mortally wounded, and captured
by the victors.

The allied army was now in grave danger. Blainville's
brilliant counter-stroke was cutting it in twain at its very
centre. If Marsin could follow up the movement more
rapidly than Marlborough could stem it, the battle might be
won for France. The Duke galloped instantly to the scene
of the disaster, and leading forward three fresh Hanoverian
battalions in support of the detachment of the Prince of
Holstein-Beck, he passed the Nebel and engaged the infantry
of Blainville with superior numbers. Reinforcing Wiirttem-
berg with some Dutch squadrons, he effectually covered his
own left while he threatened Blainville's right. At the same
time he dispatched an urgent request to Eugene for mounted
men. Eugene had need of every trooper; but knowing that
his colleague would ask no more than imperative necessity
required, he sent him, without a moment's hesitation, a
powerful body of Imperialist cuirassiers. Blainville was
already falling back, when by Marsin's orders a detachment
of French cavalry rode out to his assistance, and formed upon
his left. This was the movement which Marlborough had
dreaded, and had sought to anticipate by his message to
Eugene. Marsin was just too late. Even as his squadrons
bore down upon the Duke's defenceless right, the cuirassiers,
coming up at the gallop, charged them in flank. The situa-
tion was saved. Blainville withdrew in haste to the shelter
of the village. The Prince of Holstein-Beck, bleeding pro-
fusely from several wounds, was abandoned by his captors.
Wiirttemberg continued to advance. And Marlborough,
having ordered up some cannon to secure the ground which



BLENHEIM 219

had been gained, instructed the officers upon the spot to
imitate the tactics of Cutts at BHndheim, and content them-
selves with holding the garrison of Oberglauheim in the
strictest check.

It was now past 3 o'clock. The Duke dispatched his
aide-de-camp, Lord Tunbridge, to ascertain exactly how
matters stood upon the right wing. All this time Eugene
had been loyally executing his share of the compact. He
had formed the whole of his infantry on the right and the
whole of his cavalry on the left. When Cutts advanced
against BHndheim, Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau led forward the
Prince's foot to the attack of Lutzingen. Covered by the
fire of a battery, which had with difficulty been posted on
the heights, seven battalions of Danes and eleven of Prussians
moved down towards the Nebel, which here breaks up into
numerous streamlets. The rough and boggy nature of the
ground delayed their progress; and a good half-hour elapsed
before they came into contact with the enemy. But as soon
as the right of the Imperialist horse had passed the stream
and formed upon his left, Leopold charged. At first all
went well. On the extreme right the Danes attacked the
Bavarian foot, while the Prussians, driving the enemy
back 400 paces, stormed their great battery in front of
Lutzingen and captured it. The cavalry broke the Elector's
first line of horse, and chased it to the shelter of the second.
But the second fell furiously upon the victors, and swept
them back across the Nebel. Wheeling sharply to the left,
the Bavarian Life Guards rode in upon the flank of the Prus-
sian foot. These splendid soldiers faced the onset without
flinching. Not until the Bavarian infantry came pouring
back from Lutzingen did they at length give way. The
Danes, whose left flank was now exposed, retired also. The
guns were relinquished to their rightful owners, and ten
colours were lost. Leopold exerted himself to the utmost
to restore order; but only when the fringe of the wood was
reached, did discipline reassert itself. Eugene in the mean-
time had been rallying his cavalry. Strengthened by their
own left, which had not hitherto been engaged, they returned
towards the Nebel. Thereupon the Elector's squadrons
prudently retreated. Eugene led on his men to a second



220 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

charge. Again they were successful at the first; but the
infantry were not yet ready to support them, and the con-
verging fire from the battery before Lutzingen and the cannon
of Oberglauheim, was too hot to be endured. The Im-
periaUsts faltered, broke into utter confusion, and fled back
across the Nebel. It was now, when his infantry had been
once repulsed and his cavalry twice, that Eugene was asked
for that assistance which he rendered with such unquestion-
ing promptitude.

A second time the Prince rallied his beaten horsemen.
Then ensued a long and awful pause. For three-quarters
of an hour, at a distance of no more than sixty paces, the
cavalry of both sides sat still upon their panting horses,
while in full view of the hostile lines Max Emanuel and
Eugene rode up and down the ranks with words of exhorta-
tion and encouragement. Away on the right Leopold was
still re-forming the Danes and Prussians.

It was now 4 o'clock. Both armies had been under fire
for more than seven hours, and in physical contact for three.
The heat was intense. The allies, in particular, who had
been afoot before sunrise, and none of whom had marched
fewer than five miles before coming into action, were feeling
the full effects of their exertions. The lull upon the right
extended also to the left. All along the Nebel, from the
mountains to the Danube, the combat hung suspended for
a time. It was evident that the crisis was at hand. The
defenders assumed that they were winning. Four times
upon their right they had repulsed the assailants of Blindheim,
Twice upon the left they had swept back the cavalry of
Eugene, while his infantry, victorious at first, had been
ultimately crushed and driven to the shelter of the woods.
In the centre, with one brilliant charge they had all but split
the allied army in twain. And now, in this prolonged
hesitancy of the attack, they not unnaturally detected the
approaching paralysis of exhaustion.

Lesser men than Eugene and Marlborough might have
fallen into the same error. " Before 3," wrote the Duke's
chaplain, " I thought we had lost the day."^ But the Prince

1 Hare MSS.: Francis Hare to his cousin (George Naylor), Augnst 14,
1704 (Hist. MSS. Comm., 14th Report, Appendix, part ix., p. 200).



BLENHEIM 221

of Savoy was a soldier of unconquerable heart. The more
he was disappointed by the failure of his efforts, the more
determined he became to resume them. He knew that, in
the teeth of superior numbers, well posted and gallantly
led, he himself could expect no dazzUng triumphs. But
he knew also that, if only he could absorb to the full the
attention of the forces immediately opposed to him, his
colleague might be trusted to strike the decisive blow else-
where. With equal wisdom and unselfishness he did the
hard and thankless duty allotted to him. There is an
essentially English phrase for that form of enlightened self-
sacrifice, which is one of the grand secrets of success in sport
and war. It is ' playing the game.' And no Englishman
ever played the game more superbly than this French-
Italian in the service of the Court of Austria that August
afternoon beside the blood-stained waters of the Nebel.

His confidence in Marlborough was not misplaced. After
driving Blainville back into Oberglauheim, the Duke had
steadily continued to pass his troops across the marshes.
By 4 o'clock his entire army, including the cavalry of Cutts,
was over at last. His plan was drawing to maturity. The
repulses before Blindheim, the disaster to the Prince of
Holstein-Beck, the discouraging reports from the right wing,
all left him unperturbed. In a sense he welcomed them,
as tending to drug his opponents with a false security and
blind them to their real peril. He himself saw through the
appearances of failure and the symptoms of collapse into
the very soul of things, and he knew that he could win.
Between Blindheim and Oberglauheim he had now a combined
force of all arms, outnumbering in every branch the troops
which Tallard could oppose to them. His men were such
as he could trust implicitly. In the centre and rear they were
comparatively fresh; and even on the wings, where they
had been previously involved in the fighting round the two
villages, they had borne themselves weU and were in excel-
lent spirits. Nothing could save Tallard but a combined
movement by Clerembault and Blainville against the Duke's
flanks, or a powerful reinforcement from the Elector. But
Clerembault and Blainville were already held fast, and the
Elector was anxiously regarding the preparations of Eugene.



222 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

The Duke maintained his formation in four lines; but now
his cavalry composed the first and second, his infantry the
third and fourth. To guard against a sortie by the numerous
garrison of Blindheim the bulk of the infantry were drawn
towards the left. To facilitate the retirement of broken
squadrons, intervals were allowed between the battalions.
About half an hour after 4 Marlborough set the whole
body in motion. Very slowly and in beautiful order they
began their advance. At the same time, far away on the
extreme right, the Danes were working round the Elector's
flank, and Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, waving a colour above
his head, was leading his Prussians a second time on
Lutzingen. And simultaneously the squadrons of Eugene
followed the Prince himself across the Nebel to a third and
final charge. From end to end of the allied line the
last great movement had begun. If it succeeded, the
victory was gained; but if it failed, there could not be
another.

The leisured and majestic march of Marlborough's men
conveyed to the French beholders of it a wonderful impression
of conscious power. Tallard took the alarm at once. His
cavalry, inferior in numbers, and already despondent or
fatigued, could never by itself endure the oncoming shock.
Hastily he ordered forward those nine battalions of foot,
which had hitherto stood idle in rear of his centre. To the
left of his line, in the direction of Oberglauheim, they now
formed between the squadrons. But Marlborough's ofiicers
upon the spot responded promptly. They brought up three
battalions of Hanoverian infantry, supported by cannon,
and set them among the horse at the threatened point. And
still, though every available French gun was trained upon
so fair a target, the slow and stately ranks rolled on. The
Marshal had never believed that they would attempt to
pass the swamp. Owing perhaps to his defective eyesight,
he had never realised till now in what numbers they actually
had passed it. It was too late to withdraw infantry from
Blindheim by the rear of the village. It was impossible to
withdraw them by its flank, for Cutts' platoons could
shoot them down like sheep as fast as they emerged.
For Clerembault's folly, and for Tallard's failure to



BLENHEIM 223

prevent it and neglect to repair it, the price must now be
paid.

But to France even now one last opportunity was given.
She owed it neither to the discipHne of her veterans nor to the
daring of her nobles nor to the resource of her commanders.
She owed it entirely to the simple valour of her youngest
soldiers. In the hour of trial, the nine battalions, recruits
for the most part in their first battle, bore themselves like
men grown old in war. Already they were falling fast; but
they closed their ranks at the word of their officers and stood
up unflinchingly before the lacerating grape-shot. Their
steady shooting overpowered the musketry of the Hano-
verians, and brought the cavalry of Marlborough's right to a
sudden standstill. Those of the left, smitten cruelly by the
fire of BUndheim, halted at the same time; and then, to the
delight of Tallard, the whole line of horse recoiled upon the
foot. " I saw," he wrote, " an instant in which the battle
was gained. "■'■ One swift and concerted charge by every
French sabre from Blindheim to Oberglauheim might indeed
have saved the day. But no such charge was ever executed.
Here and there well-led troops and squadrons rode resolutely
forward; but for the most part, Tallard's horsemen, fearful
of the infernal fire of Marlborough's supporting foot, hung
timorously back, or moved, when they did move, in feeble,
ineffective fashion.

Marlborough saw at a glance that the moment was come.
His guns were pouring grape into the nine battahons, when
he called upon his cavalry for a decisive effort. With trum-
pets blaring and kettle-drums crashing and standards tossing
proudly above the plumage and the steel, the two long lines,
perfectly timed from end to end, swung upwards at a trot,
that quickened ever as they closed upon the French. At the
sight and the sound thereof two-thirds of Tallard's horsemen
went shamelessly about and galloped for their lives. But
the heave of that strong, deliberate wave caught every
isolated group that dared to breast it, and flung them all in
shattered ruin from the field. It caught those nine battahons
of gallant boys, whose professional knowledge did not
embrace the art of running away. They stood, said Orkney

^ Pelet, t. iv., p. 568: Tallard a Chamillart, 4 septembre, 1704.



224 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

afterwards, "in the best order I ever saw ";^ but it caught
them, and engulfed them, and one who on the morrow rode
past that fatal place counted their corpses as they lay in their
ranks, preserving in their deaths a faithful record of the
discipline which they had maintained so admirably in their
lives. And on it swept, still roaring and devouring, to the
very tents and baggage-waggons of Tallard's camp, where it
stayed awhile. Then the cavalry of Marsin, apprehensive
for their own imperilled flank, changed front to the right.
From Blindheim to Oberglauheim the whole line of the
defence was rent asunder as by a giant's hand.

Tallard was well-nigh at his wits' end. He dispatched a
messenger to Marsin with an urgent request that reinforce-
ments of infantry should be sent him, or else that a strong
offensive movement should be made against Marlborough's
right. But Marsin and the Elector were already fully



Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 44)