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mounted arm should be concentrated on the opposite wing.
He heard them with respect, but without adopting their
advice. Nevertheless he selected for his real attack the
great body of horsemen which he saw between Ramillies
and Tavieres. He was not in the least afraid to match
his Dutch troopers against the Household Cavalry of
France, who rode conspicuous here in the foremost line.
For he knew that Blenheim and the lines of Brabant had
broken the evil tradition of Fleurus and Leuze and Neer-
winden. In Over kirk, moreover, he had a leader who
could be trusted to lead. But to puzzle the Marshal, and
to induce him, if possible, to weaken the threatened point,
the Duke determined to begin with a vigorous feint against
AutregUse and Off us.

It was nearly 3, and the cannon upon both sides had
been booming for an hour and a half before all was ready.
The spectacle was now superb. All eyewitnesses agreed
that the appearance of the French army was magnificent
in the extreme. Marlborough told Burnet that " it looked
the best of any he had ever seen."^ At the last moment,
the Elector, who, like Villeroi, had not believed in the
possibility of a conflict before Monday, arrived at full
gallop from Tirlemont, where he had been celebrating the
festival of Pentecost as became a good CathoUc. He fully
approved of the dispositions which the Marshal had
made.

Rain had fallen in the night, and the marshy meadows
before Autrcglise and Offus were reported to be impracti-
cable. But the British infantry, sustained by the cavalry
of the right wing, strode cheerfully down into the swamp.

^ Mimoires de Sicca van Goslinga, p. 4. 2 Burnet, vol. iv., p. 129.



RAMILLIES 379

When Villeroi and the Elector saw the scarlet lines in
motion, they ordered the detachments in the two villages
to be reinforced, and hastily transferred battalions from
the right of their line to the centre and left. Those choice
troops of the Household, the French Guards and the Swiss,
were specially selected " to endure the first shock of the
English. "•'• Slowly and heavily the redcoats struggled
through the morass under a galling fire from the enemy's
batteries. Already a dozen battalions were over when an
aide-de-camp dashed up with the unwelcome order of recall.
Orkney, who commanded there, ignored it. He assumed
that it was based upon the supposition that the ground
was impassable. That supposition he had now proved to
be erroneous. On his own responsibility he formed his
line, and amid a tempest of fire led it swiftly upon Offus,
while Lumley, by extraordinary efforts, floundered through
with a handful of British squadrons, and made shift to
cover the right flank. But horseman after horseman
arrived with peremptory instructions to halt. Orkney still
went forward. " Indeed, I think," he afterwards declared,
" I never had more shot about my ears."^ His blood was
up. He saw the French line wavering, and he would not
be balked, though no fewer than ten aides-de-camp were
sent to call him off. The English had actually reached the
village, when Cadogan himself appeared. He told the Earl
that it was impossible to attack simultaneously at all points,
and that, if the foot went forward now, the horse could not
be spared to sustain them. In profound disgust officers
and men turned reluctantly about, and with many bitter
mutterings retraced their steps. There were those who
complained that tlie quartermaster, ignorant of the country
and relying upon maps, had ruined a decisive movement.
" I confess it vexed me to retire," said Orkney. " However
we did it very well and in good order, and when the French
pressed upon us, with the battalion of Guards and my own
I was alwa3^s able to make them stand and retire."^ He
does not appear to be aggrieved that Marlborough had not
taken him into confidence beforehand. He probably
realised that a feint, which is known to be a feint by those

1 Pelet, t. vi., p. 19. - English Historical Review, April, 1904. ^ Ibid.



38o THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

who are engaged in it, is apt to degenerate into an idle
demonstration that imposes upon nobody.

As soon as the English regained the upland from which
they had descended, the line which was nearest to the enemy
wheeled round, and halted with sulky faces to the French.
But the other continued to retreat till it was covered by a
fold in the ground, when it turned sharply to the right and
hastened away to the rear of the left centre. At the same
time, eighteen squadrons of foreign cavalry passed over
from the right wing to the left. This manoeuvre, suggestive
of the arts of Hannibal, was partially observed by some
and strongly suspected by others in the French army.
But Villeroi obstinately declined to reply to it. He had
seen that the wet. land before his left was by no means
impassable. He had been instructed " to have particular
attention to that part of the line which will endure the
first shock of the English troops."^ And he refused to
believe that the redcoats, who still continued motionless
upon the heights of Foulz, were there for nothing. And
indeed they were not. Fiercely as those high-spirited
regiments resented the part which they had been chosen
to play, and which as yet they wholly failed to understand,
it was in reality a part intensely flattering to them, and
vital to the success of their great commander's plan.

Before these movements were completed, the true attack
had already begun to develop. While French bayonets
that would soon be needed on the right were defiling use-
lessly towards the left, four Dutch battalions with two
guns marched forward upon Tavieres, and the Dutch
cavalry of Marlborough's left, forty-eight squadrons in all,
moved slowly on in careful unison with this advance. They
were supported by the Danes, who numbered twenty-one
squadrons. The four battalions, driving in the enemy's
sharpshooters, who from the outlying hamlet of Fran-
quee had galled the extreme left of the allied horse,
waded through the marsh and stormed into Tavieres on
front and flank. Thereupon Guiscard, who commanded
the French cavalry of the right wing, ordered fourteen
squadrons of dragoons, which formed his third line, to

^ Pelct. t. vi., p. 19.



RAMILLIES 381

dismount, and with two battalions of Swiss to proceed to
the assistance of the detachment in the village. But the
Dutch, already masters of Tavieres, met this movement
with a crushing fusillade. Overkirk saw the oppor-
tunity which the ill-timed march of these reinforcements
presented to a cavalry leader. He instantly brought up
the Danes, and flung them forward in column between
Tavieres and his left. The Danes were worthy of their
hire. Splendidly handled by the Duke of Wiirttemberg, they
crashed into the wavering ranks of the dragoons and Swiss,
shivered them to fragments, and hunted many of the
survivors into the marshes of the Mehaigne. The horses of
the dragoons bolted in panic. Guiscard's third Une of
cavalry no longer existed.

When Wiirttemberg charged out upon the left, Overkirk,
still keeping his Dutchmen well in hand, moved steadily
on against the main body of Guiscard's horse, which
even after the destruction of its third line still numbered
sixty-four squadrons to his forty-eight. At the proper dis-
tance he broke into a trot. The enemy, who had been
forbidden to move until the allied cavalry could be enfiladed
by the cannon of Ramillies, saw that they must gather
pace, if they would not be taken at a disadvantage. At
once their foremost line, where rode the gorgeous regiments
of the King's Household, rolled proudly forward on a foe
whom they affected to despise. It was remarked by the
spectators that, whereas the French preserved the usual
intervals between their squadrons, the Dutch came on like
an unbroken wall. But whether this innovation in mounted
tactics^ was deliberately introduced as such by Marlborough
or Overkirk, or whether it resulted from the wings
closing towards the centre to avoid the fire of Ramillies
and Tavieres, is not recorded. The collision was severe.
The Dutchmen, riding knee to knee, penetrated the intervals
between the French squadrons, and attacked them from
behind. But at several points the French drove clean
through Overkirk's first line, and on into his second.
Ten Dutch squadrons were dispersed or overthrown. This
was the crisis of the battle.

^ See Vol. II., Appendix I. (a) : Marlborough's Cavalry at Ramillies.



382 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

Marlborough had selected General Schiiltz with twelve
battalions to carry Ramillies. In preparation for the
assault the place was vigorously shelled; but the defenders
were too well covered to suffer much from the bom-
bardment. As soon as Overkirk engaged the enemy's
horse, the twelve battalions, supported by the whole line,
marched up the gentle slope towards the village. They
immediately drew upon themselves the attention of every
gunner in Ramillies, and thus brought a welcome relief
to Overkirk's right. But as long as the issue of the
cavalry combat remained doubtful, Schultz's own left was
insecure. Already the Bavarian cuirassiers, who formed
the left of Guiscard's first line, were pressing forward under
cover of the fire from Ramillies. This movement threatened
to outflank both Schultz and Overkirk, and to split the
allied army at a vital point.

Marlborough, who, at the head of the eighteen squadrons
which had now arrived from the opposite wing, was watch-
ing the confused combat on the plain, saw the peril. He
instantly dispatched an order to the extreme right for
every remaining squadron, except the English, to join him
at full speed. Then he himself led on the eighteen against
the left of the enemy's horse. At the same time, Wiirttem-
berg, who had promptly rallied his Danes on the edge of
the marsh, wheeled them up into line and flung them upon
the right flank of the French. The conflict was renewed
with desperate ardour. But the balance of numbers had
now been turned. Marlborough had brought eighty-seven
squadrons to bear upon Guiscard's sixty-four. Fired by the
courageous example of their general, and reassured by the
calm confidence with which he issued his conmiand, the
Dutch began to recover the advantage. He himself ran
serious risks. He was recognised and assailed; but he
fought his way through. His horse, which had saved him
by its speed and strength, threw him at a ditch. He was
ridden over; but he scrambled to his feet, and ran to take
refuge with the infantry attacking Ramillies. With admir-
able presence of mind Major-General Murray wheeled a
couple of Swiss battalions to the left and rescued his com-
mander. So close were the pursuers that some of them,



RAMILLIES 383

unable to check their horses, were impaled upon the bayonets
of the Swiss. Then the Duke, bruised and shaken but
imperturbable as ever, mounted the charger of his aide-de-
camp. Captain Molesworth. Before he was well in the
saddle, a cannon-ball took off the head of Colonel Bingfield,
his equerry, who was holding the stirrup.

At this fateful moment, when fortune, though still
dubious, was bending to the side of the allies, the cavalry
which Marlborough had summoned from the right came
racing to the scene. They were twenty-one squadrons in
all; and the rhythmic thunder of their hoofs, audible even
above the roar of the conflict, drew all eyes upon them.
Their very appearance made victory certain, so profoundly
did it cheer the allies and dismay the enemy. But before
they could breathe their horses and press forward to the
charge, the tactical skill of Wiirttemberg had determined the
result. The Danes were sweeping all before them. The
greater part of Guiscard's second line bolted in panic.
Musketeers, Light Horsemen, and Gendarmes of the House-
hold, refusing to fly, were driven pell-mell into the marsh.
And from Ramillies to the Tomb of Ottamond, a lofty
tumulus which crowned the plateau far to the rear of
Villeroi's right, the allied horse swung proudly round in
two long, rolling waves, that threatened to engulf the whole
French army from end to end.

Schultz in the meantime had carried Ramillies with the
bayonet. The village was defended on its right by five
battalions of Bavarian and Cologne Guards, and on its
left by eight of French and Swiss. Their artillery was
inferior to that of the allies, and was badly served. Never-
theless they repulsed two frontal assaults. When the third
was delivered, a column under Spaar was thrown forward
on the right to take the place in flank. Thereupon two
Swiss battalions shamefully deserted their posts. Spaar
pressed on into the village; and the Bavarians, fearing to
be caught between two fires, wavered for a time, and then
began to run. The Cologne Guards showed more steadi-
ness; and Maffei withdrew them in tolerable order, as the
main body of Schultz's men burst in like a torrent. Con-
spicuous in the assault were the Scottish regiments in the



384 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

service of the States. The Duke of Argyle, claymore in
hand, was the second or third man to enter the village.
When Maffei emerged upon the plateau, he halted, not
knowing that the right of the army had been completely
turned, and that it was hopeless to attempt to stand in that
situation, much less to recover the post. He soon learned
the truth. Mistaking the Dutch cavalry for French,
he was ignominiously made prisoner. His men dis-
persed.

The routed horse, regardless of the efforts of Villeroi and
the Elector to restore order, was flying headlong across
the rear of the French position. A brief pause ensued,
while Overkirk's squadrons were breathing their chargers
and re-forming for the final advance. Profiting by the
respite, Villeroi, with the assistance of some of the cavalry
which had hitherto continued idle on his left wing, en-
deavoured to form a new front from Geest-a-Gerompont
to Off us and Autreglise. This manoeuvre, sufficiently
hazardous in the face of an unbeaten enemy, was impeded
by the presence of the baggage-train. It was still unfinished
when Marlborough gave the word for the whole line to
advance. The trumpets sounded, and once more the solid
squadrons of Overkirk resumed their menacing career.
The infantry of the right centre, supported by the regiments
of Wood and Wyndham (the 3rd and 6th Dragoon Guards),
moved swiftly forward upon Offus, while the battalions
which had carried Ramillies wheeled to the right to co-
operate in this new attack. The English, nursing their
grievance on the heights of Foulz, waited not for orders.
Horse and foot, they dashed impetuously down into the
marsh and up the steep ascent beyond to Autreglise. Awed
by the spectacle of this combined onset, the whole of
Villeroi's centre and left gave way. Between Offus and
Ramillies French Guards and Swiss stood their ground
right manfully at first; but they were not supported.
Nowhere else was any serious resistance offered. This
splendid-looking army, not half of which had been actually
engaged, crumbled into ruin at the touch of Marlborough's
master hand. In the moment of stress the recollection of
the Schellenberg and Blenheim and the lines of Brabant



RAMILLIES 385

was upon them, transmuting the easy confidence of the
morning to demorahsation and despair.

It was 6 o'clock. Three hours of dayUght still remained.
But for a time the retreat of the centre and left towards
Judoigne and Lou vain was orderly and good. The centre
was pursued by the regiments of Wood and Wyndham,
which mustered no more than a couple of squadrons apiece.
From the summit of a rise the English troopers presently
sighted the long column of the enemy's artillery, retiring
under the protection of seven squadrons of those Spanish
and Bavarian Horse Guards, whom they had broken with
ease upon the plains of Tirlemont. The recognition was
mutual, but not equally agreeable. Like hunters that view
the quarry, the redcoats put in the spur. Numbers
counted for nothing now. On the right, Lieutenant-General
Wood, at the head of his own regiment, crashed into the
Bavarians at the gallop^ and shattered them in an instant.
On the left, the two squadrons of the 6th Dragoon Guards
charged home with equal speed and resolution on the
Spaniards. Many were killed; and many, including two
lieutenant-colonels, gave up their swords. The rout was
complete. Wood himself came within ten yards of Villeroi
and the Elector, " which had I been so fortunate to have
known," he wrote, '•' I had strained Coriolanus (on whom
I rode all the day of battle) to have made them prisoners."^
This feat of British cavalry was matched, if indeed it was
not excelled, by another on the right, where the regiments
of Lumley, Ross, and Lord John Hay pursued the enemy's
left. Hay with his three squadrons overtook two battalions
of the Regiment du Roi. Three other battalions, which
had lined some adjacent hedges, fired with effect upon his
flank and rear as he advanced. But, " sword in hand and
at a gallop,"^ he drove furiously upon the two, and killed
or captured them all. Some, who, after laying down their
arms, attempted to take them up again, were deservedly
butchered. It was on this occasion, if tradition may be
credited, that the Scots Greys earned the honour of assuming

^ See Appendix I. {b): Marlborough's Cavalry at Ramillies.
2 Boyer, vol. v., p. 82: Letter from Lieutenant-General Wood.
^ Portland MSS. : Lieutenant-Colonel Cranstoun to R. Cunningham,
June 10, 1706 (Hist. MSS. Comm., 15th Report, Appendix, part iv., p. 311).
I. 2s



386 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

the tall head-gear which they have carried ever since. It
must not be forgotten that they were dragoons. At the
Schellenberg they had dismounted to take their share with
the infantry. But in their case at any rate, the difficult
problem of preserving the cavalry spirit in the breast of a
soldier who is also trained to fight on foot, was demonstrated
to be not insoluble.

The spectacle of these disasters destroyed all firmness
in the retreating columns. Maddened with terror, they
abandoned every pretence of discipline, and flinging away
their weapons fled fast towards Judoigne. The English
cavalry followed hard upon their tracks. Lumley, with the
King's Dragoon Guards, was foremost in the chase. The
fugitives found every defile choked with a welter of baggage-
waggons. Appalling sights were witnessed in the narrow
ways. It is said that the allies, provoked by the vapour-
ings of the French Household before the battle, gave little
quarter to the terrified mob. Darkness brought them no
relief. All through the twilight and the night Lumley and
his handful of horsemen hung grimly on their heels. And
after Lumley marched Orkney with the British foot. And
to the left of Orkney, but further to the rear, came Marl-
borough and Overkirk with the rest of the allied army.
Neither column had any exact knowledge of the other's
whereabouts; but both pressed on with confidence towards
the north. Lumley sent word to Orkney that, with the
assistance of some foot, he could capture eight or nine
battalions. Marching " as fast as it was possible for men
to march, "-^ the British infantry came just too late, to the
intense disappointment of their ardent leader, who had gal-
loped on before. Many distinguished prisoners were carried
of necessity with the pursuing columns. "With Orkney were
Tallard's only son and a nephew of the great Luxembourg.
A Bavarian officer, to whom Overkirk had courteously
returned his sword, attempted to assassinate his gallant
captor, and paid for his infamy with his life. At midnight
Marlborough, having lost his guide, halted to await the
dawn in the vicinity of Meldert, more than twelve miles
from the field of battle. Spreading his cloak upon the

^ English Historical Review, April, 1904: Letters of the first Lord Orkney
during Marlborough's Campaigns. Letter iii. ; Battle of Ramilhes.




u



RAMILLIES 387

ground, the Duke lay down to rest, and invited the field-
deputy, Goslinga, to share his couch. Two hours later he
was again in the saddle and moving to Beauvchain, where
he encamped. But Lumley and Orkney held on towards
the Dyle. Not until they came within range of the cannon
of Lou vain did the English troopers pause.

In the market-place of that ancient city, Villeroi and the
Elector held a nocturnal and " tumultuous council of war."^
As the yellow light of the smoking flamboys played fitfully
upon smirched uniforms and reeking steeds and faces
haggard with terror and fatigue, the scene must have been
worthy of the brush of Rembrandt. It was quickly decided
to abandon Louvain and the line of the Dyle, and to retreat
forthwith behind the canal of Brussels. The Elector sent
forward an express to the capital, announcing his defeat,
and ordering pontoons and bread to be instantly prepared.
Max Emanuel was a hardened soldier, who had witnessed
many well- fought fields. But when he rode from RamilUes,
he was seen to weep. Not even the catastrophe of Blenheim
affected him so profoundly as the events of the last few
hours. "We were wonderfully well posted," he declared;
" we had the finest army in the world. . . . But the defeat is
so great, and the terror among the troops so horrible, that
I know not what the morrow will bring forth. "^ What
further witness is needed to the splendour of the victory
and the vigour of the pursuit ? The pursuit indeed almost
challenges comparison with the classic examples of Jena
and of Waterloo. In that epoch there was no parallel for
a chase so merciless and keen.

The battle cost the allies 1,066 killed and 2,567 wounded.
The casualties of the enemy were variously computed.
But in killed, wounded, and prisoners they lost not fewer
than 13,000 men. Immediate desertion swelled the total
to over 15,000, or one- fourth of their entire army; and a
remarkable wastage from this cause continued for many
weeks. ^ All their cannon and baggage and eighty standards

1 Boyer, vol. v., p. 85.

2 Vogiie, Villars d'apris sa correspondance, t. ii., p. 424, Appendice
cxxxv.: L'Electeur de Baviere au Comte de Bergeyck, 23 mai, 1706.

3 By June 10 the deserters numbered between ten and twelve thousand.
Murray, vol. ii., p. 575: Marlborough to the Duke of Savoy, June 10, 170O



388 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

remained in the hands of the victors. The French, whose
facility of self-deception is in part the secret of their
recuperative power, endeavoured to minimise the effect of
the disaster by publishing accounts of it which for ingenious
puerility would have done credit to Napoleon himself. But
the magnitude of the calamity could not be hidden from
Europe, and not for ever from the Parisians, who presently
produced a biting pasquinade on Villeroi. Ramillies was
in truth what Villars called it, " the most shameful, the
most humiliating, the most deadly of defeats."-"^ For more
than half the army had fled without striking a blow; and
the actual fighting, as Marlborough told Burnet, " lasted
not above two hours. "^ The Elector wrote to Louis that
the disaster was " as fatal as that of Hochstadt."^ To
Louis, the fact that Villeroi was his particular favourite,
rendered the misfortune doubly bitter. He bore it like a
gentleman. " We have not been fortunate in Flanders,"
he wrote to Philip; and he added, "One must submit to
the judgments of God."'* But Feuquieres expressed more
accurately the disgust of his countrymen, when he concluded
his narrative of the battle with the single observation that
he was surprised that His Majesty should have taken so
long to discover what all France had always known .^

The judgment is a harsh one. Following his usual
custom, Feuquieres is very precise and dogmatic at the
expense of the loser. The battalions which the Marshal
posted in Tavieres were too weak in numbers, and those
which he posted in Ramillies too poor in quality, for the
work which was required of them. By neglecting to level
the hedges in the rear of Ramillies he rendered it difficult
to reinforce that village with celerity. By permitting his
baggage to remain between his lines he ensured confusion
in the event of a retreat or even of a change of front. These
criticisms were probably true. But Feuquieres, intent as
always upon professional details, misses entirely the root of
the matter. The battle was not lost, as he asserts, through
errors of this character. Nor was it out of sheer stupidity,
as he seems to suggest, that Villeroi declined under any

1 Vie de Villars, t. i., p. 403. 2 Burnet, vol. iv., p. 129.

' Lediard, vol. ii., ch. i., p. 39: The Elector of Bavaria to the French King.
^ Memoires de Noailles (1777), t. iii., p. 357. ^ Feuquieres, t. iv., p. 30.



Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 36 of 44)