J. W. (John William) Fortescue.

British campaigns in Flanders, 1690-1794; being extracts from A history of the British army, online

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Online LibraryJ. W. (John William) FortescueBritish campaigns in Flanders, 1690-1794; being extracts from A history of the British army, → online text (page 1 of 30)
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This volume consists simply of extracts reprinted

from my History of the British Army. It is

published in order that the troops at the front

may, if they wish it, study the experiences of

their forerunners in the Low Countries in a book

which is fairly portable and fairly inexpensive,

though neither so cheap nor so compendious as

The British Soldiers Guide to Northern France

and Flanders.

J. W. F.


William III.'s Campaigns .
Marlborough's Campaigns —

1701-2 .


1706 (Ramillies).

1707-8 (Oudenarde)

1709 (Malplaquet)

War of the Austrian Succession —

Campaigns of 1744-5 (Fontenoy)

Campaigns of 1746-7 (Lauffeld, Roucoux)
War of the French Revolution

Campaign of 1793 (Linselles) .

Preparations for the Campaign of 1794

Campaign of 1794 (Villers-en-Cauchies, Beau


Campaign of 1794 {Continued)
End of the Campaign of i794-












Steenkirk, 23rd July (3rd Aug.) 1692 .... 13

Landen, 19th (29th) July 1693 ..... 27

Lines of the Geete, 7th (i8th) July 1705 • • • 55

Ramillies, 12th (23rd) May 1706 67

Oudenarde, 30th June (nth July) 1708 ... 85

Malplaquet, 31st Aug. (nth Sept.) 1709 . . . in

The Campaign of 1 7 1 1 ...... 125

Fontenoy, 30th April (nth May) 1745 .... 143

Roucoux, 30th Sept. (nth Oct.) 1746 .... 163

Lauffeld, 21st June (2nd July) 1747 .... 171

Attack of the Allies on the Camp of Famars, 23rd May

1793 217

Dunkirk and Environs, showing the Position of the Allies

from 24th Aug. to 6th Sept. 1793 . . . -237

Campaign of April 1794 . . .... 299

Avesnes-le-Sec, 12th Sept. 1793; Villers-en-Cauchies,

24th April 1794; Beaumont, 26th April 1794 . 303

Willems, loth May 1794 ...... 319

The Netherlands in the i8th Century . . . At end


I PASS now to Flanders, which is about to become for
the second time the training ground of the British Army.
The judicious help sent by Lewis the Fourteenth to
Ireland had practically diverted the entire strength of
William to that quarter for two whole campaigns ; and
though, as has been seen, there were English in Flanders
in i68g and 1690, the contingents which they furnished
were too small and the operations too trifling to warrant
description in detail. After the battle of the Boyne the
case was somewhat altered, for, though a large force was
still required in Ireland for Ginkell's final pacification of
1691, William was none the less at liberty to take the
field in Flanders in person. Moreover, Parliament with 1690.
great good-will had voted seventy thousand men for the October,
ensuing year, of which fully fifty thousand were British, ^
so that England was about to put forth her strength in j
Europe on a scale unknown since the loss of Calais.

But first a short space must be devoted to the
theatre of war, where England was to meet and break
down the overweening power of France. Few studies
are more difficult, even to the professed student, than
that of the old campaigns in Flanders, and still fewer
more hopeless of simplification to the ordinary reader.
Nevertheless, however desperate the task, an effort

' Four troops of life guards, ten regiments of horse, five of
dragoons, forty-seven battalions of foot.



1690. must be made once for all to give a broad idea of the
scene of innumerable great actions.

Taking his stand on the northern frontier of France
and looking northward, the reader will note three great
rivers running through the country before him in,
, roughly speaking, three parallel semicircles, from
f south-east to north-west. These are, from east to
west, the Moselle, which is merged in the Rhine at
Coblentz, the Meuse, and the Scheldt, all three of
; which discharge themselves into the great delta
whereof the southern key is Antwerp. But for the
present let the reader naiTOw the field from the Meuse
in the east to the sea in the west, and let him devote
his attention first to the Meuse. He will see that, a
little to the north of the French frontier, it picks up
a large tributary from the south-west, the Sambre,
which runs past Maubeuge and Charleroi and joins
the Meuse at Namur. Thence the united rivers
flow on past the fortified towns of Huy, Liege, and
Maestricht to the sea. But let the reader's northern
boundary on the Meuse for the present be Maestricht,
and let him note another river which rises a little to
the west of Maestricht and runs almost due west
past Arschot and Mechlin to the sea at Antwerp. Let
this river, the Demer, be his northern, and the Meuse
from Maestricht to Namur his eastern, boundary.

Returning to the south, let him note a river rising
immediately to the west of Charleroi, the Haine, which
joins the Scheldt at Tournay, and let him draw a line
from Tournay westward through Lille and Ypres to
the sea at Dunkirk. Let this line from Dunkirk to
Charleroi be carried eastward to Namur ; and there is
his southern boundary. His western boundary is, of
I course, the sea. Within this quadrilateral, Antwerp
(or more strictly speaking the mouth of the Scheldt),


Dunkirk, Namur, and Maestricht, lies the most famous 1690.
fighting-ground of Europe.

Glancing at it on the map, the reader will see that
this quadrilateral is cut by a number of rivers running I
parallel to each other from south to north, and flowing '
into the main streams of the Demer and the Scheldt.
The first of these, beginning from the east, are the
Great and Little Geete, which become one before they
join the main stream. It is worth while to pause for a
moment over this little slip of land between the Geete
and the Meuse. We shall see much of Namur, Huy,
Liege, and Maestricht, which command the navigation
of the greater river, but we shall see still more of the
Geete, and of two smaller streams, the Jaar and the
Mehaigne, which rise almost in the same table-land with
it. On the Lower Jaar, close to Maestricht, stands the
village of Lauffeld, which shall be better known to
us fifty years hence. On the Little Geete, just above
its junction with its greater namesake, are the villages
of Neerwinden and Landen. In the small space
between the heads of the Geete and the Mehaigne lies
the village of Ramillies. For this network of streams
is the protection against an enemy that would threaten
the navigation of the Meuse from the north and west,
and the barrier of Spanish Flanders against invasion
from the east ; and the ground is rich with the corpses
and fat with the blood of men.

The next stream to westward is the Dyle, which
flows past Louvain to the Demer, and gives its name,
after the junction, to that river. The next in order is
the Senne, which flows past Park and Hal and Brussels
to the same main stream. At the head of the Senne
stands the village of Steenkirk ; midway between the
Dyle and Senne are the forest of Soignies and the field
of Waterloo.


1690. Here the tributaries of the Demer come to an end,
but the row of parallel streams is continued by the
tributaries of another system, that of the Scheldt.
Easternmost of these, and next in order to the Senne,
is the Dender, which rises near Leuse and flows past
Ath and Alost to the Scheldt at Dendermond. Next
comes the Scheldt itself, with the Scarpe and the
Haine, its tributaries, which it carries past Tournay
and Oudenarde to Ghent, and to the sea at Antwerp.
Westernmost of all, the Lys runs past St. Venant,
where in Cromwell's time we saw Sir Thomas Morgan
and his immortal six thousand, past Menin and Cour-
trai, and is merged in the Scheldt at Ghent.

The whole extent of the quadrilateral is about one
hundred miles long by fifty broad, with a great water-
way to the west, a second to the east, and a third,
whereof the key is^ Ghent, roughly speaking midway
between them. The earth, fruitful by nature and
I enriched by art, bears food for man and beast ; the

ii waterways provide transport for stores and ammuni-
tion. It was a country where men could kill each
other without being starved, and hence for centuries
the cockpit of Europe.

A glance at any old map of Flanders shows how

thickly studded was this country with walled towns of

\ less or greater strength, and explains why a war in

Flanders should generally have been a war of sieges.

Every one of these little towns, of course, had its

garrison ; and the manoeuvres of contending forces

were governed very greatly by the effort, on one side,

to release these garrisons for active service in the field,

and, on the other, to keep them confined within their

walls for as long as possible. Hence it is obvious that

i an invading army necessarily enjoyed a great ad-

' vantage, since it menaced the fortresses of the enemy


while its own were unthreatened. Thus ten thousand 1690.
men on the Upper Lys could paralyse thrice their I
number in Ghent and Bruges and the adjacent towns.
On the other hand, if an invading general contemplated
the siege of an important town, he manoeuvred to j
entice the garrison into the field before he laid siege
in form. Still, once set down to a great siege, an army
was stationary, and the bare fact was sufficient to I
liberate hostile garrisons all over the country ; and j
hence arose the necessity of a second army to cover
the besieging force. The skill and subtlety manifested
by great generals to compass these different ends is
unfortunately only to be apprehended by closer study
than can be expected of any but the military student.

A second cause contributed not a little to increase
the taste for a war of sieges, namely, the example of
France, then the first military nation in Europe.^ The 1
Court of Versailles was particularly fond of a siege, 1
since it could attend the ceremony in state and take
nominal charge of the operations with much glory and
little discomfort or danger. The French passion for
rule and formula also found a happy outlet in the
conduct of a siege, for, while there is no nation more ^
brilliant or more original, particularly in military
affairs, there is also none that is more conceited or
pedantic. The craving for sieges among the French \
was so great that the King took pains, by the grant of 1
extra pay and rations, to render this species of warfare
popular with his soldiers. ^

Again, it must be .remembered that the object of a
campaign in those days was not necessarily to seek out

^ I had almost written that France was then, as always, the first
military nation ; and though Prussia wrested the position from her
under Frederick the Great and again in 1870, the lesson of liistory
seems to teach that she is as truly the first military, as England is
the first naval, nation. * Belhomme, p. 153.


1690. an enemy and beat him. There were two alternatives
prescribed by the best authorities, namely, to fight at
an advantage or to subsist comfortably.^ Comfortable
subsistence meant at its best subsistence at an enemy's
expense. A campaign wherein an army lived on the
enemy's country and destroyed all that it could not
consume was eminently successful, even though not a
shot w'as fired. To force an enemy to consume his
own supplies was much, to compel him to supply his
; opponent was more, to take up winter-quarters in his
territory was very much more. Thus to enter an
enemy's borders and keep him marching backwards
and forwards for weeks without giving him a chance of
striking a blow, was in itself no small success, and
success of a kind which galled inferior generals, such
as William of Orange, to desperation and so to dis-
aster. The tendency to these negative campaigns
was heightened once more by French example. The
French ministry of war interfered with its generals to
an extent that was always dangerous, and eventually
proved calamitous. Nominally the marshal com-
manding-in-chief in the field was supreme ; but the
intendant or head of the administrative service, though
; he received his orders from the marshal, was instructed
] by the King to fon\'ard those orders at once by special
messenger to Louvois, and not to execute them without
the royal authority. Great commanders such as
Luxemburg had the strength from time to time to
kick themselves free from this bondage, hut the rest,
embarrassed by the surveillance of an inferior officer,
preferred to live as long as possible in an enemy's
; country without risking a general action. It was left
to Marlborough to advance triumphant in one magni-
ficent campaign from the Meuse to the sea.

^ Feuquieres.



Next, a glance must be thrown at the contending 1690.
parties. The defenders of the Spanish Netherlands,
for they cannot be called the assailants of France, were
confederate allies from a number of independent states
— England, Holland, Spain, the Empire, sundry states
of Germany, and Denmark, all somewhat selfish, few
very efficient, and none, except the first, very punctual.
From such a heterogeneous collection swift, secret, and 1
united action was not to be expected. King William '
held the command-in-chief, and, from his position as
the soul of the alliance, was undoubtedly the fittest
for the post. But though he had carefully studied the
art of war, and though his phlegmatic temperament
found its only genuine pleasure in the excitement of
the battlefield, he was not a great general. He could
form good plans, and up to a certain point could ,
execute them, but up to a certain point only. It |
should seem that his physical weakness debarred him
from steady and sustained effort. He was strangely
incapable of conducting a campaign with equal ability
throughout ; he would manoeuvre admirably for weeks, ,
and forfeit all the advantage that he had gained by the '
carelessness of a single day. In a general action, of
which he was fonder than most commanders of his
time, he never shone except in virtue of conspicuous
personal bravery. He lacked tactical instinct, and ;
above all he lacked patience ; in a word, to use a ■
modern phrase, he was a very clever amateur.

France, on the other hand, possessed the finest
and strongest army in Europe, — well equipped, well
trained, well organised, and inured to work by count-
less campaigns. She had a single man in supreme
control of affairs. King Lewis the Fourteenth ; a great
war - minister, Louvois ; one really great general,
Luxemburg ; and one with flashes of genius, Boufflers.


1690 Moreover, she possessed a line of posts in Spanish
Flanders extending from Dunkirk to the Meuse. On
the Lys she had Aire and Menin ; on the Scarpe,
Douay ; on the Upper Scheldt, Cambray, Bouchain,
Valenciennes, and Conde ; on the Sambre, Maubeuge ;
between Sambre and Meuse, Philippeville and Marien-
burg ; and on the Meuse, Dinant. Further, in the one
space where the frontier was not covered by a friendly
river, between the sea and the Scheldt, the French had
constructed fortified lines from the sea to Menin and
from thence to the Scheldt at Espierre. Thus with
their frontier covered, with a place of arms on every
river, with secrecy and with unity of purpose, the
French enjoyed the approximate certainty of being
able to take the field in every campaign before the
Allies could be collected to oppose them.

1691. The campaign of 1691 happily typifies the relative
positions of the combatants in almost every respect.
I The French concentrated ten thousand men on the
i Lys. This was sufficient to paralyse all the garrisons
of the Allies on and about the river. They posted
another corps on the Moselle, which threatened the
i territory of Cleves. Now Cleves was the property of
I the Elector of Brandenburg, and it was not to be
expected that he should allow his contingent of troops
to join King William at the general rendezvous at
Brussels, and suffer the French to play havoc among
his possessions. Thus the Prussian contingent like-
wise was paralysed. So while William was still
ordering his troops to concentrate at Brussels, Boufilers,
who had been making preparations all the winter,
suddenly marched up from Maubeuge and, before
William was aware that he was in motion, had besieged
Mons. The fortress presently surrendered after a
feeble resistance, and the line of the Allies' frontier


between the Scheldt and Sambre was broken. William 1691.
moved down from Brussels across the Sambre in the
hope of recovering the lost town, outmanoeuvred ,
Luxemburg, who was opposed to him, and for three *
days held the recapture of Mons in the hollow of his
hand. He wasted those three days in an aimless halt ;
Luxemburg recovered himself by an extraordinary
march ; and William, finding that there was no alter-
native before him but to retire to Brussels and remain -
inactive, handed over the command to an incompetent
officer and returned to England. Luxemburg then
closed the campaign by a brilliant action of cavalry,
which scattered the horse of the Allies to the four
winds. As no British troops except the Life Guards
were present, and as they at any rate did not disgrace
themselves, it is unnecessary to say more of the combat
of Leuse. It had, however, one remarkable effect : it
increased William's dread of the French cavalry, already |
morbidly strong, to such a pitch as to lead him subse-
quently to a disastrous military blunder.

The campaign of 1691 was therefore decidedly
unfavourable to the Allies, but there was ground for
hope that all might be set right in 1692. The Treasurer,
Godolphin, was nervously apprehensive that Parliament
might be unwilling to vote money for an English army
in Flanders ; but the Commons cheerfully granted a
total of sixty-six thousand men, British and foreign ;
which, after deduction of garrisons for the safety of
the British Isles, left forty thousand free to cross the
German Ocean.

Of these, twenty-three thousand were British, the
most important force that England had sent to the
Continent since the days of King Henry the Eighth.
The organisation was remarkably like that of the New
Model. William was, of course, Commander-in-Chief,


1692. and under him were a general of horse and a general of
foot, with a due allowance of lieutenant-generals,
major-generals, and brigadiers. There is, however, no
sign of an officer in command of artillery or engineers,
nor any of a commissary in charge of the transport.*
The one strangely conspicuous functionary is the
i Secretary - at - War, who in this and the following
campaigns for the last time accompanied the Com-
mander-in-Chief on active service. But the most
significant feature in the list of the staff is the omission
of the name of Marlborough. Originally included
among the generals for Flanders, he had been struck
: off the roll, and dismissed from all public employ-
i ment, in disgrace, before the opening of the cam-
paign. Though this dismissal did not want justifica-
tion, it was perhaps of all William's blunders the

As usual, the French were beforehand with the

AlHes in opening the campaign. They had already

broken the line of the defending fortresses by the

capture of Mons ; they now designed to make the

breach still wider. All through the winter a vast

siege-train was collecting on the Scheldt and Meuse,

with Vauban, first of living engineers, in charge of it.

May. In May all was ready. Marshal Joyeuse, with one

corps, was on the Moselle, as in the previous year, to

hold the Brandenburgers in check. Boufflers, with

eighteen thousand men, lay on the right bank of the

Meuse, near Dinant ; Luxemburg, with one hundred

10 and fifteen thousand more, stood in rear of the river

^^20 Haine. On the 20th of May, King Lewis in person

May — • reviewed the grand army ; on the 23rd it marched for

^ That is to say, of land-transport. After the sad experience
of the Irish war the marine transport was entrusted to an officer
specially established for the purpose.— Cowzwows Journals.


Namur ; and on the 26th it had wound itself round 1692.
two sides of the town, while Boufflers, moving up from 16
Dinant, completed the circuit on the third side. Thus ; ^^
Namur was completely invested ; unless William could \
save it, the line of the Sambre and one of the most
important fortresses on the Meuse were lost to the

William, to do him justice, had strained every nerve
to spur his indolent allies to be first in the field. The
contingents, awaked by the sudden stroke at Namur,
came in fast to Brussels ; but it was too late. The
French had destroj'ed all forage and supplies on the
direct route to Namur, and William's only way to the
city lay across the Mehaigne. Behind the Mehaigne
lay Luxemburg, the ablest of the French generals.
The best of luck was essential to William's success, and
instead of the best came the worst. Heavy rain
swelled the narrow stream into a broad flood, and the
building of bridges became impossible. There was
beautiful fencing, skilful feint, and more skilful parry, ;
between the two generals, but William could not get
under Luxemburg's guard. On the 5th of June, after May 26.
a discreditably short defence, Namur fell, almost before J""^ 5-
William's eyes, into the hands of the French.

Then Luxemburg thought it time to draw the
enemy away from the vicinity of the captured city ; so
recrossing the Sambre, and keeping Boufilers always
between himself and that river, he marched for the
Senne as if to threaten Brussels. William followed, as
in duty bound ; and French and Allies pursued a
parallel course to the Senne, William on the north and
Luxemburg on the south. The 2nd of August found JulyM-
both armies across the Senne, William at Hal, facing ^^" ^*
west with the river in his rear, and Luxemburg some
five miles south of him with his right at Steenkirk, and


1692. his centre between Hoves and Enghien, while Boufflers
lay at Manny St. Jean, seven miles in his rear.

The terrible state of the roads owing to heavy rain

had induced Luxemburg to leave most of his artillery

at Mons ; and, as he had designed merely to tempt the

. AlHes away from Namur, the principal object left to him

was to take up a strong position wherein his worn and

' harassed army could watch the enemy without fear of

attack. Such a position he thought that he had found

at Steenkirk.^ The country at this point is more

broken and rugged than is usual in Belgium. The

camp lay on high ground, with its right resting on

the river Sennette and its tight front covered by a

ravine, which gradually fades away northward into

a high plateau of about a mile in extent. Beyond the

ravine was a network of wooded defiles, through

which Luxemburg seems to have hoped that no enemy

could fall upon him in force unawares. It so happened,

however, that one of his most useful spies was detected,

in his true character, in William's camp at Hal ; and

this was an opportunity not to be lost. A pistol was

, held to the spy's head, and he was ordered to write a

j letter to Luxemburg, announcing that large bodies of

the enemy would be in motion next morning, but

that nothing more serious was contemplated than a

foraging expedition. This done, William laid his

plans to surprise his enemy on the morrow.

July 23. An hour before daybreak the advanced guard of

Aug. 3. William's army fell silently into its ranks, together

with a strong force of pioneers to clear the way for a

march through the woods. This force consisted of

the First Guards, the Royal Scots, the Twenty-first,

^ I spell the village according to the popular fashion in England,

Online LibraryJ. W. (John William) FortescueBritish campaigns in Flanders, 1690-1794; being extracts from A history of the British army, → online text (page 1 of 30)