Thomas Longueville.

Marshall Turenne online

. (page 23 of 26)
Online LibraryThomas LonguevilleMarshall Turenne → online text (page 23 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with 27,000 corpses ; and in such personal danger had
been both commanders-in-chief that Conde and the
Prince of Orange had each more than one horse killed
under him. Conde's energy in this great battle was
the more meritorious on account of his ill-health. For
some years he had been obliged to live chiefly on milk.^
After the battle of Seneff, at which he spent seventeen

^Desormeaux, vol. iv., p. 208. Mahon's Life of Conde, p. 266.


hours in the saddle, he had such a severe attack of gout
that, when he went to present himself to the King, he
could scarcely crawl up the great staircase at Versailles.
But we must return to Turenne, who also was to fight
a great battle in a few weeks.

The Imperial army, which had meanwhile been en-
camped between Mayence and Frankfurt, was largely
reinforced by German levies, until the Duke of
Bournonville had 35,000 men and thirty guns under
him by the end of August. With this large army he
forced the bridge at Mayence and crossed to the west
of the Rhine.

Both Louis XIV. and Louvois were much alarmed
at hearing of this advance of the Imperial army, and
Louvois laid all the blame of it on Turenne. He
urged the King to withdraw his troops, to abandon
Alsace, and to fall back into Lorraine. Louis XIV.
consented and sent pressing orders to this effect to
Turenne ; upon which Turenne sent back a respectful
remonstrance. "The enemy," he wrote, "hownumer-
ous soever their troops be, cannot think of any other
enterprise this season but that of making me leave the
Province I am in : they have neither provisions, nor
the means of passing into Lorraine, till I be driven out
of Alsace. If I go away of my own accord, as your
Majesty orders me, I shall do for them what they would
find it difficult to make me do. When a General has a
reasonable number of troops, he need never quit a
country ; though the enemy may have a great many
more. I am persuaded that, of the two, it would be

1674 ^T. 6s] GIVEN THE SLIP 343

less prejudicial to your Majesty's interest that I lost
a battle, than that, abandoning Alsace, I should repass
the mountains into Lorraine : for, if I were to do so,
Philippsburg and Breisach would soon be obliged to
surrender. The Imperialists would take possession of
the whole country from Mayence to Basle, and very
possibly they might invade Franche-Comte, Lorraine
and Champagne. I know the strength of the Imperial
army, the Generals who command it, and the country
in which I now am. I am prepared to take the whole
responsibility and I will answer for the event."

The King so thoroughly trusted Turenne that he
told him to do as he pleased, reinforced him with eight
battalions and ordered Louvois to submit.

Bournonville now marched south and made a bridge
of boats six miles from Philippsburg. Turenne was
uncertain whether Bournonville intended to besiege
Philippsburg, or to recross and march up the Rhine, or
merely to make a feint of crossing the Rhine and then
turn back to the west. In this uncertainty, Turenne
made elaborate arrangements for watching his move-
ments. Four guns were to be fired as a signal if he
did one thing, and six guns if he did something else. A
detachment of 500 infantry, specially told off to observe
his proceedings, was under the command of "the hand-
some Englishman".

In spite of all the precautions of Turenne, Bournon-
ville managed to give him the slip. He recrossed the
Rhine on the 20th of September and hurried up the
river, by its right or eastern bank, to Strasburg.


Turenne followed him on the left bank, being anxious to
reach Strasburg before his enemy, in order to confirm
its magistrates in their neutrality ; not that he had
much anxiety on that point, as they had refused the
Imperialists a passage over its bridge a few months
earlier, and they were not likely to run any danger
of incurring the wrath of Louis XIV. or of having
their city made the centre of a great war. And Turenne
was very nearly right, so far as the magistrates of
Strasburg were concerned ; for they refused point-blank
to permit Bournonville to cross over their bridge ; but
Count Hohenlohe, who had undertaken the negotia-
tion, on failing with the magistrates, had tried his luck
with the people, and with such effect that they rose
against the magistrates, took possession of the bridge,
and gave the Imperialists a free passage over it. The
army of the Empire then crossed the river on the
26th of September, Turenne arriving only six hours
too late to stop them.' After crossing the river, the
Imperial army turned to the south, up the 111, a river
which flows into the Rhine below Strasburg, and en-
camped between that city and Gravenstadt, a small
town about three miles to the south, on the 111.

"By this disposition," Ramsay tells us, "the Im-
perialists became masters of the country, from the Rhine
to the mountains of Saverne, and by consequence of
all Upper Alsace, where they found provisions in abund-
ance to support a very powerful army, a long time,

1 So at least says Napoleon.

1674 ^T. 63] CRITICAL POSITION 345

and from whence they might easily make an irruption
into France."

Of these operations Napoleon has this to say :
"The Duke of Bournonville surprised Turenne, by
gaining several marches upon him and taking pos-
session of Strasburg. The French ministry had been
remiss in not ordering the occupation of Strasburg.
What had they to hesitate about? Nearly the whole
Empire was at war, and the hostile disposition of the
citizens of Strasburg was known : the possession of the
place was indispensable to the security of the frontier.
But Turenne ought to have watched this important point.
He was on the left bank of the Rhine, and the enemy on
the right : he ought to have kept a division near Stras-
burg so as to have been able to anticipate the enemy,
particularly as there was no other point on this whole
frontier calculated to excite his solicitude in a similar

The position now was exceedingly critical. The
army of the Empire already greatly outnumbered that
of Turenne, and the Elector of Brandenburg was ex-
pected in a fortnight with a reinforcement of 20,000
men. Turenne had only 22,000 men, and with little
more than half the numbers of the enemy he had to
cover Saverne and Hagenau, places as important as
they were weak. A retreat would have been dangerous
and its consequences fatal, including the loss of Breisach,
Philippsburg, Alsace and possibly also Franche-Comt^
and Lorraine. Likely enough, again, it might have
been followed by the pillaging of Champagne. If Bran-


denburg joined the Imperial army, Turenne's force
would meet with almost certain destruction from one
nearly three times its number. Turenne's only chance
of success, and that a poor one, seemed to be to attack
the enemy at once, before Brandenburg could join him.


It must have put a severe strain upon the spirits of
even so brave a soldier, and a man of such an equable
temperament, as Turenne, to prepare for attacking, with
a comparatively small army, a large and splendid army,
which was soon to be very considerably reinforced.
But one of Turenne's maxims was to "appear more
gay than ordinary in the time of the most imminent
danger ". St. Evremond wrote of him, while he was
still living : " He is never elevated in good, never cast
down in bad fortune ".

While the enemy was encamped three miles to the
south-west of Strasburg, Turenne encamped about as
far from it on the north-east, at Wanzenau, on the
111, a little above where that river flows into the
Rhine. Although he could calculate on only fourteen
days before the arrival of 20,000 fresh enemies to join
the forces gready outnumbering his own, already
present, he wisely gave his own men a three days' rest
before beginning his operations.

Early in the night of the 2nd of October he sent
off three regiments of dragoons, at midnight he de-
camped himself, but the main body of his army does



not seem to have started till the next morning. It
marched first due west and then to the south-west of
Strasburg, his cavalry keeping next to that city, his
infantry in the centre and his transports on the farther
side. Torrents of rain fell during the night, and, as a
good deal of ploughed land had to be traversed, the
marching was very heavy. At four o'clock, in the
afternoon of the 3rd, Turenne encamped on high
ground above Achenheim, a village near the river
Breusch, over which he was fortunate enough to find
a bridge unbroken at Holtzheim. He at once crossed
the river with some cavalry, and used the rest of the
daylight for reconnoitring. He discovered the camp
of the enemy, about three miles due south of his own,
on the opposite side of Ensheim, a village some half-
dozen miles to the south-west of Strasburg. On the
Strasburg side, that is to say at the enemy's right
flank, was a very large wood ; and, in front of his
right wing, separated by a wide passage from this
wood, was a vineyard. In front of his left wing was
a small wood which seemed to Turenne, and, as it after-
wards turned out, to Bournonville also, the most impor-
tant point in the coming battle. In front of the Imperial
centre was the village of Ensheim, with two open
spaces of from half a mile to three-quarters of a mile
each, one between the village and the vineyard on the
right, and the other between the village and the small
wood on the left.

Knowing that he had not a moment to lose,
Turenne made his army begin to file over the small

i674 ^T. 63] ENSHEIM 349

bridge at Achenheim as soon as possible that evening,
and to continue this movement throughout the night.
As quickly as his troops passed over the river Breusch,
he drew them up in order of battle, on the farther side of
the village of Holtzheim, which stood upon the south
side of the river. Thus occupied, he spent the whole
night in the saddle.

Soon after six o'clock, on the morning of the 4th battle of


of October, both the French and the German armies 4*11 October,
were in order of battle. It was a gloomy morning,
and a fog, with which the day began, soon developed,
first into a drizzle, and presently into a steady downpour
of rain which lasted till the evening. Lord Wolseley
says [Life of Ma7'lborougk, vol. i., p. 140) that Turenne,
theoretically, with an army little more than half the
size of that of his enemy and with a river which could
only be recrossed by one bridge behind him, ought not
to have attacked at all ; but, he adds, Turenne knew
that he could depend upon a want of agreement be-
tween "the many serene Highnesses in the Imperial
army," which was made up of contingents from many elec-
torates and provinces commanded by their own princes.
" None but a master in the practice of war," says he,
"knows when to discard theory; the instinct which
prompts him to do so at the right moment is the hall-
mark of real military genius." Making all allowances,
however. Lord Wolseley is of opinion that Turenne
was scarcely "justified in the attack upon which he
now resolved".

Both armies had infantry in their centres and


cavalry on their wings ; but with this important differ-
ence, that the Imperialists placed the whole of their
infantry in their centre, while Turenne placed a few
battalions in his centre and divided the rest into platoons,
which he placed between the squadrons of cavalry.
Napoleon would probably have been the first to
acknowledge that musketry was, at that time, in a very
experimental and transitional stage, and that little
blame could be laid upon Turenne for making a mistake
in its use; but he says : "The plan of mingling platoons
of infantry with cavalry is bad and produces nothing
but disadvantages : the cavalry loses its activity and is
obstructed in all its movements ; it loses its power ; the
infantry is endangered and, on the first movement of
the cavalry, remains without support ".

Turenne^ "posted himself in no particular place,
intending to go wherever his presence should be
necessary";"'^ but Bournonville, who was commander-
in-chief of the Imperial army, "placed himself at the
head of the main body ". Before the action opened,
Bournonville sent troops with guns to occupy the small
wood which stood before his left wing and ordered the
position to be entrenched. He also had the village en-
trenched and armed by artillery. In the open spaces,
on the right and left of the village, he placed infantry
concealed by lying in hollows and behind banks. Then
he quiedy awaited the French attack. The first line

^ Ramsay.

2 Turenne, nevertheless, is reported to have once said : " A
general who ' is everywhere ' is nowhere ".

i674^T. 63] ENSHEIM 351

of the French was as long as that of the Imperialists;
the second was shorter than theirs ; but the French
reserve was only about a fifth of that of the enemy,
which, in his case, was to all intents and purposes a
third line of battle. The two armies were drawn up
about a mile from each other.

It seemed to Turenne that the first thing to be
done was to take, if possible, the small wood on his
own right and on the Imperialist left ; and he began
the action by sending the Marquis Bouffiers, with
eight squadrons of dismounted dragoons, to attack it.
The artillery on either side cannonaded each other for
some time, the Imperialists using "cartridge shot".
Under Bouffiers, and with Monmouth's force, fought
the future Duke of Marlborough, who was commanding
a regiment, the nucleus of which, says Lord Wolseley
{^Life of Marlborough, vol. i., p. 135), were drafts of
fifty men from each of the three regiments of English
Foot Guards. Sir F. Hamilton, in his History of the
Grenadier Guards (vol. i., p. 194), says: "The men
of the three companies of the King's [Grenadier]
and Coldstream Guards, forming part of Monmouth's
original Royal English Regiment, had . . . been drafted
into the other companies of that corps still remaining in
the French King's service, and . . . more than half of
each of the Guard's companies of Skelton's battalion
were similarly drafted into Churchill's corps". An
Englishman, in writing about Turenne, may be ex-
cused for dwelling upon these details and for feeling
proud that some of the hardest fighting, in one of the


hardest-fought battles of Turenne, was the work, and
the successful work, of his fellow-countrymen.

Both Bournonville and Turenne constantly sent
reinforcements to this important position. At last
Boufflers, sword in hand, marched up to the entrench-
ments, stormed them, drove the enemy out of them,
and took two guns; but, on advancing through the
wood, he was surprised and staggered at being con-
fronted by a second entrenchment, a little distance
behind the first, from which no less than six guns
opened fire. For three hours the French struggled
against this fire, without being able to make any way.
Turenne then sent further reinforcements; but a blind-
ing storm of rain for some time interfered with the
attack. Then the French made a most vigorous on-
slaught. The bloodshed was terrible on both sides.
As they fought, many of the living were standing upon
the bodies of the dead ; but the French persevered
until they carried the second entrenchments, captured
the six guns, and drove the enemy out of the wood.

Bournonville, as will presently be seen, did not
concentrate his attention too exclusively upon the small
wood where there was such terrific fighting; but he
still considered it of the utmost importance, and he sent
a strong force and six guns in hope of recovering it.
Turenne sent about an equal number of men to repel
them, but, at first, no artillery. These rival reinforce-
ments came into contact between the wood and the
village of Ensheini, but the Imperialists had strong
support, being close to their own lines, whereas the

1674 ^T. 63] ENSHEIM' 353

French troops were quite unsupported and suffered
great losses from the Imperial artillery. As Napoleon
describes it, "the carnage soon became dreadful".
Turenne himself led this attack, one horse was shot
under him, and several of his staff were killed at his
side. The personal courage which he exhibited did
much to animate his troops, and they fought with ex-
traordinary valour. When the guns which had been
captured by the French in the wood had been brought
up and reversed against the Imperial forces, they did
much to turn the tide of the battle, and the Imperial
troops were gradually driven back, until they sought
shelter behind the entrenchments which had been
made at the village of Ensheim.

When the battle had been at its hottest, Bournon-
ville had observed reinforcement after reinforcement
leaving the French centre and even the French left to
support the attack between the small wood and the
village, until the French left became considerably
weakened. He then conceived what Napoleon calls
an "able manoeuvre". Advancing himself, at the
head of several carefully chosen squadrons, he led
them between the village of Ensheim and the vine-
yard on his right to make a demonstration of charg-
ing the French centre. Before starting he had sent
Caprara, with a much stronger body of cavalry, by a
way invisible to the French, between the vineyard on
his rio"ht and the larofe wood, to make a sudden attack
on the French left flank.

When General Foucault, the oldest of the French


lieutenant-generals, saw the Imperial cavalry advanc-
ing across the plain, he immediately suspected Bour-
nonville's design, and prepared for an attack upon his
flank or rear. Perceiving that Foucault had made a
formation accordingly, Bournonville, thinking that his
plot had been discovered, instead of charging, retired ;
the brave Caprara, however, faithfully carried out the
orders that he had received, and emero^ing^ from be-
tween the cover of the vineyard and the large wood,
he charged the flank of the second line of the French
cavalry almost before his approach had been noticed,
broke up several squadrons of Turenne's cavalry and
attacked the rear of the French infantry. If Bournon-
ville had executed his share of the manoeuvre, the left
wing of the French army would have been in a most
perilous condition ; but, failing that charge, the French
left and centre, although weakened by withdrawals for
the great battle that was going on between the small
wood and the village of Ensheim, and no longer sup-
ported by any right wing, was just sufficiently strong
to withstand the attack of Caprara's cavalry, which had
at last to retire.

Cavalry and infantry, on both sides, had now had
about as much fighting as they could well endure.
The remainder of the daylight was used for cannonading ;
and it soon became too dark for further action on this
cloudy, dreary day, during which the rain had hardly
ever ceased. The Imperialists then withdrew to their
camp, close at hand, where they had provisions await-
ing them ; while Turenne, who had no food for his

i674 ^T. 63] ENSHEIM 355

men, led the main body of them back, past Holtzheim,
and across the river to his camp at Achenheim.

Both armies ended this severe day's fighting by
retaining their positions ; Turenne lefi; twelve squadrons
of horse and four of dragoons to hold the battlefield
before retreating to Achenheim ; but the Imperialists
decamped during the night, leaving behind them a num-
ber of wounded, a considerable quantity of provisions,
with two guns, and retired to Strasburg. Their loss
in the battle had been 3,000 killed on the spot, besides
many who died on the day after the action, in addition
to other wounded. The French loss was 2,000, in-
cluding many officers ; but they captured eight guns,
several standards and colours, and many prisoners.

In the opinion of Napoleon, if Turenne "had joined
to his extreme left, all the infantry which he injudiciously
dispersed amongst his squadrons : had he placed them
in the wood with some cannon, covering them with en-
trenchments and trees cut down, the left of his cavalry
would have had ^rvappui; this would have compensated
for his inferiority in cavalry. The best way of protect-
ing cavalry is to support its flanks. . . . If, after the
taking of the litde wood, which the enemy had defended
with all his means, Turenne had pushed his advantage,
the battle would have been decisive. He might, at all
events, have lain on the field of battle, but he fell back
a league and a half, the same day. On this occasion,
he carried his circumspection so far that it amounted
to timidity."

It was little that Turenne gained by the battle.
23 *


Indeed it was almost waste of energy, if his own maxim
be correct, that "actions ought not to be valued on
their own account, but only for their consequences".
True, the enemy had withdrawn to Strasburg; but
what of that? The Germans, again, had lost more in
numbers than the French, but their original numbers
having been much greater, their proportionate pre-
ponderance over the French had been little, if at all,
reduced by their losses in the battle. And in a few
days the Grand Elector of Brandenburg arrived at
Strasburg and reinforced the Imperial army with 20,000
men, bringing up its numbers to between 50,000 and
60,000, while Turenne had now scarcely 20,000. So
confident then were the German allies of victory, that
they brought with them the Electress of Brandenburg
and several other princesses, who declared that they were
going with the Imperial army to Paris to make the
acquaintance of the French ladies, and learn manners
from the politest of nations. The German generals,
also, fully looked forward to advancing through France
and capturing its capital.

As one more example of the courtesies of warfare
at that period, it may be observed that, during this
campaign, Turenne sent his nephew, a lad of fourteen,
to convey his compliments to the Duke of Lorraine,
who was fighting against him. " My young Cousin,"
said Lorraine, " you are too happy in seeing and hearing
M. de Turenne every day. Kiss the ground whereon
he treads. Be killed at his feet."

Turenne now fell back upon his fortress of

i674 ^T. 63] A RETREAT 357

Hagenau, about seventeen miles north of Strasburg,
and that of Saverne, some twenty miles to the north-
west of the same city, the distance of twenty miles
between Hagenau^ and Saverne being of great im-
portance because it covered the principal entrance to
Lorraine and Northern France. He broke the bridges
which lay between the two fortresses, spoiled the fords
and placed scouts to watch the narrow valleys by
which the few roads led towards Lorraine. On his
own retreat towards Saverne, or rather towards Dett-
weiler, which lies a few miles to the east of it, he was
attacked by the enemy, which dogged his footsteps ;
but 6,000 horse of the French Reserve, supported by
a number of French Dragoons who dismounted and
fired on the Imperialists from the cover of hedges,
held a narrow defile until the main body of Turenne's
army reached a camp on a very strong position, after a
most creditable retreat in the presence of a hostile force
nearly three times its size. At several points during
this retreat the Germans had opportunities of either
coming up with the French army, or of placing them-
selves between the French and either Saverne or
Hagenau ; and it is doubtful whether their failure to
take advantage of those opportunities was owing to
ignorance of the country, bad generalship, or want of
resolution. As to generalship, indeed, they had now
too much of it ; for they had so many generals that
there is likely to have been a bewildering diversity of

1 Hagenau is about eight miles from Worth, the scene of the
great battle between the Prussians and French on 6th August, 1S70.


counsel. On the other hand, Turenne was a general
who was a past-master of the very difficult art of
making a retreat.

Great was the alarm in Paris when the position of
Turenne was realised. The King insisted upon
strenuous levies ; and, by degrees, Turenne was largely
reinforced. The report of these reinforcements, raw
levies as they were, had the effect of making the Im-
perialists more cautious. In connection with these
levies a story is told which shows something of the
character of Turenne. Noticing an officer in one of
them exhibiting great military zeal, a zeal very far from
being shared by his weary, woebegone steed, Turenne

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 25 26

Online LibraryThomas LonguevilleMarshall Turenne → online text (page 23 of 26)