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in order of battle, while the enemy was approaching
from the further wood and was then less than a
mile away. There was no time to be lost. Turenne
sent his infantry to take up their position in a small
wood, which lay to the right, and considerably to the
front of that taken up by his cavalry, and sent Rosen
to command it, while he placed himself at the head of
the cavalry on the left.

Mercy opened the battle with a cannonade, which
did Turenne's troops little damage, although he had
no guns ready to reply to it. According to the plan
of the battle given here and taken from the 1749

i645 ^T. 34] MARIENTHAL 83

edition of Ramsay's Vie de Turenne, Mercy had
eleven guns in position. Against at least seven of
these guns, cavalry were advancing over an open
plain; yet their fire, we are told, had "little effect".
Mercy then led his infantry to attack Turenne's in-
fantry in the small wood on Turenne's right. At the
same time Turenne led a charge of his cavalry against
the Bavarian horse on his own left, broke up the first
line, captured some guns, took twelve standards and
then advanced to attack the second line.

While Turenne was thus successful on his left, his
fortunes were not so prosperous on his right ; for his
infantry, in the little wood, seeing themselves greatly
outnumbered by the Bavarian infantry, simply ran
away. Rosen was taken prisoner, and it must be re-
membered — for we shall have to refer to this farther
on — that he had been the primary cause of the dis-

Mercy's cavalry on his left, led by John de Wert,
a general whom we shall meet again in subsequent
battles, galloped round the small wood and, wheeling
to their right, attacked Turenne's cavalry in the rear,
as they were in the act of charging the second line of
the Bavarian cavalry on Mercy's right. Being thus
attacked on both front and rear, there was nothing
left for Turenne to do but to order a retreat, and it
was only with the greatest difficulty that he escaped
being taken prisoner himself.

Unflurried by his narrow escape, he calmly con-
sidered his next proceeding. If he fell back upon the


Rhine he feared that Mercy might capture some of
the fortresses upon it then in French hands. Partly
for this reason, and partly in hope of obtaining fresh
troops from its landgravine, he gave orders to his
generals to rally his beaten forces as best they could,
and concentrate in Hesse. Then, with the couple of
regiments that remained, he covered the rear of the
retreat, often turning to repulse the Bavarians, who
harassed him nearly all the way until he reached the
frontiers of Hesse, where he joined the remnants of
his defeated army, having lost five-sixths of his in-
fantry, 1,200 to 1,300 horse,^ and all his guns and

Upon this disastrous reverse Napoleon, as might
be expected, has something to say: "Turenne having
contracted his cantonments to the space of three leagues
round his headquarters, his position was not dangerous ;
it is not, therefore, to his position that the loss of the
battle of Marienthal is to be attributed. It was doubt-
less unnecessary to go into quarters of refreshment in
so rich a country, where it was so easy to collect great
magazines. But his real error was the rallying point
he fixed for his army ; he should not have selected
Herbsthausen, because that village was situated at the
advanced posts by which the enemy was approaching ;
but Mergentheim (Marienthal) behind the Tauber,
where the army would have been in junction four hours
earlier, and where Mercy would have found the French
army covered by a river and in position. It is one of
^ Turenne himself gives these numbers.

i645 ^T. 34] MARIENTHAL 85

the most important rules in war, and rarely violated
with impunity, to collect one's cantonments on the point
most distant and best sheltered from the enemy."

Turenne himself attributed his defeat to his weak-
ness in yielding to the requests of Rosen and the
Germans for permission to disperse in search of pro-
visions and remounts. St. Evremond says that "he
never forgot Rosen's importunity in asking quarters and
his own too great easiness in granting them". But,
beyond this, it is quite clear that the actual battle was
forced upon Turenne, under very unfavourable con-
ditions, by Rosen.

When Turenne had entered Hesse with the remains
of his army, the landgravine,^ who up to then had
wished to take no active part in the war, perceived the
imminent danger of Mercy entering her territories to
complete the destruction of Turenne, and, for that
reason, she gladly joined her troops to those of Turenne.
Most opportunely for Turenne again, a few days later
Count Konigsmark joined him with the Swedish army.
The result was that, in little more than a week after his
defeat, he was at the head of 15,000 men, or an army
nearly a third larger than that with which he had first
reached Marienthal. And, more than this, he received
the welcome news that Conde was on the road to join
him with 8,000 men. Although Mercy had been re-
inforced by an Austrian division of 4,000 men, the
French army, augmented by Conde and with its

^ The Landgravine of Hesse was a cousin of Turenne, being a
granddaughter of William I., Prince of Orange.


Swedish and Hessian allies, was now much stronger
than his.

Turenne felt that he was not being fairly treated by
Mazarin. When he had implored him for reinforce-
ments, none had been sent ; now that reinforcements
were being sent, Conde was sent with them to supersede
Turenne in the command.

Mercy retired before the superior force which Conde
brought against him ; but, just as everything was going
well, Count Konigsmark imagined himself slighted by
Conde and went away in a huff, taking the Swedish
army with him, and mounting an infantry soldier on
horseback, behind each of his troopers, for the sake of
rapid expedition. Conde thus lost 4,000 men at one
swoop; but he pretended not to care and he sent a
message to wish Count Konigsmark a pleasant journey,
which made that general more angry than ever.

The French and Hessian armies were unopposed
until they reached Rothenburg, a town just within the
Bavarian frontier, but that place was attacked and
carried in a night, and it happily proved rich in pro-
visions for the large body of troops which then entered it.
In a few days Conde proceeded to besiege Dinkelsbiihl,
a town also within the frontier of Bavaria, about twenty-
five miles farther south. But he raised the siege in
order to pursue Mercy when he heard that Mercy's
army was only half a dozen miles off, on its retreat
towards Nordlingen, another frontier town very strongly
fortified, about eighteen miles still farther to the south-
south-east. The French army started soon after mid-

i64S ^T. 34] NORDLINGEN 87

night, tmd Conde and Mercy marched side by side, in
the dark, without knowing it, until the day broke, when
they discovered their propinquity. There was a river
between them, and they both mounted their guns and
opened fire. A very heavy and effective cannonade
continued throughout the day, each side suffering
severely, and Turenne admits that the French lost more
men by it than the Bavarians. An engagement, in
the open, conducted entirely by artillery, was a very
exceptional affair in those times.

When night came on, both armies were again on
the march. Conde hurried towards Nordlingen in
hopes of intercepting Mercy ; but, in the morning, he
found that Mercy, by a skilful march, aided probably
by a better knowledge of the country, had got there
first and had already occupied a very strong position at
the rear of the town. Mercy's position protected the
town itself, and at the same time commanded the
road to Donau worth, another fortified town, twenty
miles to the south-east, on the river Danube.^

The army under the command of Conde consisted battle of


of 17,000 men, that under Mercy of 14,000, and the gen, 3rd
number of guns was nearly equal on either side. But
Mercy had the stronger position. He had drawn up
his main forces on rising ground strengthened by en-
trenchments. On the edge of the plain, in his immedi-

^ A religious riot at this town had been the immediate cause
of the Thirty Years' Wars. Donauworth was afterwards carried by
storm by the troops of Marlborough a few days before the battle
of Blenheim.


ate front, but a little in advance of his centre, was the
village of Allerheim, in which he had placed three or
four regiments and had loopholed the walls of the
houses. Musketeers were posted in the church tower
and behind gravestones in the churchyard. On either
side of his main position were two hills. That on his
right was called Weinberg, and here he had placed
several guns and the cavalry under the command of
the famous General Glein of the Imperial army. The
hill on his left was surmounted by the chateau or
castle of Allerheim, and on this eminence he had posted
artillery and a strong body of cavalry. On the great
plain of Nordlingen before him, the French army was
advancing, in extended order, on the opposite side of the
village of Allerheim, which became the central point of
the subsequent action.

After discovering the position of the enemy, Conde
had held a council of war. Turenne suggested — and
it will be seen later that Napoleon thought he rightly
suggested — that an attack upon Mercy, when he held
such a splendid position, would expose the French
army to almost certain defeat. Conde, on the contrary,
was determined to attack ; and, as he was in supreme
command, the final decision lay with him. He pro-
posed to begin by leaving the enemy's centre alone,
and by attacking the hills on both his flanks with
cavalry. Turenne objected that it would be dangerous
to proceed against the flanks, without first attacking
the enemy's infantry in the centre. On this point
Conde yielded to the advice of Turenne.


i645 /Et. 34] NORDLINGEN 89

The French army had entered the great plain
about midday on that 3rd of August; but the troops
were not extended in fighting order until after four
o'clock and the actual battle did not begin much before
five. It is remarkable that several of the battles, in
which Turenne was engaged, did not begin until late
in the afternoon. The action was opened by the
French artillery, which was sent forward to batter the
village of Allerheim ; but, as Turenne says, artillery
already posted in entrenchments have enormous advan-
tages over guns drawn to the front on an open plain
by horses ; and, in the artillery duel which followed,
the Bavarians naturally had much the best of it.

The village was next attacked by the French
infantry and a terrific struggle followed. Here, again,
the cover from behind which the Bavarian musketeers
were firing gave them a great advantage, and the
French loss was much the heaviest ; but their attack
was magnificent. Conde, who moved about from one
part of the battlefield to another, frequently went into
the village to encourage his men ; while, on the opposite
side of the village, Mercy was close at hand during a
great part of the action. "God," exclaimed Mercy,
" has turned the heads of the French ; they will soon be
routed." Yet they held on, after wavering several
times, and so obstinate was the fight, between mus-
keteers and pikemen on both sides, that it looked as
if the issue of the battlefield was to be decided at
the village. Each commander-in-chief was growing
anxious, and each was determined to finish off the con-


test quickly in his own favour. At about the same
time both Conde and Mercy rode into the thick of
the conflict to encourage their men. According to
Ramsay, Conde's clothes were "shot through in many
places " ; a horse fell under him ; he mounted another
and that also was soon wounded. He himself received
a contusion on the thigh ; but in vain was he implored
to retire for the purpose of having his injury examined
and relieved. Mercy was no less in the thick of the
fighting, and he had been exhibiting marvellous courage
when a musket-ball struck him and ended his life ; and
although nearly the whole of the French infantry that
had attacked the village had been killed, wounded or
dispersed before he fell, the loss of this splendid com-
mander spread dire discouragement among the troops
which had hitherto been fighting so courageously under
his skilful direction and fearless personal leadership.

The struggle at the village had lasted an hour, and
it was not far from six o'clock when Conde ordered
the French cavalry, on his right, to charge the Bavarian
cavalry on the enemy's left. Although Marshal de
Grammont did all in his power to induce them to make
a successful attack, he failed in doing so ; they were
soon routed and he was taken prisoner.^

^ This was not the frivolous courtier, Count Philibert de Gram-
mont ; but his valiant elder brother, Field-Marshal the Duke of
Grammont. A curious incident occurred after he had been taken
prisoner, A captain was taking him to General Mercy, not know-
ing that Mercy had been killed. They were met by a page of
Mercy's, a boy of fifteen. The lad was enraged at the death of
his master and was determined to be revenged upon the first

i645 ^T. 34] NORDLINGEN 91

Having now neither centre nor right, Conde rode
to Turenne, who was in command of the left, and at
once granted his urgent request to be allowed to attack.
As Turenne advanced up the hill, the enemy fired
first with round-shot, and then, he says, "with cart-
ridge-shot," which was probably some form of case-
shot suitable for short ranges. One of these shot
o-lanced across the cuirass on his breast and another


wounded his horse. He was leading, not French, but
German cavalry ; and, although it wavered once, it re-
turned to the charge and behaved splendidly. The
indefatigable Conde came up at the head of a reserve
of Hessian horse, and when Turenne's Weimarian
cavalry, which were again almost overpowered, saw
the Hessians coming to their support, they made a
desperate effort, and, in conjunction with the Hessians,
broke the Bavarian and Imperialist ranks, captured
the guns on the hill, and took General Glein prisoner.
Turenne then changed front, turning to his own right,
and attacked the Bavarian centre on its right flank,
with a result which will presently appear.

Meanwhile, no' less complete than the success of
the French left had been the defeat and utter rout of
the French right. The Bavarian cavalry pursued the
French all the way back to their camp ; and it was

Frenchman he met. Snatching one of Grammont's pistols from
its holster, he held it to his head and tried to fire it. Fortunately
Grammont had already discharged it in the battle. The Germans
wanted to punish the boy very severely ; but Grammont begged
him off [Metnoires du Marcchal k Due de Grammont, p. 262).


getting near sunset when John de Wert/ who was in
command of the victorious left wing, discovered that
things were going badly with his own army, on his
right. Leaving a couple of regiments to harass the
flying Frenchmen, he led back the rest of his cavalry
to the hill from which he had started, the hill on which
stood the chateau. Thence he turned towards the
Bavarian right with the object of attacking Turenne.

But he was a little too late! After routing the
Bavarian right, Turenne had pressed on to the village
of Allerheim, where some of the Bavarian infantry,
taken by surprise and unaware that a body of their own
cavalry, under John de Wert, was hurrying to their
assistance, came out of the village, in the twilight,
without their arms and surrendered.

Then darkness came on and the fighting ceased.
It is a question which of the two armies was in the
worse plight. Turenne himself estimates the French
loss as greater than the Bavarian. Both armies had
lost their right; the French army had also lost the
whole, and the Bavarian army a part, of its centre.
But in the night John de Wert, who was now in
command of the Bavarian army, finding his troops
discouraged by the death of Mercy, and being uncertain
of the position of the enemy, retreated with his army to
Donauworth, leaving twelve or fifteen guns in the hands
of Conde.

In Turenne and Cond(^, two splendid and gener-

1 John de Wert was the son of a peasant and rose to the rank
of general solely by merit.

i645 ^T. 34] NORDLINGEN 93

ous-minded generals fought side by side on that terrible
field of Nordlingen. When Conde had received a letter
from the Queen of Sweden thanking him for avenging
the defeat which the Swedish army had suffered on the
same battlefield eleven years earlier, he told her, in his
reply, that the credit of the victory was due less to him-
self than to the skill and the courage of Turenne.


The glory of war, and even the glory of victory, soon
begins to lose something of its dazzling brilliance when
submitted to capable and cold-blooded criticism.

Napoleon analyses the conduct of the battle of
Nordlingen at considerable length. Conde, says he,
was wrong "in attacking Mercy in his camp with an
army composed almost entirely of cavalry, and with so
little artillery". (In' his account of the relative forces
at the beginning of the battle, however, he says : "The
number of pieces of artillery was nearly equal on both
sides".) Nevertheless, he admits the attack on the
village of Allerheim to have been "a grand affair".
It was but natural, he continues, that Conde should fail
in his attack upon Allerheim with "all its houses, as
well as the church and cemetery, embattled and
defended by an infantry superior to the French, not
only in number but in quality. Had it not been for
Mercy's death, the Bavarians would have remained
masters of the field of battle."

Again he says : " Notwithstanding the death of
Mercy, the Bavarians would still have gained the
victory if John de Wert, on his return from pursuing
the right wing of the French, had advanced against


i645 ^T. 34] NORDLINGEN 95

Turenne, not by first resuming his former position, and
thus traversing two sides of the triangle, but by crossing
the plain diagonally, leaving Allerheimonhis right, and
falling on the rear of the cavalry of Weimar, which was
then engaged with Glein's Austrian troops. By this
plan he would have succeeded ; but he was not daring
enouQ^h. The ano-le he made retarded his movement
only half an hour, but the fortune of battles frequently
depends on the slightest accident."

In spite both of the death of Mercy and of the mis-
take of De Wert, Napoleon thinks that the Bavarians
would "still have conquered, if the infantry posted at
the village of Allerheim had not, although victorious,
capitulated. The capitulation accepted or proposed by
these troops is a new proof that a body of troops in line
ought never to capitulate during a battle." In those
times, he says, it was a generally received principle
that troops in the field might capitulate when surrounded,
" thus assimilating themselves ... to the garrison of
a fortress". No o-eneral can waore war with success
"if the officers are allowed to capitulate on the field,
and to lay down their arms according to the terms of a
contract favourable to the individuals of the corps con-
structing it, but injurious to the army. Such conduct
ought to be , . , punished with death. ... Of the
generals and officers, one in ten ought to suffer, of the
sub-officers, one in fifty, and of the men, one in a
thousand." He says that the general who has been
chiefly guilty of the capitulation ought in any case to
suffer death.


Napoleon gives the credit of saving the day to the
obstinacy and extraordinary intrepidity of Conde, and
neither to the skill nor to the courage of Turenne ; for
it was Cond6 "who directed all the movements of"
the left " wing and is entitled to all the glory of the
success. Ordinary minds will say that he ought to
have made use of the wing which remained untouched,
for the purpose of securing his retreat, and not to have
hazarded the remainder of his forces ; but with such
principles, a general is sure to miss every opportunity
of success, and to be constantly beaten. . . . The glory
and honour of his country's arms is the first duty to
which a general who gives battle ought to attend, the
safety and preservation of his men is but the second :
their safety and preservation is, in fact, to be found in
that daring obstinacy itself; for even had the Prince
commenced a retreat with Turenne's corps, he would
have lost nearly all his men before he could have
reached the Rhine. . . . If he did wrong in giving
battle to Mercy in the position he occupied, he did
right in never yielding to despair while he had brave
men under his colours."

The French avoidance of defeat at Nordlingen,
for that is all it can truthfully be called, although it
prevented a terrible disaster, was poor in its results.
Cond^ was soon afterwards taken ill and had to retire
to France, and no reinforcements were sent to Turenne,
whose army had suffered greater losses than that of
the enemy. The Bavarian troops, on the contrary,
were reinforced by the Archduke Leopold with 5,000

i645 ^T. 34] IN RETREAT 97

horse. Before this superior force Turenne was obliged
to retreat, and he mounted each foot-soldier on a horse
behind a trooper to enable his army to march more
rapidly ; for he was pursued by the Archduke, who
retook Nordlingen and two or three other towns which
had been captured by Conde.

Turenne retreated to Philippsburg ; but, even there,
he would not have been safe, as there was no bridge
over which to cross the Rhine and the Archduke was
close at his heels, if there had not been a wide space
between the fortress and the river. Upon that space
he was happily able to entrench himself, while boats
were sent for from farther down the river, and when
they came. he made a bridge with them.

This, says Napoleon, " ought to be a lesson for
engineers, not only with respect to fortified places, but
also for that of tetes-de-pont : they should leave a space
between the fortified place and the river, so that an
army might draw up and rally between the fortified
place and the bridge, without entering the fortress,
which would place it in jeopardy ".

A month or two later the Archduke and his army
were summoned to Bohemia. Then Turenne was able
to cross the Rhine without danger of molestation ; and
he made the march of 1 20 miles in a very hard frost to
Treves, on the German side of the borders of Luxem-
burg, and Treves speedily capitulated. There he re-
instated the elector, an ally of France, who had been
driven out of it a dozen years earlier.

This was a particularly adroit move on the part ot


Turenne, as it secured Treves to the alliance of France
and prevented the roving Duke of Lorraine from
making use of it as winter quarters for his army. It
also made the Moselle a boundary for the allies, and
Turenne immediately set to work to put all the for-
tresses on that river in a state of defence. Having
completed these works, he returned to Paris early in
February, 1646.

At Court, Mazarin, who was at that time practically
Regent of France, gave Turenne an excellent reception
and offered him the Duchy of Chateau-Thierry. As
this duchy, which was only some forty miles west-north-
west of Paris, was one of the estates which had been
promised to Bouillon in exchange for Sedan, before the
rupture between that Duke and Mazarin had broken off
all negotiations between them, it would seem that the
diplomatic cardinal intended at the same time to re-
ward Turenne for his services and to make a breach
between him and his brother. In this amiable scheme
Mazarin was defeated, as Turenne saw through it and
refused the offer, stating that he could accept nothing
until the exchanges promised to his brother were

Having disposed of his personal affairs, Turenne
urged upon Mazarin the importance of the union of the
French and Swedish armies. Little progress, he assured
him, could be made with the war in Germany so long
as the allied armies were working apart, and without
any concerted and systematic action.

To enter fully into the tangle of continental politics,

1646 Mt. 35] A TANGLE 99

in the spring of 1 646, would unduly extend the present
volume. That there was a tangle may be inferred from
a few lines which shall be quoted from Ramsay:^

Online LibraryThomas LonguevilleMarshall Turenne → online text (page 7 of 26)