Battle of Blenheim

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Battle of Blenheim
Part of the War of the Spanish Succession
Duke-of-Marlborough-signing-Despatch-Blenheim-Bavaria-1704.jpg
The Duke of Marlborough Signing the Dispatch at Blenheim. Oil by Robert Alexander Hillingford.
Date August 13, 1704
Location Flag of Germany Blenheim, Bavaria
Result Decisive Allied victory
Combatants
Allied forces of:

Flag of England England
Flag of Netherlands Dutch Republic
Flag of Denmark Denmark
Flag of Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire

Kingdom of France
Flag of Bavaria Bavaria
Commanders
Flag of England Duke of Marlborough

Flag of Holy Roman Empire Prince Eugène of Savoy

Duc de Tallard
Ferdinand de Marsin

Flag of Bavaria Maximilian II Emanuel

Strength
52,000 men
60 guns[1]
56,000 men
90 guns
Casualties
4,542 killed
7,942 wounded
20,000 killed, drowned, or wounded
14,190 captured


War of the Spanish Succession
Carpi – Chieri – Cremona – Luzzara – Cádiz – Friedlingen – Vigo Bay – Ekeren – Höchstädt – Schellenberg – Blenheim – Málaga – Elixheim – Cassano – Calcinato – Ramillies – Turin – Almansa – Toulon – Oudenarde – Lille – Malplaquet – Almenara – Saragossa – Brihuega – Villaviciosa – Bouchain – Denain – Barcelona


The Battle of Blenheim (referred to in some countries as the Second Battle of Höchstädt) was a major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession fought on August 13, 1704. King Louis XIV sought to knock Emperor Leopold out of the war by seizing Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and gain a favorable peace settlement. The dangers to Vienna were considerable: The Elector of Bavaria and Marshal Marsin’s forces in Bavaria threatened from the west, and Marshal Vendôme’s large army in northern Italy posed a serious danger with a potential offensive through the Brenner Pass. Vienna was also under pressure from Rákóczi’s Hungarian revolt from its eastern approaches. Realizing the danger, the Duke of Marlborough resolved to alleviate the peril to Vienna by marching his forces south from Bedburg and help maintain Emperor Leopold within the Grand Alliance.

A combination of deception and brilliant administration—designed to conceal his true destination from friend and foe alike—enabled Marlborough to march 250 miles (400 km) unhindered from the Low Countries to the River Danube in five weeks. After securing Donauwörth on the Danube, the English Duke sought to engage the Elector's and Marsin's army before Marshal Tallard could bring reinforcements through the Black Forest. However, with the Franco-Bavarian commanders reticent to fight until their numbers were deemed sufficient, the Duke enacted a policy of spoliation in Bavaria designed to force the issue. The tactic proved unsuccessful, but when Tallard arrived to bolster the Elector’s army, and Prince Eugène arrived with reinforcements for the Allies, the two armies finally met on the banks of the Danube in and around the small village of Blindheim.

Blenheim has gone down in history as one of the turning points of the War of the Spanish Succession. The overwhelming Allied victory ensured the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance. Bavaria and Cologne were knocked out of the war, and King Louis’ hopes for a quick victory came to an end. France suffered over 30,000 casualties including the commander-in-chief, Marshal Tallard, who was taken captive to England. Before the 1704 campaign ended, the Allies had taken Landau, and the towns of Trèves and Trarbach on the Moselle in preparation for the following year’s campaign into France itself.

Contents

Background

By 1704, the War of the Spanish Succession was in its fourth year. The previous year had been a year of success for France and her allies, most particularly on the Danube, where Marshal Villars and the Elector of Bavaria had created a direct threat to Vienna—the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.[2] Vienna had been saved by the dissension between the two commanders, leading to the brilliant Villars being replaced by the less dynamic Marshal Marsin. Nevertheless, by 1704, the threat was still real; Rákóczi's Hungarian revolt was already threatening the Empire's eastern approaches, and Marshal Vendôme’s forces threatened an invasion from northern Italy.[3] In the Courts of Versailles and Madrid, Vienna’s fall was confidently anticipated which would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the Grand Alliance.[4]

To isolate the Danube from any Allied intervention, Marshal Villeroi’s 46,000 troops were expected to pin the 70,000 Dutch and English troops around Maastricht in the Low Countries, whilst General de Coignes protected Alsace against surprise with a further corps.[2] The only forces immediately available for Vienna’s defense were Prince Louis of Baden's force of 36,000 stationed in the Lines of Stollhofen to watch Marshal Tallard at Strasbourg; there was also a weak force of 10,000 men under Count Styrum observing Ulm.

Both the Imperial Austrian Ambassador in London, Count Wratislaw, and the Duke of Marlborough realized the true implications of the situation on the Danube. The Dutch, however, who clung to Marlborough’s army for their own protection, were against any adventurous military operation as far south as the Danube, and would never willingly permit any major weakening of the forces in the Spanish Netherlands.[5] Marlborough, realizing the only way to overcome Dutch obstruction was by the use of secrecy and guile, set out to deceive his Dutch allies by pretending to simply move his troops to the Moselle – a plan approved of by The Hague – but once there, he would slip the Dutch leash and link up with Austrian forces in southern Germany.[5] "My intentions," wrote the Duke from The Hague on April 29 to his governmental confidant, Sidney Godolphin, "are to march with the English to Coblenz and declare that I intend to campaign on the Moselle. But when I come there, to write to the Dutch States that I think it absolutely necessary for the saving of the Empire to march with the troops under my command and to join with those that are in Germany … in order to make measures with Prince Lewis of Baden for the speedy reduction of the Elector of Bavaria."[6]

Prelude

Protagonists march to the Danube

The Duke of Marlborough's march from Bedburg (near Cologne) to the Danube. His 250 mile (400 km) march to save Vienna falling into enemy hands was a masterpiece of deception, meticulous planning and organization.

Marlborough's march commenced on May 19 from Bedburg, 20 miles north-west of Cologne. The army (assembled by the Duke's brother General Charles Churchill) consisted of 66 squadrons, 31 battalions and 38 guns and mortars totaling 21,000 men (14,000 of whom were British troops).[7] This force was to be augmented en route such that by the time Marlborough reached the Danube, it would number 40,000 (47 battalions, 88 squadrons). While Marlborough led his army, General Overkirk would maintain a defensive position in the Dutch Republic in case Villeroi mounted an attack. In fact, Marlborough calculated that as he marched south, the French commander would be drawn after him.[8] In this assumption Marlborough was correct; Villeroi shadowed the Duke with 30,000 men comprising of 60 squadrons and 42 battalions.[9]

The Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

While Allied preparations had progressed, the French were striving to maintain and re-supply Marshal Marsin. Marsin had been operating with the Elector of Bavaria against the Imperial commander, Prince Louis of Baden, and was somewhat isolated from France whose only lines of communication lay through the rocky passes of the Black Forest. However, on May 14, with considerable skill Marshall Tallard managed to bring 10,000 reinforcements and vast supplies and munitions through the difficult terrain, whilst outmaneuvering Baron Thüngen, the Imperial general who sought to block his path.[10] Tallard then returned with his own force to the Rhine, once again side-stepping Thüngen's efforts to intercept him. The whole operation was an outstanding military achievement.[11]

On May 26, Marlborough reached Coblenz, where the Moselle meets the Rhine. If he intended an attack along the Moselle the Duke must now turn west, but, instead, the following day the army crossed to the right bank of the Rhine, (pausing to add 5,000 waiting Hanoverians and Prussians).[12] "There will be no campaign on the Moselle," wrote Villeroi who had taken up a defensive position on the river, "the English have all gone up into Germany."[13] A second possible objective now occurred to the French—an Allied incursion into Alsace and an attack on the city of Strasbourg. Marlborough skilfully encouraged this apprehension by constructing bridges across the Rhine at Philippsburg, a ruse that not only encouraged Villeroi to come to Tallard's aid in the defense of Alsace, but one that ensured the French plan to march on Vienna remained paralyzed by uncertainty.[14]

With Villeroi shadowing Marlborough’s every move, Dutch anticipation of an immediate French counter-offensive against their weakened position in the Netherlands thus proved illusory.[15] Encouraged by this sense of security the States-General promptly voted the Duke their full support and agreed to release the Danish contingent of 7 Battalions and 22 squadrons as a reinforcement.[15] Marlborough reached Ladenburg, in the plain of the Neckar and the Rhine, and there halted for three days to allow the guns and infantry to close up, and rest his cavalry.[16] On June 6, Marlborough arrived at Wiesloch, south of Heidelberg. The following day, the Allied army swung away from the Rhine towards the hills of the Swabian Jura and the Danube beyond. At last Marlborough’s destination was established without doubt.

Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) by Jacob van Schuppen. Prince Eugène met Marlborough for the first time in 1704. It was the start of a lifelong personal and professional friendship.

Strategy

On June 10, the Duke met for the first time the President of the Imperial War Council, Prince Eugène—accompanied by Count Wratislaw—at the village of Mundelsheim, half-way between the Danube and the Rhine.[17] By the June 13, the Imperial Field Commander, Prince Louis of Baden, had joined them in Gross Heppach.[18] The three generals commanded a force of nearly 110,000 men. It was decided that Eugène would return with 28,000 men to the Lines of Stollhofen on the Rhine to keep an eye on Villeroi and Tallard, and prevent them going to the aid of the Franco-Bavarian army on the Danube. Meanwhile, Marlborough's and Baden's forces would combine, totaling 80,000 men, for the march on the Danube to seek out the Elector and Marsin before they could be reinforced.[19]

Knowing Marlborough's destination, the French Marshals met at Landau in Alsace on June 13 to rapidly construct an action plan to save Bavaria, but the rigidity of the French command system was such that any variations from the original plan had to be sanctioned by Versailles.[20] The Count of Mérode-Westerloo, commander of the Flemish troops in Tallard's army wrote – "One thing is certain: we delayed our march from Alsace for far too long and quite inexplicably."[20] Approval from Louis arrived on June 27: Tallard was to reinforce Marsin and the Elector on the Danube via the Black Forest, with 40 battalions and 50 squadrons; Villeroi was to pin down the Allies defending the Lines of Stollhofen, or, if the Allies move all their forces to the Danube, he was to join with Marshal Tallard; and General de Coignies with 8,000 men, would protect Alsace. On July 1, Tallard and his army of 35,000 re-crossed the Rhine and began its march.[20]

Meanwhile, on June 22, Marlborough's forces linked up with Baden's Imperial forces at Launsheim. A distance of 250 miles (400 km) had been covered in five weeks. Thanks to a carefully planned time-table, the effects of wear and tear had been kept to a minimum. Captain Parker described the march discipline—"As we marched through the country of our Allies, commissars were appointed to furnish us with all manner of necessaries for man and horse … the soldiers had nothing to do but pitch their tents, boil kettles and lie down to rest."[21] In response to Marlborough's maneuvers, the Elector and Marsin, conscious of their numerical disadvantage with only 40,000 men, moved their forces to the entrenched camp at Dillingen on the north bank of the Danube; (Marlborough could not attack Dillingen because of a lack of siege guns—he was unable to bring any from the Low Countries and Baden had failed to supply any despite assurances to the contrary).[22]

The Allies, nevertheless, needed a base for provisions and a good river crossing. On July 2, therefore, Marlborough stormed the key fortress of Schellenberg on the heights above the town of Donauwörth. Count Jean d'Arco had been sent with 12,000 men from the Franco-Bavarian camp to hold the town and grassy hill, but after a ferocious and bloody battle, inflicting enormous casualties on both sides, Schellenberg finally succumbed, forcing Donauwörth to surrender shortly afterward. The Elector, knowing his position at Dillingen was not now tenable, took up a position behind the strong fortifications of Augsburg.[23]

Tallard’s march, meanwhile, presented a dilemma for Eugène. If the Allies were not to be outnumbered on the Danube, Eugène realized he must either try to cut Tallard off before he could get there, or, he must hasten to reinforce Marlborough.[24] However, if he withdrew from the Rhine to the Danube, Villeroi might also make a move south to link up with the Elector and Marsin. Eugène compromised. Leaving 12,000 troops behind guarding the Lines of Stollhofen, he marched off with the rest of his army to forestall Tallard.[24]

Lacking in numbers, Eugène could not seriously disrupt Tallard’s march; nevertheless, the French Marshal’s progress was proving pitifully slow. Tallard’s force had suffered considerably more than Marlborough’s troops on their march—many of his cavalry's horses were suffering from glanders, and the mountain passes were proving tough for the 8,000 wagons of provisions. Local German peasants, angry at French plundering, compounded Tallard's problems, leading Mérode-Westerloo to bemoan—"the enraged peasantry killed several thousand of our men before the army was clear of the Black Forest."[21] Additionally, Tallard had insisted on besieging the little town of Villingen for six days (July 16–22), but abandoned the enterprise on discovering the approach of Eugène.

The Elector in Augsburg was informed on July 14 that Tallard was on his way through the Black Forest. This good news bolstered the Elector's policy of inaction, encouraging him further to wait for the reinforcements.[25] But this reticence to fight induced Marlborough to undertake a controversial policy of spoliation in Bavaria, burning buildings and crops throughout the rich lands south of the Danube. This had two aims: Firstly to put pressure on the Elector to fight or come to terms before Tallard arrived with reinforcements; and secondly, to ruin Bavaria as a base from which the French and Bavarian armies could either attack Vienna, or, pursue the Duke into Franconia if, at some stage, he had to withdraw northwards.[26] But this destruction, coupled with a protracted siege of Rain (July 9–16), had cause Prince Eugène to lament—" … since the Donauwörth action I cannot admire their performances." Later concluding—"If he has to go home without having achieved his objective, he will certainly be ruined."[27] Nevertheless, strategically the Duke had been able to place his numerically stronger forces between the Franco-Bavarian army and Vienna.

Final positioning

Manoeuvres before the battle August 9–13.

Marshal Tallard, with 34,000 men, reached Ulm, joining with the Elector and Marsin in Augsburg on the August 5 (although Tallard was not impressed to find that the Elector had dispersed his army in response to Marlborough's campaign of ravaging the region).[28] Also on the August 5 Eugène reached Höchstädt, riding that same night to meet with Marlborough at Schrobenhausen.

Marlborough knew it was necessary that another crossing point over the Danube would be required in case Donauwörth fell to the enemy. On August 7, therefore, the first of Baden's 15,000 Imperialist troops (the remainder following two days later) left Marlborough's main force to besiege the heavily defended city of Ingolstadt.[29] Marlborough was not confident Baden could take the city, but with the prospect of the Elector breaking cover and coming to its rescue, both Marlborough and Eugène were relieved to have an excuse to be rid of their irascible, and possibly unreliable, colleague.[30]

With Eugène's forces at Höchstädt on the north bank of the Danube, and Marlborough's at Rain on the south bank, Tallard and the Elector debated their next move. Tallard preferred to bide his time, replenish supplies and allow Marlborough's Danube campaign to flounder in the colder weeks of Autumn; the Elector and Marsin, however, newly reinforced, were keen to push ahead. The French and Bavarian commanders eventually agreed on a plan and decided to attack Eugène's smaller force. On August 9, the Franco-Bavarian forces began to cross to the north bank of the Danube.[31]

On August 10, Eugène sent an urgent dispatch reporting that he was falling back to Donauwörth—"The enemy have marched. It is almost certain that the whole army is crossing the Danube at Lauingen … The plain of Dillingen is crowded with troops … Everything, milord, consists in speed and that you put yourself forthwith in movement to join me tomorrow, without which I fear it will be too late." By a series of brilliant marches Marlborough concentrated his forces on Donauwörth and, by noon August 11, General Churchill's vanguard had reached Eugène (the rest arriving within 12 hours).[32] Marlborough and Eugène then moved their combined forces to Münster, five miles from the French camp.

By August 12, Tallard and the Elector's forces had encamped behind the small river Nebel, near the village of Blindheim. That same day Marlborough and Eugène carried out a reconnaissance of the French position from the church spire at Tapfheim. Tallard’s army consisted of 56,000 men and 90 guns; the army of the Grand Alliance had 52,000 men and 60 guns. The Allied commanders decided to risk everything, and agreed to attack on the following day.[32]

Battle

The battlefield

The battlefield stretched for nearly 4 miles. The extreme right flank of the Franco-Bavarian army was covered by the Danube; to the extreme left flank lay the undulating pine-covered hills of the Swabian Jura. A small stream, the Nebel, (the ground either side of which was soft and marshy and only fordable intermittently), fronted the French line. The French right rested on the village of Blindheim near where the Nebel flowed into the Danube. Between Blindheim and the next village of Oberglau the fields of wheat had been cut to stubble and were now ideal to deploy troops. From Oberglau to the next hamlet of Lutzingen the terrain of ditches, thickets and brambles was potentially difficult ground for the attackers.[33]

Allied planning

At 02:00 on August 13, 40 squadrons were sent forward towards the enemy, followed at 03:00 by the main Allied force pushing over the Kessel. At 06:00 they reach Schwenningen, two miles from Blindheim where Marlborough and Eugène made their final plans. The Allied commanders agreed that Marlborough would command 36,000 troops and attack Tallard's force of 33,000 on the left (including capturing the village of Blindheim), whilst Eugène, commanding 16,000 men would attack the Elector and Marsin's combined forces of 23,000 troops on the right wing; if this attack was pressed hard the Elector and Marsin would have no troops to send to aid Tallard on their right.[34] Lieutenant-General John Cutts would attack Blindheim in concert with Eugène's attack. With the French flanks busy, Marlborough could cross the Nebel and deliver the fatal blow to the French at their center. However, Marlborough would have to wait until Eugène was in position before the general engagement could begin. The plan resembled that deployed by the Greeks at Marathon, with the center holding back while the flanks attacked heavily.[35]

Initial maneuvers

The position of the forces at noon, August 13. Marlborough took control of the left arm of the Allied forces including the attacks on Blindheim and Oberglau, whilst Eugène commanded the right including the attacks on Lutzingen.

Just after 07:00 Marlborough's men approached the Nebel to discern possible crossing points; pontoons were prepared and fascines cut to facilitate its crossing. For Tallard, however, the very last thing he was expecting that morning was to be attacked by the Allies—both he and his colleagues were convinced that Marlborough and Eugène were about to retreat north-eastwards towards Nördlingen.[36] Tallard wrote a report to this effect to King Louis that morning, but hardly had he sent the messenger when the Allied army began to appear opposite his camp. "I could see the enemy advancing ever closer in nine great columns," wrote Mérode-Westerloo, "…filling the whole plain from the Danube to the woods on the horizon."[37]

At 08:00 the French artillery on their right wing opened fire, answered by Colonel Blood's batteries. An hour later Tallard, the Elector, and Marsin climbed Blindheim's church tower to finalize their plans. The French commanders were divided as to how to utilize the Nebel: Tallard's tactic—opposed by Marsin and the Elector who felt it better to close their infantry right up to the stream itself—was to lure the allies across before unleashing their cavalry upon them, causing panic and confusion; while the enemy was struggling in the marshes, they would be caught in crossfire from Blindheim and Oberglau.[38] But this required perfect timing: If the cavalry were sent too late, the enemy might prove impossible to dislodge, wasting the impediment of this natural obstacle.[39]

The Franco-Bavarian commanders deployed their forces, but as the enemy columns grew longer, it was clear they had little time for an effective battle formation.[38] In the village of Lutzingen, Count Maffei positioned five Bavarian battalions with 16 guns at the village's edge. In the woods to the left of Lutzingen, seven French battalions under the Marquis de Rozel moved into place. Between Lutzingen and Oberglau the Elector placed 27 squadrons of cavalry—Count d'Arco commanded 14 Bavarian squadrons and Count Wolframsdorf had 13 more in support nearby. To their right stood Marsin's 40 French squadrons and 12 battalions. The village of Oberglau was packed with 14 battalions commanded by the Marquis de Blainville (including effective Irish mercenaries known as the "Wild Geese"). Six batteries of guns were ranged alongside the village.[40]

On the right of these French and Bavarian positions, Tallard deployed 64 French and Walloon squadrons supported by nine French battalions. In the cornfield next to Blindheim stood three battalions from the Regiment de Roi. Nine battalions occupied the village itself, commanded by the Marquis de Clerambault. A further four battalions stood to the rear and a further 11 were in reserve. These battalions were supported by Hautefille's 12 squadrons of dismounted dragoons.[40]

Blindheim

Part of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry at Blenheim Palace by Judocus de Vos. In the background is the village of Blenheim, in the middle ground are the two water mills that Rowe had to take to gain a bridgehead over the Nebel. The foreground shows a British grenadier with a captured French color.

Eugène was expected to be in position by 11:00, but due to the difficult terrain and enemy fire, progress was slow.[41] Marlborough's anxiety was finally allayed when, just past noon, Colonel Cadogan reported that Eugène's Prussian and Danish infantry were in place—the order for the general advance was given. At 13:00, Lord John Cutts was ordered to attack the village of Blindheim whilst Prince Eugène was requested to assault Lutzingen on the Allied right flank.[42]

Cutts ordered Brigadier-General Archibald Rowe's British brigade, supported by John Ferguson's British brigade on his left, to attack. The French in the village, supported by dragoons on the flank, opened fire when the British were within 30 yards of the their barricades. Repeated disciplined French volleys in the space of minutes forced the British back towards the Nebel, inflicting heavy casualties including the mortally wounded General Rowe.[43] At this moment, with Cutts’ attack faltering, eight squadrons of elite Gens d'Armes, commanded by the veteran Swiss officer, Beat-Jacques von Zurlauben, fell upon the British troops, cutting at the exposed flank of Rowe’s own regiment. However, Wilkes’ Hessian brigade was nearby, lying in the marshy grass at the water’s edge. Ably assisted by five squadrons of cavalry, Wilkes’ brigade stood firm and repulsed the Gens d'Armes with steady fire, enabling the British and Hessians to launch another attack.[44]

Although they were repulsed once again, these persistent attacks on Blindheim eventually bore fruit, panicking Clérambault into making the worst French error of the day.[45] Without consulting Tallard, Clérambault ordered his reserve battalions into the village, upsetting the balance of the French position and nullifying the French numerical superiority. "The men were so crowded in upon one another," wrote Mérode-Westerloo, "that they couldn’t even fire—let alone receive or carry out any orders."[45] Marlborough, spotting this error, ordered Cutts to simply contain the enemy within Blindheim; no more than 5,000 Allied soldiers were able to pen in twice the number of French infantry and dragoons.[46] Fatally, Tallard did nothing to rectify this grave mistake, leaving him with just nine battalions of infantry to oppose the massed enemy ranks in the centre.[47]

Lutzingen

Memorial for the Battle of Blenheim 1704, Lutzingen, Germany.

On the Allied right, Eugène's Prussian and Danish forces were desperately fighting the numerically superior forces of the Elector and Marsin. Prince of Anhalt-Dessau led his troops across the Nebel to assault the well-fortified position of Lutzingen; but as soon as the infantry crossed the stream, they were struck by Maffei's infantry, and salvos from the Bavarian guns positioned both in front of the village and in enfilade on the wood-line to the right. Despite heavy casualties the Prussians attempted to storm the great battery, whilst the Danes, under Count Scholten, attempted to drive the French infantry out of the copses beyond the village.[48]

With the infantry heavily engaged, Eugène's cavalry picked its way across the Nebel. After initial success his first line of cavalry, under the Imperial General of Horse, Prince Maximilien of Hanover, were pressed by the second line of Marsin's cavalry, and were forced back across the Nebel in confusion. Nevertheless, the exhausted French were unable to follow up their advantage, and the two cavalry forces tried to regroup and reorder their ranks.[49] But without cavalry support, the Prussian and Danish infantry were also forced to pull back across the Nebel (it was only through the leadership of Eugène and the Prussian Prince, that kept the Imperialist infantry from quitting altogether).[50]

After rallying his troops, Eugène prepared to launch a second attack, led by the second-line squadrons under the Duke of Württemberg-Teck; but they were caught in the murderous cross-fire from the artillery in Lutzingen and Oberglau, and were once again thrown back in disarray. The French and Bavarians, however, were almost as disordered as their opponents, and they too were in need of inspiration from their commander, the Elector, who was seen—"…riding up and down, and inspiring his men with fresh courage."[51] Anhalt-Dessau’s troops once again stormed Lutzingen and the wooded copse nearby, and were once again repulsed back across the stream.

Centre and Oberglau

Marshal Tallard (1652–1728). He should not have allowed Clérambault to shut most of the infantry of the French right wing into Blindheim leaving him short of infantry support when it most mattered.

While these events around Blindheim and Lutzingen were taking place, Marlborough was preparing to cross the Nebel. The centre, commanded by the Duke's brother, General Charles Churchill, consisted of 28 battalions of infantry arranged in two lines: seven battalions in the front line to secure a foothold across the Nebel, and 11 battalions in the rear providing cover from the Allied side of the stream. Between the infantry were placed two lines, 72 squadrons of cavalry. The first line of foot was to pass the stream first and march as far to the other side as could be conveniently done. This line would then form and cover the passage of the horse, leaving gaps in the line of infantry large enough for the cavalry to pass through and take their position in front.

Marlborough ordered the formation forward. Once again Zurlauben's Gens d'Armes charged, looking to rout Lumley's British cavalry who linked Cutts' column facing Blindheim with Churchill's infantry. As these elite French cavalry attacked, they were faced by five British squadrons under Colonel Francis Palmes. To the consternation of the French, the Gens d'Armes were pushed back in terrible confusion.[52] "What? Is it possible?" exclaimed the Elector, "the gentlemen of France fleeing?" Palmes, however, attempted to follow up his success but was repulsed in some confusion by other French cavalry and musketry fire from the edge of Blindheim.[52]

Nevertheless, Tallard was alarmed by the repulse of the elite Gens d'Armes and urgently rode across the field to ask Marsin for reinforcements; but on the basis of being hard pressed by Eugène, Marsin refused.[47] Zurlauben tried several more times to disrupt the Allies forming on Tallard's side of the stream; his front-line cavalry darting forward down the gentle slope towards the Nebel. But the attacks lacked co-ordination, and the Allied infantry’s steady volleys disconcerted the French horsemen.[53] During these skirmishes Zurlauben fell mortally wounded, and died two days later.

Allied attack on Oberglau.

Churchill’s column encountered further problems. The Danish cavalry, under the Duke of Württemberg (not to be confused with the Duke of Württemberg who fought with Eugène), had made slow work of crossing the Nebel near Oberglau; harassed by Marsin’s infantry near the village, the Danes were driven back across the stream. Count Horn’s Dutch infantry managed to push the French back from the water’s edge, but it was apparent that before Marlborough could launch his main effort against Tallard, Oberglau would have to be secured.

Count Horn directed the Prince of Holstein-Beck to take the village, however, the two Dutch brigades were cut down by the French and Irish troops, capturing and mortally wounding the Prince during the action.[54] The battle was now in the balance. If Holstein-Beck’s Dutch column was destroyed, the Allied army would be split in two; Eugène’s wing would be isolated from Marlborough’s, passing the initiative to the Franco-Bavarian forces now engaged across the whole plain.[55] Seeing the opportunity, Marsin ordered his cavalry to change from facing Eugène, and turn towards their right and the open flank of Churchill’s infantry. Marlborough (who had crossed the Nebel on a makeshift bridge to get a closer view), ordered Hulsen's German battalions to support the Dutch infantry. A Dutch cavalry brigade under Averock was also called forward but soon came under pressure from Marsin’s more numerous squadrons.

Marlborough now requested Eugène to release Count Hendrick Fugger and his Imperial Cuirassier brigade to help repel the French cavalry thrust. Despite his own desperate struggle, the Imperial Prince at once complied, demonstrating the high degree of confidence and mutual co-operation between the two generals.[56] Although the Nebel stream lay between Fugger's and Marsin's squadrons, the French were forced to change front to meet this new threat, thus forestalling the chance for Marsin to strike at Marlborough’s infantry.[57] With support from Colonel Blood's batteries, the Hessian, Hanoverian and Dutch infantry—now commanded by Count Berensdorf—were ordered to push the French and Irish infantry back into Oberglau so that they could not again threaten Churchill’s flank as he moved against Tallard. The fighting was prolonged and costly, but eventually their aims were achieved. During the struggle the French commander in the village, the Marquis de Blainville, was amongst the heavy casualties.[58]

Breakthrough

Breakthrough: Position of the battle at 17:30. The relatively small number of French infantry in the centre were decimated by the Allied guns loaded with 'partridge shot'.

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By 16:00, with the enemy troops besieged in both Blindheim and Oberglau, the Allied centre of 81 squadrons (nine squadrons had been transferred from Cutt's column), supported by 18 battalions was firmly planted amidst the French line of 64 squadrons and nine battalions of raw recruits. Marlborough sent a message to Eugène who was in the saddle fighting Bavarian cavalry near Lutzingen—if Eugène could keep Marsin and the Elector occupied, he would now destroy Tallard’s cavalry in the centre.[58]

At about 17:00 the Allied cavalry, supported by the infantry, moved forward. The weary French cavalry exerted themselves once more against the first line—Lumley's English and Scots on the Allied left, and Hompesch's Dutch and German squadrons on the Allied right. Tallard's squadrons, lacking infantry support, were tired and ragged but managed to push the Allied first line back to their infantry. With the battle still not won, Marlborough had to rebuke one of his cavalry officers who was attempting to leave the field—"Sir, you are under a mistake, the enemy lies that way … " However, the second Allied line under von Bulow and the Count of Ost-Friese was then ordered forward, and, driving through the centre, the Allies finally put Tallard's cavalry to rout. The remaining nine French infantry battalions fought with desperate valor, trying to form square. But it was futile. Mérode-Westerloo later wrote—"[They] died to a man where they stood, stationed right out in the open plain—supported by nobody."

Pursuit. Marshal Tallard was amongst the captured. Courteously, Marlborough offered him the use of his own carriage, which Tallard accepted. In the scramble to escape, up to 3,000 French and Bavarian troops are thought to have drowned in the Danube.

The majority of Tallard's retreating troops headed for Höchstädt but most did not make the safety of the town, plunging instead into the Danube where upwards of 3,000 French horsemen drowned; others were cut down by the pursuing cavalry. After a final rally behind his camp's tents, shouting entreaties to stand and fight, Marshal Tallard was caught up in the rout and pushed towards Sondersheim.[59] Surrounded by a squadron of Hessian troops, Tallard surrendered to Lieutenant-Colonel de Boinenburg, the Prince of Hesse's aide-de-camp and sent under escort to Marlborough.[60]

Fall of Blindheim

With Tallard's centre in retreat the Allies once again attacked the Bavarian stronghold at Lutzingen. This time, though, the Prussians were able to storm the Bavarian guns, and despite the gun crews fighting fiercely, they were cut down without mercy.[61] Additionally, beyond the village the Danes defeated the French infantry in a desperate hand-to-hand bayonet struggle. The Elector and Marsin decided the battle was lost and, like the remnants of Tallard's army, fled the battlefield (albeit in better order than Tallard's men since Eugène’s forces were too tired to pursue). Blindheim on their right, was left to fend for themselves.

The French infantry fought tenaciously to hold on to their position in Blindheim, but Clérambault's insistence on confining his huge force in the village was to seal his fate that day.[62] Realizing his tactical mistake had contributed to Tallard's defeat in the centre, Clérambault deserted Blindheim and the 27 battalions defending the village, and, whilst attempting to cross the Danube, drowned in the fast flowing river.

Diorama of the battle in the Höchstädt museum. In the middle ground the Allied cavalry are breaking through, pushing Tallard's squadrons from the battlefield. The foreground depicts the fierce fighting in and around Blindheim.

Marlborough now had to turn his attention from the fleeing enemy to direct Churchill to detach more infantry to storm the village. Earl Orkney's infantry, Hamilton's British brigade and St Paul's Hanoverians moved across to the cottages. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting gradually forced the French towards the village centre, in and around the walled churchyard. Hay and Ross's dismounted dragoons were also sent, but suffered under a counter-charge delivered by the regiments of Artois and Provence. Colonel Belville’s Hanoverians were fed into the battle to steady the resolve of the dragoons, and once more went into the attack. The Allied progress was slow and hard, and like the defenders, they suffered many casualties.[63]

Many of the cottages were now burning, obscuring the field of fire and driving the defenders out of their positions. Hearing the din of battle in Blindheim, Tallard sent a message to Marlborough offering to order the garrison to withdraw from the field. The Duke, although visibly agitated by the suggestion calmly replied—"Inform M. Tallard that, in the position in which he is now, he has no command."[64] After being thrown back no fewer than three times, the Earl of Orkney tried a different tactic and offered the defenders a temporary cease-fire to allow the wounded to be dragged out of the burning cottages. This lull in the fighting gave Orkney a chance to persuade the Marquis de Blanzac—who had taken charge in Clérambault's absence—to end the needless sacrifice of his men. Reluctantly, the French commander accepted the inevitability of defeat, and by 21:00, some 10,000 of France's best infantry had laid down their arms.[65]

During these events Marlborough was still in the saddle conducting the pursuit of the broken enemy. Pausing for a moment he scribbled a note on the back of an old tavern bill addressed to his wife, Sarah: "I have no time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her army has had a glorious victory."[66]

Aftermath

French losses were immense: some 30,000 killed, wounded and missing.[67] Moreover, the myth of French invincibility had been destroyed and Louis’ hopes of an early and victorious peace had been wrenched from his grasp.[68] Mérode-Westerloo summarized the case against Tallard’s army: "The French lost this battle for a wide variety of reasons. For one thing they had too good an opinion of their own ability … Another point was their faulty field dispositions, and in addition there was rampant indiscipline and inexperience displayed … It took all these faults to lose so celebrated a battle."[69] But it was a hard fought contest, leading Prince Eugène to observe—"I have not a squadron or battalion which did not charge four times at least."[70] Nevertheless, Marlborough and Eugène, working indivisibly together, had saved the Habsburg Empire and thereby preserved the Grand Alliance from collapse.[67] Munich, Augsburg, Ingolstadt, Ulm, and all remaining territory of Bavaria soon fell to the Allies. By the Treaty of Ilbersheim, signed November 7, 1704, Bavaria was placed under Austrian military rule, allowing the Habsburgs to utilise its resources for the rest of the conflict.[71]

The remnants of the Elector of Bavaria's and Marshal Marsin's wing limped back to Strasbourg, losing another 7,000 men through desertion.[72] Despite being offered the chance to remain as ruler of Bavaria (under strict terms of an alliance with Austria), the Elector left his country and family in order to continue the war against the Allies from the Spanish Netherlands where he still held the post of governor-general. Their commander-in-chief that day, Marshal Tallard—who, unlike his subordinates, had not been ransomed or exchanged—was taken to England and imprisoned in Nottingham until his release in 1711.[73]

The 1704 campaign lasted considerably longer than usual as the Allies sought to wring out maximum advantage. Realizing that France was too powerful to be forced to make peace by a single victory, however, Eugène, Marlborough and Baden met to plan their next moves. For the following year the Duke proposed a campaign along the valley of the River Moselle to carry the war deep into France. This required the capture of the major fortress of Landau which guarded the Rhine, and the towns of Trèves and Trarbach on the Moselle itself.[73] Trèves was taken on October 26 and Landau fell on November 23 to the Margrave of Baden and Prince Eugène; with the fall of Trarbach on December 20, the campaign season for 1704 came to an end.

Marlborough returned to England on December 14 (O.S) to the acclamation of Queen Anne and the country. In the first days of January the 34 French standards and the 128 colors that were taken during the battle were borne in procession to Westminster Hall. But there was still more to come. In February 1705, Queen Anne granted him the Park of Woodstock and promised a sum of £240,000 to build a suitable house as a gift from a grateful crown in recognition of his victory—a victory which British historian Sir Edward Creasy considered one of the pivotal battles in history, writing—"Had it not been for Blenheim, all Europe might at this day suffer under the effect of French conquests resembling those of Alexander in extent and those of the Romans in durability."[74] Britian had won a battle that would propel it to military dominance in the epoch, while the French conversely lost the hegemony that they had enjoyed in the years leading up to the conflict.[75]

Notes

  1. David G. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander (Kent: Spellmount Ltd, 2003), 154.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 124.
  3. John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714 (London and New York: Longman, 1999), 285.
  4. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 125.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 127.
  6. James Falkner, Blenheim 1704: Marlborough's Greatest Victory (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2004), 18.
  7. Spencer, 134.
  8. Falkner, 19.
  9. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 129.
  10. Falkner, 20.
  11. Falkner, 20.
  12. John Tincey, Blenheim 1704: The Duke of Marlborough’s Masterpiece (New York: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2004), 31.
  13. Falkner, 22.
  14. Correlli Barnett, Marlborough (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999), 89.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 129.
  16. Barnett, 91.
  17. Falkner, 23.
  18. Falkner, 25.
  19. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 132.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 133.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 131.
  22. Falkner, 26.
  23. Falkner, 40.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Nicholas Henderson, Prince Eugen of Savoy (London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1966), 103.
  25. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 139.
  26. Falkner, 41.
  27. Spencer, 215.
  28. Falkner, 44.
  29. Spencer, 221. If Ingolstadt could be captured, it would give the allies control of the Danube all the way up to Passau. A successful siege also promised glory to Baden independent of Marlborough.
  30. Spencer, 221. There was some evidence that his political reliability was suspect.
  31. Falkner, 47.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 141.
  33. Barnett, 106.
  34. Falkner, 57.
  35. Michael Lee Lanning, The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles (Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003), 163.
  36. Barnett, 108.
  37. Barnett, 109.
  38. 38.0 38.1 Falkner, 58.
  39. Spencer, 240.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Falkner, 61.
  41. Falknner, 63.
  42. Falkner, 66.
  43. Falkner, 67.
  44. Falkner, 68.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 145.
  46. Falkner, 70.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Falkner, 77.
  48. Falkner, 71.
  49. Tincey, 67.
  50. Spencer, 268.
  51. Falkner, 73.
  52. 52.0 52.1 Falkner, 76.
  53. Falkner, 78.
  54. Spencer, 264.
  55. Falkner, 80.
  56. Chandler, 161.
  57. Falkner, 81.
  58. 58.0 58.1 Falkner, 82.
  59. Falkner, 90.
  60. Tincey, 85.
  61. Falkner, 91.
  62. Spencer, 291.
  63. Falkner, 95.
  64. Falkner, 97.
  65. Falkner, 98.
  66. Barnett, 121.
  67. 67.0 67.1 Barnett, 122.
  68. Barnett, 122; Lanning, 164.
  69. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 149.
  70. Falkner, 103.
  71. Lynn, 293.
  72. Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 149.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Tincey, 88.
  74. Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy, The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. Retrieved October 14, 2007.
  75. Lanning, 164.

References

  • Barnett, Correlli. Marlborough. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1999. ISBN 1-84022-200-X.
  • Chandler, David G. A Guide to the Battlefields of Europe. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1998. ISBN 1-85326-694-9.
  • Chandler, David G. Marlborough as Military Commander. Kent: Spellmount Ltd, 2003. ISBN 1-86227-195-X.
  • Creasy, Sir Edward Shepherd. The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. Retrieved October 14, 2007.
  • Falkner, James. Blenheim 1704: Marlborough's Greatest Victory. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1-84415-050-X.
  • Henderson, Nicholas. Prince Eugen of Savoy. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1966. ISBN 1-84212-597-4.
  • Lanning, Michael Lee. The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003. ISBN 1-57071-799-0.
  • Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. New York: Longman, 1999. ISBN 0-582-05629-2.
  • Southey, Robert. After Blenheim. Retrieved October 14, 2007.
  • Spencer, Charles. Blenheim: Battle for Europe. Blaine, WA: Phoenix, 2005. ISBN 0-304-36704-4.
  • Tincey, John. Blenheim 1704:The Duke of Marlborough's Masterpiece. New York: Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1-84176-771-9.

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All links retrieved February 12, 2013.

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