3.4.12

Battle of Fontenoy and the Wild Geese


A painting which portrays a highlight of the Battle of Fontenoy where the 4th Battalion of the Gardes français faced the English Guards regiment. Facing each other thus the commanders knew who ever fired first would be at a disadvantage. On obtaining the summit of the ridge the Allied column found itself facing the French infantry line. ...The French and Swiss guards, together with the regiments of Aubeterre and Courten, rose and advanced towards the crest, whereupon the two forces confronted each other at a distance of 30 paces. The moment was immortalised by Lord Charles Hay of the 1st Regiment of Guards who later wrote that he stepped forward, took out a hip flask and drank with a flourish, shouting out to his opponent, "We are the English Guards, and we hope you will stand till we come up to you, and not swim the Scheldt as you did the Main at Dettingen!" He then led his men in three cheers. Voltaire's version of this famous episode has become proverbial. He wrote: "The English officers saluted the French by doffing their hats . . . the French, returned the greeting. My Lord Charles Hai, captain in the English Guards, cried, 'Gentlemen of the French Guards, fire !' The Comte d'Auteroche, then lieutenant of Grenadiers, shouted, ' Gentlemen, we never fire first ; fire yourselves." The French were the first to fire, the volley was somewhat ineffective but threw the Third Guards into some confusion and wounded George Churchill, the commander of the Guards brigade. Captain Lord Panmure led the unbroken companies of the Third Guards to the flank of the First Guards. Up to this point the British column had not fired a single musket shot, but now the Allied infantry poured a devastating discharge into the French. The volley of musketry with the battalion guns delivering numerous rounds of grape-shot, swept away the enemy's front rank, killing and wounding between 700–800 men, reducing the rest to a shambles which were driven back by the British advance...

The Journal of the Battle of Fontenoy
Published by Order of His Christian Majesty
Translated from the French

Published LONDON MDCCXLV
Published: M. Cooper: London, 1745.

News being brought to the King the 7th at night that the enemy were advancing towards us, his Majesty immediately left Douay where he was to have lain that night and arrived at the Army the next Morning; but the Account of the Enemies advancing not being confirmed, his Majesty and Monseigneur le Dauphin went to the castle of Chin which had before been got ready for their Reception, during the Siege of Tourney.

The 9th news was brought the Enemy were decamped from Maubray, and were marching in three columns towards our Right. The King immediately went to examine our situation, and the Ground occupied by us, which was on our Left from the Lower Scheld as far as Antoin on the Upper Scheld, on our Right; that he might judge himself of the dispositions necessary to be made to receive the Enemy on whatever side they might present themselves. Pursuant to the measures which had before been resolved on for that purpose the Marquis de Brezé, Lieutenant General, the Marquis de Armantiers, the Duke de Fitzjames, and Monsieur de Contades, Field Marshalls where left before Tournay with 27 Battalions and some Regiments of Cavalry to continue the Siege of that place and prevent any Sallies that may be attempted by the Besieged.

M. de Lowendahl with 10 battalions and 14 squadrons was commanded to defend the part between our Bridges which were a little below the Castle of Comtantin and Mount Trinity, upon which the Regiment of Bausober Hussars was posted.

Monsieur de Beranger with two Brigades of Infantry was charged to defend the ground between Mount Trinity and the Road from Tournay to Leuze, over against the Castle of Bourg en Bray. This place being extremely covered with Woods, and overflowed by the Rains did not require many troops for its defence; and besides the Enemy having posted themselves principally towards our Right we were in less pain about it.

Besides these precautions we had Parties, who gave us exact Information on all the Enemy's movements, and we moreover rendered the Approaches difficult by breaking up the Roads, and where it could be done with Advantage, by pulling down Houses, old Walls, Trees etc.

From the road to Leuze as far as the village of Antoin on our Right the Comte de Saxe had posted the greatest part of our troops; because the Enemy seemed to intend their Principal Efforts on that side.

The first line of Infantry were covered on their Left by the Houses in the village of Ramceroix, and on their Right by the village of Fontenoy, extending along the cross road to Mons as far as Antoin. In this place we raised two Redoubts each capable of containing a Battalion with some Artillery.

The village of Fontenoy, in which the Dauphin Brigade had been posted commanded by Monsieur de la Vanguyon, and the Town of Antoin were both entrenched and mounted with Cannon.

Behind this first line of the Infantry there were two others of Cavalry, who were also supported by a line composed of four Regiments of Dragoons; which line was extended even to the Village of Antoin by a Brigade of Infantry.

This was our general disposition, at Time we waited for more certain information of the real Designs of the Enemy in their Attack.

The King being at our Right we saw very distinctly, several Parties from the Enemies Camp the Left of which was at Maubray, but their Right extending over the rising Grounds near Vezon, was concealed from us by the Woods of Barry.

This evening there was a small skirmish between some of the enemies Hussars and a party of our Grassins (light troops) who on this and all occasions did wonders; But as it was late, we contented ourselves with keeping on our guard during the rest of the night only having out the Regiment of Grassins whose service was so very signal that it cannot be mentioned nor commented too much.

The King passed the Scheld at nine in the evening, over another Bridge which had been made about half a league form Tournay on that Side next the Citadel; and was constrained to rest for that night with the Dauphin at a poor house in the village of Calonne and the whole Army was obliged to lye on Straw.

The next day being the 10th the King rose at half an hour past three in the morning and dined at eight but having heard the enemy had not made any Motion he did not mount his horse till half an hour past twelve when he again went to examine the situation.

His Majesty having advanced, as he had the Evening before even as far as the Enemies advanced guards, he was there Witness of a skirmish between our Irregular Troops and those of the Enemy after which he continued in his examination of their Camp.

When his Majesty was upon his Return he saw several foragers who were returning to their camp upon an alarm which had been given to the Right. At the same time several Houses were perceived to be on fire before the village of Fontenoy; which house were ordered to be burnt whenever the enemy should advance to Attack the village. This circumstance which was by no means an equivocal Signal determined his majesty to order the Army under Arms immediately which was done with the greatest diligence; his Majesty immediately putting himself at their head and the Count de Saxe at the same time ranging the army in the following Order of Battle:

Crillon's Brigade (1) was placed on the edge of the Marshes, which were on the Right end of the Plain near Antoin.

The three redoubts being finished Betten's Brigade of Swiss was placed in them.
The Dauphin Brigade remained in Fontenoy.

This first line of Infantry was formed with seven of the King's Brigades whose Right was covered by the village of Fontenoy.

The Brigades of Aubeterre (1) and the Guards supported their Left at the first redoubt on the road to Mons.

The Irish Brigade occupied the ground between the first redoubt and the second their left being extended as far as the road to Gunzin.

The second line was composed of the Royal Brigade, the Crown Brigade and the Brigade of Normandie (1) etc.

The Regiment D'Eu was placed in the two redoubts.

Behind the second line were placed sixty Squadrons in two lines which extended from Antoin as far as the Road to Mons.

The Marshal de Saxe posted the Household Troops, the Gens d'Arms and the Carbineers upon a parallel with the second line; their Right also extending as far as the Road to Mons and their Left stretching out into the Plain formed a kind of body of Reserve.

We had one hundred and ten pieces of cannon in the villages and redoubts and in the Front of our first line.

As the greatest part of the Enemy appeared in Sight towards four in the afternoon, and they were not above a quarter league from our Camp it was judged they had at last taken a resolution to come and Attack us; for which Reason his Majesty remained in the Field of Battle till night. But hearing that the Enemy could not yet begin the Attack, a part of their Cannon having stuck fast in its March the troops remained under arms, the general Officers at their Posts and his majesty went to his quarters at Culonne.

The 11th the King was up before four in the morning, he mounted his horse at five, passed the Scheld, and stopped a little on this side Notre Dame de Bois that he might see whether the Enemy had made any movements.

The cannonade now began on both sides and it was almost the first of the enemys Shot by which the Duke de Grammont had both his Thighs shot off, of which he died an hour afterwards.

The King immediately went into the Field of Battle, were his Majesty received an Account, that the Enemy marched in three columns; the first composed of Cavalry which marched by the Road to Mons along the Wood of Vezon. The second composed of Infantry marched through the village of Vezon, and the third over the plain between Fontenoy and Antoin.

The three columns were very slow in forming themselves, after there march our cannon incommoding them extremely.

The cannonade lasted until nine o'clock, when they moved to Attack us. They began by making two successive attacks upon the village of Fontenoy in both of which they were vigorously repulsed by Monsieur De la Vanguyon.

In the mean time the Cavalry of their Left Wing, made a motion to attack our Right but they had been so greatly incommoded all the morning by our Cannon at Fontenoy and Antoin and by a Battery placed in the Mill of Calonne on the Left of the Scheld which took them in the Flank that on the first movement made by Monsieur D'Apscher with his Cavalry to oppose them, they retired in great disorder.

They afterwards made an attempt to penetrate through our Line of Infantry in which they succeeded for their Infantry who had formed themselves in a very strong Line of Battle charged and at the second charge penetrated through the Brigade of Guards who retired upon the Irish regiments of Clare and Rott

Our Cavalry which advanced before them immediately, could not sustain the terrible fire made by that line of Infantry insomuch that for more than an hour they had a very remarkable and considerable advance. Several of our Squadrons rallied but were again repulsed by the Prodigious fire of the Enemy Infantry.

To remedy this disorder his Majesty caused the Household troops to advance followed by the Infantry who at their first disposition were on the left but where immediately replaced by those on Mount Trinity. To these troops were added some pieces of cannon to play upon those of the Enemy, the fire of which greatly incommoded the Household Troops.

This new disposition did not fail to produce the effect his majesty hoped from it; for by this means their Infantry were kept back who had formed themselves into a kind of Column of Square Battalions; and it also gave time to the Irish Brigades and the Brigades des Vaisseaux to rally and form themselves anew.

Now the six Irish Regiments sustained by those of Normandy and Vaisseaux, being drawn up in one line marched close up to the Enemy without firing and put the in Confusion by pushing them with their bayonets fixed at the end of their muskets whilst the Carbineer's charged them in the Flank. In short order our Artillery which we caused to fire incessantly upon this English Infantry began to put them in Disorder and the Household troops charged them so briskly and with such success that all the Valour of the English commander was not able to hinder their being broken and driven with a very considerable loss quite off the Field of battle even as far as the little River of Vezon.

During this attack the Enemy being returned on the side of Antoin formed themselves into two lines composed of Infantry and Cavalry between the redoubts occupied by Betten's and Crillon's Brigades. And one of their Battalions being close to the redoubt on the Right was so roughly handled by the fire of the Artillery from these redoubts only that they retired in great disorder and abandoned all their Artillery which was taken by Crillon's Brigade.

The Second Regiment of English Guards with whom Bankly was engaged must certainly have been almost entirely destroyed. We took from them a Pair of Colours and two pieces of heavy cannon which was before their Battalions.

During the whole action Monsieur Le Marshall Count de Saxe was continually engaged in giving his Orders with the activity of a Man in the most perfect health, and with a clearness, precision and Vivacity so admirable that he equally supported and animated the courage of the whole army.

As the great fatigue of the day did not permit us to pursue the enemy in their retreat particularly through the ways that were broke up and destroyed and in which our Cavalry would not have been able to make use of their advantage the Army of the Allies retired to their Camp in great disorder. But left it in great confusion at eleven o'clock at night and immediately marched to take refuge under the Cannon of Aeth were it is now actually encamped.

Upon the first account received by Monsieur the Count de Saxe of the Enemys marching thither he immediately sent after them the Hussars and Grassins who fell upon their Rearguard which was in a frightful disorder, as well as the rest of their army and brought off a great number of their wounded officers whom they found in the Houses on the Road. In short from eleven o'clock at night till twelve noon there was an entire procession of prisoners as well of sound as such as were wounded.

This day also being the 12th the Marshall again detached after them the Count d'Estrees, having under his command Monsieur de Beuvren, Messieurs Graville and Turnan, Messieurs d'Egmont, de Soisy and de la Marsaye with one thousand horse, eight companies of Grenadiers, six hundred Infantry and the Grassins. This Detachment marched with great expedition to Leuze but were too late for the enemy had precipitately retired from thence at six in the morning.

During the march of these parties which the Count de Estrees set to the Right and Left they made one thousand five hundred prisoners, one hundred and fifty chariots and considerable quantity of Artillery and some provisions together with all sorts of ammunition for the Artillery.

The prisoners and wounded were conducted to Douay and Lille. Mr Campbell an English Lieutenant General was found dead in the village of Bauginn and it is certain the Major General of their Infantry was also killed.

We had about five hundred and twenty Officers killed and wounded and about four thousand soldiers also either killed or wounded.

The Allies have lost including the killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters fifteen thousand Men according to their own accounts which joined with the loss of almost all their cannon of which we have taken forty nine pieces will certainly render them incapable of undertaking anything considerable for some time at least.

The 15th Te Deum was sung in the Camp before Tournay, after Mass and in the Evening there was three salvoes of the Artillery of one hundred and sixty pieces and forty mortars each; which all discharged against the Citadel. There were also three general discharges from the small arms of the whole Army.

Jhesu+Marie,
Brantigny


(1) Brigades in the French army of this period named the brigade (usually 2 regiments) after the senior regiment of the two. The five most senior regiments of the French Army were Picardie, Champagne, Navarre, Piedmont, and Normandie.


Here is a poem by Bartholomew Dowling

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