As they approached the enemy, Marlborough’s troops formed the left and the centre, while Eugene’s formed the right of the entire army.
The Battle of Blenheim, featuring a series of excerpts selected from Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward Creasy published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Battle of Blenheim.
Place: Blenheim, Bavaria, Germany
The French and Bavarians were posted behind the little stream called the Nebel, which runs almost from north to south into the Danube immediately in front of the village of Blenheim. The Nebel flows along a little valley, and the French occupied the rising ground to the west of it. The village of Blenheim was the extreme right of their position, and the village of Luetzingen, about three miles north of Blenheim, formed their left. Beyond Luetzingen are the rugged high grounds of the Godd Berg and Eich Berg, on the skirts of which some detachments were posted, so as to secure the Gallo-Bavarian position from being turned on the left flank. The Danube secured their right flank; and it was only in front that they could be attacked. The villages of Blenheim and Luetzingen had been strongly palisaded and entrenched; Marshal Tallard, who held the chief command, took his station at Blenheim; the Elector and Marshal Marsin commanded on the left.
Tallard garrisoned Blenheim with twenty-six battalions of French infantry and twelve squadrons of French cavalry. Marsin and the Elector had twenty-two battalions of infantry and thirty-six squadrons of cavalry in front of the village of Luetzingen. The centre was occupied by fourteen battalions of infantry, including the celebrated Irish brigade. These were posted in the little hamlet of Oberglau, which lies somewhat nearer to Luetzingen than to Blenheim. Eighty squadrons of cavalry and seven battalions of foot were ranged between Oberglau and Blenheim. Thus the French position was very strong at each extremity, but was comparatively weak in the centre. Tallard seems to have relied on the swampy state of the part of the valley that reaches from below Oberglau to Blenheim for preventing any serious attack on this part of his line.
The army of the allies was formed into two great divisions, the largest being commanded by the Duke in person, and being destined to act against Tallard, while Prince Eugene led the other division, which consisted chiefly of cavalry, and was intended to oppose the enemy under Marsin and the Elector. As they approached the enemy, Marlborough’s troops formed the left and the centre, while Eugene’s formed the right of the entire army. Early in the morning of August 13th the allies left their own camp and marched toward the enemy. A thick haze covered the ground, and it was not until the allied right and centre had advanced nearly within cannon-shot of the enemy that Tallard was aware of their approach. He made his preparations with what haste he could, and about eight o’clock a heavy fire of artillery was opened from the French right on the advancing left wing of the British. Marlborough ordered up some of his batteries to reply to it, and while the columns that were to form the allied left and centre deployed, and took up their proper stations in the line, a warm cannonade was kept up by the guns on both sides.
The ground which Eugene’s columns Jiad to traverse was peculiarly difficult, especially for the passage of the artillery, and it was nearly mid-day before he could get his troops into line opposite to Luetzingen. During this interval Marlborough ordered divine service to be performed by the chaplains at the head of each regiment, and then rode along the lines, and found both officers and men in the highest spirits and waiting impatiently for the signal for the attack. At length an aide-de-camp galloped up from the right with the welcome news that Eugene was ready. Marlborough instantly sent Lord Cutts, with a strong brigade of infantry to assault the village of Blenheim, while he himself led the main body down the eastward slope of the valley of the Nebel, and prepared to effect the passage of the stream.
The assault on Blenheim, though bravely made, was repulsed with severe loss, and Marlborough, finding how strongly that village was garrisoned, desisted from any further attempts to carry it, and bent all his energies to breaking the enemy’s line between Blenheim and Oberglau. Some temporary bridges had been prepared, and planks and fascines had been collected; and by the aid of these, and a little stone bridge which crossed the Nebel near a hamlet called Unterglau, that lay in the centre of the valley, Marlborough succeeded in getting several squadrons across the Nebel, though it was divided into several branches, and the ground between them was soft, and, in places, little better than a mere marsh.
But the French artillery was not idle. The cannon-balls plunged incessantly among the advancing squadrons of the allies, and bodies of French cavalry rode frequently down from the western ridge, to charge them before they had time to form on the firm ground. It was only by supporting his men by fresh troops, and by bringing up infantry, who checked the advance of the enemy’s horse by their steady fire, that Marlborough was able to save his army in this quarter from a repulse, which, succeeding the failure of the attack upon Blenheim, would probably have been fatal to the allies. By degrees, his cavalry struggled over the bloodstained streams; the infantry were also now brought across, so as to keep in check the French troops who held Blenheim, and who, when no longer assailed in front, had begun to attack the allies on their left with considerable effect.
Marlborough had thus at length succeeded in drawing up the whole left wing of his army beyond the Nebel, and was about to press forward with it, when he was called away to another part of the field by a disaster that had befallen his centre. The Prince of Holstein Beck had, with eleven Hanoverian battalions, passed the Nebel opposite to Oberglau, when he was charged and utterly routed by the Irish brigade which held that village. The Irish drove the Hanoverians back with heavy slaughter, broke completely through the line of the allies, and nearly achieved a success as brilliant as that which the same brigade afterward gained at Fontenoy.