Page images
PDF
EPUB

Pichegru on West Flanders, which was favored by the absence of General Clerfayt, who had marched with a considerable portion of his force from Tournay to support the post of Dénain, Sir W. Erskine was detached on that very evening (26th April) with a part of H. R. H.'s corps, and the Duke of York followed on the 30th, as soon as Landrécies had fallen, with the remainder, which reached Tournay, by forced marches, on the 1st and 2d of May.

In the mean time General Pichegru had obtained possession of Courtrai, defeated General Clerfayt at Mouscron on the 29th April, and invested Ménin ; from which, however, General Hammerstein, with four battalions of Hanoverians, and four companies of Emigrants, cut his way through the enemy on the 30th April, and effected his retreat to Ingelmunster. On the 10th May the enemy, in considerable force, attacked the Duke of York's position in front of Tournay, but H. R. H. by a judicious and well executed flank movement of the cavalry, defeated and drove them across the Marque with a great loss of men and that of 13 pieces of cannon. Towards Courtrai, however, General Clerfayt had, with very inferior numbers, made some gallant though unsuccessful attempts to retrieve 'affairs ; the situation of which in West Flanders becoming daily more critical from the great increase of the enemy's force in that quarter, the Emperor sent reinforcements to Tournay under General Kinsky; and finally moved to that point himself with the greater part of his army, after providing for the defence of the line of the Sambre; thus abandoning offensive operations in the centre.

The general attacks of the 17th and 18th May, were the result of this assembly of the allied force. The circumstances attending them, the failure of the operations and the share which H. R. H.'s corps had in the events of these days, and in the loss sustained, are generally known. Suffice it to say, that H. R. H. executed most zealously the directions which he received from the Emperor, and may indeed be said to have alone, of all those entrusted with the direction of columps, fulfilled the part assigned to him on the first day, while the disaster which attended his corps on the 18th, was imputable solely to want of co-operation on the part of those who were to have supported him, principally of the Archduke Charles's column moving from the Marque, and to the postponement of General Cler-, fayt's movement from the 17th to the 18th, who was to have co-operated on the first of those days from the Lys. H. R.. H.'s corps was thus left to contend against the entire force of the enemy, who were enabled to assail it in front, flank, and rear. Every exertion of gallantry was unavailing against such fearful odds, so disposed ; and the retreat was with difficulty, and with a loss proportionate to the arduous nature of a contest, maintained against large masses of troops whose attention was to have been engaged by the Archduke Charles on the one side, and General Clerfayt on the other. The former never moved from Pont à Marque, the latter did not cross the Lys, until after the Duke of York's corps had been surrounded and defeated Had the Emperor's orders been as punctually executed by the Archduke and General Clerfayt, as they were by the Duke of York, the result could not have been disastrous, although it might not have succeeded to the full extent pro-, posed; the attacking columns being certainly too little connected, and an operation which engaged two days, affording sufficient time to the enemy to collect their force.

To prove that no blame was considered to attach to the Duke of York, or the gallant troops under his orders on this occasion, it is only necessary to quote the following extract of a letter from the Prince of Coburg, addressed to H. R. H. soon after the event.

“ Sa Majesté m'enjoint de donner à V. A. R. les assurances les plus positives que non seulement elle est parfaitement satisfaite de la maniere pleine de zêle, d'intelligence, et de valeur dont V. A. R. ses braves généraux, et ses braves troupes ont executé tous les mouvemens qui ont eu lieu successivement dans les journées du 17 et du 18, mais qu'elle lui donue par cette lettre le témoignage certain et bien décidément irrécusable que V. A. R. n'a fait aucune maneuvre, qui n'ait été une suite éssentielle de la disposition générale, ou qu'elle n'ait engagé V. A. R. à faire par les messages successifs, que dans le courant de l'affaire elle a reçu de ce Monarque.”

The allies resumed their positions in front of Tournay, the left wing being formed of the troops under the Duke of York's orders. Upon this position, or rather the right and centre of it, General Pichegru made a formidable attack on the 22nd, for which he had collected nearly 100,000) men.

With the exception, however, of successive attacks on the posts near Templeuve, and on the village of Pontechin in which the contest was close and sanguinary; and by which it appeared to be General Pichegru's object to penetrate to the Scheldt and Tournay; the battle, which was maintained from day-break until late in the evening, was an useless fire of cannon and musketry, between lines forming nearly parallels to each other. The village of Pontechin on the right, was taken and retaken several times in the course of the day, and was alternately disputed by Austrians, Dutch, and British; the Duke of York having detached Major General Fox's Brigade from the left, to the support of that point, the effort made by this brigade decided the contest, and the village remained in the possession of the allies. General Pichegru retired towards dark, after sustaining considerable loss, and no attempt was made by the allies to interrupt his retreat. The enemy left seven pieces of cannon in the hands of the allies.

Towards the end of May, the Emperor proceeded to the Sambre with a strong reinforcement, drawn from the position near Tournay; in which the allies, under the command of the Prince of Coburg, were consequently obliged to remain on the defensive. General Clerfayt in the mean time had continued at Thielt, to which place he had retired after the failure of the general attack on the 18th.

General Pichegru, shortly after the defeat experienced near Tournay, directed his attention to Ypres, which he caused a part of his army under General Moreau to invest, and of which he commenced the siege early in June. At this period the enemy's operations on the Sambre, had been prosecuted with increased vigor; and they had frequently crossed that river with a view to the siege of Charleroi, and as often been defeated and forced to repass it, by General Kaunitz and the Prince of Orange; who successively commanded the allied army on that

[ocr errors]

line. The Emperor had joined it on the 1st June, with the reinforcement, and on the 3rd, completely defeated the enemy, and drove them across the Sambre'; his Imperial Majesty proceeded to Brussels on his way to Vienna, but returned to Tournay on the 10th, for a few hours, and then resumed his journey.

In consequence of this advantage on the Sambre, the Prince of Coburg drew from thence a small reinforcement to the corps at Tournay, and for that under the orders of General Clerfayt, which latter also received a few battalions from Tournay.—General Clerfayt, who had not ventured to interrupt the seige of Ypres, which was conducted by General Moreau, and covered by a corps under General Souham posted near Passendael and Hoogleede, was ordered to make an attempt for its relief, in which a part of the army from Tournay was to co-operate by movements towards Courtrai and the Lys, where General Bonneau was stationed with another French corps of observation. These were attempted on the 9th and resumed on the 10th, but suspended in consequence of some very insignificant demonstrations made by the enemy from the Marque towards the posts in front of Tournay, while General Clerfayt, who, in execution of the general plan, attacked the enemy on the 10th near Hoogleede, was repulsed, and forced to retire on Thielt.

General Clerfayt renewed the attempt on the 13th by a very vigorous attack on the enemy's positions at Hoogleede and Rousselaer; the contest was obstinate, but, although commenced with some appearance of success, proved ultimately unavailing.-General Clerfayt retired upon Thielt, General Hammerstein, with the Hanoverian troops, forming part of Clerfayt’s corps, on Thorout, whence he continued his retreat to Bruges, after detaching to Ostend the 8th light dragoons and 38th and 55th British regiments, which (with the 12th infantry) bad arrived at Ostend from England early in May, had formed part of General Clerfayt's corps since the middle of that month, and had distinguished themselves by their conduct on various occasions. The 12th regiment had remained in Ostend. When this intelligence reached Tournay, the Duke of York

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

proposed to renew the effort without loss of time, and for that purpose he urged a junction of the whole force from Tournay with General Clerfayt. This vigorous measure, which alone offered a prospect of retrieving affairs, was, however, objected to by the Prince of Coburg and other Austrian generals, on the score of its uncovering Tournay, and they dwelt on the expediency of waiting for a small reinforcement from the Sambre before any further attempt should be made.

Experience ought by this time to have shown to them the ruinous effects of the attempt to preserve any point of a long lipe, by the formation of several corps at intervals too great to enable them to afford to each other immediate or effectual support.

Whilst these events were passing in West Flanders, the enemy, having been reinforced by 30,000 men under General Jourdan, had recrossed the Sambre, and had again been defeated by the Prince of Orange with considerable loss.-The Prince of Coburg, who had continued in the command of the troops near Tournay, encouraged by this success, determined to renew the attempt for the relief of Ypres, by a more direct movement, in which General Clerfayt was to have closely co-operated, but still leaving a considerable part of the army near Tournay. The troops destined for this operation (of which the British under the Duke of York constituted a proportion) were however not put in motion until the 18th, when they crossed the Scheldt and proceeded to Pottes and Escanaffles, whence the Prince of Coburg retraced bis steps on the following day, upon learning that the enemy had again crossed the Sambre, and that the march of the reinforcement from thence (trifling as it was) had been suspended. At all events this dilatory movement would not bave saved Ypres, which surrendered on the 17th, the garrison being prisoners of war.

The enemy, sensible of the superior importance of prosecuting their operations on the Sambre, and having received fresh reinforcements, had again crossed that river on the 18th; and resumed the siege of Charleroi.-Upon this, the Prince of Coburg determined to join the Prince of Orange with nearly the whole of the Austrian troops from Tournay, where the Duke of

« PreviousContinue »