Prince Eugene - George Upton


In the year 1703 Prince Eugene was appointed President of the Royal Council of War in Vienna, a position which placed him at the head of all military affairs. This was a very happy choice. Eugene was just the man to bring order into affairs and to act with decision. Things were at loose ends, as the reader may have noticed. In accepting this high honor from the Emperor, Eugene had made but one condition; namely, that he should be strongly supported in all his measures for the good of the service and the army. A field was now opened to him where his keenness and insight found their proper activities. The troops rejoiced greatly at the promotion of their beloved leader. They forgot the trials they had suffered, and hoped for better days. They believed that, now, at least they would not be obliged to suffer for necessities.

The Emperor was in dire need of a competent minister of war; of a brain which could plan for all. Within a short time the condition of European affairs had changed completely, and though the Emperor's cause was greatly helped by the recent acquisition of powerful allies, still there were so many complicated threads that it would take a very clever hand to untangle them, to organize the different divisions of the army, and to guide and hold them ready for prompt and decisive action. That this would not be an easy task was self-evident. Prince Eugene, like all mortals, had his enemies and detractors. His energetic methods did not please everyone, especially those in higher circles, who had heretofore been indifferent and passive. The situation must have caused him many a headache. But there was one thing that supported him; namely, devotion to his Emperor and his righteous cause, to promote which he tirelessly considered new plans and means which involved many little vexations and mortifications. "Patience! patience! patience!" he often said to himself. He generally proposed the opposite of that which he really intended, knowing beforehand that his suggestion would be rejected and that the measure which he himself really wanted would be recommended. It was a remarkable and dangerous game which his colleagues were playing while the glorious continuation or the shameful downfall of the German imperial house hung in the balance!

As we already know, England and Holland had taken sides with the hard-pressed German Emperor and had placed a strong army in the Netherlands. Their commander was the gifted English General Marlborough, who had already met the French several times and had shown them that he knew how to conduct a war and understood the arts of attack and defence equally well. With a second army Margrave Louis of Baden stood guard over the Rhine in the neighborhood of his home, and the Prussian allies were also on hand under the leadership of the daring Prince Leopold of Dessau. Unfortunately the Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria was still on the French side. Guided by petty self-interest, he had deserted and betrayed his German fatherland.

Besides the French and Bavarians, the Turks and Hungarians were bestirring themselves once more. This was a prearranged scheme in which France again had her hand, for she was anxious to attack Austria from all sides. But the outcome was very different from what the Emperor's enemies had expected. We shall see what happened.

The two generals, Marlborough and Eugene, were placed first in command. For a long time they had been mutual admirers. They were attracted to one another, for, as the maxim says: like seeks like. Eugene, who was thoroughly German in feeling, was deeply pained to know that the French were in Germany—that is, in Bavaria. Had he had the power he would soon have turned them out. He now devised a plan by means of which, with the aid of the English, he might accomplish this. It may be admitted that there had been a great deal of correspondence in regard to the matter, but when it had been thoroughly considered in all its details it was remarkable how well the plans of the two generals coincided.

Eugene and Marlborough's plan in brief was, to unite their forces in Bavaria, to call also upon Margrave Louis of Baden, and then to strike a sudden blow. For the present Prince Eugene temporarily resigned his office of President of the Council of War, donned his modest soldier's coat, and girded on his sword. As the direct road was occupied by the Bavarians and French—the latter under Marshal Marsin—he hurried to the seat of war by the roundabout way of the Tyrol and Vorarlberg. His arrival was greeted with loud rejoicings by the army. Those princes who were allied in opposition to the imperial house felt that his appearance was the forerunner of important events. For instance, the Elector of Bavaria wrote to the King of France: "It is not to be doubted that the Prince of Savoy visits the seat of war in order to carry out great projects." It was plain that his opponents feared the noble knight. Had Margrave Louis of Baden been as resolute as of old, it would certainly have been an easy task for him to make the Elector of Bavaria, who was just now separated from Marsin, feel the sharpness of his sword. As it was, he pursued him but tardily and confronted him at last at Ehingen, near Ulm, where the Elector was encamped.

It was at this time that Eugene rejoined the army. He could probably not avoid reproaching the Margrave, though this must have been a very unpleasant task, for he was much indebted to him; but the service could not be allowed to suffer through friendship. However, all might yet be well. Marlborough was on the way to southern Germany with his army, consisting of picked troops, excellently clothed and armed. He had sent word to Eugene that he would conquer or die with him.

On the tenth of June, 1704, Eugene and Marlborough met for the first time at Mundelsheim. They made the most agreeable impression upon one another. A confidential intercourse developed and a mutual desire to accommodate one another in all points, which soon showed its happy effects on the soldiers of both armies.

Three days later they joined the Margrave of Baden at Grossheppach. To this day, at the inn "Zum Lamb" ("at the sign of the Lamb"), the tree is shown beneath which the three generals held a council of war. The resolution was taken to lure the enemy, now in southern Bavaria, across the Danube in order to destroy him.

The Margrave, as the higher in rank, insisted on taking command of the imperial troops and cooperating with Marlborough on the Danube. In order not to disturb the good understanding, Eugene subordinated himself and took command of the troops on the Rhine. This was a very important post, for it was necessary to prevent the union of the French marshals, Tallart and Villeroi, an attempt which Eugene from the first considered scarcely possible.

In increasing numbers the French pressed forward across the Rhine. They meant to give Germany her death-blow. Eugene's plan was to detain Villeroi on the Rhine, on his way from the Netherlands. In the meantime Marlborough and Louis of Baden had not been idle; the Bavarian Field-Marshal Arco, who with eight thousand men had attempted to dispute their passage of the Danube, had been crushed at the Schottenberg. As a result of this, the Elector retired to Augsburg. Under cover of its cannon he felt himself secure. The allies followed at his heels, but without attempting anything.

Efforts were again made toward peace, and an attempt was made to reconcile the Elector with his father-in-law, the Emperor.

All was in vain. The Elector, in his boundless ambition, planned first to tear the German Empire asunder and then to appropriate the lion's share. He again had visions of the crown of France, or indeed the German imperial crown, upon his head; he was, in short, a cheap creature of the "Most Christian" King of France, and would hear nothing of reconciliation. He did his utmost to hasten the advance of Marshal Tallart. War alone should decide his fate.

Tallart appeared, but close after him followed Eugene, whom Villeroi believed to be still at the Stollhof frontier. On the third of August the Prince was at Hochstadt, going into camp there and joining Marlborough a few days later. Margrave Louis of Baden had in the meantime undertaken the siege of Ingolstadt, so that his indecision could no longer be a hindrance.

Haste was now necessary; not a moment must be lost. Both great generals agreed that the decisive battle must be fought on the narrow plain between Blenheim and Hochstadt. To this end the enemy were allowed to cross the Danube quietly and establish themselves at Hochstadt. The Bavarians and French had no real knowledge of the true state of affairs. They intended to attack Eugene, whom they believed to be separated from Marlborough, and they expected to overcome him without much difficulty. Too late they learned their mistake.

From the church tower at Tapfheim Marlborough and Eugene observed the advance and manoeuvres of the enemy. They posted themselves on the opposite side of the Nebelbach. The right wing rested on Blenheim on the Danube, where Tallart took up his quarters. The left wing, under Marsin, was supported by the village of Lutzingen and the slopes of the Goldberg. The Nebelbach was in front of them. The Elector with his cavalry was situated at Sonderheim, a short distance from Blenheim. The allies were behind the Kesselbach. Marlborough, who commanded the left wing, was at Munster on the Danube; Eugene, with the right, at Oppertshofen. Thus dawned the twelfth of August of the year 1704, the day which was to decide the power of German strength over French force and cunning.

As early as three o'clock in the morning the roll of drums and trumpet calls awakened the allies to the bloody harvest work of this hot August day. The moon was setting and threw its last pale light over the landscape. A thick fog covered the great plain and hid the distance. Each of the allies' armies was divided into four columns, of which two consisted of infantry and two of cavalry. The infantry marched in front, the cavalry behind, and the artillery was in the middle. A ninth column was formed to cover the march of the English and Dutch artillery, then to attack Blenheim and from thence to fall upon the enemy's right flank. The Prussian reserve corps, under the young Prince Leopold of Dessau, was attached to Eugene's army.

The fog lifted; it was nearly seven o'clock when the enemy became visible. They were still under the strange delusion that the allies would not dare to attack them, but would retire toward Nordlingen. But all at once they were surprised by a sudden onslaught. The Bavarian outposts were quickly overcome; the battle broke out here and there in jets of flame. In order to hold Blenheim, Tallart made the mistake of withdrawing twenty-seven battalions from his centre, where Clerambault commanded. The narrow strip between the village and the Danube was protected by a barricade of wagons, behind which stood four regiments of unmounted dragoons ready to defend it. The French line of battle was spread out for miles. It surged back and forth like the ebb and flow of the sea.

At nine o'clock in the morning Tallart's artillery opened a murderous fire on the allies, who, of course, answered in kind. Eugene's regiments, particularly, suffered under this fierce cannonading. Coming up from a hollow, their left flank was in line of the firing, but in spite of this they hastily threw five bridges across the Nebelbach.

Toward noon Marlborough mounted his horse and gave the signal for the attack. Lord Cutts proceeded with his men, at the signal for a general advance, toward the mills of Blenheim, and took them. At the same time the English cavalry crossed the Nebelbach. Immediately they were engaged in a hand to hand struggle with the French. There were mighty blows of the sword on helmet and armor; the squadrons plunged wildly upon one another. Unfortunately the English cavalry was the weaker. Pursued by the French they fell back on the infantry; but here the French advance was checked and whole ranks were mowed down by the English musketeers. New companies came storming up, only to meet the same fate, and all without any effect on the general result. The decisive struggle took place at Blenheim; but here at first every attack was in vain. Every garden wall, every hedgerow and fence, was prepared for defence; and the churchyard, which lay rather high, was transformed into a small citadel. Marlborough quickly changed his plan of attack. While he feigned attacks on Blenheim, his principal blow was struck at the enemy's centre, which Tallart had weakened considerably by sending reinforcements to Blenheim. But even here it was impossible to accomplish anything. The French fought with the courage of despair, and the English had to give way. At this decisive moment Marlborough placed himself at the head of the Danish troops, crossed the Nebelbach, and attacked the French again with fresh energy. Marsin's cavalry came dashing up and threw themselves heavily upon the Danes.

All was wild confusion; already the Danes were seeking a way for retreat, and all seemed lost. Just then the imperial cuirassiers, led by Fugger, came dashing up. With irresistible force they threw themselves upon the enemy, renewed the firing, and soon worsted the foe. The battle had been raging for hours and was still, on the whole, undecided. Eugene also had been fighting with the same ill success. With but eleven battalions of Prussians and seven battalions of Danes, he could scarcely make any headway. Once more, however, they put forth their utmost efforts. Such a bloody battle had never been known. The attack was begun by the Prussians under Leopold. It was a difficult piece of work. From Lutzingen the enemy's batteries poured death and destruction incessantly into their ranks. The brave grenadiers furiously threw themselves upon them and took them in a wild struggle. But the Bavarians were soon on the spot and the Prussians were driven back with great loss.

Eugene collected the scattered forces and placed himself at their head. The attack was unsuccessful. It was impossible for the eighteen battalions of infantry to wrest the victory from the twenty-five battalions of the Elector. Eugene now called on Marlborough for assistance, in expectation of which the Prince went into the ranks, encouraging the men, with word and example, to stand firm and have courage. But time pressed, and before Marlborough's reinforcements arrived the Prince had made a third attack. His keen soldier's eye had noted that the advantage was inclining toward Marlborough's side. Now all depended on cutting off the advance of the French right wing. The cavalry should have undertaken this, but were so disheartened by the repeated assaults that no great success was to be depended on. Full of disdain, Eugene turned his back on them and rode to the Prussian infantry. These did their duty completely. Regardless of danger they dashed forward under Eugene's leadership, while the Prince of Dessau encouraged his men to do the impossible. The grenadiers loaded and fired as carefully as though they were on the parade ground, and executed evolutions which made the hearts of old and young warriors laugh within them—until at last the enemy began to retire through the forest and by the ravine-road at Lutzingen. Here in the midst of this wild scrimmage Eugene nearly lost his life. A Bavarian cavalryman, who had probably recognized him, was taking aim with his carbine, when he was rendered harmless by an imperial officer who came hurrying up.

And still the battle raged. The Bavarians fought with the courage of lions and stood as firm as rocks amid the sea. At last news came from the other wing: Marlborough was gaining the advantage. Marshal Tallart had been wounded and taken prisoner, and Blenheim was surrounded by the English. Now the cowardly and treacherous Clerambault yielded his place, which was the key of the French position, and the English pushed into Blenheim, where they shot and cut down all who opposed them, and made nine thousand prisoners.

Marlborough's trumpet-calls of victory were the signal for Eugene also to make a quick end of things. With the last strength of his battalions and squadrons—Prince Leopold, with his Prussians, at the head—he at last compelled the enemy to retreat. But they gave way only by inches. The Bavarians still fought with the utmost tenacity, defending every foot of ground, until at last, completely weakened and shot to pieces, they succumbed to the fire of the Prussian infantry.

Thus the Germans had gained a great and important, but very bloody victory. Fifty-two thousand Germans and English had fought against fifty-six thousand French and Bavarians. Fourteen thousand of the latter now covered the battle-field, and nearly as many had been taken prisoners. The trophies consisted of one hundred and forty cannon and a great number of flags and standards. All Germany and the greater part of Europe rejoiced over the victory at Blenheim and the thorough humiliation and chastisement of the French. Marlborough and Eugene were the heroes of the day. The former was created a prince of the holy Roman empire by the Emperor, and Eugene's house in Vienna was made perpetually free of taxation as a privileged "freehouse" of the nobility.

In Paris, on the other hand, great discouragement reigned. Almost every important family mourned their dead or feared for a wounded or imprisoned son. The despondency was general. And again it was the former little abbe whose face was so distasteful to Louis the Fourteenth that had brought this misfortune upon him and his country. Had the allies pursued the French as fast as they fled toward the Rhine, the battle of Blenheim would have had still more important results. This was part of Eugene's plan; but in Vienna there was a group of extremely circumspect gentlemen who had very different views—"clerks and scribblers," as Blucher later named this distasteful guild.