Prince Eugene - George Upton


The Duke of Marlborough had fought against France in the Netherlands in recent years, with more or less success. But latterly fortune had turned her back upon him; Ghent, Brussels, Bruges, and other fortified towns had again fallen into the hands of the French; for Marshal Vendome and the Duke of Burgundy were very alert generals.

One of Marlborough's letters to Lord Godolphin shows how deeply he felt the hopelessness of his situation. He wrote: "As there is a God in heaven I put my trust in Him, for without Him our prospects are truly terrible." Eugene did not wish to desert the brave Duke in this great extremity. To be sure, money was scarce in Vienna; Hungary and Siebenburgen could contribute nothing, the impoverished hereditary lands were just as unable to furnish sufficient ready money, and loans were to be had only at exorbitant rates. In addition, there was a split in the parties at court. They were weary of war, and one interfered with another's counsels and plans. It was almost a miracle that it was possible for Eugene to impose his plans for war upon the Council, and to organize a well-trained army in the shortest possible time. It was, no doubt, Marlborough's messengers of distress, and his own extreme sense of duty urging him not to desert his faithful brother-in-arms, which conquered all obstacles.

With indefatigable haste Eugene set out with his army, crossed the Moselle on the twenty-eighth of June, 1708, and joined the cavalry on the third of July at Duren. A few days later his army and Marlborough's were united. This was help in time of need. The first meeting of the two generals was touching. Marlborough embraced Eugene and called him his saviour. The noble Savoyard directed his friend to trust in God. "With His help," said he, "even though I pay the penalty with my life, I shall obtain satisfaction."

Eugene next hurried to Brussels, which the French had again given up, into the arms of his mother, whom he had not seen since she was driven from France. What must have been the feelings of mother and son? Eugene had taken vengeance on their deadly enemy for her and the whole family of Soissons, and had punished and humiliated him. He had already twice entered France at the head of a victorious army, he had been successful in the Netherlands, and the road to Paris was open to him. Full of happiness and enthusiasm the mother parted from her heroic son. And soon new tidings of victory arrived to gladden the lonely widow. The aged woman passed away on the arrival of the news of the victory of Malplaquet (1709). She died happy, for her beloved son had avenged her husband and herself.

Marlborough and Eugene with eighty thousand men came upon the enemy at Oudenarde. The French leaders disagreed as thoroughly among themselves as the allies were united. They had forgotten to protect the bridges over the Scheldt. The allies used five of these and on the eleventh of July, 1708, crossed the river; as they arrived they placed themselves according to battalions in battle array.

How easily the French might have prevented this and have attacked the separated little companies and conquered them! They chose quite different tactics—they hastily intrenched themselves. It was the English Colonel Cadogan who first dealt with the enemy. He easily overthrew the twenty squadrons opposed to him, scattered four battalions of infantry, and in doing so he frightened three others so thoroughly that they ran away without firing a shot.

That was a merry introduction, but the real drama was to follow. Marlborough now advanced with the principal strength of the army. The French defended themselves with the utmost bravery; and as they were much more numerous, they forced the English back. But Marlborough was of a tenacious character. With all his might he again pressed forward, not only reconquering the lost ground, but continually advancing. Eugene knew how to gain successes of the same sort. The allies bore down ever more heavily upon the French. The battle became disorganized and ended in a series of bloody hand-to-hand skirmishes. But the English and Germans understood this kind of fighting also, for they had learned it under the murderous fire at Hochstadt.

Toward evening the Hollanders received orders to march round the French right wing, a task that they accomplished with remarkable quickness and precision. The allies then pressed forward in a great half-circle and overthrew the enemy. Seven of the enemy's cavalry regiments were cut down, and Vendome's battalions of the guard, led by himself, were shattered by the iron knights of England. At sunset the day had been gloriously won; a victory like that of Hochstadt. Vendome fled to Ghent, and there remained three days in bed to sleep off his chagrin.

After the battle of Oudenarde the allied armies remained in the Netherlands. In Eugene's own words, it was now time "to profit honestly by the victory."

Prince Eugene at Malplaquet.


In order to accomplish this it was necessary to take a fortified place, and Lille or Ryssel seemed to Eugene the most appropriate. He was not a waverer or one who would discard to-morrow the plans of yesterday; and in this Marlborough was his faithful colleague. Then quickly to work! The allies shelled the fortress of Lille daily with a hundred and twenty cannon, eighty mortars, and twenty howitzers. This must certainly have helped matters. Marshal Vendome's fingers were itching to relieve Lille, which Marlborough with his seventy thousand men prevented, holding the Marshal at a good distance, so that Eugene could operate with freedom against the fortifications. At last the Austrians had opened a breach. Eugene was quickly on the ground. One night he advanced to the breach with the storming columns, but was very unlucky. The enemy must have learned of his design; they received the advancing columns with a murderous fire of grapeshot and also set off two powder-mines with horrible results. Of course the Austrians were obliged to retreat.

But postponement is not abandonment; and the maxim, "A burnt child shuns the fire," did not apply to Eugene. One night he was again before the breach. All was ready for the onslaught. The roll of the drums and the calls of horns and trumpets were kindling the Austrians with enthusiasm, but it was a difficult piece of work. Three times they were beaten back, but the fourth time they were successful. Several outposts were taken and occupied. During this attack Eugene was slightly wounded on the head. He transferred the command to Marlborough, knowing it to be in good hands.

About this time Eugene received, among other letters, one which on opening he found to contain a piece of blank paper which had been soaked in some greasy, sticky stuff. Eugene dropped the paper and said: "It is not the first of its kind which I have received." Of course the paper was poisoned. It was bound about the neck of a dog, and after a few hours the animal died.

But let us return to the siege of Lille. On the third of October the grand attack was made. Both sides fought with admirable courage. Eugene, as well as Bouffleurs, gave his men an example worthy of emulation; both fought in the front ranks. Eugene was wounded and fell to the ground. His men raised a shout of horror. "It is nothing!" he cried, covered the wound with his handkerchief and pressed forward. It was with great difficulty that his friends could persuade him to leave the battle-field while the assault was proceeding. A terrible slaughter began. The Frenchmen defended every inch of ground with heroic courage. The men fought with bayonets; they strangled one another with their hands; and all the time the heavy artillery of the Besiegers was thundering and was opening new breaches here and there. Where the moats were not filled with wounded or dead bodies, they were piled up with bits of sod, gabions, and bundles of faggots to make them passable. At last Bouffleurs lost all hope of holding the city. Fighting, he retired into the citadel, which, after a defence of two months, he at last also surrendered to the allies.

Without reading the conditions of surrender, Eugene signed the paper with the words: "Marshal Bouffleurs cannot demand anything which I shall not be able to grant!" Nobly spoken, valiant Knight!

When they wished to give grand fetes at The Hague in honor of the Prince, he begged them rather to give the large sums of money which would have been expended to the faithful Dutch soldiers who had been invalided at the defence of Lille. Eugene had the gratifying consciousness of having also freed Flanders from the French by his prompt interference. In the following words he shows what importance he attributed to the campaign of 1708: "He who was not in it has never experienced anything."

The peace negotiations at The Hague between the warring powers came to nothing. After the last great victories Eugene was able to press his claims in the name of his Emperor (Joseph the First). He demanded the whole undivided Spanish inheritance, also Alsace and Sundgau, the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, which had formerly been unjustly taken from the German empire. After a long period of weakness in state and international affairs, this was once more a virile German demand. The Marquis de Lorcy, a suave French courtier, the representative of Louis the Fourteenth at The Hague, opened his eyes very wide and begged leave to communicate this demand to the King. As was anticipated, Louis declined the terms of peace. The storms of war began anew to discharge their fury upon the frightened nations. The Germans, together with the English and Dutch, were once more quickly in the field. Every one felt that the new campaign would be a very sanguinary one. The injured vanity of the French King demanded atonement, revenge.

Against about one hundred thousand allies, Louis put one hundred and twenty thousand men in the field. Villars, with whom we became acquainted during the Italian campaign, made great promises to the Parisians. The first task was to take the fortress of Tournay from the French. This was successful. The next was to arrive at Mons before the French. It was also accomplished. This was Villar's debut, and the King of France was not greatly pleased. He sent the brave Bouffleurs after him to urge him on, for his confidence in Villars was still unshaken. Besides, Bouffleurs did not come alone, but brought with him a valiant troop. The gay Marshal was much elated; and was quite confident of victory. And with him the whole French army rejoiced, convinced that they should strike the Germans a deadly blow and then themselves dictate the terms of peace.

While the French gave themselves up to these undue rejoicings, Eugene and Marlborough were composedly making all arrangements to wreck the Marshal's plan and spoil his fun. They quickly set out with ninety thousand men and occupied all the highways, in order to prevent the enemy from reaching Mons.

Mons lies in the province of Hainaut. This region is hilly for the most part, cut up by gorges and little streams, and covered thickly with timber. In front of Marlborough's position lay the forest of Laniere; in front of Eugene's, the forest of Taisniere. The corner which juts out toward the north is called the forest of Sart. Between the above-mentioned forests lie Aulnoit and the Wolf's Cave. The first was occupied by Marlborough, and the last by Eugene; between them was a series of more or less deep ravines. It was in no respect a well-selected position; it was taken only because it was necessary to put themselves quickly on the defensive against a threatened attack of the enemy.

Villars's centre stood upon the clearing of Aulnoit, his wings were covered by the above-mentioned forests. Besides this he had entrenchments thrown up in haste and barricades constructed. He must have been somewhat nervous. The allied generals observed the enemy's position from the windmill at Sart. Their plan was to engage the attention of the enemy's centre by a feigned attack, while they really were trying to throw the left wing from its position. Between Marlborough and Eugene, eighteen battalions of imperial infantry were posted.

In the early hours of a cold, wet, September morning, the ninth, the allied armies quietly gathered under their standards, while the Frenchmen, on the other hand, being confident of an easy victory, were cheering continuously for their King and for Marshal Villars. As usual the thunder of the cannon opened the battle. Amidst their brazen clangor, the Saxons under Schulenberg pressed forward on the edge of the forest of Sart to within pistol-shot of the enemy. But there the valiant Albergotti opened such a heavy musketry fire on them that the battalions at the front fell back panic-stricken and were stopped only by those behind them. United they pushed forward once more, Eugene leading them. The first redoubt was taken by storm, and soon afterwards the second also was taken. Eugene's infantry followed eagerly in the victorious path of their advancing comrades, but were soon retarded by a thick growth of bushes and trees. The battalions were separated and at last became thoroughly disordered. The worst of it was, that they came upon a fresh barricade of logs. But great as the difficulties were, they were conquered at last; the forest of Sart was taken, and the French driven out of it.

While these events were taking place in Eugene's division, the Prussian General von Lottum, of Marlborough's division, with twenty-two battalions, made a daring attack on the principal front of the French left wing, where Villars himself commanded. Although whole ranks of the faithful grenadiers fell before the enemy's grapeshot and musketry hail, they worked their way forward with astonishing endurance and had the pleasure of seeing Villars retreating behind the forest.

While he was busy reforming his line of battle he was surprised by the Prince of Orange with thirty battalions. A fierce fight ensued. The French defended themselves heroically and repulsed their assailants. But not for long; for Eugene came to the rescue. On horseback he reduced the wild confusion of the battle, encouraging here, praising there, or consoling. Once more he was wounded by a musket ball, in the back of his head. He had no time to have the wound dressed. To his remonstrating friends he smilingly said: "If I should die, the bandage would do me no good, and if I live, the surgeon can do his work this evening." Thus he plunged again into the fury of the battle. And still there was no decisive victory although Marlborough's and Eugene's troops fought so bravely. But the heroic Prince's eye is alert and is watching, in spite of great loss of blood and intense pain from the wound in his head.

At last the decisive moment came. Hazarding a last tremendous blow, for his troops were exhausted by the long struggle, Villars sent thirty battalions with lowered bayonets against Eugene. In order to do this he had drawn a large part of the infantry from the redoubts on his right, which Bouffleurs until now had defended so heroically. Eugene immediately espied the vulnerable point and, gathering his infantry together, he dashed upon the much weakened left wing of the foe. Here another terrible struggle took place. But all their bravery and heroic devotion availed the French nothing. At the head of his men Eugene broke through their centre. His men were not to be held back any longer. Starhemberg's cavalry rode and cut down everything that resisted them; the platoon fire of several Prussian battalions likewise did terrible destruction. The French fled.

The other wing of the allies was equally fortunate. Excited by the victorious shouts of the Germans, the English were not left behind. With fifteen battalions supported by seventeen squadrons under Billow, Orkney took the entrenchments at Bleron. The Prince of Orange, the hero of the day, again took an important part in the battle; and although an extremely fierce cavalry skirmish ensued upon the plain of Malplaquet and the Frenchmen enjoyed a few victorious moments, the imperial cavalry from the other wing, appearing like a storm-cloud on the field of battle, overwhelmed the enemy with tremendous force. They gave way and fled. Unfortunately, the allies were too exhausted to pursue them effectually. Only twelve squadrons of the imperial cavalry harassed them on their retreat, which was conducted skilfully by Bouffleurs.

The battle of Malplaquet, as the fight over the French entrenchments was called, was one of the fiercest of the War of the Spanish Succession. The loss on both sides in dead and wounded was about the same, probably about thirty-six thousand men. The great battle-field was horrible to look upon. Where the Dutch battalions of the guard had stood, the corpses lay in ranks before the entrenchments, most of them stripped of their clothes and horribly mutilated. The moats were filled to the top with dead bodies. The allied victors spent the night upon the battle-field. What a night! as terrible as the day had been!

The battle of Malplaquet was the last in the long and extremely bloody War of the Spanish Succession, excepting several clever operations against the French, and minor encounters. For a long time the discussions over "mine" and "thine" continued. The French were scarcely able to resign themselves, but at last, after negotiations between the several States, in February, 1714, peace was made between the Emperor Charles the Sixth (Joseph the First had died in 1711) and King Louis the Fourteenth of France at Rastadt. This was for the most part Eugene's work; and his opponent at the green table was Marshal Villars. Eugene raised his voice powerfully in Germany's interest; Germany was indebted to him for whatever he succeeded in obtaining under many unfortunate and unfavorable circumstances. France kept Landau, but resigned the other territories which she had conquered; Milan, Naples, Sardinia, and the Spanish Netherlands passed to the Emperor.

Villars and Eugene parted friends at Rastadt. They had learned to respect one another. At their farewell Villars uttered these parting words: "Your foes are not in the enemy's camp, but in Vienna, as mine are in Versailles." This was a prophecy which was later to be fulfilled in a terrible manner.