Reign of George II. (Continued.) page 6
The forces which France sent under marshal de Noailles to support Broglie, only arrived just in time. Broglie, keenly pursued by the brave Hungarian cavalry, was still in anxious retreat, when a detachment of the troops of Noailles, twelve thousand in number, came up. He then faced about and endeavoured to keep in check the Austrians under prince Charles of Lorraine. The British army, which the king had ordered to march from Flanders into Germany, to aid the Austrians, had set out at the end of February. They were commanded by lord Stair, and on their route were joined by several Austrian regiments under the duke of Aremberg and the sixteen thousand Hanoverians in British pay, which had wintered at Liege. They marched so slowly that they only crossed the Rhine in the middle of May. They halted at Hochst, betwixt Mayence and Frankfort, awaiting the six thousand Hanoverians in electoral pay, and by an equal number of Hessians, who had been garrisoning the fortresses of Flanders, but who were now relieved by Dutch troops. Stair had now forty thousand men, and might easily have seized the emperor at Frankfort. All parties had respected, however, the neutrality of Frankfort, and Stair did the same, probably because the emperor, having no subjects to ransom him, might have proved rather a burden on his hands, than of any advantages in prosecuting the war.
De Noailles, on his part, had sixty thousand men, independent of the twelve thousand furnished to Broglie. He kept an active eye on the motions of the allied army, and as Stair encamped on the northern bank of the Maine, he also passed the Rhine and encamped on the southern bank of the Maine. The two camps lay only four leagues from each other, presenting a most anomalous aspect. There was still no declaration of war. France had still its ambassador at London, and England at Paris, yet they were fighting against each other as auxiliaries. A ridiculous situation, as Horace Walpole truly styled it, saying, "We had the name of war with Spain without the thing, and war with France without the name!"
The genius of lord Stair was anything but military, and soon led him into a dilemma. Instead of waiting, as he had first determined, for the reinforcements of Hessians and Hanoverians, he recalled the forces which he had sent across the Maine, and advanced up the river on the same side as the French, with the intention of drawing supplies from Franconia. He advanced to Aschaffenburg, which he reached on the 16th of June; but Noailles had rapidly followed him, and adroitly seized on the fords of both the Upper and Lower Maine, thus cutting off Stair both from his own stores at Hanau, and from the expected supplies of Franconia. At this' critical moment king George arrived at the camp, and found Noailles lying in a strong position near Gross Ostheim, and Stair cooped up with his army in a narrow valley betwixt the wild and hilly forest of Spessart, which extends from Aschaffenburg to Dettingen and the river Maine. To render his case the more desperate, he had quarrelled with Aremberg, who had let him pursue his march alone; and Stair now lay, with only thirty-seven thousand men, in the very grasp, as it were, of Noailles and his sixty thousand men. The Hessians and Hanoverians had now reached Hanau, and had Stair lain still there, he would have had them united to his army. As it was, they were not only prevented joining him, but were in danger of being surrounded and taken by the French. "England is famous for negligence," Marlborough had said in one of his letters, but the fact was never more conspicuous than now. The position of the English army was enough to have driven troops of any less determined nation to despair. They were not only hemmed in between the Spessart woods and the Maine, with a superior army ready to attack them, move which way they woiild, but they were totally cut off from supplies, and so destitute of forage, that in two more days they must sacrifice their horses.
In this awkward dilemma the king resolved to cut his way through the French; superior as they were, and regain communication with their magazines and their auxiliaries at Hanau. But Noailles was closely watching their movements; and being aware of what was intended, took instant measures to prevent the retreat. He immediately advanced from their front to their rear; threw two bridges over the Maine at Selingenstadt, and dispatched his nephew, the duke de Grammont, to secure the defile of Dettingen, through which the English must pass in their retreat. He also raised strong batteries on the opposite bank of the Maine, so as to play on the English as they marched along the river. These preparations being unknown to the English, and still supposing Noailles' principal force lay betwixt them and Aschaffenburg, instead of betwixt them' and Dettingen, on the 27th of June, at daybreak, the king struck his tents, and the march on Dettingen began. George showed a stout heart in the midst of these startling circumstances, and the soldiers, having the presence of their king, were full of spirits. George took up his position in the rear of his army, expecting the grand attack to come from that quarter; but presently he beheld his advanced posts repulsed from Dettingen, and the French troops pouring over the bridge of the Maine. He then perceived that Noailles had anticipated their movements, and galloping to the head of his column, he reversed the order of his march, placing the infantry in front and the cavalry in the rear. His right extended to the bosky hills of the Spessart, and his left to the river. He saw at once the difficulty of their situation. Grammont occupied a strong position in the village of Dettingen, which was covered by a swamp and a ravine. There was no escape but by cutting right through De Grammont's force, no easy matter; and whilst they were preparing for the charge, the batteries of the French on the opposite bank of the Maine, of which they were previously unaware, began to play murderously on their flank. With this unpleasant discovery came at the same instant the intelligence that Noailles had secured Aschaffenburg in their rear, with twelve thousand men, and was sending fresh reinforcements to De Grammont in front. Thus they were completely hemmed in by the enemy, who were confidently calculating on the complete surrender of the British army, and the capture of the king.
George and his soldiers, however, lost no atom of heart; they determined to cut a way through the enemy or die on the ground; and luckily at this moment the enemy committed almost as great an error as Stair had before. Noailles quitted his post in front of the king's army, and crossed the Maine bridge to give some further orders on that side; and no sooner did he depart than his nephew, De Grammont, eager to seize the glory of defeating the English, and not aware that the whole British army were at that moment about to bear down upon him, ordered his troops to cross the ravine in their front, and assault the English on their own side. The order was executed, and had instantly the unforeseen effect of silencing their own batteries on the other side of the river, for, by this movement, the French came directly betwixt their fire and the English, which it had been till that moment mercilessly mowing down.
At this moment, the horse which George II. was riding, taking fright at the noise made by the French in their advance, became unmanageable, and plunged forward furiously, nearly carrying the king into the midst of the French lines. Being, however, stopped just in time, the king dismounted, and placing himself at the head of the British and Hanoverian infantry on the right, he flourished his sword and said, "Now, boys! now for the honour of England! Fire, and behave bravely, and the French will soon run!"
The first charge, however, was not so encouraging. The French made an impetuous, onset, and threw the advanced guard of the English into confusion; but the king and his son, the duke of Cumberland, who commanded on the left, and, like his father, took his stand in the front line, displayed the highest courage, and inspired their troops with wonderful courage. The duke of Cumberland was wounded in the leg, but refused to quit the field. The tide of battle was quickly turned, and Noailles, from the other side, saw with astonishment and alarm his troops in action contrary to his plans. He returned in all haste to give fresh support to his soldiers, but it was too late. Gallantly as the French fought, the presence of the king and prince on the other side made the English and Hanoverians irresistible. King, and prince, and army, all showed an enthusiastic courage and steadiness, which bore down everything before it. The dense column of infantry, led on by the king, broke the French ranks, and cut through them with terrible slaughter. Noailles, seeing the havoc, gave a command which completed the disaster. To shield his men, he ordered them to repass the Maine; but a word of retreat, in all such cases, is a word of defeat. The retrograde movement produced dismay and disorder; the whole became a precipitate route. The French were driven in confused masses against the bridges, the bridges were choked up with the struggling throng, and numbers were forced into the river, or jumped in for escape, and were drowned. There was a wild flinging down of arms and a rush to get into the woody hills. Of these fugitives, great numbers were compelled to surrender. The battle, however, did not cease till four o'clock in the afternoon, when the French drew off, leaving the king of England in possession of the field, where he continued till night.
The French had fought with a bravery which must have defeated any but British troops; and their officers, in particular, made stupendous exertions to repair the unfortunate circumstances of the opening battle. The slaughter was therefore in proportion. No less than six thousand on their side were killed, taken, and wounded; amongst them many officers. The allies had betwixt two and three thousand men killed and wounded. Amongst the officers were generals Clayton and Murray killed, the earl of Albemarle and general Huske wounded. Marshal D'Aremberg was also wounded in the shoulder, both he and Stair having shown the greatest bravery during the action. The king was wholly untouched, notwithstanding his unflinching exposure in the very front. Stair, as if to make up for his bad management, was eager to pursue the enemy and complete the route; but the allies had been for some time almost famished. They had neither food, nor drink, nor tents to shelter them, and both they and their horses were in a state of exhaustion, and the French army, as a body, still numerous. It was therefore determined to pursue their way to Hanau, where they had plenty of supplies. In doing this, they were obliged to leave their wounded in the hands of the French, which, notwithstanding their own needs, was not very creditable in conquerors. The French, however, treated them with great humanity.
Such was the battle of Dettingen, equally remarkable for the blunders of the generals and the valour of the men; still more so, as the last battle in which a king of England has commanded in person. At Hanau, the army not only refreshed itself, but was joined by reinforcements, which rendered the allies nearly equal in numbers to the French. Lord Stair, therefore, proposed to pass the Maine, and make a second attack on the enemy. The king, however, would not consent. Stair, with all his bravery, had shown that he was very incautious. He was, moreover, of a most haughty temper, and had quarrelled violently with the Hanoverian officers, and displayed much contempt for the petty German princes. They were, therefore, by no means inclined to second his counsels, though they had fought gallantly at Dettingen. Stair complained loudly of the neglect to follow up the French, and when, some weeks after, Voltaire saw him at the Hague and asked him about the battle, he replied, "I think the French made one mistake and the English two. Yours was, not standing still; and ours - first, in entangling ourselves in a most perilous position; and secondly, in failing to pursue our victory."
The best excuse for George II's apparent sluggishness was, that the French were now so closely pressed by concentrating armies. Prince Charles of Lorraine and the Austrians were pressing De Broglie so hotly that he was glad to escape over the Rhine near Manheim; and Noailles, thus finding himself betwixt two hostile armies, followed his example, crossed over the Rhine to Worms, where, uniting with Broglie, they retreated to their own frontier at Lauter, and thus the empire was cleared of them.
The emperor Charles now suffered the fate which he may be said to have richly deserved, by his long infatuation of aiding the French to commit their depredations, and continue these invasions of his native Germany. He had lost his crown of Bavaria to the Austrians; his title of emperor of Germany was an empty sound; he was left without a friend or ally, except the French, who, themselves in retreat, sent him word that France could do nothing more for him. He was a miserable, deserted object, destitute of the ordinary necessaries of life. Noailles, before retreating farther, had, indeed, made him a passing visit, and lent him forty thousand crowns to keep him from starvation; and Stair also paid his respects to him after the battle. Reduced to extremities, the last spark of spirit which he showed was when De Broglie sent him word that he had better make peace, to which he returned the answer, that he would not be taught how to make peace by those who had shown that they did not know how to make war.
Yet he did, immediately after, solicit for peace from Austria through the mediation of George of England and prince William of Hesse. But Maria Theresa, now helped out of all her difficulties by English money and English soldiers, was not inclined to listen to any moderate terms, even when proposed by her benefactor, the king of England. The emperor was down, and she proposed nothing less than that he should permanently cede Bavaria to her, or give up the imperial crown to her husband. Such terms were not to be listened to; but the fallen emperor finally did conclude a treaty of neutrality with the queen of Hungary, by which he consented that Bavaria should remain in her hands till the conclusion of a peace. This peace the king of England and William of Hesse did their best to accomplish; and Carteret, who was agent for king George, had consented that on this peace England should grant a subsidy of three hundred thousand crowns to the emperor. No sooner, however, did the English ministers receive the preliminaries of this contract, than they very properly struck out this subsidy, and the whole treaty fell to the ground.
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