1703 – Siege of Alt-Breisach
The siege lasted from August to September 1703
With a combined Franco-Bavarian army operating on the Danube, the Imperialists were forced to redirect part of the army of Margrave Louis of Baden to Bavaria. This left the French army campaigning on the Rhine with the initiative. The Imperialists having evacuated the Lines of the Lauter, these defensive works were immediately demolished by the French.
After much deliberations to decide which fortress of Freiburg, Alt-Breisach or Landau should be the target of their operations, Louis XIV, the Duc de Bougogne and the Maréchal de Tallard finally chose to lay siege to Alt-Breisach. Louis XIV then sent the Maréchal de Vauban to supervise the planned siege of Alt-Breisach.
On 10 August, the Comte de Marsin marched to Willstätt with most of the French artillery, baggage.
On 11 August, French baggage reached Bouchers near Strasbourg. Meanwhile, Saint-Second's Brigade set off from Fort-Louis and encamped at Offendorf. Marsin with the artillery marched from Willstätt towards Kenzingen. The Duc de Bourgogne marched at the head of the main body from Erlach to Zunsweier.
On 12 August, Marsin marched to Kenzingen while the Duc de Bourgogne marched to Schuttern.
On 13 August, the Duc de Bourgogne marched to Ettenheim. Furthermore, 10,000 peasants were requisitioned to build a circumvallation to cover the siege.
On 14 August, Marsin with 1,500 dragoons made a demonstration in front of Freiburg while the Duc de Bourgogne marched to Riegel and Endingen. Furthermore, Saint-Second's Brigade escorted the artillery from Strasbourg to Neuf-Brisach and baggage followed. In the evening, the Maréchal de Vauban joined the army.
On 15 August, Marsin marched back from Freiburg and invested Alt-Breisach; the Duc de Bourgogne marched to Burkheim, just a few km downstream from Alt-Breisach. Finally, a floating bridge arrived from Huningue and Neuenburg. The Fortress of Alt-Breisach was defended by only 4,000 ill-supplied men.
By 17 August, baggage and two convoys of artillery escorted by Saint-Second's Brigade had already reached the camp of the besiegers. Vauban supervised the tracing of the circumvallation, depots and three artillery parks (at Hoshstetten, Écrevisse Mill and Biesheim). Vauban established his headquarters at Biesheim while the Duc de Bourgogne and Tallard established their own in Gindlingen. In the evening, the floating bridge on the Upper-Rhine was completed and part of the artillery started to pass the river. However, the level of the Rhine had risen more than 1.5 meter.
By 18 August, Alt-Breisach was completely invested: 12 bns and 15 sqns encamped upstream; 22 bns and 24 sqns in the centre; 11 bns and 18 sqns downstream; and 4 bns guarded the bridges.
On 20 August, 46 boats arrived to form a bridge downstream from Alt-Breisach.
On 22 August, the floating bridge downstream of Alt-Breisach was completed.
On 23 August, three redoubts located too far from Alt-Breisach were occupied by the French whose artillery now totalled 64 siege pieces and 32 mortars or pierriers.
General Thüngen not only remained idle in the Lines of Bühl but detached 5 new bns to reinforce the Margrave of Baden. Seeing this the Duc de Bourgogne recalled 3 bns posted on the Bruche.
In the night of 23 to 24 August, the French opened the trench on the right with 1,200 workers supported by 5 bns and 1 sqn. Work also continued on a battery (10 guns, 6 mortars) established in an island.
On 25 August, the French battery of the island opened on Alt-Breisach but soon 4 of its guns were dismounted. Work also started on another battery of 8 pieces. Meanwhile, the rightmost trench came within 200 meters of the covert way of the “Richelieu Counterguard”.
In the night of 26 to 27 August, the garrison of Alt-Breisach made two sallies, one against the head of each trench. The Chevalier de Croissy at the head of 1 grenadier coy and 1 piquet drove back the sally against the rightmost trench. The Imperialists were more successful against the leftmost trench where they drove back workers before being repulsed by a detachment of Du Roi Infanterie.
On 27 August, the new French battery added its weight to the battery of the island, seriously slowing down the fire of the artillery of the place. Meanwhile, the rightmost trench reached the vicinities of the “Richelieu Counterguard” and of the covert way of the “Saint-Croix Redoubt”.
On 29 August, the Duc de Bourgogne visited the trenches for a second time.
By 31 August, the head of the two trenches were joined. Meanwhile, all French batteries (totalling 38 guns and 26 mortars) continued to fire on the place, almost silencing the Imperial artillery.
In the night of 31 August to 1 September, the French worked on three ditches to gain access to the place.
In the night of 1 to 2 September, the French passed the forward ditch in two places and took position on the glacis.
In the night of 2 to 3 September, the French passed the ditch of a redoubt.
In the morning of 3 September, the French stormed the redoubt.
In the night of 3 to 4 September, 2 French coys attacked the angle of the covert way of the “Rhine Bastion” and suffered heavy losses (4 officers killed, 40 grenadiers killed or wounded). The French artillery then concentrated its fire on the “Rhine Bastion”.
On 4 September, Tallard was informed that the Imperialists had thrown a bridge at Lauterbourg and that their cavalry was on the march to pass on the left bank.
On 5 September, the Duc de Bourgogne detached M. de Vertilly with 1,500 horse to reinforce the corps posted on the Bruche under M. de Streff. He also sent M. de Laubanie at Molsheim to take command in these quarters. The same day, an Imperialist corps with 6 guns, 2 mortars and 8 pontoons reached Haguenau where it passed the Moder. Furthermore, a large number of peasants were ordered to assembled at Drusenheim with tools.
On 6 September at 2:00 p.m., the garrison of Alt-Breisach hoisted the white flag. The same day, the Duc de Bourgogne, fearing the advance of the Imperialists army on Strasbourg, sent 1,500 horse to reinforce the city.
In the morning of 7 September, Alt-Breisach capitulated, its garrison obtaining the honours of war.
On 8 September, the garrison of Alt-Breisach (now down to 3,500 men) marched with 4 guns and 2 mortars under escort to Rheinfeld. The French found 40 guns and more ammunition than anticipated in the place.
The French were now free to turn their attention to Freiburg or Landau.
Order of Battle
French Order of Battle
Summary: 36 cavalry sqns, 24 dragoon sqns, 49 bns
Cavalry (36 sqns)
- Gendarmerie de France (8 sqns for a total of 880 men)
- Mestre de Camp Général Cavalerie (3 sqns for a total of 330 men)
- Cravates Cavalerie (3 sqns for a total of 350 men)
- Bourgogne Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 220 men)
- Orléans Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 220 men)
- Brissac Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 200 men)
- Saint-Pouanges Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 200 men)
- La Vallière Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 200 men)
- Noailles Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 200 men)
- Sheldon-Irlandais Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 180 men)
- Auriac Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 190 men)
- Gaetano (2 sqns for a total of 190 men)
- Croy Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 190 men)
- La Baume Cavalerie (2 sqns for a total of 200 men)
Dragoons (24 sqns)
- Colonel Général Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 300 men)
- La Reine Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 240 men)
- Hautefort Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 320 men)
- Vassé Cavalerie (3 sqns for a total of 240 men)
- Rohan-Chabot Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 240 men)
- Bouville Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 240 men)
- Verceil Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 250 men)
- Pézeux Dragons (3 sqns for a total of 250 men)
- no detailed order of battle available yet for the infantry
N. B.: there were also 8 sqns on the Bruche River for a total of 700 men
Imperialist Order of Battle
Summary: 4,000 ill-supplied men
To do: detailed order of battle
Vault, François Eugène de, and Pelet: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 3 pp. 416-459, 912