1712 – Siege of Bouchain
The siege lasted from 1 October to 19 October 1712
On 12 September 1711, the Allies had captured the French fortress of Bouchain after a 34 days siege. Since then, they had repaired and even improved the defensive works of the place, building two new ravelins, three lunettes, one counterguard and several mines.
On July 24 1712, the Maréchal de Villars defeated Prince Eugène de Savoie at the Battle of Denain. During the next three months, Villars exploited his victory and successively recaptured the fortresses of Marchiennes, Douai, which surrendered on September 9, and Le Quesnoy.
On 18 September, Villars took measures to blockade Bouchain, sending 1 cavalry brigade to Haspres on the Selle and a detachment of 200 horse along the Sensée River.
no map available yet (see our article 1711 – Siege of Bouchain for a map of the fortress before the improvements added by the Allies)
The city of Bouchain, long the capital of Ostrevent County, is one of the oldest cities in the northern region. There is already evidence of its existence at the time of the lake. They are still found in Roman times, then Merovingian.
The chroniclers tell us that the city was fortified in 691. It was not to lose its ramparts until 1893.
On 1 October, while the main French army was still besieging Le Quesnoy, Villars detached 26 sqns under the Marquis de Conflans and 22 bns taken from the garrisons of various places to invest Bouchain. Villars also sent 30 sqns to the Lower Scarpe to forage on the left bank of this river and to prepare gabions and fascines.
On 5 October, Villars sent a detachment of 8 bns to Bouchain.
On 7 October, Villars sent an additional detachment of 8 bns to Bouchain. The siege corps now counted 38 bns and 26 sqns. The infantry cantoned in villages neighbouring Bouchain while the cavalry was cantoned a little farther in other villages. The Marquis d’Alègre was appointed to supervise the siege of Bouchain. He was assisted by 7 lieutenant-generals and 7 maréchaux de camp. The French intendants of the Province of Flanders supplied the siege corps with siege material and peasant workers.
Major-General Count Grovenstein commanded the Allied garrison of Bouchain, which consisted of 4 bns, a detachment of 200 Swiss and an independent coy (Freikompanie) with 23 guns, 2 mortars and 2 swivel guns. The place was well supplied with provisions and ammunition.
On 9 October, the Maréchal de Villars personally reconnoitred Bouchain. He decided that two attacks would be aimed against the upper town and that, each day, the trenches would be manned by 4 bns and 6 grenadier coys.
On the night of 9 to 10 October, the trench was open by 4,000 workers before Bouchain. The right attack started from Wavrechain. The two attacks were respectively pushed forward up to 80 and 90 m. of the covered way. The two attacks communicated through a parallel covering the entire front of the upper town, from the Upper to the Lower Sensée. Another diversionary attack was made against the lower town on the Lower Scheldt. Despite the lively fire of the defenders, only 53 men were wounded.
On the night of 10 to 11 October, the French dug saps towards the four lunettes located in front of the covered way. Work also began on batteries.
In the evening of 12 October, the defenders made a sortie, destroyed part of the trenches and burnt some fascines.
On 14 October in the morning, the French opened with 40 cannon and 8 mortars, silencing the artillery of the place within a few hours and damaging two lunettes in front of the right attack.
On the night of 15 to 16 October, d’Alègre sent 5 grenadier coys to storm the two lunettes in front of the right attack. One lunette was taken and the other evacuated. The capture of these two lunettes facilitated the erection of a battery of 4 artillery pieces.
On 16 October, the new battery opened against the right bastion. The other batteries opened against the two lunettes in front of the left attack, forcing the defenders to abandon them.
In the night of 16 to 17 October, 5 grenadier coys stormed both lunettes, one of them had already been evacuated by the defenders, while 26 men were captured in the other.
On 17 October, Villars visited the trenches and decided to attack the covered way. He destined 16 grenadier coys for the attack, supported by bns in the trenches. One hour before dark, M. de Roye, who commanded the trenches, sent the 16 grenadier coys forward: 8 coys on the right and 8 on the left. The 8 rightmost coys encountered some resistance but they managed to drive the defenders back and took position in the covered way, losing 8 men killed and 100 wounded. Meanwhile, the 8 leftmost coys easily made themselves masters of their section of the covered way without meeting serious opposition. Combat and losing only 15 men because they were better protected by sapping. The French then destroyed 14 mines and the defenders managed to blow up only 2 fougasses. Overall the French lost only 150 men killed or wounded during the storming of the covered way.
On 19 October at 11:00 a.m., the breach was practicable and the ditch filled. Everything was ready for the final assault when the Count of Grovenstein asked to capitulate. The garrison, which then counted only 600 men, surrendered as prisoners of war. In the fortress, the French captured all the guns, 150,000 pounds of gunpowder, 5,000 various weapons, 50,000 portions oats. De Marnay was appointed commander of the fortress.
The French under Maréchal Claude de Villars had 38 bns and 26 sqns (approx. 20,000 men) with 40 guns and 8 mortars.
The Allied garrison of Bouchain counted 2,000 men with 23 guns, 2 mortars and 2 swivel guns under Major-General Count Grovenstein.
The entire Allied garrison was taken prisoners.
The French lost 400 men killed or wounded.
The capture of Bouchain and the fall of Douai allowed Villars to turn his attention to the recapture of Le Quesnoy. These successes allowed France to keep control of the fortified zone constructed by Vauban in northern France when it signed the Treaty of Utrecht.
This article incorporates texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:
- Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 11, pp. 117-121
- Eberswald, H. Edler von: Spanischer Successions-Krieg. Feldzug 1712, II. Serie, V. file, Vienna 1889
Wikipedia – Siege of Bouchain (1712)
Dinos Antoniadis for the initial version of this article and Harald Skala for additional information