1704-08-13 – Battle of Blenheim
Prelude to the Battle
In mid may 1704, Marlborough had undertaken his famous march to the Danube from the Dutch Republic. At the beginning of July, he finally reached the Danube. He then thoroughly and deliberately devastated the countryside around Augsburg so as to force the Elector Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria to make terms. However, these acts only confirmed the Elector in his French sympathies, while at the same time Marlborough's own supplies ran short, his convoys were harassed and his reconnaissances impeded.
On 12 August, the Allies realized that the Franco-Bavarian army was preparing a camp at Höchstädt. Marlborough resolved to attack them on the following day. The Elector and Marsin were for drawing their army as close as possible to the marshy ground they had in their front and not suffer over but on the points of their bayonets. Tallard was of a different opinion and preferred to draw their army at a small distance of the morass and let as many Allies as possible pass it before attacking and annihilating them. Tallard's opinion finally prevailed.
The two camps lay some 8 km apart, the ground between them consisting of a plain of varying breadth confined between a chain of woods and the Danube. This plain is cut by a succession of streams running down at right angles to the Danube, no fewer than three crossing the line of march of the Allies between the Kessel and the French position. The first of these, the Reichen, cuts a ravine through which the road passed close to the village of Tapfheim. On the previous day, Marlborough had sent forward pioneers to level the ravine, and occupied the village with two brigades of British and Hessian infantry.
The Franco-Bavarian army had the Danube on its right and the village of Blindheim (more commonly known as Blenheim) standing close on the bank of the river; on its left was a thick wood from whence ran a small rivulet which flowed into the Danube at Blindheim. This rivulet made the ground along the front of the army very marshy in most places. Tallard had taken up his quarters on the right, Marsin in the centre, and the Elector of Bavaria on the left. The force was encamped not as one army but as two. The rule that infantry should be massed in the centre and the cavalry divided on each wing was followed, not for the entire host, but for each army independently. Thus the centre was made up of the cavalry of both armies without unity of command; the infantry was distributed on each flank of it; and on each flank of the infantry was yet another body of cavalry. The camp itself was situated at the top of an almost imperceptible slope, which descends for 1.5 km, without affording the slightest cover, to a brook called the Nebel.
The village of Blindheim, having an extended front and being covered by hedges and palisades, could easily be converted into a strong position. Some 800 m. above it, a little boggy rivulet, called the Maulweyer, rises and flows down through the village to the Danube. About 3.5 km up the Nebel from Blindheim, but on the opposite or left bank of the stream, stands the village of Unterglau; and 1,6 km above this, on the same side of the stream as Blindheim, and about 100 m. From the water, is another village called Oberglau. This Oberglau was the centre of the position, and Marsin's headquarters. Some 1,6 km upward from Oberglau is another village, Lutzingen, resting on wooded country much broken by ravines. Here were the Electors headquarters and the extreme left of the FRanco-Bavarian position.
The Nebel, though no more than 4 m. broad at its mouth, was a troublesome obstacle, its borders being marshy, especially between Oberglau and Blindheim, and in many places impassable. Below Unterglau this swampy margin extended for a considerable breadth, while opposite Blindheim the stream parted in twain and flowed on each side of a small boggy islet. At the head of this islet was a stone bridge, over which ran the great road from Donauworth to Dillingen. This had been broken down, or at least damaged, by Tallard; but herewith had ended his measures for obstructing the passage of the Nebel.
Description of Events
At 1:00 a.m. on 13 August, the alarm and the call to arms were sounded in the camp of the Allies.
At 1:30 a.m., the Allied armies were assembled and ready to march.
At 2:00 a.m., amid dense August white mist, the Allies set off from their camp.
At 3:00 a.m., the Allies in eight columns (the two outermost on each flank consisting of cavalry, the four innermost of infantry) passed the Kessel River on bridges, reaching Tapfheim where the army halted. The two brigades occupying the village under Major-General Wilkes, along with 11 other bns and 15 dragoon sqns formed a ninth column on the extreme left, to cover the march of the artillery along the great road and, in due time, to attack Blindheim.
For this day the stereotyped formation was to be reversed; the Allied cavalry was to form the centre and the infantry the wings.
The Allies then resumed their advance in nine columns towards Schwenningen. The new column was conspicuous from the red-coats of fourteen British battalions, with Cutts the Salamander at its head.
Around 6:00 a.m., Tallard and Marsin, who were with the guards of the camp, saw the Allied columns approaching by Schwenningen and ordered their own armies to take arms. Meanwhile, the Allies drove back the Franco-Bavarian advanced posts.
As they came in sight of the Franco-Bavarian army, Prince Eugène with the Imperial corps stretched away to the right up to the mountains and drew opposite the Elector of Bavaria and part of the troops under Marsin, between Oberglau and Lutzingen. Marlborough with his own troops stretched to the left from Oberglau up to Gremheim on the bank of the Danube and drew opposite Tallard and Marsin's right.
Between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., the Allies began to form in several lines on high ground within 1,5 km of the Nebel and occupied the villages of Schwennenbach and Unterglau. The Franco-Bavarians set fire to all villages that might be of any cover to the Allies. The artillery on both sides opened with great fury.
The Elector of Bavaria, Tallard and Marsin went to the top of the steeple of Blindheim from whence they had a fair view of the entire Allied army.
Tallard (36 bns, 44 sqns) threw 9 bns and 12 dismounted dragoon sqns (most of their horses having died from glanders) under M. de Clérambault into the village of Blindheim, where he ordered to build entrenchments, and 11 bns between this village and the Danube. Tallard then deployed the Gendarmerie de France (8 sqns) with its right anchored on Blindheim, followed by Broglie's Brigade (5 sqns) Grignan's Brigade (5 sqns) made of the remnants of about 10 sqns where the horses had been heavily affected by glanders).
Around 8:00 a.m., the Allies established two batteries to the left of the village of Unterglau on the highway leading to Höchstädt and Marlborough sent down officers to sound the Nebel.
Clérambault was instructed to wait for the Allies to pass the marshy grounds and then to fall on their rear while Tallard would attack frontally. Tallard also sent 2 of his bns along with 6 bns of Marsin's Corps to the village of Oberglau which lay towards the centre of the Franco-Bavarian army. These troops too were instructed to join the troops from Blindheim when they would attack. Tallard also placed some foot in the two mills standing on the rivulet between Blindheim and Oberglau. Finally, Tallard drew the rest of his troops (32 sqns and 10 bns) between Blindheim and Oberglau but upon the height of the plain near a km from the marshy ground: all of his cavalry, under M. de Zurlauben, forming his first line; and his remaining 3 infantry brigades under M. d'Hautefort forming the second. However, the Elector and Marsin (42 bns, 83 sqns) deployed their own troops close to the marshy ground: their right consisting of cavalry; their centre, of their infantry under M. de Blainville; their left, of the rest of their cavalry; and their left flank protected by 9 bns under the Comte d'Arco, posted in the woods and in the village of Lutzingen.
Note: Tallard had reorganised his 60 sqns, much weakened by the long march from the Rhine, into only 44 sqns.
Furthermore, the Marquis de la Frezelière commanding the Franco-Bavarian artillery deployed 90 guns along the front of the Franco-Bavarian armies, including four 24-pdrs, planted on a hillock at 100 paces from Blindheim to fire in the flank of the attackers; and eight 8-pdrs to cover the front of the Gendarmerie de France.
Around 9:00 a.m., the French artillery posted in and around Blindheim opened against Marlborough's units which were still deploying.
From 9:00 a.m. to noon, the French artillery continued to fire on the Allies while they were deploying.
Around 11:00 a.m., the Allies were deployed in two lines to the exception of a few sqns forming the reserve. Five bridges were established on the Nebel with the planks of the pontoons and the main bridge was repaired.
Marlborough observed the disposition of Tallard's wing and immediately saw what he had in mind. He ordered General Churchill with 19 bns to attack the village of Blindheim. He also ordered Lieutenant-General Wood with 8 sqns to support Churchill. Finally, Marlborough ordered the Prince of Holstein-Beck to attack the village of Oberglau with 6 bns and the mills with 2 bns.
Cutts formed his column into six lines, the first of Rowe's British Brigade, the second of Hessians, the third of Ferguson's British Brigade, and the fourth of Hanoverians, with two more lines in reserve. The four remaining columns of Marlborough's Army were deployed between Wilheim (unidentified location) and Oberglau in four lines: the first and fourth of infantry, with two lines of cavalry between them.
At 12:30, Tallard personally went to reconnoitre the dispositions of the Elector and Marsin on the left. Meanwhile, an aide-de-camp galloped up from Eugène to say that all was ready for the attack. Cutts was instantly ordered to attack Blindheim, while the Duke moved down towards the bridges over the Nebel.
Battle on the Allied left wing
By 1:00 p.m., Cutts's two leading lines were crossing the stream by the ruins of the burnt mills under a heavy fire of grape. On reaching the other side they halted to reform under shelter of a slip of rising ground.
Brigadier Rowe at the head of 2 British brigades led on the attack of Blindheim. Hearing the din of the combat, Tallard returned precipitously from the left where he had joined the Elector.
Rowe's Brigade was received at 30 paces distance by a deadly fire from the French, but Rowe's orders were, that until he struck the palisades not a shot must be fired, and that the village must be carried with the steel. The British pressed resolutely on, Rowe struck his sword into the palisades, and the men pouring in their volley rushed forward, striving to drag down the pales by main strength in the vain endeavour to force an entrance. In a few minutes a third of the brigade had fallen, Rowe was mortally wounded, his lieutenant-colonel and major were killed in the attempt to bring him off, and the first line, shattered to pieces against a superior force in a very strong position, fell back in disorder.
As the two brigades retired, 3 squadrons of the Gendarmerie de France led by M. de Zurlauben, that had been posted on the right flank of Blindheim, swept down upon their flank and seized the colours of the Scots Fusiliers but pursuing their advantage too far were brought up by the Hessians, who repulsed them and recaptured the colours.
Cutts, observing more of the Gendarmerie de France preparing to renew the attack, asked for a reinforcement of cavalry to protect his flank.
With most of Tallard's infantry pinned down in Blindheim, Marlborough did not have to fear an attack in the rear. He then ordered Colonel Palmes with 5 English horse sqns to pass the Nebel. Palmes did not meet any opposition and drew up on the other side of the marshy ground at some distance to give room for the Allied lines to form behind him. Palmes' 5 sqns were facing the 8 sqns of the Gendarmerie.
Tallard had voluntarily waited for the Allies to pass the rivulet. He then sent Zurlauben at the head of the Gendarmerie to cut Palmes's sqns to piece and to then return to their initial positions. Zurlauben ordered the sqns on his right and left to edge outward and then to wheel in upon the flanks of Palmes.
Seeing this, Palmes ordered Major Oldfield commanding his right sqn and Major Creed commanding the leftmost sqn to wheel outward and charge the flanking French sqns. Palmes's sqns executed their orders and wheeled to attack the remaining French sqns in flank while Palmes charged them frontally, driving them back. However, Palmes' sqns pursued too far as usual and were galled by the flank fire from Blindheim and compelled to retire.
While this cavalry combat was raging, Cutts's two remaining lines crossed the Nebel for a fresh attack on Blindheim. The French had by this time brought forward more artillery to sweep the fords with grape-shot, but the British made good their footing on the opposite bank and compelled the guns to retire. Rowe's and Ferguson's brigades, who had by then rallied, advanced together against the village once more, carried the outskirts. Clérambault, without asking for Tallard's authorisation, then ordered 7 bns initially deployed in support of the first line of cavalry to join the troops defending Blindheim. The French units were so pent up and crowded in Blindheim that they had no rook to make use of their arms. The British could penetrate no further in spite of several desperate attacks, and were finally obliged to fall back with very heavy loss. The French too tried to come out of Blindheim and attack the British at the outskirts but they were cut down as fast as they appeared.
The Allied subordinate generals would have thrown away more lives had not Marlborough given orders that the regiments should take up a sheltered position and keep up a feigned attack by constant fire of platoons. He then withdrew the Hanoverian brigade and transferred it to the infantry of the centre.
Tallard sent 2 bns of Royal Infanterie along the rivulet to force Palmes' cavalry back, allowing Tallard's first line of cavalry to re-occupy their initial positions.
Marlborough then turned the whole of his attention to that quarter. During the futile attacks on Blindheim, the four lines of Marlborough's main army had been struggling with much difficulty across the Nebel. The first line of infantry passed first, and drew up at intervals to cover the passage of the cavalry; while 11 bns, under the Prince of Holstein-Beck, were detached to carry the village of Oberglau. Then the cavalry filed down to the stream, using fascines and every other means that they could devise to help them through the treacherous miry ground. The British cavalry had the hardest of the work, being on the extreme left, and therefore not only confronted with the worst of the ground, but exposed to the fire of the artillery at Blindheim. With immense difficulty the squadrons extricated themselves and, with horses blown and heated, formed up in front of the infantry. During this time, Tallard's cavalry had been reforming.
Tallard then advanced with his third line of cavalry (second line when we do not consider the line of infantry which had been deployed between the two lines of cavalry) and, favoured by the ground, attacked the Allied sqns. Tallard's cavalry gave a furious charge and broke through part of Marlborough's first line which was borne back to the very edge of the stream but the pursuit was checked by the fire of the infantry in second line.
Then the Prussian General Bothmar fell upon the disordered French with the second line of cavalry. After a cavalry battle where the Allies got the upper hand, the French cavalry was driven in confusion behind the Maulweyer and retired to the heights where Tallard's last 10 bns were formed. Reinforced by additional squadrons, Bothmar held the line of the rivulet and kept them penned in behind it, for the French could not cross it, and dared not pass round the head of it for fear of being charged in flank.
It was not until 2 bns had been sent from Blenheim to ply the Allied squadrons with musketry that Bothmar retired, and some, but not all, of the French cavalry on this side was released.
Meanwhile General Lumley had rallied his broken troops, and the squadrons further to the right had successfully crossed the Nebel. Still further up the water the Danish and Hanoverian cavalry had been put to the same trial as the British, being exposed to the fire from Oberglau and to the charges of Marsin's horse.
While the combat was still swaying at this point, the Prince of Holstein-Beck delivered his attack on Oberglau. The mills were attacked but their defenders set them on fire and retired. Holstein-Beck was met by a fierce counterattack from the Irish Brigade, which was stationed in the village. His 2 foremost bns were cut to pieces, he himself was mortally wounded, and affairs would have gone ill had not Marlborough hastened up with fresh infantry and artillery, and forced the French back into Oberglau. Thus the passage for the central line of the allied cavalry was secured.
It was now 3:00 p.m. and Marlborough sent an aide-de-camp to Eugène to ask how things fared with him. The Prince was holding his own and no more.
Marlborough, having at last brought the whole of his force across the Nebel, formed the cavalry in two grand lines for the final attack, the infantry being ranged at intervals to the left rear as rallying-points for any broken squadron. Tallard, on his side, brought forward the 9 bns of his centre from the second line to the first, a disposition which was met by Marlborough by the advance of three Hanoverian battalions and a battery of artillery.
The Allied foot led by Colonel Blood then advanced with 9 field pieces loaded with small shot against Tallard's position.
For a time the young French infantry stood firm against the rain of great and small shot, closing up their ranks as fast as they were broken; but the trial was too severe for them.
During this infantry battle, the cavalry of both sides had time to rally.
Tallard then sent to Blindheim for Clerambault's troops to join him but they were unable to do so. Similarly Tallard asked Marsin for reinforcement but the latter answered that he had too much work on his own hands.
Tallard strove hard to relieve his infantry by a charge of the squadrons on their left, but his cavalry would not move.
Marlborough's horse crashed into the hapless battalions, cut them down by whole ranks, and swept them out of existence.
Marlborough then ordered his two lines of cavalry to charge up the slope the remnants of Tallard's cavalry who had been reformed in a single line. They did so with such resolution that it decided the fate of the day. The French stood firm for a brief space, and then, after a feeble volley from the saddle, they broke, wheeled round upon their supports, and carried all away with them in confusion. Tallard was wounded during the combat. 30 French sqns fled towards a bridge they had on the Danube between Blindheim and Höchstädt but the crowd rushing upon this bridge broke it. The Allied sqns pursued with great fury and very few French sqns who had taken this direction escaped.
Tallard, who had initially tried to escape by the same bridge, returned to Höchstädt and was captured on his way there.
The rest of the French cavalry made towards Lauingen but was not pursued far.
Furthermore, 13 bns were all cut to pieces to a man, not one of them escaping.
The defenders of Blindheim were now totally isolated and their only hope now resided with a decisive success on the Franco-Bavarian left wing.
Battle on the Allied right wing
Facing the Allied right wing, the troops of the Elector of Bavaria and of Marsin. Their right wing consisting of French cavalry, deployed from Oberglau extending behind the Nebel rivulet towards Blindheim to link their positions with Tallard's left wing. Their infantry under M. de Blainville was then deployed in two lines in and on each side of the village of Oberglau. Then came the rest of Marsin's cavalry and all the Bavarian cavalry forming their left wing deployed between Oberglau and Lutzingen. Finally, an infantry corps was deployed on their extreme left between Lutzingen and the woods.
Prince Eugène's advance was delayed by several streams and gullies. He finally managed to launch his attack while combat was already raging on the Allied left wing. Eugène's infantry initially managed to drive back its opponents while his cavalry experienced a few successes. Finally, his cavalry was repulsed by the enemy's second line while the first was rallying; and his infantry retired some 350 pace back to the woods.
Eugène's cavalry launched a second charge but was repulsed once more.
The Allied right wing then remained at 60 paces of the enemy for half an hour.
Eugène's cavalry then launched a third charge but was driven back. He interposed his infantry to allow his cavalry to rally.
Prince Eugène could not pass the marshy ground. The fact was that the Elector of Bavaria and Marsin, with better judgement than Tallard, had moved their troops down towards the water and was straining every nerve to prevent his enemy from crossing. Not ceding an inch, they even captured 30 colours and standards.
Combat continued until Marlborough, having dispatched Tallard, sent some sqns towards Marsin's positions.
Around 7:00 p.m., when Marsin realised that Tallard had been utterly defeated, he set fire to Oberglau and Lutzingen and began his retreat. He formed his corps in three columns (an infantry column flanked by two cavalry columns) and marched off with great dexterity and expedition.
Around 8:00 p.m., the French troops in and around Blindheim (27 bns, 12 dismounted dragoon sqns), seeing their army driven out of the field, surrendered at discretion. However, the French troops in Oberglau made a shift to get off with Marsin.
Marsin and the Elector of Bavaria got over the Pass of Morstingen.
The French lost 29,000 men killed, drowned or wounded and 11,000 men taken with 19 artillery pieces (out of 90), 129 colours, 171 standards, tents and baggage. The Maréchal de Tallard, Lieutenant-General de Marivaux, the maréchaux de camp de Blansac and de Valseme, 10 brigadiers and 15 colonels were taken prisoners. Lieutenant-Generals de Clérambault, de Zurlauben and de Blainville; the Maréchal de camp de Vertilly, 3 brigadiers, 4 colonels and several officers of the Gendarmerie were among the dead.
The Allies lost 12,000 men killed and wounded (4,500 killed, 7,500 wounded, of which the British numbered 670 killed and over 1,500 wounded). Prince Eugène's Corps suffered most.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Captain General Duke of Marlborough, seconded by:
- Commander of cavalry: G.d.C. Prince Hessen-Kassel
- Commander of infantry: General Churchill
Commander of the right wing: Field-Marshal Prince Eugène de Savoie, seconded by:
- Commander of cavalry: FML Prince von Hannover
- Commander of infantry: Duke von Anhalt-Dessau
Summary: 67 bns, 181 sqns and 64 guns and mortars
- 18 bns and 92 sqns under Prince Eugène on the right
- 48 bns and 89 sqns under Marlborough on the left
|First Line||Second Line||Third Line||Reserve|
|Extreme Right Wing Infantry|
Lieutenant-General Scholten's Division
|Right Wing Cavalry|
Prince Maximillian's Division
G.d.C. Württemberg-Teck's Division
G.d.C. De la Tour's Division
Lieutenant-General Orkney's Division
|Left Wing Cavalry under Lieutenant-General Lumley|
|Extreme Left Wing under Major-General Cutts|
St. Paul's Brigade
- Colonel Blood (32 guns)
- Various batteries (32 guns)
Franco-Bavarian Order of Battle
Summary: 143 sqns, 78 bns and 90 guns and mortars
Tallard's Army (36 bns, 44 sqns)
Extreme right between the Danube and the village of Blindheim
- unidentified infantry units (11 bns)
In the village of Blindheim under M. de Clérambault
- unidentified infantry units (9 bns)
- unidentified dragoon units (4 rgts for a total of 12 dismounted dragoon sqns) most of their horses had died from glanders
In reserve behind the village of Blindheim
- Vallière's Brigade (? sqns/bns)
Between Blindheim and Oberglau (linking with Marsin's right wing of cavalry)
- First line
- Gendarmerie de France (8 sqns)
- Broglie's Brigade
- unidentified cavalry units (5 sqns)
- Grignan's Brigade
- unidentified cavalry units (5 sqns) made of the remnants of about 10 sqns where the horses had been heavily affected by glanders
- Second line
- Royal Brigade (? bns)
- Languedoc Brigade (? bns)
- Zurlauben's Brigade (? bns)
- Third line
- Silly's Brigade
- unidentified cavalry units (10 sqns)
- unidentified infantry units (9 bns)
- Trecesson's Brigade (? bns)
- Robecq Infanterie (? bn)
- De Beuil's Brigade (? bns)
- Belleisle's Brigade (? bns)
- La Baume's Brigade (? sqns)
- Stref's Brigade (? sqns)
- Silly's Brigade
The Elector's and Marsin's Armies
Between Blindheim and Oberglau (linking with Tallard's left wing)
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. 4 pp. 556-601
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 432-443
- Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 6, Vienna 1879
- Kane, Richard: Campaigns of king William and queen Anne, from 1689 to 1712, London: J. Millan, 1745, pp. 48-56
Berry, Jeff: Obscure Battles – Battle of Blenheim
Carter, Tony: War Office Professional Painting Service – The Battle of Blenheim guide
Harald Skala for the order of battle