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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XVIII: NORDLINGEN
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 It was five o'clock in the afternoon when all the arrangements for the attack were completed. But as on the 3rd of August the evening is long, it was judged that there would be sufficient daylight to carry out the battle. The French began with a cannonade against the village, and this was replied to by the guns on the two hills. Not only did the position of the latter give them great superiority, but much time was lost by the French in being obliged to move forward their guns as the army advanced, a slow and tedious process in days when cannon were very heavy and cumbrous. Seeing that they were losing time and suffering more loss than they inflicted, Enghien gave the order to the infantry of the centre to advance. They went forward with great speed and eagerness, for they were burning to retrieve their cowardly conduct at Marienthal. They carried the intrenchments Merci had thrown up at the mouth of the pass, and, heedless of the firing of the guns, rushed at the village. Here, however, they were received by so heavy a fire of musketry from the infantry posted there, who had loopholed all the walls and houses, that they came to a stop, and, being shot down in great numbers, turned and fled. The Count de Marsin was himself dangerously wounded. The Duc d'Enghien sent the Marquis de la Moussaie forward with a reinforcement of several regiments, but these, too, fell back before the Imperialists' fire. The Duc d'Enghien then rallied the infantry, added to them all those not yet engaged, and himself led them to the charge. Merci on his part brought forward his main body to the village.
The battle was now a desperate one. Enghien seemed to lead a charmed life. He was ever where the fight was hottest, encouraging the soldiers and setting them an example. His clothes were shot through in many places. Two horses were killed under him, and he received a contusion in the thigh. Merci on his part showed equal valour and intrepidity; but he was less fortunate, for he was struck by a musketball and killed. The news of his fall excited his soldiers to fury, and, hurling themselves on their assailants they cut the greater part of the infantry to pieces.
The French on the right had done no better, for the Bavarian cavalry charged them with such impetuosity that although they fought sturdily they were broken and routed. De Gramont did all that a leader could do to check their flight and lead them back to the battle; and when he saw that he was powerless to do this he put himself at the head of two regiments that had not yet been engaged, received the Bavarian horse with a heavy volley, and leading his troopers to the charge, broke into them, but advancing too far was surrounded and taken prisoner. John de Werth then fell on the reserve, broke them, penetrated the baggage, which was plundered, and then pursued the fugitives far away from the field of battle. Had he, instead of allowing his troops and himself to be carried away by their ardour, brought them round and attacked the French left in the rear, the Imperialist victory would have been complete.
Here for a time the conflict was doubtful. Turenne, in spite of the fire of the Imperialist artillery, led his troops in good order up the hill of Weinberg. His horse was shot under him and his cuirass was struck, but not pierced, by a musketball. On gaining the top of the hill a terrible fight took place between the Weimar and Hessian troops on one side, and the Austrians and Bavarians on the other. The former showed valour in strong contrast with the conduct of their French allies; and after repeated volleys had been exchanged infantry and cavalry rushed upon each other and fought with bayonet and sword. At last the first line of Imperialists gave way, but General Gleen brought up the second line and threw Turenne's first line into disorder, although they still maintained their ground. At this moment Conde, seeing that his centre was destroyed and his right utterly dispersed, came up and joined Turenne, and placing himself at the head of the Hessians, who formed the second line, brought them forward. The enemy's squadrons were broken, and the infantry defeated. The guns were then turned upon the Imperialists on the slope of the hill leading down to the village, and when they were shaken by the fire Turenne's squadron charged down upon them and completed their defeat. General Gleen was taken prisoner, and Turenne's troops, descending the hill, took the village in flank.
Had the defenders here fought with the same courage that they had previously evinced, they would have given time to John de Werth to return, and the fate of the battle would have been doubtful, but they were seized with unreasoning panic, and at once surrendered. The night had long since closed in, and so far as the fighting had gone the battle might be considered a drawn one. The French right and centre were utterly routed, but their left had captured one of the keys of the position and the village behind it. Had John de Werth, when he returned from the pursuit, shown himself an able general, rallied the Imperialists and sent them to recapture the village, and with his victorious cavalry made a circuit of the Weinberg and fallen upon Turenne's rear, the Imperialist success would have been as complete and striking as that which they had won on nearly the same ground over the Swedes; but although an impetuous leader of cavalry, he had no military genius, and on returning after dark, and hearing that the Weinberg was lost and the village captured, he drew off from the field.
He was joined by the Imperialist infantry, and when the morning broke Turenne's division stood victors on the field. A number of officers, many standards, and all the cannon of the enemy fell into their hands. Of the French infantry not more than fifteen hundred were rallied after the battle, and of the allied army Turenne's German troops, although they had suffered severely, alone remained intact. John de Werth retreated with the remains of the Imperialist force to Donauworth, and crossed to the other side of the Danube, although his force was still superior to that of Turenne, for the loss suffered by the French and Turenne's German troops was very much greater than that of the Imperialists. Enghien, in his despatch announcing the victory, acknowledged in his letter to the queen that it was due to the valour and honour of Turenne.
Nordlingen and Dinkelsbuhl opened their gates to the victors. Enghien fell ill and was forced to return to France, leaving Turenne in command. De Gramont was exchanged for Gleen, and he and Turenne took counsel as to the course that had best be pursued. John de Werth had already recrossed the Danube, and the French generals fell back to Hall, where they remained for twelve days to refresh the troops, provisions being plentiful in the neighbourhood.
But their position was daily becoming more untenable. The Duke of Bavaria, greatly alarmed by the result of the battle of Nordlingen, wrote to the emperor that unless Austria largely increased her force in the field he should retire from the contest, of which he had hitherto borne the brunt, and make terms with the French. The emperor, who had just brought a war with Hungary to a close, despatched the Archduke Leopold, his son, with a great body of horse, and he soon effected a junction with Gleen and John de Werth, and together they pushed forward at the utmost speed to surprise the French. As soon as Turenne received news of the movement he and de Gramont agreed that an instant retreat must be made, seeing that their force was less than half that which was advancing to attack them. The baggage was abandoned, and as there was no bridge available the army crossed the Neckar by swimming, each cavalryman taking one of the infantry behind him. They continued their retreat until they arrived at Philippsburg. Here Turenne with the whole of his army took up his position, covered by the guns of the fortress, while Gramont passed the river with the remains of Enghien's army and all the cavalry.
The Imperialists, after examining Turenne's position, came to the conclusion that it could not be attacked, and, marching away, besieged and captured all the towns taken by the French in their advance. Thus beyond the empty honour of a nominal victory at Nordlingen, the campaign under Enghien and Turenne ended, without any solid advantage whatever being gained by the French.
The Poitou regiment, which was the only French battalion in the army of Turenne, had been placed with the Hessians in the second line. It had fought with distinguished bravery on the crest of the Weinberg, and had publicly been thanked by Enghien, who had on the day of the battle ridden by the side of Hector at their head when they fell upon the Imperialists. They had suffered but a small number of casualties, for the enemy were already shaken before they charged, and had, after receiving a shattering volley, broken and fled as the regiment charged with fixed bayonets. Turenne was always anxious to impress upon Hector the lessons that were to be learned from each action, and while they were encamped round Hall he went over the events of the campaign with him on a map.
“You see,” he said, “that what I said to you on the evening before we marched from Dinkelsbuhl has been completely justified. Instead of manoeuvring so as to fight in the open, we dashed ourselves against this strong position, with the inevitable consequences, two-thirds of our army were routed, and the infantry of the centre and right all but annihilated; and although by hard fighting we on the left gained an advantage, it was only the impetuous folly of John de Werth that saved us from destruction. Now, you see, we are in no position to fight another battle. A victory won in one's own country is decisive for a considerable time, but a victory in an enemy's country, unless it involves his disastrous defeat and the utter breakup of his army, is practically without value. We can receive no reinforcements, for none can reach us from France in less than a couple of months; the enemy, on the other hand, have rapidly filled up their ranks, and have received, or are about to receive, large reinforcements, and as soon as they advance we must retreat in all haste, sacrifice all the advantages we have gained, and shall be lucky if we can maintain a footing on this side of the Rhine.
“Five or six thousand lives have been thrown away and nothing whatever gained. Now, you see, had we instead of knocking our heads against the enemy's position, manoeuvred to place ourselves between him and the Danube, he must have retreated without fighting a battle, for he was inferior to us in numbers, and we should have been able to go into winter quarters in Nordlingen and possibly lay siege to Eichstadt. A genius may win a battle, Campbell, but genius, if accompanied by impetuosity and a thirst for great victories, will very seldom win a campaign. I love as well as admire Enghien; he is chivalrous and generous, he has great military genius; possibly with age his impetuosity may be tempered with discretion, but at present, although a brilliant leader, he is not the general that I would choose to serve under in a long campaign.”
When Weimar's cavalry crossed the Rhine with de Gramont they broke into mutiny, declaring that they were raised to fight in Germany and would not fight in France. Turenne crossed and endeavoured to get them to return to their duty, recalling to them how nobly they had fought under him, and appealing to them in the strongest way not to desert him now. A portion of them gave in to his entreaties, but the rest rode away to effect a junction with the Swedish army, and he was therefore deprived of a considerable portion of the force that had been the mainstay of his little army. Upon the other hand, the Archduke Leopold marched away to Bohemia to oppose the Swedes, who had gained several successes in that direction. Turenne, however, determined to carry out one more enterprise before the winter set in, and to reinstate the Elector of Treves, who had been deprived of his dominions for twelve years, in consequence of his having entered into an alliance with France. In order to effect this he marched in the first week in November with a small force of infantry and his cavalry to the Moselle, a distance of forty leagues.
He was joined by some of Enghien's troops from Metz, and on the 14th of November he invested Treves. The Imperialists were unable to gather a force of sufficient strength to relieve the town, which was, therefore, after a short resistance, forced to capitulate. The small garrisons from other towns in the elector's dominions were speedily driven out and the elector restored to his possessions, a result doubly gratifying, since his restoration produced a widespread effect among the German princes who had thrown in their lot with France, while the material advantage was no less, as it closed a door through which the Imperialists, when in sufficient force, could at any time pour their troops into France. This brought the campaign of 1645 to a close. Turenne was called to Paris, where he received the honours that were due to him for the skill and bravery by which, with altogether insufficient forces—raised, equipped and paid to a large extent from his private purse—he had for two years guarded the Rhine frontier from invasion by the united forces of Bavaria and Austria. Hector's regiment had been left at Philippsburg when Turenne marched away; but the marshal told him that there was no occasion whatever for him to remain with it during the winter. He thought indeed that it would be advantageous that he should pay a short visit to Paris, present himself to Mazarin, and then go down and see how matters fared with the estate, to which he had paid but a flying visit. He therefore set out without delay, Turenne entrusting him with some despatches to the cardinal.
“They are of no great importance,” he said, “but it is always well for an officer returning to Paris to carry despatches with him. It shows that he has the hearty approval of his commander in leaving his post for a while, and that he has distinguished himself in a special degree to be thus selected. I have several times in my despatches had occasion to speak of the excellent service rendered by your regiment, and it will ensure you a good reception at court. Besides, Mazarin is evidently disposed to regard you with special favour, and an occasional visit keeps that feeling alive, whereas it naturally cools down after a prolonged absence. Therefore in every respect it is as well that you should show yourself in Paris for a short time before going down to Poitou, where I hear there have been some troublesome risings of the peasantry. The province, being broken and hilly for the most part, offers considerable advantages to irregular forces, who move unencumbered with baggage, and against whom cavalry cannot well act. I do not know that any of these troubles have occurred in the neighbourhood of your estate, but you would naturally wish to see for yourself how matters are going on.”
“It seems more than two years since we left here, master,” Paolo said, as they rode into Paris.
“It does indeed. It is more than six years now since I first rode away with Turenne, and a month later you entered my service. We have gone through a good deal together since those days, Paolo.”
“Yes, indeed, sir. It was a fortunate day for me when my brother took me to your quarters.”
“It has been quite as fortunate for me, Paolo. I doubt whether I should ever have proposed undertaking to carry Turenne's message into the citadel of Turin had I not felt that I could rely upon you as my companion in the business, and it was that which gave me my first step. Since then you have always been by my side, and have more than once saved my life.”
On reaching Mazarin's hotel Hector found that he was at the Louvre, and immediately went there, and as bearer of despatches from the army was at once introduced to the minister's apartment.
“Come with me at once to the queen's closet,” the cardinal said as he entered. “She has just sent for me, and her majesty, being at once a woman and a queen, does not like being kept waiting. She always wishes to receive the first news from the army, therefore I can venture to take you with me without asking her permission.
“I have brought Monsieur de Villar to your majesty,” he said as he entered the queen's apartment. “He has just reached Paris with despatches from the Viscount Turenne. He has only this instant arrived, and I thought I might venture to bring him at once to you.”
“'Tis a long time since we have seen you, monsieur,” the queen said graciously, “but we have heard of you from the marshal's despatches, and were glad to see that your regiment bore itself as well in the field of battle as in the park of Versailles. What news do you bring? Nothing of importance, I hope, for t............
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