Battle of Raismes (1793)
|Battle of Raismes|
|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars|
Kingdom of Prussia
|Commanders and leaders|
Prince Josias of Coburg|
François de Clerfayt
Duke of York
|Marquis Dampierre †|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Raismes (also known as the Battle of Condé or St. Amand) took place on 8 May 1793, during the Flanders Campaign of the Wars of the French Revolution, between the French Republican army of the Marquis de Dampierre and the Allied Coalition army of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, and resulted in an Allied Victory.
Following the defeat of Neerwinden and the defection of Dumouriez, French forces in the Low Countries were in a disorganised and severely weakened condition. Pulling back towards the fortified camp of Famars, closer to French frontier, the new commander Dampierre was acutely aware of his dangerous situation. He was outnumbered by a well-organised enemy, his troops were discouraged and needed rest, he himself was under suspicion by the ardent revolutionary Representatives en Mission.
The Allies meanwhile were equally reluctant to undertake any wide strokes, believing the line of border fortresses had first to be dealt with before any major advance. Coburg was being augmented by reinforcements from Prussia under Alexander von Knobelsdorff, soon followed by the Anglo-Hanoverians under the Duke of York. Thus, unaware of how compromised Dampierre's command was, Coburg turned instead to besiege the fortress of Condé-sur-l'Escaut.
On his right flank 6,000 Dutch and 3,000 Imperials under the Prince of Orange lay at Furnes, Ypres and Menin (Menen). 2,500 British and the same number of Austro-Prussians were under the Duke of York at Tournai. Knobelsdorff commanded 8,000 Prussians holding the line of Maulde, Lecelles and St.Amand on the Scarpe. Clerfayt with 12,000 men was at Vicoigne and Raismes and covered the blockade of Condé to the south. The Prince of Württemberg with 5,000 besieged the town on the north. Coburg's principal army of 15,000 lay to the south of Condé at Onnaing. Finally Baillet de Latour lay to the east with 6,000 men at Bettignies, observing Maubeuge.
Dampierre, in addition to garrisons, could field 10,000 men between Maubeuge and Philippeville on his right under Harville. La Marliere commanded 10,000 more on his left at Cassel entrenched camp and other points, with 5,000 more at Nomain, Orchies and Hasnon. Dampierre's main force of 30,000 lay at Famars entrenched camp, with an attachment at Anzin.
For Dampierre, rest would mean the abandonment of Condé to its fate, which would cost him his head. On 1 May the French launched an assault on the left bank of the Escaut along the length of the Allied front, from Saint-Saulye to St. Amand. Leading the central attack himself, on his right advanced the Armée des Ardennes under Lamarche, on his left attacked a column under La Marlière. However the attacks were piecemeal and uncoordinated, though French infantry fought well, Dampierre's cavalry failed to support the right, eventually all attacks were beaten back for the loss of 2,000 men and several guns.
Despite this setback, the Convention in Paris urged Dampierre to save Condé. Survival of the Republic depended on victory, so, pressured by the representatives, another attack was ordered. This time Dampierre limited attacks on the flanks to minor demonstrations, while concentrating his main assault against Clerfayt's command in the Allied centre. Dampierre himself led a frontal attack from Anzin against Raismes and Vicoigne, and after being repulsed four times eventually captured the position, with the exception of the village of Raismes. La Marlière advanced to St.Amand without problems, while unseen by the allies one of his divisions crossed the Scarpe and pushed on to the Forest of Vicoigne, where they began to throw up a redoubt and defences near the road from St.Amand to Valenciennes. This was in order to bombard Clerfayt's position at Vicoigne and sever his communications with Knobelsdorff's Prussian command.
The French had victory within their grasp: had they cut the road and captured Vicoigne the centre of the allied position would be lost, forcing Coburg to retreat. However Frederick, Duke of York, riding ahead of his command to observe the action, had moved three battalions of Foot Guards to Nivelle, north of St.Amand, in support of Knobelsdorff. At 5.00pm the Guards came up to the position just as the French were overcoming the Prussians. The first unit on the scene, the Coldstream Guards, were immediately conducted along the high road by Knobelsdorff himself, who then ordered the regiment into the woods to drive the French back, though they were not told about the earthworks that lay beyond. This would be the debut action of the Guards against Republican France. Lieutenant-Colonel Lowther Pennington commanding the Guards launched his men into the woods and expelled the French back to their entrenchments, however, pressing on with his men beyond the trees, Pennington then ran into a fierce crossfire of musketry and artillery from the trenches. "Colonel Pennington without any order whatever chose to attack the Battery, and when he came close to it, He received the discharge of three nine Pounders loaded with grape, which mowed down my poor brave fellows most shockingly". "Major Wright, who sent up four guns and was not far off himself, said that he was not surprised at the casualties the Coldstream suffered; they marched through the wood in line and in step!". Aware they were unsupported by the Prussians, the Guards fell back, La Marlière however realised that Knobelsdorf had been reinforced and made no further effort to advance.
Meanwhile, Dampierre, leading a last desperate attack on Vicogne with his command, was hit in the thigh by a cannonball and carried mortally wounded from the field. This ended the attack, the French halted the offensive and withdrew under cover of the evening.
The next morning Clerfayt and Knobelsdorf stormed the new French entrenchments and captured 600 men, although the artillery had been evacuated during the night. Dampierre died of his wounds the same day. The anonymous Officer of the Guards reports French losses as nearly 4,000 killed and wounded, the Austrians 500 and Prussians 300, while the regiment of Coldstream Guards lost 63. Brown reports the total loss of the regiment as 73 killed, wounded and missing. Fortescue reports Allied losses as 800 officers and men in total, the Coldstream Guards losing over 70 killed and wounded during their attack in the woods.
These British casualties caused great friction between the commanders, blame for the heavy losses being alternatively placed with Knobelsdorff for failing to tell the British of the entrenchments beyond the woods, Pennington for advancing unsupported, and (by some uninformed Guards officers) the Duke of York, although he had never contemplated such a foolhardy attack.
York was careful not to specifically blame anyone in his report, although it's plain he felt Pennington was culpable, the guards officer had a reputation as a hothead and was later described by the Duke for his conduct at Valenciennes as "perfectly mad".
The loss of Dampierre was a tremendous blow to French morale, although had he lived it's probable the scaffold would have awaited him in Paris. Though praised by his men, after his death he was denounced in Paris as a traitor. La Marlière was to die on the scaffold but a few months later. The Republicans fell back to positions around Lille and their entrenched camp at Famars. Condé eventually surrendered on 10 July.
Meanwhile, the Allies, now reinforced by the Anglo-Hanoverian corps, began planning the investment of Valenciennes, and the attack on Famars.
- Burne, Alfred (1949), The Noble Duke of York: The Military Life of Frederick Duke of York and Albany, London: Staples Press.
- Fortescue, Sir John (1918), British Campaigns in Flanders 1690-1794 (extracts from Volume 4 of A History of the British Army), London: Macmillan.
- Phipps, Ramsay Weston (1926), The Armies of the First French Republic and the Rise of the Marshals of Napoleon I, London: Oxford University Press.
- Officer of the Guards, An (1796), An Accurate and Impartial Narrative of the War, by an Officer of the Guards, London.
- Brown, Robert (1795), An impartial Journal of a Detachment from the Brigade of Foot Guards, commencing 25th February, 1793, and ending 9th May, 1795, London.