Battle of Salzbach

Battle of Salzbach
Part of the Franco-Dutch War

Death of marshal Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne
DateJuly 27, 1675
LocationSasbach (Ortenau), present-day Germany
Result Imperial victory
 Holy Roman Empire  France
Commanders and leaders
Holy Roman Empire Raimondo Montecuccoli Kingdom of France Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne  

The Battle of Salzbach or Sasbach was fought July 27, 1675, between the armies of France and the Holy Roman Empire, during the Franco-Dutch War. The term "battle" is something of a misnomer because the encounter consisted primarily of an artillery duel. However, it was costly for the French: the great French marshal, the Vicomte de Turenne, was killed by a cannonball. The Imperial army was commanded by the Italian Field Marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli.


The Franco-Dutch War largely stemmed from the desires of King Louis XIV to achieve glory through military victory and to punish the Netherlands for what he perceived to be Dutch betrayal during the War of Devolution (1667-68). The Dutch had started that war as a French ally but, faced with Louis's growing territorial ambitions, had ended by allying with England and Sweden to curb French expansionism. Pressure from this new alliance forced Louis to accept a compromise end to the War of Devolution. Louis then paid off Sweden and England to abandon the alliance. In 1672, France invaded the Netherlands, but the Dutch managed to bog down the French advance. Soon other powers, including the Holy Roman Empire, joined the war against France.[1]

In late 1674 and early 1675, Turenne's Winter Campaign showed the French marshal at his best in a struggle to expel an Imperial army, under the command of Alexander von Bournonville, from Alsace. Outnumbered, Turenne executed a daring march in the dead of winter around the enemy flank. A decisive French victory at the Battle of Turckheim on January 5, 1675, forced Bournonville's army to leave Alsace.[2]

The Campaign of 1675 Begins

After Bournonville's defeat, Montecuccoli took over command of the Imperial forces in southern Germany. He hoped to make up for the recent disaster by crossing the Rhine River at Strasbourg and re-occupying Alsace. In the spring of 1675, he marched west through the Black Forest into the Rhine valley. There, he gathered in the remnants of Bournonville's army, some 8,000 men. The Imperial army now numbered 18,000 foot and 14,000 horse. On May 20, Montecuccoli established his headquarters at Willstatt. At the same time, his scouts reached Kehl, the town on the east bank of the Rhine opposite Strasbourg.[3]

As Montecuccoli approached the east bank of the Rhine, Turenne and his army -- 20,000 foot and 15,000 horse -- moved to block the Imperials on the opposite bank. The French commander sent word to Strasbourg, then an independent city, demanding that the Imperial army not be allowed to use the city's bridge over the Rhine. However, unimpressed by Turenne's recent victory, Strasbourg favored the Empire. Not only did the city authorities permit Montecuccoli to cross on May 22, but they also supplied his headquarters with delicacies. For his part, the Imperial commander seemed intimidated by Turenne's approach. Although Montecuccoli crossed the Rhine, he did not bring his army with him. He made a pretense of moving troops to Kehl, but he and his army were soon marching north to attempt a crossing elsewhere.[4]

War of Maneuver

On May 31, Montecuccoli crossed to the west bank of the Rhine near Speyer. However, his move was nothing more than a feint designed to draw Turenne north, away from Strasbourg; the Imperial army pulled back to the east bank on June 4. Turenne was not taken in by the ruse. The French army began to build temporary bridges across the Rhine at Ottenheim south of Strasbourg on June 6, and the French were across by June 8. Now both armies were on the east bank. As Montecuccoli had done, Turenne chose Willstatt for his headquarters. The Imperial army hurried south to confront the French who now blocked the way to Kehl and Strasbourg. The Imperial advance guard, 4,000 men under Charles of Lorraine (soon to be Charles V, Duke of Lorraine), attacked the French lines but was repelled.[5]

Montecuccoli attempted another feint to draw Turenne away from Kehl. He marched around the French eastern flank, skirting the Black Forest, to occupy Offenburg. He sent troops even further south to threaten the French bridges at Ottenheim. Refusing to take the bait, Turenne merely pulled up his bridges and moved them north, closer to Willstatt. For a week, the two armies watched each other, neither side willing to bring on a general engagement. At last, lack of forage forced Montecuccoli to withdraw north to entrench his army along the Rench River, 10 miles from Strasbourg. He left 5,000 men under Count Aeneas de Caprara to hold Offenburg. In response, Turenne moved most of his army to face the new Imperial position while keeping a garrison in Willstatt.[6]

Both sides suffered from supply problems and from the weather. French horses were reduced to eating leaves, and the troops suffered under continuous rain. While the armies marked time waiting for better weather, Turenne had a close call. Peasants fired on him and a party of French officers, killing a guard who stood near Turenne. The rain let up on July 22, and Turenne began a turning maneuver that sought to pin Montecuccoli against the Rench. The French vanguard attacked the Imperials at Gamshurst but was driven off. Montecuccoli attempted an attack of his own on July 23-24, but this was hampered by fog. There was more fighting over the day and night of July 25-26. Seeing no hope of victory along the Rench, Montecuccoli ordered a retreat to the Black Forest, instructing Caprara to abandon Offenburg and join the main Imperial army.[7]

The Encounter at Salzbach

Turenne followed after the Imperials. By this time, attrition had reduced each army to an approximate strength of 25,000 men. On the morning of July 27, the French found the Imperial army entrenching around the village of Salzbach, behind a stream of the same name, on a small plain at the foot of the mountains. The Imperial baggage train could be seen moving into the pine forest beyond the village. Montecuccoli took advantage of hedges and woods in protecting his troops, and placed musketeers in the village church and an old castle on his right flank. The Imperial commander had to hold this position because he was waiting for Caprara to join him. This officer was slow in arriving, though, because the presence of the French army had forced him to take a long detour through the foothills.[8]

The French army formed line of battle south of the Salzbach Stream, with infantry to the front and cavalry behind. Turenne sent Pierre de Mormez, Seigneur de Saint Hilaire, his lieutenant general of artillery, to determine how best to place the army's guns. French volunteers went forward to fire the nearest houses of the village, and eight French cannon were brought up to bombard the church and castle. Part of the village caught fire, but the French artillery was not effective against the church and castle because the Imperials had erected field fortifications in the church yard and cemetery to protect the structures. Imperial cannon responded, and an artillery duel began. Turenne sent a dispatch to King Louis saying he planned to attack the Imperials if they began to retreat. The French marshal discussed the situation with his generals, seeming confident of success. The French could see much movement among the Imperial units, suggesting irresolution, and the enemy looked to be on the verge of withdrawing.[9]

The Death of Turenne

At about 2:00 p.m., Saint Hilaire asked Turenne to inspect a battery he was siting to suppress fire from Imperial guns commanded by Margrave Hermann of Baden-Baden. A staff officer urged caution because of the danger posed by the enemy's artillery fire. It has been suggested that the fire was especially hot because Saint Hilaire wore a red cloak, providing a good target. According to one source, Turenne agreed to be cautious, reportedly saying "je ne veux point etre tue aujourd'hui" ("I do not want to be killed today."). As the marshal and the general conferred, an Imperial cannonball hit them. It took off Saint Hilaire's left arm and passed through Turenne's body from shoulder to side. Turenne was able to take two steps before he fell, but he said nothing. Saint Hilaire survived, but Turenne died of his wound.[10]

At first, the French tried to hide the fact that their commander was dead. Meanwhile, Montecuccoli was expressing surprise that full-scale fighting had not yet begun by mid-afternoon. He soon learned of Turenne's death, possibly from a deserter. He is reported to have declared: "Today died a man who did honor to mankind."[11]

The End and Aftermath of the Encounter

As news of Turenne's death spread through the French army, there was grief, consternation, and anger. The soldiers, particularly the infantry, loved the old marshal. Some said: "Notre pere est mort, mais il faut le venger." ("Our father is dead, but we must avenge him."). Guy Aldonce de Durfort de Lorges, the lieutenant general of the day (and Turenne's nephew), assumed command, although another officer disputed this for a time.[12] The French cannons continued to fire. But soon it became clear that there would be no major battle. On the night of July 29-30, the French army retreated in good order. A volunteer with the army stated later that Turenne's plan of campaign died with him, and that the generals who took over from him were considered worthy of reward merely for safely getting back across the Rhine to await orders from the royal court. Montecuccoli pressed hard on the French as they withdrew. It is not clear why he did not attack on July 27 as soon as he heard of Turenne's death. With his army disposed to defend against a blow from Turenne, he may not have considered it in a position to go over to the offensive. Once the French were in retreat, Montecuccoli felt strong enough to attack. He brought on a sharp fight at the Schutter River, but was unable to prevent the French from crossing into Alsace.[13]

The Battlefield Today

Turenne fell in what is now the small town of Sasbach, Germany. A monument stands near the site of Turenne's death, and the Turenne-Museum is nearby.[14]


  1. John Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (London, New York: Longman, 1999), 105-122.
  2. Brooks, Atlas of World Military History.
  3. Ferdinand Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne d'apres des documents inedits (1672-1675) (Nancy: Sidot Freres, 1903), 553-554; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 140.
  4. Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 556-557; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 140.
  5. Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 560, 564-566; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 140.
  6. Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 567-569; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 140-141.
  7. Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 574, 583; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 141.
  8. A Relation or Journal of the Campaigns of the Marechal de Turenne, in the Years One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Four, and One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five; 'Til the Time of His Death. Done from the French, By an Officer of the Army (Dublin: Addison's Head, 1732), 124-126; Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 584-585; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 140-141.
  9. A Relation or Journal, 126-129; Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 585; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 141; Francois Alexandre Aubert de la Chesnaye-Desbois,Dictionnaire Genealogique, Heraldique, Historique et Chronologique, Tome V (Paris: Duchesne, 1761), 625.
  10. A Relation or Journal, 129; Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 587-588; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 141. Another source ascribes to Turenne a somewhat different set of last words: "I did not mean to be killed today." Laura Ward, Famous Last Words: The Ultimate Collection of Finales and Farewells (London: PRC Publishing Limited, 2004), 108. This phrasing suggests that he uttered the statement after being hit. It seems unlikely that a man could speak after a cannonball strike to the chest.
  11. A Relation or Journal, 129; Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 589, 591; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 141.
  12. Each day in rotation, one of the army's lieutenant generals served as officer of the day and assumed a range of responsibilities such as the organization of foraging. John Lynn, Giant of the Grand Siecle: The French Army 1610-1715 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 290.
  13. A Relation or Journal, 129-131; Des Robert, Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne, 589, 591; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 141. It has been suggested that a full battle took place at Salzbach, ending in a French victory. E.g., article on the Franco-Dutch War. However, the sources cited herein and others indicate that there was no such victory on that day.
  14. (accessed October 10, 2015)


Brooks, Richard, ed. Atlas of World Military History. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2000.

La Chesnaye-Desbois, Francois Alexandre Aubert de. Dictionnaire Genealogique, Heraldique, Historique et Chronologique, Tome V. Paris: Duchesne, 1761.

Des Robert, Ferdinand. Les Campagnes de Turenne en Allemagne d'apres des documents inedits (1672-1675). Nancy: Sidot Freres, 1903. (accessed October 10, 2015).

Lynn, John. Giant of the Grand Siecle: The French Army 1610-1715. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714. London, New York: Longman, 1999.

A Relation or Journal of the Campaigns of the Marechal de Turenne, in the Years One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Four, and One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five; 'Til the Time of His Death. Done from the French, By an Officer of the Army. Dublin: Addison's Head, 1732.

Ward, Laura. Famous Last Words: The Ultimate Collection of Finales and Farewells. London: PRC Publishing Limited, 2004.

Coordinates: 48°38′18″N 8°05′30″E / 48.6383°N 8.0917°E / 48.6383; 8.0917

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