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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Ramillies

The Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Ramillies in the War of the Spanish Succession on May 23, 1706. For one hundred years Irishmen are smuggled from Ireland to France, where their rights are stripped by foreign invaders to fill the ranks of the famous Irish Brigade. During those one hundred years they fight all over Europe, in North America, the Caribbean, and even India. They shed their blood freely on several hundred fields “from Dunkirk to Belgrade,” in the words of Thomas Davis.

For the Grand AllianceAustria, England, and the Dutch Republic – the Battle of Ramillies follows an indecisive campaign against the Bourbon armies of King Louis XIV of France in 1705. Although the Allies capture Barcelona that year, they are forced to abandon their campaign on the Moselle, stall in the Spanish Netherlands and suffer defeat in northern Italy. Yet despite his opponents’ setbacks Louis XIV wants peace, but on reasonable terms. Because of this, as well as to maintain their momentum, the French and their allies take the offensive in 1706.

The campaign begins well for Louis XIV’s generals. In Italy, Marshal of France Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Calcinato in April, while in Alsace Marshal Claude Louis Hector de Villars forces Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, back across the Rhine. Encouraged by these early gains Louis XIV urges Marshal François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroy, to go over to the offensive in the Spanish Netherlands and, with victory, gain a ‘fair’ peace. Accordingly, the French Marshal sets off from Leuven at the head of 60,000 men and marches toward Tienen, as if to threaten Zoutleeuw. Also determined to fight a major engagement, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of Anglo-Dutch forces, assembles his army of some 62,000 men near Maastricht, and marches past Zoutleeuw. With both sides seeking battle, they soon encounter each other on the dry ground between the rivers Mehaigne and Gete, close to the small village of Ramillies, Belgium.

In less than four hours Marlborough’s Dutch, English, and Danish forces overwhelm Villeroi’s and Maximilian II Emanuel‘s Franco-Spanish-Bavarian army. The Duke’s subtle moves and changes in emphasis during the battle, something his opponents fail to realise until it is too late, catches the French in a tactical vice. With their foe broken and routed, the Allies are able to fully exploit their victory. Town after town falls, including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. By the end of the campaign Villeroi’s army has been driven from most of the Spanish Netherlands. With Prince Eugene of Savoy‘s subsequent success at the Siege of Turin in northern Italy, the Allies impose the greatest loss of territory and resources that Louis XIV would suffer during the war. Thus, the year 1706 proves, for the Allies, to be an annus mirabilis.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Ramillies between the French and the English, 23 May 1706” by Jan van Huchtenburgh, oil on canvas painted between 1706 and 1710)


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The Battle of Castiglione

arthur-dillonArthur Dillon‘s regiment of the Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Castiglione on September 8, 1706. The battle takes place near Castiglione delle Stiviere in Lombardy, Italy during the War of the Spanish Succession. The French army of 12,000 attacks a Hessian corps of 10,000 that is besieging the town, forcing them to retreat with heavy losses.

By the end of 1705, France and its allies control most of Northern Italy, as well as the Savoyard territories of Villefranche and the County of Savoy, now in modern-day France. The main French objective for 1706 is to capture the Savoyard capital of Turin. To prevent Imperial forces in Lombardy intervening, Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, attacks at Calcinato on April 19 and drives them into the Trentino valley. On May 12, Marshall La Feuillade and an army of 48,000 men reach Turin, completing their blockade of the city on 19 June 19. The Imperial commander Prince Eugene of Savoy returns from Vienna and takes the remaining troops into the Province of Verona to await the German contingents. By early July, there are 30,000 Imperial soldiers around Verona facing 40,000 French spread between the Mincio and Adige rivers.

The French position looks very strong but defeat at Ramillies in May means Vendôme and any available troops are sent to Northern France. The siege of Turin continues and although the Hessians have not yet arrived, by mid-July Prince Eugene can no longer delay marching to its relief. Count of Médavy and 23,000 men are left to guard the Alpine passes.

The Hessians finally cross the Alps in July, under the command of Frederick of Hesse-Kassel. As they arrive too late to join Prince Eugene’s march to Turin, the Hessians are tasked with preventing Médavy disrupting his supply routes. On August 19, Frederick sends 2,000 men under Major-General Wetzel to Goito, a small town with a bridge across the Mincio and the French garrison evacuates the town. Castiglione is strongly defended and they have to wait for the heavy artillery to arrive from Arco. Frederick leaves 1,500 men outside the town with the rest positioned near Medole, allowing him to monitor Médavy’s main force at Cremona and the crossing at Goito.

The withdrawal from Goito is part of a plan by Médavy to assemble a field army without alerting Frederick by removing garrisons from key strongpoints like Cremona. He puts together a force of 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, crosses the Oglio river at Marcaria and attacks on September 8. Dividing his corps leaves Frederick outnumbered. The first assaults are repulsed but a cavalry charge led by the Irish exile Arthur Dillon catches the Hessian left wing as they are changing position and the line collapses. Médavy then turns his attention to those outside Castiglione, many of whom surrender. French casualties are estimated as 1,000 killed or wounded, the Hessians losing around 1,500 killed or wounded plus 2,500 captured.

The remainder fall back on Valeggio sul Mincio. In a letter of September 11 to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Frederick claims his forces were reduced by sickness but although they initially drove the French back, lack of artillery forced him to retreat.

Médavy’s victory leaves the strategic position unaltered. The Battle of Turin on September 7 had broken the siege and after Ramillies France can no longer spare the resources to continue fighting in Italy. Castiglione slightly improves their bargaining position but French garrisons in Lombardy are isolated and cannot be reinforced, their surrender being only a matter of time.

To the fury of the English and Dutch, in March 1707 Emperor Joseph signs the Convention of Milan withdrawing all French troops from Northern Italy in return for free passage back to France.

(Pictured: Arthur Dillon, Colonel of Dillon’s Regiment in the Irish Brigade of France)