seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Irish Brigade of France Fight in the Battle of Marsaglia

Units of the Irish Brigade of France fight in Italy at the Battle of Marsaglia, a battle in the Nine Years’ War, on October 4, 1693. The battle involves the French army of Marshal Nicolas Catinat against the army of the Grand Alliance, allies of William of Orange, under the Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia.

Catinat, advancing from Fenestrelle and Susa to the relief Pinerolo, defended by René de Froulay, Comte de Tessé, and which the Duke of Savoy is besieging, takes up a position in formal order of battle north of the village of Marsaglia, near Orbassano. Here, on October 4, the Duke of Savoy attacks him with his entire army, front to front, but the greatly superior regimental efficiency of the French, and Catinat’s minute attention to details in arraying them, gives the new marshal a victory that is a worthy pendant to Neerwinden.

During the battle, Irish dragoons are reported to have “overthrown squadrons, sword in hand,” but elsewhere on the battlefield, Prince Eugene of Savoy overruns a French line and advances to the second line, held by Irish regiments. There Eugene’s advance is broken, and his troops are soon put to rout. The impetuous Irish then pursue without orders. Seeing this development, the French commander orders a general advance and the allied army breaks and runs. Official French reports speak of the “extreme valor” of the Irish that day.

The Piedmontese and their allies lose approximately 12,000 killed, wounded and prisoners, as against Catinat’s 1,800. Among the Irish killed in this great victory are Brigadier Francis O’Carroll of the dragoons and Colonel Daniel O’Brien, 4th Viscount Clare. One very young officer of the Irish Brigade who survives the fight is Lieutenant Peter Lacy.

Marsaglia is, if not the first, at any rate, one of the first, instances of a bayonet charge by a long deployed line of infantry. Hussars figure here for the first time in Western Europe. A regiment of them had been raised in 1692 from deserters from the Austrian service. It is also notable as one of the first major battles to see the new Irish Brigade in action for the French army.

(Pictured: Marshal Nicholas Catinat at the Battle of Marsaglia, October 4, 1693, painting by Eugène Devéria, 1837, Museum of the History of France)


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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 Blenheim

battle-of-blenheimThe Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Blenheim, a major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession, on August 13, 1704. The overwhelming Allied victory ensures the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.

Louis XIV of France seeks to knock Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, out of the war by seizing Vienna, the Habsburg capital, and gain a favourable peace settlement. The dangers to Vienna are considerable as Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria and Marshal of France Ferdinand de Marsin‘s forces in Bavaria threaten from the west and Marshal Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme‘s large army in northern Italy poses a serious danger with a potential offensive through the Brenner Pass. Vienna is also under pressure from Francis II Rákóczi‘s Hungarian revolt from its eastern approaches. Realising the danger, the John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough resolves to alleviate the peril to Vienna by marching his forces south from Bedburg and help maintain Emperor Leopold within the Grand Alliance.

A combination of deception and skilled administration, designed to conceal his true destination from friend and foe alike, enables Marlborough to march 250 miles unhindered from the Low Countries to the River Danube in five weeks. After securing Donauwörth on the Danube, Marlborough seeks to engage the Elector’s and Marsin’s army before Marshal Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard can bring reinforcements through the Black Forest. However, with the Franco-Bavarian commanders reluctant to fight until their numbers are deemed sufficient, the Duke enacts a policy of plundering in Bavaria designed to force the issue. The tactic proves unsuccessful, but when Tallard arrives to bolster the Elector’s army, and Prince Eugene of Savoy arrives with reinforcements for the Allies, the two armies finally meet on the banks of the Danube in and around the small village of Blindheim, from which the English “Blenheim” is derived.

Blenheim is one of the battles that alters the course of the war, which until then was leaning for Louis’ coalition, and ends French plans of knocking the Emperor out of the war. France suffers as many as 38,000 casualties including the commander-in-chief, Marshal Tallard, who is taken captive to England. Before the 1704 campaign ends, the Allies have taken Landau, and the towns of Trier and Traben-Trarbach on the Moselle in preparation for the following year’s campaign into France itself. The offensive never materialises as the Grand Alliance’s army has to depart the Moselle to defend Liège from a French counteroffensive. The war would rage on for another decade.

(Pictured: The Duke of Marlborough Signing the Despatch at Blenheim. Oil by Robert Alexander Hillingford)