seamus dubhghaill

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


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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)


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The Battle of Cassano

battle-of-cassanoUnits of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the Battle of Cassano on August 16, 1705, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The battle is fought at the town of Cassano d’Adda, in Lombardy, Italy, between a French army commanded by Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme and an Imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

By August 1705, the French occupy most of Savoy, with the exception of Turin. In order to relieve the pressure, Prince Eugene tries to cross the river Adda at Cassano, and threaten Milan. Although the French are taken by surprise, they manage to hold the bridge after six hours of intense conflict, both sides suffering heavy casualties.

The deep and fast-flowing river Adda has limited crossing points, especially for large bodies of men. The town of Cassano is on the right bank, with a stone bridge protected by a small fortification or redoubt. The area is also divided by numerous small streams and irrigation channels, the most significant being the Retorto, an irrigation canal running parallel to the Adda. This is connected to the left bank by another bridge, protected by another strongpoint.

Assuming Prince Eugene is still heading for Mantua, Vendôme orders his brother Philippe to leave his positions around Cassano and intercept him. In fact, the Imperial troops had marched overnight from Romanengo and are approaching the town when spotted by one of Vendôme’s cavalry patrols early the next morning. Realising their intentions, Vendôme heads to Cassano, along with approximately 2,000 reinforcements.

On arrival, he finds Philippe’s troops unprepared and in an extremely dangerous position, the bulk of their force caught between the Retorto canal and the Adda, and the main bridge blocked by their transport. Vendôme orders the baggage thrown into the river and forms a line running from the Retorto on the left, his centre around the main bridge, and his extreme right resting on the road leading to the nearby village of Rivolta d’Adda. Armand St. Hilaire, the French artillery commander, positions his guns inside the town, allowing him to fire directly on the bridge.

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, Austrian grenadiers attack the French positions around the Retorto. They initially succeed in capturing the bridge before being repulsed by St. Hilaire’s guns and a counter-attack. Vendôme sends four regiments of the French Irish Brigade to reinforce his left, but after a fierce struggle, the Imperialists capture the canal’s sluice gates. After these are closed, the water level in the canal is lowered enough for men to wade across it.

Prince Eugene orders Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, and his Prussians into the canal to assault the French left. They manage to seize the further bank but suffer heavily in doing so. The battle surges back and forth across the river for several hours, in the course of which Vendôme has his horse killed under him, while Prince Eugene is wounded twice and has to leave the field. The fighting lasts another four to five hours, until ended by sheer exhaustion, with the opposing forces back at their starting positions.

The battle is inconclusive. While the French prevent the Imperialists crossing the Adda, Prince Eugene succeeds in delaying an assault on Turin until June 1706. Combined with having to transfer forces to Northern France following their defeat at Ramillies in May 1706, the French siege is broken in September, and fighting in Northern Italy ends in March 1707.

(Pictured: The battle of Cassano 1705 (War of the Spanish Succession), painted by Jean Baptiste Martin (1659-1735). Oil on canvas, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, Austria)


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The Battle of Luzzara

battle-of-luzzaraThe Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Luzzara in Lombardy on August 15, 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession, a battle between a largely French and Savoyard army led by Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme and an Imperial force under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Control of the Duchies of Milan and Mantua is the main strategic prize in Northern Italy as they are key to the security of Austria‘s southern border. In May, an Austrian army under Prince Eugene of Savoy enters Northern Italy and wins a series of victories which by February 1702 forces the French behind the Adda river.

In early August, Vendôme’s army stops at the Austrian-held town of Luzzara on the right bank of the Po River. The total French force is around 30,000-35,000, including 10,000 Savoyards and five regiments of the Irish Brigade.

Eugene lifts his blockade of Mantua since these moves threaten to cut him off from his supply bases at Modena and Mirandola. Taking all available forces, around 26,000 men, he marches to intercept the French at Luzzara but arrives too late to prevent its surrender and establishes his headquarters at the village of Riva, north of the French positions.

Just above Luzzara, the sides of the Seraglo to Rovero canal have been built up to prevent the Po River flooding the countryside. Eugene plans to use these to conceal his movements and attack the French as they enter their camp. He splits his forces into two lines, the left wing under General Visconti, the right under Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudémont and himself in charge of the centre.

During the morning and early afternoon of August 15, the Imperialists cross the Po River and manage to achieve a large measure of surprise in surrounding the French camp but are discovered shortly before completing this operation. Around 5:00 PM, Prince Eugene orders a general assault. The French are taken by surprise, some units marching into the camp and immediately out again to the front line but quickly recover. Eugene’s right wing is repulsed no less than four times, while the struggle on the left is equally bloody, his Danish mercenaries nearly break through on several occasions. The French line manages to hold until sheer exhaustion and darkness end the fighting around midnight.

Casualties on both sides are heavy, particularly among the Irish units and Albemarle’s Regiment on the right. During the night, Eugene entrenches his position and the French do not resume the attack the following morning.

The overall result is a draw, although in the practice of the times Eugene claims it as a victory, since he remains in possession of the ground. However, his forces are too weak to intervene as the French continue to take strongpoints. The two armies lay facing each other until early November, when both move into winter quarters.

Eugene is recalled to Vienna in January 1703 to take over as head of the Imperial War Council, while Vendôme continues preparations for the summer campaign. In October 1703, Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia, Duke of Savoy defects to the Alliance and Vendôme spends the next three years in Savoy.

In 1708 Prince Eugene commissions a series of paintings recording his victories from Dutch artist Jan van Huchtenburg, one being Luzzara which gives an indication of how he viewed it.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Luzzara, 1702,” oil on canvas by Jan van Huchtenburgh)


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Death of Charles O’Brien, 5th Viscount Clare

charles_o_brien Charles O’Brien, 5th Viscount Clare, is mortally wounded in the Battle of Ramilles on May 23, 1706. He is the son of Daniel O’Brien, 3rd Viscount Clare and Philadelphia Lennard. He marries Charlotte Bulkeley, daughter of Henry Bulkeley and Sophia Stuart, on January 9, 1696, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Henry Bulkeley is the “Master of the Household” for Kings Charles II and James II. Charles O’Brien and Charlotte Bulkeley have two children, Charles O’Brien, 6th Viscount Clare (March 27, 1699 – September 9, 1761) and Henry O’Brien (born February 12, 1701).

The family fights as part of the Jacobite Irish Army during the War of the Two Kings, before going into exile in the Flight of the Wild Geese. Charles succeeds his brother, Daniel O’Brien, 4th Viscount Clare, to the title as 5th Viscount Clare in the Jacobite Peerage on his brother’s death from a mortal wound received in the Battle of Marsaglia in Italy on October 4, 1693. Charles is transferred from the Queen’s Dismounted Dragoons where he is a colonel, to the command of O’Brien’s Regiment on April 6, 1696. Later in the year he leads the regiment in the siege of Valenza in Lombardy, and the next year they are stationed with the army at Meuse.

By 1698 over one third of King James’ army is either dead or crippled, and when the Treaty of Ryswick ends the war between Louis and William, James’ soldiers are disbanded, unemployed, and homeless. Many become beggars but others join the Irish Brigade in the Spanish army, while others travel to Austria and enter the Catholic Corps.

Hostilities are renewed and Clare’s Regiment is assigned to the Army of Germany for two years in 1701-02. At the Battle of Cremona in 1702, the Irishmen defend the town against Prince Eugene and the imperial army. The attack is to be a surprise but the Wild Geese foil the attempt. The following year Lord Clare is promoted to brevet Brigadier of Infantry on April 2, 1703. A few months later on September 20, 1703, the unit takes part in the successful Battle of Hochstedt, better known as the Battle of Blenheim. A year later the unit is involved with the unsuccessful battle on August 13, 1704 at the second Battle of Blenheim. Although Clare’s Regiment experiences ups and downs, they are always admired. Two months after Blenheim, Charles rises to the brevet rank of Marshal-de-Camp on October 26, 1704, and a year later he is assigned to the Army of the Moselle under the Marshel de Villars. Clare’s Regiment fights in the disastrous Battle of Ramillies on May 23, 1706, where they distinguish themselves with great glory, but Lord Clare is mortally wounded and dies at Brussels, Belgium.

Due to the great service the O’Brien family has given to France, and having risked all, King Louis XIV makes sure that the regiment is kept in the family, and appoints Lt. Col. Murrough O’Brien (of the Carrigonnell O’Brien’s) as its commander until the minor Charles comes of age.