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


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Birth of Charles Edward Jennings, Soldier & Revolutionary

General Charles Edward Saul Jennings, Irish soldier and revolutionary who serves France in the eighteenth century and is sometimes romanticised as Brave Kilmaine, is born on October 19, 1751 in Sauls Court, Dublin.

Jennings is the second son of Theobald Jennings, a physician of Polaniran (Ironpool), Tuam, County Galway, and Eleonore Saul, daughter of Laurence Saul, a wealthy Dublin distiller. Educated privately in Dublin, he leaves Ireland in 1769, settling in Tonnay-Charente in the south of France, where his father had set up practice. His father had, several years previously, assumed the fictitious title of ‘baron of Kilmaine’ in the hope of improving his position in French society, and he subsequently assumes the same title.

In 1774 Jennings joins the Royal Dragoons as a trooper, transferring in 1778 into the Légion de Lauzun, a corps made up mostly of foreign volunteers. After the campaign in Senegal (1778–79) he returns to France and is commissioned as a sous-lieutenant. He then campaigns with Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, during the American Revolutionary War and teaches cavalry tactics at Metz on his return. Promoted to captain in 1788, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, he is stationed at Verdun and, despite a short period in prison, continues to serve with his regiment. In 1791, when several of the regiment’s officers flee from France, he remains and is one of the first officers to swear allegiance to the national assembly.

Promoted to Chef d’escadron in April 1792, Jennings serves under Charles François Dumouriez during the invasion of the Netherlands, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Valmy and the Battle of Jemappes, where he reinforces the French centre at a critical point, ensuring victory. A series of rapid promotions follow. He is made a colonel in January 1793, a general of brigade in March 1794, and a general of division in May1794.

After a series of reverses in the summer of 1793, in which the French lose the fortress-towns of Condé and Valenciennes, the committee of public safety appoints Jennings to command the Armée du Nord on May 15, 1793, with the rank of full general. In August, in order to preserve his force in the face of overwhelming opposition, he retreats from a position 120 miles north of Paris known as ‘Caesar’s camp.’ Although the allied army swings away to invest Dunkirk, he is arrested and imprisoned for endangering the city, and remains in prison until after the fall of Robespierre in July 1794. Within a few days, due to the turbulent political situation, he is rearrested and not released until December 1794. In May 1795 he cooperates with Napoléon Bonaparte in suppressing the Jacobin uprising in Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris and, having reestablished his credentials, commands the cavalry during the invasion of Italy (1796). Bonaparte regards him highly, and he distinguishes himself at the Battle of Lodi on May 10, 1796, seizing the city of Milan five days later. He defeats a large Austrian force in the Battle of Borghetto before investing and taking the fortress-town of Mantua in February 1797.

When peace terms are agreed with Austria, Jennings returns to France, taking command of the centre column of the Armée d’Angleterre, which had been raised to invade Britain and Ireland. However, his deteriorating health makes some observers question his suitability for such an appointment. An associate of Thomas Paine and James Napper Tandy, and a friend of Wolfe Tone, he is forced to watch the gradual reduction of his army as Napoleon diverts troops for his campaign in Egypt. Tone is at first suspicious of him, given that many Irish-born French officers had deserted the revolutionary cause, but comes to admire him.

After the defeat of Admiral Bombard’s expedition to Ireland and Tone’s arrest on November 3, 1798, Jennings requests that the French government should take a senior British prisoner as hostage and subject him to the same treatment as Tone. After Tone’s death he assists Matilda Tone and her children. In early 1799 he is appointed military governor of Switzerland but is forced to resign due to his failing health.

In a fragile condition Jennings leaves Switzerland and returns to Passy in Paris, where his domestic griefs and chagrins add to the poignancy of his bodily sufferings, for his constitution is now completely broken up. He dies of dysentery on December 11, 1799, at the age of 48. He is buried with full military honours.

Jennings is historically honored at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where his name can be seen on the inside triumphal arch, on the Northern pillar, Column 05. Underneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (World War I). There is a personal portrait of Jennings in the ‘Hotel de Ville’ (City Hall) at Tonnay-Charente, where his father Dr. Theobald Jennings practiced as a physician.

A monument was erected in Jennings’s memory in Tonnay-Charente in the 19th century. Rue du Général Kilmaine, a street in Tonnay-Charente, is named in his honour in the 19th century.


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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)