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 Cremona

The Irish Brigade of France adds to its growing reputation as elements of the Brigade fight at the Battle of Cremona on February 1, 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession between a French force under François de Neufville, duc de Villeroy, and an Imperial/Austrian army led by Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The Duchies of Milan and Mantua are strategically important as the key to southern Austria. The French take possession of both in early 1701 but Emperor Leopold then sends Prince Eugene to recapture them. He is an extremely capable general who easily out manoeuvres his French counterparts, winning battles at Carpi and Chieri, after which his army takes up winter quarters in the pro-French Duchy of Mantua. Lack of funds and supplies from Vienna means Eugene has to improvise; since campaigning in the winter months is not usually done, he hopes to take the French by surprise.

Eugene has a contact inside Cremona, a priest named Cuzzoli. On the night of January 31, 1702, he admits a party of Imperial grenadiers by means of a hidden culvert and they seize control of the St. Margaret Gate. Once open, approximately 4,000 troops led by Prince Eugene in person take the French by surprise, many being killed as they emerge from their barracks, and François de Neufville captured in his quarters.

A second and larger force under Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudémont intends to storm the Po gate and the Citadel but is late in arriving. This gives the garrison time to destroy a vital bridge and prepare, the assault being repulsed by two units of the Irish Brigade, the Régiment de Dillon and the Régiment de Bourke. The defenders now regroup and counter-attack. With daylight and a French relief force arriving, Prince Eugene orders his troops to withdraw, the Austrians having suffered an estimated 1,600 casualties, the French around 1,100.

The two Irish units lose an estimated 350 out of 600 men engaged. Their commander, Major Daniel O’Mahoney, is later presented to Louis XIV and knighted by the Stuart exile James III. He goes on to have a distinguished career, fighting in Spain and Sicily. He ends as a Lieutenant-General and dies in Ocaña, Spain in 1714.

François de Neufville is soon released but his capture is commemorated in verse; Par la faveur de Bellone, et par un bonheur sans égal, nous avons conservé Crémone et perdu notre général (By the favour of Bellone, and a happiness without equal, we saved Crémone and lost our general).

The battle is also commemorated as a march entitled ‘The Battle of Cremona’ later used in the Irish Brigade.


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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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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)