seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Battle of Campo Santo

battle-of-campo-santoDuring the War of Austrian Succession, the Irish Brigade of Spain fights at the Battle of Campo Santo in Camposanto, Italy on February 8, 1743. The regiments of Ultonia, Irlanda, and Hibernia form the Irish Brigade fighting in Italy in a Spanish army, led by Gen. Jean Bonaventure Thierry du Mont, comte de Gages. The Spaniards and their Neapolitan allies are fought to a standstill by the Austrians and their Sardinian allies under Field Marshal Otto Ferdinand Graf von Abensperg und Traun on the Panaro.

In January 1743, General De Gages’ 13,000 strong Spanish army lay at Bologna, south of the Panaro. Count Traun’s Austrian and Piedmont-Sardinian army of 11,000 lay to the north of the river, blocking De Gages’ attempts to cross the formidable barrier. Traun prefers a maneuvering defense to risking his army in a pitched battle with his opponent, but concerns in Madrid are more political than strategic. Needing a victory, Philip V of Spain and his Queen Elisabeth Farnese demand that De Gages launch an offensive or tender his resignation. Accordingly, leaving Bologna on the night of February 3, De Gages slips across the Panaro and enters the Duchy of Modena, seeking a decisive encounter with Traun.

Fortunately for De Gages, Marshal Traun is ready to oblige him. Aware of the criticism leveled at him in Vienna where his enemies are trying to relieve him of his command, and also that Spain’s recent seizure of Savoy might well induce the King of Sardinia to negotiate with the Spanish Crown, the Marshal decides that a victory will quell the uproar and induce Austria’s allies to think twice about negotiating. Gathering up his army, Traun moves to block De Gages’ path and prevent him from advancing further into Modena. The two armies meet at the village of Camposanto.

On the morning of the battle, De Gages draws up his army on the outskirts of the village in the traditional fashion with his infantry in the center and the cavalry on the wings. Traun also draws up his army in the same manner, but being slightly outnumbered, he chooses to gamble with an unorthodox strategy. Instead of aligning himself directly opposite the Spaniards, he shifts his troops to the northwest, which means that the center of Traun’s infantry is directly opposite the gap between Gages’ infantry and the right wing of cavalry. Although this means that Traun would have a greater superiority of numbers on this wing and that he could also deliver a flank attack on the Spanish right, his own right flank would, however, be vulnerable to a Spanish flank attack. Marshall is relying on the troops of that wing to delay the Spanish long enough for the action on his other wing to be decisive.

Matters are helped when De Gages chooses 4:00 in the afternoon to launch the attack, which leaves only a few hours of daylight for a battle. The Spanish are initially successful on both wings, where their cavalry drives off the Austro-Piedmontese cavalry, wounding Count Aspremont in the process and leaving the Austrian infantry vulnerable. However instead of reforming to attack the infantry, the Spanish chase them off the field. Traun stabilises his left flank, and leads his infantry into the attack against the Spanish. Meanwhile, Count Schulenberg regroups the Austrian cavalry on the Austrian right, and launches a counterattack against the Spanish cavalry. On the other flank Aspremont’s replacement, General Leutrum, leads his wing forward as well, smashing the Spanish right wing. Due to darkness it is necessary for both armies to withdraw the field. The Spanish back across the Panaro towards Bologna. Due to the smoke and darkness, many units lose their way. The 1st Guadalaxara marches in the direction of the advancing austro-sardian infantry columns, and it has to surrender after a short defence inside the walls of a farm.

Casualties in the battle are 1,755 dead, 1,307 wounded and 824 prisoners for the Spanish, while the Austro-Piedmontese lose 397 dead and 1,153 wounded or prisoners. Traun himself has two horses shot from under him during the battle.

De Gages retreats to Bologna but on March 26 he is also forced to retreat to Rimini. Despite this, the battle is widely considered a victory in Madrid, and de Gages is awarded a victory title, Count of Campo Santo. Following the battle, France promises support and co-operation with the Spanish, but for the moment Traun has saved North Italy for Maria Theresa.

Once again hundreds of Irishmen die many miles from home for “every cause but their own.”


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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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Five Irish Regiments Set Sail for France

irish-brigade-of-franceFive Jacobite regiments of Irishmen set sail from Ireland for France on April 18, 1690. These soldiers, about 5,400 in all, will form the nucleus of France’s famed Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles, led by Lord Mountcashel. It is formed in May 1690 when the five regiments sent from Ireland arrive in France in exchange for a larger force of King Louis XIV‘s well-trained French infantry who are sent to fight in the Williamite War in Ireland. The regiments comprising the Irish Brigade retain their special status as foreign units in the French Army until nationalised in 1791.

King Louis XIV wants to support James II in his quest to regain the British crown from William of Orange, but he can ill-afford the loss of 6,000 soldiers during his own struggle with William on the continent. Louis demands Irish replacements, ill-trained though they might be, in exchange. The Irish regiments sail out on the same ships that landed the French troops under Count de Lauzun.

Soon after arriving in France, the five regiments are reorganized into three, commanded by Lord Mountcashel, Daniel O’Brien, and Theobald Dillon, whose family continues in command of this regiment for a one hundred years. Mountcashel commands this first Irish Brigade which is known as Lord Mountcashel’s Irish Brigade. He has grown up in France, and become fluent in the French tongue after his father had lost everything due to his participation in the fight against Oliver Cromwell and subsequent exile to France. Mountcashel’s brigade is joined by Patrick Sarsfield‘s men in late 1691. The Irish Brigade carries on in French service for 100 years and amass a record equaled by few military organizations in history.

Like Sarsfield, Mountcashel does not survive for very long in French service. Very shortly after his arrival in France, on September 11, 1690, he is seriously wounded in the chest fighting in Savoy near Mountiers de Tarentaise. Although he recovers from this wound and continues to command the brigade, the wound continues to hamper him. In 1694, he leaves the brigade and seeks relief from his wounds in the baths at Baréges in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, Justin McCarthy, Lord Mountcashel, dies there on July 1, just short of a year after Patrick Sarsfield is killed at the Battle of Landen.

The Brigade ceases to exist as a separate and distinct entity on July 21, 1791. Along with the other non-Swiss foreign units, the Irish regiments undergo “nationalization” at the orders of the National Assembly. This involves their being assimilated into the regular French Army as line infantry, losing their traditional titles, practices, regulations and uniforms.