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.