Battle of Famars

Last updated
Battle of Famars
Part of the French Revolutionary War
Famars.jpg
Battle of Famars
Date23 May 1793
Location Famars, Nord, France
Result Coalition victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Republic Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg  Habsburg Austria
Flag of Hanover (1692).svg Hanover
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg François Lamarche Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Prince of Coburg
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Joseph de Ferraris
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Duke of York
Strength
27,000 53,000
Casualties and losses
3,000 killed or wounded,
300 captured,
17 cannons lost,
14 ammunition wagons,
3 standards lost
ca 1,100 killed or wounded

The Battle of Famars was fought on 23 May 1793 during the Flanders Campaign of the War of the First Coalition. An Allied Austrian, Hanoverian, and British army under Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld defeated the French Army of the North led by François Joseph Drouot de Lamarche. The action occurred near the village of Famars in northern France, five km south of Valenciennes.

Flanders Campaign

The Flanders Campaign was conducted from 6 November 1792 to 7 June 1795 during the first years of the French Revolutionary Wars. A Coalition of states representing the Ancien Régime in Western Europe – Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel – mobilised military forces along all the French frontiers, with the intention to invade Revolutionary France and end the French First Republic. The radicalised French revolutionaries, who broke the Catholic Church's power (1790), abolished the monarchy (1792) and even executed the deposed king Louis XVI of France (1793), vied to spread the Revolution beyond France's borders, by violent means if necessary.

War of the First Coalition effort to contain Revolutionary France

The War of the First Coalition is the traditional name of the wars that several European powers fought between 1792 and 1797 against the French First Republic. Despite the collective strength of these nations compared with France, they were not really allied and fought without much apparent coordination or agreement. Each power had its eye on a different part of France it wanted to appropriate after a French defeat, which never occurred.

Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld austrian general

Prince Frederick Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was a general in the Austrian service.

Contents

Background

In May 1793, following a series of reverses the French Republican army in the Low Countries was in a desperate situation. Dispirited after the death of its former commander Augustin-Marie Picot de Dampierre, it was tired and disorganised. In addition it was further weakened by detachments taken from each battalion to serve in the war in the Vendée. Although new recruits were being allocated from the levy of 300,000, many of these deserted or were otherwise unfit for service. The new temporary commander Lamarche realised that all that could be done for the moment was to draw back to an entrenched camp at Famars and the fortress of Valenciennes.

War in the Vendée part of the War of the First Coalition

The War in the Vendée was an uprising in the Vendée region of France during the French Revolution. The Vendée is a coastal region, located immediately south of the Loire River in western France. Initially, the war was similar to the 14th-century Jacquerie peasant uprising, but quickly acquired themes considered by the Jacobin government in Paris to be counter-revolutionary, and Royalist. The uprising headed by the newly formed Catholic and Royal Army was comparable to the Chouannerie, which took place in the area north of the Loire.

The allies under Coburg moved to besiege Valenciennes, but first they desired to drive Lamarche from Famars to clear the way and prevent any intervention from the French. Coburg's forces had recently been augmented by the newly arrived Anglo-Hanoverian contingent commanded by the 26-year-old Frederick, Duke of York; it was decided they would spearhead the main attack. This is perhaps surprising, as for many of the British troops it would be their first taste of action against Republican France.

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany British prince

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany was the second son of George III, King of the United Kingdom and Hanover, and his consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. A soldier by profession, from 1764 to 1803 he was Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück in the Holy Roman Empire. From the death of his father in 1820 until his own death in 1827 he was the heir presumptive to his elder brother, George IV, in both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Kingdom of Hanover.

The camp at Famars lay on a ridge, three miles south of Valenciennes, and was bordered on the east by the river Rhonelle, the bridges and fords of which had been destroyed. An attack was drawn up by Austrian staff planner Karl Mack von Leiberich, and was to consist of direct assaults on the eastern side of the camp by two main columns, supported by holding attacks on both flanks from two smaller corps. On the other side of the Scheldt Clerfayt was to launch a consecutive attack against the entrenched camp at Mont Anzin. [1]

Karl Mack von Leiberich Austrian general

Karl Freiherr Mack von Leiberich was an Austrian soldier. He is best remembered as the commander of the Austrian forces that capitulated to Napoleon's Grande Armée in the Battle of Ulm in 1805. Mack makes a brief appearance as a character in book two of Volume I of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

The Battle of Famars Map of the Battle of Famars.jpg
The Battle of Famars

Battle

The 1st Main Column of 16 battalions and 18 squadrons was led by the Duke of York and included the British Guards brigade under Gerard Lake, which had already seen action at Raismes on 8 May. Mack's instructions were for York to cross the Rhonelle by trestle bridges in the neighbourhood of Artres and then launch an attack on the camp by its right flank. In other words, no resistance was expected until the attack on the French camp.

The Battle of Raismes took place on 8 May 1793, during the Flanders Campaign of the Wars of the French Revolution, between the French Republican army of the Marquis de Dampierre and the Allied Coalition army of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, and resulted in an Allied Victory.

Austrian Feldzeugmeister Joseph de Ferraris commanded the 2nd Main Column (12 battalions, 12 squadrons), which included Abercromby's Brigade of the British 14th Foot and 53rd Foot. It was to attack from the village of Saultain against entrenchments on the East bank of the Rhonelle. Feldmarschall-Leutnant Nikolaus Colloredo-Mels led the 1st Small Column against the Northeastern side of Valenciennes, while General-Major Rudolf Ritter von Otto directed the 2nd Small Column, threatening Le Quesnoy. [2] [3]

Joseph de Ferraris Austrian cartographer

Joseph Jean François, count de Ferraris was an Austrian general and cartographer. He married to the daughter of Charles, 2nd Duke d'Ursel.

Ralph Abercromby Scottish soldier and politician

Sir Ralph Abercromby was a Scottish soldier and politician. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-general in the British Army, was noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars, and served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland.

Rudolf Ritter von Otto began his military career in the army of the Electorate of Saxony, transferred to the Austrian army and had a distinguished combat record during the Seven Years' War and the French Revolutionary Wars.

Soon after 2:00 am York's column moved off from its assembly point two miles behind Artres, but thick fog slowed their progress and the Rhonelle was only reached at 7.00am. York was accompanied by both Mack and Coburg's Chief-of-Staff Hohenlohe, the latter appointed by Coburg to ensure the untested York didn't do anything too rash. [4] As the fog lifted a beautiful dawn revealed their intended crossing point bristling with enemy infantry and artillery, which immediately opened fire. Mack was wounded right at the beginning of the action, so the untried Duke of York was left to make up his own mind as to his next course of action. His decision was to turn and counter-march his column towards Maresches two miles away to the south-east, leaving some Austrian guns and the troops already engaged behind to focus the attention of the French. Fording the stream there unopposed, York's light cavalry ascended the low ridge to the south of the village to probe the French flank towards Querenaing. [5] Unfortunately there were several delays and congestion at Maresches so it was 3.00pm before he was clear of the village, giving the French ample time to turn and face the threat, and 5.00pm before he reached Querenaing by a somewhat roundabout route. However the British cavalry moved behind the unprotected backs of the southern French open redoubts, their left patrol reaching almost as far as the Abbey of Fontanelle to the rear of the French position. The Allied cavalry had some success when they entered the open redoubts via gorges and cut down the defenders. The French cavalry attempted to retake the redoubts but were beaten off.

Meanwhile, further north Ferraris's column had stormed the long entrenchment on the east bank ridge of the Famars position and driven the French back to the west of the Rhonelle. Earlier in the day several squadrons of French cavalry had been seen threatening his flank, whereby they were charged by the Hanoverian Life Guards and routed after a stiff fight. [6]

Finally York was ready to launch his attack, but at that point the cautious Hohenlohe stepped in and objected as the men were fatigued, York was obliged to postpone the assault until the next morning. [7] [8]

Although the French held their ground to the north Lamarche realised he was in danger of being cut off. Leaving Ferrand to defend Valenciennes, during the night the Republicans withdrew towards Bouchain, Caesar's Camp and Paillencourt. [9] The next morning York attacked, but the French had gone. Colloredo's column from the north were the first to enter the camp.

Aftermath

Clerfayt had also been successful in his attack, although experiencing tougher resistance at Mont Anzin.

Of 27,000 men engaged, the French lost on all fields 3,000 killed and wounded. The Allies captured 300 soldiers, 17 artillery pieces, 14 ammunition wagons, and three colours. Allied casualties totalled 1,100, mostly Austrians, out of 53,000 troops available. Mack was amongst the wounded. Hanoverian losses were 22 killed and 61 wounded. [10] [11]

Having neutralised Famars Camp, Coburg was now free to open the Siege of Valenciennes. Once again York was given the lead role in command of the siege, supported by Ferraris.

On 27 May, Lamarche was replaced in command by Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine.

During the battle, the 14th Regiment of Foot, The West Yorkshire Regiment, attacked the French to the music of Ça Ira. The regiment was later awarded the tune as a battle honour and regimental quick march.

Assessment

The Austrian command blamed the Duke of York for the failure to catch Lamarche, but this is challenged by British historians like Alfred Burne. "A commander who... is plagued with a rigid mind will plunge straight ahead into a sea of difficulties merely because this course has been preordained for him. But flexibility is one of the valid principles of war, and one of the cardinal virtues of the general...The Duke of York is thus to be applauded rather than condemned for scrapping the first plan he was given and substituting another" [12]

Footnotes

  1. Officer of the Guards p.54
  2. Smith p.46
  3. Burne p.50
  4. Burne p.53
  5. Officer of the Guards I p.50
  6. Officer of the Guards I p.50
  7. Burne p.53
  8. Officer of the Guards I p.51
  9. Phipps I p.181
  10. Smith, p 46-47
  11. Phipps I p.182
  12. Burne p.53

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References

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Coordinates: 50°18′58″N3°31′12″E / 50.3161°N 3.5200°E / 50.3161; 3.5200