Battle of Fleurus (1794)

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Coordinates: 50°29′N4°32′E / 50.483°N 4.533°E / 50.483; 4.533

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Contents

Battle of Fleurus
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Bataille de Fleurus 1794.JPG
Jourdan at Fleurus with the balloon l'Entreprenant in the background (Galerie des Batailles, Palace of Versailles)
Date26 June 1794
Location
Result Decisive French victory [1] [2]
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg French Republic Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg  Habsburg Monarchy
Statenvlag.svg  Dutch Republic
Flag of Hanover (1692).svg Hanover
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain [3]
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815, 1830-1958).svg Jean-Baptiste Jourdan
Flag of France (1794-1815, 1830-1958).svg Jean-Baptiste Kléber
Flag of France (1794-1815, 1830-1958).svg Louis Antoine de Saint Just
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor (after 1400).svg Prince Josias of Coburg
Statenvlag.svg William of Orange
Strength
70,000 infantry
12,000 cavalry
100 guns
1 balloon
45,000 infantry
14,000 cavalry
111 guns
Casualties and losses
5,000, 1 gun [4] 5,000, 1 gun [5] [6]
Belgium relief location map.jpg
Battle icon (crossed swords).svg
Fleurus
Location within Belgium

The Battle of Fleurus, on 26 June 1794, was an engagement between the army of the First French Republic, under General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan and the Coalition Army (Britain, Hanover, Dutch Republic, and Habsburg Monarchy), commanded by Prince Josias of Coburg, in the most significant battle of the Flanders Campaign in the Low Countries during the French Revolutionary Wars. Both sides had forces in the area of around 80,000 men but the French were able to concentrate their troops and defeat the First Coalition. The Allied defeat led to the permanent loss of the Austrian Netherlands and to the destruction of the Dutch Republic. The battle marked a turning point for the French army, which remained ascendant for the rest of the War of the First Coalition. The French use of the reconnaissance balloon l'Entreprenant was the first military use of an aircraft that influenced the result of a battle.

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan Marshal of France

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, 1st Comte Jourdan, enlisted as a private in the French royal army and rose to command armies during the French Revolutionary Wars. Emperor Napoleon I of France named him a Marshal of France in 1804 and he also fought in the Napoleonic Wars. After 1815, he became reconciled to the Bourbon Restoration. He was one of the most successful commanders of the French Revolutionary Army.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Hanover City in Lower Saxony, Germany

Hanover or Hannover is the capital and largest city of the state of Lower Saxony. Its 535,061 (2017) inhabitants make it the thirteenth-largest city of Germany, as well as the third-largest city of Northern Germany after Hamburg and Bremen. The city lies at the confluence of the River Leine and its tributary Ihme, in the south of the North German Plain, and is the largest city of the Hannover–Braunschweig–Göttingen–Wolfsburg Metropolitan Region. It is the fifth-largest city in the Low German dialect area after Hamburg, Dortmund, Essen, and Bremen.

Background

Operations

After the Battle of Tourcoing on 17–18 May 1794, Jean-Baptiste Jourdan was given the command of approximately 96,000 men created by combining the Army of the Ardennes with portions of the Army of the North and the Army of the Moselle. Jourdan with his newly created army was then given the task of capturing the Charleroi fortress.

Army of the Ardennes

The Army of the Ardennes was a French Revolutionary Army formed on the first of October 1792 by splitting off the right wing of the Army of the North, commanded from July to August that year by La Fayette. From July to September 1792 General Dumouriez also misused the name Army of the Ardennes for the right wing of what was left of the Army of the North after the split, encamped at Sedan and the name of Army of the North for the left flank of the army.

The Army of the Moselle was a French Revolutionary Army from 1791 through 1795. It was first known as the Army of the Centre and it fought at Valmy. In October 1792 it was renamed and subsequently fought at Trier, First Arlon, Biesingen, Kaiserslautern, Froeschwiller and Second Wissembourg. In the spring of 1794 the left wing was detached and fought at Second Arlon, Lambusart and Fleurus before being absorbed by the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. In late 1794, the army captured Trier and initiated the Siege of Luxembourg. During the siege, the army was discontinued and its divisions were assigned to other armies.

Charleroi Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Charleroi is a city and a municipality of Wallonia, located in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. By January 1, 2008, the total population of Charleroi was 201,593. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 1,462 square kilometres (564 sq mi) with a total population of 522,522 by January 1, 2008, ranking it as the 5th most populous in Belgium after Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, and Ghent. The inhabitants are called Carolorégiens or simply Carolos.

On 12 June, Jourdan's army, accompanied and supervised by a member of the Committee of Public Safety, Louis de Saint-Just invested the fortress of Charleroi with 70,000 men. On 16 June, an Austrian-Dutch force of about 43,000 men counterattacked in heavy mist at Lambusart, inflicted 3,000 casualties, and drove Jourdan away from Charleroi back across the Sambre. On 18 June, Jourdan attacked again and managed to resume the siege the Charleroi. The fortress eventually surrendered on 25 June, just as a relieving force under the Prince of Coburg arrived to raise the siege. The army that Jourdan commanded in the siege of Charleroi would later be formally commissioned on 29 June as the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse. [7]

Committee of Public Safety De facto executive government in France (1793–1794)

The Committee of Public Safety, created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto, interim, and executive government in France during the Reign of Terror (1793–1794), a stage of the French Revolution. The Committee of Public Safety succeeded the previous Committee of General Defence and assumed its role of protecting the newly established republic against foreign attacks and internal rebellion. As a wartime measure, the Committee—composed at first of nine and later of twelve members—was given broad supervisory powers over military, judicial and legislative efforts. It was formed as an administrative body to supervise and expedite the work of the executive bodies of the Convention and of the government ministers appointed by the Convention. As the Committee tried to meet the dangers of a coalition of European nations and counter-revolutionary forces within the country, it became more and more powerful.

Investment (military) Military term for surrounding an enemy position

Investment is the military process of surrounding an enemy fort with armed forces to prevent entry or escape. It serves both to cut communications with the outside world, and to prevent supplies and reinforcements from being introduced.

Sambre river in France and Belgium, mouth in Meuse river

The Sambre[sɑ̃bʁ] is a river in northern France and in Wallonia, Belgium. It is a left-bank tributary of the Meuse, which it joins in the Wallonian capital Namur.

Opposing forces

Battle

Contemporary map of the Battle of Fleurus Map Fleurus 1794.jpg
Contemporary map of the Battle of Fleurus
Collecting card (c.1890) celebrating the flight of the first observation balloon Early flight 02562u (10).jpg
Collecting card (c.1890) celebrating the flight of the first observation balloon

On 26 June, Feldmarschall Coburg maneuvered around Charleroi with a force of 52,000 Austrian and Dutch soldiers. Too late to save the fortress, which had surrendered, the Austrian commander split his army into five columns and attacked the French. A French reconnaissance balloon, l'Entreprenant, operated by the Aerostatic Corps, continuously informed General of Division (MG) Jean-Baptiste Jourdan about Austrian movements. The Austrians managed to break through both French wings, pushing back MG François Marceau on the right wing and MG Montaigu on the left wing. The French center under MG François Lefebvre held and then counterattacked and the Austrian assault petered out. Colonel Nicolas Soult, then serving as Lefebvre's chief of staff, wrote that it was, "fifteen hours of the most desperate fighting I ever saw in my life." [8]

Observation balloon type of balloons

An observation balloon is a type of balloon that is employed as an aerial platform for intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. Use of observation balloons began during the French Revolutionary Wars, reaching their zenith during World War I, and they continue in limited use today.

French Aerostatic Corps worlds first air force

The French Aerostatic Corps or Company of Aeronauts was the world's first air force, founded in 1794 to use balloons, primarily for reconnaissance.

François Joseph Lefebvre Marshal of France

François Joseph Lefebvre, Duc de Dantzig, was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon.

Coburg neglected to press on and uncertain of the outcome, the Austrian commander lost his nerve and fell back to Braine-l'Alleud and Waterloo, granting the French an unexpected victory. This was the final straw that caused the allies to retire over the Rhine, leaving the French free rein in Belgium and the Netherlands. Historian Digby Smith wrote,

Braine-lAlleud Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Braine-l'Alleud is a Walloon municipality in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant, about 20 kilometres south of Brussels. The Braine-l'Alleud municipality includes the former municipalities of Braine-l'Alleud proper, Ophain-Bois-Seigneur-Isaac, and Lillois-Witterzée. It also includes the hamlet of Sart-Moulin, the inverted name of which inspired Hergé’s Moulinsart castle. The famous Lion of Waterloo where the eponymous battle took place is in the territory of Braine-l'Alleud. Bordering Flanders, the town is home to a minority of Dutch speakers.

Waterloo, Belgium Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Waterloo is a municipality in the province of Walloon Brabant, Belgium, which in 2011 had a population of 29,706 and an area of 21.03 km2 (8.12 sq mi). It is northeast of the larger town of Braine-l'Alleud, which is the site of the Battle of Waterloo, where the resurgent Napoleon was defeated for the final time in 1815. Waterloo lies a short distance south of Brussels, the historical capital of the nation. Historically Flemish, Waterloo is now a Francophone town right on the regional and language border between Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant.

Digby Smith is a British military historian. The son of a British career soldier, he was born in Hampshire, England, but spent several years in India and Pakistan as a child and youth. As a "boy soldier," he entered training in the British Army at the age of 16. He was later commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals, and held several postings with the British Army of the Rhine.

By this stage of the war the court in Vienna was convinced that it was no longer worth the effort to try to hold on to the Austrian Netherlands and it is suspected that Coburg gave up the chance of a victory here so as to be able to pull out eastwards. [5]

Aftermath

It is generally agreed that the battle was a costly one for the French, with casualties estimated between five and six thousand. The Allied losses have always been in dispute: the French claimed significantly higher losses than their own, while the Allies claimed far less. Traditional estimates attribute "considerable casualties" to Coburg's army, [9] and hover near five thousand Allied killed and wounded. [6] [10] [11] However, according to Digby Smith, Austrian-Dutch losses numbered 208 killed, 1,017 wounded, and 361 captured. In addition, the French captured one mortar, three caissons, and one standard, while the Austrians captured one cannon and one standard. [12]

Despite any tactical imbalance, the strategic value of Fleurus was immense for the French. The victory precipitated a full Allied withdrawal from Belgium and allowed French forces to push north into the Netherlands. By the end of 1795, the Dutch Republic was extinguished. After Fleurus, the republican army would keep its momentum in the war, staying on the offensive until its eventual victory against the First Coalition in 1797. [13]

Politically, the battle invalidated the argument that continuation of the revolutionary Reign of Terror was necessary because of the military threat to France's very existence. Thus, some would argue, victory at Fleurus was a leading cause of the Thermidorian Reaction a month later. Saint-Just arrived in Paris after such a great victory only to die with Maximilien Robespierre and the other leading Jacobins.

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References

  1. A Short History of France. Taylor & Francis. p. 147. GGKEY:W8BKL8DP129. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  2. Origins of Political Extremism: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. Cambridge University Press. 17 March 2011. p. 38. ISBN   978-1-139-50077-7 . Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  3. Jaques, p 355
  4. Smith, p 86
  5. 1 2 Smith, p 87
  6. 1 2 Rothenberg, p 247
  7. Phipps, Ramsay Weston (2011). The Armies of the First French Republic: Volume II The Armées du Moselle, du Rhin, de Sambre-et-Meuse, de Rhin-et-Moselle. USA: Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN   978-1-908692-25-2.
  8. Glover-Chandler, p 162
  9. Chandler, p. 169.
  10. Dodge, p.114.
  11. Jobson, p. 312.
  12. Smith, pp 86-87
  13. Doyle, pp. 206–207.

Sources

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