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Opening Moves
Tatics and Formations
The Battlefield
The Battle
The Battlefield Today



Opening Moves.

In February 1747 Cumberland decided to break camp and move his army to threaten Antwerp. Unfortunately this plan backfired owing to lack of transport, and the allied army had to spend another two months in rough cantonments and foul weather around the town of Breda. Meanwhile the French army did not stir from their own warm winter quarters. For his part de Saxe wrote, ‘When the Duke of Cumberland has sufficiently weakened his army I shall teach him that a great general’s first duty is to provide for its welfare.’[i] Not only did Cumberland have difficulty finding suitable transportation, he, like the Duke of Marlborough before him, had problems with the Dutch who were becoming war-weary, and in particular with the Dutch general Waldeck, who proved to be unpopular even among his own men.[ii]

Towards the end of April, while the allies were still debating their next move, de Saxe detached two flying columns from his main position. One column under Marshal Contrades took Liefkenhock and a fortress known as “The Pearl” just to the north of Antwerp, while the other column under Count Löwendahl seized Sas-van-Ghent, Ijzenijke and Eekels.[iii] By these rapid and timely manoeuvres, de Saxe had not only seriously compromised Cumberland’s communications to Willemstadt, he also caused such a panic across the whole of Holland as to force the Dutch to disregard any notion they may have had of discussing peace terms with the French.[iv]

Flanders and the Netherlands
(click to enlarge)


Now backed up by the firm resolve of the Dutch to continue the war, Cumberland once more moved to threaten Antwerp, which he hoped would force de Saxe into a general engagement. The French Marshal was too cool a customer to be drawn into making any false moves and held his main army behind the River Dyle close to the towns of Malines and Louvain, sending a strong detachment to bolster the garrison in Antwerp. Both commanders were well aware that the main prize was the city of Maastricht, the capture of which by the French would render the United Provinces untenable, and to this end de Saxe had already positioned a small army under Marshal Clermont on the Meuse River just to the south of Masstricht. Thus Cumberland had no choice other than to risk giving battle rather than allow Masstricht to be taken.[v]

Marshal Maurice de Saxe

Knowing full well that de Saxe would not attempt to attack the very strong fortifications of Masstricht until he was at full strength, Cumberland was posed with the problem of considering the possibility of Clermont’s small army being a decoy, and that as soon as the allied army moved against it, de Saxe would move swiftly to cross the frontier. Therefore the British commander was left with no other option but to conform with the movements made by de Saxe and the main French army.

In June, Clermont moved his forces towards the town of Tongres, while de Saxe pushed out detachments along the south bank of the River Demer. Cumberland interpreted these moves to mean that de Saxe and Clermont were about to unite their forces, and he therefore decided to crush Clermont’s army before this union could take place. Surrounding his march with great secrecy, Cumberland marched his army south. As soon as Clermont realised that he was about to be attacked by the allied main army he began to send frantic messages to de Saxe to come to his aid, and was seriously considering withdrawing his little army when a mud spattered and dishevelled de Saxe made his appearance in his camp. Calming Clermont’s fears, de Saxe gave orders for him to hold his position, telling him that not only was he about to be reinforced, but that the whole French army was marching to join him as he spoke.[vi]

The 8th Horse, later the 7th Dragoon Guards and the 11th Dragoons, later the 11th Hussars (painting by Major R.M.Barnes)

On the same day that Cumberland had begun to move his army against Clermont, de Saxe had ordered a parallel march by his own forces. This masterly stroke completely wrong-footed Cumberland who, arriving on the 30th of June, suddenly realised that instead of only having to deal with Clermont, he now had the whole united French army before him. Not only this but the French held the Heerderen heights overlooking the plain of Rosmeer from where they had a fine view of the allied columns as they arrived on the field. General Ligonier had the presence of mind to deploy the allied cavalry in a covering position across the plain, enabling the infantry to move into defensive positions stretching from the village of Bilsen on their right, to the hamlet of Wilre on the outskirts of Maastricht on their left. When he was satisfied that the infantry had reached their positions, Ligonier pulled back his cavalry by the left, withdrawing past the right flank of the British infantry who were holding the centre of the line, and forming up again in order of battle on the left wing just in front of the village of Kisselt. No attempt to disrupt the allied positioning was made by the French, although both sides carried out a brisk cannonade.[vii]

[i] Quoted in, White, Jon Manchip. Marshal of France, The Life and Times of Maurice de Saxe, page 208

[ii] Ibid, page 209

[iii] Ibid, page 209

[iv] Whitworth, R. Field Marshal Lord Ligonier, page 147

[v] White, Jon Manchip. Marshal of France, The Life and Times of Maurice de Saxe, page 210

[vi] White, Jon Manchip. Marshal of France, The Life and Times of Maurice de Saxe, page 211

[vii]  Whitworth, Rex. Field Marshal Lord Ligonier, page 149





Copyright © 2004  Graham Morris. 
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