The Battle of Lauffeldt 1747

Introduction

Following its role in supressing the Jacobite rising, the 36th Regiment of Foot (at that time known as Flemming’s Regiment) was posted to the continent, as part of the army of Duke of Cumberland, who was now campaigning in the Europe.   Here, Flemming’s were involved in numerous minor actions but its most notable engagement was the Battle of Lauffeldt.

Lauffeld was one of the decisive battles of the War of the Austrian Succession. It took place on the 2nd July, 1747 at Larfelt, in Belgium (near Maastricht).  It was fought between the “Pragmatic Army”, consisting of 90,000 allied troops, from Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Holy Roman Empire and Hanover, under Cumberland’s command, and the French Army of Louis XV.   The French army was 120,000 strong and led by Marshal Maurice de Saxe, probably the most able soldier of his generation.  The result was a significant defeat for the allies, resulting in Cumberland’s nickname changing from “the Butcher”, arising from his decisive victory at Culloden, to “the Blunderer”. 

The preamble

In February 1747, Cumberland decided to break his winter camp early in an attempt to seize the city of Antwerp. This plan was logistically flawed, the allied army spent two months in rough uncomfortable camps, enduring foul weather, around the town of Breda, whilst the French army never left their warm winter quarters.

Before Cumberland could make a second attempt to take Antwerp, Marshall Saxe ordered General Contrades to take Liefkenhock and a fortress known as “The Pearl”, just to the north of Antwerp, making the city too well defended to be attacked. Meanwhile Count Löwendahl seized Sas-van-Ghent which threatened Cumberland’s supply lines.

Hoping to draw de Saxe into a general engagement, Cumberland decided to move once again to threaten Antwerp. However, the French Marshal refused to take the bait and instead 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 Maastricht.   Cumberland now had no choice other than take the battle to De Saxe or allow the French to take Maastricht.

The Battle

The two armies met west of the River Meuse, south of Maastricht, on 1st July 1747.  Whilst de Saxe knew the whereabouts of the approaching Pragmatic Army, Cumberland was unaware that the French army had interposed itself and was forming up on the high ground between him and the River Meuse.

As Cumberland’s army arrived on the battlefield, the Austrians took position on the right flank occupying the Commanderie and the twin villages of Grosse and Kleine Spauwe.  The Dutch occupied the right centre and the ground between Gross Spauwe and Vlytingen and the British (including Flemming’s Regiment), Hanoverians and Hessian infantry occupied the key villages of Vlytingen and Lauffeldt on the left of the Allied lines.

On the eve of battle, Cumberland ordered the British and Hessian battalions to withdraw from their positions in the villages of Vlytingen and Lauffeldt. They were instructed to set fire to the houses and then form behind the villages and not attempt to defend them.  However later, accepting the advice of Sir John Ligonier who pointed out how fortified villages were very difficult places to storm; Cumberland then ordered the British and Hessian battalions back into Lauffeldt with the British Foot Guards remaining in line behind the villages. Unfortunately, these movements were observed by Marshal Saxe who immediately ordered his infantry to launch an attack, opening fire on the British, Hanoverian and Hessian battalions who were not fully back in position in Lauffeldt. Meanwhile the Duke of Cumberland, not expecting any immediate French move, had returned to the Commanderie to take breakfast with Marshal Batthyani.

The Battle of Lauffeldt 1747

The main course of the action of the battle was the French assaults on the villages of Vlytingen and Lauffeldt.  When one of the French column’s arrived at Vlytingen they found it abandoned and so were able to act as a flanking force to support the assault on Lauffeldt. Over the next four hours the French attacked the village gaining a foothold thrice but were repelled on each occasion.   Marshal Saxe committed an estimated 50 French infantry battalions against the 10 British, Hanoverian, and Hessian battalions.

During the course of the fighting over Vlytingen and Lauffeldt, 9 Austrian battalions were switched from the right flank and put into the second line, releasing more British and Hanoverian battalions to be hurried forward to join the garrison in Lauffeldt.  Eventually the French were pushed back, and the Duke of Cumberland ordered his infantry to advance. This order was also dispatched to the Austrian Commander, Marshal Batthyani, on the right of the allied line to attack the French on the flank but he refused to advance.

The battle now seemed to be going in favour of the Allies, however, the appearance of the French King Louis on the field, inspired the French troops who returned to the fray with renewed vigour. By midday Lauffeldt was finally taken, Cumberland ordered the infantry to disengage and march towards Maastricht.

Meanwhile, on the left flank, Sir John Ligonier launched a cavalry charge against the opposing French horse. This proved be a great success and led to the capture of the village of Wilre and five French cavalry standards taken.  Ligonier then received a message from the Duke of Cumberland saying that the French had taken Lauffeldt and that he was not to advance and that Cumberland was extricating his infantry and beginning the march to his left, in the direction of Maastricht.  Ligonier replied with a dispatch describing his successful cavalry action.  Cumberland responded with an order for Ligonier to repeat the charge. Obeying this, Ligonier, with only four British dragoon regiments, charged through the French cavalry only to encounter a large body of steady French infantry. Trapped between the French infantry and their cavalry, Ligonier and most of his force were taken prisoner, but these charges, had allowed the rest of the allied forces to retreat safely and reach Maastricht.

In total the allies lost around 4,000 men with another 2,000 taken prisoner. However, the victorious French suffered significantly more casualties, with over 10,000 men killed and many more wounded. Cumberland withdrew his army to Maastricht whilst Marshal Saxe and the French army retreated to Tongres, his plan to take Maastricht thwarted by the retreat of the allied army.

The loss of the 36th Regiment in this battle was Major Petrie, Lieutenant Brodie, two sergeants and 22 rank and file killed: with Lieutenant Colonel Jackson, Captains Morgan, Pechell, Dod and Gore, Lieutenant Ackland, Ensigns Vaughan, Duncan, Elrington, Strong and Porter, three sergeants, two drummers, and seventy-four rank and file wounded: and eighty-two men missing.