Won by the Sword by G. A. Henty
Chapter XV: The Battle of Marienthal
The decision had scarcely been made when one of the lieutenants ran in. "Captain Mieville requests me to state that sounds have been heard in the forest, and that he believes there is a large body of men approaching."
"Then, ladies, I must beg you to mount the stairs to the turret at once. I will place six men on guard there. The main body I must keep in front of the chateau, as that affords a protection to our rear. Do not be alarmed. I do not think the place is likely to be attacked; but should it be, the six men could hold it for any time. As soon as I have beaten the main body I will at once attack those who may be assailing the turret, though I hardly think that they will do so, for they know that there is nothing to be obtained that would in any way repay them for the loss that they would suffer. They are marching here for the purpose of attacking us."
He called to the two sentries.
"See the ladies up the stairs to the turret, and take up your post on the lower stairs. Four more men shall join you at once."
He found that Mieville had already got all the men under arms, and had ranged them between the bivouac fires and the still glowing chateau.
"Move your men along farther, Mieville. Let your left flank rest on the angle of the old castle, then we shall not be made anxious by another attack on the turret. Let the right flank rest upon the chateau where the old castle joins it. We shall then be in darkness, while the assailants, if they come from that side, will have to cross the ground lit up by the glow from the ruins. Let the centre of the line be some ten yards in front of the building; let the line be two deep."
As soon as this disposition was made he called down the six men, as they were no longer required to defend the staircase.
"Now, men," he said when all were formed up, "I need not admonish soldiers who were so firm under the attack of the whole of the Bavarian army of the necessity for steadiness. I have no doubt that if we are attacked it will be in considerable force; but it will be by half armed peasants, and there probably will not be a gun among them. But even peasants, when worked up into a state of excitement are not to be despised. My orders are: The front rank shall continue firing until they are close at hand, and shall then fix bayonets. Until this is done the second line are not to fire a shot; but as soon as the front rank are ready to repel the enemy with fixed bayonets, you will begin. Don't throw a shot away, but continue loading and firing, as quickly as you can; and unless very closely pressed, let no man empty his musket until his comrade on the right has reloaded, so that there will always be some shots in reserve. Should they rush on in spite of the fire, I shall give the order, 'Empty your muskets and fix bayonets,' and we will then charge them. Hunter, you and your three comrades and Paolo will keep close to me, and if we find the men wavering at any point we will go to their assistance. If, however, we charge, remember that you six men I told off to guard the turret are at once to pass through the gates and take up your post on the steps, for some of them may slip in behind us and endeavour to rush up."
The horses, that had been turned loose when Hector and the troopers mounted the steps, had been seized by the peasants, and tied up to some trees close by when the latter began to feast. They had been recovered when the insurgents were scattered by Mieville's company and had then been placed in the courtyard of the castle. As soon as the alarm was given, Hector, the four troopers, and Paolo had mounted. The three officers were also on horseback.
"In case the company charges, Mieville," he said, "we nine mounted men can cover the rear and charge any of the insurgents who try to rush in and take them in the rear. I hope that we shall keep them off with our musketry fire; but I don't disguise from myself that if they fall upon us at close quarters we shall have to fight hard. Ah, here they come!"
Suddenly in the darkness from the other side of the chateau a great crowd of men poured out, shouting and yelling furiously, and brandishing their rough weapons, which shone blood red in the glow of the fire in the ruins. Someone had evidently been placed on the watch, and had told them where the troops had taken up their post, for they came on without hesitation, bearing outwards until they faced the centre of the line, at a distance of fifty yards; then one of the men, who appeared to be the leader, shouted an order, and they rushed impetuously forward. The front line at once opened fire. Many of the peasants dropped, while the others hesitated a little, and so gave the men who had first fired time to reload; but, urged on by the shouts of their leaders, the peasants again rushed forward.
"Fire a volley, and then fix bayonets!" Hector shouted. The fifty muskets flashed out, and as the peasants were but fifteen yards away every shot told, and their front rank was completely swept away.
"Every other man in the second line fire!" Hector ordered, and twenty-five shots added to the confusion among the peasants. The slaughter, however, only had the effect of maddening the great crowd, who numbered upwards of two thousand, and with a howl of fury they rushed forward again. Hector waited until they almost touched the row of bayonets, and then gave the order for the remaining men to fire and all to fix bayonets. The instant this was done he shouted "Charge!" for he saw that while standing quiet his men were no match for the peasants, whose long poles with the scythes at the end gave them great advantage over the shorter weapons of the soldiers. With a cheer the latter threw themselves upon their opponents, their close formation and more handy weapons depriving their enemies of this advantage. Thrusting and overthrowing all in front of them, the line burst its way through the mob, the little party of cavalry charging furiously whenever the peasants endeavoured to fall upon their rear, and the latter, boldly as they fought against the infantry, shrank back before the flashing swords and the weight of horses and riders.
As soon as they had passed through the crowd Hector gave the order for his troops to face about, and they again burst their way through the mob that had closed in behind them. Four times was the manoeuvre repeated, the resistance growing fainter each time, as the peasants found themselves unable to withstand the charge of the disciplined troops. When for the fifth time they reached the gate of the castle the crowd no longer pressed upon their rear, but stood hesitatingly some fifty yards away. Hector took advantage of the pause, and ordered his men, who were panting from their exertions, to load again. He formed them in single line now.
"Don't fire a shot until I give the word," he said; "then pour in your volley, fix bayonets instantly, and charge."
Standing in the shade as they did, the movement of loading was unobserved by the peasants, who, as they saw the line again advancing, prepared to meet them, but gave a yell of surprise when a terrible volley was poured into them at a distance of twenty yards. Then, before they had recovered from their surprise, the long line was upon them with levelled bayonets. Only a few stood their ground. These were instantly overthrown. The rest, throwing away their weapons, fled in all directions.
"Thank God that is over!" Hector said, as he told the troops to halt and reload. "If they had all been as courageous as their leader they would have annihilated us, but each time we charged I observed that a considerable number fell away on either flank, so that it was not a solid mass through which we had to make our way. What is our loss, Mieville?"
"I rode along the line and counted the numbers. There are but seventy-five on foot," he said, "and most of these have got more or less severe wounds with their ugly weapons."
"Let the ground over which we have passed be carefully searched," he said, "and any of our men who show signs of life be carried in front of the chateau."
Twelve men were found to be living; their wounds were at once attended to and bandaged.
"I think most of them will do," Captain Mieville said. "They are ugly looking gashes, but it is not like a bullet in the body."
The men who had been killed were found in most cases to have been slain outright from the blows of hatchets, which had in several cases completely severed their heads. While the wounds of the soldiers were being attended to, Hector went to the gate at which the baroness and her daughter were now standing.
"You are unhurt, I hope," the lady said as Hector approached.
"I have two or three more wounds," he said, "but, like those I had before, they are of little account."
"It was a terrible fight," she said. "We watched it from the top of the turret, and it seemed to us that you were lost each time you plunged into the crowd, you were so few among such numbers. Have you lost any men?"
"We have only had thirteen killed outright," he said. "Twelve more are very seriously wounded, but I think most of them will recover. As to the rest of the company, I fancy that most of them will require some bandaging. And now I shall recommend you and your daughter to return to your shelter. I have no fear whatever of their coming back again."
"That we cannot do," she said firmly. "It is our duty to do what we can to aid those who have fought so bravely."
"The men are now attending to each other's wounds," Hector said. "Every man in my regiment carries, by my orders, a couple of bandages. We found them most useful at Freiburg, and many a life was saved that would have been lost but for their use; but if you insist upon doing anything, I would ask you to carry wine and water round. The troopers will draw the water for you from the well in the courtyard here."
"That we will do willingly," she said.
For the next two hours the ladies were busy at work, moving among the men and supplying them with refreshments. Not until all their wants were amply supplied did they retire.
In the morning Hector said: "Now, Madame de Blenfoix, I have been thinking the matter over, and consider that it would be a wholly unnecessary journey and a loss of four days were you to travel to Nancy with us. You are only ten days' journey from Poitou, and I should advise you to start at once. My man, Paolo, and two of the troopers will accompany you as an escort. Your road will lead through Orleans, which will be almost halfway, and you will also pass through Tours. At both these towns you can, if you will, stay for a day to rest. I will ride down with you into Blenfoix, where I shall be able to get paper and pens, and will write letters to Captain MacIntosh and to my intendant explaining exactly the position that you will occupy. One of the troopers will ride forward with these from your last halting place before you arrive there, in order that you may find everything prepared and be received properly on your arrival. Do you both ride, or would you rather have a pillion's place behind the troopers?"
"We both ride," she said; "but I should prefer, on a journey like this, that my daughter should ride behind me on a pillion. You are altogether too good, Colonel Campbell. You are heaping kindnesses upon us."
"Not at all, madam. And now you will doubtless be glad to hear that in searching round the place this morning, we have discovered that two of your horses that had doubtless been turned loose by the peasants have found their way back. No difficulty will therefore arise on that score. The saddles are hanging from the beams in the stable, so that everything is in readiness for your departure."
A quarter of an hour later the whole party left the ruined chateau, the troops taking their way to the point at which they had left the road, while Hector with his four troopers and Paolo rode down into Blenfoix with the ladies. Here the baroness purchased a few necessaries for the journey while Hector was writing his letters. Hunter and Macpherson were to form their escort, and were by turns to lead the spare horse, which on alternate days was to carry the double burden. Paolo carried the purse, which contained a sum ample for the expenses of the journey. When all was ready the adieus were said, and the baroness repeated the heartfelt thanks of her daughter and herself for the kindness shown them. Paolo took his place beside the ladies, the two troopers fell in behind, and they started west, while Hector with the other two troopers galloped off to overtake his company.
At Joinville they found that de Thiou's company had just marched in, but it was not until the next day that the other two returned. All had met with scattered bodies of peasants, but these had dispersed as soon as the troops were seen, and there had been no actual fighting except with the parties Hector had met. The bodies of the soldiers that had fallen were buried near the chateau. Those of the peasants were left where they lay, and would doubtless be carried off by their friends as soon as the latter knew that the troops had left. The lesson had been a severe one indeed, upwards of two hundred and eighty being killed in the two encounters. The insurgents were completely disheartened by their loss, and during the rest of the winter the aid of the troops was not again called for.
As soon as spring set in, the Poitou regiment marched to join the marshal. The Bavarian army had been weakened by the withdrawal of four thousand men to aid the Imperialists, who had been defeated by the Swedes in Bohemia. Turenne, on hearing the news, at once prepared to take advantage of it, crossed the Rhine on a bridge of boats at Spires, and passed the Neckar, General Merci retiring before him. Stuttgart opened its gates, and Turenne established himself at Marienthal on the river Tauber. Merci, as he fell back, had caused a rumour to be spread that he was making for the Danube.
There was a great scarcity of forage in the country round Marienthal, and the officers of the cavalry strongly urged upon Turenne that they should divide and take up stations at various points where they could obtain food for their animals, which were much exhausted by their long and heavy marches. Turenne for some time resisted their entreaties, but at last, seeing that the cavalry would speedily be ruined unless they could obtain food, permitted this course to be taken. Before allowing them to leave, however, he sent parties of horse forward in various directions to discover what the enemy were doing. These returned with the news that the Bavarian army had broken up, and was fortifying itself in the towns among which it had been divided. Turenne, however, was still apprehensive. He kept his cannon and the greater part of the infantry with him, and also General Rosen with a portion of his horse, and refused to let the rest of the cavalry go farther than three leagues from the army. He himself rode out with a regiment of cavalry some ten miles beyond Marienthal, along the road by which the Imperialists would advance were they to assemble to attack him.
At two o'clock the next morning a party he had sent to watch the Bavarians brought in the news that Merci was advancing with all his force. Rosen was ordered to hurry forward to the spot where the advanced division was lying. Messengers were sent off in all directions to recall the scattered cavalry, and having seen that everything had been done to place affairs in a better position, Turenne rode off with what troops he could gather to aid Rosen. The latter had made a serious blunder. In front of the position held by the advanced division was a large wood, through which the Bavarians must pass. Instead of taking possession of this and holding it until reinforcements came up, he fell back, drew up his troops on the plain, and allowed the Bavarians to occupy the wood without resistance. With the troops which arrived with him, the marshal had now under him some three thousand infantry and seven regiments of horse. He placed his infantry on his right with two squadrons to support them; with the rest of his cavalry, he formed his left wing.
He himself took the command here. Rosen commanded on the right. Merci, after passing through the wood, drew up his army in order of battle and opened fire on the French. The artillery, however, in no way shook their firmness, and seeing more troops in the distance advancing to reinforce them, Merci began the battle by an attack on a little wood on which the French right rested; while at the same time Turenne charged the Bavarian right wing with his cavalry, broke it up, and captured the cannon and twelve standards. But while on this side the victory was almost won, on the other side disaster had befallen the French. Their infantry, perceiving that the Bavarians, who were advancing to attack them, were much superior in force, were seized with a panic and scattered in all directions. The left wing of the Bavarians advanced rapidly, and, throwing themselves behind Turenne's wing, prepared to fall upon him in the rear.
Turenne ordered his cavalry to retire, and passing through the wood found beyond it three regiments that had just arrived. These with the fifteen hundred horse that had been with him in the battle placed him in a position to make a vigorous defence, but the Bavarians did not venture to attack him. He now sent an officer to rally the scattered infantry, and gave orders that they should at once retreat without a stop to Philippsburg, a distance of seventy miles. He himself with his cavalry started for Hesse, whose landgravine was in alliance with France. With two regiments he covered the retreat, and so enabled the rest of the cavalry as they came up from their distant quarters to cross the Tauber. This was a bold and successful movement, for had he fallen back with his infantry to Philippsburg the enemy would have possessed themselves of all the towns he had captured, whereas they could not now advance without exposing their line of communication to his attack.
The Poitou regiment had, when Turenne advanced to Marienthal, been left at a town some four leagues away. A messenger reached Hector from Turenne with a note scribbled in pencil: --
We have been beaten. The infantry behaved shamefully, and are hastening, a crowd of stragglers, towards Philippsburg. I shall retire along the Tauber with the cavalry and make for Hesse, do you march with all speed for that river. If as you approach the river you hear that we have already passed, do you direct your march to Hesse. I leave the choice of route to you, and you must be guided by circumstances. At any rate you are unlikely to be attacked except by cavalry, and these, if not in too great numbers, you may be trusted to beat off.
Ten minutes after the receipt of this order the regiment was on the march. They arrived on the Tauber just in time, for a quarter of an hour after they had piled arms, after a tremendous march, the cavalry came along. They were in scattered parties, for the roads were terribly bad, and they were obliged to break up and make their way as best they could by mere tracks across the rocky and hilly country. Turenne himself, when he arrived, had but twenty horsemen with him.
"I hardly expected you to be up in time, Campbell," he said, as he dismounted. "Your men must have marched well indeed. As you see, though unbeaten, for we on our side defeated the enemy's horse, we are as much dispersed as if we had suffered a disaster. I am trying to cover the retreat with two regiments of cavalry that were not engaged in the battle. Half an hour since we charged and drove back in confusion a party of Bavarian horse, but they formed up again. The main body is ahead, but is as scattered as we are, for besides the difficulty of keeping together on these horrible roads, it is necessary that we should occupy every track by which the enemy's horse could move, or they might get in front of us and play havoc with us.
"You will have to march all night, and I should advise you to break up your command into half companies, with orders to each to attach themselves as far as possible to such parties of my two regiments of cavalry as they may come across. We shall not proceed at any great pace, as we must give time for the troops ahead of us to get clear. The horses are utterly worn out, being half starved and fatigued with their march. So far we know not whether the whole of the Bavarian cavalry is behind us, but it is probable that one of their two divisions is pursuing the infantry. I wish you had been there with them. In the first place your example would have prevented their breaking, and in the second you could have covered their retreat. As it is, I fear that but few of the three thousand who were with me will reach Philippsburg. I shall be glad if you yourself will remain near me. If your regiment were going to keep together I would not take you from them, but being broken up into fragments, you could exercise no supervision over them in the darkness."
Hector at once called the officers together, and gave them the necessary orders. "You understand," he said, "that your main object is not so much to save yourselves, though that is most important, but to enable the cavalry to beat back the Bavarian horse."
It was a terrible march; both horse and foot made their way along with difficulty through the darkness. Men and horses were alike fatigued, and the cavalry for the most part dismounted and led their animals along. There were several sharp fights with bodies of the enemy, who, ignorant of the line by which the French were retreating, feared to press the rearguard too close, lest they should find them in very superior numbers. Once, when they passed a lane running down to the river, Turenne -- who had taken every opportunity of making his way across the line of retreat and seeing how all was going on -- said to Hector, "Will you ride up here, Campbell, and cheer up any parties you may come across. Tell them that all is going on well, and that by morning we shall find that the enemy have given up the pursuit, and shall be able to halt and take a few hours' rest, and give battle should the enemy come up in force. Their horses must be as fatigued as ours, for they must have been marching for eight or ten hours since the morning."
Hector had only Paolo now with him, having appointed the four troopers to go with different parties of the infantry, and to act as orderlies to their captains. He rode rapidly up the lane, and presently heard the cavalry passing across it.
"There is one party, Paolo," he said, urging his horse into a gallop. In two or three minutes he came up with the column of horse.
"Where is your officer?" he asked, drawing rein as he reached them.
"Seize him!" a voice cried in German, and before he and Paolo could turn their horses half a dozen troopers were upon them.
"I surrender," he cried in German, seeing that resistance was impossible.
"Who are you, monsieur?" an officer demanded.
"I am colonel of the Poitou regiment of infantry," he said. "This man is my lackey."
"Where are your cavalry, sir?"
"That I cannot tell you exactly, seeing that no one knows. I thought that you formed part of our rearguard."
"How comes it that you, an infantry officer, were there? We heard that there were no infantry with them."
"We joined them just before nightfall, and were at once divided up among the various regiments of horse."
"I must inform our colonel of that. Come along with me," and they pushed past the troopers until they arrived at the head of the column, when the officer reported to the colonel.
"Donner Blitzen!" the latter exclaimed, "it is well that we learned this news, for we should have fared very ill if we had come upon horse and foot together. The Poitou regiment! That is the one that we heard beat back our charges so often at Freiburg, and they say the best regiment in the French service. It is no use our going farther; we might well fall into an ambush, and in these lanes they could shoot us down helplessly. We will move on quietly until we get to a place where there is space enough for us to dismount and bivouac. We could not have gone many more miles, for if we did we should be a regiment without horses tomorrow morning."
They proceeded very slowly and cautiously until, when they came upon an open tract of ground, the colonel ordered them to dismount and sound the trumpets. His regiment, like those of Turenne, had been broken up, and he had but half a squadron with him. In an hour the whole regiment was assembled; a few fires were lighted, but most of the men threw themselves down by their horses and at once went off to sleep. The colonel and his officers sat down at one of the fires, where Hector was requested to join them.
"I suppose that your regiment took no part in the battle?"
"No, sir; we were some way from Marienthal, and I received orders only after the day was lost, to join Marshal Turenne and his cavalry on the Tauber. We arrived on the river just at sunset, having marched ten leagues in eight hours. I regret bitterly that my regiment was not on the field, for assuredly they would not have given way. Had they stood, the rest of the infantry would have stood."
"And in that case you would now be the pursuers," the colonel broke in, "for Turenne completely shattered our right wing. Well, sir, it is the fortune of war, and we at least have the honour of having given your marshal a defeat. He is a grand general, but we caught him napping today."
"It was not his fault, sir. General Rosen and his officers insisted so strongly that unless they were allowed to move off in search of forage, the whole army would be disabled by the loss of their horses by hunger, that he was almost forced to comply with their request."
"But, even so, he made a mistake," the colonel said. "If instead of marching to meet us in front of Marienthal he had fallen back directly he had the news of our coming, he could have been joined by all his detached troops before we came up with him."
"He said as much to me tonight," Hector replied; "but even the greatest generals are liable to make a mistake sometimes. And, indeed, had General Rosen with the advanced division held the wood in front of them, instead of retiring on to the plain, they should have been able to keep you at bay until all our troops came up."
''Undoubtedly that was a terrible blunder on his part," the colonel said, "and he rather than Turenne is to blame. And now, sir, may I ask how is it that you, who cannot be more than twenty, come to be a colonel, and in command of a regiment?"
"I have been five years an officer, and was fortunate on two occasions to obtain the approval, once of Monsieur de Turenne, and once of the Duc d'Enghien."
"I congratulate you, sir. It is seldom indeed that so young an officer has opportunities of distinguishing himself. I myself had seen well nigh thirty years service before I came to command a regiment. And now, sir, will you give me your parole not to attempt to escape?"
"Certainly, sir," Hector replied promptly. He knew that should he refuse four or five troopers would be set to watch him, and even if he evaded these, which was well nigh impossible, he might be recaptured on the following morning, as detachments of the Bavarian horse would be sure to be pressing hard upon Turenne's troops. The pursuit was indeed taken up again during the night, but Turenne succeeded in keeping his pursuers at bay, and reaching the frontiers of Hesse. There he found the infantry and cavalry who had not been engaged already assembled, for they had received orders to march instantly to that spot. He had now with him some four thousand horse and two thousand foot, and was joined by six thousand troops from Hesse and four thousand Swedes. He was thus soon in a position to advance with a much stronger force than that which he commanded before the battle of Marienthal.
The Bavarian cavalry that had followed him rejoined General Merci at Kirchheim. Hector was with Paolo taken to that place, and upon his refusal to continue his parole, was confined in a prison there, Paolo being allowed at his request to remain with him. He had had an interview with General Merci, who had treated him with much courtesy; for there were Scotch and Irish officers serving in the Imperial army as well as in that of France, and they were held in high esteem for their courage and daring.
The battle of Marienthal was fought on the 2nd of May, and it was late in July before any fresh movements took place. Turenne would willingly have advanced with his army, but his movements were arrested by a peremptory order from Paris, sent on receipt of the news of the defeat, that he was not to take the offensive until joined by Enghien, who had with him a force of eight thousand men. He therefore marched to join the reinforcements, and the two armies met at Spires on the 2nd of July. As before, Enghien was in supreme command, with de Gramont as his lieutenant general. Long conferences took place between these generals: Turenne, General Geis, who commanded the Hessians, and Konigsmark, who commanded the Swedes. The Bavarians were known to be very strongly posted, and to have been reinforced by four thousand Imperialists under the command of General Geis.
There was much difference of opinion between them as to the best course to be pursued, but Enghien, who was always in favour of great battles, finally determined so to place the army that the enemy would be forced to come out and fight. He therefore marched to Venecher, captured Wimpfen, and threw a bridge across the river, whereupon General Merci fell back twenty leagues into Franconia. As soon as they had passed the river an occurrence took place that threatened to overthrow all the plans of the campaign. Some hasty words spoken by Enghien so angered the Generals Geis and Konigsmark that they determined to retire at once with the Swedes and Hessians. Turenne was requested by Enghien to endeavour to arrange matters, and by his kind and gentle manner succeeded in conciliating Geis, who consented to remain with the Hessians. Konigsmark, however, as hot tempered as Enghien himself, refused to do so, and with his whole force retired to Bremen, in Lower Saxony.
The French and Hessians marched towards the Tauber, captured Rothenburg and other towns, and thereby obtained a large quantity of provisions and stores; and hearing that the Bavarians were advancing to Nordlingen, marched in all haste to give them battle there.