Page:EB1911 - Volume 11.djvu/191
IN THE NETHERLANDS] 179
FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS
Charles practically remained inactive despite repeated orders to proceed to Lannoy, Kinsky waiting for the archduke, and the latter using up his time and forces in elaborating a protective cordon all around his left and rear. Both alleged that “the troops were tired,” but there was a stronger motive. It was felt that Belgium was about to be handed over to France as the price of peace, and the generals did not see the force of wasting soldiers on a lost cause. There remained the two centre columns, Otto’s and the duke of York’s. The orders of the emperor to the duke were that he should advance to establish communication with Clerfayt at Lincelles. Having thus cut off the French Courtrai group, he was to initiate a general advance to crush it, in which all the allied columns would take part, Clerfayt, York and Otto in front, von dem Bussche on the right flank and the archduke and Kinsky in support. These airy schemes were destroyed at dawn on the 18th. Macdonald’s brigade carried Tourcoing at the first rush, though Otto’s guns and the volleys of the infantry checked its further progress. Malbrancq’s brigade swarmed around the duke of York’s entrenchments at Mouvaux, while Bonnaud’s mass from the side of Lille passed the Marque and lapped round the flanks of the British posts at Roubaix and Lannoy. The duke had used up his reserves in assisting Otto, and by 8 A.M. the positions of Roubaix, Lannoy and Mouvaux were isolated from each other. But the Allies fought magnificently, and by now the Republicans were in confusion, excited to the highest pitch and therefore extremely sensitive to waves of enthusiasm or panic; and at this moment Clerfayt was nearing success, and Vandamme fighting almost back to back with Malbrancq. Otto was able to retire gradually, though with heavy losses, to Leers, before Macdonald’s left column was able to storm Watrelos, or Daendels’ brigade, still farther towards the Scheldt, could reach his rear. The resistance of the Austrians gave breathing space to the English, who held on to their positions till about 11.30, attacked again and again by Bonnaud, and then, not without confusion, retired to join Otto at Leers.
With the retreat of the two sorely tried columns and the suspension of Clerfayt’s attack between Lincelles and Roncq, the battle of Tourcoing ended. It was a victory of which the young French generals had reason to be proud. The main attack was vigorously conducted, and the two-to-one numerical superiority which the French possessed at the decisive point is the best testimony at once to Souham’s generalship and to Vandamme’s bravery. As for the Allies, those of them who took part in the battle at all, generals and soldiers, covered themselves with glory, but the inaction of two-thirds of Coburg’s army was the bankruptcy declaration of the old strategical system. The Allies lost, on this day, about 4000 killed and wounded and 1500 prisoners besides 60 guns. The French loss, which was probably heavier, is not known. The duke of York defeated, Souham at once turned his attention to Clerfayt, against whom he directed all the forces he could gather after a day’s “horde-tactics.” The Austrian commander, however, withdrew over the river unharmed. On the 19th he was at Rousselaer and Ingelminster, 9 or 10 m. north of Courtrai, while Coburg’s forces assembled and encamped in a strong position some 3 m. west and north-west of Tournai, the Hanoverians remaining out in advance of the right on the Espierre.
Souham’s victory, thanks to his geographical position, had merely given him air. The Allies, except for the loss of some 5500 men, were in no way worse off. The plan had failed, but the army as a whole had not been defeated, while the troops of the duke of York and Otto were far too well disciplined not to take their defeat as “all in the day’s work.” Souham was still on the Lys and midway between the two allied masses, able to strike each in turn or liable to be crushed between them in proportion as the opposing generals calculated time, space and endurance accurately. Souham, therefore, as early as the 19th, had decided that until Clerfayt had been pushed back to his old positions near Thielt he could not deal with the main body of the Allies on the side of Tournai, and he had left Bonnaud to hold the latter while he concentrated most of his forces towards Courtrai. This move had the desired effect, for Clerfayt retired without a contest, and on the 21st of May Souham issued his orders for an advance on Coburg’s army, which, as he knew, had meantime been reinforced. Vandamme alone was left to face Clerfayt, and this time with outposts far out, at Ingelminster and Roosebeke, so as to ensure his chief, not a few hours’, but two or three days’ freedom from interference.
Battle of Tournai.
Pichegru now returned and took up the supreme command, Souham remaining in charge of his own and Moreau’s divisions. On the extreme right, from Pont-à-Tressin, only demonstrations were to be made; the centre, between Baisieux and Estaimbourg, was to be the scene of the holding attack of Bonnaud’s command, while Souham, in considerably greater density, delivered the decisive attack on the allied right by St Leger and Warcoing. At Helchin a brigade was to guard the outer flank of the assailants against a movement by the Hanoverians and to keep open communication with Courtrai in case of attack from the direction of Oudenarde. The details of the allied position were insufficiently known owing to the multiplicity of their advanced posts and the intricate and densely cultivated nature of the ground. The battle of Tournai opened in the early morning of the 22nd and was long and desperately contested. The demonstration on the French extreme right was soon recognized by the defenders to be negligible, and the allied left wing thereupon closed on the centre. There Bonnaud attacked with vigour, forcing back the various advanced posts, especially on the left, where he dislodged the Allies from Nechin. The defenders of Templeuve then fell back, and the attacking swarms—a dissolved line of battle—fringed the brook beyond Templeuve, on the other side of which was the Allies’ main position, and even for a moment seized Blandain. Meanwhile the French at Nechin, in concert with the main attack, pressed on towards Ramegnies.
Macdonald’s and other brigades had forced the Espierre rivulet and driven von dem Bussche’s Hanoverians partly over the Scheldt (they had a pontoon bridge), partly southward. The main front of the Allies was defined by the brook that flows between Templeuve and Blandain, then between Ramegnies and Pont-à-Chin and empties into the Scheldt near the last-named hamlet. On this front till close on nightfall a fierce battle raged. Pichegru’s main attack was still by his left, and Pont-à-Chin was taken and retaken by French, Austrians, British and Hanoverians in turn. Between Blandain and Pont-à-Chin Bonnaud’s troops more than once entered the line of defence. But the attack was definitively broken off at nightfall and the Republicans withdrew slowly towards Lannoy and Leers. They had for the first time in a fiercely contested “soldier’s battle” measured their strength, regiment for regiment, against the Allies, and failed, but by so narrow a margin that henceforward the Army of the North realized its own strength and solidity. The Army of the Revolution, already superior in numbers and imbued with the decision-compelling spirit, had at last achieved self-confidence.
But the actual decision was destined by a curious process of evolution to be given by Jourdan’s far-distant Army of the Moselle, to which we now turn.
The Army of the Moselle had been ordered to assemble a striking force on its left wing, without prejudicing the rest of its cordon in Lorraine, and with this striking force to operate towards Liége and Namur. Its first movement on Arlon, in April, was repulsed by a small Austrian corps under Beaulieu that guarded this region. But in the beginning of May the advance was resumed though the troops were ill-equipped and ill-fed, and requisitions had reduced the civil population to semi-starvation and sullen hostility. We quote Jourdan’s instructions to his advanced guard, not merely as evidence of the trivial purpose of the march as originally planned, but still more as an illustration of the driving power that made the troops march at all, and of the new method of marching and subsisting them.
Its commander was “to keep in mind the purpose of cutting the communications between Luxemburg and Namur, and was therefore to throw out strong bodies against the enemy daily and at different points, to parry the enemy’s movements by rapid