1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blenheim

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BLENHEIM (Ger. Blindheim), a village of Bavaria, Germany, in the district of Swabia, on the left bank of the Danube, 30 m. N.E. from Ulm by rail, a few miles below Höchstädt. Pop. 700. It was the scene of the defeat of the French and Bavarians under Marshals Tallard and Marsin, on the 13th of August 1704, by the English and the Austrians under the duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene. In consideration of his military services and especially his decisive victory, a princely mansion was erected by parliament for the duke of Marlborough near Woodstock in Oxfordshire, England, and was named Blenheim Palace after this place.

The battle of Blenheim is also called Höchstädt, but the title accepted in England has the advantage that it distinguishes this battle from that won on the same ground a year previously, by the elector of Bavaria over the imperial general Styrum (9-20 September 1703), and from the fighting between the Austrians under Krag and the French under Moreau in June 1800 (see French Revolutionary Wars). The ground between the hills and the marshy valley of the Danube forms a defile through which the main road from Donauwörth led to Ulm; parallel streams divide the narrow plain into strips. On one of these streams, the Nebel, the French and Bavarians (somewhat superior in numbers) took up their position facing eastward, their right flank resting on the Danube, their left in the under-features of the hilly ground, and their front covered by the Nebel, on which were the villages of Oberglau, Unterglau and Blenheim. The imperialist army of Eugene and the allies under Marlborough (52,000 strong) encamped 5 m. to the eastward along another stream, their flanks similarly protected. On the 2nd–13th of August 1704 Eugene and Marlborough set their forces in motion towards the hostile camps; several streams had to be crossed on the march, and it was seven o’clock (five hours after moving off) when the British of Marlborough’s left wing, next the Danube, deployed opposite Blenheim, which Tallard thereupon garrisoned with a large force of his best infantry, aided by a battery of 24-pounder guns. The French and Bavarians were taken somewhat by surprise, and were arrayed in two separate armies, each with its cavalry on the wings and its foot in the centre. Thus the centre of the combined forces consisted of the cavalry of Marsin’s right and of Tallard’s left.

Here was the only good ground for mounted troops, and Marlborough followed Tallard’s example when forming up to attack, but it resulted from the dispositions of the French marshal that this weak point of junction of his two armies was exactly that at which decisive action was to be expected. Tallard therefore had a few horse on his right between the Danube and Blenheim, a mass of infantry in his centre at Blenheim itself, and a long line of cavalry supported by a few battalions forming his left wing in the plain, and connecting with the right of Marsin’s army. This army was similarly drawn up. The cavalry right wing was in the open, the French infantry near Oberglau, which was strongly held, the Bavarian infantry next on the left, and finally the Bavarian cavalry with a force of foot on the extreme left in the hills. The elector of Bavaria commanded his own troops in person. Marlborough and Eugene on their part were to attack respectively Tallard and Marsin. The right wing under Eugene had to make a difficult march over broken ground before it could form up for battle, and Marlborough waited, with his army in order of battle between Unterglau and Blenheim, until his colleague should be ready. At 12.30 the battle opened. Lord Cutts, with a detachment of Marlborough’s left wing, attacked Blenheim with the utmost fury. A third of the leading brigade (British) was killed and wounded in the vain attempt to break through the strong defences of the village, and some French squadrons charged upon it as it retired; a colour was captured in the mêlée, but a Hessian brigade in second line drove back the cavalry and retook the colour. After the repulse of these squadrons, in which some British cavalry from the centre took part, Cutts again moved forward. The second attack, though pressed even more fiercely, fared no better than the first, and the losses were heavier than before. The duke then ordered Cutts to observe the enemy in Blenheim, and concentrated all his attention on the centre. Here, between Unterglau and Blenheim, preparations were being made, under cover of artillery, for the crossing of the Nebel, and farther up-stream a corps was sent to attack Oberglau. This attack failed completely, and it was not until Marlborough himself, with fresh battalions, drove the French back into Oberglau that the allies were free to cross the Nebel.

In the meanwhile the first line of Marlborough’s infantry had crossed lower down, and the first line of cavalry, following them across, had been somewhat severely handled by Tallard’s cavalry. The squadrons under the Prussian general Bothmar, however, made a dashing charge, and achieved considerable temporary success. Eugene was now closely engaged with the elector of Bavaria, and both sides were losing heavily. But Eugene carried out his holding attack successfully. Marsin dared not reinforce Tallard to any extent, and the duke was preparing for the grand attack. His whole force, except the detachment of Cutts, was now across the Nebel, and he had formed it in several lines with the cavalry in front. Marlborough himself led the cavalry; the French squadrons received the attack at the halt, and were soon broken. Marsin’s right swung back towards its own army. Those squadrons of Tallard’s left which retained their order fell back towards the Danube, and a great gap was opened in the centre of the defence, through which the victorious squadrons poured. Wheeling to their left the pursuers drove hundreds of fugitives into the Danube, and Eugene was now pressing the army of Marsin towards Marlborough, who re-formed and faced northward to cut off its retreat. Tallard was already a prisoner, but in the dusk and confusion Marsin slipped through between the duke and Eugene. General Churchill, Marlborough’s brother, had meanwhile surrounded the French garrison of Blenheim; and after one or two attempts to break out, twenty-four battalions of infantry and four regiments of dragoons, many of them the finest of the French army, surrendered.

The losses of the allies are stated at 4500 killed and 7500 wounded (British 670 killed and 1500 wounded). Of the French and Bavarians 11,000 men, 100 guns and 200 colours and standards were taken; besides the killed and wounded, the numbers of which were large but uncertain—many were drowned in the Danube. Marsin’s army, though it lost heavily, was drawn off in good order; Tallard’s was almost annihilated.