Our latest refight was Fontenoy, one of the classic 18th century battles. Will De Saxe triumph again, or will the red-coated infantry carry the day? The set up will be familiar to many readers, but suffice it to say that we followed history and asked four brigades of British infantry to advance against a similar force of French which was flanked by a redoubt and the fortified vllage of Fontenoy. To the left of the British infantry two brigades of Hanoverian infantry were to capture Fontenoy village and pin the French right. To the left of the main British attack a small force of light infantry were to advance through a wood and attack the main French redoubt.
The French centre behind Fontenoy was held by their cavalry reserve, well placed to support either flank. Two redoubts strengthened the French right as it extended towards the river.On the far bank was an artillery battery placed to enfilade any attack on the French line.
Taking the part of Cumberland, I began the attack by moving the light troops towards the wood. Although opposed by some French light troops they did make some progress.
The main attack began as the first two lines of British infanry stepped forward. They were supported on their left by two artillery batteries and two light batteries accompanied their advance. The heavy batteries did inflict some casualties, but nothing compared to the carnage caused by the battery sited in the French redoubt. First to suffer were Keith's Highlanders who in no time at all lost one third of their strength. Ignoring the commands of their remaining officers they broke and ran for the rear, only to be met by the stony-faced Cumberland who harangued them and shamed them into forming up to advance again. Next to suffer was a battalion of gtenadiers who were trying to manoeuvre around an obstacle placed in front of the redoubt. Caught in canister range, over half their number were lost, but the battered remnant struggled forward.
After initial success, the allied jaeger and Frei Korps found their progress through the woods blocked by a unit of grenadiers. Undeterred by musketry the grenadiers advanced and quickly drove the light troops back out into the open.
On the allied left the Hanoverians had delayed their advance whilst their artillery tried to 'soften up' the village of Fontenoy and its defenders; two batalions of the Grenadiers de France. Orders from Cumberland that the attack on the village should be pressed 'with urgency' was met with some dismay, but were obeyed. As they advanced the first brigade of Hanoverian infantry suffered casualties from the French artillery and quickly the second brigade was ordered to move to support the attack.
The first line of British infantry had now reached musketry range with the main French line. They were outside the arc of fire of the redoubt and so safe from artillery fire. Volleys were exchanged and everything now depended on the willingness of the respective lines to stand. However, one unit decided that hand to hand combat was preferable. Campbell's Highland regiment fired one volley and then charged their opponents, one of the Irish "Wild Geese" battalions. After a short but savage melee the Irish broke and ran. Campbell's advanced again and broke a second battalion. However, De Saxe had moved forward his supports and the Highlanders now faced two further lines of infantry.
That is how matters stood at the end of the evening. Hoopefully matters will be resolved this week and recounted in the next blog.
Daniel Defoe Memoirs of a cavalier (1720)
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