On land, the Thirty Years War was fought primarily in Germany. It was one of the most destructive conflicts Europe has experienced, as great areas were laid waste by warfare and by foraging armies. It was a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, but inevitably the political interests of those embroiled within it played no small part. The French Bourbons, the Hapsburgs and the emergent Swedish empire clashed in a series of bloody conflicts in the heart of the continent which are detailed and analysed within this book. As the century drew to a close a new conflict impacted upon the region. The War of the Spanish Succession drew new protagonists onto the battlefield. Perhaps most notable among them was one of Britain's most famous soldiers—John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. His campaign and victory at Blenheim—an example of military genius—concludes this fascinating book.
At three o’clock in the morning the order was given to the allied army to advance. The army corps of Eugene, which consisted of nearly eighteen thousand men and formed the right, was ranged in four columns—two of infantry, and the like number of cavalry. The infantry led; then followed the guns; the cavalry brought up the rear. The English army, thirty-four thousand strong, formed the left, and was similarly disposed. A thick mist covered the plain, and necessitated the exercise of care and caution.<br>
The army pushed on till the first rivulet, the Reichenbach, was passed. The order to halt was then given, and the men were formed in fighting order. The infantry of both wings took ground to the right, so as to allow the cavalry to occupy a position in the centre. The artillery was redistributed—portions being posted between the several cavalry brigades, the remainder being directed to follow the infantry. Pressing on again, the columns came upon and took up the battalions which had occupied Tapfheim during the night. These battalions, strengthened by other troops, formed a ninth column, destined to cover the advance of the English and Dutch cavalry and to lead the attack on Blenheim.<br>
Silently the troops advanced. No sound from the enemy’s camp reached their ears. At length, at six o’clock, under cover of a cloud of light cavalry skirmishers, they reached the slopes of the hills between the so-called Augraben and the Nebelbach. Here, again, a halt was ordered. Then, Marlborough and Eugene rode forward to reconnoitre.<br>
The advanced posts of the enemy were alone visible. Again, then, was the order given to move forward. As the army marched on the enemy’s pickets were seen to fall back. At seven o’clock the army reached the elevations which stretch towards Wolpertstetten. By this time the mist had quite cleared away. The enemy’s camp was visible in all its extent. The entire course of the Nebelbach, covering his front, was clear to the view. His position seemed very strong.<br>
On the right, Tallard was covered by the Danube; in his immediate front was the village of Blenheim, evidently strongly garrisoned. In front of Blenheim, on the Nebelbach, there were visible many mills and detached houses, all apparently occupied. Nor did the centre seem to present a better chance for attack. There, the village of Oberglauheim offered the main point of resistance. It, too, was occupied. Whilst the ground in front of it was a marsh, the made paths across which were guarded, that behind it was commanded by the hillocks, strongly held by hostile batteries, in its immediate rear. Its left, too, was linked to the army corps of Marchin and the troops of Max-Emanuel, whose left flank, again, was covered by the heights which have been already spoken of. There seemed but one weak spot in the arrangement.<br>
The distance between the right about Blenheim and the centre about Oberglauheim was too great to allow of touch. If this were weakly held and it had that appearance the concentration against it of a strong attack would inevitably sever the troops in Blenheim from the rest of their army. Whilst Marlborough and Eugene are peering eagerly to detect that weak spot, I propose to inquire for a moment into the plans of the two French marshals and the Elector of Bavaria.<br>
Their previous conduct in attacking Höchstadt, instead of pressing on against Eugene, proved that they had no great idea of their enemy’s enterprise. To the very morning of the 13th, indeed, they believed that the allies would retreat before them. Even when the latter’s cavalry pressed on towards the Nebelbach they still believed it was only a demonstration designed to cover a retreat on Nördlingen. Not till the mist had completely cleared away, and the morning light displayed to their astonished gaze the allied army marching in battle array to the attack, did the deception vanish. Then, for a few moments, all was confusion. The trumpets and bugles sounded to arms.<br>
Three cannon-shots recalled to their ranks the forage parties started, or about to start, on their daily errand. There was the rush to arms, the hurry to take up the appointed position. It is on such occasions that the natural intelligence of the French soldier displays itself. It was not wanting on this occasion; and, before the allies could approach sufficiently near to fire a shot, their gallant opponents were as ready to receive them as though they had been expecting them since the early dawn!<br>
Tallard regarded Blenheim as the key of his position. To secure it absolutely, he had concentrated in and about it sixteen thousand of his best troops, under Lieutenant-General the Marquis of Clérembault. He did not take sufficient note of the fact that though he might thus secure Blenheim, he weakened the thin line which joined him to Oberglauheim, and thus gave a chance to an adventurous enemy to cut him off. He was more careful about his extreme right, for he had filled the small space between Blenheim and the Danube with a barricade of wagons, defended in their rear by four regiments of dismounted dragoons. The front of the village was protected by palisades and abatis.<br>
To the left of Blenheim, following the course of the Nebelbach, at some little distance from its bank, was ranged the French cavalry of the right wing, about five thousand five hundred strong, supported in the centre by two weak brigades of infantry numbering about five thousand four hundred men. Baron Zurlauben, who commanded this line, had received instructions to allow the enemy to cross the brook without opposition, so that their defeat when they were repulsed might be the more complete.<br>
The left of this long line of cavalry nearly touched Oberglauheim. This village was defended by Lieutenant-General the Marquis of Blainville with seven thousand men. This village, and the village of Lutzingen to the left of it, formed the pivots of the left wing, which, stretching to the slopes of the hills, strongly occupied all the ground to the left of it as far as Eichbergerhof. It remains only to be added that the three villages mentioned were connected by bridges with the country which the allies were traversing.<br>
The reconnaissance made by Marlborough and Eugene had not fully disclosed to those generals the weakness—of which we, who are behind the scenes, have been made aware—of the line of connection between Blenheim and Oberglauheim. Marlborough believed, with Tallard, that Blenheim was the key of the French position, and against it he resolved to hurl his attack. Whilst thus engaged, Eugene was to cross the Nebelbach and assail Lutzingen.<br>
At nine o’clock, the English column of attack, commanded by Lord Cutts—the first line consisting of five English and four Hessian battalions under General Rowe, the supports of eleven battalions and fifteen squadrons led by Lord Cutts himself?advanced against Blenheim. Under a very heavy fire directed from that village Cutts stormed the two detached mills in its front, and then dashed against the palisades immediately defending it. His attack, however, shattered before the steady defence of the gallant Frenchmen. Reserving their musketry fire till the assailants were well within distance, these men then delivered it with murderous effect.