It is a trait of any nation’s regard for it’s great men that its focus falls upon few and each eclipses those that precede it. Exceptionally, for the British, the fame of Duke of Wellington, who brought to book the great tyrant of his age, has thus far endured where fine commanders who came after him are all but forgotten in the popular mind. The names of Clive, Roberts and Kitchener are now seldom celebrated despite their deserved fame in their lifetimes. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, perhaps suffers from belonging to an age nearly a century before Arthur Wellesley began his career. Yet in Marlborough the nation has certainly its first great military man and almost certainly one who stands equal, if not higher, than any who came after him. A political genius as well as a military one, Marlborough often managed to achieve victory when his own allies conspired to prevent him. Yet more remarkable was that Marlborough was able to cooperate with another great commander of his time, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Marlborough’s Wars were fought against the ancient enemy—the military might and the pervasive influence of the France of the Bourbons.
Volume two of Taylor’s fine history carries the reader once again to war with Marlborough and includes more of the battles which comprise the earliest and most highly regarded carried out by the regiments of the British Army. Here the reader will discover Oudenarde, Tournai and Malplaquet among others. An excellent history in every way and essential for any student of the genius of military command.
A little before 6, Marlborough gave the word; and the infantry, carrying fascines which the cavalry had cut for them in the woods, stepped briskly forward, the squadrons of Lumley and of Hompesch keeping pace with their advance. Lord Mordaunt, Peterborough’s son, and Colonel Munden, of the English Foot Guards, led the way at the head of a chosen band of Grenadiers. At once, every gun on the Schellenberg was trained upon their front, while the artillery of Donauwörth directed a converging fire against their right flank. The English, who were nearest to the wood, were out of range of the town; but they suffered severely from the battery of eight pieces in the angle of the works.<br>
But nowhere was there any check, or any confusion. The whole line went forward without wavering and without firing. Soon the steepness of the ascent concealed them from D’Arco’s men; but the fire of the Bavarian artillery never slackened. At 200 paces from the works they emerged, and still strode on, steady and silent, through the rushing balls. And now La Colonic and his men moved down into the angle, and the gunners loaded with case. Then the English, says Maffei, cried “God save the Queen,”24 and with a thundering shout, charged forward at the double.<br>
Few, if any, of the defenders of the Schellenberg had ever heard the islanders cheer. The astute La Colonie did not like the sound (“truly terrifying”25 he calls it); and he dreaded its effect upon the troops. So, to drown it, he ordered his drums to beat. Straight for the trenches went the English and the Dutch, Mordaunt and his Grenadiers dashing on before. The cool and disciplined veterans of D’Arco waited till the range had dropped to eighty paces. Then the word was given; and over the western face of the Schellenberg broke a crashing tempest of musketry and grape. The effect was terrible. Officers and privates went down in heaps.<br>
The gallant Goor was one of the first to fall. The whole line reeled and staggered. But as the smoke lifted, Mordaunt and Munden were seen conspicuous in the forefront, unwounded, and cheering on the men. Closing the gaps, the survivors pressed forward, while the Bavarians plied them with every gun and musket in the trenches, as fast as they could load and fire. The allies, blinded by the smoke, mistook a hollow way for the ditch, and flung down their fascines. This error resulted in confusion. Those who actually reached the works and exchanged thrusts with the defenders across the parapet, were too few and scattered to force a passage. The charge had spent itself. Then at several points, whole companies of Bavarians leapt out, and dashed furiously forward with the bayonet, sweeping the mountain clear for eighty paces. But the English Guards, unshaken by a cruel loss of officers, stood firm as the Bœotian hoplites on the slope at Syracuse. At length the Bavarians drew off, and panting but triumphant, returned into their works.<br>
The allies dropped back into the dip of the hillside, where they were no longer visible to the enemy’s marksmen. But the tops of their standards showed that they were stationary and close at hand. They were in fact re-forming. Fresh men, and above all, fresh officers, were taking the places of the fallen. Meantime the Bavarian artillery poured a perpetual rain of round-shot on their unseen ranks. And D’Arco, still further weakening his left and centre, concentrated every available man on the angle by the wood. Wagon-loads of hand-grenades were distributed in the trenches; and every preparation was made to maintain the most obstinate resistance until nightfall, when the situation of the allies would begin to be precarious.<br>
The breathing-space was short. Soon the Bavarians beheld once more the serried26 ranks of blue and scarlet, proudly and steadily advancing. General officers, who had dismounted from their horses, were leading, sword in hand. But the veterans in the trenches remained undismayed. Once more, at the proper distance, they delivered their murderous volleys with the utmost coolness; and once more the oncoming line was torn and riddled by the hurricane of lead and iron. But still it surged onward to the trenches, and sword and bayonet clashed across the breastwork in a savage grapple. The defence was too strong to be broken. Back went the baffled remnants of the second charge; and after them came the exultant Bavarians with lowered steel. This time the repulse was more serious. The ground was already heaped with the slain.<br>
The Austrian general, Styrum, had been mortally wounded. Here and there appeared indubitable signs of panic. The retreat rolled down into the dip, and on towards the lower slopes, when Lumley riding calmly forward with his eighteen English squadrons, checked the movement at his horses’ heads. At once the broken infantry began to rally. Maffei, who rightly dreaded the risks attaching to these counter-strokes, recalled his men to the trenches, and forbade them to sally out again. Then the Bavarian cannon reopened once more. Some of Lumley’s saddles were emptied, and some of his chargers sank shuddering to earth. But his troopers, contemplating these things with a stolid and impassive air, infected the dispirited foot with something of their own unshaken confidence.