- 14th October 1702
This scenario has been developed by Martin Soilleux-Cardwell.
France's strategy in the opening campaigns of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) focused on reinforcing their German ally, Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria. The first attempt to do this brought about the Battle of Friedlingen.
The Imperialists opened the 1702 campaign in April by sending an Austro-Imperial army to capture the French fortresses guarding her frontier along the Rhine. The Reichstruppen contingents were superior in quality to those that would later fight in the Seven Years War. They possessed tactical and organisational competence equal to the Austrians and some units were superior to the French.
The army was commanded by Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden and in June he closed up on the fortress of Landau. The local French field commander Catinat timidly did nothing and via his government called on Max Emanuel to create a diversion. The Elector, in his turn, and quite understandably, was reluctant to show his hand until the French made a move to support him. After much heel-dragging the Elector finally declared war and seized Ulm in September. This was too late for Landau which fell to the Imperialists shortly thereafter. Still Catinat would not move so the French government entrusted Lt Genl the Marquis de Villars to march to support the Elector. He was to cross the Rhine at Huningue (or Huningen) just north of Basel, advance along the High Rhine skirting the Black Forest to Lake Constance and thence to Bavaria. At the end of September Villars with 30 battalions and 40 squadrons reached Huningue while the Elector marched his army to Stuhlingen in support of this eastward move.
Baden left some troops at Fort St Louis to watch Catinat and came south, reaching Bischweiler north of Strasbourg. His aim was to contain any move Villars might make (he still thought the French were manoeuvring to relieve their Rhine fortresses). However the Elector's westward move worried him and he detached Feldzeugmeister Graf Karl Egon von Furstenburg with 17,000 men to the right bank. Intending to go east to meet the Elector, Furstenburg received word that Villars was moving and so went south to Friedlingen directly across the Rhine from Huningue. Baden halted his march and personally rode over to join Furstenburg here on 5th October.
The French could no longer cross unopposed but they had captured an island near the German bank called the Schusterinsel, hard up against the Swiss frontier. In fact the southern half of the Schusterinsel was technically Swiss soil. The frontier then ran generally east and northwards and since both sides respected Swiss neutrality, the French right and Imperial left were each protected by an impenetrable barrier. Villars threw up earthworks on the Schusterinsel. With cannon installed his infantry built a bridge of boats under their protection and began to cross.
The flood plain of the Rhine at this point formed a low lying marshy level, 1,000 yards wide on the German side. A 60 foot bank then gave access onto a cultivated plain some 1,200 to 1,500 yards wide which rose to the 600 foot high Tullingen hill crowned by a dense oak wood, the Kaferholze. Below Tullingen hill and hard on the border was the village of Weil. 2,500 yards north of Weil was Haltingen village, where Baden had his headquarters. The French right was restricted by a marshy stream the Wiesenfluss which at this point formed the Swiss frontier. Baden discomforted the French left by building a line of works from the Rhine up to the plain which ended in a strong revetted earthwork redoubt called the Sternschanze. This and Schloss Friedlingen, a fortified manor down on the Rhine level, were both garrisoned by militia. Villars would have to cross his pontoon bridge, negotiate the swampy ground and march across Furstenburg's front, his left wing fully exposed, to reach the defile that gave onto the route around the Black Forest.
Believing the French to be safely contained, Baden set off to rejoin the main army at Bischweiler. Villars was however too good a general to be lost for an alternative. He sent a detachment four hours downstream to Neuenburg. Covered by morning mist the French overpowered the weak garrison on 13th October, quickly fortified the village and built a bridge. Before Furstenburg could react, 4,000 French stood ready to cross there. The Imperialists were still acting under the misconception that the Elector was marching to the French to assist a relief of the Rhine fortresses and did not seem to have considered that the opposite manoeuvre might be the object. Consequently, fearing that the Bavarians might join the French at Neuenburg and trap him against the Swiss border, Baden decided to retreat and sent orders to the main army to do so. He once again retraced his steps to Friedlingen to organise the withdrawal. At midnight on the 13th the baggage set off and the rest of the army was stood to at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 14th ready to follow. Only the small militia detachments at the Schloss and Sternschanze were left watching the Schusterinsel, each with a pair of regimental guns.
The dry summer had caused the Rhine levels to fall and the French could now ford the muddy creek between the Schusterinsel and the German bank. Still Villars hesitated. It was not until Swiss officials arrived to remind him that his earthworks on the island were constructed partly in their country and his scouts brought news that the enemy was withdrawing that he finally issued the orders to advance.
The French infantry went first in two columns, with the artillery trayne on their left. The tiny garrison of the Sternschanze did not attempt to molest this move since they were unsupported. The cavalry crossed as a third column and wheeled north east into line on the firm plain. Having secured Weil, Villars decided to occupy the Tullingen and so threaten Binzen which was both his route to the Elector and Baden's escape route if he wished to avoid interference from Neuenburg and the Bavarian army. De Robecq's regiment was left in Weil as a reserve and communications unit between the French left wing of cavalry and their right of infantry. General des Bordes then took the remaining four infantry brigades up onto the Tullingen, deployed in two lines and plunged into the gloomy undergrowth of the Kaferholz. A further brigade was left with a few guns on the Schusterinsel. Since the garrison of Schloss Friedlingen kept their heads down throughout the action, these troops did nothing. However they formed a useful backstop should things go wrong. Villars sent his cavalry forward in two lines to draw up just outside cannon shot of the Sternschanze. Villar's caution and nervousness about his line of communications is evident by his further deployment of 16 companies of grenadiers who were posted in the abandoned Imperial works in front of the Kuhstellenwaldchen where the main ramp of firm ground descended from the plain onto the river level. This would be his retreat route, should he need one. The artillery was deployed in front of the cavalry. In all Villars had 12,000 to 14,000 men. Satisfied that his dispositions were sufficient to deal with any move the Imperialists might make, and would trap them if they made none, Villars retired to Weil, no doubt to enjoy a good breakfast of Claret and chilled meats.
Meanwhile, fully alarmed by the French flurry of activity, Baden decided it was too dangerous to retreat and cancelled that order. Instead he issued instructions that the Imperial army be disposed facing south to contain the French. A battle was now unavoidable. It took until 10 o'clock to get the lines faced about, with their left resting on Haltingen. Baden now saw that the French infantry were scaling the Tullingen, leaving just their cavalry to face his whole army on the plain. Clearly the French planned to compromise his left flank and so he directed his infantry to face left and march east of Haltingen. The gentler northern slope of the Tullingen permitted his infantry to complete the adjustments to their deployment and wheel to face south in time to meet the disorganised French first line issuing out of the tangled undergrowth of the northern end of the Kaferholz. A reserve of grenadiers, Austrian dragoons and most of the artillery was kept at Haltingen to be used to influence the fight on either flank, as needed. Of his 17,000, only 8,000 were available to fight Villars after detachments covering Neuenburg and escorting the baggage had been deducted.
Some time shortly after 12 noon the Imperial artillery opened fire on the French near Weil, some 1,500 yards away. Hearing this and the drums of the Imperial infantry on the other side of the Kaferholtz, des Bordes encouraged his men on through the dense wood. As the French began to emerge the Imperial infantry wing under Graf Karl Egon advanced and a sharp firefight ensued. The greater French numbers were hampered and offset by the disorder of the undergrowth but still they gradually pushed the Imperialists back. Karl Egon rallied his men and led a second attack only to be shot dead as the two lines closed. Graf Prosper took command and pushed the French deep into the wood. Watching from Haltingen church tower, Baden could see that his men would soon be overthrown by the superior French numbers and he ordered Graf Arco to dismount the Austrian Bayreuth dragoons and advance them up the western slope of Tullingen and attack the French left flank. The reserve Grenadiers commanded by Erffa were sent up in support shortly after.
Also at 12 noon the Imperial cavalry advanced in two lines. The French artillery fired, causing some loss and the French cavalry then came forward. Initially the Imperialists had the better of the fight, several French regiments breaking and retreating into the Kuhstellenwaldchen. The advancing Imperialists were disordered however by the fire of the concealed Grenadiers and hit on the left by elements of the French second cavalry line, fell back, retreating north between the Sternschanze and Haltingen. The French pursuit was in turn thrown into confusion by fire from the militia in the redoubt and especially canister from the Imperial guns near Haltingen. The French fell back to their original position. Part of the Imperial cavalry rallied too and the two lines again faced each other, having achieved nothing and both much thinned out.
On the Tullingen, numbers were finally telling against the Imperial infantry. Prosper pulled his men back to the open slopes north of the Kaferholz and the Bayreuth dragoons and Grenadiers retired to near Haltingen, hovering menacingly on the French flank. Seeing that the wood was in des Bordes' hands and the Imperial cavalry still in confusion, Villars thought the day was won. There must have been quite a lull in the action about this time as Villars found time to write a letter to Louis XIV reporting his `victory', which earned him his marshal's baton. One can imagine him returning to the inn, ordering more wine and his writing box, strutting before a roaring fire, dictating to a scribe with quill in hand. The accuracy of such a battle report must be doubtful since it could hardly have referred to accurate numbers of casualties, or enemy captured, or mention specific actions by worthy subordinates.
While Villars was at work claiming a victory, Baden climbed down from the church tower and went up onto the Tullingen. He galvanised his tired infantry into making one last attack, despite the fact that they had fired off all their shot and had only their bayonets. Arco's and Erffa's dragoons and grenadiers went forward again too as did the mounted dragoons on the infantry's extreme left which were until this point unengaged. Des Bordes' men, thinking the enemy was beaten had broken ranks and begun to plunder the field, some leaving the wood and coming down onto the plain. Erffa hit these in the flank and they scampered back to the Kaferholz, spreading panic and further disorder among the main body of French infantry. On hearing the noise, Villars rode up and tried to rally the infantry but was unsuccessful and was almost captured. He rode back onto the plain to the shelter of his cavalry. In the chaotic darkness of the wood, the French, now out of ammunition too, began to give ground. Des Bordes and his second in command Chavannes were both killed and two other colonels Chamarande and Chamilly wounded. In utter disorder the French routed down the hill, pouring through Weil. One can visualise the inn one last time, weaponless, hatless, panicking soldiers smashing the door down in search of hiding places, some distracted souls perhaps getting drunk on the last of their commanders claret.
The French cavalry prevented any pursuit. The time was just 2 o'clock. Baden drew up the exhausted remnant of his infantry on the slopes above Haltingen. Furst von Hohenzollern arrived a little later with many officers but only 700 troopers of the cavalry, the rest were at work plundering the surrounding villages. Baden could spare the horses to drag away only eight French guns and he retreated at 7 o'clock. Villars remained on the field. Next day he bombarded Schloss Friedlingen and the Sternschanze. The garrisons of these two places were granted free passage to retire with honours three days later.
The French lost possibly as many as 4,000 men (2,340 infantry) while the Imperialists suffered 1,500 casualties (1,039 infantry). While the battle was tactically inconclusive, strategically it had decisive effect. Viewing his heavy losses and aware that Baden's army with the baggage and Neuenburg detachments on hand was still intact, Villars decided to wait for the Bavarians to advance to him. As the Elector declined to do so, arguing his small army and the larger forces available to Louis made it the responsibility of the French to come to him, Villars recrossed the Rhine at the beginning of November. Baden held onto Landau. The 1702 campaign was a victory for the Austro-Imperialists.
Order of Battle
IMPERIAL ARMY, 8,500 men. Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden AC
Left (Infantry) Wing, 1st Line. Feldzugmeister Graf K. E. von Furstenberg-Mosskirch DC Exhaustion=5
Left (Infantry) Wing, 2nd Line. Feldmarschallleutnant Graf P. von Furstenberg-Stuhlingen DC Exhaustion=4
Centre (Reserve) Column. Feldmarschalleutnant Graf Arco DC and Feldmarschalleutnant Graf Erffa DC Exhaustion=4
Right (Cavalry) Wing, 1st Line. Feldmarschalleutnant Furst von Hohenzollern DC Exhaustion=3
Right (Cavalry) Wing, 2nd Line. Feldmarschalleutnant Baron von Stauffenberg DC Exhaustion=3
FRENCH ARMY, 13,000 men. Lt Genl Marquis de Villars AC
Left (Cavalry) Wing, 1st Line. Genl Comte de Magnac DC Exhaustion=4
Left (Cavalry) Wing, 2nd Line. Lt Genl Marquis de Merde-Tete DC Exhaustion=4
Centre (Reserve) Column. Colonel le Comte de Robecq DC Exhaustion=3
Right (Infantry) Wing, 1st Line. Lt Genl des Bordes DC Exhaustion=7
Right (Infantry) Wing, 2nd Line. Lt Genl a Plombe DC Exhaustion=7