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The field of Blenheim has changed in its physical aspect less than any other of the great battlefields of Europe during the two hundred years and more that have passed since Marlborough’s victory.

He who visits to-day this quiet Bavarian corn-land, with its pious and happy peasantry, its modest wealth, and its contempt for haste and greed, sees, if he come in the same late summer of the year, just what the mounted parties saw who rode out upon that Wednesday before the eight columns of Marlborough and Eugene under the early morning.

Thus, approaching the field of Blenheim from the east, the view consists in a low and strangely regular line of closely-wooded hills to the right and northwards; southwards, and to the left, a mass of undergrowth, the low trees of the marshes, occasional gaps of rank herbage which make bright green patches interspersing the woodland, mark the wide and marshy course of the Danube, with its belt of alluvial soil and swamp on either side.

Between this stretch of damp river-ground to the south and the regular low wooded hills to the north lies a plain just lifted above the level of the river by such few feet as are sufficient to drain it and no more. Crossing this plain transversely, on their way to the Danube, ooze and trickle rather than run certain insignificant streams; each rises in the wooded hills to the north, falls southward, and in the length of a very few miles reaches the main river. These streams are found, as one goes up the great valley, at every mile or so. With one, the Nebel, we shall be particularly concerned, for during the action at Blenheim it formed the only slight obstacle separating the two armies. This plain, which in August is all stubble, is some three miles across, such a space separates the hills from the river, and that distance, or a trifle more, is the full length of the little muddy brooks which thus occasionally intersect it.

To the eye which takes in that landscape at a first glance, bare of crops and under a late summer sun, the plain seems quite even and undisturbed by any hollows or rolls of land. It is, in fact, like most such apparently simple terrains, slightly diversified: its diversity is enough to affect in some degree the disposition of soldiers, to afford in certain places occasional cover, and to permit of opportunities for defence.

But these variations from the flat are exceedingly slight. The hollow which the Nebel has made, for instance, is not noticed on foot or even in mechanical traction as one follows the main road which runs the whole length of the plain, though if one goes across country on foot, one notices the slight bank of a few feet separating the cultivated land from a narrow belt of rough grass, which is boggy in wet weather, and which, in varying breadth, accompanies the course of the stream.

The plain also, as might be expected, rises slightly from its low shelf just above the Danube swamps and meadows, to the base of the hills. Its ascent in its whole three miles of breadth is but sixty feet.

Over this level sweep of tilled land rise at intervals the spires of rare villages, round which scattered houses and gardens of the Bavarian sort broad-eaved, flat-roofed, gay with flowers are gathered. But for these few human groups there is no break in the general aspect of the quite open fields.

As might be expected, an interrupted chain of such villages marks the line of the great river from Donauwoerth to Ulm, each standing just on the bank and edge of what for long was the flood-ground of the Danube, and is still in part unreclaimed marsh and water meadow. Each is distant a mile or two from its next fellow. Thus, nearest Donauwoerth we have Muenster, upon which the left of the allied army reposed when it lay in camp before the battle. Next in order come Tapfheim and Schwenningen, through which that army marched to the field. Further up-stream another group stretches beyond the Nebel, the hamlet of Sonderheim, the little town of Hochstadt, the village of Steinheim, etc.; and, in the middle of this line, at the point where the Nebel falls into the old bed of the Danube, is built that large village of Blindheim, which, under its English form of BLENHEIM, has given the action the name it bears in this country.

I say “the old bed of the Danube,” for one feature, and one alone, in that countryside has changed in the two hundred years, though the change is not one which the eye can note as it surveys the plain, nor one which greatly affects the story of the action. This change is due to the straightening of the bed of the great river.

At the time when Blenheim was fought, the Danube wound in great loops, with numerous islands and backwaters complicating its course, and swung back and forth among the level swamps of its valley. It runs to-day in an artificial channel, which takes the average, as it were, of these variations, drains the flood-ground, and leaves the old bed in the form of stagnant, abandoned lengths of water or reeds, in which the traveller can trace the former vagaries of the river. Thus Blindheim, which stood just above the broad and hurrying water at the summit of one such loop, is now 800 yards away from the artificial trench which modern engineering has dug for the river. But the new channel has no effect upon the landscape to the eye. The floor on which the Danube runs is still a mass of undergrowth and weeds and grass, which marks off the cultivated land on the south, as it has been limited since men first ploughed.

I have said that the little slow and muddy streamlet called the Nebel must particularly meet with our attention, because it formed at the beginning of the action of Blenheim a central line dividing the two hosts, and round its course may be grouped the features of the terrain upon which the battle was contested.

Blindheim, or, as we always call it, Blenheim, lay, as we have seen, just above the bank of the Danube at the mouth of this stream. Following up the water (which is so insignificant that in most places a man can cross it unaided in summer), at the distance of about one mile, is the village of Unterglauheim, lying above the left bank, as Blenheim does above the right. Further on, another three-quarters of a mile up the right bank, is the village of Oberglauheim; and where the water dribbles in various small streams from the hills, and at their base, where the various tiny rivulets join to form the Nebel, at the edge of the woods, is Schwennenbach.

The tiny hamlet of Weilheim may be regarded as an appendix of this last or of Oberglauheim indifferently. It lies opposite the latter village, but on the further side of the stream, and about half a mile away.

Right behind Oberglauheim, at the base of the hills to the westward, and well away from the Nebel, is the larger village of Lutzingen.

These names, and that of the Nebel, are sufficient for us to retain as we follow the course of the battle, remembering as we do so that one good road, the road by which the allies marched in the morning to the field from Muenster, and the road by which the Franco-Bavarian forces retreated after the defeat the main road from Donauwoerth to Ulm traversed, and still traverses, the terrain in its whole length.

It was at two in the morning of Wednesday the 13th of August that the allies broke camp and began their march westward towards the field of Blenheim.

That they intended to reach that field was not at first apparent. They might equally well have designed a retirement upon Noerdlingen, and it was this that the commanders of the Franco-Bavarian army believed them to intend. The dense mist which covered the marshes of the river and the plain above clung to the soil long after sunrise. It was not until seven o’clock that the advancing columns of the enemy were observed from the French camp, distant about a mile away, and beginning to deploy in order to set themselves in line of battle. But, though they were then first seen, their arrival had been appreciated two hours before, and the French line was already drawn up opposite them on the further bank of the Nebel as they deployed.

The French order of battle is no longer to be found in the archives, though we can reconstruct it fairly enough, and in parts quite accurately, from the separate accounts of the action given by Tallard, by Marcin himself, by Eugene, and from English sources. The line of battle of the allies we possess in detail; and the reader can approach with a fair accuracy the dispositions of the two armies at the moment when the action began, though it must be understood that the full deployment of Marlborough and Eugene was not accomplished until after midday on account of the difficulty the latter commander found in posting his extreme right at the foot of the hills and in the woods of Schwennenbach; while it must be further noted that the first shots of the battle sounded long before its main action began, that is, long before noon for the French guns upon the front of their line opened at long range as early as nine o’clock, and continued a lively cannonade until, at half-past twelve, Eugene being at last ready, the first serious blows were delivered by the infantry.

All this we shall see in what followed. Meanwhile we must take a view of the two armies as they stood ranged for battle before linesman or cavalryman had moved.

The French stood upon the defensive upon the western bank of the Nebel. Their camp lay behind their line of battle, a stretch of tents nearly two miles long.

It is particularly to be noted that though, for the purpose of fighting this battle, they formed but one army, the two separate commands, that of the Elector (with Marcin) and that of Tallard, were separately treated and separately organised. The point is of importance if we are to understand the causes of their defeat, for it made reinforcement difficult, and put two loosely joined wings where a strong centre should have stood.

Tallard’s command, thirty-six battalions and (nominally) forty-four squadrons, extended from Blindheim to the neighbourhood of Oberglauheim. Its real strength may be taken at about 16,000 to 18,000 infantry, and at the most 5200 cavalry; but of these last a great number could not be used as mounted men.

The village of Oberglauheim itself, and all that stretched to the left of it up the Nebel as far as the base of the hills, was occupied by the army of Marcin and the Elector of Bavaria. This force was forty-two battalions and eighty-three squadrons strong. The cavalry in this second army, the left of the whole force, had been less severely tried by disease, rapid marching, and ill provisionment than that of Tallard. We may reckon it, therefore, at its full or nearly its full strength, and say that Marcin and the Elector commanded over 20,000 men and close upon 10,000 horse. In a word, the total of the Franco-Bavarian forces, though we have no documents by which to estimate their exact numbers, may be regarded, from the indications we have of the losses of the cavalry, etc., as certainly more than fifty and certainly less than fifty-three thousand men, infantry and cavalry combined. To these we must add ninety guns, disposed along the whole front after the fashion of the time, and these under the general and separate command of Frezeliere.

This disposition of the guns in a chain along the whole front of the line the reader is begged especially to note.

The particular dispositions of the Franco-Bavarian forces must now be seized, and to appreciate these let us first consider the importance of the village of Blenheim.

Blenheim, a large scattered village, with the characteristic Bavarian gardens round each house, lay so close to the course of the Danube as it then ran that there was no possibility of an enemy’s force passing between it and the river. It formed a position easy to be defended, lying as it did on a slight crest above the brook Nebel, where that brook joined the main river.

Blenheim, therefore, if it were soundly held, blocked any attempt to turn the French line upon that side; but if it were carried by the enemy, that enemy would then be able to enfilade the whole French line, to take it in flank and to roll it up. Tallard, therefore, with perfect judgment, posted in the village a very strong force of his infantry. This force consisted at first of nine battalions, shortly after, by reinforcement, of sixteen battalions of foot, and further of four regiments of dragoons dismounted.

Not content with throwing into Blenheim between 8000 and 10,000 men, Tallard placed behind the village and in its neighbourhood a further reserve of at least eleven battalions. Of his thirty-six battalions, therefore, only nine remained to support his cavalry over the whole of the open field between Blenheim and Oberglauheim, a distance of no less than 3500 yards. Consequently, this great gap had to be held in the main by his insufficient and depleted cavalry. Eight squadrons of these (of the red-coated sort called the Gendarmerie) formed the first section of this line, stretching from Blenheim to the neighbourhood of the main road and a little beyond it. Further along, towards Oberglauheim, another ten squadrons of cavalry were lined up to fill the rest of the gap. In a second line were ten more squadrons of cavalry under Silly; and the nine battalions of infantry remaining, when those in and near Blenheim had been subtracted, lay also in the second line, in support of the cavalry of the first line.

Such was Tallard’s disposition, of which it was complained both at the time and afterwards that in putting nearly the whole of his infantry upon his right in the village of Blenheim and behind it he far too greatly weakened the great open gap between Blenheim and Oberglauheim. His chief misfortune was not, however, lack of judgment in this, but the character of the man who commanded the troops in Blenheim. This general officer, whose name was Clerambault, was of the sort to be relied upon when orders are strict and plain in their accomplishment: useless in an emergency; but it is only an emergency that proves the uselessness of this kind of man. The army of the Elector and Marcin, which continued the line, similarly disposed their considerable force of cavalry in front, along the banks of the stream; their infantry lay, in the main, in support of this line of horse and behind it; they had also filled Oberglauheim with a mass of infantry; but the disposition of this left half of the French line is of less interest to the general reader, for it held its own, and contributed to the defeat only in this, that it did not at the critical moment send reinforcements to Tallard upon the right.

In general, then, we must see the long French line set out in two main bodies. That on the right, under Tallard, had far the greater part of its infantry within or in support of Blenheim, while the cavalry, for the most part, stretched out over the open centre of the field, with Silly’s ten squadrons and what was left of the infantry in reserve. That on the left, under Marcin and the Elector, had its far more numerous cavalry similarly disposed upon its front along the brook, most of its infantry behind, and a great number of these holding the village of Oberglauheim, with cavalry in front of them also. Along the whole line the ninety guns were disposed in a chain, as I have described.

Such being the disposition of the French troops, let us now turn to that of the Imperialists and their English and other allies under Eugene and Marlborough. These appeared within a mile of the French position by seven in the morning, and all that part of their left which lay between the river and the highroad was drawn up within long range of the French artillery somewhat before nine o’clock. But, as a glance at the map will show, their right had to march much further in order to come into line along the course of the Nebel, the course of which leans away from the line of Marlborough’s advance. The difficulty of swampy land under the hills and of woods made the final disposition of the extreme left particularly tardy and tedious, nor was it fully drawn up until just after midday. During all the interval of three hours a brisk cannonade at long range had been proceeding from the guns in front of the French line and, as nearly always the case with artillery before the modern quick-firer, was doing less damage than the gunners imagined.

When the allied line was finally formed its disposition was as follows:

On the extreme left six columns of infantry, half of which consisted of British regiments.

These stood immediately opposite the village of Blenheim, and were designed for that attack upon it which Marlborough, in his first intention, desired to make the decisive feature of the action.

Next, towards the main road, came four lines, two of infantry before and behind, and in the midst two parallel lines of cavalry, the foremost of which was British, and in which could be distinguished the mounting and horsemanship of the Scots Greys.

Next again, to the north, and astraddle of the great road, lay the main force; this it will be remarked was drawn up precisely in front of that part in the long French line which was the weakest, and which indeed consisted of little more than the ten squadrons of horse which filled the gap between the Gendarmerie and Oberglauheim. This main force was also drawn up in four great lines; the first of infantry, the two next of cavalry, the rear of infantry: it contained no British troops, and, with the others already mentioned, formed Marlborough’s command. All the rest, along the north and the east, along the left bank of the Nebel, from Willheim up into the woods, and the gorge at the source of the brook, was Eugene’s command not a third of the whole.

As to the total strength of the allied forces which we must attempt to estimate as we estimated that of the Franco-Bavarians, we know it accurately enough it was some 52,000 men. The opposing hosts were therefore little different in numbers. But it is of great importance to note the disproportion of cavalry. In that of the Imperialists under Marlborough and Eugene, not only was the cavalry better mounted and free from the fatigue and disease that had ravaged Tallard’s horses, but it was nearly double in number that of its opponents. On the other hand, the artillery of the allies was far inferior. Only sixty-six guns at the most were opposed to the French ninety.

Blenheim, in the issue, turned out to be a cavalry battle a battle won by cavalry, and its effect clinched by cavalry. The poor rôle played by the guns and the inability of the French to make use of their numerical superiority in this arm was a characteristic of the time, which had not yet learnt to use the cannon as a mobile weapon.

A general action is best understood if the reader is first told the main event, and later observes how the details of its progress fit in with that chief character of it.

The main event of the battle of Blenheim was simply this:

Marlborough first thought to carry Blenheim: he failed. Having failed before the village of Blenheim, he determined to break through Tallard’s left, which formed the centre of the French line, and was successful in doing so. By thus breaking through the centre of the French line, he isolated all Tallard’s army upon the right, except such small portion of it as broke and fled from the field. The remainder crowded into the village of Blenheim, was contained, surrounded, and compelled to surrender. The undefeated left half of the French line was therefore compelled to retire, and did so through Lutzingen upon the Danube, crossing which river in hurried retreat, it fell back upon Ulm. In one conspectus, the position at the beginning of the action was this:

and at the end of it this:

Now let us follow the details of the fight which brought about such a result.

First, at half-past twelve, when all was ready, came Marlborough’s attack upon Blenheim.

We have seen some pages back how well advised was Tallard to treat Blenheim as the key of his position, and how thoroughly that large village, once properly furnished with troops and fortified with palisades, would guarantee his right. On that very account, Marlborough was determined to storm it; for if it fell, there would instantly follow upon its fall a complete victory. The whole French line would be turned.

It may be argued that Marlborough here attempted the impossible, but it must be remembered, in the first place, that he was by temperament a man of the offensive and of great risks. His first outstanding action, that of the Schellenberg, proved this, and proved it in his favour. Five years later, in one of his last actions, that of Malplaquet, this characteristic of his was to appear in his disfavour. At any rate, risk was in the temperament of the man, and it is a temperament which in warfare accounts for the greatest things.

First and last, some 10,000 men were employed against the one point of Blenheim; and the assault upon the village, though a failure, forms one of the noblest chapters in the history of British arms.

It was one o’clock of the afternoon when the serious part of the action opened by the two first lines of Marlborough’s extreme left advancing under Lord Cutts to pass the Nebel, to cross the pasture beyond, and to force the palisades of the village. The movement across the stream was undertaken under a fire of grape from four guns posted upon a slight rise outside the village. Cutts’ body crossed the brook in face of this opposition, re-formed under the bank beyond, left their Hessian contingent in shelter there as a reserve, while the British, who were the remainder of the body, advanced against the palisades.

The distance is one of about 150 yards. The Guards and the four regiments with them came up through the long grass of the aftermath, Row at their head. Two-thirds of that short distance was passed in silence. The guns upon the slope beyond could not fire at a mark so close to their own troops behind the palisades. The English had orders not to waste a shot until they had carried the line of those palisades with the bayonet. The French behind the palisades reserved their fire.

It was one of those moments which the eighteenth century, with its amazingly disciplined professional armies, alone can furnish in all the history of war, an episode of which the Guards at Fontenoy were, a generation later, to afford the supreme example, and one depending on that perfection of restraint for which the English service was deservedly renowned. When a distance but a yard or two longer than a cricket pitch separated the advancing English from the palisades, the French volley crashed out. One man in three of the advancing line fell agonised or dead.

The British regiments, still obedient to Row’s instructions, reserved their fire until their leader touched the woodwork with his sword. Then they volleyed, and having fired, wrestled with the palisades as though to drag them down by sheer force. Perhaps some few parties here and there pressed in through a gap, but as the English soldiers struggled thus, gripped and checked by the obstacle, the French fire poured in again was deadly; the British assault was broken, and fled in disorder over the little field to the watercourse. As it fled, the Gendarmerie charged it in flank, captured the colours of the 21st, were repelled again by the Hessians in reserve (who recaptured the flag), and the first fierce moment of the battle was over.

One-third of Cutts’ command had been concerned in this first failure against Blenheim village. Two-thirds remained to turn that failure into a success. But before this second two-thirds was launched, there took place an episode in the battle, not conspicuously noted at the time, and given a minor importance in all accounts save Tallard’s own. It was significant in the extreme.

As Cutts’ broken first line was passing out of range and was effecting its retirement after the first disorder, and after the Hessians had repelled the first and partial cavalry charge of the French, the Gendarmerie, eight squadrons strong, prepared to charge again as a whole. They came upon the English before these had regained safety. Cutts naturally begged for cavalry to meet this cavalry danger, and Lumley sent five British squadrons to cross the stream and check the French charge. The English horse came to the further bank after some little difficulty with the mud of the sluggish stream, which difficulty has been exaggerated, and in no way affected the significance of what followed.

For what followed was the singular sight of eight French squadrons charging down a slope against only five, those five cramped in the hollow near a stream bed, and yet succeeding in receiving the shock of the charge of numbers so greatly superior, and, so far from yielding, breaking the offensive of their opponents into a confusion.

I repeat, it was but an episode, one that took place early in the day, and apparently of no weight. But, in a general historical view of the battle, it is of the first importance, for it showed what different stuff the opposed cavalries were made of, and that the allied army, which was already numerically the superior in cavalry nearly double its opponents had also better mounts, better riders, and a better discipline in that arm. A universal observer, seeing this one early detail in the battle of Blenheim, might have prophesied that the action would be a cavalry action as a whole, and that the cavalry of Marlborough would decide it.

I left Cutts prepared to launch the remaining two-thirds of his force at Blenheim village, in the hope of accomplishing what the first third had failed to do.

The whole combined body which the French had estimated at 10,000 men, and which seems to have been at least of some 8000, surged up in the second attempt against the palisades of the village. Part of that line and many of the outer gardens were carried, but the attack could not be driven home. It was, perhaps, at this moment that Tallard sent in those extra men which raised the French battalions in Blenheim from nine to sixteen, and gave the defenders, behind their walls, a force equal to the attackers. At any rate, the main attack was thrust back as the first had been, and the great corps of men, huddled, confused, rallied here and there as best they could be, broke from before the village.

The loss was terrible, and Marlborough having failed, not only failed, but saw that he had failed. It was his salvation. His subordinates would have returned to the fruitless attack with troops already shaken and dreading the ground. Marlborough ordered a false attack to be kept up from the further bank, upon the village, and, with that elasticity of command which is the prime factor of tactical success, and which commonly distinguishes youth rather than middle age in a general, turned all his efforts upon the centre.

Here the main road crosses the Nebel by a stone bridge. Four other bridges had been thrown across at other points between this stone bridge and Unterglauheim. By these the infantry were crossing, which infantry, it will be remembered (and my frontispiece shows it), stood as to their first line in front of the cavalry in the main central body. This almost undisputed passage of the Nebel would not have been possible had not the distance between Blenheim and Oberglauheim been what it was. The gap was great, the French line defending it too thin, and the possibility of a cross fire defending the centre was eliminated by the width of that centre.

Even as it was, the passage of the Nebel led to one very difficult moment which might by accident or genius have turned the whole action in favour of the French; and in connection with this episode it must be remembered that the French commanders asserted that the passage of the Nebel was no success on the part of their enemy, but was deliberately permitted to that enemy in order that he might be overwhelmed upon the opposing slope, with the marshy stream behind him, when the time for a counter-attack should come.

The moment came when the greater part of Marlborough’s cavalry had crossed, but before they had fully formed upon the further bank. While they were still in the disorder of forming, the French cavalry upon their left that is, between the main road and Blenheim charged down the slight slope, and something like a dismemberment of the whole of Marlborough’s mounted line began. It was checked for a moment by the fire of the British infantry, during which check Marlborough brought over certain Danish and Hanoverian squadrons which had remained upon the further bank. But the French charged again, and though infantry of Marlborough’s which was pouring over the stream up beyond the stone bridge came up in time to prevent a complete break down, the moment was critical in the extreme. All Marlborough’s centre was pressed and shaken; a further spurt against it and it would break.

It was such a moment as commanders of rapid decision and quick eye have always seized; and if it be asked how Tallard should have seized it, the answer is that there were French guns to mass, there was French infantry in Blenheim unused, and more in reserve behind Blenheim wholly useless. There were the ten squadrons of Tallard’s second line of cavalry under Silly, a couple of hundred yards away, to be summoned in a few moments.

Rapid decision and keen sight of this sort would have done the business; but Tallard was slow of perception; an excellent strategist, but short-sighted and a great gentleman; one, moreover, who had advanced by favour rather than by intrigue. He lost the moment.

Marlborough’s cavalry managed to form, struggling beyond the brook, and the last final phase of the action was at hand for Marlborough’s cavalry would reiterate that general lesson which the whole battle teaches, to wit, that the horse of the allies was not only far stronger numerically, but far better trained than the French cavalry before them, and, with equal chances, must destroy it. Tallard, by missing his moment, had permitted those equal chances to be restored. Even so, yet one other last accident favoured the French. The hour was about five, or rather later in the mid-afternoon. In order to be able to form his cavalry beyond the Nebel, Marlborough wanted to have a clear right flank, and with that object he had launched from 6000 to 7000 Hanoverians against Oberglauheim. The excellent infantry of Blainville, less in numbers, emerged from the village, threw the Hanoverians into gross disorder, and captured their commander. At this point there was beginning to be a rout. This new French success, properly followed up, would again have had a chance to break the allied centre at its weakest point, just at the link where Marlborough joined on to Eugene.

Marcin, inferior as was his command, gripped the opportunity, sent cavalry at once to Oberglauheim, and that cavalry charged. But here the greatness of Marlborough as a personal commander suddenly appeared. He seized the whole character of the moment in a way that Tallard on his first chance had wholly failed to do. He put himself in person at the head of the Danish brigade that lay in reserve, brought it across the rivulet, and came just in time to take the charge of the French cavalry. Even as that charge was preparing, Marlborough sent to Eugene for cavalry at the gallop. He (Marlborough) must hold fast with his Danes against the French horse five minutes, ten, fifteen at the most till help should come from the right.

Here, again, another factor in the success of the day appeared that Eugene and Marlborough understood each other.

Eugene had just suffered a sharp check upon the extreme right; he was re-forming for a new attack when he got Marlborough’s message. Without the loss of a moment in weighing his own immediate necessities, he sent Fugger thundering off, and Fugger, with the imperial cuirassiers, came galloping full speed upon Marlborough’s right flank just as the French charge was at its hardest pressure upon the Danish line. He took that French charge in flank, broke its impetus, permitted the Danish infantry to hold their own, and so compelled the French horse to fall back; within a quarter of an hour from its inception the peril of a breach in Marlborough and Eugene’s centre was thus dissolved.

Here, then, is yet another incident in the battle, which shows not only on which side rapidity of perception lay, but also on which side lay sympathy between commanders, and, most important of all, the discipline and material eminence of the dominating arm.

It was now nearly six o’clock, and the August sun was red and low in the face of the English General. The French line still stood intact before him.

Marlborough’s first great effort against Blenheim had disastrously failed all during the earlier afternoon; he had but just escaped a terrible danger, and had but barely been saved, by Eugene’s promptitude in reinforcement, from seeing his line cut in two. Nevertheless, he was the master of the little daylight that remained. His cavalry, and indeed nearly all his troops, were now formed beyond the Nebel; he had the mass of his forces now all gathered opposite the weakest part of the French line. It was his business to pierce that line and to conquer.

As he advanced upon it, the French infantry, then stationed over the long evening shadows of the slope, though there deplorably few in numbers, met his advance by so accurate a fire that his own line for a moment yielded. Even then the day might have been retrieved if the French cavalry under Tallard’s command had been capable of a charge. To charge if we may trust the commander’s record they received a clear order. As a point of fact, charge they did not. A failure to comprehend, a tardy delivery of the dispatch, fatigue, or error was to blame we have no grounds on which to base a decision. There was a discharge of musketry from the saddle, an abortive attempt to go forward, which in a few minutes was no more an attempt but a complete failure, and in a few more minutes not a failure but a rout. The words of Tallard himself, who saw that almost incredible thing, and who writes as an eye-witness, are sufficiently poignant. They are these:

“I saw one instant in which the battle was won if the cavalry had not turned and abandoned the Line.”

What happened was that the incipient, doubtful, and confused French charge had broken before a vigorous and united counter-charge of Marlborough’s cavalry: the French horse backed, turned, bunched, fell into a panic; and when the mass of their cavalry had fled in that panic, the French centre, that is, the thin line of infantry still standing there, were ridden through and destroyed.

They lay in heaps of dead or wounded, cut down with the sword, for the most part unbroken in formation, their feet eastward whence the charge had come, and their faces to the sky. Over and beyond those corpses rode the full weight of Marlborough’s cavalry, right through Tallard’s left, which was the centre of the French line, while Tallard vainly called for troops to come out of Blenheim and check the fury, and as vainly sent for reinforcements to come from Marcin on the left, which should try and dam the flood that was now pouring through the bulwark of his ranks. On the left, Marcin heard too late. As to the messenger to Blenheim on the right he was taken prisoner; Tallard himself, hastening to that village, was taken prisoner in turn.

What followed, at once something inevitable and picturesque, must not be too extended in description for the purpose of a purely military recital. The centre being pierced, while the left under Marcin and the Elector still held its own against Eugene, the right, that is, the huddled battalions now twenty-seven within Blenheim village, and the four mounted regiments of dragoons therein, were the necessary victims of the victory. The piercing of the centre had cut them off from all aid. They were surrounded and summoned to surrender.

Clerambault, their commander, had already drowned himself in despair, or had been drowned in a deplorable attempt at flight at any rate, was dead.

Blausac, an honest man, the second in command, refused to surrender. British cavalry rode round to prevent all egress from the village upon its western side. Churchill brought up the mass of Marlborough’s infantry. Upon the side towards the Danube the churchyard was stormed and held. Still Blausac would not ask for terms.

It looked for a moment, under the setting sun of that fatal day, as though the 11,000 thus isolated within the streets of Blenheim would be massacred for mere glory, for Blausac was still obstinate. A subordinate officer, who saw that all was lost, harangued the troops into surrender, and the last business of the great battle was over.

As darkness gathered, the undefeated left under Marcin and the Elector the half now alone surviving out of the whole host, the other half or limb being quite destroyed or surrendered retreated with such few prisoners and such few colours as they had taken. They retreated hastily with all their train and their artillery, abandoning their camp, of course, and all through the night poured towards the Danube and built their bridges across the stream.

Darkness checked the pursuit. Some few remnants of Tallard’s escaped to join the retreat. The rest were prisoners or dead.

Of the fifty odd thousand men and ninety guns that had marshalled twelve hours before along the bank of the Nebel, 12,000 men had fallen, 11,000 had surrendered, and one-third of the pieces were in the hands of the enemy.

The political consequences of this great day were more considerable by far than was even its character of a military success. It was the first great defeat which marked the turn of the tide against Louis XIV. It was the first great victory which stamped upon the conscience of Europe the genius of Marlborough. It wholly destroyed all those plans, of which the last two years had been full, for an advance upon Vienna by the French and Bavarian forces. It utterly cleared the valley of the Danube; it began to throw the Bourbons upon the defensive at last. It crushed the hopes of the Hungarian insurrection. It opened that series of successes which we couple with the names of Marlborough and Eugene, and which were not to be checked until, five years later, the French defence recovered its stubbornness at Malplaquet.