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Battle of Fontenoy Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle of Fontenoy summary

The Battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, was a major engagement of the War of the Austrian Succession, fought between the forces of the Pragmatic Allies – comprising mainly Dutch, British, and Hanoverian troops under the command of the Duke of Cumberland – and a French army under Maurice de Saxe, commander of King Louis XV's forces in the Low Countries

  1. The position which Saxe had chosen to make his defence was naturally strong: the right of his army rested on Antoing, the centre on Fontenoy, and the left was covered by the Wood of Barry.
  2. At 02:00 on 11 May, the Allied regiments took up their stations. The British were posted on the right wing with the Hanoverians to their immediate left, while the Dutch took the left wing, supported by the small Austrian contingent made up mainly of mounted troops.
  3. A large battery of Allied guns, some 40 to 50 guns according to French accounts, began to bombard the French positions at long range. The allied bombardment was to little effect however, as most of the French were in the woods, or in redoubts, or behind the swell of ground leading to their position, or fortified in Fontenoy
  4. At around 06:00 the Allies moved forward, but were halted a short distance from the wood. In the wood were the Grassins, a combination of light infantry and light cavalry who tenaciously defended the position against the Allied attack.
  5. The Allies massed their troops to attack the center.
  6. The French cannon took a heavy toll on the dense formations who were ready to attack.
  7. General Campbell, commander of the British cavalry, had earlier been mortally wounded while screening the infantry advance onto the plain, and had been carried from the field without having revealed his orders to any other officer. With no one knowing what to do, the cavalry simply formed to the rear of the infantry where they remained until the battle was virtually decided.
  8. The Dutch advanced to Fontenoy.
  9. The French infantry, secure behind their barriers, allowed the Dutch to draw very close before releasing a devastating volley upon them. Those Dutchmen who were not killed, fled.
  10. A second column, with cavalry in its rear, advanced on Antoing. Encountering a terrible fire from the three redoubts and the battery on the far side of the Scheldt, the Dutch in this sector also wavered. Their cavalry turned about, but while the bulk of them halted within cannon-shot, a minority of them fled.
  11. The Dutch made a second attempt on Fontenoy, reinforced with Austrian cavalry and two battalions of British infantry.
  12. Concerted French fire drove the Allied forces off again. This dispirited the Dutch who retired out of range and did not participate in the main attack.
  13. Despite massive losses from the French artillery the main Allied attack advanced.
  14. On obtaining the summit of the ridge the Allied column found itself facing the French infantry line. The French guards rose and advanced towards the crest, whereupon the two forces confronted each other at a distance of 30 paces.
  15. The British drove back the French and advanced into the gap.
  16. The French Cavalry tried to stop the British Attack.
  17. The British drove back the French Cavalry and marched on.
  18. The Allied foot had penetrated the French lines for a distance of 300 yards, and into the French camp. However, the incessant fire from the flanks – from Fontenoy and the Redoubt of Eu – followed by the constant cavalry and infantry attacks, had caused the British and Hanoverian infantry to yield ground, forcing them slowly back.
  19. Although the constant charges of the French cavalry had been thrown back, their perseverance at last achieved Saxe's aim: they had made time for his infantry brigades to reform.
  20. Saxe rallied the remnants of whatever unit and artillery piece he could find for a final assault on the British right.
  21. The French counter-attacks eventually halted and then repelled the British column, taking the field.
  22. The initial disorder of the Allied column was soon checked as each battalion rallied around its colours, the compact formation was restored, and the British and Hanoverians accomplished their retreat in good order.
  23. Attacked from three sides the Allies performed a fighting withdrawal – the rearguard of the column facing about at measured intervals to fire at their pursuers.