The march to Peer

1 The Strategical situation in June 1702

The WaalPhoto by LooiNL
Overview
Start:16 June 1702
End:2 August 1702
Outcome:Alliance Victory
Belligerents:
Bourbon side:Alliance side:
FranceUnited Provinces
SpainEngland
Commanders:
BoufflersMarlborough
TallardAthlone

After the capitulation of Kaiserswerth the French troops had finally left the fortress on 17 June 1702. Some days later they had also left the places in the vicinity on the west side of the Rhine. The general situation had therefore become somewhat more favorable for the Dutch than it was in April. On the political side the prime advantage was that the conquest secured the County of Berg from French attacks and thus strengthened the alliance with the Elector Palatine. It furthermore raised the hopes of the new King of Prussia to fulfill his pretensions in the area by fighting on the Alliance side1.

A political problem that had been smothering since the death of King William was the command of the joined Anglo Dutch army. All felt that some kind of supreme command was necessary. The Dutch had more soldiers in this army, but the English felt their state was more important, and therefore entitled to the supreme command. The problem had recently become more urgen with the arrival in the Netherlands of John Churchil (afterwards Duke of Marlborough) and the English troops.

French political perspectives in Germany had of course deteriorated. However, when one considers the strategy of Versailles to be based on the assumption that one had to buy time on the Rhine in order to achieve success in Italy, the picture becomes different. One can assume that in such a case a French victory in Italy would outweigh the fall of some towns on the Rhine.

1.1 The Alliances decides to camp at Dukenburg

As regards the military less troops were now needed to guard against the French crossing the Rhine. With more troops still arriving on the front, the Alliance could therefore try to concentrate an equal or slightly superior army against Boufflers. The next step would be to dislodge him from his position near Kleve. The decision to do so was taken by the States General on 20 June2. A conference about this concentration was planned with Marlborough, the Prussian commander, Nassau-Saarbrücken, Athlone, Obdam, Geldermalsen and Hop. On 25 June it took place in The Hague, with Dopff in stead of Saarbrücken.

Dopff had made the plan for the campaign3, but also represented Saarbrücken who was absent. Some say because he anticipated Marlborough's appointment4. The conference decided to concentrate an army of 58 battalions and 132 squadrons in a camp at Dukenburg (between Hatert and Nijmegen). The 24 battalions and 88 squadrons from Athlone formed the base. To this were joined 25 battalions and 25 squadrons from Saarbrücken's army (that was thus dissolved); 7 battalions and 18 squadrons from Luneburg, that had just arrived; and 2 battalions and 9 squadrons from England that were still on their way to the front.

On the French side Louis XIV ordered Boufflers to detach 12 battalions and 16 squadrons to the Upper Rhine. Viewing the situation where his adversaries were becoming stronger by the day Boufflers left his camp at Donsbrüggen on 3 July and marched to a new position behind the Niers between Hassum and the Meuse. Using the sluice at Genniperhuis the flow of the Niers was blocked5 and so the level of this river rose to give the French a better position. At Heijen ship bridges with a fortified bridgehead were constructed to ensure sommunications to the west.

2 Strategical choices of the Alliance

Thus it was that the alliance army assembled near Nijmegen. Marlborough arrived here in the evening of 2 July. At first the gathering of the new command structure was promising. Next the troops from Kaiserswerth and 6 Hessian regiments arrived on 6 July. The whole army then crossed the Waal on 6 and 7 July and camped at Dukenburg. Marlborough established his Head Quarters at the small manor of Dukenburg6.

The strength of the army was estimated at about 35,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry 7. Acting offensively against Boufflers was of course not a matter of simply marching against him, for it was impossible to conquer him in his camp. This basically left two opportunities for the alliance: marching to the left or the right. Marching to the left meant marching along the Rhine and starting a siege of Rheinberg. Marching to the right meant marching into Brabant and besieging Venlo, Roermond and Stevensweert, but running the risk of Boufflers attacking along the Rhine (i.e. Nijmegen). On 12 July the generals conferred about the options and decided to march to the right in order to see what Boufflers would do. However, the maneuver was not completed and so the Dutch generals again conferred at the 22nd with only Marlborough present 8.

3 The Alliance marches to Brabant

After a lot of considerations the Alliance army finally crossed the Meuse near Grave on 26 July. As soon as he heard about Marlborough's march Boufflers marched in the direction of Venlo. This in order not to be cut of from his supplies. Tallard was left in his position between Gelre and Rheinberg, while Grammont was sent to reinforce Rheinberg with 6 battalions. The march started in the morning of 27 July and the French reached the vicinity of Venlo in the evening. On the 28th the army camped near Roermond on the left bank of the Meuse. In this way Boufflers wanted to build a new position that still covered Upper Gelre and so Tallard also moved to the vicinity. More to the west Southernon occupied Weert and the castle Grevenbroek (between Achel and Hamont). The alliance army camped near Uden in the evening of 26 July, near Lieshout on the 27th and near Geldrop - Mierlo on the 28th. On the 30th the right wing camped near Hamont and the left near Leender Strijp. On 31 July it camped near Achel and Sint Huibrechts Lille and captured castle Grevenbroek.

4 The French escape near Peer

For Boufflers this was reason to march again and so he reached the town of Bree in the morning of 1 August. Boufflers was justified in wanting to march further, because Marlborough indeed wanted to cut him off by marching to Peer. Athlone however hindered Marlborough from executing this plan9. Therefore on 2 August Boufflers marched unhindered from Bree to Zonhoven and from the alliance army the right wing moved to Kleine Brogel.

Some writers make a big affair about the alliance missing an opportunity to beat Boufflers on this day and blame this on the deputies forbidding Marlborough to do battle10. I do not know about evidence that Marlborough had a serious clash with the Dutch about attacking Boufflers11. Indeed there was also little reason to risk a battle because Bouflers' march enabled the alliance to besiege Venlo and would later on prove to be the act by which the French gave up the Meuse fortresses. At least this was the way Athlone saw it12.

5 Blame and Credit

In this march we see irresolute behavior of the alliance, which is probably due to Athlone. The march is also Marlborough's first maneuver as 'commander' of the Grand Alliance Army. Due to the limitations of his appointment Marlborough of course had to work on establishing his leadership, and could not command the way he would have liked to do. Credit should go to Marlborough for enticing some Dutch generals to act offensively without coming into an open argument with them. Athlone should also be credited with not starting an argument. Both succeeded in achieving the goal of elongating the French from the Meuse. In this one could praise Athlone for not risking anything when their goal had been achieved.

On the French side Boufflers gave up the communications to Venlo and Upper Gelre and therefore did not achieve his objectives. Before blaming him for this one should of course ask if he really had the possibility to achieve these, something I can't very well judge. Apart from this: Boufflers arrived near Roermond on 28 July and had thus outmarched the allies. If he all along had the intention to march to the Demer in case the alliance threatened to cut him off, he of course had to wait till they acted to do so. What does become apparent in the subsequent 'escape at Peer' is that he waited to long to do so and was almost forced to fight a battle he did not want to fight.

6 Sources

This page is mainly based on Het Staatse Leger VIII/1. Furthermore on the correspondence of Heinsius in 1702 and the Marlborough - Heinsius correspondence.

7 Notes

1) Obdam to Heinsius RGP 158 'Outre que nous ne courons pas tant de risque á présent de perdre le roy de Prusse et l'électeur Palatin.'
2) Het Staatse Leger VIII/1 page 109
3) Dopff to Heinsius 17 June, Geldermalsen to Heinsius 19 June, H. RGP 158
4) But see also RGP 158 Obdam to Heinsius on 19 June: 'son indisposition ne luy permettant pas d'assister á la sortie de la garnison' and on the same date Obdam states that he does not expect Saarbrücken to live much longer.
5) Athlone to Heinsius RGP 158: 'Les ennemis se sont passées dans un camp bien fort, ayant la rivière du Niers devant eux, laquelle ils font enfler..'
6) For this see: Het Staatse Leger page 118
7) For this also see the Ordre de Bataille at the camp of Duckenburg
8) Marlborough to Heinsius 23 July: I was yesterday with the Earle of Athlone and his Lieutenant Generals only, where it was unanimously resolved to pass the Meuse...'
9) Het Staatse leger VIII/1 page 125
10) The deputies are mentioned in Berwick's memoirs: 'M. de Marlborough proposa de marcher a nous en passant le défilé de de Peer, moyennant quoi la bataille étoti inévitable sur les bruyères; mais les députés des Etats Généraux n'y voulurent jamis consentir, non plus q'á nous attaquer dans notre camp de Lonoven: ce qui fut fort heureux pour nous, car nous étions postés de manière que nous aurions été battus sans pouvoir nous remuer, notre gauche étant en l'air, et notre droit enfoncée dans un cul-de-sac entre deux ruisseaux.
11) Letter from Geldermalsen to Heinsius printed in 'Het Staatse Leger' VIII/I Geldermalsen also mentions that Athlone feared that a victory in such a battle would induce the French to retire to the Meuse.
12) Athlone to Heinsius 2 August RGP 158: 'avec quoy nous avons nostre buyt qu'at esté de les éloigner de la Meuse'