Villars writes about the battle of Friedlingen

Note on Villars Memoirs

I have translated this piece of the memoirs of Villars. As an account of the battle it should be viewed with suspicion. Villars was well known to inflate his own achievements and this was also the case at Friedlingen. In French propaganda the battle was depicted as a big victory. In reality it was only a tactical victory that did not render any strategic result.

Note that there are multiple, i.e. good and bad editions of Villars' memoirs, as explained in the section about his memoirs at the end of Marshal Villars bio.

Villars on Friedlingen

I came to Huningue on 28 September 1702.

I had as lieutenant-generals: the Count de Bourg, Mister Desbordes and Mister De Laubanie. As Maréchaux de camp (Major Generals) I had: the Marquis de Biron, Mister de Chamarante, Mister Saint-Maurice and Mister Magnac. My army arrived at the same time and I appreciated that the army of the Prince of Baden was already in its camp at Friedlingen. The work (fortification) at the horn of Huningue, placed on an island in the Rhine had been razed in accordance with the peace of Rijswijk. The works on the other side of the Rhine which had up till then covered the bridge had also been completely destroyed. We had started a few weeks ago to rebuild the left wing and part of the courtine of the fortification on the island.

It was from this small heap of earth erected on the island that I drew my first hope of executing a passage of the Rhine. The arm of the Rhine that we had to pass was 20 meters wide, and the enemies had a defensive line on the other side. I had a ship-bridge made on the large (left) arm of the Rhine that was covered by the island, and as soon as it was ready I had 12 gun of 24 Lbs. installed in the side of the half-bastion. Furthermore I placed artillery on all the cavaliers, the bastions of the town and the small heights from where one could fire at the advanced posts of the enemy.

With these deployments made I let the number of boats necessary to make a bridge over the small arm on the other side of the island be brought in the night of the first to the second of October. But, the fire of the enemy was so violent that we could not construct the ship-bridge. However, when our artillery bombarded their entrenchments it became impossible for the enemy to stay in them and the bridge was constructed the following day. We directly started to erect field-fortifications to protect the head of the bridge. 50 Grenadiers protected the workers.

While in front of the fortifications these for a long time withstood attacks by complete battalions. They then retreated inside the work and, aided by our artillery defended it so well that the enemy did not dare to attack it anymore.

I had passed the Rhine, but what I still had to do to affect a junction with the elector of Bavaria was very difficult. Before being even able to approach the black mountains, that were the only available road, it would be necessary to push back the prince of Baden. He occupied a dominating height within half a cannon-shot of the small plain where I would have to deploy my army. At the foot of that height is a small brook, on its side stood a castle with many loop-holes ('a château bien percé') and a fine moat; on top of the height stood the fortress Friedlingen (Sternschanze) and finally to the left, the right and half way up the height there were a number of cut out redoubts with palisades. The Imperialists that had not been able to keep the riverside of the Rhine now advanced by trenches from the castle they had on the plain in order to prevent us from widening the bridge head. I had my men perform works daily in order to win more terrain. While the Imperialists were protected by the guns on the heights of their camp, we were by those of our island and those of Hunigue. Thus we were about equal in terms of positions, but they were much stronger in numbers. It came in handy that I learned that one had decided to reinforce me with ten battalions and twenty squadrons conducted by Count de Guiscard. That would enable me to advantageously attack the enemy if the elector would make the promised maneuvers to join me. In vain did I raise my eyes to the heights: I did not see any of his drapeaux: I even learned that instead of approaching (like he had made) believe the black mountains in order to facilitate the junction, he had turned in the opposite direction.

Notwithstanding this I had given orders to do battle, in order to show that prince that we did everything in order to achieve the junction, as well as to prevent the enemy from taking winter-quarters in Alsace, like he had promised to himself. I had thus taken my decision to attack in the night of 13 to 14 October, the works that were closest to mine, and after having taken them, to pass the small river Weill, and deploy myself in the plain of Small-Hunigue, belonging to Switzerland. From there I would attack the Imperial army in the back. The noble Cantons that foresaw this march, at the instigation of the prince of Baden, sent me a whole delegation to withhold me from it. I received them partly with compliments, partly with reproaches, namely that they had themselves violated their neutrality by permitting that large boats loaded with stones and explosives destined to break and burn our bridge at Hunigue, had passed under their bridge at Bâle in order to get there. Luckily they were turned away before reaching our bridge, but I did not complain less to the Swiss, who left dissatisfied, and I continued my preparations.

While I was busy with these I received the message that we had taken Neubourg a small town four miles ('quatre lieues') from Hunigue. Its position was suited to protect a second bridge, and to divide the attention of the enemy. This was what made me try to take it. I had ordered M. de Laubanie to perform this expedition and given him thousand picked man commanded by Marquis de Biron and the Brigadiers sir De Jossand and sir D'Amigny.

La Petithière a grenadier captain marched to the foot of the wall; a cadet of the Lorraine Regiment climbed on the shoulders of some soldiers and was the first to enter the place, the grenadiers following. 400 Swiss that made up the garrison were killed or taken prisoner.

The taking of Neubourg was very important because it gave me the ability to pass the Rhine wherever I wanted, and if that was at Neubourg, it would be on a terrain less hemmed in, and almost equal to that of the Prince of Baden. As soon as I learnt of the conquest I let boats be brought downstream to construct a ship-bridge there. I sent orders to Count de Guiscard, (the aforementioned reinforcement of 10 Battalions 20 Squadrons) who had not joined me yet, to go there with his detachment and I also sent to regiments of Dragoons there.

The prince of Baden who saw those troops going to Neubourg, saw the boats pass, and having learned of the taking of Neubourg, ordered at 10:00 PM on the 13th ('Deux heures avant la nuit du 13') his whole right wing to march on Neubourg to try to retake it before I would have had the time to install myself there. I then put al my army into movement, I filled our island with infantry, and the big arm of the Rhine, which had been nearly dry for four days, with cavalry, thus that I could force him to fight me at a disadvantage. Seeing my preparations he aborted his design on Neubourg, and let his right wing return to his camp.

I observed him from close-up: he was trying to escape me. I threw major general of infantry sir Tressemanes, Lieutenant General Desbordes and Chamarante upon him. At daybreak on the 14th these sent me a message that the enemy was retreating. I then gave the last orders mounted my horse crossed the bridge as fast as possible. The troops that had been prepared since the previous evening in an instant filled the little plain of the river Weill that had been disputed since the first days of October.

The prince of Baden was on the height at the fort of Friedlingen. Seeing that I was determined to follow him he stopped, convinced that he could fight me more advantageously on the terrain he had wanted to abandon, than on his march. He wanted his infantry to take the heights of Tulik, on the left of Friedlingen, and placed his cavalry, superior to mine by 20 squadrons, with the right leaning on the fort and the left on the hill he had failed to occupy.

Success depended on the speed with which we would take that hill. I ordered my infantry to march on it, and though its face was quite steep and planted with wine-bushes, it arduously set to it with as much order as the terrain permitted. At the same time I deployed the cavalry in the plain and reinforced its left with the 16 companies of grenadiers that I still had, the rest being at Neubourg. Having done this I quickly rode to the front of the infantry. To gain the hill we had to pass a forest so dense that we could only hear the Imperial infantry approach by the sound of its drums. Finally we met. The enemy infantry fired, ours bore it and then charged with the bayonet. After a strong resistance the enemy infantry was entirely beaten though they had cannon with them. Both infantries lost a great number of excellent officers. Ours chased the Imperialists from the forest, after which they hastily retreated to the valley.

Some of our soldiers having without caution pursued the Imperialists were repulsed by the main body that was hastily returning. These soldiers then came back to our own troops and drew them along back into the wood in disorder. Stupefied by this backward movement I rode up to them and shouted: 'What's the problem soldiers?' 'The battle is won: Vive le Roy!' they answered: 'Vive le Roy' but with a weakness I had not at all expected from a victorious army. With the terror continuing in the men I took a flag and conducted the infantry back to the southern end of the forest.

From there I looked at the plain and saw that our cavalry, having beaten the enemy's, was slowly retracing its steps. I feared that the German cavalry, seeing that it was not pursued would rally, and that with the infantry still in disorder it would turn out that we would lose a battle that we had already won. I therefore decided to return to the cavalry. While descending quickly through the wine-bushes, I had the good fortune to meet a soldier that asked me: 'Where are you going? You are riding up to three enemy battalions that are only 20 feet from here.' I turned left and escaped them. Dodeval, my secretary that accompanied me and served me as aide-de-camp fell into their hands, and became the sole prisoner they made.

I then joined my cavalry that received me with shouts of joy. Not without being affected I heard that some of them proclaimed me marshal of France. But not all was finished: some enemy squadrons that were only lightly pursued were beginning to rally. I sent thousand horse against them and they disappeared. I had hardly chased the few enemy cavalry that remained from the plain when our infantry descended into it still under the same spell of terror, though the enemy was nowhere around them. It was soon reassured, but this cost us the time that we could have used to make a big number of prisoners. In this we can see that disorder can come to the bravest of troops when they have lost many officers, and have few grenadiers who are the soul of the infantry. About 4,000 enemy troops had been killed on the battlefield, and we had taken about the same number prisoner. They had lost 35 drapeaux or étendards, three pairs of drums, and eleven cannon. The Friedlingen fortress that was named 'Le fort d'Etoile' (Sternschanze) surrendered at discretion next morning.

In writing to the king I wrote the eulogy of the troops and officers that had distinguished themselves: 'We have lost' I wrote to him: 'Lieutenant General Desbordes, Infantry Brigadiers De Chamilly and Chavennes, Cavalry Colonel le Chevalier de Séyes. Chamarante has been dangerously wounded. The brigades Champagne, Bourbonnais, Poitou and La Reine have withstood the first fire. The cavalry commanded by sirs De Magnac and De Saint Maurice, have according to orders not fired a single shot, nor takes their sword in hand before being within a hundred feet of the enemy. They have not dispersed, neither to make prisoners nor to plunder. The recruits have behaved as wise as the veterans. Sirs D'Auriac, De Marbach, Du Bourg, the prince of Tarente, sirs De Saint-Pouange, Fourquevaux, Conflans have performed miracles. Sirs De Skelleberg and De Camilly, all the young infantry colonels, Seignelay, Nangis, Coatquin, Chamarante junior, the Count De Choiseul, sir De Ravestein, have all shown the greatest courage. Major General Le Chevalier de Tressemanes and sir de Beaujeu quartermaster of cavalry have served very well. Finally it is seldom that in such a rough battle one loses neither drapeaux nor étendards.'

The fruit of this victory should have been the juncture with the elector of Bavaria. Anytime now I hoped to learn that he was approaching. I sent reconnaissance parties up to ten miles ('dix lieues') far to learn news of him. Not learning anything about his whereabouts I assembled the commanding officers. All of them declared that crossing the mountains without being assured of provisions or the appearance of the elector would lead to the destruction of the army as soon as the soldiers had consumed the four or five days provision they could carry. This way however much I wanted to accomplish the main goal of my mission, I was obliged to keep myself to the advice of the council of war. After razing fort Friedlingen and getting the fortifications of the island and the bridge of Huningue into good order, I tasked myself with observing the Prince of Baden.

At that time I received the marshal wand from the king with a very flattering letter stating he had much confidence in me. I also received letters from the Dauphin and the Duke D'Orleans, in one word from all the court. Above all one from the Princess de Conti who stated: 'I send you my compliments on the reward the king is going to give you, if it can bring you any pleasure on top of having deserved it.' She added in the speech then in voque: (red: I leave this out)

The prince of Baden had been beaten, but his army had not suffered except form the shock. Not having been pursued it was still united and still stronger than mine.

He intended to cover up his defeat by performing a conspicuous action like taking away Neubourg from under my eyes would have been. He arrived there with his whole army let it advance in line to within cannon shot, and himself went into musket range. I let the ramparts be filled with troops planted 30 drapeaux on it in order to show the enemy we were ready for them. After having stood in this way for part of the day the enemy retired downstream.

I saw not a single motive for this forced march, and I have always been convinced that the prince made it in order to let me march into the mountains trying to join the elector. From my letters that he had intercepted, he knew that this was my prime goal. He could believe that I did not know that the ill-advised duke of Bavaria was elongating himself from the Rhine instead of approaching it. The prince of Baden was undoubtedly flattering himself that not knowing about the elector's movements I would march into the mountains where the king's army, stopped by natural obstacles at every pass and by the fortresses on the way, harassed by the inhabitants, and presses upon by his entire army, would undoubtedly have perished. It was for this that he offered me such an easy way in.

But I refused this invitation. I was content to detach the Count du Bourg with a corps of troops to Fort-Louis, and advised him to prevent by all means the enemy from laying a bridge over the Rhine. Myself I re-passed the River with the rest of the army and used it to clean up Alsace, to chase the enemy from all the posts he held on the Saar and the Moutre up to Haguenau. On the way I passed Strasbourg that I reassured against contributions, and where I was received in triumph.

I wrote to the king that in order to prevent the enemies from making incursions into France, I believed it important to assure ourselves of Nancy. He approved of this enterprise. I assigned it to the Comte de Tallard who just came back from taking Trarbach. It was by now December, his troops were tired, and they did not even have tents. He explained his problems to me among others that during frost one could not dig into the ground nor use rivers, and that during rain one could not use carts. I answered him that he could use rivers and dig in the ground when it rained, while he could use carts when it froze. That he could make barracks in the surrounding villages, and that furthermore it would not take long because the Duke of Lorraine when not having any hope to be saved would rather deliver the town to him then have it ruined. The thing turned out like I had predicted: Tallard only had to show himself and the gates of Nancy opened.

During that time I finally received a letter from the Elector of Bavaria who demanded that I approached him, and indicated various routs. I told him: 'After winning the battle I would have had eight days to attempt the passage, if your highness had helped me, and I would certainly have succeeded. Now this is no longer possible.'