The siege of Kaiserswerth 1702

Siege of Kaiserswerth
Map of the city of Kaiserswerth in 1702
Start:16 April 1702
End:15 June 1702
Outcome:Alliance Victory
Bourbon side:Alliance side:
FranceUnited Provinces
SpainGerman Empire
BlainvilleNassau Saarbrucken

1 Background to the Siege of Kaiserswerth

1.1 The Dutch in a difficult position

At the start of 1702 the United Provinces found themselves in a very difficult strategic situation. The Spanish Netherlands were now in French hands and communications to Maastricht were hindered by the Meuse fortresses of Venlo, Roermond and Stevensweert. The alliance of the Bishop of Cologne and Liège with the French had given them command of the fortresses of Kaiserswerth, Rheinberg and the Bonn residence. The city of Cologne had revolted from its master and accepted alliance troops for its security. This alliance hindered communications with the Dutch allies along the Rhine. The main Dutch allies there were Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz, who was also Duke of Berg (with Düsseldorf) and Duke of Jülich, and the Prussians whose king who would claim the inheritance of some of William III's lands on the lower Rhine.

1.2 French considerations

For the French the strategic problems were different. Their most logical strategy would be to start the campaign by besieging Maastricht, but because they were already at war in Italy they preferred to stall open war on the Rhine as long as possible. This meant that they send strong garrisons to the Bishop of Cologne and built up a somewhat smaller army under Boufflers in the Spanish Netherlands. The price for this strategy was that their communications to the Rhine would be threatened by the Dutch garrison at Maastricht.

1.3 Bridgehead Kaiserswerth

Considering the situation the Dutch had by January decided to take Kaiserswerth. It is a common misunderstanding that, because Rheinberg was not directly on the river, the reason behind the plan was that shipping on the Rhine up to Düsseldorf was blocked only by the fortress of Kaiserswerth. This is not true, the reasons have to do with the fact that Kaiserswerth was a bridgehead. It was on the east bank of the Rhine and could therefore protect French troops that crossed the Rhine. Rheinberg was on the west bank, and did not offer such a strategic advantage. The bridgehead had political implications that were just as compelling. These had to do with securing the alliance with the Pfalz and disabling the French ability to send troops across the Rhine to support potential allies1.

A circumstance that accidentally became important was brought about by the way the French supported the bishop. They claimed their troops to be 'auxiliaries of the Burgundian Kreits' and this gave the United Provinces the opportunity to claim their troops to be 'Imperial auxiliaries'. The consequence of this was that at first the siege of Kaiserswerth did not lead to open war between France and the United Provinces. This would give the United Provinces some more time to wait for the arrival of the English and other allies on the front.

1.4 Commands early in 1702

The Dutch split the command on their frontiers in 5 theaters. In the west Coehoorn as governor of Sluis commanded in States Flanders. Around Bergen op Zoom Noyelle was in command of the great fortress of Bergen op Zoom while Athlone was in command at a camp near Rosendaal. Maastricht with its very strong garrison was commanded by Van Goor The approaches from the Rhine and Meuse were covered by a camp at Nergena and seem to have been entrusted to the Duke of Württemberg Neustadt until Tilly arrived.

2 Maneuvers before the start of the siege on 16 April 1702

As said above the United Provinces were not at war with France till 15 May 1702. This meant that all along their frontiers a war of maneuvers and threats was fought. For the French this meant they could not opt for the strategically soundest option of starting the war with a siege of Maastricht. The Dutch were also not eager to start open hostilities before the Prussians and English arrived on the scene.

The Dutch therefore decided to concentrate a strong corps in States Flanders under Coehoorn, and concentrate another near Roosendaal. These would continually threaten to open hostilities by marching into Flanders or Brabant. The plans against Kaiserswerth were meanwhile coordinated at Düsseldorf by the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz, the Dutch commander in chief Marshal Walrad von Nassau Saarbrücken, their Quartermaster general Lt-General Von Dopff and the Prussian general Von Heiden. The plans against Kaiserswerth could however only be executed with siege guns. The United Provinces had sent these on their way, but by 5 April these were only at Wesel.

On 6 April an 8,000 strong part of the allied Rhine army under Saarbrücken arrived at a camp near Cologne at Mülheim. The French reacted by concentrating their army in the Episcopal territory in a camp between Bonn and Poppelsdorff. The allies estimated this French force near Bonn at 12,000 men. In the night of 6 - 7 April Saarbrücken then sent 400 cavalry across the Rhine to see if some prisoners could be made. With the excuse of being fired upon first, these killed or imprisoned 50 French. Meanwhile some Prussians had pursued French troops right up to the gate of Fort Bourgogne (opposite Bonn). According to plan Kaiserswerth should now be besieged on the 12th, but a delay in the arrival of the Prussians, and the Dutch artillery only arriving at Duisburg on the 14th made this impossible. Saarbrücken therefore replanned the siege of Kaiserswerth for the 16th. He also pressed Athlone to start a diversion in Flanders and Brabant. On 16 April the allies finally closed in on Kaiserswerth and in the evening of the 18th the trenches were opened.

Meanwhile news of two separate attacks on the French had reached Versailles. Torcy therefore asked the Dutch ambassador to France whether Nassau Saarbrücken was in Dutch service2. The ambassador denied this but promised to ask in The Hague. Torcy also sent a special message to his ambassador in The Hague in order to protest. In the Spanish Netherlands France had taken measures to prepare the defense of Liège and concentrated troops under Boufflers in a camp at Diest.

3 Actions during the siege 18 April - 15 May 1702

3.1 Dutch Fears

It was generally feared that Boufflers would now march down the Meuse. The Dutch feared that in such case Tilly would not be able to stop the enemy from putting the area east of Nijmegen to contribution. As a countermeasure Saarbrücken therefore ordered Athlone to observe Boufflers and follow him to the Meuse if that happened. Athlone was believed to be able to take 12 batallions and more than 20 squadrons with him in order to unite with Tilly, who had 16 battalions and 32 squadrons.

3.2 Maneuvers and combat

On 19 April Tilly marched to Xanten and formed a new camp there. At about the same time Boufflers marched from Diest to Peer without Athlone succeeding in doing something against it. On 21 April Boufflers then crossed the Meuse at Stevensweert with 20 battalions and about 5,000 cavalry. From there he went to Roermond, where he seems to have waited for the Duke of Burgundy to arrive. For the defense of Liège Boufflers had left 10 battalions and 4 cavalry regiments in Liège and other troops in Tongeren and Sint Truiden these would soon be commanded by T'Serclaes3. It now became painfully clear that communications between the parts of the Dutch army were insufficient. On 24 April Athlone was in Roosendaal and ready to march to the Demer with his cavalry when he received an order by Saarbrücken to march to the Niers to support Tilly. Athlone complied to this order by taking his cavalry and 8 English battalions with him. He left Noyelle in Bergen op Zoom with only three battalions and some horse. In Maastricht Goor received an order by Saarbrücken on 23 April that allowed him to act in the name of the Empire. He reacted by sending 1,600 men to Maaseik and 500 infantry to Jülich.

Now things went wrong on the Dutch side: Athlone's cavalry arrived near Nijmegen in the afternoon of the 27th with his English infantry three days behind him. He next wanted to march to Xanten in the evening, but he proved to be a bit too late. In the evening of the same day Tilly had perceived Boufflers marching towards him and had started a retreat to Kleve. In the morning of the 28th Athlone and Tilly thus met from opposite directions. They next put up a camp at Klarenbeek where Athlone's infantry joined them on 2 May. The first round of maneuvers had been lost by the Dutch and the initiative had passed to Boufflers. As regards the siege Boufflers maneuver was also a success, because it now became very easy for the French to reinforce the garrison. This was done by crossing the Rhine with little boats at night. In a reaction the Elector Palatine complained to Heinsius and asked him to give Saarbrücken a more direct authority over Athlone, Tilly and Coehoorn4.

Boufflers then thought about means of lifting the siege of Kaiserswerth. For this Tallard was sent to Neuss. Montrevel left his camp at Bonn to join him leaving Bonn to the local garrison. Next Tallard took up a position facing Kaiserswerth from the other side of the Rhine. Here he posted a battery that obliged the besiegers to give up their trenches and start new ones that were out of reach of these guns. The movement of a 500 strong cavalry party to Uden however ended in a small defeat for the French. A 1,500 strong cavalry detachment commanded by Dompré caught them on 2 May and more than half were killed or taken prisoner. On 11 May Major General Goor sent out 400 cavalry and 300 grenadiers under seigneur de Trognée and Colonel de Maduran. These had orders to surprise Huy and would succeed in capturing most of it. In the end the attempt however failed because the success was not communicated to the waiting reinforcements, and so the attackers left again in the morning of the 12th. I guess that it was also during this expedition that Goor took the castle of Horion, whose 500 defenders were next fruitlessly besieged by T'Serclaes. At about this time Coehoorn finally started a diversion in Flanders, but even though he was succesful in capturing the fortresses of Isabella and Sint Donaas and the little town of Middelburgh, it came much too late to have any effect.

3.3 The siege itself (18 April - 15 May 1702)

The siege of Kaiserswerth had been started in a regular way by opening the trenches on 18 April. The last parallel of the besiegers was about 160 feet from the counterscarp, and from this parallel two trenches (one Dutch one Prussian) were dug up to it along the riverbed. From the start the organization of the siege and the performance of especially the artillery5 were not good. On the Prussian side progress was even slower, which induced the Dutch to lend them some engineers and heavy artillery. There was also some bad luck for the besiegers, because just when the Dutch were about ready to attack the counterscarp on 28 April the level of the Rhine rose and flooded the part they wanted to attack. On 1 May the besiegers then perceived that Grammont came up river and started to ferry resources into town at night. Because the siege was taking such a long time the besiegers then got problems with the supply of ammunition. The first tiny success came on 4 May when the Prussians took the redoute de Kalkum which had long hindered their advance. The siege was thus finally making some progress when Tallard appeared on the other side of the Rhine with some heavy artillery that would threaten the ditches of the besiegers. In the evening of the 12 the allied council of war then even decided to lift the siege, a decision that would later on be reversed. On the 14th they decided to abandon the present ditches and start new ones out of reach of Tallard's guns, that started to fire the same day6. In short this meant that apart from digging the parallel the besiegers thus had to start all over again.

3.4 Political situation up to 15 May

Incredibly the United Provinces and France were not openly at war till 15 May. France and the United Provinces probably both had an interest in presenting the hostilities in Colognese territory as a local affair and kept this facade up for a long time: The Dutch ambassador Vroesen still resided in Versailles and Dutch shipping was not hindered much. An instance of how this worked out can be found in a letter by Noyelle of 2 May, where the governor of Breda is ordered not to let his troops go on Spanish territory, and treat Spanish soldiers on the States territory as thieves till war would be declared7. On 28 April Vroesen sent a letter by which he advised Heinsius that the French were not at all satisfied with the Dutch troops that acted as 'auxiliary troops of the empire', but Dutch shipping and subjects did not suffer any serious insult from the French. On 8 May the States General drew up the declaration of war, which they published on 15 May together with the English. All the events described above then give rise to the question when the war really started. I think this should be judged by whether the armies on the ground perceived themselves to be at war. On the Rhine the Dutch were at war from the beginning of April. On the Meuse this was probably right after Boufflers attempt to catch Tilly on 27 April. In Flanders and West Brabant war probably broke out only after 8 May.

4 Actions during the second part of the siege 15 May - 15 June 1702

4.1 Maneuvers from 15 May 1702 onward

Having to start all over again with the siege almost from the beginning, and the dim prospects of ever finishing it made for a disappointing situation for the Dutch. The fact that the French were now foraging in their' enemies territory was of course also not encouraging. There were however two points working to their advantage: The English troops commanded by Marlborough would soon arrive on the scene and other reinforcements would too. This would enable the Dutch to pursue the siege with more vigor and enable them to make Athlone's force more equal to Boufflers.

For the French the situation seemed to be more favorable. However, because of the Rhine they had only two options. The first was to start a siege of Maastricht with its strong garrison. This task might be possible but would give the alliance a free hand on the Rhine while success was not certain. The other option was to attack Athlone and threaten the Republic itself. The problem with this option was that Athlone would try retreat to Nijmegen and or Grave and a siege of those towns was not feasible with Maastricht in Dutch hands.

4.2 The siege itself from 15 May

On 16 May the besiegers still suffered from a lack of ammunition and remarkably of infantry. From the other side of the Rhine the French were hindering the operation by gunfire, and by communicating with the city at night by three boats. These were used to bring in men and supplies and for getting out the wounded. Another problem Saarbrücken faced was the apparent unwillingness of the States General to give him the authority to promote officers during the siege. This led to a shortage of officers and apparently to some unwillingness of the men to exert themselves. Measures for solving the supply problems were taken by bringing up artillery and ammunition from Grave, which arrived in Emmerich on the 16th. Men had to come from the Hessian army that was still in Kassel and whose sovereign was pressed to send them forward.

Probably in reaction to the allied ditch making some progress the garrison made two sallies on 22 May. The first was made with 200 men, and after it had been repulsed a larger one with over 1,000 men was made two hours later. They were both repulsed with heavy losses on both sides and two alliance regiments severely damaged. In another action Tallard would start a threat against Düsseldorp on 25 May. In order to press the siege the alliance decided to take up 6 battalions from Athlone and send them to Kaiserswerth. On 26 May it was however decided that the artillery would be escorted from Emmerich to Kaiserwerth by two battalions that were in the vicinity of Rees, and that they would stay at the siege together with four battalions from Athlone's army. A further reinforcement of six battalions of Athlone's army would then be sent forward as soon as Athlone received reinforcements from Coehoorn.

On 28 May the crisis of the siege seemed over as the artillery from Grave started to arrive at the siege of Kaiserswerth and the arrival of the Hessen Kassel troops seemed imminent. On 3 June Obdam would write from Wesel8 that alliance guns that had been posted at the island had succeeded in cutting the French communications to Kaiserswerth, and that three boats had been captured and one had been sunk. He also marked in the same letter that 6 battalions had passed Wesel in the morning and that the Hessen Kassel troops had started their march to Kaiserswerth. Furthermore, on 6 June two cavalry regiments and 4 dragoon regiments of the troops of Lüneburg had arrived in Recklinghausen. On 7 June Saarbrücken would report that the alliance was doing very well in shooting breaches.

4.3 The Assault on the counterscarp 9 June

At 20:00 hours in the evening of 9 June the alliance started its assault on the counterscarp, capturing it at 10 o'clock in the evening. Losses for the alliance were however quite heavy at 3,000 of which one quarter killed. On 11 June the balance at the siege would further shift when 6 regiments of Hessen Kassel arrived at Kaiserswerth.

4.4 The situation of Boufflers and Athlone

Meanwhile Boufflers had been camped between Sonbeck and Xanten and had been working on his communications back to the Meuse. In May Athlone estimated this French army at 35 battalions and 75 squadrons. Somewhere around 22 May the French had sent a large convoy to the Rhine. It had been covered by Count de Coigny who took up a position at Weert with a force believed to be 8,000 strong. However, up to the time of the assault of the counterscarp of Kaiserwerth Boufflers' army had not done much. The fact that the communications with Kaiserswerth had been cut, and Tallard's subsequent retreat away from Kaiserswerth then may very well have finally induced Boufflers to move.

5 Final moves

5.1 The Nijmegen affair

On 10 June Boufflers suddenly marched towards Athlone and Athlone hastily retreated to Nijmegen. According to Churchill Athlone was surprised9 and only saved by the prompt reaction of the population and garrison of Nijmegen. The details of this march10 were that Boufflers marched first to the fields around Goch, then to Nergena, and next to the Mokerhei. At this last point he failed to catch part of Athlone's infantry that marched to Grave. Athlone's cavalry safely retreated to Nijmegen. Tallard followed later and arrived in Kleve. Alliance losses were estimated at about 750 men, 7 guns and a few hundred carts and wagons. The affair brought about some panic in the Dutch camp, but after it calmed down they didn't think the situation that serious because the strategic consequences of the march were indeed very small.

5.2 Kaiserswerth surrenders

As a consequence of the loss of the counterscarpe and a probable final assault the defenders of Kaiserswerth started to capitulate somewhere between 6 and 7 in the morning of 15 June. Just before midnight the surrender of Kaiserswerth to the alliance was signed. One of the regiments that surrendered was the new regiment de Choiseul. The next round would consist of chasing Boufflers from the Rhine and Meuse.

6 Results & Analysis

6.1 Results

Immediately after the surrender of Kaiserswerth the places of Son and Neuss fell into alliance hands. This meant that (except for Rheinberg) the Rhine was free up to Bonn. The Alliance could now reinforce its army near Nijmegen, but the command would come in the hands of the Duke of Marlborough, who had recently arrived. For the French the situation did not seem that serious at first glance, but in fact they did now have a problem. Most of the Colognese territory had been lost, and their opportunities to conquer something were now very limited. Their only possible chance of gaining success consisted of besieging Maastricht, but it seemed that no preparations had been made to execute such a plan that year. Apart from this the opportunities for German princes perhaps planning to join them had been seriously diminished. All this meant that the initiative had now passed to the Alliance.

6.2 Analysis

All in all we do not see much acts of genius on both sides. Boufflers was successful in hindering the siege of Kaiserswerth, but only acted to lift it when it was already too late. On the alliance side we see a lot of bickering between the generals, the politicians and the members of the alliance. All in all also not a very glamorous picture. The only clear exception on the alliance side was Van Goor. He was not intimidated by the enemy and performed some vigorous actions. One of them almost lead to the capture of Huy (a.k.a. Cremona in miniature), and he persuaded the French to abandon other posts in the vicinity of Maastricht. It is interesting that Marlborough is often credited with taking Kaiserswerth. I therefore note here that Marlborough was still in The Hague when Kaiserswerth fell, and was only appointed as 'commander in chief' of the alliance armies on 30 June11

7 Sources

This page is almost exclusively based on primary sources. In this case the correspondence of Heinsius in 1702.

8 Notes

1) The reasons for the operation against Kaiserswerth can be found in 'Het Staatsche Leger' VIII/1 page 43. Furthermore Rheinberg did hinder shipping on the Rhine.
2) Letter by ambassador Vroesen to Heinsius 14 April 1702. RGP 158 page 94
3) Albert Octave Prince of T'Serclaes lord of Tilly, an older brother of the 'Dutch' Tilly
4) Letter of the Elector Palatine to Heinsius 29 April 1702 RGP 158 page 140
5) Letters by Geldermalsen and Dopff to Heinsius on 21 and 22 April RGP 158 page 111 and 116
6) Letter by Dopff to Heinsius RGP 158 page 200
7) Letter by Noyelle to Heinsius RGP 158 page 156
8) Letter by Wassenaer-Obdam to Heinsius 3 June 1702 RGP 158 page 259
9) Nothing of the kind can be found in the correspondence of Heinsius, but Churchill may have had another source
10) Taken from the journal of the Duc de Maine found in the Saint Simon edition mentioned on the sources page
11) See the appendix of the Marlbrough Heinsius correspondence edited by van 't Hoff