Battle of the Schellenberg

Battle of the Schellenberg
View on Donauwörth from a bridge
View on DonauwörthPhoto by me
Date:2 July 1704
Outcome:Alliance Victory
Bourbon side:Alliance side:
BavariaUnited Provinces
The Empire
Count ArcoMarlborough
Louis of Baden
Van Goor

1 The Battle of the Schellenberg as part of the Danube Campaign

The battle for the Schellenberg is also known as the assault on the Schellenberg. Though the latter may be technically more correct, it tends to suggest that the affair was something less than a real battle. In turn this may lead one to believe that the battle of the Schellenberg was a kind of overture to the battle of Blenheim, but this is totally wrong. Though there is of course a strong connection between the events, they only share the goal of kicking Bavaria out of the war. There was no master plan to first cross the Danube at Donauwörth and then to recross it more than a month later to fight a large battle on its northern bank.

In terms of logic the battle for the Schellenberg is the culmination of the march to the Danube and it came within an inch of achieving its goals there. The follow-up put so much pressure on Bavaria that the alliance almost succeeded in getting Max Emanuel into their camp. Had Max Emanuel not received word of French reinforcements on the very day he was about to sign a treaty, the Danube campaign would have ended after the Schellenberg.

After the failure of negotiations a new strategic situation was then created with the alliance cutting off Max Emanuel from Bavaria and preparing to attack it. Logically the battle of Blenheim is linked to Tallard's arrival into Bavaria and the failed siege of Villingen. I have therefore cut the Danube campaign in three.

2 Planning the march to the Danube

2.1 Situation of the Empire

At the beginning of 1704 the empire was in great distress. Landau and the fortress of Kehl (opposite Strasbourg) had been taken by the French, and the important cities of Regensburg, Augsburg and Passau had been taken by the Franco-Bavarian armies. Though the situation had already been bad in 1703, the Bavarians had not profited from it because they unwisely choose to attack Tyrol instead of one of the easier targets. It could however be expected that they would chose an easier target in 1704. The empire was of course crying for help, and the only ones able to give it were the seapowers. In fact this was a second call for help. Already in March 1703 the Dutch had sent 15 Battalions under Lieutenant General Van Goor to help Louis of Baden.

2.2 Planning operations on the Moselle

As regards Flanders the previous campaign had secured the advantages of the allies, but had failed to produce any big results. An analysis would show that getting a decisive success was difficult because the Spanish Netherlands were riddled with fortresses. This meant that only a rout of the Franco-Spanish armies would enable the allies to make much headway. Next to that Marlborough had concluded that a campaign in Flanders had only little chance of success because of the command structure. He also wanted to command alone because he thought his chances of success to be higher in such a case1.

The situation in the empire, Marlborough's conclusions and the conventional wisdom that France was most vulnerable on the Moselle, therefore had led to decision to send an expedition to the Moselle in 1704. In August of the previous year Marlborough already had plans to do something there, because he wrote about taking Trier and Trarbach and leaving lots of troops in winter quarters nearby. He also communicated with Slingelandt and the field deputies about the 'expedition'2. With an eye to performing some kind of action in the next campaign the alliance had heaped up supplies in the area.

Lots of books talk about the meetings Heinsius, Wratislaw Marlborough and others had in The Hague from 21 April till 5 May 17043. On the 23rd Marlborough had a first meeting with a deputation from the States General and on 2 may another4. The results were transferred to the States General themselves. These were at first hesitant to join the plan to bring a large army to the Moselle and spend a day conferring about it. In a meeting the next day with the Raad van State and Marlborough they then decided to wholeheartedly support the expedition to the Moselle.

2.3 In fact the allies decided to march to the Danube

So an official decision was made to march to the Moselle and campaign there. There is however a distinction here between the official decision and the factual decisions taken. Marlborough for example was already planning to go to the Danube when these meetings took place5. Some have claimed that England and the Empire had decided to campaign on the Danube with part of the Dutch army while they would only consult the States General in the final phase6. In Fact it's indeed true that most of the representatives who sat in the States General were not informed of the fact that the army would in all likelihood end up on the Danube. On the other hand I would have written a paragraph about the stupidity of allied leaders if they had informed the two dozen men who sat in the States General. (They might just as well have informed the House of Commons.)

My conclusion therefore is that there is nothing extraordinary regarding the conference at The Hague: Marlborough and Heinsius decided to respond to Wratislaw's pleas and decided to send an army to the Danube; it would have been very illogical to inform the whole States General.

There are those who think that in response to some bizarre hypothesis they need to actually prove with documents that Heinsius did know were the army would end up and how it would be commanded. Lamberty claims that only Heinsius and Geldermalsen knew of the real plan and decided not to write anything about it and not to appoint field deputies in order to prevent problems 7. Though I think it unnecessary I have found the documents that do support this claim by Lamberty in a very obvious place. On 21 May and 25 May 1704 Marlborough was west of Bonn and in Koblenz and wrote to Heinsius clearly stating that his goal was to fight Max Emanuel. Max Emanuel of Bavaria was not on the Moselle8.

3 The march to the Danube

3.1 The march to the Danube starts

Marlborough left The Hague on 5 May. That same day the English troops started to concentrate near Den Bosch and later marched to Roermond. Marlborough went on to Maastricht to confer with Ouwerkerk. On 11 May he inspected the 'Dutch' troops consisting of 40 battalions and 79 squadrons. The march to the Danube started on 14 May when the English troops, consisting of 14 battalions and circa 14 squadrons under General Churchill, crossed the Meuse near Roermond9. On 15 May a Dutch detachment of 5 squadrons and 11 guns left Maastricht in the same direction. On 19 May both detachments and Marlborough united near Bedburg.

Villeroy quickly got wind of it and started to march south (through the Ardennes) with 21,000 men, or 36 battalions and about 45 squadrons10. On 19 and 20 May the French would also succeed in handing over reinforcements to the elector of Bavaria. Their plan was to conquer Frankenland.

Marlborough reached Kerpen on the 20 May. Here he instructed Hompesch (who was at Coblenz), Hessen-Kassel and Bülow to be ready to join him near Philipburg around 8 June. These three commanders commanded about 20 battalions and 40 squadrons, so more than Marlborough had. On 21 May Marlborough reached Kühlseggen, from where he wrote letters describing the (correct) details of Villeroy's detachment. This convinced the Dutch generals that there was no more danger to be expected from the French. Therefore a further detachment was made consisting of Danish troops numbering 8 battalions and 21 squadrons11.

Since 24 May Marlborough had started to march ahead of the troops with the cavalry. On 28 May he was at Schwalbach near Mainz. Here and near Bonn he picked up a battalion to reinforce himself. Out of the infantry and artillery that followed we have a letter from Yvoy, written from Coblentz on 25 May.

3.2 The true intentions of the march are slowly revealed

Marlborough had officially planned to campaign on the Moselle, but now it gradually became clear that he would not do so. On 26 May the Rhine was crossed near Coblentz, on 28 May the Main was crossed near Castheim. On 3 June the cavalry crossed the Neckar near Ladenburg and then waited for the infantry. From a letter by Van Rechteren-Almelo we can deduce that Marlborough informed him at Coblentz of the design against Max Emanuel12. That the secret was kept very well we can deduce from a letter by Yvoy written on 3 June from Mainz in which he remarks that he suddenly supposes the march might go to Bavaria on account of the marching orders he just received13.

3.3 Positions of the troops before turning east

On 3 June Marlborough and his cavalry crossed the Neckar at Ladenburg (between Mannheim and Heidelberg). Here he stopped for three days to let the infantry and artillery catch up, these were still 4 days behind. The Danish cavalry was near Cologne, and the Danish infantry still further back. This position is important because the alliance army could still chose what to do at this time. They could start a campaign against Alsace (passing the Rhine at the Pontoon-bridges near Philipsburg) or a campaign against Bavaria.

Louis of Baden's army was then north of the Danube and included Van Goor's troops under Beinheim. It also included the corps of the Duke of Württemberg which numbered 4 battalions and 1 Dragoon regiment and had recently passed into the service of the States. Van Goor himself was with Marlborough to help him to regulate the march. Troops of Luneburg, Hessen and the States were north east of Karlsruhe under Bülow, Hessen-Kassel and Hompesch.

4 Maneuvering in Southern Germany

4.1 The Alliance army turns east

From Ladenburg the troops of Bülow, Hessen-Kassel and Hompesch received orders to march south east. Their way was parallel to the route of the main army that marched over Wiesloch, Eppingen and Gartach to Lauffen. Here it crossed to the right bank of the Neckar and from there it arrived in Mindelsheim on 9 June. Here Marlborough met Prince Eugen on 10 June. The army then marched on to Gross Heppach, where it was joined by Louis of Baden.

The allies now had three great commanders in a small area: The well renowned Margrave Louis of Baden (a.k.a. Türkenlouis, famous for the battle of Slankamen), Eugen (famous for the battle of Zenta) and Marlborough (not so famous yet). Marlborough would have liked the Louis of Baden to defend the Rhine while he and Eugen attacked Bavaria, but the margrave ranked higher than Eugen and decided to let Eugen hold the Rhine. In Gross Heppach the three then met and devised a plan: Eugen would hold the Rhine with 30,000, the Margrave would hold back the Bavarians near Ulm, and Marlborough would march to join his army with that of the margrave. Their two armies then joined on the June 22 near Westerstetten, and formed a formidable army of 76 battalions, 177 squadrons, and only 48 guns. The Danes had still not arrived, but would be added to these numbers.

4.2 The French reaction

The strategic problem for Versailles was that the allies could now concentrate a superior force against each of its separated armies. Villeroy and Tallard were therefore ordered by Louis XIV to make a plan to counter the operations against Bavaria, but could not agree on the best option. Louis XIV then had to decide himself and decided to send an army to save the elector of Bavaria. To this purpose he ordered Marshal Tallard to form an army of 40 battalions and 50 squadrons and march to Bavaria by way of Kehl-Villingen. Tallard would however not arrive in time to prevent the allies from crossing the Danube.

4.3 The necessity to cross the Danube

The Franco-Bavarians had reacted to the Margrave's and Marlborough's maneuvers by marching to Ulm, arriving there 2 June. Max Emanuel and Marsin were outnumbered, but had the strategic advantage of possessing all fortresses and possible crossing points on the Danube against an enemy that lacked siege guns. The immediate objective of the Franco-Bavarians was therefore to prevent the allies from crossing the Danube.

While well fortified places like Ulm and Ingolstadt were quite secure this could not be said for the smaller places like Donauwörth, Höchstädt, Lauingen, Dillingen. Max Emanuel and Marsin therefore established a well-fortified camp around Lauingen and Dillingen. To round of their defense they sent count Arco with 14,000 men to establish fortifications on the Schellenberg that dominated Dounauwörth. To the left is a map of the strategic position held by Max Emanuel's troops, with their positions in green. The main force of the Franco-Bavarians is in a fortified camp centered on Lauingen and Dillingen.

The allied objective was kicking Bavaria out of the war, or bringing it over into their camp. Their strategic problem was that that they had to cross the Danube in order to damage Bavaria. With their supplies coming from Nördlingen and Nürnberg their options were probably limited to a place between Ulm and Donauwörth, or to taking one of these places, however difficult that would be without siege guns.

5 The battle of the Schellenberg

5.1 Strategic disposition

The French were very well aware of the possibility that Marlborough could want to attack the Schellenberg. This is proven by a letter which Tallard wrote from Kehl on 2 July. In it he said that it would be very advantageous if Max Emanuel could hold Donauwörth14.

5.2 Strategic value of the Schellenberg

The importance of the Schellenberg position can be explained from the fact that it dominated Donauwörth. In other words: that the strategical crossroads at Donauwörth could not be held without holding the Schellenberg. To be more precise: Because of the advancements in the power of artillery holding the Schellenberg had become more important than holding Donauwörth.

I think the picture to the left pretty well explains this: (Old Donauwörth is the churchtower and probably the little square building over the central lady's head. The other buildings were not there at the time).

The picture to the right is taken from the church tower towards the terrace.

5.3 Deployment

The army at the Schellenberg commanded by Johann Baptist Graf von Arco and General Alexander von Maffei consisted of 16 Bavarian and 6 French battalions and 4 Cavalry regiments totaling about 13,000 men. In Donauwörth itself were 1,000 French under Du Bordet.

5.4 The battle

To the left is the Schellenberg is some more detail. The red 'star' (and 2nd photo) is the old fortress of Gustav Adolphus. The artillery is marked in black, and there is a forest in the north. With an attack close to the city too dangerous because of the city's artillery, the forest impenetrable for the armies of those days, and the eastern line of fortifications ready, Marlborough had only little choice were to attack. He thus attacked were Arco expected him to attack, as can be seen from Arco's artillery dispositions.

On 30 June the allied army of about 50,000 men marched from Giengen and scouts soon noticed that the Bavarians were busy building fortifications on the Schellenberg, though they were far from ready. There was then some discussion in the allied camp whether the Schellenberg should be attacked on 2 July or on the 3rd. Marlborough chose to do this on the second in order to prevent Arco from digging in any further and in order to conquer it before Arco could be reinforced. The allies crossed the Wörnitz and marched towards the south-east on its left bank. For the attack they formed an assault party of 6,000 elite soldiers chosen from the army.

The whole allied army then marched up the mountain headed by the assault party commanded by Van Goor. As point of attack they chose a small strip of land next to the forest that was out of reach of the city's guns. At 18:15 the attack started with the assault party marching in a formation of about 300 meters wide, the soldiers holding their rifle in one hand and a fascine in the other. General Van Goor was killed almost instantly, but the march went on meeting an unexpected deep ditch about 50 meters in front of the fortifications. The first soldiers closed this ditch with their fascines and as a consequence did not have fascines at hand when they reached the fortifications. The first assault turned into an enormous bloodbath under the fortifications with the Allies unable to surmount them and finally retreating back to their starting point.

A second attack was then ordered by Marlborough with high officers leading the assault, mortally wounding count Styrum. It was repulsed too, and a third assault on the same point was started at 19:15 together with an attack somewhat more to the right. During these events however, Louis of Baden had at 18:45 hours or somewhat before started an attack south of the old fortress of Gustaf Adolphus. Because most of Arco's troops were then already defending against Marlborough this attack succeeded fairly easy, and the margrave's infantry and cavalry soon entered the fortifications south of the main body of Arco's troops cutting them of from the city and the pontoon-bridge over the Danube located in the southern part of the fortification. Because the allies had stormed a fortification the Franco-Bavarian knew it would be highly unlikely that they would receive quarter, and therefore the breakthrough by the margrave led to almost immediate panic in their ranks and a complete rout of Arco's troops.

5.5 Evacuation of Donauwörth

With the Schellenberg in their hands the allies did not yet possess Donauwörth itself. Their preparations for laying two pontoon bridges over the Danube however prompted the garrison to evacuate the town on 3 July. This hasty retreat was probably influenced by the carnage on the Schellenberg, and the fact that these bridges would have closed in the garrison. On the other hand Marlborough estimated that a siege of Donauwörth itself could have cost him ten days. After its speedy evacuation he hoped to cross the Danube on the fifth15.

6 Results

The cost of the battle for the allies is estimated at about 1,500 killed and 4,500 wounded. Because of the violent nature of the attack it had been necessary for senior allied officers to personally lead the charges. This had led to an incredible amount of senior officers killed or wounded. This is illustrated by the fact that 6 lieutenant generals were killed. The elite of allied Europe was therefore quite horrified by the losses. The Franco-Bavarian losses can be estimated between 9,000 and 12,000 including killed, wounded, taken prisoner and drowned.

7 Blame and Credit

There can be no doubt that the decision of the allies to attack the very day they arrived was right. There is also no doubt that the decision to take the Schellenberg was right. If there is any blame to be dealt out on the allied side it would be for the very high casualties. Questions could be raised about the way and the timing of the attack. Perhaps better reconnaissance together with different timing and lines of attack could have had the same result with fewer casualties. However it may be: credit should go to Marlborough, Van Goor and Louis of Baden for taking a well defended strong-point, reaching the strategic objective of breaking the Danube line.

Count Arco was in a situation where he was heavily outnumbered, and the enemy did not care too much about casualties. It was probably as impossible for him to win as to retreat. His success is probably measured best by the number of casualties he inflicted because he got his corps to stand bravely. In this way he can be considered to have done a great job. This would only be different if he can be blamed for the fortifications not being more ready at the time. Another possible point of criticism is that apparently none of his troops were sent to Donauwörth, a move that (if possible) could have prolonged the resistance of the city itself. All in all Count Arco performed very well and almost flawless.

8 The Follow-up 2-16 July

Marlborough, having crossed the Danube and the Lech arrived at Burgheim on the 10th or 11th, and busied himself with repairing bridges over the Lech and at Neuburg16, which, being abandoned, had fallen to him on the 9th or before. On the 10th he started besieging Rain, which he took on the 16th. He also laid small garrisons in Dillingen and Höchstadt, and started plundering and destroying the Bavarian countryside around him.

Max Emanuel reacted to the news of the Schellenberg by breaking up from his camp at Dillingen-Lauingen and marching downstream to the Lech. He could have chosen to defend Bavaria from a position to the east, thereby giving up his communications with France. In stead he chose to center his army on Augsburg to await Tallard, thereby opening up Bavaria to the havoc of the allied armies. From his new fortified camp near Augsburg Max Emanuel used most of his Bavarian troops to reinforce the garrisons of Ingolstadt and a lot of other Bavarian towns.

The pressure was enough for Max Emanuel to get more serious about negotiations that would have led to a peace-treaty on July 14th. However, Max Emanuel on that very morning received notification that Tallard was on his way to Villingen. He then refused to come and sign the treaty which offered him Neuburg and Burgau and the prospect of a crown.

On 15 July some English officers which had been lagging behind arrived in camp at Burgheim. These were John Cutts, Ingoldsby and Webb and their arrival sparked a rumor that still more reinforcements had arrived17.

9 Preparations to conquer Bavaria

The strategic situation had changed considerably: The allies now had new lines of supply and a base and bridge on the Danube. After taking Rain however, the allies had to make a decision too: They could either try to prevent the junction of Tallard and Max Emanuel, which meant marching west. Or they could position themselves between Max Emanuel and Bavaria. Marlborough consciously chose the last option18. In order to: 'Oblige the elector one way or the other to a compliance', he marched to Aichach, from where he left the 21st, arriving at Friedberg the 23rd.

Max Emanuel was now cut of from Bavaria itself. At the 29th Marlborough send his first large raiding parties from his camp at Friedberg, that began to seriously destruct Bavaria. They started to plunder and destruct the countryside in the direction of Munich in order not only to exact contributions, and to pressurize Max Emanuel to change sides, but also to minimize Max Emanuel's supplies. Taking Munich or some other great town would of course have been more effective, but the allies lacked the siege guns to do so. However, it prompted Max Emanuel to disperse his army over Bavaria in order to guard the most important parts of the country against cavalry raids, thus that 30 of his 35 battalions and 40 of his 60 squadrons left his camp at Augsburg.

With Tallard on his way this new pressure did not persuade Max Emanuel to restart negotiations. Marlborough then devised a plan to conquer Ingolstadt first, and then Ulm, a plan for which he was trying to assemble guns at Neuburg. Eugen, who was marching parallel to Tallard, would enable him to have a sufficient covering force to perform these operations. He was however already considering to do battle should the opportunity present itself. How this opportunity arose, and the battle was fought is of course described at the Blenheim page19.

10 Notes

1) There is a letter by Marlborough to Heinsius of 3 September 1703 which expresses both these thoughts: 'soe that if I might have millions given mee to serve another yeare and be obliged to doe nothing but by the unanimous consent of the generals, I would much sooner dye;... I hope thay (i.e. the States General) will approve of the onely expedient I can think of, which is my being att the head of the troupes payde by England. Printed in Van 't Hoff nr 142.
2) Marlborough to Heinsius on 9 August, 20 August and 24 September 1703. Printed in Van 't Hoff nrs 137, 139 and 146.
3) Dates from Van 't Hoff page 104.
4) Lediard on page 189 and following. I doubt whether this deputation can be equaled to the deputies.
5) There is a letter from him about this, but I still have to see it.
6) Churchill in the chapter about 'Het beetgenomen leger' probably called 'the tricked army' in the English edition. Personally I think Churchill knew better than this and I think he wrote this in order to tell a fine story. For this one should note the words 'States General' in stead of 'the Dutch' or 'Heinsius', who was part of the States General.
7) 'Het Staatse Leger' doubts the claims of Lamberty on grounds that they cannot find (I did) any direct source to support it. It does however cite Lamberty's opinion.
8) Marlborough to Heinsius on a) 21 May 1704 and b) 25 May 1704: a) 'you might send us soe many troupes as might make mee succed against the elector of Bavaria,' and b) 'if wee can be putt in a condition of being able to reduce the elector of Bavaria France must submit etc.' in both letters there's no mention of doing anything on the Moselle.
9) 'For this paragraph: Het Staatse Leger' VIII/I, on page 419 it states that the troops crossed the Meuse on this date; Churchill says the march started on 19 May, but is probably wrong.
10) The number 21,000 is from Churchill
11) Letter from Ouwerkerk to Heinsius on 23 May 1704: Ouwerkerk describes that he has just received a letter from Marlborough and: '...aussi les sentimens de nos généraux et lieutenant généraux et sommes tous tombé d'accord de l'inportance qu'il y a d'envoyer un détachement pour l'Alemagne.' Dopff and Salisch were amongst the most ardent supporters of sending more troops up the Rhine.
12) Van Rechteren-Almelo to Heinsius 2 June: ...want dat het vijantlick secours vrij verder geëloigneert sijnde als wij, men bijgevolge hetselve eenige marches kan devanceren ende alsoo met een groote superioriteyt den vijant accableren eer het bij de hant kan sijn, daer-ter contrary den vijant tijt gevende om al sijn volck bijeen te brengen etc. etc. In short this can only mean that Marlborough informed Van Rechteren Almelo of the States' design against Bavaria. Printed in H.A. 1704 nr. 488
13) Printed in H.A. 1704 nr. 495
14) Letter of 2 July 1704 by Tallard to Chamillart written from Kehl.
15) Letter from Donauwörth by Marlborough to Heinsius on 4 July 1704 published by Van 't Hoff nr. 189.
16) Letter from Burgheim by Marlborough to Heinsius on 13 July 1704 published by Van 't Hoff nr. 192.
17) Lamberty volume 3 page 92 for their arrival.
18) Letter from Burgheim by Marlborough to Heinsius on 16 July 1704 published by Van 't Hoff nr. 118.
19) Letter from Friedberg by Marlborough to Heinsius on 31 July 1704 published by Van 't Hoff nr. 200.