1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Neerwinden

NEERWINDEN, a village of Belgium in the province of Liége, a few miles E. by S. of Tirlemont, which gives its name to two great battles, the first fought in 1693 between the Anglo-Allied army under William III. of England and the French under the duke of Luxemburg, and the second in 1793 between the Austrians under Prince Iosias of Coburg and the French under General Dumouriez.

Battle of Neerwinden. or Landen, 1693 (see GRAND ALLLANCE, WAR or THE):—Luxemburg, having by feints induced William to detach portions of his army, rapidly drew together superior numbers in face of the Allied camps, which lay in a rough semicircle from Elissem on the rightito Neerlanden, and thence along the Landen brook on the left' (July 18-28, 1693). William had no mind to retire over the Geete river, and entrenched a strong line from Laer through Neerwindcn to Neerlanden. On the right section of this line (Laer to Neerwinden) the ground was much intersected and gave plenty of cover for both sides, and this section, being regarded as the key of the position, was strongly garrisoned; in the centre the open ground between Neerwindcn and Neerlanden was solidly entrenched, and in front of it Rumsdorp was held as an advanced post. The left at Neerlanden rested upon the Landen brook and was difficult of access. William's right, as his line of retreat lay over the Geete, was his dangerous flank, and Luxemburg was aware that, the front of the Allies being somewhat long for the numbers defending it, the intervention of troops drawn from one wing to reinforce the other would almost certainly be too late. Under these conditions Luxemburg's general plan was to throw the weight of his attack on the Laer-Neerwinden section, and specially on Neerwindcn itself, and to economize his forces-as “economy of force ” was understood before Napoleon's time-elsewhere, delivering holding attacks or demonstrations as might be necessary, and thus preventing

the Allied centre and left from assisting the right. Luxemburg had about 80,000 men to William's 50,000. Opposite 'the entrenchments of the centre he drew up nearly the whole of his cavalry in six lines, with two lines of infantry intercalated. A corps of infantry and dragoons was told off for the attack of Neerlanden and Rumsdorp, and the troops destined for the main attack, 28,000 of all arms, formed up in heavy masses opposite Neerwinden. This proportion of about one-third of the whole force to be employed in the decisive attack in the event proved insuiiicient. The troops opposite the Allied centre and left had to act with the greatest energy to fulfil their containing mission, and at Laer-Neerwinden the eventual success of the attack was bought only at the price of the utter exhaustion of the troops. .

After a long cannonade the French columns moved to the attack, converging on Neerwinden; a smaller force assaulted Laer. The edge of the villages was carried, but in the interior a murderous struggle began, every foot of ground being contested, and after a time William himself, leading a heavy counter-attack, expelled the assailants from both villages. A second attack, pushed with the same energy, was met with the same determination, and meanwhile the French in other parts of the field had pressed their demonstrations home. Even the six lines of cavalry in the centre, after enduring the fire of the Allies for many hours, trotted over the open and up to the entrenchments to meet with certain defeat, and at Neerlanden and Rumsdorp there was severe hand to hand hghting. But, meantime, the two intact lines of infantry in the French centre had been moved to their left and formed the nucleus for the last great assault on Neerwinden, which proved too much for the exhausted defenders. They fell back slowly and steadily, defying pursuit, and the British Coldstream Guards even captured a colour. But at this crisis the initiative of a subordinate general, the famous military writer Feuquières (q.v.), converted the hard-won local success into a brilliant victory. William had begun to move troops from his centre and left to the right in order to meet the great assault on Neerwinden, and Feuquières, observing this, led the cavalry of the French centre once again straight at the entrenchments. This time the French squadrons, surprising the Allies in the act of manœuvring, rode over every body of troops they met, and nothing remained for the Allies but a hurried retreat over the Geete. A stubborn rearguard of British troops led by'William himself alone saved the Allied army, of which all but the left wing was fought out and in disorder. Luxemburg had won his greatest victory, thanks in a measure to Feuquiéres exploit; but had the assaults on Neerwinden been madeas Napoleon would have made them—with one-half or two thirds of his forces instead of one-third, the victory would have been decisive, and Feuquières would have won his laurels, not in forcing the decision at the cost of using up his cavalry, but in annihilating the remnants of the Allied army in the pursuit. The material results of the battle were twelve thousand Allies (as against eight thousand French) killed, wounded and prisoners, and eighty guns and a great number of standards and colours taken by the French.

The battle of the 18th March 1793 marked the end of Dumouriez’s attempt to overrun the Low Countries and the beginnin of the Allies’ invasion of France. The Austrians under Coburg, advancing from Maestricht in the direction of Brussels, encountered the heads of the hurriedly assembling French army at Tirlemont on the 15th of March, and took up a position between Neerwinden and Neerlanden. On the 18th, however, after a little preliminary fighting Coburg drew back a short distance and rearranged his army on a more extended front between Racour and Dormael, thus parrying the enveloping movement begun by the French from Tirlemont. Dumouriez was consequently compelled to fight after all on parallel fronts, and though in the villages themselves the individuality and enthusiasm of the French soldier compensated for his inadequate training and indiscipline, the greater part of the front of contact was open ground, where the superiority of the veteran Austrian regulars was unchallengeable. In these conditions an attempt to win a second Jemappes with numerical odds of 11 to 10 instead of 2 to 1 in favour of the attack was foredoomed to disaster, and the repulse of the Revolutionary Army was the signal for its almost complete dissolution. Neerwinden was a great disaster, but not a great battle. Its details merely show the impossibility of fighting on the 18th-century system with ill-trained troops. The methods by which such troops could compass victory, the way to fight a “sans culotte” battle, were not evolved until later.