Saturday, 28 March 2009

British troops at the battle of St-Denis 1678

Another instalment from the Historical records of the British army (infantry)
Battle of St-Denis

At the close of the campaign, the ministers of the confederate states pressed King Charles II to recall his troops from the service of France, attributing many of the French monarch's successes to the bravery of the British regiments; and in 1678 the king acceded.
At the same time the gallant Earl of Ossory, eldest son of the Duke of Ormond, was appointed to the command the British brigade; and Sir Henry Bellasis succeeded Colonel Ashley in the command of the regiment which is now the Sixth Foot. Ten thousand English troops were also embarked for Flanders, to take part in the war.
During the early part of the campaign of 1678, the British brigade, under the Earl of Ossory, was employed on detached services in Brabant and Flanders; and on the morning of Sunday, the 14th of August, it moved from its camp near the little river Senne, to attack the French army, commanded by Marshal Luxemburg, before Mons.
The French commander imagined himself safe in inaccessible entrenchments; but he was surprised by a party of Dutch dragoons while at dinner in the Abbey of St. Denis, near the village of that name, and his army was unexpectedly attacked, with great fury, about three o'clock in the afternoon. The Dutch, under Count Waldeck, assaulted and carried the abbey; the Spaniards, commanded by the Duke of Villa Hermosa, advanced by the village of Castehau ; and the Dutch foot-guards, with the Earl of Ossory's brigade, prolonged the attack on the heights of Castehau, where the action was maintained with particular obstinacy. The Earl of Ossory drew his sword, and, pointing to the dark masses of the enemy, whose polished arms gleamed on the distant heights, led his British bands to the attack with signal intrepidity: his gallant mien and lofty bearing infused a noble ardour into the breasts of his officers and men, who urged, with resolute tread, their way through every difficulty to encounter their adversaries. The grenadiers of Bellasis's regiment (now Sixth Foot) headed by Major William Babington, led the attack on a body of French troops, posted in a hop-garden, with a spirit and resolution which were imitated by the musketeers and pikemen, and a vehement struggle ensued among the trees and umbrageous foliage which adorned the scene of conflict. Sir Henry Bellasis and Lieutenant-Colonel Monk were wounded, Major Babington was also wounded and taken prisoner, and the contest was fierce and sanguinary; but British valour prevailed, and the French were driven from among the hop-poles with great slaughter. Another stand was made by the enemy beyond the enclosure, and the storm of battle was renewed with additional fury. The Scots, under Major-General Kirkpatrick, Sir Alexander Colyear, and Colonel Mackay, vied with the English in their gallant efforts, and the Prince of Orange and Duke of Monmouth arriving at that part of the field, witnessed their heroic behaviour. Attack succeeded attack, and as the shades of evening gathered over the scene of conflict, the blaze of musketry and showers of hand-grenades indicated the fury of the opposing ranks of war. At length darkness put an end to the fight; and the French forsook their entrenchments and retreated. The excellent conduct of the British troops was appreciated by the Prince of Orange and the States-General; and in the narratives of the battle, published at the time, they received their meed of praise : in one account it was stated,—" the Earl of Ossory and his troops performed wonders;" in another,—" the English and Scots regiments did things to the admiration of those that beheld them;" and in a third,—"they behaved themselves with that courage and bravery which are so natural to them." The regiment which forms the subject of this memoir (the Holland Regiment) lost many non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, and had the following officers killed and wounded:—Captains Richardson and Vanderstraet, Lieutenants Price, Paul, and Lepingault, and Ensign Drury, killed : Colonel Sir Henry Bellasis, Lieutenant-Colonel Monk, Captain Penford, Lieutenant Lunnemon, and Ensign Nelson, wounded. Major Babington was wounded and taken prisoner: he was, in the first instance, included in the list of the slain.
Preliminary articles for a treaty of peace had, in the mean time, been agreed upon at Nimeguen ; and the aspect of affairs was suddenly changed, the spot of ground where fury and bloodshed raged a few hours before was transformed, by the news of peace, to a scene of hilarity and jocund mirth, which was only alloyed by the remembrance of the loss of so many companions in arms, whose blood had stained the grassy fields.

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