|Battle of Wattignies|
|Part of the French Revolution|
Lazare Carnot at Wattignies by Georges Moreau de Tours
|First French Republic||Habsburg Austria|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Josias of Coburg|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Wattignies was fought at the village of Wattignies-la-Victoire, France, on 15 and 16 October 1793 during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French army commanded by Jean-Baptiste Jourdan and Lazare Carnot defeated the army of Habsburg Austria led by Prince Josias of Coburg. This French victory of the War of the First Coalition forced Coburg to lift the siege of Maubeuge and retreat eastward. Wattignies is located nine km south-southeast of Maubeuge.
On 13 September, Feldmarschall Coburg's army accepted the surrender of the fortress of Le Quesnoy from its 4,000 surviving French defenders. The Austrian army moved 24 km east and laid siege to Maubeuge and its 20,000-man garrison under General of Division (MG) Jacques Ferrand on 30 September. Coburg assigned an Austrian-Dutch corps of 20,000 men led by General William V, Prince of Orange to prosecute the siege, while Feldzeugmeister François Clerfayt de Croix's corps covered the operation.
Coburg disposed Clerfayt's covering force of 21,000 astride the Avesnes-Maubeuge road, facing south. The 5,000 troops on the right rested their flank on the Sambre. The 9,000 soldiers of the centre deployed on a ridge in an amphitheatre of woods. The remaining 7,000 men defended the plateau of Wattignies on the left flank.
The French revolutionary army gathered at Avesnes-sur-Helpe, 18 km to the south of Maubeuge. The French Committee of Public Safety considered the situation of such critical importance that it sent Carnot to personally order MG Jourdan to the immediate relief of Ferrand's garrison. The long line of woods enabled the Army of the North to deploy unseen. MG Jacques Pierre Fromentin's 14,000 men of the left flank moved to attack the western end of the Austrian line. The 16,000-strong right wing under MG Florent Joseph Duquesnoy advanced towards Wattignies on the east. MG Antoine Balland and 13,000 troops demonstrated in the centre until the other columns had succeeded in their mission. At that time, Balland was to attack. Meanwhile, the Maubeuge garrison was to sally out. However, this part of the programme miscarried. Even without the Maubeuge garrison Jourdan had a two-to-one superiority. But the French were still the undisciplined enthusiasts of the Battle of Hondschoote.
Historian Michael Glover presents Carnot as a meddler. He writes of the politically powerful Committee of Public Safety member,
Carnot's talents as 'the organizer of victory' are beyond dispute, but his tactical skills were minimal, a defect he concealed by a careful rewriting of history. To drive away a poorly led covering force of 20,000 with the 45,000 available to the Army of the North should have posed no great problem, but the business was sadly bungled. Carnot insisted that there should be a double encircling movement, a favorite maneuver of his, combined with a frontal attack, thus carefully dispersing the French numerical superiority.
The French left attack progressed as long as it could use dead ground in the valleys. But, when the Republicans reached the gentler slopes above, the volleys of the Austrian regulars crushed their skirmisher swarms, and the Austrian cavalry, striking them in flank, rode over them. The centre attack, ordered by Carnot on the assumption that all was well on the flanks, was premature. Like the advance on the left, it progressed while the slopes were sharp. But, when the Republicans arrived on the crest they found a gentle reverse slope before them, at the foot of which were Coburg's best troops. Again, disciplined volleys and a well-timed cavalry charge swept back the assailants. The French right reached, but could not hold, Wattignies.
The first day's reverses were, in the eyes of Carnot and Jourdan, mere mishaps. According to one account, Jourdan wished to renew the left attack, but Carnot, the engineer, considered the Wattignies plateau the key of the position and his opinion prevailed.
Glover's narrative differs from the official view,
...so on the following day, that on which Marie Antoinette was executed, Jourdan followed his own judgment, concentrated overwhelming strength on his right, and, not without difficulty, turned the Battle of Wattignies ... into a victory, relieving Maubeuge. Carnot returned to Paris with his own version of events and no love for General Jourdan.
In the night the nearly equal partition of force, which was largely responsible for the failure, was modified, and the strength of the attack massed opposite Wattignies. Coburg meanwhile strengthened his wings. He had heard, wrongly, that Jourdan had been reinforced up to 100,000. But, he called up few fresh battalions, and put into line only 23,000 men. In reality Jourdan had not received reinforcements, and the effects of the first day's failure almost neutralized the French superiority of numbers and enthusiasm over the Austrians' discipline and confidence. On 16 October after a long fight, the French army managed to win the plateau and forced Coburg to lift the siege of Maubeuge and retire to the east.
French losses numbered 5,000 killed, wounded, and missing, plus 27 artillery pieces captured. The Austrians suffered 2,500 killed and wounded, while an additional 500 men were captured.
- Michael Glover. "Jourdan: The True Patriot". Chandler, David. Napoleon's Marshals. New York: Macmillan, 1987. ISBN 0-02-905930-5
- Rothenberg, Gunther E. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-253-31076-8
- Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge University Press
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