Battle of Tourcoing
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|Battle of Tourcoing|
|Part of the French Revolutionary Wars|
Battle of Tourcoing
|Republican France|| Habsburg Austria
|Commanders and leaders|
| Joseph Souham
| Prince of Coburg
Duke of York
|Army of the North||Coalition Army|
|Casualties and losses|
|3,000, 7 guns||5,500, 60 guns|
The Battle of Tourcoing (18 May 1794) saw a Republican French army directed by Joseph Souham defend against an attack by a Coalition army under Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The French army was temporarily led by Souham in the absence of its normal commander Jean-Charles Pichegru. Threatened with encirclement, Souham and division commanders Jean Victor Marie Moreau and Jacques Philippe Bonnaud improvised a counterattack which defeated the Coalition's widely separated and badly coordinated columns. The War of the First Coalition action was fought near the town of Tourcoing, just north of Lille in northeastern France.
The Coalition battle plan drawn up by Karl Mack von Leiberich launched six columns that attempted to envelop a part of the French army holding an awkward bulge at Menen (Menin) and Kortrijk (Courtrai). The French were able to hold off François Sébastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt's northern column as the southern columns of Franz Joseph, Count Kinsky and Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen made slow progress. Meanwhile, Souham concentrated his main strength on the three center columns under the overall command of Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany and inflicted a costly setback on the Coalition's Habsburg Austrian, British and Hanoverian troops. The action is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Turcoine, a gesture towards the English pronunciation of the town.
Battle in a nutshell
Under the temporary leadership of Souham, Maj-Gen Charles Pichegru's Army of the North (Armée du Nord) encountered an Austro-British-German force at Tourcoing. Despite a slight advantage in numbers, the 74,000 Allied troops under Saxe-Coburg were out-led and out-fought by Souham's 70,000 French troops. (However, one authority gives the French total as 82,000.)
Souham devised a strategic pincer movement consisting of his division attacking southwards from Kortrijk (Courtrai) and Maj-Gen Bonnaud's division northeastwards from Lille, thus catching the separated allied columns of Von dem Bussche, Rudolf Ritter von Otto and the Duke of York between them. Meanwhile part of Moreau's command held off the assault of the Count of Clerfayt from the north. It was a sprawling engagement fought out over many square miles of countryside just west of the Scheldt River in Flanders. Together with Maj-Gen Jean-Baptiste Jourdan's victory at the Battle of Fleurus on 16 June, Tourcoing marked the start of the evacuation of the allied forces from Flanders and French supremacy in Western Europe.
The Army of the North included the divisions of Souham (28,000), Moreau (22,000), Jacques Philippe Bonnaud (20,000) and Osten (10,000). Saxe-Coburg's army consisted of three Austrian columns commanded by Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen (18½ battalions, 6 squadrons), the François Sébastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt and Franz Joseph, Count Kinsky. Von dem Bussche commanded the Hanoverians (5 bns, 8 sqdns). The Duke of York led the English (8 bns, 6 sqdns), Hessen-Darmstadt (3 bns, 4 sqdns) and Hessen-Kassel (4 bns, 8 sqdns) contingents.
The Army of the North had thrust eastward so that the divisions of Souham and Moreau, which formed the left (north) flank, stood on the south bank of the Lys River between Courtrai and Aalbeke. Bonnaud held the center with units at Lannoy, Tressin and Sainghin. In addition, Compère's brigade held Tourcoing and Thierry's brigade held Mouscron. Osten's division defended Pont-à-Marcq on the right (south) flank. These dispositions straddle the current French-Belgian border.
Saxe-Coburg's chief-of-staff, General Karl Mack von Leiberich proposed enveloping and annihilating the 50,000-strong mass formed by Souham and Moreau. Clerfayt's detached corps was to march along the north bank of the Lys from Tielt through Menin. At Werwick, Clerfayt would force a crossing to the south bank, placing him well behind the French left flank. The Duke of York's three columns would advance to the northwest from Tournai toward Tourcoing. This force would pin the divisions of Souham and Moreau against the Lys. To the south, Archduke Charles and Kinsky would brush Osten and Bonnaud aside and wheel northwest, linking with Clerfayt and trapping the French left flank. The movement began on 16 May.
On 17 May, Clerfayt found his crossing resisted by Brig-Gen Dominique Vandamme, who had a brigade of Moreau's division. The Duke of York's right column under Bussche captured Mouscron, but it was driven out again and mauled by a French brigade. The center column led by Otto seized Tourcoing. With the British Guards brigade under Henry Fox leading the attack, the Duke of York's left column under Ralph Abercromby, stormed into Lannoy, Willems and Mouvaux. Kinsky's column crossed the Marque River at Bouvines but made little progress beyond there. Archduke Charles' column got a late start and barely made it to Pont-à-Marcq. Only the columns of Abercromby and Otto had reached their assigned positions by evening.
On 18 May, Souham determined to hurl 40,000 men at the Duke of York's three columns, while holding Kinsky, Charles and Clerfayt off with secondary forces. During the night, Clerfayt managed to cross to the south bank of the Lys. His 21,000 men drove back Vandamme's 12,000, but he was unable to advance south beyond Linselles. Shaken by his defeat the day before, Bussche retreated to the Scheldt. In the south, Charles and Kinsky remained almost completely inert, despite Mack's frantic orders for them to march to Lannoy. Instead, Charles became obsessed with protecting his left flank and rear from French incursions.
At dawn, Brig-Gen Étienne MacDonald's brigade of Souham's division rushed and recaptured Tourcoing from Otto. Malbrancq's brigade attacked Mouvaux from the north while Bonnaud applied pressure from the west. At first, Otto held firm on a line south of Tourcoing, but he was slowly driven back. At 11:30 am, the command of Abercromby, now isolated and under very heavy attack, nevertheless extricated itself and retreated from Mouvaux toward the southeast, Fox's Guards brigade distinguishing itself during the withdrawal. The Duke of York, separated from his command, narrowly avoided capture and was obliged to wade a deep brook to escape. This ended the battle. Souham immediately faced his tired troops about and prepared to attack Clerfayt. That general, realizing he was now alone, recrossed to the north bank of the Lys and retreated to the northeast.
The French suffered 3,000 casualties and lost 7 cannon. There was no pursuit of the defeated Allied main body. The Allies lost 4,000 killed and wounded, with 1,500 men and 60 guns captured. The 1st Hanoverian Infantry Regiment was nearly destroyed. The reasons for the Allied defeat were simple. There was poor staff work, very little cooperation and a failure to bring all their troops into action. Of his 74,000 Allied soldiers, Saxe-Coburg only committed 48,000 to battle.
- Black, Jeremy. Britain as a Military Power, 1688–1815. Routledge (UK). ISBN 1-85728-772-X
- Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
- Belloc, Hilaire. Tourcoing Project Gutenberg eBook 
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Smith, p 79
- Smith, p 80