Battle of Entzheim
The Battle of Entzheim was a battle fought on 4 October 1674 near Entzheim in present-day Alsace between the French Royal Army under the command of the Vicomte de Turenne on one side and Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire on the other side during the Franco-Dutch War. Despite the Holy Roman Empire's numerical superiority, it ended in a French victory.
The Franco-Dutch War largely stemmed from the desires of King Louis XIV to achieve glory through military victory and to punish the Netherlands for what he perceived to be Dutch betrayal during the War of Devolution (1667–68). The Dutch had started that war as a French ally but, faced with Louis's growing territorial ambitions, had ended by joining an alliance with England and Sweden to curb French expansionism. Forced to accept a compromise end to the War of Devolution, Louis paid off Sweden and England to abandon the alliance. In 1672, France invaded the Netherlands. The Dutch managed to block the invasion, and soon other powers, including the Holy Roman Empire, joined the war against France.
While the main campaign of 1674 was being fought in the Netherlands, an Imperial army sought to open a second front against France in Alsace. Imperial Field Marshal Alexander von Bournonville crossed the Rhine River into Alsace at Strasbourg in September with over 40,000 men. That Imperial envoys had obtained authorization for the move was a diplomatic coup of some importance, as the city had previously been neutral and its bridge was a major crossing point. Bournonville expected a further 20,000 men provided by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg to join him shortly. If these two forces combined, they could overwhelm the smaller French army in their path and conquer large areas of eastern France.
The French approach
Commanding only 22,000 French troops with 30 guns, Marshal Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne, needed to engage Bournonville before he could be reinforced. Turenne determined to hit fast with as much surprise as possible. His army marched south to Molsheim during the night of October 2–3, a position from which the French could threaten communication between Strasbourg and the Imperial army encamped near the village of Entzheim. Turenne then used a thick mist to cover his army's approach to the Imperial camp on October 4. The mist gave way to rain.
At Entzheim, Bournonville had approximately 35,000 men. As the French arrived, each army formed into two lines, with infantry in the center and cavalry on the wings. Turenne also placed a cavalry reserve behind each line, and posted small units of musketeers to cover the gaps between his cavalry squadrons. Entzheim lay between the armies, just in front of Bournonville's center. A vineyard, backed by a large wood, lay on the eastern edge of the battlefield. To the west were a smaller forested area known as the Little Wood, and a ravine just to its south. These features protected the Imperial left.
Both sides quickly recognized the importance of the Little Wood. As Imperial artillery prepared to defend the wood, Turenne sent 8 battalions of infantry to attack it. Louis Francois de Boufflers, a future marshal, joined the attack with a force of dragoons. Under the steady rain, the French artillery struggled to move through mud. Bournonville responded to the French assault by moving over most of the infantry from his second line and reserve. Reluctant to uncover his center, Turenne nevertheless reinforced the attack with three battalions from his first line and the cavalry of his right wing. The fighting for the Little Wood was protracted. The French took the wood, but were then ejected by an Imperial counterattack.
Bournonville saw that the transfer of so many units toward the Little Wood had left a gap in the French center. He launched much of his cavalry toward what he hoped were two weak points in the French line. Some of the Imperial horse attacked the seven battalions remaining in the center of the French first line. The remainder, under Count Aeneas de Caprara, went for the cavalry on the French left wing. In the center, the steady French infantry formed "in order to face all sides, with an unequalled silence," and held off the Imperial cavalry. Caprara's attack met with more success initially. He drove in the first line of the French cavalry. Then, the second line and reserve countercharged and Caprara was forced back to his starting line.
An English contingent attached to the French army played a prominent role in the battle. This was somewhat odd, as England had made peace with the Netherlands and her allies in February 1674. King Charles II did not, however, recall his forces operating with the French. One of the English officers was Colonel John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough. He participated in the fighting for the Little Wood, and captured an Imperial artillery battery of five guns. An English observer reported: "No-one in the world could possibly have done better than Mr. Churchill . . . and M. de Turenne is very well pleased with all our nation." For his part, Churchill criticized Turenne for leaving idle much of his infantry during the battle.
For a time, the battle threatened to descend into stalemate. Then the French made one last effort, and captured the Little Wood. Although Imperial field works blocked a further French advance, the Imperial left flank was now in peril. The Imperial cavalry attacks in the center and on the French left had failed. Bournonville now ordered a retreat. The Imperial army withdrew to the south, soon entering winter quarters near Colmar. Turenne did not pursue. His army was tired after fighting both the enemy and the mud, and in need of refitting. He marched north to encamp at Haguenau. His army had sustained approximately 3,500 casualties. The Imperial army had lost around 3,000.
From a tactical standpoint, the battle of Entzheim was indecisive, since both armies retreated after the battle. Strategically, however, it was a victory for the French. Turenne had prevented Bournonville from starting his invasion of France. When the Imperial army entered winter quarters, Bournonville signaled that he contemplated no further operations until the spring of 1675.
It has been said that, starting in the summer of 1674 and ending in the winter of 1675, "Turenne fought what can only be called a great campaign." Significantly outnumbered, Turenne had used stealth and boldness to fight the Imperial army to a standstill at Entzheim. With his enemy now inactive, Turenne was able to plan the winter maneuver that would culminate in decisive victory at the Battle of Turckheim.
The Battlefield Today
Today, Entzheim is still a small village. However, the Little Wood and much of the rest of the battlefield now lie under parts of Strasbourg International Airport.
- Lynn, 1999, 105-122.
- Chandler, 1980, 40.
- Chandler, 1984, 7; Lynn, 1999, 110-111, 131.
- Chandler, 1984, 7; John Lynn, 1997, 508; Lynn, 1999, 131.
- Chandler, 1980, 40; Lynn, 1997, 533; Lynn, 1999, 131.
- Chandler, 1984, 7; Chandler, 1980, 40; Black, 1996, 90; Lynn, 1999, 132.
- Lynn, 1999, 132.
- Chandler,1984, 6-7; Chandler, 1980, 40; Lynn, 1999, 121-122.
- Chandler, 1980, 40; Lynn, 1999 132.
- Lynn, 1999, 127.
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