Battle of Mulhouse (1674)
The Battle of Mulhouse occurred on December 29, 1674, during the Franco-Dutch War between the French army and troops of the Holy Roman Empire and its allies, as part of Turenne's Winter Campaign. The French army was commanded by the Vicomte de Turenne and the imperial army was led by Prince Alexandre-Hippolyte de Bournonville.
While the imperial armies were in their winter quarters, Turenne split up his army and traveled through the Vosges mountains before reforming it near Belfort. This helped confuse his enemy and gave his troops a surprise advantage over his opponents in Mulhouse on December 29, leading to 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 allying with England and Sweden to curb French expansionism. Pressure from this new alliance forced Louis to accept a compromise end to the War of Devolution. Louis then paid off Sweden and England to abandon the alliance. In 1672, France invaded the Netherlands, but the Dutch managed to bog down the French advance. 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, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor sought to open a second front against France in Alsace. An Imperial army under Bournonville crossed the Rhine River into Alsace at Strasbourg in September. Turenne attacked the Imperials on October 4 at Entzheim with a smaller force. Although the battle was indecisive tactically, it prompted Bournonville to end the 1674 campaign and enter winter quarters around Colmar. There he was reinforced by troops provided by Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg.
Turenne's Winter Campaign
Although armies of the time normally avoided active campaigning over the winter, Turenne determined to go onto the offensive even as snow began to fall. The French commander marched his forces south around the enemy flank. He kept the Vosges between the two armies, and used various stratagems to conceal his movements and aims from Bournonville and the other enemy commanders. The French army reached Belfort, at the southern end of the Vosges, on December 27.
Turenne's arrival at Belfort astonished the enemy generals. He hoped to take advantage of this surprise by a prompt attack into Alsace. However, the need to gather food forced the main French army to halt. Interrogation of prisoners told Turenne that the Imperial forces and their allies had orders to concentrate in two groupings, one at Colmar and the other at Altkirch. Turenne determined to force his way between the two groups by advancing through Mulhouse, then a free city associated with Switzerland. He could take with him only 3,000 cavalry. A small force of infantry was to follow as rapidly as practicable.
Bournonville hoped to hold the line of the Ill River to gain time for his army to fully assemble. The delay in the French advance allowed an enemy vanguard to occupy Mulhouse before Turenne arrived. This was part of a cavalry detachment of over 5,000 men that was marching north from Altkirch toward Colmar under the command of Margrave Hermann of Baden-Baden. This cavalry included men of Austria, Baden, and Munster. As soon as Turenne's small force reached the Ill near Mulhouse on December 29, he ordered Marechal de Camp Rene de la Tour, Marquis de Montauban, to reconnoiter the enemy position with two squadrons of French cavalry. Turenne followed and, when he rejoined Montauban, they saw two enemy squadrons posted near the river and five more squadrons in support nearby.
As the river was fordable at this point, Turenne ordered Montauban to attack the foremost enemy squadrons. The battle quickly escalated as Turenne and the enemy commanders sent in reinforcements. Turenne deployed a particularly large force on his right flank, giving the impression that the whole French army was arriving. The French cavalry advanced with as much fanfare as possible, with trumpets blaring and cymbals crashing. Suddenly, the cuirassiers of the Emperor turned and fled into Mulhouse. This led the whole enemy force to withdraw in disorder in several directions; some fled toward Basel to take refuge in Switzerland. Turenne had lost 60 men, including Montauban who had been captured. Sources disagree on the enemy's losses, but the casualties appear to have numbered at least 300.
Turenne returned to his main force at Belfort. The French army was finally ready to resume its advance in the first days of January. Turenne now marched on the enemy headquarters at Colmar. Nearby, he would win a decisive victory at the Battle of Turckheim that would force the Imperial army out of Alsace.
The Battlefield Today
Mulhouse has grown into a city of over 100,000. As a result, the fields and fords of the 1674 battlefield largely have been obscured by cityscape.
- Tucker, Spencer (2009). A global chronology of conflict: From the ancient world to the modern Middle East. ABC-CLIO. p. 651. ISBN 1-85109-667-1.
- John Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (London, New York: Longman, 1999), 105-122.
- David Chandler, Atlas of Military Strategy (New York: the Free Press, 1980) 40.
- David Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander (Staplehurst, Kent: Spellmount, 1984), 7; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 110-111, 131.
- Richard Brooks, ed., Atlas of World Military History (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2000), 84; Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 132-133.
- Theodore Ayrault Dodge, Gustavus Adolphus: A History of the Art of War from its Revival After the Middle Ages to the End of the Spanish Succession War, with a Detailed Account of the Campaigns of the Great Swede, and of the Most Famous Campaigns of Turenne, Conde, Eugene, and Marlborough (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890), II: 628-29; A Relation or Journal of the Campaigns of the Marechal de Turenne, in the Years One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Four, and One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five; 'Til the Time of His Death. Done from the French, By an Officer of the Army (Dublin: Addison's Head, 1732), 69; Hardy de Perini, Batailles Francaises, 5e Serie (Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1894-1906), V: 132.
- Dodge, Gustavus Adolphus, II: 629; A Relation or Journal, 69; Anselme de Sainte Marie, Histoire Genealogique et Chronologique de la Maison de France, (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1879), 9.2: 63.
- Dodge, Gustavus Adolphus, II: 629; A Relation or Journal, 69; de Perini, Batailles Francaises, V: 133-134. Dodge reports 300 men lost, whereas de Perini lists 300 dead and 1,000 taken prisoner; the latter figures seem inflated for a relatively small engagement.
- Dodge, Gustavus Adolphus, II: 628; A Relation or Journal, 68.
- http://www.mulhouse.fr/fr/mulhouse-en-chiffres (accessed September 18, 2015).
- Brooks, Richard, ed. Atlas of World Military History. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2000.
- Chandler, David. Atlas of Military Strategy. New York: the Free Press, 1980.
- Chandler, David. Marlborough as Military Commander. Staplehurst, Kent: Spellmount, 1984.
- De Perini, Hardy. Batailles Francaises, Series 5, Vol. V. Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1894-1906.
- De Sainte Marie, Anselme, Histoire Genealogique et Chronologique de la Maison de France, Vol. 9, Part 2. Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1879.
- Dodge,Theodore Ayrault. Gustavus Adolphus: A History of the Art of War from its Revival After the Middle Ages to the End of the Spanish Succession War, with a Detailed Account of the Campaigns of the Great Swede, and of the Most Famous Campaigns of Turenne, Conde, Eugene, and Marlborough, Vol II. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890.
- Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714. London, New York: Longman, 1999.
- A Relation or Journal of the Campaigns of the Marechal de Turenne, in the Years One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Four, and One Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Five; 'Til the Time of His Death. Done from the French, By an Officer of the Army. Dublin: Addison's Head, 1732.
- Tucker, Spencer (2009). A global chronology of conflict: From the ancient world to the modern Middle East. ABC-CLIO., 651. ISBN 1-85109-667-1.