The Battle of Val 1747

Authentic Narrative of the Battle of Laffeld by an Allied Officer
Journal, Society for Army Historical Research Vol 27 1949 Summer/Autumn & Winter.

On 29th June at 10 p.m., and on the return of H.R.H. from a reconnaissance beyond Hasselt, a detachment of 18 Battalions and 20 Squadrons under the Count von Daun was pushed forward. On the 30th at 6 a.m. orders were given to occupy the camp between Genck and Gellick. At 8 a.m. on 1st July the army marched again by the left, the van arriving at 9 a.m. in the outskirts of Rocsmer, three quarters of a league from Herderen. Noticing that a large enemy force had already occupied this last village and its heights, our van being all cavalry and finding themselves too near them, was obliged to occupy the heights of Rocsmer vis-a-vis those at Herden while waiting for the arrival of the rest of the army. It was really there or at Herderen we wished to establish our left, and the right vis-a-vis Tongres, but the said position of the enemy at Herderen obliged us to take another course ; in proportion as the army arrived, the vanguard withdrew from the heights of Rocsmer to make way for the infantry of the right and the cavalry of the same wing.

Our centre, composed of the Dutch infantry, drew up by the right and in front of and to the left of Rocsmer. The infantry of the left, composed of Hanoverians, Hessians and English joining the centre were drawn up more to the left, so that the Hanoverians were behind the hamlet of Laffeld, near Vlytingen ; the cavalry of the left prolonged the same line, then the English infantry joined by the Hessian cavalry, then the Hanoverian cavalry, and finally the English cavalry. The end of the line was only a short league from Maestricht, bordering on Mt. St. Pierre.

First of all the enemy picquets, which were in the villages and hamlets nearest to our front, were dislodged, and the places occupied by our troops. The enemy still occupied a position in a village a short distance from Herderen on the Maestricht side, but were dislodged towards evening by the English artillery. We did not, however, occupy this position as it was too close to the enemy, and rather far from our front. We stayed under arms in these positions all night, during which the advanced Corps of the main enemy army joined the camp at Herderen.

At daybreak on the 2nd of the month we saw it drawn up for battle in a semi-circle round and on the heights of Herderen. We learnt afterwards that the King was in the village with 12,000 men and 48 pieces of artillery.

Towards 6 a.m. the enemy army, or rather the right, marched by its right and drew up opposite our left. By this movement the semi-circle which it formed was reduced to something less than a quarter circle, and stood fast on and around the said heights. By this manoeuvre we judged that the enemy had designs on our left.

The information having been passed to H.R.H., who at dawn had made a reconnaissance and was now at G.H.Q. at Vieux-Jones with Marshal Bathiani [Batthyany] and the Prince of Waldeck, our army moved first to the left, and made new dispositions as follows :-

There were already in the aforesaid hamlet eight Battalions. The Hessian and Hanoverian infantry were posted on the right of the hamlet : the English infantry behind on the left : Trips's Corps in front of the left of the cavalry of the left.

About 9 a.m. the guns started to thunder on either side, principally ours, which were in front and on both sides of the hamlet : those of the enemy firing on the hamlet and on its sides. The enemy advanced with large columns of infantry and some squadrons of cavalry. Our guns were sited in such a way that they could fire throughout the day, but those of the enemy had to withhold their fire when their columns were within range of the fire of our infantry. The latter fought with such steadfastness and valour that the enemy was put to flight four times. Each time they returned to the attack with fresh troops, and the battle was a stubborn one. The fifth enemy attack, made as usual with fresh troops, lasted more than an hour. The English on the left of the hamlet gained some ground, pressing back the enemy, who after retiring always returned to the charge. It was there that H.R.H. remained at that time, and it was during this action that the extreme right of the enemy cavalry was repulsed by the Hussars of Trips supported by English cavalry, which was behind them.

It was during the third attack that the twenty Squadrons which had marched on 29th June with the detachments of the Count von Daun arrived, namely eight Imperial Squadrons, six of left wing (composed of the English Grey Horse, three Hanoverian, two Hessian) and six others. H.R.H. ordered the first eight Squadrons to the right of the infantry, which had been engaged to the right of the hamlet, to form up behind the village in order to be out of range of small arms fire. Of the twelve other Squadrons the six last were drawn up in the front line, and the six others in the second line, but also somewhat behind.

During the fifth attack H.R.H. ordered the first eight Squadrons to the extreme left of the line to support the infantry, who were fighting to the right of the hamlet. In the last two attacks the Prince of Waldeck used several Dutch battalions.

While as regards the left things were going very well, our infantry engaged on the right of the village lost ground, but fought on. This disadvantage should have been redressed by the Dutch battalions, who did all that was expected of them, but for the mistake of the aforesaid six Squadrons of the front line ; through losing this ground the infantry came into line with these Squadrons.

The enemy cavalry, which accompanied their infantry, wishing to profit by this mistake, pushed forward some platoons, who fired their pistols on the aforesaid six Squadrons. These, without waiting for them and without resistance, turned tail, throwing into disorder the six Squadrons which were behind them, and ran for their lives to the two Hanoverian battalions of Oberg and Hugo as well as to several platoons of their own battalions. Some others, making a quarter wheel to their right, fired on these Squadrons, killing and wounding a number of men and horses.

H.R.H., having learnt of this trouble, arrived on the scene at full speed, and heading off the fugitives reformed them. He sent one of his aide-de-camps to Marshal Bathiani to tell him of this unhappy event. The rest of the infantry fought on for nearly half an hour despite this rout, but were at length forced to retire, and firing ceased. The whole of the artillery also retreated, with the exception of that which had been stationed in front of the hamlet.

Marshal Bathiani had since the beginning of the action sent back to the Duke fourteen Allied battalions and twenty Squadrons out of the entire army placed by H.R.H. on the right, and had also offered him six Imperial battalions. Realizing the gravity of the situation he now sent General Count de Palfi with four Regiments of cavalry and twelve companies of grenadiers to the Prince of Waldeck to reinforce the Dutch, and at the same time made arrangements for the retreat of the right and part of the centre. This part of the army had been unable to attack because of the ravines, defiles and marshes : nor had it been attacked for the same reason, but was only kept at bay by the position of the enemy in the village of Herderen and on the heights.

Marshal Bathiani's retreat had been made in the face of the enemy about Maestricht, skirting the field of battle one-eighth of a league more to the left, without the French at any time attempting to interfere. They were content to use their artillery, but with the minimum of success. The reserve and the battalions of the Count von Daun's force, which were stationed with the reserve behind the right in the neighbourhood of Vieux Jones, as well as the troops which were at Bilsen to cover the right flank, had retreated later close on the heels of the right. They also suffered no loss from the enemy's cannonade.

For the rest, during the retreat of the infantry of the left, H.R.H. placed himself at the head of the cavalry and advanced with the first line on the enemy cavalry. But our cavalry, pressing back the enemy and pursuing him a little too far, came under fire of some infantry hidden behind the hedges of a village. Upon that they fell back, and some enemy squadrons having gone round the village took them in the flank and put them to flight. The whole action only lasted six minutes.

We have captured eight enemy colours and six standards. H.R.H. has given a reward of 100 crowns for each colour or standard taken. We have also taken more than 1,500 prisoners, but a good many got away during our retreat, with the result that only a few hundred remain. In addition to this number of prisoners we have captured 41 officers including one or two Brigadiers.

Our losses in killed, wounded and prisoners are from 5,000 to 6,000 men.

The enemy's losses are certainly double ours, not only by the testimony of their prisoners, but also by the following indisputable argument : the enemy had been put to flight four times ; the fifth action had been long and stubbornly contested ; in these five actions our artillery kept up a continuous and murderous fire for nearly five hours, while that of the enemy could only fire at the beginning of and the intervals between the attacks. Their shot never had any effect on us, but ours always did on them, except during the stated intervals between the attacks, when only ball could be used. We learnt through bribery that three churches at Tongres were full of wounded officers, and can guess at the rest.

P.S. - The Commanders of the different Corps having given in their lists to H.R.H. several days after the action, a detailed and authentic return was drawn up, according to which our total loss is 5,743 men : as to infantry, 60 Imperial, 1,888 English, 2,009 Hanoverian, 175 Hessian and 400 Dutch; as to artillery, 82 English and 96 Hanoverian; adding up to the aforesaid total of 5,743 killed, wounded, prisoners or missing. Our loss in horses is 1,639, including those of the artillery.

We have taken 8 colours, 6 standards and about 1,500 prisoners that we made during the action. We still have Brigadiers Bellefonds and Dillon, 40 other officers and 600 soldiers, who will be shortly sent back, Marshal de Saxe having returned to us since the 6th those that he took from us. We are convinced that the enemy losses are 12,000 killed and put out of action. 

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