The Battle of Val 1747
of the Action at the Village of Val,
The 30th ult. The army march'd by the left in 3 columns towards Lonaken, and encamp'd that night between that place and Ghenck; at the same time the different detachments under Count Daun, and the Prince of Wolfenbuttle, with Gen. Baroniai's corps, passed Bilsen, and encamp'd at the GrandeCommanderie; the corps of the Comte de C'ermont, not having retired behind Tongres, but occupying still the high ground from Tongres to Tongrebergh, notwithstanding the approach of our army, made it evident that they design'd to sustain that corps with their whole force, and, if possible, to gain the camp of Bilsen.
This position of the French army made the intercepting the corps Ciermont impracticable; it was resolved therefore by his R.H. the Duke, in concert with Marshal Bathiani and Pr. Waldeck (after having reconnoitred the country towards the Jaar that morning) to take possession of the camp of Bilsen, extending the left to Millen; for that purpose the whole army had orders to march by break of day the 1st of July, N.S. His R.H. and P. Waldeck remained all that night at the Commanderie, and the Marshal at Bilsen, in order to lose no time the next morning in making the necessary dispositions for the arrival of the army.
On the 1st of July his R.H. was on horseback by break of day, in order to reconnoitre; about 4 o'clock he perceived the enemy's cavalry in motion in two columns, stretching towards their right, which we immediately concluded was with a design to gain the heights of Millen and Herdeeren, and if they found it possible, to fall on the head of our columns, which were then in march from their camp, inclining that way: Before six their irregulars, who flanked the march of their columns, were skirmishing with our advanced Hussars and Lycanians.
The instant that the columns of the enemy appeared, his R.H. sent orders to Sir John Ligonier to advance with the left wing of cavalry as fast as possible, and to the foot to press their march; at the same time he order'd the P. of Wolfenbuttle to occupy the villages of Grote and Klein Spawe, with the infantry of the corps de reserve, and to form his cavalry on the plain between those villages and the Grande Commanderie. These precautions being taken for maintaining our post at Bilsen, his R.H. was desirous of forming our cavalry time enough on the heights of Herdeeren for the reception of the enemy; but before our cavalry could arrive, the enemy had already occupied those heights, and presented 3 lines of cavalry on the descent of the hill, with their irregulars both horse and foot, before them; this made it immediately necessary to alter the design'd position of the left, since we were no longer masters of those heights; accordingly it was unanimously agreed to extend the left to Wirle, the right still occupying Bilsen, as in the former position.
As soon as the left wing of cavalry came up, it was formed in the plain below Herdeeren, in order to check the enemy's advancing, and give our infantry time to come who were behind them. This motion was executed with great spirit by our cavalry under Sir J. Ligonier, who, on the arrival of the infantry countermarch'd by his left, on the right flank of the infantry, thro' the plain, in order to take up his ground in order of battle, near the village of Wirle, covering the flank of his march with 8 squadrons, who made always a front to the hill of Herdeeren.
This whole day was spent in forming the army, and it was determined to receive the enemy's attack if they thought fit to bring on a general action, as by advancing they would in some degree give up the advantage of their ground above us. In consequence of this resolution, the villages of the Grande Commanderie, and the two Spawes, were filled with the infantry of the corps de reserve, and a part of Count Daun's detachment, whilst the rest made a flank towards Bilsen, where there was a strong post with cannon, in order to prevent the enemy's coming round us. The left wing took post in the village of Vlitinghem, (where his R.H. posted the brigade of British foot guards,) and the hamlet of Val: The lines of infantry extended behind the villages, having the left wing of cavalry in a line with the infantry, and the imperial cavalry formed in two lines before the Klein Spawe. Whilst we were employ'd in forming the army, which was completed between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, the enemy kept constantly skirmishing with the irregulars in the plain, and advancing more cavalry on the side of the hill of Herdeeren: This was done to mask the march of their infantry, which kept moving on to our left, under cover of the hill on the other side.
The corps of irregulars, under the command of Gen. Tripps, which had cover'd the march of the army from Lier, was now join'd, and order'd to the left, in order to cover the flank, and watch the motions of the enemy that way: The Dutch cavalry was order'd to be form'd in the rear of the left of their own infantry, and the right of the Hessian, as that was judg'd the weakest part of the line of battle.
This evening we cannonaded the enemy very smartly from a hill in the front of the village of Val, and some shots were exchanged likewise on the right; but it grew so late, that it was plain the enemy did not mean to bring on a general action at that time. His R.H. the Duke, accompanied by the other generals, after having rode several times from right to left, and taken all the measures that could be thought of for the security of the situation, order'd the army to remain under arms all night.
At day-break on the 2d, his R.H. with the Marshal and P. Waldeck, visited the lines, and made some alteration in the former dispositions by advancing the front line of the left, in a line with the village of Val, and bringing up the second nearer to sustain it; the village was occupied by the regiments of late Crauford's, Pulteney's, Dejean's and Freudeman's Hanoverians (with artillery.) The foot-guards were likewise retired from the village of Vlitingbem, and made a flank from the right of the Hessian grenadiers, towards the Bavarians of the center, fronting the village of Vlitingbem, which we burnt, in order to prevent the enemy's making use of it to annoy us.
The enemy, during the night, had brought more squadrons upon the hill of Herdeeren, and we could perceive they had thrown up some works upon the brow of the hill; but the greatest part of their infantry, which filed off towards our left, kept marching on the right flank of their cavalry. Several batteries of the English artillery were placed along our front, in order to rake the enemy as they should come down the hills.
At 8 o'clock we could not perceive that they made any motion towards our front, which made us suspect that they were concealing the motion of their infantry and amusing us with these corps of cavalry, in hopes to call us off from Maestricht, by pouring down a large column of infantry upon the left; orders were therefore given to the irregulars to watch, with the utmost attention, the enemy's motions towards the Meuse.
His R.H. with the generals, being return'd to the Commanderie, in order to concert what measures should be taken in case the enemy should not chuse to advance upon us, Sir S. Ligonier sent Lieut. Col. Forbes to acquaint the Duke, that by the motions of the enemy they appear'd to be forming to attack the left wing, and that he had order'd all to arms. His R.H. immediately went thither, the Marshal and P. Waldeck going at the same time to prepare their respective corps. No sooner were the batteries of the left wing all fix'd for the reception of the enemy, than their infantry appeared coming down into the plain, thro' a valley between the hills which leads from Rempst, formed in a vast column of 9 or 10 battalions in front, and as many deep, of their best corps, bearing directly at the village of Val, in and about which, almost the whole of the action was, which lasted near 5 hours. Our batteries continued firing the whole time the enemy was advancing, as well upon their foot as the squadrons of horse that supported the right and left flanks of their columns.
At 10 o'clock the cannonading of the enemy's side began against the village, with the field pieces that they brought with their infantry, (the second shot of which kill'd his R.H.'s German aid de camp the Baron Ziggefaer) which was immediately followed by the attack of their first brigades. These were soon dispers'd, with prodigious loss, as were the second, third, and fourth divisions.
Overpowere'd by the constant supply of fresh troops, the regiments in Val were obliged to give way; but being sustain'd by the regiments of Wolfe, Charles Howard, Conway and Hauss, return'd to their charge, and recover'd their post. The brigades of Navarre, La Marque, Irish, Monaco, Royal des Vaisseaux, and several others, were entirely ruin'd. The enemy kept still pouring on fresh lines of foot, so that the village was lost and regained of both sides several times. The battalions of the British and Hanoverian infantry enter'd the village four or five different times each, though the French but once, as they never could be rallied, and were always supplied with fresh brigades.
The instant that the enemy made the first general discharge of small arms at the village, his R.H. order'd onne of his aides de camp to go immediately to Marshal Bathiani, to inform him that the left was attack'd, that the enemy appear'd determin'd to make his whole effort upon Val, and therefore desired he would be attentive to support him speedily and effectually. The Marshal returned for answer that he was doing his utmost for that purpose, and had order'd away directly from the right, the 9 battalions of the left wing which had been detached with Count Daun, and the 5 that were with the corps de reserve; and would likewise support him much further as was possible. Besides the infantry, part of the squadrons of Count Daun's corps were ordered to join the left; the part of Daun's detachment arrived time enough to go into the village and do great execution, but the 5 of the corps de reserve did not arrive till later, as they were posted further on the right.
About 12 o'clock affairs went on so well, that his R.H. ordered the whole left wing to advance upon the enemy, whose infantry gave way so fast, that they were obliged to put cavalry behind them, and on their flanks, to drive them on with their swords. The center began likewise to advance under P. Waldeck (who was at the head of his corps the whole day) and his R.H. desired the Marshal to advance as his ground would allow him, towards Herdeeren, and to annoy the enemy's flank; which he did, driving the enemy out of the village of Elcht, which was in the front of the hill of Herdeeren, where they had taken post the night before. The right wing could not however advance so fast as the left, because, had they inclined towards the front of the village of Vlitinghem, they would have exposed their flank to that corps which the enemy had on Herdeeren, which was very considerable, joined to a large battery of 18 pounders; and it was necessary to be very attentive to Bilsen, lest the enemy should come round our right flank; however they kept moving on, and prevented the enemy from detaching any more troops from their left to the right.
The enemy began now to advance more infantry of their reserve from Rempst, all inclining to Val, and part of their cavalry of the right inclined to the center, in order to keep up the foot; when by the misconduct of some squadrons (Dutch) in the center, who perceived the foot before them prest hard upon and giving way, instead of remedying which by sustaining them, they went to the right about, and overthrew the five battalions of the corps de reserve which were coming from the right towards Val. His R.H. rode immediately to the head of the cavalry, and endeavour'd, with the assistance of the Dutch Major Gen. Cannenberg (who did all that man could do) to rally them but in vain, the enemy's squadrons had already enter'd with them, compleated the confusion there, and divided the army: His R.H. with difficulty rejoin'd the left wing, whose right flank, and the right flank of the village they sustained, was now exposed to two fires.
Though his R.H. had desired more infantry from the right wing before this, and 6 more battalions were in march to join him, yet this unexpected break so disconcerted all precautions that could be taken, that it was time to think of making good the retreat to Maestricht; however the cavalry of the left, and some squadrons of the Imperialists, under the command of Major Gen. Bournonville, (who distinguished themselves extreamly) which had begun to advance, led on by Sir J. Ligonier, were already advanced so far as to be on the point of charging the French cavalry, which they did with so much success, that they overthrew all before them, but too eager in the pursuit of the enemy, receiv'd a sharp fire from the foot which they had posted in a hollow way and some hedges to favour the flight of their horse, by which they suffered a good deal; they dispersed however that foot, and some fresh squadrons which the enemy sent down upon them; but it was all in vain whilst the army was cut in two: His R.H. therefore called them off, and sent word to the Marshal that he should retire towards Maestricht, and would move towards Velt Wesel, and Lonaken, to favour his retreat. This done, he retired the left wing slowly and in good order, bringing off all the heavy field artillery, tho' they were advanced before the village of Val. The small cannon that we lost, it was impossible to bring off, as many of them had the wheels broke, and others were too far advanced at the time we began to retire. The enemy cannonaded us in the retreat, but attempted nothing further, seeing the good order we retir'd in, and knowing how greatly they had already suffered.
The left wing got to Maestricht about five o'clock, and the Dutch and right wing by 7. The enemy seemed to have a mind to attack Pr. Wolfenbuttle, who made the rear guard, but after exchanging some small shot, found it too difficult and retired.
It is impossible to commend too much the behaviour of the generals of both horse and foot. Sir J. Ligonier, whocharged at the head of the British dragoons with that skill and spirit, that he has shewed on so many occasions, and in which he was so well seconded, had the misfortune to have his horse killed in the second charge of the cavalry, and was made prisoner. Major Gen. Count d'Yssenbourg, who led the Hessian cavalry, is wounded and taken; Major Gen. Bland is wounded in the arm, but will do well.
Lord Albemarle did all that could be expected from an officer, as the behaviour of the British infantry sufficiently shews: The behaviour of Major Gen. Howard, the Brigadiers Price, Houghton and Mordaunt, who were all in the village with their brigades, wants no words to set it off.
Gen. Sommerfeldt, Lieut. Gen. Druchleben, Major Gen. Zastrow, and the rest of the Hanoverian officers did honour to their corps.
The P. of Hesse rallied his infantry several times with the greatest intrepidity and coolness.
It would be unjust to the rest, to say that any corps of the king's royal or electoral troops did better than the others, tho' some were put to a severer tryal; in short, the enemy must do us the justice to own, that their success was dearly bought.
Our loss of killed, wounded, and missing, amounts to 4000, odd hundred, and that of the enemy not less than 10,000, amongst which are reckon'd four Lieut. Generals. We have taken above 60 officers and 700 men; amongst the officers are Brig. Marquis de Blondel, and the fourth brother to my Lord Dillon, who commanded the regiment of that name.
We have taken from the enemy 5 standards, and 7 pair of colours. We have lost 4 of the former, but the Hanoverians 1 pair of colours.
Copyright © 2000-2003 Pulteney's Regiment