"Dettingen, short way above those Pontoons at Seligenstadt, is near eight miles westward [NORTHwestward, but let us use the briefer term] from Aschaffenburg: Dettingen is a poor peasant Village, of some size, close on the Mayn, and on our side of it. A Brook, coming down from the Spessart Mountains, falls into the Mayn there; having formed for itself, there and upwards, a considerable dell or hollow way; chiefly on the western or right bank of which stands the Village with its barnyards and piggeries: on both sides of the great High-road, which here crosses the Brook, and will lead you to Hanau twenty miles off,--or back to Aschaffenburg, and even to Nurnberg and the Donau Countries, if you persevere. Except that of the high-road, Dettingen Brook has no bridge. Above the Village, after coming from the Mountains, the banks of it are boggy; especially the western bank, which spreads out into a scrubby waste of moor, for some good space. In which scrubby moor, as elsewhere in this dell or hollow way itself, where the Village hangs, with its hedges, piggeries, colegarths,--there is like to be bad enough marching for a column of men! Noailles, as we said, has Two Bridges thrown across the Mayn, just below; and the last of his Five Batteries, from the other side, will command Dettingen. His plan of operation is this:--
"By these Bridges he has passed 24,000 horse and foot across the River, under his Nephew the chivalrous Duke of Grammont: these, with due artillery and equipment, are to occupy the Village; and to rank themselves in battle-order to leftward of it, on the moor just mentioned,--well behind that hollow way, with its brook and bogs;--and, one thing they must note well, Not to stir from that position, till the English columns have got fairly into said hollow way and brook of Dettingen, and are plunging more or less distractedly across the entanglements there. With cannon on their left flank, and such a gullet to pass through, one may hope they will be in rather an attackable condition. Across that gullet it is our intention they shall never get. How can they, if Grammont do his duty?
"This is Noailles's plan; one of the prettiest imaginable, say military men,--had the execution but corresponded. Noailles had seized Aschaffenburg, so soon as the English were out of it; Noailles, from his batteries beyond the River, salutes the English march with continuous shot and thunder, which is very discomposing: he sees confidently a really fair likelihood of capturing the Britannic Majesty and his Pragmatic Army, unless they prefer to die on the ground. Seldom, since that of the Caudine Forks, did any Army, by ill-luck and ill-guidance, get into such a pinfold,--death or flat surrender seemingly their one alternative.
"Thus march these English, that dewy morning, Thursday, June 27th, 1743, with cannon playing on their left flank; and such a fate ahead of them, had they known it;--very short of breakfast, too, for most part. But they have one fine quality, and Britannic George, like all his Welf race from Henry the Lion down to these days, has it in an eminent degree: they are not easily put into flurry, into fear. In all Welf Sovereigns, and generally in Teuton Populations, on that side of the Channel or on this, there is the requisite unconscious substratum of taciturn inexpugnability, with depths of potential rage almost unquenchable, to be found when you apply for it. Which quality will much stead them on the present occasion: and, indeed, it is perhaps strengthened by their 'stupidity' itself, what neighbors call their 'stupidity;'--want of idle imagining, idle flurrying, nay want even of knowing, is not one of the worst qualities just now! They tramp on, paying a minimum of attention to the cannon; ignorant of what is ahead; hoping only it may be breakfast, in some form, before the day quite terminate. The day is still young, hardly 8 o'clock, when their advanced parties find Dettingen beset; find a whole French Army drawn up, on the scrubby moor there; and come galloping back with this interesting bit of news! Pause hereupon; much consulting; in fact, endless hithering and thithering, the affair being knotty: 'Fight, YES, now at last! But how?' Impetuous Stair was not wanting to himself; Neipperg too, they say, was useful with advice; D'Ahremberg, I should imagine, good for little.
"Some six hours followed of thrice-intricate deploying, planting of field-pieces, counter-batteries; ranking, re-ranking, shuffling hither and then thither of horse and foot; Noailles's cannonade proceeding all the while; the English, still considerably exposed to it, and standing it like stones; chivalrous Grammont, and with better reason the English, much wishing these preliminaries were done. A difficult business, that of deploying here. The Pragmatic had no room, jammed so against the Spessart Hills, and obliged to lean FROM the River and Noailles's cannon; had to rank itself in six, some say in eight lines; horse behind foot, as well as on flank; unsatisfactory to the military mind: and I think had not done shuffling and re-shuffling at 2 P.M.,--when the Enemy came bursting on, with a peremptory finish to it, 'Enough of that, MESSIEUR'S LES ANGLAIS!' 'Too much of it, a great deal!' thought Messieurs grimly, in response. And there ensued a really furious clash of host against host; French chivalry (MAISON DU ROI, Black Mousquetaires, the Flower of their Horse regiments) dashing, in right Gallic frenzy, on their natural enemies,--on the English, that is; who, I find, were mainly on the left wing there, horse and foot; and had mainly (the Austrians and they, very mainly) the work to do;--and did, with an effort, and luck helping, manage to do it.
"'Grammont breaks orders! Thrice-blamable Grammont!' exclaim Noailles and others, sorrowfully wringing their hands. Even so! Grammont had waited seven mortal hours; one's courage burning all the while, courage perhaps rather burning down,--and not the least use coming of if. Grammont had, in natural impatience, gradually edged forward; and, in the end, was being cannonaded and pricked into by the Enemy;-- and did at last, with his MAISON-DU-ROI, dash across that essential Hollow Way, and plunge in upon them on their own side of it. And 'the, English foot gave their volley too soon;' ad Grammont did, in effect, partly repulse and disorder the front ranks of them; and, blazing up uncontrollable, at sight of those first ranks in disorder, did press home upon them more and more; get wholly into the affair, bringing on his Infantry as well: 'Let us finish it wholly, now that our hand is in!'--and took one cannon from the Enemy; and did other feats.
"So furious was that first charge of his; 'MAISON-DU-ROI covering itself with glory,'--for a short while. MAISON-DU-ROI broke three lines of the Enemy [three, not "Five"]; did in some places actually break through; in others 'could not, but galloped along the front.' Three of their lines: but the fourth line would not break; much the contrary, it advanced (Austrians and English) with steady fire, hotter and hotter: upon this fourth line MAISON-DU-ROI had, itself, to break, pretty much altogether, and rush home again, in ruinous condition. 'Our front lines made lanes for them; terribly maltreating them with musketry on right and left, as they galloped through.' And this was the end of Grammont's successes, this charge of horse; for his infantry had no luck anywhere; and the essential crisis of the Battle had been here. It continued still a good while; plenty of cannonading, fusillading, but in sporadic detached form; a confused series of small shocks and knocks; which were mostly, or all, unfortunate for Grammont; and which at length knocked him quite off the field. 'He was now interlaced with the English,' moans Noailles; 'so that my cannon, not to shoot Grammont as well as the English, had to cease firing!' Well, yes, that is true, M. le Marechal; but that is not so important as you would have it. The English had stood nine hours in this fire of yours; by degrees, leaning well away from it; answering it with counter- batteries;--and were not yet ruined by it, when the Grammont crisis came! Noailles should have dashed fresh troops across his Bridges, and tried to handle them well. Noailles did not do that; or do anything but wring his hands.
"The Fight lasted four hours; ever hotter on the English part, ever less hot on the French [fire of anthracite-coal VERSUS flame of dry wood, which latter at last sinks ASHY!]--and ended in total defeat of the French. The French Infantry by no means behaved as their Cavalry had done. The GARDES FRANCAISES [fire burning ashy, after seven hours of flaming], when Grammont ordered them up to take the English in flank, would hardly come on at all, or stand one push. They threw away their arms, and plunged into the River, like a drove of swimmers; getting drowned in great numbers. So that their comrades nicknamed them 'CANARDS DU MEIN (Ducks of the Mayn):' and in English mess-rooms, there went afterwards a saying: 'The French had, in reality, Three Bridges; one of them NOT wooden, and carpeted with blue cloth!' Such the wit of military mankind.