"'Or they may purpose for the Donau Countries, where Broglio is crackling off like trains of gunpowder; and lend hand to Prince Karl, thereby enclosing Broglio fires?' This, according to present aspects, is between two the likeliest. And perhaps, had provenders and arrangements been made beforehand for such a march, this had been the feasiblest: and, to my own notion, it was some wild hope of doing this without provenders or prearrangements that had brought the Pragmatic into its present quarters at Aschaffenburg, which are for the military mind a mystery to this day.
"Early in the Spring, the French Governmeut had equipped Noailles with 70,000 men, to keep watch, and patrol about, in the Rhine-Mayn Countries, and look into those points. Which he has been vigilantly doing,--posted of late on the south or left bank of the Mayn;--and is especially vigilant, since June 14th, when the Pragmatic Army got on march, across the Mayn at Hochst; and took to offering him battle, on his own south side of the River. Noailles--though his Force [still 58,000, after that Broglio Detachment of 12,000] was greatly the stronger--would not fight; preferred cutting off the Enemy's supplies, capturing his river-boats, provision-convoys from Hanau, and settling him by hunger, as the cheaper method. Impetuous Stair was thwarted, by flat protest of his German colleagues, especially by D'Ahremberg, in FORCING battle on those rash terms: 'We Austrians absolutely will not!' said D'Ahremberg at last, and withdrew, or was withdrawing, he for his part, across the River again. So that Stair also was obliged to recross the River, in indignant humor; and now lies at Aschaffenburg, suffering the sad alternative, short diet namely, which will end in famine soon, if these counsels prevail.
"Stair and D'Ahremberg do not well accord in their opinions; nor, it seems, is anybody in particular absolute Chief; there are likewise heats and jealousies between the Hanoverian and the English troops ('Are not we come for all your goods?' 'Yes, damn you, and for all our chattels too!')--and withal it is frightfully uncertain whether a high degree of intellect presides over these 44,000 fighting men, which may lead them to something, or a low degree, which can only lead them to nothing!--The blame is all laid on Stair; 'too rash,' they say. Possibly enough, too rash. And possibly enough withal, even to a sound military judgment, in such unutterable puddle of jarring imbecilities, 'rashness,' headlong courage, offered the one chance there was of success? Who knows, had all the 44,000 been as rash as Stair and his English, but luck, and sheer hard fighting, might have favored him, as skill could not, in those sad circumstances! Stair's plan was, 'Beat Noailles, and you have done everything: provisions, opulent new regions, and all else shall be added to you!' Stair's plan might have answered,--had Stair been the master to execute it; which he was not. D'Ahremberg's also, who protested, 'Wait till your 12,000 join, and you have your provisions,' was the orthodox plan, and might have much to say for itself. But the two plans collapsing into one,--that was the clearly fatal method! Magnanimous Stair never made the least explanation, to an undiscerning Public or Parliament; wrapt himself in strict silence, and accepted in a grand way what had come to him. [His Papers, to voluminous extent, are still in the Family Archives;--not inaccessible, I think, were the right student of them (who would be a rare article among us!) to turn up.] Clear it is, the Pragmatic Army had come across again, at Aschaffenburg, Sunday, June 16th; and was found there by his Majesty on the Wednesday following, with its two internecine plans fallen into mutual death; a Pragmatic Army in truly dangerous circumstances.
"The English who were in and round Aschaffenburg itself, Hanoverians and Austrians encamping farther down, had put a battery on the Bridge of Aschaffenburg; hoping to be able to forage thereby on the other side of the Mayn. Whereupon Noailles had instantly clapt a redoubt, under due cover of a Wood, at his end of the Bridge, 'No passage this way, gentlemen, except into the cannon's throat!'--so that Marshal Stair, reconnoitring that way, 'had his hat shot off,' and rapidly drew back again. Nay, before long, Noailles, at the Village of Seligenstadt, some eight miles farther down, throws two wooden or pontoon bridges over; [Sketch of Plan at p. 257.] can bring his whole Army across at Seligenstadt; prohibits all manner of supply to us from Hanau or our Magazines by his arrangement there:"--(Notable little Seligenstadt, "City of the Blessed;" where Eginhart and Emma, ever since Charlemagne's time, lie waiting the Resurrection; that is the place of these Noailles contrivances!)--"Furthermore, we learn, Noailles has seized a post twenty miles farther up the river (Miltenberg the name of it); and will prevent supplies from coming down to us out of Branken or the Neckar Country. We had forgotten, or our COLLAPSE of plans had done it, that 'an army moves on its stomach' (as the King of Prussia says), and that we have nothing to live upon in these parts!
"Such has the unfortunate fact turned out to be, when Britannic Majesty arrives; and it can now be discovered clearly, by any eyes, however flat to the head. And a terrible fact it is. Discordant Generals accuse one another; hungry soldiers cannot be kept from plundering: for the horses there is unripe rye in quantity; but what is there for the men? My poor traditionary friends, of the Grey Dragoons, were wont (I have heard) to be heart-rending on this point, in after years! Famine being urgent, discipline is not possible, nor existence itself. For a week longer, George, rather in obstinate hope than with any reasonable plan or exertion, still tries it; finds, after repeated Councils of War, that he will have to give it up, and go back to Hanau where his living is. Wednesday night, 26th June, 1743, that is the final resolution, inevitably come upon, without argument: and about one on Thursday morning, the Army (in two columns, Austrians to vanward well away from the River, English as rear-guard close on it) gets in motion to execute said resolution,--if the Army can.
"If the Army can: but that is like to be a formidably difficult business; with a Noailles watching every step of you, to-day and for ten days back, in these sad circumstances. Eyes in him like a lynx, they say; and great skill in war, only too cautious. Hardly is the Army gone from Aschaffenburg, when Noailles, pushing across by the Bridge, seizes that post,--no retreat now for us thitherward. His Majesty, who marches in the rear division, has happily some artillery with him; repels the assaults from behind, which might have been more serious otherwise. As it is, there play cannon across the River upon him:--Why not bend to right, and get out of range, asks the reader? The Spessart Hills rise, high and woody, on the right; and there is in many places no marching except within range. Noailles has Five effective Batteries, at the various good points, on his side of the River:--and that is nothing to what he has got ready for us, were we once at Dettingen, within wind of his Two Bridges a little beyond! Noailles has us in a perfect mouse-trap, SOURICIERE as he felinely calls it; and calculates on having annihilation ready for us at Dettingen.
"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?