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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Crossing the Waal 7th November 1794

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Crossing the Waal 7th November 1794

Postby jf42 » July 2nd, 2015, 1:46 pm

Posted recently on a forum elsewhere, I thought I would share this vivid depiction of the Duke of York's army retreating over the River Waal from Nijmegen in the 7th November 1794.

http://www.europeana.eu/portal/record/9 ... _1827.html


Nijmegen was abandoned to the French the following day. This marked the end of the Combined Army's active campaigning in the Low Countries. Having been forced to abandon Flanders and Brabant, York and his advisors hoped they would be able to shelter behind the the wide moat of the Waal until it was time for both sides to go into winter quarters. The Duke of York was recalled to London in early December, to carry the can for a strategical foul up at government level.

As the print shows, the weather that autumn was awful. The two soldiers on the right wearing greatcoats were fortunate, as in most British regiments, threadbare uniforms, replacement long overdue, were wholly inadequate for continued service in the field as the coldest winter for a generation settled on the Rhine delta. The man on the extreme right is more representative of the state of the soldiery- although some regiments were supplied variously with flannel waistcoats, warm stockings and drawers, woolen pantaloons and greatcoats (but many of those were threadbare having been issued the previous winter).

With bitter arctic winds slicing in from the north east, the ensuing frosts took the thermometer to 17 degrees below. Inexorably, the great channels of the Maas, Waal and Rhine began to freeze over. In London, the Thames froze at slack water. On 27th December the French army, goaded on by the Revolutionary government, grasped the opportunity to send its forces across the ice to drive a wedge between the Dutch government troops and the Anglo-Hanoverian army. The Dutch army on the Bommelwaard crumpled and sought refuge in crowded fortresses to the rear; the allied commanders refused their right wing, made a surprisingly effective local counter attack, then decided the game was probably up nonetheless, and withdrew behind the Rhine, preparing to retreat further east when necessary.

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/nl/collectie ... 891-A-2456

There followed a fortnight of probing attacks and counter-attacks on the frozen polders between the Waal and the Rhine, with the British, Hanoverians and Hessians more or less holding their own. Then, on the 10th of January 1795 when the ice had been deemed firm enough for the passage of artillery and wagons, the French army crossed the Waal en masse.

Outnumbered and out-generalled, the allied command abandoned all hope of protecting Holland further and on the night of the 14th January 1795 pulled out entirely, marching northeastwards towards Germany. The French made a leisurely pursuit, as if aware the elements were about to finish their work for them (Their eyes were on the wealth and shipping of Amsterdam). For weeks already, men in the allied army had been dying in droves of exposure and sickness. Now, marching at night in the face of a driving blizzard across the trackless heath of the Veluwe, the retreating columns left a trail of frozen bodies, shrouded in drifting snow, to mark their withdrawal. Hundreds may have died in the course of a single night; six thousand were said to have died by the time the army reached Germany. The disaster was later said to be as calamitous as the French retreat from Moscow, differing only in scale.

General Walmoden, who was left in charge after the Duke of York had been recalled, wrote to HRH saying. "Your army is destroyed. The officers, their carriages and a large train are safe, but the men are destroyed."

Looking at the first picture with the officers and their escorts in their voluminous cloaks, while troops behind cower in the face the storm in their skimpy coats, it is not difficult to see the disaster in the making.
Last edited by jf42 on July 2nd, 2015, 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crossing the Waal 7th November 1794

Postby Josh&Historyland » July 2nd, 2015, 7:21 pm

Great stuff JF, feeling chilly after that. I might say the writeup was just as inspiring. The Retreat from the Waal, the Retreat to Corunna and that from Burgos seem to have been the principle ones for the British army during the French Wars. It's interesting to note that all were are one time or another compared to Russia, as you say, in all but scale.

Josh.
Adventures In Historyland, Keeping History Real. http://adventuresinhistoryland.wordpress.com/
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Re: Crossing the Waal 7th November 1794

Postby jf42 » July 2nd, 2015, 8:29 pm

These were the final decades of the 'Little Ice Age'- which seems to be defined differently depending on who you read but it appears to have started in the C14th and petered out in the early decades of the C19th- so it was unfortunate for the soldiers in our period that the French began the fashion for continuing campaigning into winter. It is perhaps no accident that circa 1800 we see greatcoats being issued individually to British soldiers for the first time.
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