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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Pointed towards Fontenoy and the redoubts


It

was not five in the morning, and already there was a thunder of cannon. The Hollanders attacked the village of Antoin, the English that of Fontenoy. The two posts were covered by a redoubt which belched forth flames; the Hollanders refused to deliver the assault. An attack made by the English on the wood of Barri had been repulsed. "Forward, my lord, right to your front," said old Konigseck to the Duke of Cumberland, George II.'s son, who commanded the English; "the ravine in front of Fontenoy must be carried." The English advanced; they formed a deep and serried column, preceded and supported by artillery. The French batteries mowed them down right and left, whole ranks fell dead; they were at once filled up; the cannon which they dragged along by hand, pointed towards Fontenoy and the redoubts, replied to the French artillery. An attempt of some officers of the French guards to carry off the cannon of the English was unsuccessful. The two corps found themselves at last face to face.

The English officers took off their hats; Count Chabannes and the Duke of Biron, who had moved forward, returned their salute. "Gentlemen of the French guard, fire!" exclaimed Lord Charles Hay. "Fire yourselves, gentlemen of England," immediately replied Count d'Auteroche; "we never fire first." [All fiction, it is said.] The volley of the English laid low the foremost ranks of the French guards. This regiment had been effeminated by a long residence

in Paris and at Versailles; its colonel, the Duke of Gramont, had been killed in the morning, at the commencement of the action; it gave way, and the English cleared the ravine which defended Fontenoy. They advanced as if on parade; the majors [?sergeant-majors], small cane in hand, rested it lightly on the soldiers' muskets to direct their fire. Several regiments successively opposed to the English column found themselves repulsed and forced to beat a retreat; the English still advanced.

Marshal Saxe, carried about everywhere in his osier-litter, saw the danger with a calm eye; he sent the Marquis of Meuse to the king. "I beg your Majesty," he told him to say, "to go back with the dauphin over the bridge of Calonne; I will do what I can to restore the battle." "Ah! I know well enough that he will do what is necessary," answered the king, "but I stay where I am." Marshal Saxe mounted his horse.

[Illustration: Battle of Fontenoy----157]

In its turn, the cavalry had been repulsed by the English; their fire swept away rank after rank of the regiment of Vaisseaux, which would not be denied. "How is it that such troops are not victorious?" cried Marshal Saxe, who was moving about at a foot's pace in the middle of the fire, without his cuirass, which his weakness did not admit of his wearing. He advanced towards Fontenoy; the batteries had just fallen short of ball. The English column had ceased marching; arrested by the successive efforts of the French regiments, it remained motionless, and seemed to receive no more orders, but it preserved a proud front, and appeared to be masters of the field of battle. Marshal Saxe was preparing for the retreat of the army; he had relinquished his proposal for that of the king, from the time that the English had come up and pressed him closely. "It was my advice, before the danger was so great," he said; "now there is no falling back."

A disorderly council was being held around Louis XV. With the fine judgment and sense which he often displayed when he took the trouble to have an opinion on his affairs, the king had been wise enough to encourage his troops by his presence without in any way interfering with the orders of Marshal Saxe. The Duke of Richelieu vented an opinion more worthy of the name he bore than had been his wont in his life of courtiership and debauchery. "Throw forward the artillery against the column," he said, "and let the king's household, with all the disposable regiments, attack them at the same time; they must be fallen upon like so many foragers."


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