Battle of Aldenhoven, 1 March 1793

The battle of Aldenhoven, 1 March 1793, was the first success during the Austrian counterattack in Belgium in the spring of 1793 which saw them temporarily drive the French out of their conquests of 1792. At the end of February 1793 the French armies in the north were spread dangerously thin. France had declared war on the Netherlands, and General Dumouriez, the victor of Jemappes, was engaged in a series of sieges on the Dutch border. At the southern tip of the Netherlands General Miranda was besieging Maastricht, while a covering army under General Lanoue was posted to the east of the city, to guard the line of the River Roer against any Allied attack. On 17 February Miranda calculated that Lanoue had 30,000 men under his command, although they were spread out along quite a long stretch of the river, and the real figure was probably much lower.

Having been expelled from the Austrian Netherlands after Jemappes in 1792, the Allies appointed Friedrich Graf von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld to command the counterattack. Saxe-Coburg had 30,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry with which to lift the siege of Maastricht, and then advance towards Brussels. If this plan succeeded, Dumouriez would be forced to abandon his campaign in the Netherlands, and the French grip on Belgium would be severely weakened.

The Austrian army crossed the Roer on the night of 28 February-1 March 1793. The advance guard, the second line and the corps of the prince of Wurtenberg crossed the river at Düren, while to their north the first line and the troups under General Latour crossed using a ford close to Juliers and a flying bridge. The Allies attacked along a long line between five and six on the morning of 1 March. The battle lasted all day. At the northern end General Lator attacked Linnich. In the centre of the line General Clerfayt attacked Aldenhoven, while the archduke Charles of Austria attacked towards Löngen (Loengen), further west along the road from Jülich to Aix-la-Chapelle. At the southern end of the line the prince of Württemberg attacked Eschweiler, on the road from Düren to Aix-la-Chapelle.

In the centre of the line the French had built a redoubt at Coslar, east of Aldenhoven, and this position was defended by the 14th battalion of légère and the 2nd battalion of Paris, but Clerfayt threatened to outflank this position by moving towards Laurensberg (to the north west of Aix-la-Chapelle), and the French were forced to retreat towards Höngen, to the north east of Aix-la-Chapelle. Two redoubts protected the French position at Höngen, one on each side of the road. Lanoue hoped to defend this position, but when the Austrians threatened to outflank this second position, the French were forced to plan for a second retreat, this time to Saint-Jobs and then Aix-la-Chapelle.  

The planned orderly retreat was disrupted by an Austrian cavalry charge. A French artillery officer, described as 'valeuruex, mais incapable', was said to have left the redoubt on the left in his eagerness to attack the Austrians, given the Archduke Charles the chance to lead a cavalry charge. The Dragoons of Latour drove the artillery men out of their position, and fell on the infantry behind the position. This setback further demoralised the French infantry, who had already lost much of their confidence after being forced to retreat to Höngen, and when the Austrian dragoons, supported by the Esterhazy hussars, charged the line, the French broke and fled. Lanoue attempted to rally the army at Saint Jobs, but without success. He then gave orders for the army to retreat around Aix-la-Chapelle, but was forced to close the gates of the town to prevent the army from being trapped in the city.

The French advance guard had now been forced back to the west of Aix-la-Chapelle, and the Austrians were securely across the Roer. That night they camped between Aldenhoven and Eschweiler, having captured sixteen guns and three hundred prisoners, and inflicted 2,000 casualties on the French for the loss of only 30-40 men. The victory had been won by the Austrian cavalry under the Archduke Charles.

This first defeat set the tone for the next few weeks. On 2 March the Austrians captured Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). Miranda was forced to abandon the siege of Maastricht, and retreat to the west of Aix-le-Chapelle, while Dumouriez was forced to leave his army in the Netherlands and come south in an attempt to retrieve the situation. Although he was able to restore the morale of the army, Dumouriez was defeated at Neerwinden (18 March) and Louvain (21 March). After these defeats he was removed from command by the French government, and forced into exile in Austria. At first the new commanders did no better, and the French hold on the Austrian Netherlands was briefly broken.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 January 2009), Battle of Aldenhoven, 1 March 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_aldenhoven.html

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