Battle of Condé or St. Amand, 8 May 1793

The battle of Condé or St. Amand, 8 May 1793, was an unsuccessful French attempt to lift the Allied siege of Condé-sur-l'Escaut, and ended with the death of the French commander, General Auguste Picot, comte de Dampierre. On 4 April 1793, just before General Dumouriez defected to the Austrians, Dampierre was appointed to command the Armée du Nord. Dumouriez's defection on 5 April left the army in chaos, and the French were forced to withdraw from the Austrian Netherlands, while the Allies slowly advanced towards the borders of France. The Allies held a conference at Antwerp in early April, where they decided to conduct a series of attacks on the French border fortresses, including Condé-sur-l'Escaut and Valenciennes. 

By the end of April three Allied contingents were involved in the blockade of Condé. To the west were 8,000 Prussians under General Knobelsdorf, at Saint Amand, Lecelles and Maulde, on the Scarpe. To the south was Clairfayt, with 12,000 men at Vicoigne and Raismes (north west of Valenciennes) and Bruay and Fresnes on the Scarpe, between Condé and Valenciennes. Finally to the north the Prince of Würtemberg had 5,000 men.

On 1 May Dampierre attempted to attack along the entire Allied line, from Saint Saulve to Saint Amand, and was beaten off after losing 2,000 men. The Convention urged him to make a second attempt to save Condé, and so on 8 May he launched a much better planned attack.

The attack on 8 May focused on Clairfayt's positions at Vicoigne and Raismes. Dampierre would lead an attack on Raismes, while a force under General Lamarlière advanced along the Scarpe towards Saint Amand, with orders to built a gun battery and begin bombarding Vicoigne (to the west of Raismes). 

Both attacks came close to success. After four attempts Dampierre captured most of the position at Raismes, while Lamarlière managed to reach a position between Knobelsdorf and Vicoigne, and began to build his gun batteries. If the French had been able to hold this position, then the Allied line would have broken, and the separate national contingents may have been forced to retreat towards their respective supply bases, much as would happen after the battle of Fleurus.  

The situation was saved by a combination of Allied reinforcements and French bad luck. The Duke of York had posted three battalions of Guards Cavalry at Nivelle, just to the north of Saint Amand, and at five in the evening on 8 May they reached the front. The Coldstream Guards were ordered to attack a French position in a forest, and were repulsed after losing 70 men. While the attack was a failure, Lamarlière realised that his enemies had been reinforced, and called off his attack. Meanwhile Dampierre launched a frontal assault on the Allied position at Vicoigne. During this attack he was hit by cannon-shot, and mortally wounded. With Dampierre out of action, the attack lost its momentum. The French withdrew from Raismes, and pulled their cannons out of the new batteries at Saint Amand. On the next morning the Allies captured the new positions, along with 800 prisoners.

Dampierre's defeat and death ended any chance that the French might relieve the siege of Condé, which surrendered on 10 July. Valenciennes would also soon come under attack. On 23 May the Allies attacked the French camp at Famars, just to the south of the city, and although the French held on to the camp all day, they were forced to withdraw that night. Valenciennes was then besieged, holding out for two months before surrendering in late July.

Although the Allies looked to be making constant progress, this series of slow sieges gave the French a chance to recover from the shocks of the spring. The revived French armies defeated the British at Hondschoote (6-8 September 1793), the Dutch at Menin (13 September) and the Austrians at Wattignies (15-16 October), substantially improving their position.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 January 2008), Battle of Condé or St. Amand, 8 May 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_conde_1793.html

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