Battle of Famars, or Valenciennes, 23 May 1793

The battle of Famars or Valenciennes, 23 May 1793, was an Allied victory on the borders of France which prepared the way for the siege of Valenciennes. In the spring of 1793 the Allies (by now Austria, Prussia, Britain and the Netherlands) had gone onto the offensive, and after victories at Aldenhoven (1 March), Aix-la-Chapelle (2 March) and Neerwinden (18 March) had forced the French out of the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium). The focus of the war then moved onto the borders of France, where the Allies decided to conduct a series of sieges of the main French fortifications, amongst them Valenciennes.

French communications with Valenciennes were protected by a fortified camp on the heights of Famars. The camp at Famars was built on two parallel plateaux, separated by the river Rhonelle. The western plateau ran from Famars south to Artres. Its steep western and southern slopes and smoother northern slopes were defended by a series of detached strong points and redoubts, while the eastern slope was protected by the deep but narrow River Rhonelle, which cut a steep sided but shallow valley between the two positions. The eastern plateau was defended by a mile long entrenchment with three strong redoubts. The entire position was defended by around 25,000 men. The French also had a string of fortified positions running north-west from Valenciennes, through Anzin, Hasnon, Orchiers and Turcoing.

The Allied commander, the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, decided to launch an attack in nine columns, stretching from Turcoing at the north-west to Bavay to the east. On the right the Prince of Orange was to attack Orchiers, and his brother Prince Frederick was to attack Turcoing. General Knobelsdorf was to attack Hasnon, and Clairfayt was to attack Anzin. A column under Count Colloredo was to watch Valenciennes from the north east. To the left General Otto was to threaten Quesnoy, while a final column was to advance towards the Sambre from Bavai.

Engraving of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 1734-1801
Engraving of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 1734-1801

The main attack, in the centre, was to be conducted by two columns. On the right the Austrian General Ferraris, with twelve infantry battalions (three British under General Abercromby) and twelve cavalry squadrons, was to attack the eastern side of the French camp, drive them from the strongly fortified positions east of the Rhonelle, and then threaten to cross the river.

The left column, under the Duke of York, contained sixteen infantry battalions (four British) and eighteen cavalry squadrons. This column was to outflank the southern end of the French position by crossing the Rhonelle at Artres, at the southern end of the Famars plateau.

The main attack began at around 7.00 am. Ferraris successfully captured the long French entrenchment on the eastern edge of the eastern plateau, before halting to wait for news from the Duke of York's column. This part of the attack made much less progress. The Duke reached Artres, but was unable to force his way across the river, which at that point was defended by five French gun batteries. Leaving his heavy guns and part of his force at Artres, the duke carried out a long outflanking movement, crossing the river at Maresches, two miles to the east, and then moving to Querenaing, four miles to the west. There he was able to drive the French out of their outlying defences, but after eighteen hours of marching this had only brought him to the foot of the strongest part of the French lines, on the steep southern slopes of the plateau. The Duke realised that it was too late in the day to attack this position, and decided to wait until the next morning.

Elsewhere the Allies had very little success. Only the Prince of Orange, at Orchies, achieved his objectives, and every other French position held firm. Despite their successes, the French now realised that their position at Famars was untenable. On the night of 23-24 May they abandoned that position, and the camp at Anzin, reinforced the garrison of Valenciennes, and retreated to Bouchain, twelve miles to the south west of Valenciennes. The Allies were now free to begin their siege of Valenciennes, which held out until 28 July.

General Sir Ralph Abercromby and the French Revolutionary Wars, 1792-1801, Carole Divall. A biography of one of the more competent British generals of the Revolutionary Wars, killed at the height of his success during the expulsion of the French from Egypt. Inevitably most of his experiences during the Revolutionary War came during the unsuccessful campaigns in northern Europe, but he managed to emerge from these campaigns with his reputation largely intact, and won fame with his death during a successful campaign. An interesting study of a less familiar part of the British struggle against revolutionary France (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 January 2009), Battle of Famars, or Valenciennes, 23 May 1793 ,

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