Battle of Kaiserslautern, 28-30 November 1793

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The battle of Kaiserslautern (28-30 November 1793) was a poorly handled French attack on the Prussian army of the Duke of Brunswick that was an inauspicious start to the career of Lazare Hoche as commander of the French Army of the Moselle.

Hoche had been appointed to command the Army of the Moselle in the aftermath of the collapse of the French position on the Rhine in the last summer and autumn of 1793. After capturing Mainz on 23 July the Austrians and Prussians had slowly moved south towards the French border, where the Army of the Rhine was defending the Lines of Wissembourg. On 13 October General Würmser had forced his way through the lines, and advanced towards Strasbourg.

In the weeks after the battle it looked as if the Allies were about to occupy Alsace, but the Prussians and Austrians disagreed on their immediate aims. Würmser and his Austrians threatened Strasbourg, but the Prussians didn't advance far beyond the Saar. The Duke of Brunswick took up a position at Blieskastel, from where in mid-November he attempted to capture the fortress of Bitche, which guarded one of the routes across the Vosges.

On 17 November Hoche crossed the Saar and attempted to trap Brunwick in the lower Blies valley, south of Blieskastel. The attempt failed, but Brunswick decided to abandon his position at Blieskastel and pull back over twenty miles east to Kaiserslautern (a certain amount of confusion has been caused by an unfortunate duplication of river names – the Lines of Wissembourg were built along the Lauter, which flows west from the Rhine, while Kaiserslautern is built on a different Lauter, which flows north from the city).

The Prussian retreat meant that Hoche had achieved his first objective – to separate the Prussians and Austrians – but rather than turn on Würmser, who was now dangerously isolated to the south-east, Hoche decided to attack Brunswick at Kaiserslautern.

Hoche decided to split his army into three columns. General Ambert, on the left, was sent through hill ground to Potzberg, then to Otterberg, north of Kaiserslautern. Hoche took the central column, which was to advance through Kibeberg and Rodenbach and reach Kaiserslautern from the north-west. General Taponier, on the right, was to advance through Landstuhl and attack from the west.

The main problem with this plan was that the French didn't really know the area, and the separate columns were unable easily to communicate with each other.

On 28 November Ambert reached the Lauter north of Kaiserslautern, and attacked the Prussian right wing under General Kalkreuth without success. Neither Hoche nor Taponier arrived in time to take part in the fighting.

On 29 November it was Ambert's turn to get lost in thick woods to the north of Kaiserslautern, while Hoche launched an unsuccessful attack on the town.

On 30 November Hoche was finally able to get most of his men into action. Ambert joined Hoche for an attack on the Prussian defences west of Kaiserslautern, but by now the Prussians were receiving reinforcements from the south-east, where detachments had been guarding the route to Würmser. These fresh troops clashed with Taponier, who was forced back. Hoche was now in danger of being outflanked, and was forced to retreat having lost 3,000 men.

In the aftermath of the battles the Prussians remained at Kaiserslautern, while Hoche rested at Hornbach, Zweibrücken and Pirmasens. This put him in an ideal position to move south east and cooperate with General Pichegru and the Army of the Rhine, and in a series of battles in December (Fröschwiller, Wissembourg and Geisberg) the Austrians were forced to retreat across the Rhine.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 February 2009), Battle of Kaiserslautern, 28-30 November 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_kaiserslautern_1793.html

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