Battle of Landrecies or Beaumont-En-Cambresis, 26 April 1794

The battle of Landrecies or Beaumont-en-Cambresis (26 April 1794) saw the defeat of a major French attempt to lift the siege of Landrecies, the first Allied offensive action on the Flanders front in 1794 (War of the First Coalition).

The siege of Landrecies was conducted in a style typical of the period. While part of the Allied army attacked the town, a large covering army was spread out in a semi-circle to the south of the town, with small detachments covering every possible line of attack. The Allied left wing (at the eastern end of the line) began at Maroilles, four miles east of the town. The line then ran south to Prisches, then south-west to Le Sart, and west to Fesmy and the line of the Sambre. The left hand part of this line was commanded by General Alvintzy, the right by General Kinsky.

The line continued on the western bank of the Sambre, running west from Catillon along the road that led to Le Cateau and then to Cambrai. The main Allied line ended at Inchy, just west of Le Cateau, and came under the command of the Duke of York. A line of outposts then ran north-west along the line of the Selle.  

The French plan at the start of 1794 was to attack the flanks of the Allied position in the Austrian Netherlands. The main attack was to come in maritime Flanders, at the right of the Allied line, and was designed to cut the British off from the channel ports and their supply line. At the start of the siege of Landrecies the commander of the Armée-du-Nord, General Pichegru, was moving west in preparation for the start of the attack, but the levee en masse meant that he had more than enough men to also make an attempt to lift the siege.

Three French armies were involved in this attack. To the east General Charbonnier, with 30,000 men, was ordered to attack General Kaunitz, who held the eastern section of the Allied front line. At Landrecies General Ferrand, with 45,000 men taken from Guise, was to attack the east and south of the covering force, while General Chappuis, with 30,000 men from Cambrai, was to attack the Duke of York at the western end of the line.

The two attacks were not coordinated. At the eastern end of the line General Fromentin, with 22,000 of Charbonnier's men, attacked the Allied positions at Maroilles and Prisches. The French eventually captured Prisches, cutting communications between Alvintzy to the north and Kinsky to the south. Alvintzy was badly wounded, and command fell to the Archduke Charles. He led a counterattack which regained the lost ground and then drove off Fromentin.

To the south another 23,000 French troops were pressing General Bellegarde, who was defending the line from Oisy to Nouvion. The Archduke's victory allowed him to send troops to the aid of Bellegarde, and this attack too was repulsed.

On the left the Duke of York won a clear cut victory around the village of Beaumont-en-Cambresis (thus the alternative and somewhat inaccurate name of the battle). Here General Chappuis had advanced in two columns, and cleared the Allies out of Beaumont, Inchy, Troisvilles, Bertry and Maurois. The French then formed up close to this position, facing east, ready to attack towards Le Cateau, hoping that a dense fog would hide their movements.

The fog cleared before the attack could be launched. The Duke of York realised that the left flank of the French force was in the air, and was thus vulnerable to an outflanking attack. The Duke concentrated all of his cavalry on his own right flank. This gave him a total of nineteen squadrons of cavalry, formed into three lines. First came six squadrons of the Austrian Cuirassiers. Next were the six British squadrons in Mansel's bridge. This brigade had performed badly at Villers-en-Cauchies (24 April), and Mansel was said to be determined to redeem his reputation. The third line consisted of the British First and Fifth Dragoon Guards and Sixteenth Light Dragoons.

This cavalry force moved around the French left (northern) flank without being detected. In an early brush with a French cavalry column General Chappuis was captured, removing the French commander at an early stage in the day. The Allied cavalry arrived on the left flank of the French force without being detected.

The French force consisted of around 20,000 infantry, supported by artillery, all facing east ready to attack. When the Allied cavalry hit them from the north, this infantry force broke and fled south. In the pursuit the French lost 2,000 dead. Another 1,200 men were killed when the Austrian cavalry found a second, smaller French column of 4,000 men, which also broke when charged. The survivors made their way back to Cambrai.

The Austrians lost 228 men and 9 officers during this attack, the British 6 officers and 156 men. Amongst the British dead was Colonel Mansel, who had led the first attack. In total the covering army lost 1,500 men dead and wounded during the battle. French casualties were much higher, although probably not as high as the 7,000 claimed by the Allies.

Four days after the battle the garrison of Landrecies surrendered, but by then the French attack in maritime Flanders was well underway, and the entire Allied position in Belgium was in danger. On 25 April the French had laid siege to Menin, and on 29 April at Mouscron had attacked and defeated a force under General Clerfayt that had been about to make an attempt to lift the siege. On the following day Menin surrendered, and the French continued to drive into the Allied right flank.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 January 2009), Battle of Landrecies or Beaumont-En-Cambresis, 26 April 1794 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_landrecies_1794.html

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