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The battle of the Ourthe (18 September 1794) was the first of two battles that forced the Austrians to abandon their last foothold in the Austrian Netherlands and retreat behind the Rhine. At the start of 1794 the Allies of the First Coalition had been camped along the French frontier, but a series of defeats, ending at Fleurus on 26 June, had seen the Austrians withdraw to the east while their British and Dutch allies had retreated north to defend Holland. In August the Austrian commander-in-chief, the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, had resigned, and was replaced by General Franz Sebastian de Croix, Graf von Clerfayt, an experienced Austrian general.
His orders were to defend Luxembourg, Mainz and Mannheim, but he also still had a foothold in the east of the Austrian Netherlands. By the end of August his front line ran along the River Meuse, from Roermond in the north to Liége in the south, while his left wing ran back from Liége to Sprimont and Aywaille and was protected by the River Ourthe.
In the aftermath of their victory at Fleurus the French had missed a chance to inflict further defeats on the divided Allies, instead concentrating on recapturing a number of border fortifications still held by the Allies, but by September General Jourdan with the Army of the Sambre and the Meuse was ready to move east. Jourdan decided to attack Clerfayt's left wing. A few days before the main attack was due General Kléber was ordered to make strong demonstrations against the Austrian right and centre, forcing Clerfayt to reinforce that part of his line. At the same time three French divisions, under the command of General Scherer, crossed the Meuse at Namur and Huy, upstream of the Austrian position, and advanced to the Ourthe.
The Austrian position ran along a tributary of the Ourthe, with the right was in front of Sprimont, the centre at Aywaille and the left at Sougné, all under the command of General Latour. The French attack forced Latour to abandon this position, and retreat east towards Verviers. If the French had advanced north, they could have cut Clerfayt's entire army in two, but Jourdan decided not to risk too rapid an advance across such difficult terrain. This gave Clerfayt time to retreat from the Meuse to a new defensive position on the Roer, still with his right at Ruremonde, but now with his centre at Jülich and Aldenhoven and his left at Düren. This left the garrison of Maastricht isolated, and the town soon fell to the French. Clerfayt did little better in his new position, suffering another defeat in the battle of the Roer of 2 October. This time he was forced back to the Rhine, abandoning the last Austrian foothold in the Austrian Netherlands.
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