Friedrich Josias, Graf von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1737-1815

Friedrich Josias, Graf von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1737-1815, was the Austrian commander in the early stages of the Revolutionary Wars, but his early victories are often ignored because the campaign ended with the loss of the Austrian Netherlands.

Coburg was the youngest son of Duke Franz of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. He joiuned the Anspach Kurassier regiment at the age of 18, with the rank of Rittmeister, and fought in the Seven Years War and War of the Bavarian Succession. He was promoted to Oberstleutnant in 1758 and Oberst in 1759. In 1766 he was promoted to major general, in 1773 to FML and between 1778 and 1788 he served as the General Commandant of Hungary and then Galicia.

Coburg made his reputation during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788-91. He was given 18,000 men, and orders to stop a Turkish invasion of the western Ukraine (Bukovina). He decided to go onto the attack, and won a series of victories. He was then able to invade Turkish Moldova, before joining the Russians to capture Pojani-Losi (September 1788).

In 1789 he advanced into Romania, where he joined up with Suvarov. Their combined armies won the battle of the Pultna (1 August 1789), and Coburg was awarded with the Commander Cross of the Maria Theresa Order. He then won the battle of Martinesje, and in the aftermath of the battle captured Bucharest (November). He was promoted to Field Marshal after the victory at Martinesje.

In 1792 the French advanced into the Austrian Netherlands and occupied much of the area. In 1793 Coburg was given command in the Austrian Netherlands, replacing General Clerfayt (who stayed with the army). Coburg was outnumbered by the French, but once again decided to go onto the offensive. He crossed the Roer and defeated the French at Aldenhoven (1 March) and Neerwinden (18 March), forcing the French back across their borders. He then defeated the French at Quievrain, and besieged them in Valenciennes (24 May-28 July 1793). The big problem with the Allied strategy at this point was the emphasis on sieges, which just gave the French time to recover and raise fresh troops.

Dampierre made two attempts to lift the siege of Valenciennes, but without success. The French were forced out of their camp at Famars on 23 May, and Valenciennes and Conde both surrendered to Coburg. In August he pushed the French back towards Arras. He then wanted to besiege Cambrai, but the Duke of York had orders to attack Dunkirk. Coburg decided that he didn't have enough men to attack Cambrai alone, and so instead besieged Le Quesnoi (19 August-11 September 1793). Cleyfayt conducted the siege, while Coburg covered the operations. On the day after the siege ended, one of his columns defeated a poorly led French relief effort at Avesnes-le-Sec (12 September 1793). A siege of Mauberge failed (mid-September to 17 October 1793), and had to be abandoned in October after the French victory at Wattignies (15-16 October 1793) over Coburg's covering force. Coburg then had to lead half his army towards Nieuport, to lift a siege (22-29 October 1793) that threatened the British communications with home. Despite this final failure, the campaign had been a success, and Coburg was given the Grand Cross of the Maria Theresa Order.

Coburg was once again outnumbered in 1794, and once again went onto the offensive. This time he had to operate under the control of the Emperor Francis II, who arrived to take personal control of the war. Coburg besieged Landrecies (17-30 April 1794), defeated a relief force (battle of Landrecies or Beaumont-en-Cambresis) and captured the fortress at the end of April. However by now the French had gathered even stronger forces, and attacked the Allied flanks. Clerfayt, on the Allied right, was defeated at Mouscron (29 April 1794) and again at Courtrai (11 May 1794) and had to retreat north, splitting the Allied line in half. Coburg had to move west to try and restore the situation, but he suffered a defeat at Tourcoing (17-18 May 1794). The French then decided to attack Coburg's army at Tournai, but suffered a defeat. After this Francis II left the army, leaving Coburg and the Archduke Charles in command.

The Allies were now forced to react to threats at both ends of their line. In the west Clerfayt was unable to save Ypres, while in the east Coburg was defeated at Fleurus, while attempting to lift the siege of Charleroi. He had to retreat to Brussels and then behind the Mass. The entire Allied position now began to crumble. Clerfayt and the Duke of York swapped places in the line, bringing the Austrians together. On 15 July Jourdan captured Louvain, and the Austrians began to retreat east.  On 9 August Coburg resigned, and retired from the military, with his health badly affected by years of almost continuous fighting.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 November 2017), Friedrich Josias, Graf von Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, 1737-1815 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_saxe_coburg_saalfeld.html

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