Siege of Quesnoy, 19 August-11 September 1793

The siege of Quesnoy (19 August-11 September 1793) was the last of a series of successful Allied sieges on the northern border of France in the summer of 1793 that saw the French lose control of a number of key border fortifications, but at the same time gave them the time to raise new mass armies, and which did little to advance the Allied cause.

In July the Allies captured Condé and Valenciennes. The Allied commander, the prince of Saxe-Coburg, wanted to attack Cambrai, but the British commander, the Duke of York, had orders to attack Dunkirk. Believing Cambrai to be too strongly fortified for him to take without support, Coburg decided to attack Le Quesnoy instead. On 17 August the French were driven out of a camp in the forest of Mormal, and on 19 August Le Quesnoy was invested. The town is situated on high ground between the Rivers Rhonelle and l'Ecaillon, downstream from the forest of Mormal. In 1793 it was defended by a rampart, eight irregular bastions, and a wet ditch. Its main weakness was its small size. The garrison was commanded by lieutenant-colonel François Goullus, a career soldier who rose to high rank during the revolutionary wars, and served in Italy, Germany and Spain during the Empire.

The siege was conducted by General Clerfayt, with 15,000 men, while Saxe-Coburg, with the rest of the Austrian army, covered the operations. By the end the siege Clerfayt's artillery included 34 morters, 12 howitzers and 86 guns. The Austrians began to dig their first trenches, opposite the bastions of Soyer and César, on 27 August, and by the morning of 2 September the guns of the first parallel ready to open fire. At five in the afternoon Clairfayt summoned the garrison to surrender, and when Goullus turned him down began a bombardment which lasted for almost a week without slackening.

At first the French guns in Quesnoy held their own, and on 3 September managed to dismount two of the Austrian batteries, but on 4 September the Austrians began work on their second parallel, which was completed on 7 September. On 8 September, taking advantage of their new closer position, the Austrian guns overwhelmed the last French guns. On the following day a number of French powder stores were destroyed, and on 10 September the Austrians began work on the third parallel.

At half past five on 10 September Goullus sent a lieutenant-colonel in the regiment de Bouillon to negotiate surrender terms. Goullus hoped to arrange an honourable capitulation, but Clairfayt insisted that the garrison would be taken as prisoners of war. Goullus agreed to these terms, and on 11 September the garrison marched into captivity.

After the capture of Le Quesnoy, Coburg moved east to attack Maubeuge, but this siege ended in failure. On 15–16 October 1793 the Austrians were defeated at Wattignies, and the year ended with a slight advantage to the French.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 January 2009), Siege of Quesnoy, 19 August-11 September 1793 ,

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