The battle of Boxtel (14-15 September 1794) was a minor incident during the Allied retreat from Belgium after the battle of Fleurus that is chiefly remembered for being the first time Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, came under fire.
In the aftermath of the Allied defeat at Fleurus the Austrians had begun to pull back east towards the line of the Rhine, abandoning any hope of recovering the Austrian Netherlands. This forced the British and Dutch to pull back towards the Netherlands, and by the end of August the Duke of York's British and German army was located between 's Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) and the Peel to the east (an area on the border of North Brabant and Limburg). The British line was protected by the River Aa, which runs south east from 's Hertogenbosch to the Peel, and the River Dommel, which south from 's Hertogenbosch to Boxtel and then turns south east to run alongside the Aa.
General Pichegru, with the French Army of the North, had just advanced from Antwerp to Hoogstaeten, and had sent out a strong detachment to occupy Eindhoven. On 4 September Pichegru advanced north from Hoogstaeten as if he was about to threaten Breda, but on 10 September he turned east, and advanced towards the British outpost at Boxtel, which was defended by two battalions of Hessians. On 14 September the French captured Boxtel, taking the Hessians prisoner.
The Duke of York decided to send General Abercromby to retrieve the situation. Abercromby was given ten infantry battalions and ten cavalry squadrons, with the infantry made up of the Guards Brigade and the 3rd Brigade. This second brigade contained four infantry battalions, amongst the Wellesley's 33rd Foot. As the senior colonel present Wellesley commanded the brigade, while John Sherbrooke, the second lieutenant colonel of the regiment, had command of the 33rd on the day.
As the British force advanced towards Boxtel, it became clear that they were in danger of running into Pichegru's main force. Abercromby decided to pull back to his starting point and ordered a retreat. When two French infantry regiments turned to follow the British, the retreat threatened to turn into a rout, but the situation was saved by the 33rd Foot, who formed up into line and fired a series of disciplined volleys which drove off the French. The young Wellesley was not directly responsible for their good behaviour, but was given much of the credit. After this rearguard action the British returned to safety with the loss of only ninety men.
In the aftermath of this failure the Duke of York realised that he could no longer hold his line of the Aa, and the British withdrew east to cross the Maas (Meuse) at Grave. They then took up a new position on the north bank of that river, with the Duke's headquarters at Wijceen. The French soon forced the British to give up this line as well, and at the start of October the Duke of York was forced to retreat across the Waal (a major branch of the Rhine).