"The English who were in and round Aschaffenburg itself, Hanoverians and Austrians encamping farther down, had put a battery on the Bridge of Aschaffenburg; hoping to be able to forage thereby on the other side of the Mayn. Whereupon Noailles had instantly clapt a redoubt, under due cover of a Wood, at his end of the Bridge, 'No passage this way, gentlemen, except into the cannon's throat!'--so that Marshal Stair, reconnoitring that way, 'had his hat shot off,' and rapidly drew back again. Nay, before long, Noailles, at the Village of Seligenstadt, some eight miles farther down, throws two wooden or pontoon bridges over; [Sketch of Plan at p. 257.] can bring his whole Army across at Seligenstadt; prohibits all manner of supply to us from Hanau or our Magazines by his arrangement there:"--(Notable little Seligenstadt, "City of the Blessed;" where Eginhart and Emma, ever since Charlemagne's time, lie waiting the Resurrection; that is the place of these Noailles contrivances!)--"Furthermore, we learn, Noailles has seized a post twenty miles farther up the river (Miltenberg the name of it); and will prevent supplies from coming down to us out of Branken or the Neckar Country. We had forgotten, or our COLLAPSE of plans had done it, that 'an army moves on its stomach' (as the King of Prussia says), and that we have nothing to live upon in these parts!
"Such has the unfortunate fact turned out to be, when Britannic Majesty arrives; and it can now be discovered clearly, by any eyes, however flat to the head. And a terrible fact it is. Discordant Generals accuse one another; hungry soldiers cannot be kept from plundering: for the horses there is unripe rye in quantity; but what is there for the men? My poor traditionary friends, of the Grey Dragoons, were wont (I have heard) to be heart-rending on this point, in after years! Famine being urgent, discipline is not possible, nor existence itself. For a week longer, George, rather in obstinate hope than with any reasonable plan or exertion, still tries it; finds, after repeated Councils of War, that he will have to give it up, and go back to Hanau where his living is. Wednesday night, 26th June, 1743, that is the final resolution, inevitably come upon, without argument: and about one on Thursday morning, the Army (in two columns, Austrians to vanward well away from the River, English as rear-guard close on it) gets in motion to execute said resolution,--if the Army can.
"If the Army can: but that is like to be a formidably difficult business; with a Noailles watching every step of you, to-day and for ten days back, in these sad circumstances. Eyes in him like a lynx, they say; and great skill in war, only too cautious. Hardly is the Army gone from Aschaffenburg, when Noailles, pushing across by the Bridge, seizes that post,--no retreat now for us thitherward. His Majesty, who marches in the rear division, has happily some artillery with him; repels the assaults from behind, which might have been more serious otherwise. As it is, there play cannon across the River upon him:--Why not bend to right, and get out of range, asks the reader? The Spessart Hills rise, high and woody, on the right; and there is in many places no marching except within range. Noailles has Five effective Batteries, at the various good points, on his side of the River:--and that is nothing to what he has got ready for us, were we once at Dettingen, within wind of his Two Bridges a little beyond! Noailles has us in a perfect mouse-trap, SOURICIERE as he felinely calls it; and calculates on having annihilation ready for us at Dettingen.
"Dettingen, short way above those Pontoons at Seligenstadt, is near eight miles westward [NORTHwestward, but let us use the briefer term] from Aschaffenburg: Dettingen is a poor peasant Village, of some size, close on the Mayn, and on our side of it. A Brook, coming down from the Spessart Mountains, falls into the Mayn there; having formed for itself, there and upwards, a considerable dell or hollow way; chiefly on the western or right bank of which stands the Village with its barnyards and piggeries: on both sides of the great High-road, which here crosses the Brook, and will lead you to Hanau twenty miles off,--or back to Aschaffenburg, and even to Nurnberg and the Donau Countries, if you persevere. Except that of the high-road, Dettingen Brook has no bridge. Above the Village, after coming from the Mountains, the banks of it are boggy; especially the western bank, which spreads out into a scrubby waste of moor, for some good space. In which scrubby moor, as elsewhere in this dell or hollow way itself, where the Village hangs, with its hedges, piggeries, colegarths,--there is like to be bad enough marching for a column of men! Noailles, as we said, has Two Bridges thrown across the Mayn, just below; and the last of his Five Batteries, from the other side, will command Dettingen. His plan of operation is this:--
"By these Bridges he has passed 24,000 horse and foot across the River, under his Nephew the chivalrous Duke of Grammont: these, with due artillery and equipment, are to occupy the Village; and to rank themselves in battle-order to leftward of it, on the moor just mentioned,--well behind that hollow way, with its brook and bogs;--and, one thing they must note well, Not to stir from that position, till the English columns have got fairly into said hollow way and brook of Dettingen, and are plunging more or less distractedly across the entanglements there. With cannon on their left flank, and such a gullet to pass through, one may hope they will be in rather an attackable condition. Across that gullet it is our intention they shall never get. How can they, if Grammont do his duty?
"This is Noailles's plan; one of the prettiest imaginable, say military men,--had the execution but corresponded. Noailles had seized Aschaffenburg, so soon as the English were out of it; Noailles, from his batteries beyond the River, salutes the English march with continuous shot and thunder, which is very discomposing: he sees confidently a really fair likelihood of capturing the Britannic Majesty and his Pragmatic Army, unless they prefer to die on the ground. Seldom, since that of the Caudine Forks, did any Army, by ill-luck and ill-guidance, get into such a pinfold,--death or flat surrender seemingly their one alternative.
"Thus march these English, that dewy morning, Thursday, June 27th, 1743, with cannon playing on their left flank; and such a fate ahead of them, had they known it;--very short of breakfast, too, for most part. But they have one fine quality, and Britannic George, like all his Welf race from Henry the Lion down to these days, has it in an eminent degree: they are not easily put into flurry, into fear. In all Welf Sovereigns, and generally in Teuton Populations, on that side of the Channel or on this, there is the requisite unconscious substratum of taciturn inexpugnability, with depths of potential rage almost unquenchable, to be found when you apply for it. Which quality will much stead them on the present occasion: and, indeed, it is perhaps strengthened by their 'stupidity' itself, what neighbors call their 'stupidity;'--want of idle imagining, idle flurrying, nay want even of knowing, is not one of the worst qualities just now! They tramp on, paying a minimum of attention to the cannon; ignorant of what is ahead; hoping only it may be breakfast, in some form, before the day quite terminate. The day is still young, hardly 8 o'clock, when their advanced parties find Dettingen beset; find a whole French Army drawn up, on the scrubby moor there; and come galloping back with this interesting bit of news! Pause hereupon; much consulting; in fact, endless hithering and thithering, the affair being knotty: 'Fight, YES, now at last! But how?' Impetuous Stair was not wanting to himself; Neipperg too, they say, was useful with advice; D'Ahremberg, I should imagine, good for little.
"Some six hours followed of thrice-intricate deploying, planting of field-pieces, counter-batteries; ranking, re-ranking, shuffling hither and then thither of horse and foot; Noailles's cannonade proceeding all the while; the English, still considerably exposed to it, and standing it like stones; chivalrous Grammont, and with better reason the English, much wishing these preliminaries were done. A difficult business, that of deploying here. The Pragmatic had no room, jammed so against the Spessart Hills, and obliged to lean FROM the River and Noailles's cannon; had to rank itself in six, some say in eight lines; horse behind foot, as well as on flank; unsatisfactory to the military mind: and I think had not done shuffling and re-shuffling at 2 P.M.,--when the Enemy came bursting on, with a peremptory finish to it, 'Enough of that, MESSIEUR'S LES ANGLAIS!' 'Too much of it, a great deal!' thought Messieurs grimly, in response. And there ensued a really furious clash of host against host; French chivalry (MAISON DU ROI, Black Mousquetaires, the Flower of their Horse regiments) dashing, in right Gallic frenzy, on their natural enemies,--on the English, that is; who, I find, were mainly on the left wing there, horse and foot; and had mainly (the Austrians and they, very mainly) the work to do;--and did, with an effort, and luck helping, manage to do it.