Villers-en-Cauchies - 1794

Villers-en-Cauchies - 1794

Service Overseas Again

On the 24th April 1793 the regiment again embarked for service overseas, this time under the command of brevet Lt.Col. George Churchill, to join the army under the Duke of York. They formed part of the light cavalry brigade commanded by Maj.Gen. Ralph Dundas, along with the seventh, eleventh, and sixteenth regiments.

Action

On the 23rd May the brigade saw action at Famars, and then formed part of the force besieging Valenciennes. The fortress having surrendered by the end of July the regiment left the area on the 6th August, and on the evening of the 7th saw action again. Being at the front of the Army, one squadron of the Fifteenth was kept in constant readiness, Lt.Col. Churchill, seeing 200 French Dragoons as he took the regiment to water, immediately led the equipped squadron against them. Despite being outnumbered two to one this squadron overthrew the French before supports could be brought up, capturing two officers, forty four dragoons, and sixty horses for the loss of only two men wounded and one horse missing. This took place on the heights of Manires.

Subsequently the Fifteenth saw action at Camp de César, Dunkirk (where the regiment was responsible for saving the baggage of the foot guards and other regiments), and Lannoy,where, on the 28th October Lt. Col. Churchill led the regiment in pursuit of the retreating French, passing over hedges, ditches, and other obstructions to the left of the town, to intercept parties of French in the fields about the town; many single combats taking place in the broken conditions left one hundred French dead and fifty nine captured by nightfall. the losses to the Fifteenth were one killed and three wounded.

Whilst employed on outpost duty before Engelfontaine Captain Pocklington led a squadron towards Cateau in support of a reconnaissance made by the Prince of Schwarzenburg, during which they were required to extricate the Prince from a sticky situation with a large body of French Cavalry.

During the winter of 1793/94 the regiment were on outpost duty in front of Courtray, where they were joined by a detachment from England in the spring, in time to rejoin the army and move to Cateau, where the Army was reviewed by the Emperor of Germany on the 16th April. The following day the Fifteenth formed part of a force under sir William Erskine which drove the French from a strong position at Prémont, during which action Lt.Col. Churchill sustained a broken collar bone.

An Amazing Feat Of Arms!

The next section is quoted from an "Historical Record of the 15th or King's Hussars" published in 1841:

"The regiment formed part of the covering army during the siege of Landrecies, and occupied for several days an out-post beyond the river Selle. On the 23rd April it advanced from the vicinity of St. Hilaire with two squadrons of the Austrian Hussars of Leopold, under General Otto, to reconnoitre the enemy, who was reported to be in force at the Camp-de-César, near Cambray, -to have driven the Hessian videttes from the Selle,- and to have intercepted the Emperor of Germany between Valenciennes and Catillon, on his way from Brussels to join the army. The French being found in force at Villiers-en-Couché, ten additional squadrons were sent from the Duke of York's army to reinforce General Otto.

Early on the following morning, the two squadrons of the Fifteenth, under Major William Aylett, mustering about one hundred and eighty six officers and soldiers, and one hundred and twenty Leopold's Hussars, led by Major General the Baron Sentheresky, went sweeping along the valley of the Selle, followed at some distance by two squadrons of the Zetchwitz Curassiers, the Blues, First Dragoon Guards, Royal Dragoons, and Eleventh Light Dragoons; the whole under the orders of General Otto. About seven o'clock, while traversing the low grounds towards Montrecour, they arrived at an extensive dwarf-wood which lay in front of their right; a few skirmishers penetrated among the trees, and drove from thence a party of French Chasseurs à Cheval and Hussars, who made a precipitate retreat towards their main body of about ten thousand men (as was afterwards verified); but the Artillery and Infantry of this corps d'armée was masked by a line of Cavalry which threw its right on the village of Villiers-en-Couché, and covered itself by a cloud of skirmishers. The allied detachment felt itself committed to a desperate conflict with the force in view, for no sign of the supporting column was perceptible;- by some mistake of orders it had pursued a wrong direction. General Otto halted the little handful only now at his disposal, and calling out the commanding officers, told them 'That they had advanced too far to retreat; that the attempt would be death with dishonour; the attack perhaps death, but with glory; that the Emperor's safety depended upon their courage and success to rescue him; that they must not embarrass themselves with prisoners after the charge, their numbers being too few:(1)" and concluded a few animating sentences with the words, - 'Yesterday was the feast of Saint George;' - 'Saint George and Victory!' The enthusiasm of the old warrior communicated itself to all. Those of the Austrians and English, who, during this address, had collected round him, crossed their swords in token of a devoted pledge to sustain each other; and the squadrons shouted concurrent acclamations; 'We will save the Emperor!' ran through the ranks, and opposing numbers and all sense of danger vanished from the thought; - it was a moment of intense interest, and a scene of glorious emotions. The order was given to advance; the Fifteenth being directed to charge in front, and the Leopold Hussars to gain and turn the enemy's left flank. In vain the skirmishers tried to check with a sharp galling fire; the proper distance gained at a swift trot, the charge was sounded; the French Cavalry wheeled outward and broke,exposing a line of Infantry with cannon, which immediately opened their fire, and which proved fatal to many of the fugitives, who were unable to clear away from the front; but nothing could arrest the impetuous progress of the assailants. The Infantry in line, of which the front rank kneeled, was ridden over; an oblong square, composed of six battalions, was broken and dispersed; and a long line of cannon (fifty pieces) and ammunition wagons(2), which had been moving and retiring along the chausée leading to Villiers-en-Couché, presented but a momentary check to the pursuit and massacre. The Leopold Hussars, inspired by the same emulous feelings, had nobly done their duty, - overthrown every impediment, and continued their career with all the energy and speed their weaker horses permitted; never had there been displayed a more brilliant and generous rivalry.

The French Cavalry had attempted once to form behind their infantry, but the allied squadrons darted at them, and they again fled in the wildest panic and confusion, whilst the glittering sabres of the victors gleamed among the dense mass, like flashes of lightning. The guns of Bouchain, and a sallying force from that city, first afforded some respite to the fugitives. The bugles of the Fifteenth sounded a halt, and on the re-formation of the squadrons, they commenced their retreat in a quick trot, but in perfect order. The enemy, which had reassembled on the flanks in various bodies, could not imagine that the small corps thus coming from Bouchain was the returning force that had discomfited their whole corps d'armée, but believed it to be part of their own Cavalry; and an officer, under that mistake, approaching to give it orders, was ridden at and shot. On nearing Villiers-en-Couché, it was seen that the enemy's battalions had again collected, and taken up position to intercept the passage across the chausée, which lay in a ravine. The long-wished-for column of Heavy Cavalry and other allied troops, were, however, seen moving forwards on the other side; and, therefore, after some manoeuvring to mislead the enemy and check the troops following from Bouchain, a change of front was suddenly made,a charge ordered, and a passage effected through he Infantry, under a heavy attack of musketry and artillery, but fortunately the sudden and unexpected attack had again occasioned a favouring confusion.

The results of this remarkable combat were twelve hundred men killed and wounded, several hundred of whom were of the Black Hussar regiment,-three pieces of cannon retained in possession; -the dislodgement of all the French posts from the Selle; -and the consequent safety of His Imperial Majesty. The loss of the King's regiment of Light Dragoons was, one sergeant, sixteen rank and file, and nineteen horses killed; Major Aylett bayonetted through the body, one sergeant, eleven rank and file, and eighteen horses wounded: Captain Ryan(3), Lieutenant Calcraft, Cornets Blount, Butler, and Wilson, had their horses wounded under them."

General Otto, Maj.Gen.. Sentheresky, and Maj.Gen. Prince Schwarzenburg all signed fulsome attestations of the distinguished performance of the Fifteenth on this occasion, and the Emperor had Gold medals struck for the Officers involved (The King's permission to wear the medals was given through Horse Guards on 1st May 1798). In November 1800 the now Lt.Col. Aylett received a letter from the Emperor of Germany accompanied by eight crosses of the Order of Maria Thèresa, for the officers who had been involved in the action, and King George gave permission for these officers to accept the rank of Knight of the Imperial Order of Maria Thèresa, and to wear the insignia of the order (this honour had never before been conferred on non-Germans). Royal authority was subsequently given for the regiment to the word "Villiers-en-Couché" on its Guidons and appointments.

The officers concerned were:

The Fifteenth remained in Germany and Holland until December 1795, and distinguished themselves on a number of occasions, particularly at Tournay (3/5/94), Mouveaux (17/5/94), Roubaix (18/5/94), Duffel (5/7/94), near Boxtel (22/7/94 where a patrol captured the ADC to General Pichegru having come upon the camp where the General's dinner was being prepared), Nimuegen (4/11/94 - when General Walmoden took off his hat to the Fifteenth, and said 'Gentlemen, I am glad to see you are going to your work with as much pleasure as if it were an English fox chase'), and Guelder Malsen (5/1/95). The regimental records state that during these campaigns Sergeant Major John Elliott, Sergeant John Simpson, Corporal John Eggleton, and Privates George Rubery and Leander Shaw eminently distinguished themselves on several occasions.

Notes

1.The French National Convention had decreed that no quarter should be given to the English.

2.All this would have been retained, had the supporting column arrived in time.

3.Captain Ryan's horse had his tongue shot out with grape-shot, but the noble animal went through the day's fatigue, and lived, being long fed on milk, gruel &c.

4.Major Aylett having been wounded at the first charge upon the Infantry, the command devolved on Captain Pocklington.

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