Thursday, April 2, 2015

British Journals: Letters on the Battle of Rocoux, 1746

The Battle of Rocoux, by a contemporary artist 
Dear Reader,

Today, we are looking some letters from British soldiers at the Battle of Rocoux, fought on October 11th, 1746. In the War of Austrian Succession, the British military intervened on the continent against the French, trying to safeguard to the Austrian Netherlands.

Both of these letters were reproduced in a rather unlikely place: the journal of British preacher and early Methodist John Wesley. I usually like to give you a picture of a soldier from the regiment being written from, but that requires you going to another website today. The link will take you to David Morier's painting of the 11th Regiment of Foot (Graham's) who fought alongside our authors for today. Her Majesty the Queen has graciously made these beautiful images available to us via the Royal Collection.

"I have long had a desire to write, but had not an opportunity till we came to our winter quarters. When we came over we thought we should have had brother Haime with us, as formerly; but we were disappointed. We were about three weeks upon our march, and endured a great deal through the heat of the weather, and for want of water. At Villear camp, we lay so near the enemy, and were forced to mount so many guards, that we had hardly any time to ourselves, nor had John Haime time to meet with us. We left this camp in twelve or fourteen days' time, and wherever we marched, we had the French always in our view; only a few days, when we were marching through woods, and over high mountains. Coming back to Maestricht, at some camps we have lain so near the enemy, that their sentries and ours have taken snuff with one another; having then no orders to fire at or hurt each other. But the day we came off we found it otherwise ; for at eleven o'clock the night before, orders came for us to be ready to turn out an hour before day, which was the 30th of September. At day break orders came to our regiment, and Colonel Graham's, to ad vance about a mile and a half toward the French. We were placed in a little park, and Graham's regiment in another, to the right of us.

We lay open to the French ; only we cut down the hedge breast high, and filled it up with loose earth. Thus we waited for the enemy several hours, who came first with their right wing upon the Dutch, that were upon our left. They engaged in our sight, and fired briskly upon each other, cannon and small shot for two hours. Then the Dutch, being overpowered, gave way, and the French advanced upon us, and marched a party over the ditch, on the left of Graham's, and fell in upon them ; notwithstanding our continual firing, both with our small arms and four pieces of cannon. So when the French had got past us, our regiment retreated, or we should have been surrounded. In our retreat we faced about twice, and fired on the enemy, and so came off with little loss ; though they fired after us with large cannon shot ; I believe four-and- twenty pounders"

Another letter picks up the story:

"Ever since the 22nd of July, our army and the French have lain so close, and marched so close together, that we have expected them to come upon us almost every night, and have had, for many nights, strict orders not to take off our accoutrements, but to be ready to turn out at a minute's warning. And almost every day, some of our out guards have had skirmishes with them. On September 29, at night, Prince Charles had intelligence that they designed to fall upon us with all their force. So we had orders to be ready, and at break of day our regiment and Graham's were ordered to march in the front of the army, with two Hessian, two Hanoverian, and a part of the Dutch. We marched a mile forward into little parks and orchards, a village being between us and our army : in this posture we remained about three hours, while their right wing was engaged with the Dutch, the cannon playing every where all this time. But we were all endued with strength and courage from God, so that the fear of death was taken away from us. And when the French came upon us, and overpowered us, we were troubled at our regiment's giving way, and would have stood our ground, and called to the rest of the regiment, to stop and face the enemy, but to no purpose. In the retreat we were broke ; yet after we had retreated about a mile, we rallied twice and fired again. When we came where we thought the army was, they were all gone. So we marched good part of the night ; and the next day, about four o'clock, we came to this camp. We left our brother Mark Bend in the field ; whether he be alive or dead we cannot tell ; but the last of our brothers that spoke to him, after he was wounded, found him quite resigned to the will of God.We that he has spared a little longer, desire you to return thanks to God for all his mercies to us."

Both of these letters described the Battle of Roucoux, a rather heavy defeat for the English forces. The writers were both part of a growing Methodist movement within the British army, and gave reports on their experiences to John Wesley.

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