Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XI.: THE GLORIOUS CAMPAIGN AND DEATH OF MARSHAL TURENNE. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XI.: THE GLORIOUS CAMPAIGN AND DEATH OF MARSHAL TURENNE. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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THE GLORIOUS CAMPAIGN AND DEATH OF MARSHAL TURENNE.
While the king was proceeding in the conquest of Franche-Comté, with that rapidity, ease, and glory which seemed inseparably annexed to his arms, Turenne, who was only defending the frontiers toward the Rhine, displayed all that was great and consummate in the art of war. Our esteem for men is generally measured by the difficulties they surmount; and this it was that gained Turenne such great reputation in this campaign.
In the first place, in June, 1674, he made a long and hasty march, passed the Rhine at Philippsburg, marched all night to Sinsheim, which he took by storm, and at the same time attacked and routed the emperor’s general, Caprara, and the old duke of Lorraine, Charles IV., a prince who had spent his life in losing his dominions and raising troops; and who had lately joined his little army to a part of the emperor’s. Turenne, after having defeated him, pursued him, and routed his cavalry at Ladenburg; then he, by hasty marches, came up with the prince of Bournonville, another of the imperial generals, who was only waiting for fresh troops to open a way into Alsace. Turenne prevented him from being joined by these troops, attacked him, and obliged him to quit the field of battle.
The empire now assembled all its forces against him; seventy thousand Germans occupied Alsace and blocked up the towns of Breisach and Philippsburg. Turenne’s army did not consist of over twenty thousand effective men; but having received a small reinforcement of cavalry from the prince of Condé, who was then in Flanders, in December, 1674, he crossed the mountains covered with snow, marched through Tanne and Belfort, entered Upper Alsace, and appeared in the midst of the enemy’s quarters, who thought him lying inactive in Lorraine, and looked upon the campaign as already finished. He beat up the quarters at Mülhausen that resisted, and made two thousand of them prisoners. He then marched to Colmar, where the elector of Brandenburg, who was called the great elector, and was at that time general of the armies of the empire, had his headquarters, and came upon him just as he and the rest of the princes and general officers were going to sit down to dinner. They had hardly time to escape, and in one instant the country was covered with the flying.
Turenne, who thought he had done nothing while there was anything left to be done, lay in wait near Türkheim, for a party of the enemy’s foot who were to march that way. He had chosen so advantageous a pass that he was certain of success: accordingly he entirely defeated this body. In short, this army of seventy thousand men was beaten and dispersed almost without any great battle. Alsace fell into the king’s hands, and the generals of the empire were obliged to repass the Rhine.
All these actions, following so rapidly upon one another, conducted with so much art, managed with such patience, and executed with so much promptitude, were equally admired by France and her enemies. But Turenne’s reputation received a considerable addition when it was known that all he had done in this campaign had been done without the consent of the court, and even against the repeated orders sent to him by Louvois, in the king’s name. It was not the least instance of Turenne’s courage, nor the least memorable exploit of this campaign, thus to oppose the powerful Louvois, and take upon himself the consequences, in defiance of the outcries of the court, his master’s orders, and the hatred of the ministry.
It is certain that those who had more humanity than esteem for military exploits were greatly displeased at this glorious campaign; which was as much distinguished by the miseries of the private people as by the great deeds of Turenne. After the battle of Sinsheim he laid waste with fire and sword the Palatinate, a level and fertile country, full of rich cities and villages: and the elector palatine, from his castle at Mannheim, beheld two cities and twenty-five villages burned before his eyes. This unhappy prince, in the first emotions of his rage, wrote a letter to Turenne, filled with the bitterest reproaches, and defying him to single combat. Turenne having sent this letter to the king, who forbade him to accept the challenge, he made no other return to the elector’s reproaches and defiance than an empty compliment, which signified nothing. This was agreeable to the general behavior and style of Turenne, who always expressed himself in a cool and ambiguous manner.
He, in the same cold blood, destroyed the ovens and burned all the corn-fields in Alsace, to prevent the enemy from finding subsistence. He afterward permitted his cavalry to ravage Lorraine, where they committed such disorders that the intendant, who, on his side, laid waste that province with his pen, wrote to desire the marshal to put a stop to the excesses of the soldiery; who always replied coolly: “I shall take notice of it in the orders.” Turenne was better pleased to be esteemed the father of the men who were entrusted to his care, than of the people who, according to the rules of war, are always the victims. All the evil he did seemed necessary: his reputation covered everything; and, besides, the seventy thousand Germans whom he prevented from entering France would have done more mischief there than he did in Alsace, Lorraine, and the Palatinate.
The prince of Condé, on his side, fought a battle in Flanders, which was much more bloody than all the victories of Turenne, though it proved neither so fortunate nor decisive; or rather because he had abler generals and better troops to encounter. This was the battle of Seneffe. The marquis of Feuquières insists that it should be called only a fight; because it was not an action between two armies drawn up in battle array, and that the corps were not all engaged; but it seems generally agreed to give the title of battle to this hot and bloody day. It is always the importance of an affair which determines its appellation. Had three thousand men, ranged in battle array, been engaged with each other, and even all their different corps been in action, it would have been only called a fight.
The prince of Condé, who was to keep the field with only forty-five thousand men, against the prince of Orange with more than sixty thousand, waited for the enemy’s army to pass a defile at Seneffe, near Mons, and fell upon a part of the rear guard, composed of Spaniards, over whom he gained a considerable advantage. The prince of Orange was blamed for not having taken sufficient precaution in passing through this defile; but everyone admired the dexterous manner in which he repaired this accident; and Condé himself was censured for attempting to renew the fight against an enemy so strongly intrenched. The combat was renewed three different times. The two generals, in this medley of errors and great deeds, equally distinguished themselves by their presence of mind and courage. Of all the battles in which the great Condé had been engaged, there was no one in which he hazarded his own life and that of his soldiers so much as in this. After having sustained three bloody attacks, he was for attempting the fourth. “The prince of Condé,” said one of the officers who was there present, “seemed to be the only person who had an inclination for fighting.” What was most remarkable in this action was that both armies, after having stood the most obstinate and bloody engagement, were seized with a sudden panic in the night, and took to flight. The next day they retreated, without either side having kept the field of battle, or claimed the victory; both being equally weakened and defeated. There were about seven thousand killed, and five thousand made prisoners, on the side of the French; and the enemy’s loss was nearly equal. This useless carnage prevented either army from undertaking anything of moment against the other: but the appearance of advantage was at that time so necessary that the prince of Orange, in order to make the world believe that he had gained the victory, laid siege to Oudenarde; however, the prince of Condé soon showed that he had not lost the battle, by obliging him to raise the siege, and pursuing him in his retreat.
It was the practice with the French and the allies to observe the idle ceremony of giving public thanks for a victory they had not gained; a custom established to keep up the spirit of the populace, who must always be deceived.
Turenne, with his little army, continued to make some progress in Germany, by the mere efforts of his military genius. The Council of Vienna not daring to trust any longer the fate of the empire to princes who had made so bad a defence, once more delivered the command of its armies to General Montecuculi, who had defeated the Turks in the battle of St. Gothard, and who, in spite of the endeavors of Turenne and Condé, had effected a junction with the prince of Orange, and checked the career of Louis’s conquest, after he had reduced three of the seven United Provinces.
It has been elsewhere remarked that the empire had been frequently indebted to Italy for its greatest generals. This country, though in a state of degeneration and slavery, still produces men who put us in mind of what it has once been. Montecuculi was the only person fit to be opposed to Turenne. They had both brought war to an art. They spent four months in following and observing each other in their marches and encampments, which were held in greater esteem by the French and Germans officers than even victories. Each of them judged what his adversary had in view, by the very steps which he himself would have taken on the same occasion, and they were seldom deceived. They opposed each other with perseverance, cunning, and activity. At last they were on the point of coming to an engagement, and staking their reputations on the fate of a battle near the village of Saltzbach, when, on July 27, 1675, Turenne was killed by a cannon ball as he was going to fix upon a place for erecting a battery. Everyone is acquainted with the particulars of this great man’s death; but we cannot refrain from repeating some of the principal circumstances of an event which continues to be spoken of to this day. There is one indeed which it is hardly possible to repeat too often. The ball which deprived Turenne of his life carried off the arm of St. Hiliare, lieutenant-general of the artillery, whose son threw himself down by his side in a flood of tears. “Weep not for me,” said that brave officer, “but for that great man,” pointing to Turenne. These words are equal to anything that history has consecrated as most heroic, and form the worthiest eulogium of the great Turenne. It is seldom that in a despotic government, where everyone is wholly taken up with his own private concerns, those who have served their country die regretted: nevertheless, Turenne was lamented by his own soldiers and by the people. Louvois was the only one who rejoiced at his death. Everyone knows that the king caused the greatest honors to be paid to his memory; and that he was interred at St. Denis, as the constable du Guesclin had been, to whom the public voice declares him as much superior as the age he lived in was superior to that of the constable.
Turenne had not always been successful in the field. He had been beaten at Mariendal, Rethel, and Cambray; he had likewise been guilty of some faults, and was great man enough to own them. He had never gained very striking victories, nor fought any of those pitched battles which decide the fate of one or the other nation; but by always repairing his defeats, and doing a great deal with a little, he passed for the ablest general in Europe, in an age when the art of war was better understood than ever it had been. In like manner, though he had been accused of having deserted his party in the civil wars, and though, when almost sixty years of age, he had suffered love to make him reveal a secret of state, and had exercised some unnecessary barbarities in the Palatinate, yet he still preserved the character of an upright, prudent, and honest man; because his virtues and great talents, which were peculiar to himself, made the world forget those weaknesses and failings which were common to the rest of mankind. If we were to compare him to anyone, we might venture to say that of all the generals of past ages, Gonsalvo de Cordova, surnamed the Great Captain, was the person whom he most resembled.
He was born a Protestant, but in 1688 he embraced the Roman Catholic religion. It was not supposed by either Protestant or philosopher that this change was the effect of mere persuasion only, in a warrior and a statesman of fifty years old who still kept mistresses. It is well known that Louis XIV., when he created him marshal-general of his armies, spoke to him in these very words, which we find related by Pellisson in his letters, and others: “I wish you would lay me under an obligation of doing more for you.” These words—according to these writers—might, together with time, have been the means of bringing about this conversion. The place of constable might perhaps have entered into an ambitious mind; it is also possible that this conversion might be sincere. The human heart frequently unites politics, ambition, religious sentiments, and amorous weaknesses; but the Catholics, who triumphed in this change, would never be persuaded that the great soul of Turenne was capable of double dealing.
The turn which affairs took in Alsace immediately after the death of Turenne made his loss more sensibly felt. Montecuculi, who had for three months been kept on the other side of the Rhine by the French general, passed that river the instant he knew he no longer had Turenne to fear; he then fell upon a part of the army, which remained thunderstruck with its loss, under the command of the two lieutenant-generals, de Lorges and Vauban. Though the French defended themselves with great valor, they could not hinder the imperialists from penetrating into Alsace, from which Turenne had always kept them at a distance.
The army stood in need of a leader not only to conduct it, but also to retrieve the late defeat which had happened to Marshal de Créqui, a man of enterprising genius, capable at once of the noblest and rashest actions, and equally dangerous to his country and its enemies. He had, through his own fault, been beaten at Consarbruck, August 11, 1675, and his little army routed and cut to pieces by a body of twenty thousand Germans, who were laying siege to Trier. Hardly one-fourth of his troops escaped. After this accident, he marched with the utmost precipitation through a thousand dangers, and threw himself into Trier, which he defended with the greatest valor; whereas he should have relieved it by a prudent management. He resolved to bury himself in the ruins of the place before he would give it up; and even when a breach was made practicable, he still continued to hold out. The garrison began to murmur at this obstinacy; and one Captain Bois-Jourdan, who was at the head of the mutineers, repaired to the breach, and proposed a capitulation. Never was cowardice carried on with so much boldness; he threatened to kill the marshal, unless he would sign the capitulation; Créqui upon this retires, with some officers who remained faithful to him, to a neighboring church, and chose rather to be a prisoner at discretion than to capitulate.
To recruit the great loss of men which the kingdom had sustained by so many sieges and battles, Louis XIV. was advised not to confine himself to the usual levies from among the militia, but to issue his orders for assembling the ban and arrière-ban. By an ancient custom, which is now laid aside, all those that held lands in fee were obliged to serve their lords paramount in the wars, at their own expense, and to continue in arms for a certain number of days. This service was one of the principal laws of our barbarous nations. Things are at present on a very different footing in Europe: every kingdom now raises soldiers, who are kept in constant pay, and form a regular and disciplined body.
Louis XIII. had once, during his reign, assembled the nobility of his kingdom; Louis XIV. now followed his example. The body of nobility took the field under the command of the marquis, afterward marshal, of Rochefort, and marched to the frontiers of Flanders, and thence to the borders of Germany; but this body was neither great in its numbers, nor useful in its operations, nor indeed could be rendered so. The gentlemen who had a military turn, and were fit for service, had all commissions in the army; those whom age or discontent had kept at home remained there; and the rest, who were employed in improving their estates, came with repugnance, to the number of about four thousand. In short, they were far from having the appearance of military troops. They were all differently mounted and accoutred, void of experience, ignorant of discipline, and either incapable or averse to regular service; so that they caused only confusion, and were forever laid aside. This was the last trace of ancient chivalry which appeared in our regular armies, of which those armies were formerly composed, and which, though possessed of all the courage natural to their nation, never fought well.
Turenne dead, Créqui beaten and a prisoner, Trier taken, and Montecuculi laying all Alsace under contribution, the king thought that the prince of Condé alone was able to revive the drooping spirits of the army, discouraged by the death of Turenne. Condé left Marshal Luxembourg to support the French in Flanders, and hastened to check the progress of Montecuculi. On this occasion, he showed as much coldness as he had shown impetuosity at Seneffe; and, with a genius which conformed itself to everything, he displayed the same art as Turenne had done. By two encampments only, he stopped the progress of the German army, and obliged Montecuculi to raise the sieges of Haguenau and Saverne, during August and September, 1675. After this campaign, which was indeed less brilliant but more esteemed than that of Seneffe, this prince no longer appeared in the character of a warrior. He was desirous of having his son appointed to the command in his stead, and offered to assist him with his advice; but the king did not choose to have either young men or princes for generals; it was even not without reluctance that he had employed the prince of Condé, who owed his being at the head of the army to Louvois’s jealousy of Turenne, as much as to his own great reputation.
The prince retired to Chantilly, and rarely came to Versailles, to see his glory eclipsed in a place where the courtier regards only favor. During the remainder of his life he was greatly tormented with the gout; but he consoled himself in the midst of his anguish and disgrace, by the conversation of men of genius of all kinds, with which France then abounded. He was truly worthy of their acquaintance, being himself acquainted with most of the arts and sciences in which they excelled. He still continued the object of admiration, even in his retirement; till at length that devouring fire, which had in his youth made him the impetuous hero and subject to a number of passions, having by degrees consumed the vigor of a body, which was by nature formed rather active than robust, he experienced a total decay before his time; and his mind growing as weak as his body, nothing of the great Condé remained during the last two years of his life. He died in 1680. Montecuculi retired from the emperor’s service about the time that the great Condé resigned the command of the armies of France.