The Battle of Fontenoy by Felix Philippoteaux (B)
The Duke of Cumberland, their colonel, commanding the allied forces; measured his strength with Marshal Saxe, who was then besieging Tournay. The First Guards were on the right of the centre, in the first line, when the Duke, furious at the failure on both wings, ordered the masses of troops to attack. The infantry dashed forward between the village and the redoubt, and as the British Guards advanced over a low ridge, and saw the French Guards before them, a scene occurred which has become legendary in military history. 'Messieurs les Anglais, tirez les premiers!' is a phrase that bespeaks the old fashioned chivalry with which foemen worthy of each other's steel loved to treat one another. The story of what occurred is variously given. 'The officers of the English Guards,' says Voltaire, 'when in the presence of the enemy, saluted the French by taking off their hats. The Comte de Chabannes, and the Duc de Biron, who were in advance returned the salute, as did all the officers of the French Guards. Lord Charles Hay of the King's Company, 1st Guards, stepped forward and took off his hat. Lord Charles Hay then pulled out a flask and drank a toast to the French, saying: 'Gentlemen of the French Guard, I hope you will wait for us today and not escape by swimming the Scheldt as you swam the Main at Dettingen.' Then he turned to his Company and said: 'Men of the King's Company, these are the French Guards and I hope you are going to beat them today.' Count D'Anteroche, lieutenant of grenadiers, replied in a loud voice: 'Gentlemen, we never fire first; we will follow you.' The French troops opened fire first but most of their shots went high. Then the British troops opened fire and nineteen officers and up to 600 men of the French Guards are said to have fallen at the first discharge, as the English pushed on, the enemy were borne back, and in the face of a terrific fire, the Guards drove them into their camp. Here, exposed to the tremendous reverse fire of the redoubt of Eu, the Guards according to Rousseau, formed themselves into a kind of square, and resisted repeated attacks of the cavalry of the French Guards and Carabineers. But unsupported and decimated by the withering hail of iron that assailed them, attacked by fresh troops and the Irish brigades of Clare and Dillon, beset as in a fiery furnace, the Guards at length began to retire. They did so in perfect order; but the First Guards left 4 officers, 3 sergeants and 82 men dead on the field, besides having 149 wounded in all. It was a defeat due to bad generalship and want of cohesion among allies, but its sanguinary episodes added new lustre to the great fame of the Guards. 'There are things, 'says Marshal Saxe, - or some say his friend General D'Heronville, in his Trait des Legions - 'which all of us have seen, but of which our pride makes us silent because we well know we cannot imitate them.' Fontenoy was a defeat for the British army. During the battle Lord Charles Hay was wounded but would later be in action again.
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