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Battle of Rheinfelden
Part of Thirty Years' War
Date1st Battle: February 28, 1638
2nd Battle: March 3, 1638
Location1st Battle: North of River Rhine, NE of Rheinfelden, near Basel (present-day Germany)
2nd Battle: S of River Rhine, E of Rheinfelden (present day Switzerland)
Result Weimar victory
Belligerents
Electorate of Saxony Saxe-Weimar
 Kingdom of France
 Sweden
 Holy Roman Empire
Bavaria Electorate of Bavaria
Commanders and leaders
Electorate of Saxony Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar Bavaria Johann von Werth
Holy Roman Empire Federico Savelli
Strength
12,000 25,000
Casualties and losses
1,968 4,000


The Battle of Rheinfelden was a military event in the course of the Thirty Years' War, consisting in fact of two battles fought in 1638 to the north and south of the present-day town of Rheinfelden, between a mercenary army led by Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar and an Holy Roman Empire army led by Johann von Werth. Bernhard was defeated in the first battle but managed to defeat and capture Von Werth in the second.

Prelude

Following the Swedish defeat at the Battle of Nördlingen in 1634, Bernhard's mercenary army had come under the pay of France. Having been pushed back over the Rhine by the Imperial advance Bernhard's army had settled in Alsace during 1635 and had done little except help repulse the Imperial invasion of France under the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand and General Matthias Gallas in 1636.

Early in February 1638, having been prodded by the French government Bernhard advanced his army to the Rhine in order to find a crossing. Arriving at an important crossing point at the town of Rheinfelden, Bernhard prepared to invest the town from the south and using the ferry at Beuggen threw troops across the river in order to complete the investment from the north. The attack on the town was to be made on March 1.

In order to prevent this, the Imperialists, under the Italian mercenary Count Federico Savelli and Johann von Werth, moved through the Black Forest to attack Bernhard's army and relieve the town.

The First Battle

The advance guard of the Imperial army, having advanced down the right bank of the river, was pushed back by Bernhard. This gave him time to deploy more troops and artillery onto the north bank of the river. However, by the time Savelli appeared with the main body of his force only half of Bernhard's army had made it to the north bank.

Bernhard drew up his army to prevent Savelli from relieving the town. Savelli deployed the Imperial army opposite Bernhard but because of the rough ground there was little chance for both armies to retain their formation. Savelli drove back Berhard's left flank while on the opposite end of the field Bernhard routed the Imperial right. Like a revolving door both armies swung round giving Savelli the chance to capture the ferry and cut off Bernhard from his troops on the south back. At the days end the armies were facing each other in the positions that the other had started the battle in.

Bernhard's March

Although the Imperialists held the field Bernhard's losses were not serious and he resolved to unite both parts of his army. Avoiding Imperialist detachments Bernhard marched east along the Rhine to the village of Laufenburg. There, having crossed the Rhine and united his army, Bernhard turned back towards Rheinfelden.

The Second Battle

Believing Bernhard's army defeated and scattered, the Imperialist army failed to take precautions. Around 7 am Savelli's outposts were astonished to see Bernhard's army approaching and withdrew towards Rheinfelden to report Bernhard's presence as Savelli and Werth assembled their army in haste. Bernhard had his artillery fire three times into the Imperial ranks before a final charge broke the Imperialist army. Troops coming out of Rheinfelden to help were also caught by Bernhard and forced to surrender. Both Savelli and Werth were captured.

Aftermath

Bernhard's victory enabled him to march north along the Rhine to initiate the siege of Breisach.

Sources

  • Wedgewood, C.V.. The Thirty Years War. pp. 404–406. 

Coordinates: 47°33′N 7°48′E / 47.55°N 7.8°E / 47.55; 7.8

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