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Siege of Nijmegen
Part of the War of the First Coalition
Flanders campaign
Valkhofburcht HendrikHoogers.jpg
The Valkhof Castle in 1794 shortly before the siege.
Date27 October – 8 November 1794
LocationNijmegen, Guelders, Dutch Republic
Result French victory
Belligerents

 French First Republic

 Dutch Republic

Kingdom of Great Britain Great Britain
Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg Hanover

Hessen KS flag.svg Hesse-Kassel
Commanders and leaders
Jean Moreau
Herman Daendels
Jan Willem de Winter
William V of Orange
Frederick of Orange
Duke of York
Count of Wallmoden
Strength
20,000 soldiers
(19 October)[1]
8,000 soldiers
(24 October)[1]
50 to 60 cannon
(21 October)[1]


The Siege of Nijmegen occurred from 27 October to 8 November 1794 during the Flanders campaign of the War of the First Coalition. It was the last major military confrontation between the forces of the Revolutionary French First Republic and the reactionary First Coalition of European monarchs including William V, Prince of Orange, before the fall of the Dutch Republic in January 1795, which William had ruled as hereditary stadtholder since 1751. As commander-in-chief of the Dutch States Army, his indecision, several changes of mind and lack of coordination with his Anglo-Hanoverian, Hessian, Prussian and Austrian allies contributed to the eventual surrender of Nijmegen to the French revolutionaries.

Background

In the Patriottentijd, stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange had taken refuge in the city of Nijmegen when he was deprived of the command of the garrison of The Hague in 1785.[2] After his wife Wilhelmina of Prussia was arrested by Patriots at Goejanverwellesluis on 28 June 1787, the Prussian army intervened and expelled the Patriots, who fled to France or disguised themselves as 'reading clubs'.[2] William V left Nijmegen again and resumed his residence in The Hague, while reinforcing his stadtholderian powers through the Act of Guarantee and his new alliances with Prussia and England, which made the Netherlands a de facto Anglo-Prussian protectorate, now run as a hereditary monarchy under the House of Orange-Nassau in all but its old name: the Dutch Republic.[3]

In the summer of 1794, the momentum changed when the French Revolutionary troops in the Austrian Netherlands won one victory after another over the forces of the anti-French reactionary First Coalition, to which William V's son Frederick, the hereditary Prince of Orange, contributed a States contingent.[4] The Prussians and Austrians fled to the Rhineland, while the Anglo-Hanoverian, Hessian and Dutch States troops withdrew further northwards to defend the United Provinces.[5]

Course

Advance on Nijmegen

The Nijmegian contemporary citizen Jan van Hulst recorded a detailed account of the siege in his personal diary.[1] On 3 October, the States troops constructed a floating bridge across the river Waal near Nijmegen for easier troop movement. Those days, companies from several countries came and went from the city, and the stadtholder and his sons showed up several times inside its walls. The French came closer by the day, and there were multiple minor field battles and skirmishes near the outposts to the south of Nijmegen, while the city and the surrounding forts were being reinforced.[1] The French Armée du Nord led by general Jean-Charles Pichegru, assisted by the Batavian Legion under the Patriot brigadier generals Herman Willem Daendels and Jan Willem de Winter. They forced the Orangist troops to surrender 's-Hertogenbosch on 12 October after a siege of three weeks.[6]

Pichegru fell ill soon after, and retreated to Brussels to recover. His replacement, Jean Victor Marie Moreau, crossed the river Maas at Teeffelen with a division on 18 or 19 October, followed by another division under Joseph Souham's command.[1] There were battles near Puiflijk, Appeltern, Dreumel, Batenburg and Winssen between the French troops, alleged to be 20,000 men strong, versus two English regiments and an Emigrant army of 1200 men under the Prince of Rohan. One of the English regiments was taken prisoner of war (500 men), and the other was almost completely destroyed, while of the 1200 Emigrants only 300 escaped, while 60 were captured and the rest was killed. The Land van Maas en Waal was soon entirely in French hands. That night, Coalition troops plundered Neerbosch and Hees.[1] The same day, Cleves was conquered by the French. On 20 October, there were skirmishes on the heath near Wijchen and the flower mountains near Zyfflich, while the French bombarded Tiel and severed the connection between Grave and Nijmegen.[1] Grave was completely surrounded by the French, but not assaulted yet, because they wanted to conquer Nijmegen first.[7] As a fortress city, Grave was much harder to capture. It endured until 30 December when heavy French bombardments had reduced most of it to rubble.

Battles between outposts

In the morning of 21 October, the Hanoverian general Wallmoden asked the magistrate of Nijmegen whether there were enough food supplies to make it through a siege; from the doubtful answer he received, he concluded that the city had to be evacuated. Meanwhile, the French had reached Neerbosch, while the English had abandoned their outposts. From The Hague, the stadtholder ordered to not defend Nijmegen against the French, and so the evacuation of the city was commenced.[1] On 22 October, there was heavy fighting between outposts between 2 and 6 o'clock, causing at least 80 Allied casualties. The French approached the city to within 15 minutes, but then retreated again. There were skirmishes at 7 o'clock in the morning and also in the afternoon of 23 October. The French army's main force was stationed in Wijchen, while inside Nijmegen the Allies continued to station more troops, for example in the Romanesque churches.[1] On 24 and 25 October, the city was geared into a state of emergency, while food shortages began to grow and Coalition soldiers started plundering the countryside. A French attack near Hees was beaten back. The pontoon bridge across the Waal was filled with combustibles so it could be burned after crossing, preventing the French from using it. The French vainly tried to shoot the floating bridge to pieces before the Allies could use it for a retreat.[1] On 26 October, there was combat near the Pelmolen with an unknown number of casualties. The Emigrants of Dumas left the city in the direction of Zutphen.[1]

Start of the siege

Map of Nijmegen during the siege.

The cannon on the Nijmegian walls fired for the first time on 27 October at 12.30 pm, and the French army directly shot back at them as well. As a precaution, several houses in Hees were burnt down at 6 pm, in order to prevent the French from garrisoning them. In Ooij, the French installed artillery batteries; Allied bombardments from the Bemmelsedijk tried in vain to prevent this. By this time, it was alleged that all Coalition outposts had been evacuated or captured by the French, who took many Allied POWs.[1] The Prince of Orange changed his mind about his earlier decision on 28 October, and announced that he loved Nijmegen too much to just surrender her to the enemy. Hulst, who showed some pro-French sympathies in his account, called the stadtholder's decision to risk the city to withstand a siege 'nonsensical' because of a lack of supplies, and he claimed that the citizenry would rather capitulate quickly. General Wallmoden would also once again have given the order to evacuate the city, and have left it himself.[1] The well-covered French batteries in Ooij were hard to hit, but they themselves were highly efficient in firing on the eastern walls. The other sides of the city remained quiet. Meanwhile, the shortages in combustibles and flour were increasing, and Allied soldiers began to violently demand food from civilians.[1]

From 29 October to 1 November, the French did not attack, but carefully prepared for a long-term siege by constructing more trenches and batteries in the ever colder weather. Although the defenders bombarded them with cannons, they had little effect. Several more homes in Hees were shot ablaze from the walls. A number of high-ranking Allied commanders appeared in the city and convened to discuss what to do. It was suggested to make a sortie out of the city in an attempt to frustrate the French preparations. In the end, only a single sortie involving 300 English and 200 Hanoverian soldiers was performed towards a French battery located on the Hunnerberg, but it was beaten back with a loss of 100 men. In the meantime, the wood shortage inside Nijmegen was rapidly becoming serious, and all kinds of things were set on fire to produce warmth.[1] On 2 November, the Coalition forces employed an almost endless barrage on the slowly nearer-digging French troops, who did not return the fire. That evening and night, 3000 men with military wagons and horses are said to have crossed the river while evacuating the city. At night, Hanoverian troops made another sortie and reached the French trenches, but it appeared that they did not achieve more than stealing a few spades whilst incurring 60 deaths and 40 injuries.[1] The next day, the evacuation was resumed. Numerous bombs, cannon and howitzers balls were thrown into the river so that they wouldn't fall into French hands. Moreover, 500 tonnes of flour were dumped overboard, but hungry civilians retrieved much of it from the water for their own use. The situation turned around when the three Princes of Orange came from Arnhem and arrived in Nijmegen in the afternoon to consult with the other military commanders. The result appears to have been to cease the evacuation and to resume the siege, because room was made for 3,600 new English and Dutch soldiers (including 2 companies of Dutch cannoneers), who arrived later that night. Coalition troops on the walls kept firing at the French, who kept digging closer without firing back.[1]

The artillery on the walls was reinforced on 4 November, and much of the ammunition dumped in the Waal was brought back to the surface to be used. The far-progressed trenches were assailed during a large-scale English sortie, and the first and second line were successfully taken, with many tools and soldiers captured. At the third line, however, they met with fierce French counter-fire of cannons and muskets, suffering heavy losses and breaking ranks, after which they fled back to the city in great disorder. A large number of Scots that tried to climb the Hunnerberg were shot down by French Jäger until they were relieved by a Hanoverian battalion that escorted them back into the city. 5 November was another relatively quiet day; even more Allied troops and artillery pieces were stationed in Nijmegen and there was a little less fierce firing than the day before, while the French resumed digging efforts and had deployed extra guards near the trenches in case of another sortie.[1] The Duke of York, commander of the British troops, planned a counter-offensive with Austrian assistance to relieve Nijmegen, but this was cancelled when the Hanoverian contingent refused to participate.[8] The English troops began to leave the city on the order of York,[9] who was recalled to England and replaced by William Harcourt.[8]

The French bombardment

This map shows the French trenches and batteries on the Hunnerberg and their firing direction.

In the morning of 6 November, the stadtholder once again assured the population that he would defend the city, and even promised to relieve her within three days as soon as the necessarily reinforcements had arrived. That afternoon, the French field works were completed, and they commenced heavy howitzer bombardments around 7 or 8 pm. The impacts caused major panic inside the city; most civilians fled to their cellars for cover. Dutch troops launched desperate sorties, but at the cost of more soldiers on their own side than they could inflict on the French. The floating bridge was damaged, but carpenters restored it in the midst of the shooting. At night, several English battalions, the majority of the English and Hanoverian cavalry, and some artillery units abandoned the city. Dozens of English soldiers set themselves to looting houses in order to take away as many goods as they could lay their hands on to the other shore, but Dutch soldiers and armed citizens were able to arrest a large number of them, and about 50 pillagers were executed.[1]

The Emigrants of Damas left Nijmegen on 7 November at 9 am. The howitzer bombardments, which were less frequent at night, resumed the next day in all ferocity. Once again, English plunderers were caught. Between 1 and 3 o'clock, a fire raged in the Hertogsteeg that was hard to extinguish; water was difficult to obtain, and people rather avoided the streets. At 4 pm, the Dominicus Church caught fire, and the flames, fed by the wind, spread to the surrounding houses. It was not until after the steeple had collapsed that the fire would be extinguished around 11 pm. However, a new fire in the Hertogsteeg could not be tamed, and several homes completely turned into ashes. The City Council held a meeting at 7 o'clock, but most regenten had already fled the city by then.[1]

After midnight, the remaining English, Hanoverian and Hessian troops began to definitively evacuate. The pontoon bridge was heavily fired on by the French howitzers, while the Allies tried to cross it towards Lent as quickly as possible. As soon as the English had crossed to the other side around 1 or 2 am, however, they set the bridge aflame, preventing the remaining Dutch regiments the retreat. Seeing the burning bridge, and noticing the defenders decreasingly returned their fire, the French concluded that the city had almost been evacuated. Several hundreds of troops were sent on reconnaissance to inspect the occupation of the walls. They scaled the walls, entered the city without resistance and opened up three gates (the Hesepoort, Molenpoort and Hertogsteegsepoort), after which the main force was informed. Around 4 am, French troops spread throughout the city to occupy strategic points. From the other side, captain Reine (a Dutch Patriot) advanced to the Hunnerpoort to demand access in the name of the French Republic. This was granted by the magistrate, and the French took over the gatehouse. The remaining Dutch States troops who could not flee the city because of the burning pontoon bridge were taken prisoner. The prisoners of war were disarmed on the very same day, and escorted to Ravenstein with full military honours and beating drum. Eventually, the capitulation was written up by the Dutch officer Sanders van Wel in the Molenstraat, which was soon signed by general Souham.[1] Thus, Nijmegen fell into French hands on 8 November.[10]

Hulst reported that the French troops were very disciplined, and did not engage in looting, but walked across the street gleefully and singing while greeting civilians. Tensions loomed when unsuspecting shop owners started trading Dutch guilders 1 on 1 against the heavily devalued French assignats, prompting the military leadership to temporarily close down all shops to protect the vendors against economic damage.[1] English troops continued to occupy the Knodsenburg fortress on the other side of the Waal and fired on the city for some time, to little effect, but successfully keeping the French at a distance for the time being.[1]

Aftermath

With the conquest of Nijmegen, the French Republic had reached the Rhine and the Waal rivers, which were often claimed to be the 'natural boundary' of France, and that it had tried to seize during the past several revolutionary years.[10][11] Daendels, however, pressed the French command to liberate the rest of the Dutch Republic, where the Patriots were increasingly stirring up revolts and demanded the departure of the Orangists. Eventually, the French food shortages were the decisive factor to continue the advance.[11] On 10 January 1795, Pichegru crossed the frozen Waal, after which only little fighting was needed in the rest of the country: on 16 January, the province of Utrecht surrendered, and on the night of 18 to 19 January a nonviolent Batavian Revolution took place in Amsterdam and the Batavian Republic was proclaimed, while many Orangists together with the stadtholder fled to England. In other cities similar revolutions took place in which the Patriots took over the government.[citation needed]

During the spring of 1795, the French government and the new revolutionary Batavian administration negotiated which regions would be annexed by France: Paris agitated for the Waal as the border between the two republics, but the Bavatians found this too high a price for the population which had largely liberated itself, and wanted to retain friendly ties with the French. The resulting Treaty of The Hague (16 May 1795) stipulated that only the Generality Lands of Staats-Vlaanderen, Staats-Overmaas and Staats-Opper-Gelre would become French territory, while Staats-Brabant and the parts of Duchy of Guelders and the County of Holland below the river Waal would remain in Batavian control. Nijmegen thus became part of the new Batavian Republic, but the division of Guelders caused the city to be reassigned to the Department of the Dommel and to lose its status as capital to 's-Hertogenbosch.[citation needed]

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 Jan van Hulst, Evert K. Kam (1996). "Dagboek van Nijmegen 1794-1795". Mark van Loon/Stichting Noviomagus. http://www.noviomagus.nl/Gastredactie/Kam/Hulst/Hulst.htm. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "patriotten". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  3. Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "Garantie, Akte van". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  4. Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "Willem [Nederland] §1. Willem I". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  5. Fortescue, Sir John (1918). British Campaigns in Flanders 1690–1794 (fragmenten uit Deel 4 van A History of the British Army). Londen: Macmillan. pp. 362–65. 
  6. Baartmans, J. (1994). "'s-Hertogenbosch in 1794: beleg en omwenteling". Kring Vrienden van ’s‑Hertogenbosch. pp. 125–135. http://www.bossche-encyclopedie.nl/publicaties/bossche%20bladen/pdf/1994-4Baartmans.pdf. 
  7. Frederik Henri Alexander Sabron (1892). "Generaal de Bonskazerne". De oorlog van 1794-’95. Deel II. Drukkerij Broes Breda. http://www.bommeltje.nl/website/vestingstad-grave/generaal-de-bonskazerne/. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Harvey, Robert (2007). War of Wars: The Epic Struggle Between Britain and France 1789–1815. Londen: Robinson. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-84529-635-3. 
  9. Pieter Geyl p. 296.
  10. 10.0 10.1 de Bruin, Renger E. (2012). Bedreigd door Napoleon: De Ridderlijke Duitsche Orde, Balije van Utrecht 1753-1838. Hilversum: Uitgeverij Verloren. p. 221. ISBN 9789087042813. https://books.google.com/books?id=YbzSAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA221. Retrieved 20 August 2016. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "Bataafse Republiek ".

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