File No.: Battle Study # 24

Title: Location of the Battle of Boxtel

Investigation made at:

Boxtel, Municipality of Boxtel, The Netherlands
(5135'01.6"N 519'35.3"E)

Period Covered:14 - 15 SEP 1794

Date: APR 2014

Case Classification: Location of Historic Events

Status of Case: Case Closed

(click to enlarge)

Combat de Boxtel 1794
Francois Grenier, C. de Last 1819
(Source: Rijks Museum, Amsterdam)

REASON FOR INVESTIGATION:
In 1794 the French revolutionist invaded The Netherlands. British and German coalition forces tried to stop them.

During the retreat of the coalition forces only one major battle took place. The Battle of Boxtel.
During the battle an incident took place from which British soldiers derived their nickname Tommy.
A mortally wounded soldier of the 33rd Regiment of Foot told his commander that his wounds were:
"
all in a day's work" and died shortly after this.
This soldier's name was Thomas Atkins and his commander was none other than the Duke of Wellington of later
1815 fame when he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
Several years ago, the local Boxtel Historical Society, knowing that the French approached Boxtel from the West,
placed a marker near a pasture at the outskirts of the town. The spot was chosen by assumption.

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A 2011 archaeological find near the Stapelen Castle in Boxtel, approximately 3 miles South East of this location
proved this location to be incorrect. Fifty-five lead musket and pistol balls where found during excavation
work that year. We have been investigating to establish the exact combat scene of the Battle of Boxtel.


SYNOPSIS:


The Big Picture

The Battle of Boxtel was only a minor incident during the Flanders Campaign of 1793 and 1794.
It is mainly remembered because during this battle Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington,
had his baptism of fire here. The Allied expedition had planned to overthrow the French Revolutionaries by invading France from the North through Belgium combined with similar attacks from different directions.
These forces initially made good progress but later suffered serious set-backs outside Dunkirk and at Fleurus.
By 1794 the Allies were retreating, pursued by the French army.
This forced the British and Dutch to pull back towards the Netherlands.
By the end of August the Duke of York's British and German army was positioned between the city of
's-Hertogenbosch and the Peel marshlands to the East. The British line was protected by the Rivers Aa and Dommel.
In mid-September the French caught up with the Allied rear echelon near the small town of Boxtel, on the
Dommel River, and on the Koevering Moor, North of the village of St. Oedenrode, and South of Veghel.

The Battle of Boxtel
The French general Pichegru had just advanced from Antwerp and had sent out a strong force to occupy the city of Eindhoven. On September 10th, Pichegru turned East and advanced towards the British outpost at Boxtel, which
was defended by two Hessian battalions. On September 14th, the French captured Boxtel, defeating three
German battalions from the Duke of York's Allied army and taking the Hessians prisoner.
The next day York sent a division to recapture Boxtel. This force consisted of ten infantry battalions and ten cavalry squadrons, with the infantry made up of Guards Brigade and 3rd Brigade. The latter brigade had four infantry
battalions, among which Wellesley's 33rd Foot. Lieutenant-Colonel Wellesley commanded the brigade while
Lieutenant-Colonel John Sherbrooke had command of the 33rd that day.

Baptism of fire
As the British force advanced towards Boxtel, it became evident that they were in danger of running into Pichegru's
main force. The order was given to pull back to the starting point and the British were forced into a chaotic retreat, pursued by French cavalry. When two French infantry regiments turned in pursuit of the British, the retreat
threatened to turn into a rout. However, the situation was saved by the 33rd Foot, who formed up into line and
fired a series of disciplined volleys with their muskets, driving off the French. The young Wellesley was not directly responsible for his men's good behavior, but was given much of the credit. After this rear echelon action the British returned to safety with the loss of only 90 men.

British retreat
The British then withdrew East to cross the River Meuse at Grave. They then redeployed on the North bank of
that river. The French soon forced the British to surrender this line too, and in early October the Duke of York was
forced to retreat across the River Waal. The British continued their retreat northwards and eventually reached the
North Sea coast, where they were withdrawn to Britain in 1795. The French pushed on to Amsterdam and overthrew
the Dutch Republic replacing it with a satellite state.

Tommy Atkins
The origins of the term "Tommy Atkins" as a nickname for the British soldier is said to have originated during the
Battle
 of Boxtel on September 15th 1794. At the end of the battle Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Wellesley, commanding
the 33rd Regiment of Foot, spotted among the wounded a 6' 3" tall soldier with twenty years of service.
He was dying of three wounds; a saber slash to his head, a bayonet thrust in his chest, and a bullet through
his lungs. The wounded man looked up at Wellesley and apparently thought his commander was concerned,
because he said,
"It's alright sir. It's all in a day's work", and then died.
The soldier's name was Private Thomas Atkins, and his heroism is said to have left such an impression on Wellesley,
that when he was Commander in Chief of the British Army he recalled the name and used it as a specimen on a
new set of soldiers' documents sent to him for approval.
This may explain why the War Office chose the name "Tommy Atkins" as a representative name in 1815.
Specimen forms of the "Soldier's Book" issued for both the cavalry and infantry in that year, read "Tommy Atkins,
his X mark" at the space for the soldier's signature.
 
Clues: Documents and archaeological discoveries
There are only a few clues as to where the exact Battle of Boxtel, the capture of the town by the French and, the subsequent attempt of recapturing it by the Guards and Wellesley's 33rd Foot, took place.

A certain A.C. Brock from St. Oedenrode entered in his journal:
"
In 1794 a skirmish occurred here between the French and the English, of whom the latter were put to flight,
but having caused fire first, by which, fortunately nothing more than the Barrier House, situated on Steen Weg
was consumed.
"


(Source: Ruud van Nooijen, Boxtel Historical Society, June 2012)

Research showed that the Barrier House was an office where merchants, other than citizens of Boxtel,
had to pay toll for using the road to 's-Hertogenbosch. After the battle, the burnt building was rebuilt and today has
the  address of No. 37 in Clarissen Straat in Boxtel.
The location gives a clue about where English troops had to retreat and torched a building; probably to cover their withdrawal by the ensuing smoke.

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The house on No. 37 Clarissen Straat in Boxtel,
built on the location of Barrier House,
burnt by British troops during their retreat from Boxtel in 1794

In 2011 55 lead projectiles were found during excavation work of some ecological passageways near the Stapelen

Castle.
A local periodical wrote about it:

"55 lead projectiles likely date back to 1794
Bullets from Battle of Boxtel discovered
Author: Henk van Weert
Last Fall 55 lead pistol- and musket bullets were found during the reconstruction of a field defense structure from
1839 near Stapelen Castle.
Archeologists weren't able to determine their dates but Boxtel Historical Society's chairman Dik Bol does not
expect that these projectiles date back to the period of the Belgian revolt, in light of which the so-called redoubt
was raised. He suspects that the projectiles date back to September 1794, when the Battle of Boxtel raged during
the French arrival in the town.
[...]
Last year, when the Water Control Board also deepened some pools between Eindhovense Weg and Parallel
Weg Zuid in light of an ecological passage way, the Historical Society suggested using the dirt from these diggings
for the reconstruction of the Konijnshol redoubt defense structure. This plan was executed and during the
excavation work an archeologist went to work using, among other items, a metal detector. Thus, next to 55 lead
bullets in various sizes, four horseshoes were found and some small metal objects.
"The redoubts have never been used in combat. Shortly after they had been raised The Netherlands and Belgium
singed a peace treaty rendering the field defense structures obsolete. Most of them were demolished, in Boxtel
two remained intact. One near the De Langspier recreational pond, in the garden of the Hazenberg Family and
one in Molenwijk park; the so-called Heksenberg" explains Bol. He thinks that the bullets are about fifty years older.

FRENCH REVOLUTION
"In 1794 the French also took their revolutionary motto of liberty, equality and brotherhood to the Netherlands.
This advance did not see combat because in January 1795 the French were able to cross the frozen Meuse and
Rhine Rivers. One place is an exception: Boxtel", Bol explains.
According to the Historical Society's Chairman the army of the Republic of The Netherlands had demolished all the
bridges across the Dommel River and had settled at Boxtel with two thousand soldiers, among them many German mercenaries from Prussia, Hesse and Hannover. A larger English force, supporting the Netherlands, was stationed
a bit to the East, near Middelrode.
"On September 14th Boxtel was captured by the French in a matter of three hours and I do not rule out that this
was with the help of citizens with French sympathies ; the so-called patriots. We know that the well-known land
surveyor and politician Hendrik Verhees was such a patriot. The two thousand men of the 'Holland' army captured, disarmed and sent home," Bol knows.
Some years ago along Kapel Weg, near Sint Jacobs Hoef dirt track, a work of art by Huub Thorissen remembering
the battle of Boxtel was unveiled. "At the time we did not know exactly where the battle had taken place. It was
a known fact that the French advanced from Western direction, and therefore we chose this spot for the monument
at the time. Now that we have found these bullets near Eindhovense Weg, this location does not seem so likely for
a battlefield.

TOMMIES
Given the recent unearthed discoveries, Historical Society Chairman Bol expects that the French have crossed the Dommel River on the East side of Stapelen Castle. "The next morning at seven o'clock and west of Schijndel,
a small section of the English auxiliary troops stood ready to start the attack on the French and recapture Boxtel. However, after several hours they discovered that the French were much stronger and the English retreated.
Thus, the Battle of Boxtel lasted two days", Bols states.
The battle went into history as the event where the nickname Tommy for British soldiers was coined.
[...]"

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 * According to the Boxtel Historical Society the lead bullets which were discovered
in the sand  with which the redoubt has been reconstructed date back to the
Battle of Boxtel  which was waged during the advance of the French army.

(Source: Brabants Centrum No. 35, Thursday August 30th 2012, Page 6)

 

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Toad pool and Dommel River bridge near the Stapelen Castle

We were given the opportunity to examine the artifacts from the Stapelen Castle toad pool by chairman of the Boxtel Historical Society; mr. Dik Bol.

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CONCLUSION:
Based on the locations where the lead bullets were found and where Barrier House was set in fire, we have
developed this scenario of the Battle of Boxtel on September 14th, 1794. The French crossed the Dommel
River on the East side of Stapelen Castle where rifle fire was exchanged with the defenders of Boxtel. The latter retreated in Eastern direction along a line running North to South and torched the Barrier House,
North of the castle.
This was probably done in order to have the smoke and flames prevent the troops withdrawing from their
positions from being seen by their attackers.
The planned British counterattack on September 15th, never reached Boxtel.
We have plotted the locations on a period map which was drawn by a man named Hendrik Verhees, a patriot with sympathies for the occupying French. The map is directed to the East with North to the left side of the map.
 

 

Verified locations of the Battle of Boxtel plotted on a period map
(click to enlarge)

"The village of Boxtel
with its surroundings. Taken from the map
of the Bottom of Elde, drawn by H. Verhees
 Registered land surveyor, in the year 1803
."
(Source: Brabant Collection, Tilburg University)

EXHIBITS:
Near the site of the 55 lead bullets, other artefacts where found as well. Shown are metal objects such as a prayer medallion, a clothing hook, a coin, and seals for closing postage bags.
Also three complete horseshoes were found as well as a large part of one. It is not known how these items ended
up on the battlefield but may have been from an officer's horse or a cavalry unit.
(click for enlargements)
     

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