I did write a piece about the battle.
Meanwhile the French had noticed this movement and the French commander, Marshal Villeroi, ordered Marshall Boufflers to hasten towards Antwerp with a force of 15 squadrons of cavalry, 15 of dragoons and 30 companies of Grenadiers, joining up with the commander in Antwerp, the Spanish Marquess of Bedmar for a total of 20 battalions of infantry and 49 of cavalry. Against this Obdam could oppose 13 battalions of infantry and 40 squadrons of Cavalry.
The area north of Antwerp was one of polders, reclaimed from low areas subject to tidal floods. Large dykes and many drainage ditches made this otherwise open terrain difficult to cross for cavalry. Four main villages dominated this area. Ekeren, Wilmarsdonk, Oorderen and Hoevenen. French observers could see the Dutch army camped between the four church towers from the top of the Antwerp cathedral.
The French decided to trap the Dutch by sealing off their retreat towards Lillo or Bergen op Zoom. By cover of night they sent squadrons of dragoons to the villages of Kapellen, Hoevenen and Oorderen. The Dutch were in a strong position with dykes to the north and south. A frontal assault would be costly and they were only vulnerable to attack from the east. To the west was the Scheldt river and a marshy floodplain, all but impassable to most troops. The French army set off in the early morning to make a flanking move and would arrive in the afternoon after a long march.
When Dutch commanders generaals Frederik Johan van Baer Slangenburg and Claude-Frédéric t'Serclaes graaf van Tilly made a reconnaissance trip east towards the village of Brasschaat, they stumbled upon a picket of Dragoons firing at them from behind a hedge. They hastened back and sent cavalry to secure their rear at Hoevenen and Oorderen, but found the villages crawling with French dragoons and cavalry. The marshland to the west formed a bulge, the key of which was Oorderen, a village of some 30 families safe behid dykes and controlling the sluice that drained the surrounding polders of water. It is interesting to note that while Claude Frédéric served with the Dutch, another Tilly, Antonio Octavio Tserclaes de Tilly served the French side.
It seems that Marlborough had foreseen the possibility of a counter-attack and had asked Obdam to retire to the nearby fort of Lillo, but Obdam felt safe in his position and ignored the Duke’s warning.
With dragoons to their rear and troops attacking from the south and east, the Dutch began to pull back from their positions around Ekeren, falling back in echelons and leaving three battalions in Ekeren to cover the retreat. The terrain was ideal for this, with many ditches and hedges offering cover for the defenders while the dykes covered the flanks, preventing outflanking by cavalry.
At first Slangenburg ordered troops to take Hoevenen, but as more troops arrived, the action switched towards the more westerly Oorderen. Meanwhile the French managed to take Ekeren. Several cavalry charges were attempted, but failed to dislodge the Dutch or break their orderly retreat.
Dutch troops attack Oorderen and manage to take the village, forcing the French to withdraw to the nearby sluice and regroup with reinforcements arriving soon. With limited numbers, the Dutch are driven out of Oorderen and the fight turns once again to the advantage of the French who boldly decide to send in the cavalry and drive off the Dutch around Oorderen and Wilmarsdonk. The charge ends up in front of Dutch artillery around Wilmarsdonk and the French cavalry is driven back. During the fighting General Obdam is separated from his troops and tries to rejoin them believing they are still holding Ekeren.
With Obdam missing, it falls to generals Slangenburg and Tilly to take charge. As the main front line falls back behind a strong position behind a small stream called the Wetering as the evening falls. It then becomes clear that the French infantry has arrived to late to fully engage the enemy, their long flanking march took them more than eight hours and has left them exhausted, while Boufflers’ reinforcements have been marching and fighting for more than 36 hours. French cavalry charges have exhausted themselves over difficult terrain though the terrain opens up progressively to the west. The Dutch cavalry had been patiently waiting for the French to move into the open and launch a devasting charge. Driving off several regiments and capturing several flags and standards.
With the pressure off the Dutch a final attack can be launched upon Oorderen. Running out of powder and shot the regiments Friesheim, Slangenburg and Prins van Nassau launch a bayonet charge, wading through a ditch and drive out the exhausted French dragoons. The way to the fort of Lillo is now wide open and the Dutch can now retreat, though they leave behind much of their baggage train and artillery.
Obdam realising the danger disguises himself as a Frenchman and manages to ride back to Breda and sends a message that he has escaped with thirty men and presumes that his army has been destroyed. Meanwhile Slangenburg also sends a message to the Staaten Generaal with the news that most of the army has escaped.
During the fighting around Oorderen, the French did make an unusual prisoner, Tilly’s wife Anne Antoinette d'Aspremont-Lynden countess of Reckheim, who had come down from Lillo to dine with her husband, was caught by dragoons and taken to Marshall Boufflers. The French have captured a large haul of silver, 6 cannon, 2 heavy mortars, 6 flags, two standards and 300 carts and chariots.
The villages north of Antwerp suffered greatly during the fighting and one of the country houses formerly belonging to the painter Rubens was razed to the ground. The defeat at Ekeren was a set back for Marlborough’s Great Design and he shifted the focus of his campaign towards Liege, still fearing to cross the lines of Brabant. He would then take his army into Germany to the small town of Blindheim in 1704 and not return until 1705.
After a court-martial, General Obdam was relieved from his command and was made governor of ’s Hertogenbosch and ambassador to the Palatinate. Slangenburg would replace him as commander, but being one of Marlborough’s most vocal critics, after Blenheim, he believed that the Dutch army was being used as cannon fodder in campaigns deep into Germany, leaving the republic undefended. He was therefore replaced by Hendrik van Nassau-Ouwerkerk who shared Marlborough’s ideas and was very cooperative.
As the Dutch left the field, it has been recognized as a French victory, but the majority of the Dutch army did escape to safety calling it the “Miracle of Ekeren”. Through their continued presence, drew away troops from the lines and helps Marlborough’s crossing of the Meuse river in 1705, isolating Antwerp which surrendered to general Cadogan three weeks later.
More in the next post