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The Life and Diary of Lieut. Col. J. Blackader
Chapter XIII


Major Blackader’s attention to the Regiment-—Receives the thanks of the General—Overtures for peace unsuccessful—The Enemy declines an engagement—Marching and manoeuvring of both Armies—Close of the Campaign.

The campaign of this year is very barren of military exploits. The Duke of Marlborough shone more as a diplomatic character in foreign Cabinets, than in the field of victory. From a warrior, he had become a negotiator. The only memorable transactions with which our subject is concerned, were the overtures for peace, and the attempt to force the French army to an engagement which, however, they avoided; retiring with precipitation behind their lines near Lisle. But of these we shall speak in their order; meantime we return to Bruges where we left Major Blackader with his regiment.

While in winter-quarters, the Major occupied himself most assiduously in his official duties. Scarcely a day passed in which he was not employed in regimental affairs—in examining accounts, or exercising the men on drill and parade. He seems to have taken a special care of their moral conduct, as well as of their military training; and set himself to correct their vices, as well as to punish their faults. His discipline extended to offences which are too seldom brought under the cognizance and control of military law; yet his punishments were always tempered with the greatest mildness; and if at any time he had been influenced by a hasty and irritable temper, he was the first to censure and condemn his own weakness. “In punishing faults in the regiment, I am sometimes inclined to hastiness. This day I had rather a violent, hut short sally of passion; hut I must say the occasion of it was just; for it was against a sin I am always angry at, that of swearing. It was soon over, and I was sorry I had shewn so much of it., I was so vexed that I went to my knees, and implored Christ for pardon, for mixing with my zeal, too much of the wild-fire of passion. Lord, give me a meek and quiet spirit; for shame and confusion of face is my due.”

Notwithstanding his strictness, he appears to have had in his nature a great deal of tenderness and benevolence, and was always ready to exert his influence in saving the lives of such culprits, as he considered proper objects of mercy and compassion. Of this we have an instance in the case of one of the recruits he had brought from Scotland. “I was taken up all day in a court-martial, and much concerned to save a poor creature’s life, that I had some interest in. I was earnest to have him spared, but could not get it, for the whole court agreed to have him hanged; nor would they recommend him to mercy after they had sentenced him. I dealt with the General, and it pleased the Lord to incline his heart to mercy, for in a few days a pardon came down, which was read at the head of the regiment. I confess the fault deserved death, but there were circumstances that helped to exculpate the offender ; and I think extremes of severity should never be used when the example is not like to serve any good end.”

He continued in Bruges with the regiment until the month of May; and such was the happy result of his good discipline, that at a grand review, after they had joined the main army, the Major was complimented by the General, and publicly thanked at the head of his own regiment, for their correct conduct and the masterly manner with which they acquitted themselves in their several exercises.

While in quarters, his greatest complaint was, as usual, too much exposure to company, and the little improvement to be derived from the ordinary topics of conversation. “I am too often and too long tied -to companies, wearied and dissipated with dinings and diversions. I cannot live without short breathings and intervals of retirement. It makes me tremble to think, that in this employment of mine, I am always walking upon the very brink and precipice of temptation. I rejoice indeed that the grace of God is sufficient for me, and keeps me out of snares. It makes me unacceptable to the world; but I desire to be above the opinions of men. I esteem the reproach of Christ greater honour than the approbation of the whole world. I am generally dissatisfied with the most part of conversation I hear, even the best; for though their be nothing ill in it, yet there is little solid or edifying,—little savouring of grace, or ministering to the improvement of the hearers.”

March 14. All this morning abroad exercising the regiment. In the afternoon going through some of the churches here, it being a great holiday, seeing their idolatries. I desire more and more to be thankful for the purity of the gospel; and pray for the downfal of Antichrist.

March 20. . Employed in private and joint prayer, imploring the blessing of God this campaign; confessing my sins and short-comiugs; seeking grace, counsel, and direction. I was helped to depend on his power, to hope and trust in his mercy.

March 23. They begin now to talk warmly of peace. I will seek nothing, or wish for nothing, though I be weary enough of campaigns, but what is for thy glory, O Lord. Camps have been sweet places to me, my choicest mercies have been in them.’ Though I hate the ill company that prevails in camps, yet by the presence of God with me, and the providences of war, I have never been better, as to grace, than in campaigns.

The peace, warmly talked of, unfortunately did not take effect. Although Louis, harrassed and depressed by his misfortunes, had solicited a truce; and, during last campaign, had presented, through his minister, a memorial to the States on the subject; yet no attention had been paid to his overtures, because they were believed to be insincere. Nevertheless he solemnly disavowed all sinister or insidious designs, and proposed that a conference should be opened by the ministers of all the Confederate powers.

This proposal was rejected by England and the States; but whether they were actuated by honest motives, or grounded their rejection upon sufficient reasons, is a matter which has been thought questionable. France had certainly very pressing reasons to sue for peace. Her treasury was exhausted, and her troops defeated, not only in Flanders, but in Spain, -where the siege of Barcelona was raised;, and in Italy, where her army was totally routed under the walls of Turin, by the Duke of Savoy and Prince Eugene.

But these necessities, though they might excite suspicions that Louis only wanted time to strengthen his own hands, or sow dissension among the Allies, were certainly neither inconsistent nor incompatible with sincerity. The truth is,, both the Dutch and the English acted in such a manner, as leads to suspect that the charge of duplicity and insincerity rests more with them than with their- overpressed adversary. They rejected the offers of pacification abruptly, and, without due deliberation. They discovered an anxiety to conceal from public investigation, every thing relative to the business, and would not allow the preliminaries of France to be inserted in the common newspapers. War had become, to the ruling faction, a source of patronage and emolument, which they were unwilling to resign; and it is to be lamented, that the delusions of ambition, and the flatteries of admirers, should so far blind mens eyes to the miseries they are unavoidably entailing on their country, by the expenditure of her revenues, and the wanton destruction of so many thousands of her subjects. 1

Notwithstanding the eagerness of the Allies to continue hostilities until they could extort more advantageous terms, the campaign of this year was not only unproductive of success, hut more unfortunate than any of the preceding. The military strength of France had suffered only a temporary diminution; and the expedients of uncontrolled despotism, aided hy the Supplies of an abundant harvest, were capable of repairing the immense losses she had sustained. New armies appeared on the frontiers* equal in numbers and appointments to any that had been levied since the commencement of the war. They adopted again the system of defensive operations, and the Duke of Marlborough resolved to become the assailant. But though he pursued them through all Brabant, from camp to camp, in the hope of bringing them to a decisive engagement, they contrived, by their vigilance and the celerity of their movements, to elude his pursuit.

April 6. Making preparations for the campaign. I have been looking over my Diary of this time twelvemonth. I find just the same frame I feel now. I went out with no other stock hut this,—trusting in God, and hoping in his mercy. And indeed I shall never desire to go out to a campaign in a better frame. What was last year at this time a matter of faith to me, is now a matter of praise. Ramillies, Dendermond, and Aeth are to me at present just as Hochstet was the year before; and so I hope this campaign, which is now a matter of faith will prove in the end a matter of praise and thankfulness.

April 29. Going up and down among our great taen here, and getting orders for marching. I waited on a petty court all the forenoon.—Vanity arid pageantry. I hate these ways of Irving; and indeed what is it all but a vain show. I saw those same persons who were attending the great man in the forenoon with the most sycophantic behaviour, in the afternoon when he was gone ridiculing him, and laughing at him for a . .

May 5. Marched this morning out of Bruges.

May 10. Arrived near Ghent. I came out of that town in the morning, and I bless God that brought me safe back to the regiment. I ran the risk of being taken prisoner; there having been French parties between the town and the camp, which was two leagues off. This was the first night of setting up my tent and lying in it. And now, O Lord, make it a Bethel, a place where thou delightest to dwell. Thou hast given lhe much of thy presence in camps and tents, and I again devote myself to thee. I go forth in thy might, and will fight under thy banner.

May 11. Sabbath Marching a long march and joined the great army (near Brussels.) But, O such a spent Sabbath* and such company ! This is one of the greatest hardships of my employment, to be tied to such things. In the marching I had almost forgot it was. Sabbath, but recollected myself, and retired from qompatiy, (I miean in my thoughts) and strove to keep up a spiritual habit of mind by meditation. But I have less leisure for retirement; havirig a great deal to do as Major, looking after the business of the regiment. They are how beginning to talk of action speedily. .

The, French at this time were lying quietly within their lines. They had given out that they were ready to offer battle to the Allies, and threatened, if they declined, to lay siege either to Mons or Charleroi. Upon this intelligence, the Duke of Marlborough resolved to meet them half way. In two days, he was informed that the enemy had quitted their lines, and encamped on the plain of Fleurus, but in a position so strong, that it was deemed imprudent to venture an attack. The Allies posted themselves at Meldert; while the French, seeing their design frustrated, advanced to Geinblours, without daring,. in their turn, to hazard an engagement, though greatly superior in numbers. In this situation both armies continued above two months, nothing but slight skirmishing being attempted on either side.

May 15. A long march; a scorching hot day, very annoying to the poor soldiers. The French army is now without their lines, and we are advancing up to them.

May 16. We hear the enemy have retired within their lines again, and probably we shall attack them.

Yesternight we marched from , the army for a convoy to the baggage; and every body believed the Duke was to march up to the enemy, and that there would be a battle* I was tranquil, believing that Providence orders all well. Our regiment had indeed left the army to go on the convoy. But Providence frequently works by disappointing our expectations, for this night the whole measures were altered. The French, whom we thought within their lines, are without them, and threatening Brussels, and t he open country, so that we were obliged to decamp to cover our own country. It was a fatiguing march, for we tra veiled all night until two o’clock next day.

May 18. Marching. The scheme of this campaigri is turned out otherwise than we expected; The French are in no pain about defending their lines, hut marching up and down, giving us a great deal of trouble and fatigue. I believe they will shun fighting too, except at our disadvantage.

May 24. Employed in the functions of my post. Well assisted and carried through. I got a compliment from the General, and thanks upon the head of the regiment, that they exercised so well. But all this is the goodness of God alone, that gives me favour in the sight of any man. .

May 25. Sabbath I was invited to dine abroad with a great man; but I shunned it, fearing temptation, company, and conversation unsuitable to a Sabbath. I wish to live tenderly and circumspectly in this army. Next day I dined, but staid too long in company.

May 30; Employed all the morning in the show and parade of our employment, reviewing and exercising my men before the General. All things went cmi well and smoothly.

June 4: In the evening we had one of the severest Storms I have ever seen, of hail, rain, and wind. Most of our tents were heat down and torn, and the hollow ways running like rivers. I observed what a poor shiftless creature man is. If any of the elements were let loose upon us, or any accident, how soon would we be reduced to our first nothing. What -a comfort to have the God of nature to be our protector,—then though the earth be removed—though the mountains shake, and the waters roar, we need not be afraid.

Nothing particular occurred to him while the army continued in their stationary camp. “I reckon,” says he, “our lying so long here a great mercy, for I get living in a more sober and regular way, than in constant marching and hurry.”

July 30. We left our camp here, this afternoon at three o’clock, and marched all night, a tedious and wearisome march. We continued our journey till three afternoon next day, so that we have been twenty-four hours under arms. It has been a sad march for the poor soldiers.

August 1. Marching in the afternoon, and coming close to the enemy, so that there is all appearance of an action to-morrow.

August 2. The day of Hochstet, a day never to be forgotten by me. This same day Providence gave us the opportunity to make it as glorious a day as that was, but we had not the hearts to improve it. We had crept up pretty near to the enemy last night by stealing a day’s march upon them, so that they could not easily get off without a battle, if we had pushed them. But we contented ourselves with making a bravado of attacking their rear-guard, with the grenadiers, and mismanaged that too; so that they got off scot free to our shame. But it is fit that men commit mistakes, and blunders, and weakness, that they may see themselves but men. We know of no other way of working here but by great armies. Omnipotence needs none of th6se. An army of frogs or flies is as good to him, and can do more with him than we can without him. This is the finest army just now in the world, and yet does the least. Perhaps the reason is this,' we adore- the arm of flesh always, and God will have men humbled.

I was chagrined and uneasy all day, for the neglect of this opportunity; for through God’s assistance I was very eager to come to hand with them, and to have had a battle. The very day encouraged me. And I am of opinion, that- we second Providence very ill this year, for the French seems to be a cowed, frightened army; and I have no doubt, hut if we attacked them briskly, we should beat them; hut instead of that, we seem afraid of them. This makes them pluck up their drooping spirits. Their time is not yet fully come it seems; and there is hut one Prince Eugene in the world, and he is not everywhere.

August 3. Sabbath. Marching; and the worst day for the poor soldiers I have seen. It poured down a heavy rain,; and the cavalry had so broken the ways, that the men marched in clay and dirt to the knees, almost the whole day, for four leagues. There was hardly a hundred men of a regiment with the colours at night. It seemed to he heaven contending • with us, for I never saw the army so harrassed. We came late to our camp. I set-up my tent and rested sweetly.

August 4. Resting this day, not out of choice, hut necessity, for a great part' of the army is not come up yet by reason of yesterday’s fatigue; and for all the diligence we make, yet these Vermin, the French, are still before us. Providence has taken away much of their heads they had last war, hut I think he has left them their heels;

August 6. For two days we have not been able to stir out of our tents for bad weather. We are lying among mire and dirt. Raining from morn till night, so that the artillery cannot be brought-forward.

August 8. Hearing of a friend that died the. other day at, Brussels. He regretted that he had mispent and trifled away so much precious time, and that :he had been so drawn away by company, to tippling and drinking. . O that others would learn and take warning; and all of us so learn to number our days, as, to apply our hearts unto wisdom; and to redeem, the time.

August 10. A Sabbath of rest, which is.a great mercy in a camp; for this day-week was a sad day, liker a hell than a Sabbath. Came to my knees this morning with a sense of sin, .and pollution of heart and nature. My heart was enlarged by. faith, to flee to Christ for pardon and washing seeing in him an infinite fulness as a complete Saviour. I .was; helped also to trust him cheerfully for. the events, dangers, and actions of. this carripaign which are. yet .to. come.

August 19. Got the bad news of: the Duke of Savoy’s raising the. siege of Toulon, which is very mortifying; for. our. hopes .were raised high, and .probably the taking of it might have hastened a peace. But Providence will not .be tied to our little projects : He can work his ends by ways and means which we think contrary.

The attack upon Toulon was a project concerted between England, and the States. Its design was to weaken the maritime power of France, and disable her for maintaining the war, by cutting off her commerce with the Spanish .West Indies, which furnished her with the principal resources. Prince Eugene and the Duke of Savoy, at the head of the Italian army were to enter Provence by way of the Alps, and cooperate with the British fleet, under Sir Cloudesly Shovel, who had instructions to invest Toulon. The latter part of the plan was executed in the most gallant mariner by the British seamen. But owing to the remissness of the Duke of Savoy, and especially the obstinacy of the Emperor in employing his troops in the conquest of Naples instead of aiding the expedition, the French gained time to throw in provisioris and reinforcements. The Allies, after carrying several considerable posts, destroying a number of ships and magazines, &c. were compelled to desist from their attempt. They struck their tents under cover of night, and marched off with all possible speed.

August 20. Marching this day; the French marched also; so "we hardly expect to see their faces this campaign, but we know not what may be. Now liere is the best army in the world, and have made the idlest campaign, and done nothing at all. This French tyrant has been a dark riddle of Providence; for a long time we thought he was falling before us, and that the scourge was to be thrown into the fire. But it seems their cup is not full yet; for Providence is putting a defence about them, and blasting our designs.

August 21, 22. Resting. I went in to Aeth, and viewed all bur last year’s attacks; and with thankfulness remembered the deliverances I had at the siege. I went round the town where our trenches had been, and particularly that part in the counterscarp where I was the 19th of September, and had such exercises of spirit, and met with such providences as I shall never forget.

September 3. In town (Courtray) all day. At night my wife arrived, and we had a comfortable meeting, with the blessing of God I hope, and mercy to us both.

September 4. We got an alarm of part of the army marching, and of some appearance of action. I went out to the camp, easy and trusting in God. The French did not meddle with our foragers or escort, and so there was no action.

September 5. I returned again to town, and in the afternoon, brought out my wife to my cottage here in the camp. Lord, let thy blessing and presence be with us, and our cottage shall be a palace.

October 20. This day we marched into our garrison (at Ghent.) The Lord has preserved me in my outgoings and in-comirigs, and followed me with mercy and goodness through this campaign, and brought me in safety back. Here I am resolved to be still more spiritual, and to have more intercourse with heaven in the midst of my business.

On the 2nd of December, Major Blackader and his lady left Ghent, and after a speedy passage arrived at Rotterdam, where they spent the winter quietly and comfortably, remote from many snares and temptations to which they would have been exposed in the garrison.

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