1758-07-23 - Combat of Sandershausen

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles >> 1758-07-23 - Combat of Sandershausen

French Victory

Prelude to the Battle

Since June 1 1758, the main Allied Army under Ferdinand of Brunswick was operating on the west bank of the Rhine. On June 23, it had defeated the French Army at the battle of Krefeld. However, the French still had a small army on the east bank under the Duc de Broglie that could pause a threat to Ferdinand supply lines. In July, Broglie was ordered to advance against Hesse, hoping that this action would induce Ferdinand to re-cross the Rhine.

Maps

Map of the combat of Sandershausen on July 23 1758
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab
 
Courtesy: Tony Flores

Legend:

Solid blue boxes = Hessian positions at 1:00 p.m.
Outlined blue boxes = Hessian positions at 7:00 p.m.

Solid red boxes = French positions at 1:00 p.m.
Outlined red boxes = French positions at 7:00 p.m.

Hessian units:

French units:

Description of Events

On July 23, at 11:00 a.m., the small Hessian force under Prince Ysenburg started to lift its camp located near Kassel but on the opposite bank of the Fulda. Infantry went first followed by cavalry, leaving a battalion near the suburb of Kassel to support the retreat of the jägers who occupied the village of Bettenhausen, which was only a musket shot away.

The Duc de Broglie then sent the infantry volunteers and the grenadiers to occupy the suburb of Kassel with interdiction to go further. At noon, the infantry being in musket range, he immediately sent it through the town and simultaneously sent orders to the Royal-Nassau Hussards, to the dragoons and to the cavalry to ford the Fulda and to advance towards the village of Bettenhausen, leaving it to their left in order to join with the infantry beyond the village. When he was close enough, he sent the infantry volunteers and the grenadiers out of the suburb and the whole force united between Bettenhausen and Sandershausen. However, Broglie left two battalions of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie to hold the town of Kassel and another battalion of the same regiment at Sandershausen to guard the defiles.

Meanwhile, Ysenburg had marched by his right to reach the highway to Münden. He then decided to make a stand at Sandershausen which offered a good defensive position for a small corps (some 6,000 men) as his own. The heightis one of the foothills of the mountain range extending between the Werra and the Fulda. It overlooks a plateau. Where the height reached the Fulda, it formed a steep slope interspersed with ravines. Most of the south slope was rather steep in some place when it reached the Nieste, a tributary of the Fulda. Eastwards, the terrain was separated in steep passages by deep gorges leading to the narrow plain of the Werra. Northwards, the terrain was quite similar until it reached the Fulda and the Werra. On the plateau, Kaufunger forest extended eastwards and northwards.

Ysenburg deployed his small force on this height with his right anchored to the steep slope along the Fulda and his left protected by the Ellenbach woods on a ridge. His troops consisted mainly of militia (3 bns), "Invalids" (2 coys) and some regular units. However, several troopers from the militia and jäger units were experienced hunters armed with their own rifled guns. Ysenburg placed all his cavalry on his left in a position overlooking the plain where the French had to debouch.

Broglie, approaching as close as he could from the village of Sandershausen, climbed the height and was quite surprised to see Ysenburg's corps drawn up in battle order. Broglie planned to attack the Allied infantry positioned in the woods on the Allied left flank. This would allow him to cut off Ysenburg line of retreat to Münden and to push him back against the Fulda.

The terrain being narrow, Broglie put his infantry in the first line and his cavalry and his dragoons in the second. He anchored his right to a wood and reinforced it with three grenadier companies of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie. He also advanced his right more than his left in preparation for his main attack.

At 3:00 p.m., once his army deployed, Broglie launched his attack. He placed the ten guns (4-pdrs) of his two artillery brigades in front of his right to shoot at the Hessian cavalry placed against the woods. Meanwhile, MM. Waldner and Diesbach, at the head of the Swiss Brigade, 4 guns and of the 3 grenadier companies of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie, attacked the Hanoverian Jägers in the Ellenbach woods and met strong resistance.

Reacting to the artillery fire of the French artillery, the Hessian cavalry advanced to charge the French infantry. Seeing this, Broglie supported Waldner Infanterie and Royal Bavière Infanterie by deploying Diesbach Infanterie and Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie (only 1 bn) behind them.

Broglie then advanced the Wurtemberg, Royal-Allemand and Nassau-Sarrebruck cavalry regiments, under M. Raugrave, through the gap created on his right by the doubling of his infantry line.

When the Hessian cavalry saw the French cavalry advancing in front of its infantry, it moved to its right as if it was going for the French left.

Broglie reacted by instructing Raugrave to advance infantry through a gap, supported by Apchon Dragons on its left. This movement stopped the Hessian cavalry. The Royal-Allemand and Nassau-Sarrebruck regiments then charged the Hessian cavalry but were broken and hotly pursued. This left the infantry of the French right unsupported by the cavalry. However, Royal Bavière Infanterie fired a furious volley on the advancing Hessian cavalry, stopping its advance.

At this moment, Ysenburg ordered a general advance of the Hessian right and centre. These units then quickly marched on the French left wing held by Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie. This brigade suffered from the deadly fire of the Hessian troops facing them. Rohan Montbazon Infanterie managed to repulse the Hessians who moved back a few hundred paces. However, they soon came back even stronger. The Hessians had the advantage of being covered by the steep slope while the Rohan Montbazon brigade stood in the open. The French left was forced to move back and the Hessians extended their line along the steep slope, trying to reach the French rear. To prevent this move, Broglie advanced a few squadrons of the Apchon Dragons along with some cavalry squadrons who had now rallied. The Hessian battalions continued to pour continuous fire upon their French adversaries.

As the battle developed, the inexperience of the Hessian militia began to tell. Two of these battalions along with the Invalids soon formed a completely disorganised mass in the centre of Ysenburg line.

Broglie then ordered a general advance of his entire first line: Royal Bavière (2 bns), Royal-Deux-Pont (1 bn), Rohan-Montbazon (2 bns) and Beauvoisis (2 bns). Since, the French had no more powder, they marched with the bayonet. Broglie had managed to isolate Ysenburg's left wing from his right. Furthermore, the disorganised Hessian units of the centre were about to break and rout. Ysenburg then ordered to retreat. The engagement had been a 5 hours prolonged and intense fire fight. About 300 Hessians tried to escape through the river where several of them perished. The rest of Ysenburg's corps retired in good order to Landwehrhagen.

It was now 7:00 p.m., the weather was very bad, the country very wooded and the French infantry had marched 28 km. Broglie preferred to stop, sending the Baron de Travers with 700 volunteers to follow up the Hessians.

The French lost 677 killed and 1,385 wounded. M. de Saint-Martin, Lieutenant-colonel of Rohan Infanterie, and Major Rousette, major of Beauvoisis Infanterie were both killed. The Prince of Nassau was severely wounded. Their left wing suffered particularly with the single brigade of Rohan-Montbazon loosing 66 officers and 778 men killed and wounded. Beauvoisis Infanterie regiment was almost wiped out. This high casualty rate on the French side can only be explained by the massed employment of the rifled German Jägerbüchse by the Hessians.

Hessian losses were far less important, amounting to only 56 killed, 162 wounded and 250 taken prisoners (including Count Kanitz, the first aide-de-camp to Prince Ysenburg and several lieutenant-colonels and majors). However, the French captured 2,000 more Hessians and 15 guns (out of 16: 7 on the battlefield, 8 at Münden) during the following days. The prisoners were mostly militia who had deserted after the battle.

Outcome

This French victory coupled with Chevert's attempt two week later (August 5) to seize the bridge at Rees (combat of Mehr) finally convinced Ferdinand to retreat to the east bank of the Rhine, which he did on August 8.

Order of Battle

Allied Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Prince Ysenburg

Summary: 5 bns, 5 grenadier coys, 2 Invalid coys, 3 jäger coys, 3 cavalry sqns, 1 hussar sqn for a total of some 6,500 men.

N.N.: all troops were Hessian unless specifically noted

French Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Duc de Broglie

Summary: 14 bns, 12 sqns and 2 Volontaire corps for a total of some 8,500 men.

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18
  • Hotham, The operations of the Allied Amy under the command of his Serene Highness Prince Ferdinand Duke of Brunswic and Luneberg beginning in the year 1757 and ending in the year 1762, London: T. Jefferies, 1764, pp. 52-53
  • Renouard, Carl: Geschichte des Krieges in Hannover, Hessen und Westfalen von 1757 bis 1763 - Die Feldzüge von 1757 und 1758, Cassel, 1863, pp. 718-731
  • Roesch, Y. F. von: Collection de quarante deux plans de batailles, sièges et affaires les plus mémorables de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Frankfurt, 1790

Other sources

Cookman, David, Sandershausen 1758, Battlefields Vol. 1 Issue 6

Evrard P., Praetiriti Fides

Rogge, Christian, The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006

Service historique de l'armée de terre, A4, 27, pièce 58

Yahoo Lace Wars Group Message No. 23657