1758 - French offensive in Hesse
The campaign lasted from July to December 1758
This article deals with Soubise's campaign in Hesse in 1758. Another article deals with the simultaneous French invasion of Westphalia by an army under the command of Contades.
French retreat behind the Rhine
In February, when Ferdinand of Brunswick launched his winter offensive in Hanover against the Maréchal de Richelieu, Broglie too had to retreat. On March 21, he evacuated Lower Hesse. The bulk of his army marched to Düsseldorf and Deutz (Cologne).
On April 3 and 4, most of Broglie's Army crossed the Rhine. This army was initially supposed to represent the French contingent put at the disposal of Austria for the campaign of 1758. However, with the consent of the court at Vienna, this French army was redirected to operate in Hesse. After the withdrawal behind the Rhine, Versailles gave orders to Soubise to return to Hesse which was completely devoid of enemy troops within 65 km.
Accordingly, by May, a force of 9 battalions and 18 squadrons under the command of the Comte de Lorges had assembled in the Hesse-Hanau area.
On May 9, Ferdinand detached the Lieutenant-General Prince von Ysenburg to Marburg, to organise the defence of Hesse against Soubise's Army. Ysenburg left Westphalia with a force of 2 battalions, 2 squadrons and 2 companies of light troops:
- Hessian infantry
- Hessian cavalry
- Prüschenk (2 sqns)
- Hanoverian light troops
- Jägers (2 coys).
In the first days of June, Soubise's Army left its cantonments and concentrated at Hanau and Höchst. Meanwhile Ysenburg, who was posted at Marburg, progressively retired to Kassel. Broglie followed Ysenburg during his retreat with a corps consisting of:
- Diesbach Infanterie (2 bns)
- Waldner Infantrie (2 bns)
- Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie (4 bns)
- Royal Barrois Infanterie (2 bns)
- Beauvoisis Infanterie (2 bns)
- Rohan Montbazon Infanterie (2 bns)
- Nassau-Ussingen Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Royal-Allemand Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Raugrave Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Wurtemberg Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- Apchon Dragons (4 sqns)
- Royal-Nassau Hussards (2 sqns)
- Field artillery (28 heavy guns)
On June 23, Ferdinand defeated Clermont's Army in the Battle of Krefeld. This defeat delayed the concentration of Soubise's Army in Hesse. However, Soubise received instructions to invade Hesse with his 24,000 men. The French hoped that this offensive would induce Ferdinand to recross the Rhine.
|Order of Battle|
|Detailed order of battle of Soubise's Army in July near Friedberg.|
By July, Soubise's Army amounted to some 30,000 men in 39 battalions and 32 squadrons assembled near Friedberg. This army was formed of the bulk of the German and Swiss regiments in French service.
The various contingents under French pay (Palatinate, Württemberg and Saxony) were instructed to make their junction with Soubise as soon as possible.
French invasion of Hesse
In July, Soubise was ordered to advance in Hesse. He sent Broglie's Corps as vanguard.
On July 16, Soubise advanced from Friedberg to Grosslinden where he established his headquarters. Broglie, commanding Soubise's vanguard, sent forward the Royal-Nassau Hussards and the Chasseurs de Fischer to surprise Marburg.
On July 17, the Allied garrison retired from Marburg just before the arrival of the troops sent ahead by Broglie.
On July 18, Soubise's Army encamped near Marburg.
On July 19, Soubise's Army marched from Marburg towards Kassel.
On July 21, Broglie moved to Gilserberg, chasing the Hessian Corps of the Prince von Ysenburg in front of him. Broglie hoped to make contact with the enemy and to engage combat. Accordingly, he ordered the Royal-Nassau Hussards to advance cautiously and to retire hastily if the Hessians found them. This way, Broglie wanted to inspire confidence to Ysenburg so that he would finally encamp in reach of a forced march. In preparation for this plan, Broglie moved his artillery forward in the village of Kerstenhausen where grenadiers and dragoons were already positioned. He also formed 7 battalions, each of 400 picked men to act as vanguard and to march swiftly if there were any chance of contacting the enemy. At 10:00 p.m., M. Wournesen sent M. de Sermone, an engineer, to inform the Duc de Broglie that enemies were still in their camp at nightfall and that there were no activity indicating that they intended to leave during the night. Immediately, Broglie ordered the 7 picked battalions and all the cavalry to march at midnight. In the mean time, he also ordered dragoons, grenadiers and Royal-Nassau Hussards to move on Fritzlar. At 11:00 p.m., while the French were preparing their assault, Ysenburg's Corps left its camp, marched through Kassel and passed the Fulda about 5 km from Kassel.
On July 22, Broglie arrived personally in Fritzlar at daybreak. His main force camped at Dorla, between Fritzlar and Kassel. The Chasseurs de Fischer arrived on the heights near Kassel. The deputies of Kassel assured the Duc de Broglie that Ysenburg planned to march towards Minden the following day. Broglie estimated that it was now impossible to catch them and considered resting his troops who were harassed by 10 days of continual marches on awful roads. He disposed the cantonments accordingly and ordered his regiments to part at the village of Oberzwehren, some 4 km to the southwest of Kassel and to go each to their assigned cantonment. Broglie then left at 7:00 a.m. from Oberzwehren with the corps under his command and discovered the Allied camp at about 4 km from Kassel on the road to Minden. Seeing this, Broglie sent the guards, who were supposed to assume police and security duties in the place, to take possession of Kassel. He also advanced his grenadiers with volunteers from various infantry regiments up to the city gates with interdiction to enter. He instructed these troops to leave their baggage, to feed their horses and to wait for his orders. Meanwhile, he requested infantry and artillery to arrive as soon as possible. He himself went to Kassel where he could perfectly see the enemy camp from the house that he occupied and he could observe their movements and orchestrate his own accordingly.
On July 23, two French battalions entered into Kassel. About noon, 6,000 French foot passed through Kassel while 4,000 French horse forded the Fulda. Broglie then sent his entire corps across the Fulda. Ysenburg, fearing to be too hardly pressed during his retreat, took position at Sandershausen. The French soon began to skirmish with the Hessian Jägers, following them up to Sandershausen. Broglie vigorously attacked and defeated Ysenburg in the Combat of Sandershausen. The Allies lost some 1,000 men. At the end of the combat, the remaining Hessian troops retired in good order to Landwehrhagen and then to Münden. By this single action, Soubise became master of Hesse. He was now free to push farther in Hanover and Westphalia. This manoeuvre became dangerous to Ferdinand.
On July 24, at Belleisle's bidding, Broglie pushed towards Hanover. The Royal-Nassau Hussards reached Münden and almost captured the Prince von Ysenburg who was still in this town. Nevertheless, they captured some of his horses and found 8 guns abandoned by the Hessians after breaking down their carriages. The French continued to make prisoners. Royal-Nassau Hussards then proceeded to Göttingen. Meanwhile the Chasseurs de Fischer (800 men) took position at Northeim. Ysenburg retired to Einbeck where he made a stand while he recruited and awaited small reinforcements from Hanover (after his defeat at Sandershausen , the 1,000 hunters of the King of Hanover were assembled at Uslar under the command of M. Wenhausen to form a new regiment). The same day, Ferdinand moved towards the Meuse to draw the French Main Army away from the Rhine.
On July 25, French patrols, who had followed up the Hessians up to Göttingen, informed Broglie that a very small number of Hessians had reached this town. Surprisingly, with the entire country opened in front of him, Soubise then remained encamped at Zwehren (present-day Oberzwehren) near Kassel for an entire month.
On August 3, a British contingent of 12,000 men, under the command of the Duke of Marlborough, disembarked at Emden. Indeed, the successes of Frederick II at Rossbach during the previous year and those of Ferdinand in Hanover since January had enticed the British Government to send reinforcements.
On August 8, a contingent of Württembergers consisting of 13 battalions (some 6,000 men) joined Soubise's Army in Kassel.
On August 9 and 10, fearing an attack by Soubise on the 12,000 British troops recently landed and anxious about his bridge on the Rhine, Ferdinand recrossed to the right bank of the Rhine with his army and then burnt his bridges. Meanwhile, General Hardenberg evacuated Düsseldorf and retired to Lippstadt.
On August 18 (???), Soubise detached a large body to Warburg and another to Geismar. At the same time, Fischer quit Göttingen.
On August 19, the Marquis Contades, following up Ferdinand, finally completed the crossing of the Rhine.
On August 25, while the French Army of the Lower Rhine advanced to Schermbeck and then to Recklinhausen, Soubise received the order to leave his camp of Schweeren and to move towards Lippstadt. Since both French armies were now converging on Lippstadt, Ferdinand immediately detached General Oberg with 7 battalions and 10 squadrons to cover this place and to stop the French advance in this quarter. General Zastrow was ordered to support Oberg while covering the Allied magazines at Warendorf. These measures taken by Ferdinand effectively put a halt to the advance of Soubise.
By the end of the summer, Contades was elaborately manoeuvering to capture Lippstadt or some fortress in the Rhine-Weser countries. However, as long as he could not cross the Lippe, it was impossible to Soubise's Army to advance in Hanover beyond the Werra River. Therefore, Soubise waited at Kassel for almost a month for Contades to advance close enough to allow for mutual support.
The Prince von Ysenburg, now reinforced with a few Hanoverian jägers had some 7,500 men. He reoccupied Göttingen. Soubise tried to surprise the corps of the Prince von Ysenburg but the latter, taking the garrison of Göttingen with him, moved his camp to Einbeck while Soubise remained at Northeim.
On September 9, Soubise retook possession of Göttingen. Ysenburg then marched from Einbeck to Moringen but realising that the French force was much larger than his own, he retired to Uslar. Meanwhile, the armies of Oberg and Soubise still observed each other on the Lippe. Soubise had left Kassel and its important magazines almost unprotected.
On September 10, Soubise advanced as far as Einbeck.
On September 11, Soubise marched to Northeim.
On September 14, Soubise marched to Einbeck. Colonel Fischer's Corps made incursion in the Electorate of Hanover, pushing forward up to the gates of the city of Hanover.
On September 16, General Zastrow marched from Warendorf towards Hameln to join Ysenburg.
In Mid September, Soubise, fearing a junction of Oberg's forces with those of Ysenburg for a combined action against one of his corps, retired on Göttingen.
On September 17, after having made several demonstration, as if he intended to cross the Weser, Oberg suddenly moved to Paderborn with 14,000 men, on his way to Kassel. Meanwhile, Zastrow's Corps made a junction with Ysenburg at Coppenbrügge. Ysenburg then threw a bridge on the Weser at Holzminden to simulate a crossing.
On September 19, Oberg, who was at Paderborn, sent a detachment (4 dragoon sqns, grenadier coys of his 7 bns and Luckner's Corps) towards Warburg against the camp of Dumesnil's Corps (5 bns, 8 sqns and Royal-Nassau Hussards). Dumesnil decamped upon their approach, passed the Diemel and marched a further 15 km.
On September 20, part of Luckner's Corps passed the Diemel and Dumesnil retired to Kassel. The same day, Oberg arrived at Warburg.
On September 24, Soubise learned that Oberg was on the move and that his vanguard had already reached Kleinenberg and Warburg while his main force advanced along the road of Driburg and Peckelsheim. The same day, Oberg marched from Warburg.
On September 25, Soubise retired on Kassel in two columns: the main column by Münden, the other by Witzenhausen. The same day, Oberg attacked a large French detachment under the command of M. de Waldner who had been sent from Kassel, cutting off about 200 of Waldner's light troops.
On September 26 in the morning, after a very slow advance from Warburg in the latter days, Oberg finally arrived in front of Kassel, where Soubise had left all his baggage and a large magazine before advancing on Hanover. Only a small French detachment was defending the entrenched camp. However, Oberg postponed the attack to the following day, probably hoping to be joined by the Prince von Ysenburg. However, Soubise arrived the same day by forced march to prevent the capture of the place.
In the morning of September 27, the Swiss Waldner Brigade and the German Bentheim Brigade entered into Kassel. They were soon followed by Soubise's vanguard. The rest of Soubise's Army, on its way back from Northeim, was not far behind at Witzenhausen. The same day, Ysenburg advanced up to Hohenkirchen, 6 km from Kassel. He deployed his army so that it connected with Oberg's positions. Oberg was now at the head of 18 battalions and 22 squadrons. He encamped on the heights behind Harleshausen, his left on the heights in front of Mönchehof.
On September 28, the two columns of Soubise's Army finally arrived at Kassel. Meanwhile, Oberg had advanced up to Obervellmar and Wahlershausen which he reached at 11:00 a.m. He was now just 4 km from Kassel. Soubise deployed his 25,000 men with their left anchored on a hillock in front of Whalershausen and extending up to Kirchditmold. His centre was deployed on either sides of Rothenditmold. His right wing, protected by a scarp, extended up to Kassel. Entrenchments were dug in Kirchditmold and two redoubt were erected between this village and Rothenditmold. The front line of the French army consisted of infantry while the cavalry was deployed in two lines to the rear, behind a small brook. The artillery park was installed at Wehlheiden as well as Soubise's headquarters. Oberg's right wing, consisting mainly of grenadiers, was anchored on Whalershausen while his left extended up to Obervellmar where he had his headquarters. Soubise asked Contades for reinforcement. During all these manoeuvres, Contades had remained idle in his camp at Recklinhausen where he was since August 19. Contades sent two detachments (31 battalions and 34 squadrons) respectively under Chevert and Fitzjames towards Kassel to support Soubise. These detachments immediately departed from Soest and Werl. Chevert's Corps included the Saxon contingent.
Until October 3, Soubise's and Oberg's armies remained on their positions while Allied hussars skirmished against Fischer's light troops.
On October 3, when the Allies heard about the approach of the two French corps, they redeployed their forces to avoid being attacked on two fronts. Ysenburg moved to Rothwesten and Oberg, starting at 8:00 a.m., to Hohenkirchen. By 2:00 p.m., their redeployment was completed. They were closely followed by the French detachments of MM. de Clausen and de Castries. Clausen advanced on the left, towards Whalershausen and Obervellmar, with some infantry and light troops. Fischer's Corps skirmished with Allied light troops of the rearguard. Castries advanced along the road to Warburg up to Obervellmar and Niedervellmar, at the head of a much larger force consisting of light troops, dragoons, cavalry and infantry.
During the night of October 3 to 4, the Allies retired along the Fulda River through a reputedly impassable dale, crossing to the east bank at Speele and Wilhelmhausen.
On October 5, the Allies encamped at Landwehrhagen, taking possession of Witzenhausen and Göttingen. The French were encamped between Wehlheiden and Oberzwehren, they also occupied Bettenhausen on the other bank of the Fulda.
On October 8, Oberg took post near Sandershausen. The same day, the French relief corps under Chevert arrived at Kassel. This corps consisted of:
- Belzunce Brigade
- Saxon Contingent (total of 15 bns)
- 2nd Palatine Brigade under M. d'Osten assisted by M. de Harscamp
- 3 cavalry brigades
- Unidentified units (18 sqns)
- Bercheny Hussards (6 sqns)
- Légion Royale
- Volontaires de Flandre
On October 9, now reinforced with Chevert's Corps and expecting Fitzjames during the day, Soubise decided to attack the Allies before they could receive reinforcements. At dawn, the Légion Royale, Chasseurs de Fischer, 20 grenadier companies, 20 pickets and 460 carabiniers were detached as vanguard of the right wing under the Marquis de Voyer. Meanwhile, the vanguard of the left wing was assigned to the Comte de Lanion with 300 infantrymen, 200 horse and the Royal-Nassau Hussards. Voyer was supposed to attack the village of Heiligenrode, an advanced position on the left flank of the Allies. Then the main body of the French army under Soubise, leaving all its tents standing, deployed in 5 columns, crossed to the east bank of the Fulda and took position near Bettenhausen between the river and the hills. Chevert's Corps deployed on the right with its own cavalry forming the right wing while Soubise's cavalry was on the left wing. The Allies were encamped 2 km farther in a strong defensive position on the plateau of Sandershausen. The Allied cavalry mounted as soon as they saw the French vanguards. Meanwhile the Allied infantry deployed in two lines on the plateau of Sandershausen with the cavalry to its rear. The Allied lines extended from the scarps of the Fulda on their right to the woods on their left which was also covered by a deep ravine. Furthermore, the Sandershausen brook ran across their front. Soubise launched an attack against the village of Heiligenrode where he met only a weak resistance. Once this village secured, Soubise ordered his army to encamp and the Allies progressively returned to their camp. The detachment of the Duc de Fitzjames arrived during the evening and encamped near Waldau, 1 km behind the French Army.
On October 10 in the morning, fearing for his lines of communication, General Oberg decamped from Sandershausen, passed the village of Landwherhagen, intending to encamp behind Lutterberg. Soubise with 30,000 men followed up and defeated Oberg and his 18,000 men in the Battle of Lutterberg. The Allied lost 1,210 men and 28 guns. Prinz Ysenburg Infantry and Canitz Infantry were almost ruined. The same day, near Mellingen (unidentified location), Luckner attacked a French party consisting of some infantry and of the Royal-Nassau Hussards, capturing 3 officers and 56 privates.
During the night of October 10 to 11, Oberg's Army passed the defile leading to Münden and, by midnight, the whole army had marched through Münden. It then passed the Werra and lay under arms in a little plain near Ginpen (unidentified location). Only the French hussars pursued the retreating army but they were driven back by the Schaumburg-Lippe-Bückeburg Infantry. Most sick and wounded were carried from Münden however, 150 men had to be left there because of their condition. The garrison of Münden abandoned the town and joined Oberg's Army.
On October 11 at daybreak, Oberg's army marched unmolested towards Guntersheim (unidentified location) where it encamped. Meanwhile, Soubise marched to Lutterberg where he established his headquarters.
Oberg retired behind the Werra and Soubise captured Münden. Contades now thought that he had his chance against Ferdinand.
When Ferdinand heard of Oberg's defeat at Lutterberg, he decided to manoeuvre in order to prevent the junction of Contades and Soubise and to stop Soubise from advancing into the Electorate of Hanover. Ferdinand's endeavour was successful and the two French army were unable to form a junction.
On October 28, Soubise moved his army to Hohenkirchen and cantoned his troops, leaving a garrison in Münden. Meanwhile, General Ysenburg put some troops in Göttingen and cantoned his corps in the neighbourhood.
On November 22, Soubise abandoned Münden.
On November 23, Soubise, considering that it was impossible to maintain his army at Kassel during winter, evacuated the town. He seized Giessen, throwing a garrison of 3,000 picked troops in this town. He also took possession of Friedberg in der Wetterau. Finally, he took his winter-quarters which extended from the mouth of the Lahn, along this river and the Main. Soubise established his headquarters at Hanau and his hospital at Marburg. At Giessen as well as in Friedberg, 400 peasant were requisitioned to repair the fortification.
The Saxons took their winter-quarters in the area Katzenelnbogen, Limburg, Wetzlar and Marburg. Prince Xavier then went to Paris where he obtained the renewal of subsidies for another year.
|Order of Battle|
|Detailed breakdown of the Allied troops in their winter-quarters in December 1758 in Hesse and Westphalia.|
The Allies then took their winter-quarters too, Ysenburg taking his winter-quarters in Hesse and Ferdinand in Westphalia, establishing his headquarters at Münster.
On December 1, part of Ysenburg's Corps marched to Fritzlar while the rest marched to the Bailiwick of Gudensberg where they took their quarters. The same day at 5:00 a.m., the Marquis de Castries appeared before St. Goar Gate with Saint-Germain Infanterie. Some troops scaled the walls and captured the place, taking 50 prisoners. At 8:00 a.m., Castries summoned the Castle of Rheinfels whose garrison (700 men) surrendered as prisoners of war without opposing any resistance.
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books who are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 306-309, 331
- Archenholz, J. W.: The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 230-232
- Bourcet, M. de: Principes de la guerre de montagnes Ministère de la guerre, Paris, 1775, pp. 193-200
- Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, vol. 18
- Hotham (probably): 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. 51-70
- Jomini, Henri: Traité des grandes opérations militaires, 2ème édition, 2ème partie, Magimel, Paris: 1811, pp. 45-46, 56-60, 61-65
- Schuster, O. and F. Francke: Geschichte der Sächsischen Armee, 2. part, Leipzig 1885
- Tory, J.: A Journal of the Allied army's marches from the first arrival of the British troops in Germany to the present time, J. W. Kisling, Osnabruck, 1762, pp. 3-5
Evrard, P.: Praetiriti Fides
Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Salisch, M. von: Treue Deserteure – Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg, Munich, 2009
Service historique de l'armée de terre, A4, 27, pièce 58
Vial, J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar
Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period