1759-04-13 - Battle of Bergen
Prelude to the Battle
When Ferdinand of Brunswick heard of the capture of Frankfurt early in January 1759, he resolved to risk a long march at this bad season and to attack de Broglie near this town. He hoped to paralyse French operations in this region by severing them from their base. Ferdinand first launched diversionary operations against Hessen. He then launched a surprise attack on the French positions. However, Broglie managed to concentrate a French force at the fortified town Bergen blocking the road to Frankfurt.
Description of Events
In the evening of April 12, the Allies designed their plan of attack: the Hereditary Prince would be in the vanguard, Ysenburg on the left, Holstein-Gottorp on the right. They would deploy in the country between Vilbel and Bergen. Ferdinand assumed that Bergen was occupied by only some 2 to 3,000 French troops and decided for a quick attack without artillery for the next day. Indeed, the artillery had been left behind in the mud. Orders were sent at midnight. Troops had to concentrated at their starting positions around Rossdorf and Kilianstädten, 3 km south of Windecken. The hour of the attack was fixed at 6:00 AM on April 13. However the short time allowed to deploy (only 6 hours) made it impossible for every units to reach their assigned positions in due time.
Map and initial deployment
The area where the battle was fought is comprised between Frankfurt to the south-west, the Nidda river to the north and the Main river to the south-east. The southern half of the battlefield was boggy and flat and ended in a transversal slope forming a plateau. This plateau was steeper in the front than on the flanks. The fortified village of Bergen stood in the middle of the slope, surrounded gardens delimited by hedges. It was built near a crossroad where many roads converged. One of these roads led to Fechenheim on the banks of the Main river, a second to Frankfurt, a third eastwards. Furthermore, two parallels sunken roads led northwards, one of them to Vilbel on the Nidda. Ground was soft and muddy, very difficult to pass by heavy guns and carriages.
To the north of Bergen, there was an open country with two hills, behind the two sunken roads: the Wartberg and the Am Hohen Stein. Two-thirds of the country between Bergen and the river Nidda, was covered with trees and broken by streams tributary of this river. A third hill, the Friedberger Warte, stood near the Bergen-Frankfurt road. On the top of the Wartberg, there was a tower commanding the village of Bergen. The village consisted of fortified houses and manors and was surrounded by a wall. Eastward, between the slope and the Main river, stood the village of Bischofheim.
On April 13, at daybreak, Broglie deployed his army in order of battle. His right was anchored on the village of Bergen and continued up to Frankfurt on a quite steep terrain interspersed with orchards separated by hedges. Appletrees were fell to form abatis. His left was anchored on a wood along the Nidda river. He placed his cavalry in 3 lines on the wings, keeping the dragoons in reserve. He also placed 8 bns in and around the village of Bergen and 5 additional bns (Piémont and I./Royal Roussillon) behind the village of Bergen, supported by 2 bns of Alsace Infanterie. Then, formed in columns came 8 bns (Castellas, Diesbach, Rohan Montbazon and Beauvoisis). The left of the infantry centre consisted of the Saxon rgts along with a reserve of 11 French bns deployed behind the left wing, behind the Wartberg, in regimental columns. Broglie's artillery was deployed along his front.
The Hereditary Prince’s column advanced first. He sent detachments to Friedberg, Giessen and Hanau, while the duke of Holstein–Gottorp halted in Langenbergheim and Ysenburg in Marköbel.
At 6:00 AM on April 13, an increasing musketry fire began to tell. After a fight, Freytag's light troops who were marching at the head of the vanguard occupied Marköbel to the north-east of Bergen, pushing back the French picquets. They were followed by 2 squadrons of Ruesch Black Hussars and by the Hereditary Prince’s column.
At 8:00 AM, the Hereditary Prince’s column reached the cover of the eastern slope of the Am Hohen Stein. Ferdinand accompanied the vanguard, hurrying soldiers to march quickly, to reach enemy as fast as possible. By this time, the French army was completely deployed. The Allied light troops attacked the Volontaires d’Alsace (approx. 450 men) occupying advanced posts. Broglie wrote to Saint-Germain, asking him to speedily march towards Bergen with his corps.
Ysenburg’s column closely followed the vanguard. However, the duke of Holstein-Gottorp's column, to the right of Ysenburg, was 3 hours late. Ferdinand reconnoitred the ground between Am Hohen Stein and Vilbel. But from there he only had a partial view of the enemy lines. He could see many regiments in front and in Bergen, but none of the reserves behind Bergen and the Wartberg. Ferdinand considered that the enemy was just arriving and not in full possession of the ground. Consequently, he ordered an attack on Bergen. Freytag marched to the north to fix the Saxons. He captured Vilbel, destroying a pontoon.
Meanwhile, Broglie had assembled his generals behind the Wartberg tower and had given them his instructions, insisting on a stubborn defence of the town of Bergen. He also took dispositions for an eventual retreat.
At 9:30 AM. Allied troops advanced on 3 columns on Bergen.
At 10:00 AM, the action began. The Hereditary Prince with Hessian and Brunswicker units attacked from the north, followed soon by Gilsa advancing from the east. A violent musketry fire hit the advancing Allied troops who, disorganised by orchards and hedges, were soon disordered. At last they slowly fell back, answering shot to shot to defenders. The French regiment most heavily involved in this fire fight were Planta and Royal Suédois.
Ferdinand, escorted by a grenadier company, accompanied the first line. He was swept along with the retreating units. However, he immediately rode to 2 grenadier companies deployed near the Am Hohen Stein by the Hereditary Prince and ordered them to attack. This gave the opportunity to the retreating battalions to rally and to advance behind the grenadiers. A few Allied guns (2 x 6-pdrs and 1 x 12-pdrs) opened fire to support them.
While withstanding heavy losses, the grenadiers conquered orchards and farms and reached the eastern sunken road. After a minute to take breath in the sunken road, they advanced in the open ground at the eastern outskirts of Bergen, just by the wall. Under a heavy fire and defending themselves with violent volleys, the Allied grenadiers reached the wall, but were slowed by an abatis. The French then fire on them at point-blank range while a battery took them in enfilade fire. The grenadiers were stopped and thrown back by a mass of French infantry coming from the rear of the village. In fact, two battalions of Piémont Infanterie and the first battalion of Royal Roussillon Infanterie, advanced along the main street of Bergen but were thrown back by a volley at less than 50 paces. Despite this initial check, others French companies attacked at the point of the bayonet and repulsed the Allied grenadiers who immediately counter-attacked pushing their French opponents back into a vineyard. Then four French grenadier companies belonging to Piémont and Royal Roussillon launched an attack as they emerged from the village. Seeing this the other French battalions rallied, returned from the vineyard and supported the French grenadiers. The Allied grenadiers were finally forced to retire and the French captured two 6-pdrs.
Broglie, who was watching the battle from the Wartberg, sent 15 additional battalions around the village, 11 from the north and 4 from the south, overpowering the Allies. Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie charged with the bayonet and Royal Bavière Infanterie pursued the retiring Allies.
Prince Ferdinand ordered a Brunswicker battalion to move against the four French battalions emerging at the south of Bergen to cover the Allied grenadiers. French were in their time repulsed and the Brunswickers and the grenadiers advanced for the third time towards Bergen. Broglie recalled every unit at his disposal, even the Saxons. He managed to collect 23 battalions and personally led them to the attack. The exhausted Allied units were driven back and could not rally before reaching the cover of Am Hohen Stein. During this combat, von Gilsa was wounded.
Meanwhile Ysenburg’s column had reached the field and 4 Hessian squadrons and a Hessian battalion were immediately ordered to form line and to attack. This allowed the exhausted grenadiers to rally and to resume their gallant advance. The sunken road was conquered for the second time and the abatis reached. But for the second time the abatis halted the Allies who were forced to retire.
For some time the bloody battlefield fell silent. Ferdinand ordered forwards every gun he could collect to support the advance of Ysenburg’s entire column. The Allied launched a fourth attack covered by intense musketry and gun fire. Nevertheless, after a little time, they were caught into violent artillery fire from the sunken road: Broglie had deployed every gun he could collect from batteries along the eastern side of the road. From this place they poured a devastating fire into the advancing columns. Despite this lively artillery fire, the Hanoverians and Hessians orderly deployed themselves into line and marched ahead for the fifth time aiming straight at Bergen. Behind them the remains of Gilsa’s battalions rallied and followed up.
However, this was a fight against all odds. The enormous difference of number began to tell, as Broglie threw against them all available battalions, personally leading Rohan Montbazon Infanterie. Thus, 19 Allied battalions, of whom only 9 were fresh, faced 30 French battalions. Ysenburg fell killed while trying to rally his men. Outnumbered by five to one, the Allies fell back, leaving behind many dead and wounded.
The Hereditary Prince with some troops covered their retreat, while Ferdinand ordered Urff’s 4 squadrons to charge. These squadrons met considerable success, charging the triumphant French battalions in flank, routing them and reaching the walls of Bergen before infantry fire forced them to retire.
Meanwhile Ferdinand was rallying the crowd of disordered troops which were regrouping behind the Am Hohen Stein, under the cover of a line of Allied cavalry who had repulsed some French squadrons which have tried to pursue Ysenburg’s defeated infantry. When Broglie ordered the artillery deployed in the sunken road to concentrate its fire on these Allied cavalry units, Schulenburg (who had now replaced Ysenburg) called them back. At last, the duke of Holstein-Gottorp’s column appeared on the battlefield with 4 heavy guns.
Broglie remained in his strong position without attempting any offensive action.However, he moved his reserve in a position from which it could support both wings.
The duke of Holstein-Gottorp ordered his column to deploy, along with 21 heavy guns, to the right of what remained of the Hereditary Prince’s column. Ferdinand reconnoitred the French positions and observed enemy battalions advancing from the Wartberg. Ferdinand suspected a French attack but this was only Broglie trying to reinforce his lines with fresh troops.
The gunners of both armies engaged into an artillery duel that lasted until sunset.
During the night, the Allies retired with the Hereditary Prince’s column forming the rearguard. Broglie maintained his position while Saint-Germain arrived at Bergen with his corps to reinforce him.
The Allies lost 415 dead, 1,770 wounded, the French 500 dead and 1,300 wounded. Lieutenant-General von Dyherrn of the Saxon contingent was mortally wounded by a cannonball (he would die at Frankfurt/Main on April 24).
Ferdinand's plan to drive the French out of Hesse had failed and he retired towards Minden.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick
Summary: 40 squadrons, 27 battalions, 21 field guns and approximately 46 battalion guns; for a total of about 22,000 men plus 1,900 light troops in 13 companies (excluding Prussian hussars).
N.B.: According to strength report dated April 1759, the average Allied battalion strength was about 600 men while a squadron averaged some 150 men.
- First column (or avant-garde column) under the Hereditary Prince
- Vanguard under Major-General von Gilsa (4 sqns, 2 bns)
- Main Force (9 bns, 7 sqns)
- Brunswick Zastrow (1 bn)
- Hessian Mansbach (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Anhalt (1 bn)
- Brunswick Imhoff (2 bns)
- Brunswick Behr (2 bns)
- Brunswick Leib-Regiment (2 bns)
- British 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (2 sqns) aka Grey Dragoons
- British 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons (2 sqns)
- British Royal Horse Guards (3 sqns) aka The Blues
- Artillery (2 x 6-pdrs, 2 x 12-pdrs, 3 howitzers
- Second column (or left column) under Prince von Ysenburg assisted by Lieutenant-General von der Schulenburg
- Vanguard (1 bn, 6 sqns)
- Main force under Major-General von Urff (10 sqns, 9 bns), from left to right
- Hessian Prinz Friedrich Dragoons (4 sqns)
- Hessian Pruschenk Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hessian Leib-Regiment Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hessian Prinz Wilhelm Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hanoverian Post (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Linstrow (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Monroy (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Wrede (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Fersen (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Carl (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Ysenburg (1 bn)
- Hessian Canitz (1 bn)
- Hessian Hessen-Hanau (1 bn)
- Artillery (11 x 12-pdrs)
- Third column under Duke von Holstein assisted by Lieutenant-General Granby, Prince von Anhalt and von Wutginau
- Main force (10 sqns, 5 bns), from right to left
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Victor François, Duc de Broglie
Summary: 44 squadrons, 46 battalions, 45 field guns and about 66 battalion guns (incl. 16 Saxon); for a total of about 30,000 men plus 450 light troops
N.B.: The average French battalion strength was about 450 men while a squadron averaged some 120 men.
|Advanced Positions||First Line||Second Line||Third Line|
|Right Wing under Prince Camille de Lorraine seconded by Comte d’Orlick and Marquis de Saint-Chamond|
|French troops occupying Bergen||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)
||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)|
|Centre under Comte de Beaupréau seconded by Marquis de Castries|
|Artillery guns deployed along the sunken road to the east of the Wartberg under Chevalier de Pelletier||Cavalry behind the Wartberg||Cavalry||Dragoon Reserve|
|Left Wing under Baron de Dyherrn, north of the Wartberg near Vilbel|
|1st Saxon Brigade
2nd Saxon Brigade
Artillery (16 x 4-pdrs)
|Apchon Dragons (4 sqns)||Cavalry|
Left Wing Reserve, deployed in regimental columns behind the Wartberg
- Dauphin Brigade
- Anhalt Brigade
- Royal Bavière Brigade
- Volontaires d’Alsace (approx. 450 men), deployed en tirailleur in the woods near Vilbel in front of the Saxon line
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User:Carlo bessolo for the entire initial version of this article