1759-11-30 – Attack on Fulda
Prelude to the Battle
Late in November 1759, the contingent of Württemberg (about 10,000 men), led personally by the Duke Karl Eugen of Würtemberg, entered the Country of Fulda and took up its winter-quarters in this province to assist the French army. As instructed by the Duc de Broglie the contingent was now in a position to threaten the Allied left flank and to deny them supplies from this area. A detachment of about 1,000 French light cavalry took post at Lauterbach and Herbstein, between the Württembergers and the Allies.
To improve the safety of his contingent, Karl Eugen sent 1 battalion along with Phull Cuirassiers forward, between Fulda and the two French held places. As this area was thought most important, General von Wolff was detached to Hersfeld with 4 battalions, 1 squadron of Leib-Grenadiers à Cheval, 1 squadron of Roeder Dragoons and most of Gorcy Hussars. These troops were posted along the Fulda river where they formed a cordon to protect the quarter of the Württemberg army, with each patrol in close touch to one another. General von Augée was placed with a brigade along the Werra. Both detachments denied all supplies to the Allies from these areas and the province was put under contribution. Near Rothenburg, there was an Allied party of some 800 men and near Wanfried some 500 Allied hussars, engaging into daily skirmishes with the Württembergers.
Ferdinand of Brunswick decided to send a corps (7 bns, 12 sqns) under the command of the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick to dislodge this contingent from Fulda and prevent its junction with the main French army.
On November 28 in the morning, the Hereditary Prince corps set out from Marburg and marched to Kirtorf.
On November 29, the corps of the Hereditary Prince marched to Angersbach and Lauterbach. His vanguard repulsed a detachment of the Royal-Nassau Hussards. The same day at 6:00 AM, Karl Eugen received the first report of the Allied approach. The French brigadier von Nordmann, commanding a detachment of some 500 dragoons and hussars, informed him that the Allies now occupied his former position at Lauterbach. He had been forced to retire to Schlitz and even across the Fulda. Karl Eugen asked to Comte de Gréaulme, aide maréchal-des-logis of Broglie's army and attached to the Württemberger staff as liaison officer, to order Brigadier von Nordmann to recross the Fulda and to take up a position between Lauterbach and Fulda, this town giving him a safe line of retreat, if necessary. Duke Karl Eugen also sent orders to his two generals (von Wolff and von Augée) to leave their quarters and immediately assemble at Fulda.
Fulda, a town with some 7,000 inhabitants by the late 18th century, is located in a quite even plain watered by the Fulda river. To the west of the town towards the river, the fields were divided by a long hollow road. The Württemberg contingent had encamped very irregularly in small bodies on separate spots of ground on one side of this hollow road. The left (west) bank of the Fulda provided some rising ground commanding the bridges and the right bank.
Description of Events
On November 30 at 1:00 AM, the corps of the Hereditary Prince advanced directly towards Fulda. It met no troops on the road. A little distance from Fulda, the Allied forces deployed behind a height while their hussars marched forward.
The Hereditary Prince then reconnoitred almost to the gates of the town.
The Allied hussars and Prinz Friedrich Dragoons drew up in front of the encampment of the Württemberger troops along the hollow road to the west of the town. The rest of the Allied corps went round the hill, proceeded to the other side of the hollow road and took position upon the flank of the Württemberger troops.
At 9:00 AM, after skirmishing with the Allied avant-garde, Phull Cuirassiers were forced to retire back to the bridge in front of the town of Fulda.
Karl Eugen realised that he was on the point of being attacked by an Allied corps of no less than 8,000 or 10,000 men while he had no more than his 1,200 Grenadiers and Phull Cuirassiers at Fulda, the rest of his force being dispersed in various detachments. The duke now had two options. He could march towards Hersfeld and make a junction near Hünfeld with his approaching detachments and then withdraw towards Saxony and join the Reichsarmee. His other option was to hold his ground, defend the bridges with his force as long as possible and await the arrival of his approaching detachments. He decided for the latter option.
The Württemberger grenadiers, along with a number of 3-pdrs guns, were ordered to occupy the 3 stone bridges near Fulda (should probably read 2 bridges). One company was ordered to cross the river to support Phull Cuirassiers. Led by General von Gorcy, they charged in close order the Allied dragoons and hussars, gaining some time. By engaging into further skirmishing, they managed to delay the Allied advance until around 1:00 PM.
By 1:00 PM, Phull Cuirassiers were forced to abandon their positions. About this time, the first elements of General Augée’s brigade arrived near Fulda and formed up in line of battle on the right bank of the river. Meanwhile, the Allied had deployed infantry and a powerful artillery on the heights on the left bank of the Fulda. Phull Cuirassiers then withdrew over the river while the Württembergers grenadiers, although being under a murderous cannon fire, held the bridges for some time. However, the grenadiers were eventually recalled into the town in order to prepare its defence.
The Württemberger infantry started to form in the town square but Allied howitzers drove them away. Seeing that the Württembergers were exiting the town on the opposite side, the Hereditary Prince led the hussars, Prinz Friedrich Dragoons, Hessian Grenadier-Regiment and Bock Dragoons against the town. They occupied the town gate leading to the position of Augée's brigade, thus, leaving some 5 or 600 Württemberger grenadiers cut off inside the town. These grenadiers finally managed to leave through another gate joining a late arriving battalion of Werneck Infantry. Meanwhile, Bevern had forced the St. Johannis bridge (the southern bridge) and passed the river.
The delaying action of the Württemberger grenadiers at the bridge allowed Karl Eugen to assemble his force and to organise the withdrawal. The Württemberger grenadiers (3 bns) and Werneck Infantry (1 bn) formed in order of battle, under the command of Baron von Poellnitz, on the opposite side of the town to contain the Allies during the retreat of their main body. The Allied hussars and Bock Dragoons advanced against the deployed Württemberger units while Bevern gained their flanks. The Allies then attacked these units who tried to make good their escape. Closely pursued by the Allied cavalry and under continuous cannon and musketry fire, they lost a great number of men. Eventually, what was left of these units was forced to lay down their arms and surrender.
Now all bridges were in the hands of the Allies. Duke Karl Eugen ordered General Wolff’s brigade, which was not yet arrived at Fulda, to redirect his march towards Hünfeld. The duke’s force now consisted of Phull Cuirassiers, Leib-Grenadiers à Cheval (3 sqns), grenadiers (6 coys) and 7 battalions. He directed his retreat to Motten, an hour march from Fulda. During the retreat, the duke formed his troops in line of battle at one time, in order to keep the pursuing enemy at a distance. General von Goren (maybe Gorcy), commanding the grenadiers of his rearguard engaged the pursuers.
During this action, the Allies lost 6 killed and 14 wounded. The Württembergers lost several men killed and 923 taken prisoners, along with 2 guns, 2 colours of Werneck Infantry and their baggage. Half their grenadiers were missing along with an entire battalion of Werneck Infantry. Among the prisoners was the Colonel and General-adjutant Baron von Poellnitz.
On December 1, Duke Karl Eugen resumed his retreat to Brückenau to take up supplies as well as to support General Wolff’s retreat, the latter being now at Bischofsheim.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand Hereditary Prince of Brunswick assisted by Prince von Bevern
Summary: 7 battalions, 10 cavalry squadrons, 2 light cavalry squadrons
Hereditary Prince's column
- Infantry (1 bn)
- Hessian Grenadier-Regiment (1 bn)
- Cavalry (8 sqns)
- Light troops (2 sqns)
Guarding the baggage (did not take part to the action)
- Prinz Wilhem Cavalry (2 sqns)
Württemberger Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Karl Eugen Duke of Württemberg
Summary: 15 battalions, 12 sqns
- Infantry (12 bns among which 4 bns were with Wolff's brigade and did not take part to the engagement)
- Prinz Louis (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men)
- Wolff (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men) probably part of Wolff's brigade
- Werneck (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men)
- Roman (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men)
- Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men)
- Truchsess Fusilier (Vacant) (2 bns for a total of about 1,023 men)
- Grenadiers (3 bns for a total of 1,213 men)
- Cavalry (12 sqns among which 5 sqns were with Wolff's brigade and did not take part to the engagement)
N.B.: Wolff's brigade did not take part to the action, being still on its way to Fulda.
- Royal-Nassau Hussards (4 sqns for a total of about 500 men) under the command of Lieutenant-colonel Wurmser
- Nornmann brigade (4 sqns for a total of about 500 men)
- unidentified dragoon unit
- Turpin Hussards
N.B.: the French detachment did not take part in the action
This article incorporates texts from the following books or documents which are now in the public domain:
- A relation of the action by an anonymous Württemberg officer, published in Gregor Stasch, Die Schlacht auf dem Münsterfeld von 1759, Exhibition catalogue No. 9, Vonderau Museum Fulda, 2003
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 465-466
- 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. 130-133
Most of this article is derived from:
Rogge, Christian, The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006