Ferntheil, Sylvius Christian von
Ferntheil, Sylvius Christian von
Franconian Major-General (1752-59)
born November 6, 1693, Schilkwitz, Silesia (in present-day Poland)
died July 29, 1767, Meiningen (in present-day Thuringia/Germany)
Sylvius Christian von Ferntheil, as he appears in the contemporary documents, or von Ferentheil and Gruppenberg in the modern spelling, came from an old Bohemian-Silesian noble family. He was born on November 6, 1693 in Schilckwitz, Lower Silesia, as the fifth son of Friedrich Wilhelm von Ferntheil and Anna Sophie von Mutschelnitz. His four brothers started military careers like him: Ernst Friedrich (1672-1753) became a lieutenant in Brunswick-Luneburg, as did Georg Sigmund (1674-1753). Johann Christoph died as a 1st lieutenant of the Electoral Palatinate without descendants, Karl Sigmund (1692-1772) at last made it to Swedish major. Sylvius Christian had no sisters.
We know nothing about the youth and the first military services of Ferntheil. According to his own later statement, he had been in military service for more than 40 years in 1752, so he must have started as a volunteer or ensign about the year 1712. It is not known whether he served in Saxe-Meiningen or some other principality then. In any case he does not appear in the muster-lists of the Franconian regiments of 1713.
Saxe-Meiningen military service is probable, because when he later appears as an officer in the Franconian infantry, he does so in the Saxe-Meiningen contingent. The duchy had become part of the Franconian district as heir to the Schleusingen part of the possessions of the Counts of Henneberg in the 16th century and no longer had to contribute to the Upper Saxon Circle only. The Franconian contingent was rather small and Ferntheil (like some other officers from “small” contingents) demonstrates, that this was no obstacle to become even general, as we will see.
In a list from 1733 he is captain of a mixed company in the Franconian infantry regiment Hölzl with seniority from April 1, 1726. He was deployed with the regiment as part of the garrison during the siege of Philippsburg. As is reported, he was involved in the repulsion of a French attack. On August 30, 1734, he finally became major.
Ferntheil married Maria Eleonora von Wallmoden on October 5, 1737. Perhaps this marriage could not be avoided, because the only child of the two, Eleorora Charlotta, was born on November 15, the same year.
In Meiningen, Ferntheil not only had a military function, he had also become Lord Chamberlain at an unknown time and thus headed the court and cabinet in a rank one may compare with a minister. Furthermore he was accepted into the Brandenburg-Bayreuth Order of the Red Eagle.
Ferntheil's next promotion took place on July 1, 1745, when Franz Philipp Rokoch, a colonel from the Bamberg contingent, died, so that Johann Sigmund von Seybothen (Rothenburg) was appointed colonel and Ferntheil lieutenant colonel of the regiment. However, he did not receive his salary until five years later due to the large number of Franconian generals and staff officers, for whom only a limited number of appropriate salaries were available.
On January 5, 1751 Ferntheil became colonel and one year later, on 20 March 1752, he was able to take over the Franconian regiment of Seybothen (ex Hölzl), who had died on May 26, 1751, with the character of a major-general. With a waiting period of about 26 years from captain to the rank of major-general, Ferntheil is only slightly above the average of Franconian generals.
When Ferntheil marched into the Seven Years' War in 1757, he had no experience as a general, nor had he been active as a staff officer, except for a few months at the end of the War of the Polish Succession (1733-35). He had stayed at home during the mobilisation of the Franconian troops in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48).
In 1757, at the beginning of the war there was a typical small incident. As the longest-serving major-general, he could have expected to be allowed to take command of the Franconian district troops. So he went to the camp at Langenfeld and to his surprise he met General Kolb from Würzburg, who presented him with a decree, which transferred the interim command to him, Kolb. So Ferntheil had nothing left but to return home and Kolb was the general who had to cope with a Prussian detachment under Johann von Mayr. In August, Ferntheil commanded a brigade from the Bavarian Circle regiments Kurbayern and Salzburg with the Reichsarmee.
A barely 250-word report by Ferntheil on the Battle of Rossbach describes the rapid collapse of the first line of the French in particular. But “I had the honour of commanding the Kronegck regiment in the Battle of Roßbach, and I also held the field of battle with Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt until the last, when no man was left. But it was not possible to get the people back in order and to stop them, and it was lucky that night fell, otherwise too many people would have gone west while fleeing.” His regiment, Ferntheil, was present with eleven companies and suffered the loss of 5 dead, 49 captured and 410 men missing (numbers as of end of November); the muster-list from February 1758 has 95 captured, 37 still missing and more than 100 who obviously just went home. Symptomatic is the rescue of three colours of the regiment by the Colonel Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen: he himself and two of his servants were met on the road by a Hesse-Darmstadt functionary carrying them without any accompaniment by soldiers.
In May 1758 Ferntheil was made director of all Reichsarmee-hospitals.
Ferntheil was no more reporting anything important, especially since the year 1758 gave little opportunity for major activities. On April 3, 1759 Ferntheil finally resigned his command and withdrew into private life with the peace-time salary (and, according to J.F.S., with the title of Feldmarschallieutenant). His resignation may have had something to do with health or old age, although General Johann Philipp von Wolfskeel was still in active service at the age of 68. It is an interesting coincidence, that in the same month the city of Meiningen had to surrender to Hanoverian Lieutenant-Colonel Freytag and Ferntheil was mentioned in the capitulation as no longer in service and not to be bothered. Apparently, there was some agreement with the Colonel Christian Ludwig von Buseck, who actually should have been his successor, but he also resigned in the same year. So the regiment went to major-general (1759) Heinrich August von Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, last Inhaber of the unit (he died in 1796).
Ferntheil died on July 29, 1767 in Meiningen.
Documents (particularly Kreistagsakten) from Bavarian state archives Bamberg and Nuremberg
Gothaisches genealogisches Taschenbuch der briefadligen Häuser 4. Jg., Gotha 1910, p. 196 ff.
J.F.S. [i.e. Johann Friedrich Seyfarth]: Geschichte des seit 1756 in Deutschland und dessen angränzenden Ländern geführten Krieges…, Frankfurt und Leipzig 1758 ff.
Klaus Roider for the initial version of this article