Luckner, Count Nikolaus

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Luckner, Count Nikolaus

Hanoverian major-general (1760-61) lieutenant-general (1761-63); French Maréchal (1791-92)

born January 11, 1722, Cham, Bavaria

died January 3, 1794, Paris, France


Nikolaus Luckner as Hanoverian Lieutenant-General in 1761 - Source: Lithography of August Rémy

Nikolaus Luckner was the grandson of an innkeeper and hop dealer of Cham which is located in the poor, heavily forested Upper Palatinate. He was the son of Samuel Luckner, who became city treasurer of Cham in the 1730s.

Around 1737, Nikolaus received his early education from the Jesuits in Passau and studied at the University of Ingolstadt.

In 1741, Luckner entered the Bavarian Army where he first served as trooper in the Grenadier-Corps à cheval together with two other citizen of Cham: Peter Altmann and Anton Mayrlipp.

Around 1743, during the War of the Austrian Succession, Luckner transferred to the Gschray's Freikorps as lieutenant. He was later promoted to Rittmeister (cavalry captain). When the Bavarian Elector leased out Bavarian troops to the Dutch Republic, Luckner joined the Frangipani Hussars and fought in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, he married a rich wife. Through this marriage, he obtained the estate of Blumenthal in Holstein, a province who then belonged to Denmark.

In 1748, Luckner resigned from the Bavarian Army, where he had reached the rank of Obristwachtmeister, and went to his estate in Holstein.

In 1757, Luckner invested 70,000 Thalers to raise a Hussar Freikorps. With the 54 hussars of his newly formed unit, he joined the Hanoverian Army. Then, as Rittmeister, he raised an entire troop of hussars, which took his name (Luckner Hussars). On December 6, during the Allied counter-offensive in Hanover, Luckner was detached towards Hermannsburg. On December 9, he dislodged a French party at Hermannsburg, seizing 24 laden wagons. On December 12 at Garssen, Luckner skirmished the whole day with the Volontaires du Hainaut. Richelieu immediately sent Polleresky Hussards, Mestre de Camp Général Dragons and grenadiers to support them. On December 31, Luckner and his hussars dispersed a body of 200 hussars and 60 dismounted troopers, capturing 66 of them.

On July 17 1758, Luckner was promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

On July 12 1759, Luckner was promoted to colonel. On May 28, during the French offensive in Western Germany, Luckner's Corps took position at Dorsten.

On January 19 1760, during the last operations before taking winter-quarters, the Allies established advanced posts at Dillenburg, Homberg on the Ohm, Marburg and Hatzfeld under the command of Luckner. On January 25, Luckner was promoted to major-general (adding the particule "von"). On March 17, Luckner with Allied jägers entered into Fulda where he was soon joined by Gilsa's detachment. On March 19, informed that a French party had taken position on the heights between Fulda and Neuhof, Luckner marched towards Neuhof, attacked and dislodged the French force which retired to Schlüchtern. On May 19, Luckner, now at the head of a cavalry corps (10,000 men), took position at Grossseelheim and Kleinseelheim on the Ohm and in several other villages between Marburg and Amöneberg. On May 23, Luckner set out from his camp near Kirchhain with 500 hussars and mounted jägers and 500 grenadiers and foot jägers to intercept French convoys between Giessen and Butzbach. On May 24 in the morning; after marching by Buseck and Schiffenberg; Luckner reached the high road to Butzbach without meeting any convoy. He then resolved to attack the town itself defended by the Comte de Waldner at the head of 400 foot, 100 men from Caraman Dragons and 50 men from Bercheny Hussards. Luckner had just prepared for an attack on Butzbach when a party of 13 French hussars appeared near Lich. Most of them were captured but 2 managed to escape and to give alarm at Butzbach. Waldner sent another party of 17 hussars to confirm the presence of the Allied force. They were pursued by Allied hussars who entered into Butzbach on their trail. Waldner retired through another gate with the garrison and entered into the woods in the direction of Friedberg. The Allied hussars engaged a picquet of Caraman Dragons and captured 1 officer and 20 troopers. They then engaged a picquet of infantry and captured 25 men. Luckner then divided his force into 2 parties: the mounted jägers entered into the woods while the Brunswick Hussars pursued the retreating French units up to Friedberg, bringing back prisoners and 30 carriages. In this action Luckner lost 2 hussars killed and 5 wounded. He also destroyed a French magazine. On May 25, Luckner was back to his camp at Kirchhain with 4 officers and 100 soldiers prisoners. On July 1, a body of 1,500 French cavalry attempted a coup de main on Fritzlar but Luckner prevented the attack, repelled them and pursued them as far as Freienhagen. On July 4, Ferdinand of Brunswick detached Luckner to Wildungen (present-day Bad Wildungen). On July 6, Luckner attacked and drove back M. de Vair at Frankenberg/Eder. On July 8, Ferdinand ordered Major-General von Luckner to occupy the heights of Sachsenhausen and Korbach to bar the outlet of the defile through which Broglie's Army must pass into the plain, and so to hinder his junction with Saint-Germain. On July 9, Closen came to contact with Luckner's Corps. On July 10, Luckner took part in the Combat of Corbach where the Allies were unable to prevent the junction of the two French armies. On July 16, Luckner took part in the Engagement of Emsdorf where the Allies surprised and captured the French detachment of Baron von Glaubitz. On July 23, the French right reserve marched from Odershausen and made a junction with Stainville's Corps, forcing Luckner to precipitously repass the Eder. On July 27, Luckner marched to Zwehren. On August 6, he retired from Harste to Moringen. On August 8, he attacked Einbeck, forcing the Volontaires d'Austrasie to retire to Harste. On September 23, an engagement took place near Nörten between Luckner's Corps and a detachment of French cavalry. The Allies took a lieutenant-colonel and 107 men prisoners. On September 25, Luckner advanced on Northeim. On October 15, a detachment under M. d'Espies marched on Northeim, forcing Luckner to repass the Leine. On November 11 in the area of Göttingen, Luckner's Corps decamped from Moringen and, passing by Northeim, marched to Gieboldehausen. On November 12, Luckner attacked a detachment of Royal-Nassau Hussards, forcing it to retire towards Duderstadt. On November 28, Luckner attacked the Castle of Arnstein defended by M. de Verteuil but was forced to abandon the enterprise. On November 29, Luckner retired towards Friedland. On December 14, Luckner passed the Leine and advanced against Heiligenstadt (today Heilbad Heiligenstadt). On December 22, Broglie advanced directly against Luckner's Corps. On December 23, a detachment of 10,000 French led by the Comte de Broglie attacked Luckner (about 3,500 men) at Heiligenstadt. Luckner retired to an eminence on the road to Witzenhausen, repulsed the French, then retreated to Scharfenstein, losing only 1 officer and 34 militia taken prisoners. The French losses were above 300 men. On December 24, the French having evacuated Heiligenstadt, Luckner retook possession of the town.

On April 24 1761, a French detachment (3,000 men) advanced from Göttingen towards Uslar and surprised a battalion of the Légion Britannique at the village of Feldhaven, making about 100 prisoners. Luckner soon arrived with grenadiers and hussars and dislodged them, capturing 50 dragoons. On May 1, a French detachment under M. de Belzunce advanced from Göttingen towards Moringen but it was intercepted by Luckner who pursued it up to the Leine. Belzunce just had time to cross this river and was forced to abandon part of his baggage. On May 5, Luckner, having been informed that a French detachment (300 horse) under Belzunce was on its way from Göttingen, retired to his main corps in time to avoid encirclement. Luckner then set out with 100 hussars in pursuit of the retiring French cavalry. Luckner finally intercepted this detachment. His hussars charged the French in the village of Neukweig (unidentified location) and routed them, capturing 1 officer, 30 troopers and 61 horses. On May 12, another engagement took place between the corps of M. de Belzunce and the Allied corps of Luckner. By June 9, Luckner was at Einbeck. On June 16, during a raid under the walls of Göttingen, Luckner took 84 oxen. During this engagement the French lost 100 killed and wounded and 1 captain and 14 privates taken prisoners. On June 29, Luckner's light troops repassed the Weser and marched on Beverungen. In the night of June 29 to 30, Luckner retired on Nieheim. On July 1, Spörcken's and Luckner's corps made a junction. On July 2, they retired to Blomberg. On July 13 early in the morning, Luckner marched with Roth Hussars and Bauer Hussars towards Sande where the Comte de Chabot was encamped with the vanguard of the French Reserve (3 dragoon rgts, 1 hussar rgt, the Volontaires de Flandre and 2 foot rgts). Luckner then attacked the position. Chabot was forced to repass the Lippe. Luckner then retired to Stuckenbrock (unidentified location). On July 17 at daybreak, Luckner, reinforced by troops sent by Spörcken, passed the Lippe and attacked Chabot at Neuhaus. Outnumbered, Chabot retired after a long and stubborn resistance on the road leading to Paderborn. Chabot was joined by the Reserve of Prince Xavier at a bridge to stop Luckner's advance. In this action, Luckner took 150 men prisoners. On July 19, Luckner abandoned Neuhaus in front of a large detachment sent by Broglie to retake the town. On July 29, Luckner marched to Blomberg. On July 30 in the evening, the Chasseurs de Monet were attacked near Lippspringe by Luckner. They resisted for a while in the hedges near Lippspringe before rallying back on the Légion Royale who forced Luckner to retire. By August 1, Luckner was in the area of Stromberg. On August 11, Luckner passed the Weser at Hameln and was joined by Colonel Freytag. In the morning of August 14, Luckner made a junction with 2 bns of the garrison of Hameln at Wickensen and then marched on Dassel. Luckner’s Corps reached the heights of Dassel near the positions of M. de Belzunce. Luckner sent his own hussars against the French right and detached Colonel Freytag with all the light horse towards their left wing. Belzunce sent a large detachment to cover the road leading to Einbeck. Luckner Hussars attacked and routed this latter detachment. Meanwhile, Luckner took position in front of Belzunce’s main corps and a lively cannonade ensued. Belzunce retired into the forest of Solling before being surrounded. On August 15 at 8:00 AM, Luckner assembled his corps near Dassel. Captain Kampen was sent to observe the town of Höxter. The Brunswick Jäger Corps set forward and the whole corps marched to Uslar where it arrived at 4:00 p.m. As soon as Luckner’s vanguard appeared on the height near Vahle, Belzunce retreated by Allershausen to the Sonnenberg hill. Using his artillery, Luckner dislodge them from this advantageous position. The French retired to the forest of Solling once more but this time they were attacked by Lieutenant-colonel Stockhausen and the Eisenbach Hussars and were routed. In this affair, the French lost 44 officers and 759 privates made prisoners, including Brigadier Jenner, 1 colonel and 2 majors. On August 16, Luckner marched to Höxter to destroy the bridge thrown across the Weser. On August 17, Luckner's Corps, stationed on the opposite bank of the Weser, cannonaded the head of the columns of Prince Xavier. The latter postponed the passage of the Weser and informed Broglie of his decision. Broglie then sent to Prince Xavier a reinforcement of 1 infantry brigade, instructing him to pass the river as soon as possible before Luckner could receive reinforcements. Luckner then retired on Dassel. On August 18 at daybreak, Prince Xavier advanced against the wood where Luckner's corps had been positioned but it had already retired. On August 19, Luckner fell back towards Einbeck. On August 20, de Vaux marched on Einbeck to dislodge Luckner. Luckner retired eastwards to Osterode am Harz. On August 25, Luckner tried to capture a provision convoy under the walls of Göttingen but, with the arrival of M. de Belsunce at Northeim and the artillery fire from the place, Luckner was forced to abandon his project. In mid-September, he retreated to Hildesheim. On September 17, Luckner passed the Weser at Hameln. On September 24, he relieved Wolfenbüttel. In the night of October 9 to 10, Luckner retired from Hameln to Halle. On October 10, Luckner left Halle and encamped by the wood of Hastenbeck near Hameln. At 11:00 p.m., Luckner decamped and marched towards Hildesheim. On October 12, Luckner and Prince Frederick of Brunswick arrived by forced marches in the neighbourhood of Peine to relieve Braunschweig. In the morning of October 13, Luckner and Prince Frederick of Brunswick, without waiting for reinforcements, proceeded directly towards Braunschweig. In the night of October 13 to 14, realizing that all the roads leading to Braunschweig were blocked, Prince Frederick, covered by Luckner, attacked and drove back the French force (1,000 men) defending the entrenchments of Ölper. In this action, the Allies made 300 prisoners, including General Daston and 10 other officers, and captured 1 artillery piece. After the action, Luckner returned to Peine unmolested. Meanwhile, Prince Frederick entered into Braunschweig with 6 bns. On October 15, Luckner was reinforced at Hildesheim. On November 3, he marched to Ringelheim. On November 4, he reached Lutter. On November 5 at daybreak, Luckner took position opposite Stainville’s corps at Seesen. On November 9 at daybreak, Luckner took position at Ammensen. On November 13 in the evening, the combined forces of Wangenheim, Luckner and Freytag attacked the rearguards of M. de Closen's Corps while it was passing the Rhume near Northeim. On November 23, Luckner was promoted to lieutenant-general. At the beginning of December, his corps took its winter-quarters at Einbeck.

On April 6 1762, Lieutenant-General Luckner detached 500 hussars to Heilingstadt. The Marquis de Lostanges immediately marched out of Göttingen with 1,800 horse and 2,000 foot to intercept them. When Luckner was informed of Lostanges reaction, he advanced against him with 1,600 horse. The French precipitously retired towards Göttingen but Luckner caught up their rearguard, killing 30 men and taking 80 prisoners besides 100 horses. From May 15 to 22, Luckner gradually advanced from Einbeck to Harste with an Allied Corps. On May 18, Luckner took position on the Huve. On May 23 or 24, Luckner and Prince Frederick of Brunswick sent reconnoitring parties towards Göttingen. These parties chased the French vanguard but Lieutenant-colonel Lahr sallied from Göttingen with dragoons and hussars to support the vanguard. Lahr was mortally wounded and his force driven back into Göttingen and the Allied parties captured 80 men and 100 horses before retiring once their reconnaissance completed. At the beginning of June, Luckner and Prince Frederick of Brunswick remained on the Weser at Einbeck and Höxter to cover the provinces of Brunswick and Hanover. On June 21, Ferdinand, hearing that the French had left a corps under Prince Xavier on the east of the Weser to invade Hanover, detached General Luckner with a small force across the river to keep an eye on him. In the night of June 22 to 23, Luckner, whose corps (6 grenadier bns, 4 dragoon sqns, 8 hussar sqns) was at Sülbeck on the Leine, facing Einbeck to observe Prince Xavier's Corps encamped between the Werra and Göttingen, was recalled and ordered to recross the Weser at Wahmbeck during the night and to march to Gottsbüren, a little to the north of the Castle of Sababurg. On June 23 at 6:00 a.m., Luckner started his march towards Gottsbüren; by noon, he had reached Uslar; at 6:00 p.m., he passed the Weser at Bodenfelde near Wahmbeck; in the evening, he finally reached Gottsbüren where he encamped. On June 24, Luckner was present at the battle of Wilhelmsthal. On June 28, Luckner marched on Uslar at the head of 12,000 Allied troops. On July 6, Luckner captured the Chasseurs de Monet at Scharffhoff close to the walls of Kassel. On July 13, Luckner's Corps marched from Wildungen (present-day Bad Wildungen) to attack a French outpost near Felsberg. However, the French force occupying this post was stronger than anticipated and Luckner stopped at Homberg/Efze. On July 14, Luckner marched from Homberg/Efze to Falkenberg to turn Guerchy's left but was forced to retire on Homberg/Efze again. On July 15, Luckner retired to Uttershausen. On July 23, Luckner's Corps encamped near Neukirchen. On July 25, Luckner passed the Schwalm and took position on its right bank. On July 26, Luckner advanced from Neukirchen to Hersfeld (present-day Bad Hersfeld). At about 9:00 p.m., Luckner launched an unsuccessful attack to capture the place, losing 2 men dead and 30 wounded in this affair. Luckner then marched by Schlitz to Fulda which he captured, taking the garrison (400 men) as prisoners of war, a large quantity of baggage, a convoy of wine, 300 oxen, and 70,000 florins. The French Army of the Upper Rhine then retired its exposed left wing to the right bank of the Fulda, thus losing communications with Frankfurt. On July 31, learning of Stainville's approach, Luckner retired from Fulda to Grossenlüder. By August 6, Luckner was at Rotenburg facing Stainville. On August 10, Luckner marched towards Bebra. On August 21, Luckner, who was encamped at Eisenbach, and Bock were detached to reinforce the Hereditary Prince who was still facing the Prince de Condé. They joined him the same day. Luckner then dislodged Wurmser's Corps from Ruppertenrod, inflicting it heavy casualties and capturing 1 captain, 1 lieutenant and 120 men, 1 gun and several horses. On August 22, the Hereditary Prince passed the Ohm, made a junction with Luckner's Corps and advanced on Condé's forces which were encamped at Reinhardshain. On August 25, the Hereditary Prince tried to dislodge Condé from his position at Grüningen but he was met with a strong resistance. After a two hours cannonade, he was forced to retire and to repass the Wetter, taking position at Lich while Luckner went to Münzenberg. On August 30, Luckner's Corps took part in the Combat of Nauheim. By September 2, Luckner was in the region of Butzbach. On September 3, Luckner had to retire to Gambach. On September 7, the French Army of the Upper Rhine marched to Grüningen where it took position on the heights. Ferdinand, divining that their design was to cut him off from Kassel, which it was his own intention to capture, at once hurried northward to stop them. It was a race between the two armies. Hardenberg's Army marched from Muntzenberg to Arnsburg Abbey with Luckner now forming his right. On September 10, Luckner reached Kirchhain. On September 14, he was at Wollmar, between Wetter and Frankenberg when he was instructed to march from Wollmar in a wide turning movement to get in the rear of the French left wing. On September 15, all Allied Corps reached their assigned positions on time. Luckner, who had already reached Warzenbach, opened a cannonade on the hill overlooking Wetter, forcing French troops occupying this position to retire. He then opened on the town. Conway then appeared on the French left wing, driving back the light troops posted on the nearby heights. Ferdinand's columns debouched from the woods near Mellnau. Lévis' forces retired with great precipitation to repass the Lahn. His rearguard was severely cannonaded during this retreat. Conway seize the heights to the right of the Wetter. Ferdinand then joined Conway at Wetter with the main army and all Allied Corps then encamped where they had formed. Allied positions now extended from Warzenbach on the Lahn to Homberg/Ohm. On September 22, Luckner took position at Niederasphe. On September 24, a French party surprised one of Luckner's outpost, taking 1 officer and 30 privates prisoners. On September 27, Ferdinand sent Luckner to Warzenbach to prevent Condé from advancing through the Gorge of Kombach. On November 9, Ferdinand informed the army that peace negotiations were under way but that he meanwhile intended to lay siege to Ziegenhain. Luckner was detached towards Münster to repel a body of French light troops operating in the area. These light troops retired to Wesel upon his approach.

After the Seven Years' War, in 1763, Luckner Hussars were disbanded and Luckner returned to his estate of Blumenthal in Holstein.

In 1767, Luckner accepted an appointment in the French Army (Russia was interested by his service too) as lieutenant-general and received command of the Regiment Bourgogne.

On April 22 1778, Luckner was ennobled by the Danish Court because he owned some estates in Holstein.

On March 31 1784, Luckner was made a Danish count.

Painting of Count Nikolaus Luckner as Marshal of France in 1792 - Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the French Revolution, on July 10 1790, Luckner asked the National Convention in Paris for French citizenship.

In 1791, Luckner was appointed Maréchal de France and commander of an Army Corps.

In 1792, Luckner first served as commander of the Army of the Rhine, during which time Rouget de Lisle dedicated to him the Chant de Guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin, which was to become better known as the Marseillaise. As commander of the Army of the North, he captured the Flemish cities of Menen and Kortrijk, but then had to retreat towards Lille. After the flight of Lafayette, he was made generalissimo with orders to build a Reserve Army near Châlons-sur-Marne. However, the National Convention was not satisfied with his progress and Choderlos de Laclos was ordered to support or replace him. Luckner, now over 70 years of age, then asked for dismissal. The same year, after resigning, Luckner pressed his claim for pension on a bankrupt regime and headed to Paris.

Under suspicion with the radicals, who were now in power, and, having become a Danish Count in 1784, Luckner suffered the fate of many who held a title: he was arrested by the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death. He died by the guillotine in Paris on January 3 1794, aged 71.

In 1795 Luckner's son asked the National Convention for rehabilitation of his father which was fully accepted. The huge estates acquired by Nikolaus Count Luckner in France were returned to the family.


This article incorporates texts from the article "Nicolas Luckner" of Wikipedia, a publication available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Other sources:

Bunger, K., Graf Nikolaus Luckner, A Short Biography, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. XI No.4

Lukas, J.: Geschichte der Stadt und Pfarrei Cham, Landshut, 1862, pp. 408-414

The section concerning the years 1757 to 1762 is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.