Mayr, Johann von

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Johann von Mayr / Mayer / Meyr

Prussian Major-General (1758-59)

born May 1, 1716, Vienna, Austria

died January 3, 1759, Plauen/Vogtland, Saxony

Description

Kommt je was Neues in die Welt,
Worauf man viel Achtung hält,
So ist es Krieg und Kriegs-Geschrey
Und die fein Partheygängerey.

(Schöner Raritätenkasten... Von dem Partisan Meyer)

Whenever something new comes to the world
that one pays much attention to
it is war and crying war
and the fine partisan warfare.


Actually, Johann von Mayr (aka Meyer or Mayer) should have been named von Stella. For he was the illegitimate son of a Count of Stella and an unknown commoner. Mayr did not know his father and never knew his name. Shortly after his birth, his mother married a billiard operator, whose son he grew up to be.

At least Mayr was able to enjoy a comparatively good education. Intended for the spiritual state, he was educated by the Jesuits until he was sixteen. But the environment in his father's house had a bad influence on him, so that his further career took another direction.

In 1732, at the age of sixteen, Mayr went to Hungary as a traveling musician – his first interest in his youth – and caught the attention of the commander of the Fortress of Temesvar. He first became oboist and then joined the Infantry Regiment Lothringen (Pallavicini from 1736), where he was made corporal, and later (1737) sergeant. He married a woman of "low rank". His achievements may have been good, but he was addicted to "drink, play and lust". At times he had two ladies of dubious character with him, and also had various illegitimate children. In a fit of fever madness he attempted suicide, which he survived. This allegedly led to him at least renouncing alcohol. His participation in the Turkish War of 1736-1739 brought him not only the usual illnesses, but also several wounds.

On April 10, 1741, during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), Mayr took part in the battle of Mollwitz. The same year, after the conquest of Prague by the French, Bavarian and Saxon troops, Mayr was taken prisoner, but was able to buy his freedom from the French and entered into Bavarian – i.e. Imperial – service. Although he became a lieutenant and adjutant to FM Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff, he got into conflict with the colonel Count Saint-Germain, so that he joined the Saxon Army, with Seckendorff's recommendation. Game and love affairs apparently prevented him from further advancement until he was able to obtain a position as a first lieutenant in 1745.

At the end of 1745, after the battle of Kesselsdorf and the peace that soon followed, Mayr sought his advancement in Austrian service as adjutant to Prince Carl Joseph Batthyany in the Netherlands. That he could free himself from the siege of Bergen op Zoom in September 1747 earned him the title of cavalry captain. After the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), Mayr hung around as a gamester.

Despite Batthyany's recommendations, the prospect of a post as a colonel in the Dutch Guard was shattered, so that he returned to Dresden in 1750. However, he could not get a position in the Saxon Army either. He also could not use a patent as lieutenant-colonel in the Polish Army: he got into a dispute with the colonel and Adjutant-General Vizthum von Eckstädt. The gentlemen finally dueled with pistols at 12 paces, which Vizthum did not survive. Although Mayr was able to escape to Warsaw, he was told that it was better to seek Russian service.

With little enthusiasm Mayr set off on his journey. A message from Frederick II made him change his plans, he became a volunteer and, from 1755, he got a salary. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, Mayr was unceremoniously ennobled and became the king's adjutant.

Hier seht ihr den Maier auserkoren,
Der Oestreich Treu und Glauben hat geschworen,
Jetzt aber durch Rauben worden ist
Nicht besser als der Nickel-List.
Here you see Maier the chosen man
who had sworn allegiance to Austria
But now became by robbery
nothing better than Nickel-List*.

(*) Nickel-List (1654-1699), an obviously still
well-known robber, active in Saxony and Northern Germany


Mayr’s career as a notorious free corps leader started in November 1756, when he established the Freibataillon von Mayr in Freiberg in Saxony with 500 men.

In May 1757, reinforced by another 1,500 men (Freibataillon Kalben and 200 hussars of Hussar Regiment Szekely), Mayr could start his march from Bohemia through the Upper Palatinate, Pfalz-Sulzbach, Bamberg and Nuremberg.

Die aufgebotene Bürgerschaft

In den Stadtzwingern Rettung schafft,
Sie ziehet auf ohn Pulver und Bley
Und schreiet tapfer: "Rund vorbey!"

The citizenry called up
In the fortifications is providing rescue
marching up without powder and lead
courageously crying "patrol passed!"


Although he was unsuccessful in his efforts to persuade the affected states to become neutral, Mayr extorted considerable sums in contributions, only some of which he issued receipts for, one can guess why. His officers demanded additional personal gifts. Brandenburg-Bayreuth had been wisely spared by Mayr, so it is not surprising that he was awarded the house order “De la Sincerité et Fidelité” by the Margravine.

With the arrival of the Imperial Army and after a small skirmish near Vach (June 9), the situation became too risky for him. Mayr retreated to the north in the direction of Saxe-Coburg and Schwarzburg-Reuß, not without burning down a number of buildings outside the city-walls of the small Bamberg town of Weismain (June 16). The citizens (and some Bamberg militia) had closed the gates and fought back with shots, and according to one report the Prussians had also been wildly insulted by them. In July he was back with the Prussian army in Bohemia.

When the Prussians retreated to Saxony, Mayr with his battalion was part of the rearguard of Keith's army. When the king had to counter Hadik's move against Berlin, Mayr was left with Keith to observe the movements of the French and the Reichsarmee.

As a prelude to the Battle of Roßbach, Mayr succeeded – supposedly alone – in conquering Weißenfels and capturing 300 men of the Reichsarmee. During the battle on November 5, his battalion had to guard the Prussian camp. After Roßbach, we find Mayr conquering Leitmeritz with General Itzenplitz, destroying the magazines there.

To avoid being cut off by the onset of winter, Mayr finally retreated from Bohemia to Chemnitz in Keith's wake and took up winter-quarters at Zschopau near Chemnitz.

In the spring of 1758, Mayr went by way of Plauen, Hof and Reichenbach to Suhl. This was an interesting destination, as the enemy armies there used to monopolize the production of weapons, same as Mayr did when he had the occasion. 28 carts with weaponry fell into his hands.

In May 1758, his second incursion in Franconia took Mayr, along with Driesen, to Bamberg, by way of Reichenbach and Bayreuth. Near Bamberg, fighting broke out with a detachment of the Reichsarmee; the main body had retreated when the main force of Driesen followed Mayr's battalion and two Hussar squadrons to Bamberg. 30 houses were plundered and burnt down. Negotiations with the authorities of Bamberg again resulted in costly contributions and accommodation for the Prussian troops.

Mayr then joined Prince Heinrich at Oelsnitz/Vogtl. and on June 19 fought in a small skirmish with Luzinsky's troops near Asch.

At the end of June 1758, Mayr was given the supreme command of the Prussian troops at Marienberg and observed Luzinsky's and Uihazy's Austrian troops on the Bohemian border for six weeks. In the process, two minor engagements took place, in which Mayr was so successful that he received a horse as a gift from Prince Heinrich.

As a result, Mayr went to intercept Dombasle, who was advancing through Franconia to Saxony. He succeeded in pushing the latter into the Ore Mountains.

To prevent Daun's attempt to cross the Elbe in early September, Mayr then occupied the line between Meissen and Torgau on the Elbe with his battalion. This again resulted in occasional skirmishes.

From September to November, Mayr was in charge of the outposts at Mügeln with Prince Heinrich to fend off any attack by the Reichsarmee. Around this time, he received his promotion to major-general.

At the beginning of November 1758, we find Mayr in Dresden. There he had to occupy the suburbs (with Freibataillon Mayr, Freibataillon Monjou and the Belling Hussars??). Significantly, in the course of the siege he was ordered to provide the houses of the suburbs with combustible material in order to be able to remove them if necessary – and probably also to underline the seriousness of the Prussian defence efforts. Minor skirmishes with Daun's troops in the suburbs and entrenchments ensued. Finally (on November 10) the houses of the Pirnaische Vorstadt were set on fire. 280 buildings fell victim to the fire. The siege ended with the arrival of the king on November 16. In early December, Mayr moved into winter-quarters in Plauen.

On January 3, 1759, Mayr died at the age of not yet 43 years of typhoid fever (other sources say from a stroke). He was buried in the local cemetery church before the altar. His legacy consisted of many valuables, little cash and debts. Further assets are said to have turned up later.

Pauli gives the appearance and character of Mayr in his biography: "Our Herr General was beautifully built, had a dimple in his chin, and a well turned („gedrechselt“) foot; he had a short pinned-up nose and small eyes that only disfigured him in anger. For some years he had been very fat, which he disliked, and so he began to exercise. He smoked bad tobacco incessantly.“ He was excessive in extravagance, jealousy, lust, love of beauty and friendship. He sought to educate himself by reading, especially in the fields of history and geography. His personal coat of arms was a lion with a sword and three red roses in a white field.

With Mayr we see one of the less sympathetic protagonists of the "little war" (Kleiner Krieg), who was militarily quite efficient, but unscrupulously did not forget his own pocket despite all tactical successes. He shows that the time of a Trenck or Menzel was by no means over, even if one was now more integrated into the regular armies. His activities, especially during the two invasions into Franconia, shed light on the everyday burden of the population not only by the usual war-related special taxes, but also by the local incursions of the war into the life of the Common Man.

Mein Kasten ist viel zu enge

Für all das groß und bunt Gemenge
Der Mayrischen Frech- und Freveltaten,
Die weit übersteigen Hanns Barten
Den Räuber á la mer
Der im Leib hat keine Ehr.

My cabinet is too restricted
for all the great and colourful mass
of Mayr's cheek and nefarious acts
far surpassing Hanns Bart *
the pirate à la mer
who has no honour in his body.

(*) Jean Bart, famous French pirate, 1650-1702


References

Baader, Joseph: Die Preußen in Nürnberg und den benachbarten Gebieten in den Jahren 1757, 1758 und 1762. Bamberg 1868. (Including the rather lengthy Raritätenkasten)

Ebersberg, Julius: Vier militärische Abenteurer und Parteigänger. Johann von Mayer, österreichischer Hautboist, preussischer Oberst, + 1759. In: Österreichische militärische Zeitschrift 1866 Vol. 2 pp. 171-173 (short summary of Pauli, Leben).

Helmes, Hermann: Die fränkischen Kreistruppen im Kriegsjahre 1758 und im Frühjahrsfeldzuge 1759. Darstellungen aus der bayerischen Kriegs- und Heeresgeschichte Heft 17. München 1908.

Kilian, Benedikt: Dritter Einfall der Preußen in das Hochstift Bamberg während des siebenjährigen Krieges im Mai des Jahres 1759. In: 40. Bericht des historischen Vereins Bamberg 1877, pp. 187-301.

Pauli, Carl Friedrich: Leben grosser Helden des gegenwärtigen Krieges. Part 3, Halle 1759, pp. 145-188.

Schweitzer, Caspar: Der preußische Einfall im Bamberger Fürstbistum in den Jahren 1757-1759. In: 28. Bericht des historischen Vereins Bamberg 1864/5, pp. 1-71.

J.F.S. [i.e. Johann Friedrich Seyfarth]: Geschichte des seit 1756 in Deutschland und dessen angränzenden Ländern geführten Krieges... Frankfurt and Leipzig 1758 ff. Vol. I, pp. 44 f.

Acknowledgements

Klaus Roider for the initial version of this article