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The End of the Electorate of Hanover and the Formation of the King’s German Legion 1803
Legion ordered to the North of Germany
The foundation of the new corps having been thus laid, its superstructure rose rapidly to completion; and notwithstanding the difficulties which a foreign country, foreign commanders, and a foreign language presented to its organization, several squadrons, battalions, and batteries were in a short time ready to take the field.
In the month of February two additional troops were added to the two cavalry regiments, which before the end of the year numbered each four hundred and fifty horses. Quartered at Weymouth and Dorchester, under the command of major-general von Linsingen, this brigade became an object of his majesty’s notice, and was many times honoured with the royal inspection during the sojourn of the King at his usual summer residence. The heavy regiment, in particular, was a marked favourite with his majesty, who not unfrequently appeared in the uniform of that corps.
The formation of the infantry regiments was naturally much sooner effected than that of the cavalry. In April, a second line battalion had been formed; in May, the foundation of a third, and a few months afterwards, that of a fourth battalion was commenced; both of these regiments were completed before the end of the succeeding January, when, also, the frame-work of a fifth battalion was at hand.
The formation of the artillery, although necessarily attended with much greater difficulty than either of the other arms, was proportionately successful. In July, a second foot battery had been completed; the formation of a third foot and of a second horse battery was immediately commenced, and both were completed in the course of the following spring.
The four battalions of infantry which had been already completed, were formed into a light and line brigade, the former under colonel von Alten, the line brigade under colonel von Langwerth; and these regiments, after having been a short time encamped in the new forest, were, together with the first foot battery of artillery, removed to Bexhill, on the coast of Sussex, at which place it was intended to establish the general infantry depot of the Legion.
The barracks here did not, however, afford room sufficient for the numbers that now required accommodation, and earthen huts were ordered to be built for that purpose. These were quickly thrown up by the troops, who occupied their straw-roofed tenements before the end of the year.
In January, 1805, the King’s German Legion consisted of the following corps:-
MAJOR-GENERAL VON LINSINGEN
1st dragoons … colonel von Bock
1st hussars … colonel Victor von Alten
LIGHT INFANTRY BRIGADE
1st light battalion … col. Charles von Alten, brigadier
2nd light battalion … lieutenant-colonel Halkett
FIRST LINE BRIGADE
1st line battalion … colonel von Ompteda
2nd line battalion … colonel von Barsse, brigadier
SECOND LINE BRIGADE
3rd line battalion … colonel von Hinuber
4th line battalion … colonel von Langwerth, brigadier
COLONEL COMMANDANT – COLONEL VON DER DECKEN
(ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO THE KING’S GERMAN LEGION)
MAJOR, FREDERICK VON LINSINGEN
1st horse battery … captain G.J. Hartmann
2nd horse battery … captain Rottiger
1st foot battery … captain Bruckmann
2nd foot battery … captain Kuhlmann
3rd foot battery … captain Heise
Captains Berensbach, Prott, Meinecke
Lieutenants Hassebroik, Appuhn, Schweitzer
The cavalry brigade and captain Hartmann’s battery of horse artillery formed part of a corps of eight thousand men, which was encamped near Weymouth during the summer, under the command of his royal highness the duke of Cumberland.
Although for the first time called upon to manoeuvre in conjunction with English regiments, to whose words of command they had not been yet habituated, the Hanoverians proved not less efficient than their British comrades. The light cavalry movements in particular met with the marked approbation of the inspecting generals, as did the correct and steady firing of the artillery. (The several regiments of the Legion were at first permitted to follow the Hanoverian system of exercise and manoeuvre, and only in mounting guard and all movements relating to parade, were required to conform to the British regulations, which they did not entirely adopt until 1808. The artillery were put under the board of ordnance from the 1st August, 1806.)
The camp was frequently visited by the King, the Prince of Wales, and other members of the Royal Family. His Majesty would often tarry near the German regiments; he also occasionally attended their parades for divine service and by these and similar marks of condescension made his Hanoverian subjects deeply sensible of the royal favour.
The North of Germany
The continental coalition against French ascendancy, which the active policy of Mr. Pitt this year effected, opened a prospect to the new-raised corps, which spread universal joy throughout its ranks. Austria and Prussia had joined in a league with England against France; the British government were to send an army to the north of Germany to aid the operations of the allies, and the completed regiments of the Legion were to form part of that army! No intelligence could have been more welcomed by the Hanoverians. The liberation of their country – the return to their homes – the restoration of their sovereign – were at once vividly pictured as the results of the expedition, and could not fail to present a brave, patriotic, and warm-hearted soldiery, with the most brilliant prospects of the approaching campaign.
But quickly and completely were these expectations destroyed – Mack surrendered at Ulm, on the 17th of October; Buonaparte gained the battle of Austerlitz on the 2d of December; the treaties of Presburg and Vienna were soon after signed, the coalition was thus lamed, and Prussian troops took possession of Hanover.
Little, however, was so rapid and fatal a termination to the triple league anticipated, when Lord Cathcart’s expedition embarked for the Elbe. This army, about eighteen thousand strong, six thousand of which consisted of the King’s German Legion, sailed from Ramsgate in the month of November, under the command of general Don, and a most unpropitious commencement to their active career the Legion experienced; for scarce had the transports in which they were shipped reached the open sea, when they encountered a gale of wind which dispersed the whole corps. The hussars were driven to the coast of Holland; half the heavy cavalry regiment was forced back to England, one of their transports narrowly escaping capture under the batteries of Calais, from which it was only saved by a sudden shift of wind; and three companies of the fourth line battalion were cast ashore on the island of Wangeroge in Oldenburg. No lives, however, were lost, and in the beginning of December the whole corps, with the exception of that part of the heavy cavalry regiment which was driven back, and did not return, landed in the Hanoverian territory.
Lord Cathcart arrived on the 25th, and took the command of the army, establishing his head-quarters at Bremen. Those of general Don, under whom were the Legion, were fixed at Verden.
In order to oppose the movements of the Austrio-Russian army, the French had evacuated the whole Hanoverian territory, with the exception of the fortress of Hameln, where a strong garrison still remained. The Russians had invested the place, and the first line brigade, first foot battery, and one engineer officer of the Legion, were sent to co-operate with the Russian corps.
But the allies were too late in the field. Before the British troops left England general Mack had capitulated; before they reached the Elbe, Napoleon was at Vienna; and before Lord Cathcart had established his head-quarters at Bremen, the “battle of the three emperors” had decided the fate of Austria. All hostile movements in the north of Germany were consequently suspended, and the British-Hanoverian army was ordered to return to England.
This intelligence produced general disappointment among the troops. To the Legion, as may be well supposed, the tidings were peculiarly unwelcome, and the sudden and complete annihilation to all their hopes caused by the order for embarkation, joined to the wily machinations of some of their own evil disposed countrymen, had so powerful an effect upon the private soldiers, that many of them were induced to forsake their standard and return to their homes.
Landing in Germany under the full conviction that an opportunity would be given them of contending for the restoration of Hanover on her own soil, the sudden destruction of this prospect caused a proportionate degree of mortification and disappointment. A glance at their country – a hasty interview with their friends, and then the tame abandonment of both to Prussian dominion, little realized the sanguine expectations with which they had embarked. The inhabitants of Bremen, also, who in consequence of the blockade of the Weser were ill-disposed towards England, encouraged the discontented feeling which this disappointment produced, by representing, in the most forbidding colours, the fate which was likely to await them on their return. That they were destined for colonial service, and would never be permitted to return to their own country, was strongly dwelt upon, and the “barbarians” and “cannibals” of the East and West Indies would, it was affirmed, be the inhabitants of their future quarters.
Giving credence to these and similar reports, the men who had any interest in Hanover felt naturally disinclined to re-embark, and many returned to their homes. The desertions were principally amongst the cavalry, several of whom, having a little property in the country, were more sensible to the impression that was sought to be made upon them, and left their regiments in bodies of tens, twenties, and upwards, taking with them their horses and appointments. Many, however, soon repented of their misconduct, and availed themselves of the general pardon which was soon after issued by Lord Cathcart. (A free pardon was offered by Lord Cathcart to all deserters who should report themselves to the commander of the English fleet at Bremerlehe before the 10th of March, which pardon was afterwards extended by his majesty to the end of the year.)
Notwithstanding these desertions, the Legion was considerably augmented during its short stay on the continent. Colonel von der Decken, who held the chief control over the recruiting department, had gone to Hanover in November, with the local rank of brigadier-general, for the purpose of superintending the proposed augmentation of the Legion to eighteen thousand men. In furtherance of this object, he established recruiting depots at Stade and Hanover, to which places volunteers soon poured in, and the following increase to the corps, which was effected before the end of February, proved the success with which the arrangements of the general, and the exertions of the officers under his command, had been attended.
A second regiment of heavy dragoons, and a third regiment of hussars, each about six hundred and fifty strong, were formed. The second hussars, whose formation had been commenced in England the preceding June, was completed to the same strength, and the quick re-embarkation of the army alone prevented the formation of a fourth regiment of cavalry.
Each of the infantry battalions which had been already raised were augmented to a thousand men; a fifth, sixth, and seventh, line battalion were raised; three hundred men, as a foundation for an eighth battalion, were also enlisted, and a fourth battery was added to the corps of artillery.
By the middle of February the whole had embarked, and in a few days the fleet arrived at Portsmouth. Here the cavalry, the three last raised regiments of infantry, and the artillery were landed, while the light-battalions and the two first line brigades were ordered to proceed to Ireland.
The first heavy and first light regiments of cavalry were also destined for the same country, and embarked at Liverpool for Dublin in the month of April; the head-quarters of the former were
The second dragoons marched to Northampton, where, under the command of colonel von Veltheim, the regiment was completed. The men that had been enlisted for the second hussars joined that regiment at Canterbury, where, under the command of colonel Victor von Alten, its head-quarters were established. The third hussars were quartered at Guildford under colonel von Reden.
The two last raised regiments of cavalry had been partially mounted in Hanover, but want of transport room made it necessary that many of the horses should be disposed of previous to embarkation, and the few that were brought to England were there replaced by English horses, with which both the cavalry and artillery of the Legion were all ultimately provided.
The fifth and sixth regiments of infantry were formed into the third line brigade under colonel von Drieberg, and marched to Winchester, where they were joined in May by the seventh and eighth battalions, now formed into the fourth line brigade under major general von Drechsel.
The artillery were stationed at Porchester barracks, under the command of major Rottiger.
The advantages of the royal military academy at Woolwich not being open to the officers of this corps, an establishment for professional instruction, at the private expense of the regiment, was set on foot by its commanding officer, major Rottiger, whose exertions proved of material service to the Legion at large; for not only did this establishment furnish the artillery with efficient officers and non-commissioned officers, but many officers of the other regiments of the Legion received from it their first lessons in theoretical instruction.
It has been mentioned that the two light battalions and the first and second line brigades were ordered to proceed to Ireland. On the 6th of May these regiments sailed for Cork, but scarce had they lost sight of the English coast when a violent gale of wind sprung up and drove them into the Atlantic. The gale lasted nearly three days, and finally obliged the transports to put in to Bantry Bay, on the south-west coast of Ireland, where in the Harbour of Beerhaven they anchored on the 13th.
So long a voyage not having been anticipated, their stock of provisions proved here deficient, and recourse was had to the inhabitants of the coast for fresh supplies. To their dismay the Germans found that the peasantry of these parts, providently reserving any cattle which they might possess, as a means of paying the rent of their tenements, subsisted almost entirely upon fish and potatoes, and were consequently little qualified to provide the strangers with more substantial nourishment. From this state of abstinence the troops were, however, relieved on the 20th, when, the easterly wind subsiding, they sailed for Cork, and anchored in Coveharbour on the following day.
The two light battalions went to Bandon, the first regiment of the line to Kinsale, the second to Middleton, and the remaining brigade was quartered at Clonooney-barracks (A temporary barrack capable of containing two thousand men, which was then situated about seven miles from Birr (Parson’s Town) and one-and-a-half miles from Banagher; it has since been demolished.) in the Queen’s County.
After the Prussians had obtained possession of Hanover, they threw so many impediments in the way of General Decken’s arrangements for continuing the recruiting, that the depots at Hanover and Stade were given up, and that officer returned to England; he was, however, enabled to send over five hundred additional men previous to his departure from Germany.
The first line brigade had been but a few weeks in its new quarters, when it was ordered to embark for Gibraltar, at which fortress the first and second line regiments landed at the end of June.
This change brought the third line brigade to Ireland, where it relieved the two light battalions; of these, the first regiment went to Tullamore in the King’s County, the other to Kilbeggan in the neighbouring county of Westmeath.
The greater part of the Legion had now been removed to Ireland, and found no reason to be dissatisfied with the change. To both officers and men Ireland presented advantages which the sister island did not afford them. The hospitality of the inhabitants; the cheapness of provisions; the readiness with which a stranger, and particularly a military man, was admitted into the family circles of the gentry – formed an agreeable contrast to the parallel circumstances in England. There, indeed, the country towns were so crowded with troops, that general attention to the military could scarcely be expected from the residents; and he who was not fortunate enough to be provided with letters of introduction, had little chance of being invited to partake of their hospitality. In Ireland, on the other hand, the garrisons were smaller, and the gentry, ever more ready to form acquaintances than the English, make those advances (This quality is well expressed by the German word – zuvorkommend (literally, coming first), for which I know of no synonyme in our language.) which are so agreeable to a stranger, and could not but prove highly gratifying to the officers of a foreign corps.
The Hanoverians became acquainted with Irish hospitality to its fullest extent; the houses of the more wealthy residents were open to them; at the grand entertainment or more humble family party, they were equally welcomed; the ladies taught them English, and the gentlemen bore with their German; festivities denoted their presence, and lamentations their departure.
That this friendly intercourse should have led to more near alliances may well be imagined, and the subsequent change of condition of several officers of the corps proved that the fair daughters of Erin were not insensible to the merits of their foreign guests.
An Unfortunate Event
With more complete satisfaction could we dwell upon the sojourn of the German Legion in Ireland, did not an unfortunate event, which about this time occurred, mingle some painful recollections with this period of their history.
The light companies of some Irish militia regiments had been formed into a brigade and stationed at the town of Birr in the King’s County. In the month of July this brigade was broken up, and the several companies of which it was composed were ordered to join their respective regiments. Agreeably to this order, four companies, being those of the Derry, Monaghan, Limerick, and Sligo regiments, marched into Tullamore, where, as has been stated, the first light battalion and one squadron of the first dragoons of the Legion were quartered. On their entrance into the town, the militia officers were met by a deputation from those of the Legion, who, wishing to return a similar civility which had been paid to one of their battalions by the Irish officers at Birr, begged that they might be favoured with their company at dinner. The invitation was declined on the plea of fatigue, and the militia proceeded to take up their quarters in Tullamore for the night.
About seven o’clock in the evening a man belonging to the German light battalion, who was peaceably crossing the bridge that formed one end of the main street of the town, was knocked down by one of the militia, who was immediately joined by several of his comrades. Three other Germans, who were accidentally passing, and came up to see what was going forward, met with a similar fate.
Major-general von Linsingen, who, in the absence of general Dunne, commanded the district, happening to be at the moment about to leave the officers’ dinner-room in the adjoining hotel, was attracted by the noise which this outrage occasioned, and seeing from the inn window that two or three of the German light infantry were surrounded by a crowd of militia soldiers, hurried to the spot, and in the best English he could command, entreated them to desist. For the moment his interference was effective; but two of the Germans had been already wounded with bayonets and stones, and a determination to repeat the assault appeared evident on the part of the militia. The major-general, therefore, sending to the barracks for a patrole, repaired to his quarters, and made the officer commanding the militia acquainted with what had occurred. This officer waited upon general Linsingen, who ordered him forthwith to parade his men for roll-call, and sent similar instructions for the first light battalion of the Legion to colonel von Alten.
The patrol from the barracks now came up and seized one of the militia, who appeared to be a ringleader in the business. About twenty of his comrades then collected for the apparent purpose of rescuing him, and were about to charge the Germans with fixed bayonets, when captain von During of the first light battalion, who was parading his company in a square of the main street, moved it down upon the charging party, which had been momentarily stopped by the expostulation of brigade major von Kronenfeldt, and caused them to retreat behind the bridge. Here they faced about, and fired upon the Germans, seven of whom were wounded. Upon this, captain Diking pressed forward and drove them across the bridge and into the lanes beyond it; meantime colonel von Alten’s battalion had been formed up in the main street.
The militia had now nearly all retired from this part of the town; but taking shelter in the houses, and at the corners of the streets, they still continued to fire upon the Germans, and lieutenant baron Marschalk was dangerously wounded by a musketball in the chest.
On the militia first beginning to fire, general Linsingen had ordered out a party of the first dragoons, which now arriving, he placed himself at their head, and charged the only body that still held out. This was the party which captain During had driven across the bridge, and which still kept a bold front in the lower part of the town. The German dragoons felt naturally irritated at the unprovoked treatment which their comrades had received, and shewed little mercy towards the aggressors. These, however, received them with a heavy fire; but not being able to withstand the violent reprisal of the cavalry, soon after dispersed, and here the affray, which lasted about half an hour, terminated.
Three officers, (lieutenants Peters, Alten, and Marschalk,) twenty-two men, and five horses of the Legion were wounded in this unfortunate disturbance; one of the wounded men afterwards died, and baron Marschalk, who had been shot through the lungs, was for a length of time not expected to recover.
Of the militia nine only were wounded, one of whom afterwards died, which smaller number of casualties, in proportion to that of the Legion, was to be attributed to the latter being unprovided with ammunition, while the militia were all loaded with ball.
These serious results caused a long and minute investigation into the cause of the affray to be made by the government. A court of inquiry was convened at Tullamore, the report of which not being deemed satisfactory, was followed by a second investigation, under the immediate superintendence of general Floyd, the commander of the forces in Ireland; but both failed in ascertaining the exact cause of the provocation; (Various reasons have been given for the hostile feeling of the militia towards the Germans; revenge for a punishment, which had, a short time before, been inflicted upon one of their body for stealing a pipe from one of the German light infantry; a belief that the arrival of the latter in Ireland was the cause of the militia light brigade having been broken up; the faithlessness of some former “sweethearts” of the Irishmen in Tullamore, on the arrival of the Legion in that town, have been severally stated as the cause of aggression, and, taken collectively, will probably account for the affray.) it was, however, fully proved that to the militia alone the fatal consequences which have been recorded were justly attributable.
The court of inquiry pronounced the conduct of two of the Irish officers reprehensible, and the one most censured was brought to a court martial on the principal charge of having been present at, and not using his best exertions to suppress, the disturbance. The charges were, however, not substantiated, and the officer was acquitted; but eight of the men, fifteen of whom were also tried, were sentenced to severe punishment as ringleaders in the affray.
Commendations for the Hanoverians
The conduct of the Hanoverians under the peculiarly trying circumstances, in which they were placed during the whole of this affair, was a theme of general commendation, and the official reports were in the highest degree favourable to them. General Linsingen, however, felt doubtful as to the impression which might have been made upon the mind of the King respecting the German troops, and addressed a letter to lieutenant-colonel Taylor, his majesty’s private secretary, on the subject. From his reply, which completely relieved the general’s mind, by informing him of the nature of the official reports, we have been permitted to make the following extract: –
“Windsor, August 4th, 1806.
“MY DEAR GENERAL,
“I had the pleasure of receiving, yesterday, your obliging letter of the 28th of July, and I lose no time in acknowledging it, as I am anxious to release your mind from any uneasiness in regard to the impression which may have been made here by the unfortunate occurrence at Tullamore. The King had received lieutenant-general Floyd’s and the solicitor general’s first report; and their further reports, with the proceedings of the court of inquiry, have been laid before his majesty; and I am happy to assure you that every document speaks in the most favourable terms of the conduct of the Hanoverian officers and men in the business, and throws the whole blame on the militia light companies. The reports endeavour to do justice to your personal exertions, and to the activity and steadiness of the cavalry, and the Lord lieutenant corroborates the testimony of general Floyd and the solicitor-general, as to the general excellent conduct of colonel Alien’s battalion, including all the Hanoverians, and as to the popularity which they have so justly acquired among the inhabitants. I sincerely regret that, so early, your residence in Ireland should have been marked by a circumstance so unpleasant to a brave old soldier; but, however distressing, I can assure you that it has proved most honourable to yourself, and all those of the German Legion who were concerned in it.”
“I communicated to the King the contents of your letter, and received his majesty’s commands to assure you, that all that has come to his knowledge is highly to the credit of yourself and the Hanoverian officers and men, and tends to confirm him in the high opinion which he has ever had of the discipline and good conduct of the corps, which, his majesty is persuaded, will be conspicuous upon every occasion as upon this.
“The two light battalions have probably received their order to prepare for embarkation for Sicily, and I must only observe that this removal was decided upon before any information had been received of the affray at Tullamore. They are going upon what will, I think, prove a very interesting and very active service.”
The order for embarkation alluded to by colonel Taylor reached the light brigade in the beginning of August, when the first battalion marched to Middleton, and the second battalion to Mallow; but on arriving at these towns, it was made known to them that their departure from Ireland was, for the present, deferred, and they were soon after removed to their old quarters at Bandon, the third line brigade going to the King’s County. In the following spring, however, these battalions were again in march; for the whole of the infantry, two regiments of cavalry, and four batteries of artillery of the Legion, were, in the month of April, ordered to hold themselves in readiness to embark for the continent.