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Ompteda of the King’s German Legion

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Ompteda of the King’s German Legion
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Christian von Ompteda
Date Published: 2008/04
Page Count: 300
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-417-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-418-8

A date with destiny on the bloody fields of Waterloo

At the time of the Revolutionary Wars the position of Hanover was a precarious one. It was a small German state which shared—as head of state—the King of England. This made for a close connection with the British Empire but also for a vulnerable one with the major European powers. Exposed to France and never completely confident of the support of Russia or Prussia in time of need, it's fighting men nevertheless actively joined the cause to oppose French aggression wherever it arose. The leading Hanoverian families naturally provided the officer corps and men such as Alten and the subject of this book—Christian Ompteda—became renowned military figures in the battles of the Napoleonic Wars. We join Ompteda fighting with Hanoverian forces in the campaigns in the Low Countries before the occupation of his Fatherland in 1805 forced him and many of his countrymen into exile in England, where they formed one of the most respected elements of the British Army—The Kings German Legion. This highly respected unit served at Copenhagen, Walcheren, Sicily, in Spain and finally during the Waterloo campaign. This is the story of a talented, troubled and highly courageous officer driven by duty, loyalty and revenge to defeat the French invaders even at the expense of his own life.

The beaten French army took to flight, after one of the completest defeats they had yet suffered, towards the fortress of Pamplona, in confusion, One corps, under General Foy, had not taken part in the battle, but nevertheless also retreated in the direction of Tolosa. Graham got orders on June 23rd to intercept it. His vanguard was formed by the Light Battalions of the Legion under Colonel Halkett. The enemy, about 5,000 strong, had taken up a position behind a wall on the other side of a stream near the small town of Villafranca. The 1st Light Battalion attacked the enemy forthwith, supported by Portuguese troops, and took the bridge, while the 2nd crossed the stream higher up. But the French, disinclined to endanger their safety by a stand-up fight, retired through Villafranca, covered by the fire of their skirmishers. Major Prince Reuss (64, Köstritz) of the 2nd Battalion was wounded by a bullet in the left arm on this occasion, while Christian Ompteda had his horse shot under him.<BR>
Supported by cavalry, a detachment of the enemy held out for a short time in a toll-house. When they ultimately withdrew it was to an accompaniment of loud ironical cheers. When the Germans rushed into the house they found an unhappy Spaniard hung up with his own sash to the roof. The corpse was still warm. The French fled in the greatest haste through Villafranca, leaving their haversacks, knapsacks, and even portions of their clothing which might impede their flight, behind them. They were not pursued.<BR>
This was only a preliminary combat to the attack on the little fortified town of Tolosa, which barred the road to San Sebastian and the passage of the Bidassoa. The attack on Tolosa was so arranged that a Spanish detachment was to go round the town and attack from a superior height, which was to be the signal for a general advance. Beamish reports as follows:<BR><BR>

The advanced guard of the Legion under Colonel Ompteda therefore halted about six hundred paces from Tolosa, under protection of a curve in the road, to give the Spaniards time to carry out their orders. But as the latter did not proceed with that rapidity which Sir Thomas Graham thought necessary, the General turned to Colonel Ompteda, after the advanced guard had been waiting nearly a quarter of an hour, with the words: ‘You see, Colonel, the Spaniards are not going to the front as they should. Your battalion must go instead. Go on!’