Ferdinand of Brunswick, Minden & the Seven Year’s War by Lees Knowles, with An Account of the Battle of Vellinghausen & A Short Historical Account of The Battle of Minden by Charles Townshend & James Grant
A profile of an outstanding military commander of the Seven Years War
The principal subject of this book, Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, is a particularly fascinating character for students of military history on several counts. Not least among these is that the highly regarded military historian Sir John Fortescue, judged that Ferdinand was ‘the finest commander of British troops in the field between the periods of Marlborough and Wellington.’ These notable commanders epitomise the highest of military achievements, and it is rare for another commander to be well enough regarded to be compared to them. It is noteworthy, therefore, that unlike these other great soldiers so little has been written about Ferdinand. Though a commander of British troops Ferdinand was not an Englishman but, perhaps tellingly in terms of his comparative neglect by British historians, a Prussian. Nevertheless, the battles he fought brought honours—which abide to this day—to the colours of British regiments under his command. This special Leonaur book includes the writings of several authors, and contains biographical details of Ferdinand, an interesting overview of his battles and campaigns, a summary of the British regiments he commanded and a fascinating and insightful personal account by one of his senior officers. The text of our edition further benefits from the inclusion of several campaign and battlefield maps, plus illustrations, which were not present in any original publication of the texts.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
The instructions of Ferdinand were clear and concise. They had been issued the previous day. The cavalry had been ordered to be saddled at one o’clock in the morning. At three o’clock, Ferdinand called the whole army to arms, and ordered them to march to their appointed positions. The advance in eight columns was to be made by five o’clock, but it was seven o’clock before they were in position. All were then ranked in order of battle, except the cavalry of the right, where there was complete confusion. The general in command, Lord George Sackville, although he had received precise instructions, could not be found. He should have been at the village of Hahlen, on which the allied right was to rest, to prevent the French from occupying it. The piquets from Hartum were sent to Hahlen, only to find the French in position.
Ferdinand was everywhere. He was the imposing figure of the battle. Sometimes with only a solitary aide-de-camp, and at other times with only a groom, he galloped from one important point to another. His anxieties were great. The stupidity of one general, and the disloyalty and disobedience of another, had imperilled his plan of action and the safety of his army. Wangenheim at Todtenhausen, and the piquets at Hille, were engaged simultaneously. The French had six guns on the causeway of Eickhorst which led through the morass, which is now reclaimed and cultivated, to Hille. Ferdinand had posted 500 men and two guns to seal this point, and although he felt that it was only a demonstration, he ordered General Gilfoe from Lübbecke to attack Eickhorst. Some time was lost by the Prince of Anhalt in driving the French out of Hahlen, and this caused a delay in the deployment of General von Spoerken’s division. This deployment was covered by the guns of Captain Foy’s battery of British artillery, which was joined soon by Captain Macbean’s battery, and a Hanoverian brigade of heavy guns.
The French line of battle was semi-circular, conforming to the contour of the walls of Minden. The division of Broglie was on the right, near the Weser. The infantry was in the first line, and the cavalry in the second line, with two batteries in advance of the whole. On the left was half of the infantry and the main army, with thirty-four guns. In the centre of the heath were fifty-five squadrons of cavalry, and on the left of the cavalry was the remainder of the Infantry, with thirty guns.
The allied army was ready for action at seven o’clock. Its right was at the enclosures between the villages of Hartum and Hahlen, and its left was touching Stemmer. On the right was the infantry of General von Spoerken’s division, and on the right of this division were the two British infantry brigades. When the British infantry formed, there was a fir-wood upon their right, in front of the 12th Regiment, through which some platoons of that regiment, and the 20th Regiment, which covered it in the second line, passed. This wood has now disappeared, and the land is under cultivation. The brigade of Brigadier-General Waldegrave formed the first line: from right to left, the regiments were the 12th, the 37th, and the 23rd. The brigade of Brigadier-General Kingsley formed the second line: from right to left, the regiments were the 20th, the 51st, and the 25th, and, beyond, were the Hanoverian battalions of Hardenberg, and two battalions of Hanoverian Guards. The brigade of Kingsley overlapped the leading brigade on both flanks.
Ferdinand who had watched the deployment sent an order that when the proper time had arrived, they were to advance with “drums beating”. Through some mistake in the conveying of the order, or through some misunderstanding of it, Waldegrave’s brigade did not wait a moment, but at once marched off briskly, “drums beating”. Aides-de-camp galloped to stop them. The brigade halted behind the fir-wood, where they remained for a few minutes while the second brigade was deploying. Before, however, the deployment was completed, the drums beat again a “rally”, and off they went, followed by the second line, which had lost some distance in the deployment. In the first 150 yards, they were rent by a cross-fire from 60 guns: but, this did not stop, or even retard, them. They marched off, not to receive, but to attack cavalry. They suffered heavily, but they did not waver, and they maintained a magnificent bearing. And now, the French cavalry were set in motion, and eleven squadrons poured down upon them. They stood firm until the horsemen were within ten yards’ distance, and then they poured in such a deadly volley, that the ground was covered with men and horses, and the remainder of the cavalry were scattered by the continued advances of the British and the Hanoverian infantry.
It was at this moment that Prince Ferdinand, seeing the effect of the infantry-fire, sent an order to Lord George Sackville to bring up the cavalry of the right, and to complete the destruction of the French. Sackville at first disputed the order, and then moved forward for a short distance, and halted. A second order was sent. The cavalry remained stationary. The Saxon infantry in four brigades with thirty-two guns came forward from the left of the French cavalry, to enfilade the British brigades. Ferdinand seeing this, and unable to move Sackville with his cavalry, ordered Phillips’s brigade of heavy guns to advance and ward off the attack. Meanwhile, the French cavalry had rallied, and their second line charged the allies.
Under this three-fold attack of cavalry, artillery, and infantry, the British and Hanoverian troops wavered momentarily, but, closing their ranks, they gave the second line of cavalry a volley which sent them off the field in confusion. Then they attacked the Saxon infantry, shattering and hurling them back. To save the British regiments from annihilation, Ferdinand sent once more an aide-de-camp to Sackville, telling him to bring up the “British cavalry”, imagining that there might be some latent thought of jealousy of the foreign cavalry in the mind of this officer. The message was delivered: but, not a squadron moved. Ferdinand reinforced the brigades, when a third attack on the nine battalions was made by a fresh body of French cavalry, which broke through the first line, and then, destroyed by the second, was sent flying to the rear.