1757 - Franco-Imperial invasion of Saxony

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1757 - Franco-Imperial invasion of Saxony

The campaign lasted from August to November 1757


Raising of the Reichsarmee

On January 29 1757, it was decided that the Holy Roman Empire would supply triple contingents.

On March 17, the Imperial Diet put Frederick II of Prussia to the ban of the Empire and ordered the Reichsarmee (Reich Execution Army) to march against him.

In May-June, there was busy preparation and enlistment all over the Empire.

On June 15, the Prince de Soubise quitted the French main army operating in Westphalia for Versailles to receive his new instructions.

In the last days of June, the Reichsarmee assembled at Fürth near Nuremberg, encamping between Fürth and Farrnbach (present-day Burgfarrnbach), on the east side of the Regnitz River. It was placed under the command of the Duke of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.

A Second French Army enters Germany

Meanwhile, the elements of a second French army, under the Prince de Soubise, departed from Fort Saint-Louis and Strasbourg in Alsace and from Ohmen (unidentified location) and Oppenheim in Rhine-Hesse.

By July 3, Soubise's Army (31 bns, 22 sqns, 1 artillery bn, 600 artillery horses, 40 pieces, Boisgnerelle Miner coy and Dugué Worker coy for a total effective strength of approximately 24,000 men) was supposed to be assembled at Strasbourg. It crossed the Rhine in Frankfurt country all through July. It consisted of:

Saint-Germain was sent forward to Fürth to discuss with Hildburghausen on the junction and the services of both armies.

On July 27, Soubise was instructed to take possession of the County of Hanau and to sojourn in this county until its march to Thuringia.

Soubise marched north-eastward from Strasbourg and Fort Louis to Hanau, passing by Rastatt, Grünwinkel, Bruchsal, Wiesloch, Heidelberg, Weinheim, Heppenheim, Zwingenberg, Eberstadt, Dieburg and Aschaffenburg; a march of about 250 km. His main body was preceded by a vanguard (8 bns, 1 cavalry rgt, 2 pieces) under Nicolaï.

On July 28, Nicolaï reached Mainz.

On July 31, the corps destined to take possession of Hanau arrived in front of the town. Nicolaï advanced on the town at the head of Piémont Infanterie to summon it to surrender. The town having no garrison quickly surrendered.

At the end of July, the Reichsarmee asking for a reinforcement of light troops, Colonel G. Loudon was appointed commander of a corps of 4,000 Austrian light troops (from Karlstädter-Lykaner Grenzer, Karlstädter-Oguliner Grenzer, Karlstädter-Ottochaner Grenzer and Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 2, 2 grenadier coys and 2 hussar rgts (Szechényi Hussars and Splényi Hussars). The corps concentrated at Altenberg and was despatched towards Saxony.

At the beginning of August, Loudon was informed by a deserter that a Prussian corps under General Itzenplitz was encamped at Gottleuba (present-day Gottleuba-Berggießhübel). Loudon advanced with his small corps to Hellendorf (present-day part of Gottleuba-Berggießhübel).

On August 2, Soubise arrived at Hanau while his army marched towards Erfurt. Finally the requests of the Court of Vienna were so pressing that Versailles decided to send troops immediately forwards to Erfurt as they were arriving at Hanau. All these bodies marched through the Kinzig Valley to Fulda by Langenselbold, Gelnhausen, Salmünster, Schlüchtern and Neuhof.

On August 8, the Bishop of Bamberg came at Fürth to take survey of the Reichsarmee. Early on the morning of the same day, Loudon surprised the Prussians defending a redoubt at Gottleuba. The Erbprinz von Hessen-Darmstadt Infantry, which defended the entrenchments was driven back, losing 40 killed and 133 wounded while 100 men deserted. Furthermore, Loudon captured 4 guns. For his part, Loudon lost 21 men killed and 52 wounded. General Itzenplitz soon received the support of 3 grenadier bns despatched from Gießhübel (Berggießhübel) and Loudon retired. He was forced to abandon 3 of the captured guns for lack of horses.

By August 11, the Reichsarmee, under the Prince of Hildburghausen, was preparing to get on march westward. No part of this army was well drilled. In fact, most of it was not drilled at all. In theory, this army should have far exceeded 50,000 men but, on the field, it barely reached the 25,000 mark. Austria additionally supplied 8,000 good troops, among them two regiments of cuirassiers (Bretlach and Trauttmansdorff).

On August 15, Soubise personally left Hanau for Fulda.

On August 20, Soubise quitted Fulda, leaving M. de Mailly behind to occupy the town. He then joined Nicolaï and Piémont Infanterie at Eisenach.

To march from Eisenach to Erfurt, Soubise's Army passed by Gotha which was still garrisoned by 1 bn and a few horse belonging to the Duke of Sachsen-Gotha whose allegiance was doubtful. Soubise required that the militia would be disarmed, regular troops disbanded and all weapons taken.

On August 23, the Reichsarmee marched from Fürth near Nuremberg towards Erfurt by Bamberg, Coburg and Meiningen.

On August 24, Loudon sent Major Nostrowitzky with some hussars towards Meissen to destroy Prussian magazines.

On August 25, Soubise left Gotha to march towards Erfurt. Upon their arrival at Erfurt, 2 bns of Piémont Infanterie entered into the town where they joined Blau Würzburg Infantry and 1 bn of the Austrian Gaisruck Infantry. The same day, Empress Maria Theresia issued a decree to promote Loudon to General-Feldwachtmeister (major-general). Unfortunately the courier carrying this document was later intercepted by a Prussian patrol. Frederick II sent a trumpeter to transmit the document to Loudon with his personal congratulations (!).

Between August 23 and September 6, these French units joined the Reichsarmee at Erfurt and Eisenach.

On August 26 (or 28), Prince George of Hessen-Darmstadt (9 bns and 1 dragoon rgt) made a junction with Hildburghausen at Arnstadt.

Once combined, the Franco-Imperial army numbered some 50,000 men. In French circles Soubise's Army was known as L'armée de la Dauphine or for shortness La Dauphine.

Frederick II has to rush to Saxony from Silesia

On August 25, Frederick II marched from Bernstadt auf dem Eigen in the Görlitz Country with a sizable force (15 bns, 23 sqns), leaving the Duke of Braunschweig-Bevern and Winterfeldt to command the holding force in Silesia.

Monday August 29, Frederick arrived in Dresden where he incorporated Moritz's force into his own. Frederick was now at the head of a force of about 23,000 men (16,800 foot, 5,160 horse, 400 artillerymen). More precisely, this force consisted of 28 bns and 43 sqns, all seriously depleted from the previous battles at Prague and Kolin as well as by desertion. On average, each infantry battalion counted about 600 men while each cavalry squadron averaged some 120 men. The following units formed up this army:

Frederick was now ready to head towards Thuringia and offer battle to the Franco-Imperial Army.

On Tuesday August 30, Loudon planned to effect a junction with a French hussars detachment led by Colonel Lancelot Comte Turpin de Crissé near Weissenberg. However, Loudon was informed that Frederick II intended to cross the Elbe River and decided to return to Freiberg. Turpin asked once more to Loudon to join him so Loudon and General Szechényi at the head of the hussars set off from Freiberg. On the evening of the same day, Frederick marched through Dresden with the advance guard (7 bns, 15 sqns) which included his Garde du Corps cuirassiers, his Garde infantry, the Gens d'Armes and other battalions, among which Frei-Infanterie von Mayr. That evening, he took quarter in Klein Hamberg (unidentified location).

On August 31, Keith followed with the remainder of the army. The enemy had no troops in this part of Saxony at that time to the exception of Loudon's light troops which fell back on the Franco-Imperial Army as Frederick approached.

N.B.: it seems that, by this date, the only Grenzer unit still attached to Loudon's detachment was the Karlstädter-Ottochaner Grenzer, the other units being reported at Moys on the Silesian border on September 7.

Frederick continued to march with the vanguard as the main army followed the same route in different columns. His destination was Erfurt, a march of some 275 km by Topschadel, Döbeln, Grimma (September 4) on the Mulda, Rötha (September 6) and Pegau (September 7). This march took 12 days. Frei-Infanterie von Mayr had the vanguard and accompanied by Frederick. The main body was under Keith with Ferdinand and Moritz following in several columns. Weather was often very wet. Seydlitz was sent ahead with some cavalry to search for a party of hussars under Turpin who was threatening Leipzig and Halle. Upon Seydlitz approach, Turpin quickly retreated so that Seydlitz had only to halt and join back the main body.

On September 6 at Rötha, to the south of Leipzig (the eighth stage from Dresden), Frederick wrote to the Maréchal Duc de Richelieu, suing for peace. A request that remained unanswered by the French Court. The same day, Soubise was at Erfurt where he was informed that Loudon had reached Weissenfels with Grenzer troops and had made a junction with Szechényi Hussars (3 sqns) and Splényi Hussars (3 sqns) serving under Szechényi in the Reichsarmee.

On September 7 at Pegau on the Elster, Seydlitz finally made contact with 200 hussars of Loudon's Corps, capturing one officer and 98 privates.

On September 8, Frederick was at Naumburg.

On September 9, Frederick army reached the bridge of Kösen (present-day Bad Kösen).

In the night of September 10 to 11, the Franco-Imperial Army evacuated Erfurt.

On September 11, the Prussian army crossed Saale River near Naumburg where a few Austrian hussars were taken. The enemy being now at hand, the Prussian army encamped in order. The same day, Hildburghasen marched to Eisenach; Prince George marched from Arnstadt to Waltershausen and Soubise reached Gotha under continuous rain. Soubise also sent some dragoons at Langensalza. Still the same day, informed of the situation, Richelieu, ordered to his main army to advance on Brunswick and Wolfenbüttel.

On September 12, the French captured the Castle of Regenstein. The same day, Loudon finally arrived in the neighbourhood of Erfurt to realize that Turpin had already retreated. Loudon then effected a junction with the Reichsarmee.

On September 13, Frederick advanced towards Erfurt but saw nothing of the Franco-Imperial Army who, hearing of Frederick's approach, had already evacuated Erfurt and retired towards Eisenach. Frederick encamped at Dittelstedt and Soubise's Army retired from Gotha to Mechterstädt.

The Franco-Imperial Army retreats to Eisenach Hills

After abandoning Erfurt, the Franco-Imperial Army had marched towards Gotha, where 2 French hussars squadrons and one Austrian hussars squadrons were left to occupy the town, the main Franco-Imperial Army resuming its advance to the hills of Eisenach. Frederick and his troops entered Erfurt at about 4:00 p.m. on September 13. The Prussian army took camp some 3 km north of Erfurt near the village of Ilversgehofen. Frederick was now facing a dilemma. He could not pursue the retreating Franco-Imperial without moving dangerously away from Bevern's Army left in the Görlitz area. Furthermore, some detachments from Richelieu's Army were committing depredations in the area of Magdeburg and Halberstadt to the north of Erfurt, requiring the intervention of Prussian troops.

On September 14, Soubise's Army (27 French bns, 7 Imperial bns, 2 bns of Blau Würzburg Infantry, Ansbach Dragoons, Bretlach Cuirassiers and Trautmansdorf Cuirassiers) entrenched itself near Eisenach. The same day, the division of Ferdinand of Brunswick (5 bns, 10 sqns and some artillery) marched northwards in the direction of Halberstadt and Magdeburg to watch the movements of Richelieu's Army while Prince Moritz (8 musketeer bns, 3 grenadier bns, 2 cavalry regts) marched back through Naumburg and Torgau to secure a Prussian magazine. Moritz was also to have an eye on Brandenburg and Berlin. Meanwhile, Frederick stayed in Erfurt with the remaining units:

The Prussian infantry was cantoned in different villages and the cavalry encamped behind Erfurt. Frederick's headquarters were at Dittelstedt. He was obliged to linger around Erfurt for almost a month, hoping for an open battle against the Franco-Imperial Army.

By mid September, Bercheny was encamped near Kassel with a French Corps. He sent a detachment of Turpin Hussards from Witzenhausen to Ollendorf to reconnoitre towards Langensalza.

Prussian Hussars seize the baggage of the French officers near Gotha on September 15, 1757 - Source: Richard Knötel, 1895

On September 15, following the retreating Franco-Imperial Army, Frederick arrived at Erfurt while his vanguard (a mixed force of dragoons and hussars) reached Gotha. The French and Austrian hussars occupying Gotha retired upon Frederick's approach. Frederick then returned to his camp near Erfurt, leaving Seydlitz to occupy Gotha with a detachment of 5 squadrons of Meinicke Dragoons and 10 squadrons of Szekely Hussars for a total of about 1,500 men. Seydlitz positioned 5 of his hussar squadrons between Gotha and Erfurt and the rest of his force was posted in the town.

In the night of September 17 to 18, some Franco-Imperial troops marched to Mechterstädt where they joined the 2 Austrian hussar rgts along with Volontaires de Nassau-Sarrebruck, under M. de Wurmser, and Loudon's Grenzers.

On September 18, a Prussian Corps under Ferdinand of Brunswick was at Erfurt. The same day, 3 French bns sent by Bercheny reached Eschwege. Bercheny also kept an infantry detachment and 10 sqns ready to come to Soubise's support. Meanwhile at 8:00 p.m., Soubise and Hildburghausen personally accompanied 2,400 horse, 40 grenadier coys, Turpin Hussards, 2 rgts of Austrian hussars and the Grenzers to reconnoitre the Prussian army at Gotha.

During the night of September 18-19, Soubise's detachment (about 8,000 horse and foot) advanced on Gotha with the goal of retaking the town.

On September 19, early in the morning, Seydlitz's scouts spotted that Franco-Imperial detachment advancing upon Gotha. At 8:00 am, Soubise and Hildburghausen arrived near Gotha at the head of their vanguard. Their light troops forced the Prussian hussars to retire towards the dragoons of Seydlitz's detachment. Seydlitz quickly left Gotha at 9:00 a.m. and the Franco-Imperial detachment found open gates. By 11:00 a.m., the Prussian dragoons and hussars had retired from the area. Soubise then went to the Castle of Gotha and ordered his vanguard to retire to its camp at Mechterstädt and then progressively to Eisenach. However, Seydlitz had ranked his small dragoon-hussar force in a hollow at Siebleber, 3 km off. He also recalled the Czettritz Dragoons which were within reach of him. When the Czettritz Dragoons joined him, Seydlitz thought himself sufficiently strong to attack the enemy. He artistically spread his force into single files on the prominent points of vision and advanced. His detachment looked more like 15,000 than 1,500. Soubise, Hildburghausen and Darmstadt ordered the sauve qui peut and their cavalrymen hastily mounted and withdrew. The Prussian hussars attacked the castle and drove out four grenadier companies who were posted in it. Besides that, Seydlitz's hussars could hardly get a stroke at the enemy. They caught 51 privates and six officers, killed 30 and captured a lot of equipment. Loudon's troops were not involved in this action but they reoccupied the city after the departure of the Prussians.

Map of the combat near Gotha on September 19 1757.
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab

On September 20, Soubise was at Eisenach where he had difficulties to obtain provisions for his army. Despite clear orders from Vienna and Versailles that Hildburghausen was the commander-in-chief of the Franco-Imperial Army, Soubise remained very jealous of his own authority.

On September 22, Seydlitz lost possession of Gotha and returned to Erfurt. The same day, the Reichsarmee did not receive bread.

On September 25, the Franco-Imperial hussars and the Volontaires de l'armée who occupied Gotha, reported that they had spotted 14 Prussian sqns and some infantry marching from Erfurt to Gotha.

By September 27, the French Army of Saxony led by the Prince de Soubise formed the left wing of the Franco-Imperial Army. Its order of battle was as follows:

First Line Second Line
Infantry Division under the Comte de Lorges assisted by the Chevalier de Nugent

Infantry Division under the Chevalier de Nicolay assisted by the Marquis de Rougé and M. de la Salle

Infantry Division under the Comte de Saint-Germain assisted by M. Darbonnier de Dizy
Cavalry Division under the Marquis de Chétardie assisted by the Marquis de Crillon Cavalry Division under the Comte de Mailly assisted by M. de Planta and M. de Rouergue

At this date, Tournaisis Infanterie (1 bn) was detached to Hanau, while Royal Comtois Infanterie (2 bns) was still detached to the Lower Rhine Army. The Apchon Dragons (4 sqns), Volontaires de Nassau-Sarrebruck (2 sqns) and the V./Corps Royal de l'Artillerie - Aumale were not disposed in the order of battle of this date.

On September 28, Frederick retired eastward to Buttstädt to give his army better quarters. Meanwhile, the Franco-Imperial Army debouched from Eisenach towards Friedrichswerth.

Frederick remained in his new camp of Buttstädt until October 10 without being in the least disturbed by the Franco-Imperial Army.

On September 29, M. de Rougé was sent to Gotha with 4 sqns and some infantry.

On September 30, the Franco-Imperial Army advanced in 4 columns and encamped at Friedrichswerth on the Nesse.

On October 1, the Franco-Imperial Army marched from Friedrichswerth to Gotha.

On October 2, a Prussian detachment attacked the village of Ollendorf. The same day, the Franco-Imperial Army pushed detachments up to Weimar.

On October 3, Prince Moritz came back from Torgau to Naumburg.

On Octobe 5, Hildburghausen marched to Erfurt at the head of 8 bns. Soubise arrived at Erfurt the same day. Mailly marched to Gräfentonna with 2 cavalry brigades and 1 infantry brigade. Meanwhile, Szecheny marched from Weimar with his 2 hussar rgts and made a junction with Loudon on the Saale close to Iena.

By October 5, the Franco-Imperial Army was deployed as follows:

  • camp near Gotha
    • the entire Reichsarmee to the exception of 12 bns
  • at Erfurt
    • 6 infantry brigades
    • French artillery
  • near Sonneborn on the Nesse
    • 2 cavalry brigades
    • some units of French dragoons
  • at Gräfentonna
    • 1 infantry brigade
    • 2 infantry brigades
  • garrison of Erfurt
  • camp near Erfurt
    • unidentified Imperial units (8 bns)
    • French grenadiers
    • some Imperial cavalry
  • at Gebesee and Weimar on the Werra under MM. de Wildenstein and de Rougé
    • some Imperial and French cavalry (800 men)
    • Imperial dragoons
    • French dragoons
    • Grenadiers (20 coys)
  • beyond Weimar
  • at Eisenach
    • some French infantry

On October 7, upon Soubise's incessant request, Richelieu sent Lieutenant-général Broglie (17 bns, 16 sqns and some field-guns for a total of about 15,000 men) from Halberstadt to reinforce the Franco-Imperial Army. D'Orlick (3 bns, 2 sqns) was also ordered to make a junction with Soubise's Army. More precisely, these reinforcements (20 bns, 18 sqns) consisted of:

After a first march through the Hartz Mountains, Broglie encamped at Heimburg, having left several soldiers and the train behind.

On October 8, Broglie reached Benneckenstein. The same day, Soubise reached Gotha.

On October 9, Broglie reached Ellrich.

On October 10, despairing to lure the enemy into an open battle, Frederick retired eastward once more to Naumburg on the Saale to reduce the distance separating him from the Prussian army defending Silesia. The same day, Broglie reached Nordhausen with 17 bns and 16 sqns while the Comte d'Orlick advanced on Mühlhausen with 3 bns and 2 sqns. Meanwhile, Soubise marched from Gotha to Langensalza to ease the junction with these reinforcements.

On October 11, Frederick heard from General Finck that an Austrian force under General Hadik was conducting a raid towards Berlin. Frederick immediately rose in haste and moved through Leipzig towards Torgau, planning to leave Saxony and to rescue Berlin.

On October 12, Frederick reached Naumburg.

On October 14, Broglie divided his corps into two divisions, the first immediately marched from Nordhausen to Bleicherode.

On October 15, Broglie's first division reached Keula while the second division marched from Nordhausen.

On October 16, Broglie's first division reached Mühlhausen.

After October 17, Frederick was at Annaburg a march beyond Torgau when he heard that Hadik had already left Berlin. Accordingly, Frederick called halt in the Torgau Country while he was deciding on his next move. The same day, Broglie's second division made a junction with his first corps at Mühlhausen. Broglie's entire Corps then passed under the command of the Prince de Soubise as part of the French Army of Saxony. Meanwhile, Saint-Germain advanced to Dornburg and Camburg with his corps.

The Franco-Imperial Army advances in the open

After the success of Hadik's raid on Berlin the Court of Versailles ordered the Franco-Imperial Army of Soubise and Hildburghausen to advance out of Eisenach hills. Accordingly, the Franco-Imperial Army crossed the Saale and advanced towards Leipzig.

On October 19, the Prince of Soubise personally went to Erfurt to discuss with Hildburghausen who wanted to advance up to the Elbe. Meanwhile, companies of French grenadiers took position at Neumarkt near Merseburg.

On October 20, the Reichsarmee advanced to Apolda while Mailly marched to Nohra and companies of French grenadiers marched from Neumarkt to Buttstädt.

On October 21, Saint-Germain sent his cavalry to Droysssig near Zeitz. The same day, Loudon and Szecheny marched to Pegau.

On October 22, Soubise personally went to Dornburg, Saint-Germain was at Zeitz, pushing light troops to Molsen (unidentified location) and Pegau; and Hildburghausen at Kösen (present-day Bad Kösen).

On October 23, Soubise marched to Naumburg with his grenadiers and 2 cavalry brigades; while Broglie was ordered to march to Weissensee.

On October 24, Keith, defending Leipzig with 7 battalions, had summons from Soubise's vanguard. The same day, Broglie's Corps marched from Mühlhausen to Weissensee.

In the night of October 24 to 25, Frederick, informed that the Franco-Imperial Army was threatening Leipzig, decided to attack them. His army marched along the Saale towards Leipzig. His rapid advance saved the town.

On October 25, Soubise and Hildburghausen were at Pegau. Meanwhile, Mailly marched from Molsen to Lützen; and Hildburghausen joined Saint-Germain at Pegau with the Reichsarmee. Keith left behind on the Saale took refuge in Leipzig.

On October 26, Frederick arrived at Leipzig. The other divisions under Ferdinand, Moritz and others were also converging on Leipzig. The same day Broglie's detachment arrived at Merseburg, it was now within reach of the Franco-Imperial Army.

On October 27, Frederick had concentrated his army near Leipzig. The same day, as soon as his troops were rested, Broglie moved to Halle to guard the Saale bridge there. Meanwhile, Hildburghausen retired to Teuchern; and Soubise retired his troops from advanced posts on the Elster, at Lützen and Merseburg, maintaining his headquarters at Weissenfels while his troops gradually reached Weissenfels, Naumburg and Freyburg.

Frederick remained in the vicinity of Leipzig on October 28 and 29.

Sunday October 30, Frederick left Leipzig and marched towards the Franco-Imperial, encamping at Lützen with the vanguard while Keith and Duke Ferdinand were following with the main body and rear. Meanwhile, the Soubise-Hildburghausen Army withdrew before him, crossing to the west side of the Saale again: Soubise repassed at Weissenfels and established his new headquarters at Großkorbetha. Broglie, arriving with the reinforcements, occupied Merseburg while a detachment under Saint-Germain continued to occupy Altenburg and M. de Custine was posted at the bridge of Kösen with 14 French bns and 4 Imperial bns. Hildburghausen established his own headquarters at Zorbau. Even though Soubise was in favour of an engagement, Hildburghausen and the other generals overruled him.

Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of the Franco-Imperial Army in the evening of October 31 1757

Monday October 31 at about 8:00 a.m., Frederick arrived in front of Weissenfels from the east while Keith was marching on Merseburg. Weissenfels was a solid little place (about 6,000 inhabitants). It lay against high ground on the eastern or right bank of the Saale. It was a town in part flat, in part very steep, the streets running off level enough from the river and bridge. Saale was of good breadth at Weissenfels and not fordable. The town was garrisoned by 4 bns of the Reichsarmee and by a couple of French grenadier battalions (including the grenadiers of La Viefville Saint-Chamond Infanterie) under M. de Crillon. The garrison shut the gates and assembled in the market-place. The Prussians cannonaded town and gates, then rushed in over the walls of the castle-court and by other openings into the town. The French grenadiers delayed the Prussian advance, allowing the 4 Imperial bns to retire unmolested across Saale bridge. The French grenadiers then crossed the bridge, preventing the Prussian vanguard to seize it by setting it on fire behind them. The bridge burnt so rapidly that 400 French grenadiers were obliged to surrender. Once on the other side of the river with the rest of the army, the garrison planted cannon and successfully prevented the Prussians from quenching the bridge. Soubise's Army encamped near Reichardtswerben where he established his headquarters. Meanwhile, Hildburghausen fixed his headquarters at Storkau.

During the night of October 31 to November 1, Frederick picked out another crossing-place, about 1,5 km farther downstream and built a bridge. The Prussians were billeted in Weissenfels that night. The French and the Reichsarmee troops were drawn back upon the higher grounds on the opposite bank of the Saale, about Burgwerben and on to Tagewerben.

Tuesday November 1, Keith with the other half of the army, found the bridge at Merseburg destroyed and Soubise with batteries on the farther side. Keith despatched Duke Ferdinand to Halle another 20 km downstream. Ferdinand found the bridge at Halle destroyed in like manner and Broglie ready to dispute the passage. However, during this time, Frederick successfully crossed the Saale by his new bridge at Herren-Mühle near Weissenfels and encamped at Braunsdorf (unidentified location). The same day, the Franco-Imperial Army left Reichardtswerben. On his way, Hilburghausen changed his plan and stopped at Schortau while Soubise reached Großkayna and Merseburg.

Wednesday November 2 in the morning, the Franco-Imperial Army (now counting some 50 to 60,000 men) gathered its guns and abandoned the defence of the Saale. It retired landwards to the higher grounds and got into order of battle near the village of Mücheln where Soubise, Saint-Germain, Custine and Prince Camille effected a junction. Meanwhile, Hildburghausen marched from Schortau but did not manage to make his junction before nightfall. The same day, Keith and Ferdinand seized this opportunity to rebuild their bridges.

On November 3, Hildburghausen effected a junction with Soubise's Army. The same day, Keith and Ferdinand both completed the crossing of the Saale and formed a junction with Frederick at Braunsdorf, in close neighbourhood to Mücheln. The united Prussian army counted only 22,000 men. Frederick reconnoitred the Franco-Imperial positions and found that he could attack very early the following day. However, later the same day, the Franco-Imperial Army reorganized its positions: its left anchored on the ravine of Mücheln and its right to a wood.

On November 4 about 2:00 a.m., with a bright moon shining, Frederick was on the march with his army towards Mücheln. However, he soon discovered that the Franco-Imperials had shifted their position, pivoting on their axis. Their new position was much stronger. Frederick then decided to return to his camp. Some Allied batteries slightly cannonaded one of his wing. Frederick rearranged his position: his left wing was now at Rossbach and his right at Bedra (probably Braunsbedra). He calculated that the Franco-Imperials would suffer from lack of supplies before his own army.

Battle of Rossbach

On November 5 at the Battle of Rossbach, Soubise tried to outflank Frederick's position. But his army was too slow compared to the well drilled Prussian army who had enough time to rearrange its lines and to attack the Franco-Imperial Army still advancing in columns. Soubise was utterly defeated. The French army retired towards Erfurt, closely followed by Prussian hussars. Prince Henri was wounded during the engagement.

Aftermath of Rossbach

Retreat of the Franco-Imperial army on November 6, after the Battle of Rossbach
Source: Von Rossbach bis Jena und Auerstedt; ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des preussischen Heeres, by Colmar, Baron von der Goltz

The French retreated towards a bridge at Freyburg where they crossed the Unstrut during the night. They then burnt the bridge. Some 12,000 men rushed straggling through to Eichsfeld, plundering and harrying like cossacks. The army itself was dispersed over a circle of 64 km radius.

The night after the battle, Frederick had encamped at Obschütz near Rossbach. Loudon wrote to Prince Charles de Lorraine describing the poor conditions of the Franco-Imperial forces and the inability of their leaders, asking for authorisation to rejoin the Austrian main army.

On November 6 in the morning, Frederick advanced to Freyburg to find the bridge burnt. The same day, Soubise assembled the remnants of his army behind the Unstrut and marched to Wiehe (some 24 km from Freyburg) while Hildburghausen marched from Freyburg to Kösen, heading towards Arnstadt and Franconia and leaving only his 2 regiments of Austrian hussars (Szechényi Hussars (3 sqns) and Splényi Hussars (3 sqns)) with Soubise. Prince Camille with 1 infantry brigade was charged to guard the passage of the river between Laucha and Nebra. The dragoons along with the Volontaires de Nassau-Sarrebruck were posted at Bucha, between Bibra and Wiehe to cover the army. Saint-Germain with his own corps and the Austrian hussars spent the night at Hoscler (unidentified location). The same day, as soon as Richelieu heard of the defeat of Soubise at Rossbach, he evacuated Halberstadt, repassed the Ocker, retired his advanced posts and sent Soubise a considerable reinforcement.

On November 7, Soubise's Army resumed its retreat westward, establishing its headquarters at Sachsenburg. Part of the army passed the Unstrut while the cavalry and a few infantry brigades remained near Heldrungen, a small village surrounded by a ditch and a parapet and defended by dragoons and grenadiers. In the various villages, placards were stuck up, appointing Nordhausen and Heiligenstadt (present-day Heilbad Heiligenstadt) for rallying place. Meanwhile, Saint-Germain marched on Kölleda but, receiving false intelligence that the Prussian army was on the opposite bank of the Unstrut, he redirected his march on Nordhausen. The same day, Frederick returned to Leipzig.

Meanwhile, Hildburghausen with the Reichsarmee had crossed the Saale at Naumburg. He then marched to Weimar and Erfurt. In this town, only one of his regiment was in rank and marched through with drums beating. His army gradually disintegrated and he arrived at Bamberg with hardly the ghost of an army. The Reichsarmee did not reappear on the scene till late in 1758, under a new commander.

Richelieu's reinforcement advanced as far as Duderstadt where, in mid November, it found the remains of Soubise's Army which was rendered incapable of keeping the field by the loss of their baggage.

On November 7, Frederick returned to Leipzig. The same day, Soubise's Army was at Sachsenburg.

On November 8 at 10:00 a.m., Soubise's marched by Kindelbrück on Weissensee where he could find provisions for his army. There were many stragglers plundering in the woods. The Prussians pursued them up to Erfurt.

On November 9, Sousise's Army and Saint-Germain's Corps arrived at Sondershausen where they cantoned.

On November 13, realising that the French were now in full retreat, Frederick set out from Leipzig with 19 bns and 28 sqns and hastened off to put a stop to the Austrian invasion of Silesia. He left Prince Henri behind to protect Saxony. The same day, Soubise's Army marched in 3 columns: the first on Duderstadt, the second on Dingelstädt and Heiligenstadt and the third on Mühlhausen. The Austrian hussars covered the march. The troops cantoned around these towns.

Meanwhile, Keith got into Bohemia through the defiles of Passberg and marched towards Prague seizing an important magazine at Leitmeritz (present-day Litoměřice). Austrian Generals Hadik and Marshal who were posted in Lusatia to hinder Frederick's advance retired before him.

On November 14, Soubise personally left for Duderstadt where he met Maillebois, sent by Richelieu to organize the winter-quarters. Soubise's troops were to occupy the County of Hanau and the banks of the Lahn. However, Soubise required official orders to accept these dispositions.

On November 15, Richelieu confirmed his orders to Soubise who had to take charge of the occupation of Fulda and Hanau with quarters along the Main up to Obernburg.

On November 16, Prince Henri passed the Elbe at Torgau and entered into Lusatia, driving Marschall out of this country.

On November 20, the 20 bns and 18 sqns formerly detached under Broglie to reinforce Soubise marched back to their winter-quarters in Hessen and along the Werra.

On November 20 and 21, all of Soubise's troops were on the march in 3 columns to their winter-quarters: the first towards Marburg, the second towards Kirchhain in Hesse and the third by Fulda and the Kinzig Valley to the Main.

On November 22, Soubise left Duderstadt and marched by Mühlhausen, acting as a rearguard.

On November 28, Soubise reached Eisenach.

On November 29, Louis XV instructed Richelieu to merge Soubise's Army into his own, Soubise retaining command of a corps under the overall command of Richelieu.

At the end of November, Loudon's Corps (now reduced to only 1,100 men) arrived at Komotau (present-day Chomutov/CZ) after marching towards Bohemia by Naumburg and Altenburg.

On December 2, Soubise was at Fulda.

On December 5, Soubise was at Hanau. The regiments of Cossé Brissac, Piémont and La Viefville Saint-Chamond were sent to the Rhine.

On December 12, Soubise went to Kassel where he established his headquarters. Meanwhile, Hildburghausen was at Nuremberg and in the Voigtland. Apchon Dragons were at Lichtenau and Waldkapelle.

On December 30, Soubise cantoned his troops in their winter-quarters in the County of Hanau, in Wetteravia and in the Fulda Country, between the Werra, Rhine, Lahn and Main.


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 223-226, 236-240
  • Archenholz, J. W.: The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 104-119
  • Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18
  • Hotham: The operations of the Allied Army under the command of his Serene Highness Prince Ferdinand Duke of Brunswic and Luneberg beginning in the year 1757 and ending in the year 1762, London: T. Jefferies, 1764
  • Janko, Edler v.: Laudon´s Leben, Vienna, 1869
  • Österreichische Militärzeitschrift, 1849, file 4–5, pp. 170–172
  • Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. IV, Paris, 1891, pp. 54, 100-118, 128-173
  • Tempelhoff, Fr.: History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I pp. 138-149, as translated by Colin Lindsay, Cadell, London, 1793
  • Treuenfest, A. v.: Geschichte des k.u.k. Husaren-Regimentes Nr. 3 A. Hadik v. Futak, Vienna, 1883
  • Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 427-428

Other sources:

Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006

Vial J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar


Harald Skala for additional details on Loudon's Corps