1758-07-23 - Combat of Sandershausen
Prelude to the Battle
At the beginning of May 1758, Ferdinand of Brunswick sent Lieutenant-General Prince Ysenburg with 2 bns (Prinz Ysenburg Infantry and Canitz Infantry), 2 sqns (Pruschenk Cavalry) and a few artillery pieces to Hesse at the request of the landgrave who was trying to reconstitute a small force for the defence of Hesse-Kassel.
However, the French still had a small army on the east bank under the Prince de Soubise.
At the beginning of July, Soubise had assembled 30,000 men (39 bns and 32 sqns) near Hanau. Furthermore, he expected to be soon reinforced by a Württemberger Contingent of some 6,000 men.
Soubise received instructions from Paris to advance into the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel and to occupy the principality before marching into the Electorate of Hanover and the Duchy of Brunswick. The French Court hoped that such an offensive would force Ferdinand to abandon his campaign on the left bank of the Rhine and would allow Lieutenant-Colonel Contades to cross to the right bank of the Rhine with the main French army and then effect a junction with Soubise’s Army.
On July 11, Soubise’s Army, which had advanced northwards from Hanau, reached Friedberg. The Duc de Broglie led the vanguard. He planned a slow and hesitant advance to give Ysenburg a sentiment of security and then to attack him by surprise.
Soubise’s Army then made itself master of Marburg and advanced on Kassel.
On July 22, considering that Kassel was indefensible, Ysenburg marched by his right to reach the highway to Münden. He then decided to make a stand on the height of Sandershausen, 5 km east of Kassel, which offered a good defensive position for a small corps as his own. The Hessian Jägers and Hesse-Kassel Hussars temporarily occupied Bettenhausen.
On July 23 in the morning, Broglie, who had lost contact with Ysenburg’s small army, arrived at Niederzwehren, 3 km to the southwest of Kassel. From there, he located Ysenburg’s forces on the heights of Sandershausen.
The position chosen by Ysenburg, some 2 km to the northeast of Sandershausen, lay on one of the foothills of the ridge extending between the Fulda and the Werra, which are mostly covered by the Kaufung Forest. The height overlooks a plateau. The road leading from Kassel to Münden cut across the battlefield, forming Ysenburg’s line of retreat. Where the height reached the Fulda, it formed a steep slope interspersed with ravines. Most of the south slope was rather steep in some place when it reached the Nieste, a tributary of the Fulda. Eastwards, the terrain was separated in steep passages by deep gorges leading to the narrow plain of the Werra. Northwards, the terrain was quite similar until it reached the Fulda and the Werra. On the plateau, Kaufunger forest extended eastwards and northwards.
The right wing of the Allies was anchored to the steep slope along the Fulda; and the left wing on the Ellenbach farmstead, where a deep gorge, also covered with dense woods, made the approach difficult.
Ysenburg’s troops consisted mainly of militia (3 bns), “Invalid” (2 coys) and some regular units. However, several troopers from the militia and jäger units were experienced hunters armed with their own rifled guns.
The Wurmb Landmiliz and Gundlach Landmiliz formed the centre of Ysenburg’s line while Prinz Ysenburg Infantry and Canitz Infantry formed the right and left wing. The converged grenadier coys formed the extreme right wing near the steep bank of the Fulda. On the extreme left wing, the Hanoverian Jägers and the Freywald Landmiliz were posted in the Ellenbach farmstead and in the surrounding woods. Ysenburg placed his 4 sqns on his left in a position overlooking the plain where the French had to debouch, linking his centre with the positions at the Ellenbach farmstead. The 2 “Invalid” coys were deployed in the second line behind the centre. The artillery pieces were distributed in front of the first line.
Solid blue boxes = Hessian positions at 1:00 p.m.
Outlined blue boxes = Hessian positions at 7:00 p.m.
Solid red boxes = French positions at 1:00 p.m.
Outlined red boxes = French positions at 7:00 p.m.
- A Hessian Feld-Jäger
- B Garnison-Grenadiers
- C Prinz Ysenburg Infantry
- D Wurmb Landmiliz
- E Gundlach Landmiliz
- F Canitz Infantry
- G Prüschenck Cavalry (2 sqns)
- H Prinz Friedrich Dragoons
- J Hessian Husaren Corps
- K Freywald Landmiliz
- L Hanoverian Jägers
- M Invalids (2 coys)
- A Chasseurs de Fischer
- B Beauvoisis Infanterie
- C Rohan Montbazon Infanterie
- D Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie
- E Royal Bavière Infanterie
- F Diesbach Infanterie
- G Waldner Infanterie
- H Royal-Nassau Hussards
- J Apchon Dragons (4 sqns)
- K Cavalerie Liégeoise
- L Wurtemberg Cavalerie
- M Nassau-Sarrebruck Cavalerie
- N Royal-Allemand Cavalerie
Description of Events
On July 23 at 11:00 a.m., the small Hessian force under Prince Ysenburg started to lift its camp located near Kassel but on the opposite bank of the Fulda. Infantry went first followed by cavalry, leaving a battalion near the suburb of Kassel to support the retreat of the jägers who occupied the village of Bettenhausen, which was only a musket shot away.
Around noon, Broglie arrived in front of Kassel with the French vanguard. Soubise was still two-days march behind his vanguard.
Broglie immediately sent the infantry volunteers and the grenadiers to occupy the suburb of Kassel with interdiction to go further.
At noon, the infantry being in musket range, Broglie sent the infantry volunteers and the grenadiers out of the suburb
Broglie then entered into Kassel. From the city, he observed the deployment of Ysenburg’s small army on the height of Sandershausen and decided to attack its left wing. This would allow him to cut off Ysenburg line of retreat to Münden and to push him back against the Fulda.
Broglie left 2 bns of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie in Kassel and sent the rest of his regular infantry through the city and simultaneously sent orders to the Royal-Nassau Hussards, to the dragoons and to the cavalry to ford the Fulda and to advance towards the village of Bettenhausen, leaving it to their left in order to join with the infantry beyond the village. When the French advanced on Bettenhausen, the Hessian Jägers retired after a brief skirmish.
After the retreat of Ysenburg’s outposts, Broglie marched beyond Sandershausen, leaving another bn of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie in Sandershausen.
The whole French force united between Bettenhausen and Sandershausen.
The terrain being narrow, Broglie put his 11 infantry bns in the first line and his cavalry and his dragoons in the second. He anchored his right to a wood and reinforced it with three grenadier companies of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie. The Royal-Nassau Hussards covered his right flank and the Chasseurs de Fischer protected his left flank. Furthermore, 10 artillery pieces (4-pdrs) were established in front of his right wing and the rest all along his front.
By 1:00 p.m., Broglie had completed his dispositions. The artillery of both sides opened.
At 1:00 p.m., Broglie advanced slowly with his right wing against Ysenburg left wing in preparation for his main attack.
At 3:00 p.m., once his army deployed, Broglie launched his attack. The 10 artillery pieces established in front of his right fired at the Hessian cavalry placed against the woods. Meanwhile, MM. Waldner and Diesbach, at the head of the Swiss Brigade (Diesbach Infanterie and Waldner Infanterie) with 4 guns, occupied the woods in front of the Ellenbach farmstead. These regiments then attacked the Ellenbach farmstead which was defended by the Hanoverian Jägers and the Freywald Landmiliz. The Swiss met strong resistance.
As the fire of the French intensified, the Prince of Ysenburg gave orders for a general advance.
Reacting to the artillery fire of the French artillery, the Hessian cavalry hurled itself against the flanks of the Swiss infantry attacking the Ellenbach farmstead. The latter fell into disorder and retired.
When Broglie noticed the success of the Hessian cavalry, he immediately sent his 3 closest cavalry rgts (Wurtemberg, Royal-Allemand and Nassau-Sarrebruck) under M. Raugrave,against the Hessians. These rgts passed through the gaps created on Broglie’s right by the doubling of his infantry line.
The vastly outnumbered Hessian cavalry was unable to withstand the attach and moved to its right as if it was going for the French left. In fact, it retired towards its line of infantry which opened a lively fire on the pursuing French cavalry, bringing it to a stop and then forcing it to retire with heavy losses behind its own infantry.
The Hessian cavalry then tried to counter-attack. The Royal-Allemand and Nassau-Sarrebruck regiments then charged the Hessian cavalry but were broken and hotly pursued. This left the infantry of the French right unsupported by the cavalry.
Broglie reacted by instructing Raugrave to advance infantry through a gap, supported by Apchon Dragons on its left. Royal Bavière Infanterie fired a furious volley on the advancing Hessian cavalry, stopping its advance and forcing it to retire with heavy casualties.
By 5:00 p.m., these cavalry combats had considerably delayed the advance of the French infantry and caused some disorder in its ranks. But the consequences had been far worse for the Allied infantry. The militia bns started to lose cohesion and to regroup in disordered clumps, thus becoming unable to perform any manoeuvre. The good behaviour of Canitz Infantry and Prinz Ysenburg Infantry did not change anything to this situation. Canitz Infantry had continued its advance during the cavalry combats and thus moved closer to Prinz Ysenburg Infantry, thus forming a forward line in front of the militia bns.
Meanwhile, Broglie had reinforced Diesbach Infanterie and Waldner Infanterie with the grenadiers of Royal Deux-Ponts Infanterie. However, despite their numerical superiority, the French did not manage to make any progress against the defenders of the Ellenbach farmstead.
During this time, a very contested infantry combat had broken out in the centre while the Hessian Jägers and the converged grenadiers steadily advanced along the steep banks of the Fulda. The firefight between them and the opposing Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie, as well as the Chasseurs de Fischer, became so fierce that the French spent all their ammunition. Rohan Montbazon Infanterie initially managed to repulse the Hessians who moved back a few hundred paces. However, they soon came back even stronger. The Hessians had the advantage of being covered by the steep slope while the Rohan Montbazon brigade stood in the open. The French, after suffering heavy losses, fell into disorder and was forced to move back.
In the centre, Canitz Infantry and Prinz Ysenburg Infantry had taken advantage of the lively firefight on the right wing of the Allies to wheel half-right and to advance to the support of their grenadiers. They managed to advance against the flank of the French and to threaten their line of retreat.
To prevent this move, Broglie advanced a few squadrons of the Apchon Dragons along with some cavalry squadrons who had now rallied. The Hessian battalions continued to pour continuous fire upon their French adversaries. These reinforcements were unable to stop the advance of the Hessians. The left wing of the French was gradually forced to face northwest.
Broglie then ordered a general advance of his entire first line: Royal Bavière (2 bns), Royal-Deux-Pont (1 bn), Rohan-Montbazon (2 bns) and Beauvoisis (2 bns). Since, the French had no more powder, they charged at the point of the bayonet into the woods bordering the Fulda.
By this time, the Prince Ysenburg had rallied his cavalry. However, when he saw the state of disorganisation of his militia bns and “Invalids” coys, which formed a completely disorganised mass in the centre of his line, he gave up all hope of victory. Indeed, the disorganised centre of the Allies completely isolated their left wing from their right. Furthermore, the disorganised Hessian units of the centre were about to break and rout.
Around 7:00 p.m., the Prince Ysenburg gave the order to retire along the Fulda towards Münden. His right wing orderly retreated out of the woods along the Fulda.
The engagement had been a 5 hours prolonged and intense fire fight. About 300 Hessians tried to escape through the river where several of them perished. The rest of Ysenburg's corps retired in good order to Landwehrhagen.
It was now 7:00 p.m., the weather was very bad, the country very wooded and the French infantry had marched 28 km. Broglie preferred to stop, only sending the Baron de Travers with 700 volunteers to follow up the Hessians. Furthermore, his artillery tried to inflict losses to the retiring Allies.
On the Allied left wing, the troops defending the Ellenbach farmstead held their position until darkness and retired unmolested towards Münden where they arrived around midnight.
Broglie’s troops encamped on the battlefield to the northeast of Sandershausen.
The French lost 27 officers and approx. 650 men killed and 135 officers and approx. 1,250 men wounded. M. de Saint-Martin, lieutenant-colonel of Rohan Infanterie, and Major Rousette, major of Beauvoisis Infanterie were both killed. The Prince of Nassau was severely wounded. Their left wing suffered particularly with the single brigade of Rohan-Montbazon losing 66 officers and 778 men killed and wounded. Beauvoisis Infanterie regiment was almost wiped out. This high casualty rate on the French side can only be explained by the massed employment of the rifled German Jägerbüchse by the Hessians.
Hessian losses were far less important, amounting to only 8 officers and 48 men killed, 7 officers and 155 men wounded and 250 taken prisoners (including Count Kanitz, the first aide-de-camp to Prince Ysenburg and several lieutenant-colonels and majors). However, the French captured 2,000 more Hessians and 15 guns (out of 16: 7 on the battlefield, 8 at Münden) during the following days. The prisoners were mostly militia who had deserted after the battle.
This French victory coupled with Chevert's attempt two week later (August 5) to seize the bridge at Rees (Combat of Mehr) finally convinced Ferdinand to retreat to the east bank of the Rhine, which he did on August 8.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Prince Ysenburg
Summary: 5 bns, 5 grenadier coys, 2 Invalid coys, 3 jäger coys, 3 cavalry sqns, 1 hussar sqn for a total of some 6,500 men with 10 artillery pieces.
N.N.: all troops were Hessian unless specifically noted
- First Line (listed from right to left)
- Feld-Jäger (1 coy) under Major von Buttlar
- Garnison-Grenadiers (5 coys) under Captain Lindau
- Ysenburg (1 bn)
- Wurmb Landmiliz (1 bn)
- Gundlach Landmiliz (1 bn)
- Kanitz (1 bn)
- Prüschenck Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Prinz Friedrich dragoons (1 sqn) under Lieutenant-Colonel von Geiso
- Hanoverian Jäger (2 coys) unidentified unit
- Freywald Landmiliz (1 bn)
- Second Line
- Invalids (2 coys)
- Husaren Corps (1 sqn) on the road to Uschlag
- Artillery under Lieutenant-Colonel Huth
- 10 light guns
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Duc de Broglie
Summary: 14 bns, 12 sqns and 2 Volontaire corps for a total of some 8,500 men with 28 artillery pieces.
- First Line (listed from right to left):
- Second Line
- Another brigade (18 pieces) in front of the first line
- Light Troops
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 8 Zorndorf und Hochkirch, Berlin, 1910, pp. 383-388
- Hotham, The operations of the Allied Amy 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, pp. 52-53
- Renouard, Carl: Geschichte des Krieges in Hannover, Hessen und Westfalen von 1757 bis 1763 - Die Feldzüge von 1757 und 1758, Cassel, 1863, pp. 718-731
- Roesch, Y. F. von: Collection de quarante deux plans de batailles, sièges et affaires les plus mémorables de la Guerre de Sept Ans, Frankfurt, 1790
Cookman, David: Sandershausen 1758, Battlefields Vol. 1 Issue 6
Evrard P., Praetiriti Fides
Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Service historique de l'armée de terre, A4, 27, pièce 58