1758-08-05 - Combat of Mehr
In June 1758, Ferdinand of Brunswick had crossed the Rhine and undertaken a campaign on the western bank with the Allied army and defeated Clermont at Krefeld on June 23. He spent the month of July campaigning on this side of the Rhine. However, his long supply line across the Rhine with Hanover was very vulnerable. Indeed, it depended entirely on a single bridge at Rees guarded by a small detachment under Imhoff.
Contades, the new commander-in-chief of the French Army of the Lower Rhine, sent Chevert forward with a corps to attack this bridge. When Imhoff learned about the approaching French force, he left some 500 men to guard the bridge and deployed the rest of his detachment in a defensive position at Mehr, about 2 km upstream of Rees.
Zastrow was also detached with troops from Büderich and Rheinberg to reinforce Imhoff. He made his junction with him in the evening of August 4. Meanwhile, the garrison of Kleve (some 1,000 men) was also sent across the bridge but remained between Mehr and Rees and did not take part to the combats.
Imhof’s front was covered with coppices and ditches with a rising ground on his right.
Description of Events
On August 5 at 6:00 AM, Chevert left his camp near Wesel. He had previously incorporated militia into some of his regular units.
At 7:00 AM, Chevert was in full march on the eastern bank of the Rhine towards Rees.
At 10:00 AM, Chevert arrived at the village of Diersfordt where he learned that the enemies had marched from Rees to the heights of the village of Mehr where they occupied the hedges. Furthermore, they had two redoubts behind the hedges. The French artillery opened fire to cover the advance of the infantry.
Imhoff had resolved to attack the French as soon as they would enter the difficult ground in front of his positions. He ordered his infantry to advance about 200 paces behind the first hedges. He also sent Stolzenberg Infantry upon his right, in a coppice, in order to fall upon the uncovered French left. He also gave orders to the other regiments to march, with drums beating up to the enemy and to attack them with bayonets as soon as they should hear the fire of the regiment in the coppice on the right.
Meanwhile, Chevert planned to send Chavigny forward towards Rees while he was dealing with Imhoff's forces at Mehr. However, he finally decided to send Chavigny directly against the village of Mehr where some 250 Allies held an isolated house and a post at the village entrance. Meanwhile, Chevert ordered Brancas brigade to deploy to the right of the road coming out of Mehr and Reding brigade to do so on the left side of the road.
Chavigny managed to chased the Allies from the house and the post at the village entrance and to advance some 300 paces beyond this post.
Chevert then ordered Brancas brigade to penetrate straight forward and to envelop the Allies left wing and a post in front of their centre from where a very lively musket and cannon fire was poured. Brancas brigade met obstacles who forced it to move to its left, partly through light woods running along the right of the road for about 500 paces, partly through dense hedges attached to the first abandoned house.
The Périgord, Royal Lorraine and Foy battalions, all belonging to the Brancas brigade, were the first to arrive on the road,and they moved between Chavigny's left and the right of the Reding Brigade. The three grenadier companies of the afore mentioned battalions marched in front of Chavigny's right, along the wood to contain Allied troops lying flat in this area.
Chevert then called back the Du Roy Dragons who were to the right behind the village. He also ordered Brancas Infanterie to close up to its left because the enemies seemed to be getting stronger on our left. Imhoff was indeed leading the Stolzenberg battalion against the left flank of the Reding brigade.
While Brancas Infanterie was reforming to support the centre, some militia from Chavigny's force began to retire and others refused to advance. Chevert was trying to rally the shaken militia when he heard the beginning of the attack of his left. This was Imhoff falling on the left flank of the Reding brigade at the head of the Stolzenberg battalion. Simultaneously, the Imhoff Regiment charged frontally at the point of the bayonet. Reding brigade, without waiting for orders fired a badly aimed volley and then retired quite disordered in the plain. M. de Voyer managed to rally them only to see them break once more.
Seeing the left wing of the French retiring, Zastrow ordered a general attack, driving the French off the field. Chavigny's ranks, seriously depleted by the flight of the militia, was repulsed, Chavigny himself being wounded. His entire force then retreated. Brancas Brigade, now isolated and unsupported, soon broke as well. During the precipitous retreat, the French lost ten of their guns and left several ammunition wagons and carriages behind them.
Chevert then moved the Du Roy Dragons into the small plain behind the village of Mehr. These dragoons, by their good behaviour, momentarily stopped the Allies. This gave time to all the infantry to gain the heights located in the heather of the village of Diersfordt about 1 km from Mehr. The French established two guns on these heights to fire on the heads of the Allied columns.
Chevert finally ordered retreat through Diersfordt, where his corps stopped for an hour to wait for the laggards and for the mobile hospital, and back to Wesel.
The French lost 517 men (including 354 soldiers and 11 officers taken prisoners) and 10 guns. The Allies lost some 200 men killed or wounded.
The bridge at Rees was saved but the danger of losing it to the French was one of the factors who convinced Ferdinand to recross to the eastern bank of the Rhine during the night of August 9 to 10.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: General von Imhoff
Summary: 6 battalions, 2 grenadier companies, 4 squadrons for a total force of about 3,500 men
- Infantry (6 bns)
- Grenadiers (2 coys)
- Cavalry (4 sqns)
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: M. de Chevert assisted by MM. de Vallogny, Le Hausseur and Derville.
- First Vanguard Detachment under M. de Chavigny, lieutenant-colonel of Brancas Infanterie
- 1st Line: 4 guns à la suédoise
- 2nd Line (from left to right):
- 3rd Line (detached from Köln):
- 4th Line: Militia Grenadiers (9 coys)
- 5th Line: Detachment of the Corps Royal de l'Artillerie (200 men)
- 6th Line: Militia (100 men)
- 7th Line:
- Feslev ferrymen
- Detachment of the Corps Royal de l'Artillerie (100 men)
- Left flank of the column: 50 hussars (unspecified unit)
- Right flank of the column: 50 hussars (unspecified unit)
- Front rank: Du Roy Dragons (4 sqns)
- Left column: Reding Brigade under the Chevalier de La Marck as brigadier and the Marquis de Voyer as maréchal de camp
- Right column: Brancas Brigade under Milord Hamilton as brigadier and the Comte de Vence as maréchal de camp
The mobile hospital followed.
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. 304-305
- Chevert, M. de, Relation of the combat of Mehr, 1758
- 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. 58-59
Évrard, Philippe, Praetiriti Fides
Rogge, Christian, The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006