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 in the Battle of 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.
In the last days of July, Imhoff relocated his camp at Mehr. He then learned that a French force was marching towards Wesel along the right (eastern) bank of the Rhine and that, after effecting a junction with the garrison of Wesel, it planned an enterprise against the bridges and the magazines of the Allies at Rees.
On August 2, Imhoff recalled Zastrow and his 2 bns from the left bank of the Rhine. The latter had already assembled his small force at Rheinberg.
On August 4
- In the evening, Imhoff was informed by a spy at Wesel that the French planned an attack on the bridges on the following night. Imhoff’s small force immediately marched to Rees where it effected a junction with Zastrow’s detachment. Imhoff was now at the head of 3,500 men (6 bns, 2 grenadier coys, 4 sqns and 40 Bückeburg Carabiniers). He took position to the southwest of Rees.
- Late in the evening, Chevert’s Corps reached Wesel where it was reinforced with 2 bns and a few hundreds militia and volunteers, bringing his total force to approx. 6,500 men with 12 heavy guns. However, by the time, he had integrated these reinforcements into his corps, it was too late to consider a night attack as it had been initially planned.
The battlefield extended to the east of Mehr and Bellinghoven. It lay on a hollow and damp meadow with several coppices and dense hedges. With these numerous obstacles, visibility was not very good. A hillock quite free of woods and bushes located south of the battlefield, the so-called Galgenberg, offered, although rising only a few meters above the surrounding terrain, a good overview of this part of the battlefield.
- Light blue: Imhoff's positions at 8:30 a.m.
- Dark blue: Imhoff's positions at 9:45 a.m.
- Medium blue: Stolzenberg's attack at 11:00 a.m.
- Red: Chevert's infantry positions at 10:00 a.m.
- Light red: Chevert's cavalry attack around noon
Imhoff's front was covered with coppices and ditches with a rising ground on his right.
Description of Events
On August 5 at 5:00 a.m., with no French force in sight, Imhoff decided to march back to his camp at Mehr.
At 6:00 a.m., Chevert set off from Wesel with his corps, marching in the direction of Mehr. Lieutenant-Colonel de Chavigny marched in the van of Chevert’s Corps with light troops, grenadiers, militia and pioneers. Chavigny had been instructed to turn northwards once he would have reached the Wildemann farmstead and to march directly on Rees, to make himself master of the bridges and destroy them. Meanwhile, Chevert would attack Imhoff’s Corps with the rest of his forces to prevent the Allies from relieving the defenders of the bridges.
At 7:00 a.m., Chevert was in full march on the right bank of the Rhine towards Rees.
At 8:00 a.m., Imhoff’s force reached Mehr where it reoccupied its former camp.
Around 8:30 a.m., Imhoff, who had just moved back into his old camp and had the tents pitched, received a message from the Bückeburg Carabiniers, posted at the Wildemann farmstead, informing him that the French could be seen marching on the road coming from Wesel.
Around 9:30 a.m., Chavigny reached the Wildemann farmstead with the French vanguard.
At 10:00 a.m., Chevert arrived at the village of Diersfordt where scouts of Chavigny’s vanguard informed him that, on the previous evening, Imhoff had marched to Rees and then back to his camp near Mehr.
When Chevert reached the Wildemann farmstead, he saw Allied troops manoeuvering on the heights east of Mehr. He realised that the Allies were too close from Rees to allow him to follow his initial plan. He decided to first attack Imhoff’s Corps with his entire forces and then, after driving it back, to turn his attention to the capture and destruction of the bridges. Chevert gave new orders to Chavigny to dislodge the Allies from an outpost at the Schnellshof while he would lead the main body in an attack against the main body of the Allies.
Almost simultaneously, Imhoff too decided to attack the French as soon as they would enter the difficult ground in front of his positions. From his observation post on the Galgenberg, he could see how the French vanguard had driven the Bückeburg Carabiniers out of the Wildemann farmstead and was now marching in the direction of the Schnellshof.
The artillery of the Allies, posted in two redoubts behind the hedges opened on the advancing French whose artillery opened fire to cover the advance of the infantry.
Imhoff ordered his infantry to advance about 200 paces behind the first hedges. Sachsen-Gotha Infantry took position to the north of the road leading from Mehr to the Wildemann farmstead while the rest of Imhoff’s infantry deployed to the south of that road; and the grenadiers of Erbprinz Infantry reinforced the Bückeburg Carabiniers at Schnellshof; and the grenadiers of Imhoff Infantry covered the artillery established on the Galgenberg. Imhoff also deployed 2 sqns behind his right wing and 2 sqns behind his left wing. Finally, he sent Stolzenberg Infantry upon his right, in a coppice, in order to fall upon the uncovered French left and instructed the other regiments to march, with drums beating up to the enemy and to attack them at the point of the bayonet as soon as they should hear the fire of the regiment in the coppice on the right.
While the Allies were deploying, Chavigny drove the Bückeburg Carabiniers and the Sachsen-Gotha Grenadiers out of the Schnellshof and, after a long firefight, made himself master of this outpost. Chavigny then advanced some 300 paces beyond this post against the left wing of the Allies.
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.
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 surrounding 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 aforementioned 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 his left. Imhoff was indeed leading the Stolzenberg battalion against the left flank of the Reding Brigade.
Imhoff, still posted on the Galgenberg had observed the advance of the French against his centre and his left wing. He had decided to turn the flank of the French left wing under the cover of the coppices and hedges.
It was already 11:00 a.m. when the Allies started their advance over the damp meadow. Their deployment had been hindered by coppices and hedges.
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 wing. This was Imhoff falling on the left flank of the Reding Brigade at the head of the Stolzenberg Infantry. Simultaneously, Imhoff Infantry 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 advanced with the centre of the Allies. On the left wing of the Allies, Sachsen-Gotha Infantry, thanks to its white uniforms, had managed to get very close to its French opponents without meeting opposition.
Chavigny's ranks, seriously depleted by the flight of the militia, were repulsed, Chavigny himself being wounded. His entire force then retreated.
The French bns forming the centre of the line fired a few salvos. Then they saw Erbprinz Infantry, Toll Infantry and Imhoff Infantry advancing against them with levelled muskets and they began to give way. Brancas Brigade, now isolated and unsupported, soon broke as well.
Panic soon spread for the left and right wing of the French to their centre and soon the entire line was precipitously retiring. The many bushes and woods covering the plain favoured the retreat of the French.
During their 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 around the Schnellshof into the small plain behind the village of Mehr. However, their attack against the left wing of the Allies failed because of the nature of the terrain. Nevertheless, it allowed the French infantry to regroup behind the Wildemann farmstead on 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.
Imhoff assembled his army on the battlefield where he remained for several hours. In the afternoon, he returned to his camp.
Chevert finally ordered retreat through Diersfordt, where his corps stopped for an hour to wait for the laggards and for the mobile hospital, and then marched back to Wesel where it arrived in the evening.
The French lost lost 17 officers and 500 men killed; and 49 officers and 363 men taken prisoners. The Allies captured 11 artillery pieces, 1 colour and a few hundreds muskets.
For their part, the Allies lost 188 men, including 3 officers killed and 6 wounded.
The bridge at Rees was saved but the danger of losing it to the French was one of the factors which convinced Ferdinand to recross to the right (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: Lieutenant-General 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 right to left):
- 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:
- Detachment of the Corps Royal de l'Artillerie (100 men)
- Feslev ferrymen
- Right flank of the column: 50 hussars (unspecified unit)
- Left flank of the column: 50 hussars (unspecified unit)
- Main body
- Front rank: Du Roy Dragons (4 sqns)
- Right column: Brancas Brigade under Milord Hamilton as brigadier and the Comte de Vence as maréchal de camp
- Left column: Reding Brigade under the Chevalier de La Marck as brigadier and the Marquis de Voyer 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
- 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. 370-375
- 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