1759-04-13 - Battle of Bergen
Prelude to the Battle
When Ferdinand of Brunswick heard of the capture of Frankfurt early in January 1759, he resolved to risk a long march at this bad season and to attack the Duc de Broglie near this town. He hoped to paralyse French operations in this region by severing them from their base. Ferdinand first launched diversionary operations against Hessen. He then launched a surprise attack on the French positions. However, Broglie managed to concentrate a French force at the fortified town of Bergen, blocking the road to Frankfurt.
Description of Events
On April 12, Broglie's Army bivouacked near Bergen.
In the evening of April 12, the Allies designed their plan of attack: the Hereditary Prince would be in the vanguard, the Prince Ysenburg on the left, the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp on the right. They would deploy in the country between Vilbel and Bergen. Ferdinand assumed that Bergen was occupied by only some 2 to 3,000 French troops and decided for a quick attack without artillery for the next day. Indeed, the artillery had been left behind in the mud. Orders were sent at midnight. Troops had to concentrated at their starting positions around Rossdorf and Kilianstädten, 3 km south of Windecken. The hour of the attack was fixed at 6:00 a.m. on April 13.
Map and initial deployment
The area where the battle was fought is comprised between Frankfurt to the southwest, the Nidda River to the north and the Main River to the southeast. The Allied army of Ferdinand of Brunswick had to march across an undulating, often broken terrain on its way towards Frankfurt. Not far from this town near Bergen, between the Nidda River and the Main Valley, the terrain narrows to a small, elongated, almost flat plateau that is only about 1,000 to 1,600 meters wide. This plateau was steeper in front than on flanks. The southern slope of this height, planted with vineyard, fell steeply to the mainland level and could only be entered by light troops. The fortified village of Bergen stood in the middle of the slope, surrounded by orchards. It was built near a crossroad where many roads converged. One of these roads led to Fechenheim on the banks of the Main River; a second, to Frankfurt; and a third, eastwards. Furthermore, two parallels sunken roads led northwards, one of them to Vilbel on the Nidda.
Two-thirds of the country between Bergen and the Nidda, was covered with trees and broken by streams tributary of this river.
Two large crests dominates both ends of the plateau: to the west, south of the village of Vilbel, the Wartberg, prolonged by a small knoll known as the Berger Warte crowned by a watchtower surrounded by a ditch, commanding the village of Bergen; and to the east the somewhat lower elevation of the “Am Hohen Stein.” The steep slopes of the Wartberg were covered with forests and the few meadows were buggy. A third hill, the Friedberger Warte, stood near the Bergen-Frankfurt road. Overall, the plateau facing Bergen was a narrow defile easy to block.
Many roads converged on Bergen. One of these roads led to Fechenheim on the banks of the Main River; a second, to Frankfurt; and a third, eastwards. Furthermore, two parallels sunken roads led northwards, one of them to Vilbel on the Nidda. Eastward, between the slope and the Main River, stood the village of Bischofheim.
Any attacker coming from Fulda would have to go through the defile near Bergen if it wanted to avoid a wide detour to the east. This defile was dominated at its narrowest point by the Wartberg and by the fortified village of Bergen, which constituted the main position. The village consisted of fortified houses and manors surrounded by a high and strong wall with bastion-like protrusions. There were two gates: one on the eastern side and the other on the western. These defensive works could not be climbed without ladders and could only be destroyed with heavy artillery. The highway leading from Fulda to Frankfurt ran through the gates of Bergen.
At the western outskirt of Bergen, stood the Schelmenburg, a fortified building with wall and moat. On three sides, Bergen was surrounded by orchards, distant from its wall by only 50 to 100 m. These orchards were delimited by thick hedges. This type terrain did not only disrupt movements of troops, but made it also impossible for the artillery of the attacker to actively support his troops. Furthermore, the terrain in this area, which used to be firm in dry weather, had softened under the current heavy rain and the roads became very difficult for horses and wagons.
The battlefield was also characterized by the large number of deeply incised and long ravines, which formed an obstacle for the cavalry. Such a ravine with steep slopes began some 200 m from the eastern side to the wall of Bergen and extended northwards some 800 m with a sunken road running at its bottom. This ravine was covered by the fire of the artillery of the defenders. A similar sunken road extended northwards from the western gate of Bergen across the plateau in the direction of Vilbel, but it was passable, although with difficulty, by cavalry.
The positions of the defenders extended between the fortified town of Bergen and the Wartberg and faced eastwards. However, the many folds and undulations of the terrain towards the “Hohen Stein,” in front of their positions, offered good cover to an attacker. However, the terrain on the plateau itself offered no protection against the defenders' fire. On this plateau, the wings and flanks of the defenders were more secure and an attacker would be very hampered by the long sunken roads running almost parallel to the positions of the defenders. However, the peculiar disposition of the terrain made it difficult for the defenders to counter-attack the enemy’s wings or flanks.
If the defender was forced to retreat, he would find a good position in the gradually sloping terrain towards the southwest near the Friedberg Warte behind the Landwehr (an old wall with a ditch), in a position to cover Frankfurt.
The French Positions
The Prince de Soubise and the Duc de Broglie had repeatedly inspected the area of Bergen that was so important for the protection of Frankfurt. Broglie had reported to Versailles that it was an excellent position that could only be forced by turning one or both wings.
At daybreak, Broglie deployed his army in order of battle. He knew that Bergen was the most important part of his positions. Accordingly, he deployed 23 bns in his right wing and only 12 bns in his left. His right was anchored on the village of Bergen and occupied a quite steep terrain interspersed with orchards separated by hedges. From his 23 bns of the right wing, 8 bns had already been posted on the eastern side of the village of Bergen and in the neighbouring orchards. Part of these 8 bns now manned the wall while the rest took position in the orchards outside the village where apple trees had been fell to form abatis. The other 15 bns of the right wing were kept in reserve on the western side of the village, ready to intervene. There were also 5 bns (Piémont and I./Royal Roussillon) posted behind the village of Bergen, supported by 2 bns of Alsace Infanterie. Then, formed in columns came 8 bns (Castellas, Diesbach, Rohan Montbazon and Beauvoisis) kept in reserve.
Broglie’s left (12 bns) was anchored on a wood along the Nidda River. The left of the infantry centre consisted of the Saxon rgts.
Broglie kept 10 bns in reserve in regimental columns under cover to the northwest of the Berger Warte, so that they could support both wings.
Because of the nature of the terrain, Broglie’s cavalry could only be placed in the centre. He deployed 32 sqns in three lines near the Berger Warte, with 1 bn deployed in the moat of the watchtower for support. Furthermore, 12 dragoon sqns were placed behind the left wing.
Furthermore, 8 batteries had been established on the eastern slope of the Wartberg with 45 heavy artillery pieces. The 16 light artillery pieces of the Saxons were assigned to the left wing. The artillery park was located behind the third cavalry line in the centre. However, an ammunition depot had been established behind each wing.
Most light troops were deployed in front of Broglie’s positions with a detachment in the village of Kilianstädten.
Broglie was firmly resolved to hold his positions. However, in case it became necessary to retreat, he had already determined on which road each regiment should retire and planned to take new positions on the heights of the Friedberger Warte where he would wait till night to retire under the walls of Frankfurt. From there, he would establish a bridge on the Main River and retire towards the Rhine.
Broglie hoped that the Allies would postpone the attack on his positions for one or two days, allowing Saint-Germain’s Corps, or at least part of it, to effect a junction with his own army.
The Allies march on Bergen
At dawn on the Good Friday of April 13, the Allies began to assemble east of Kilianstädten. Each fusilier had received 20 cartridges and each grenadier 60.
Early in the morning, Broglie gave orders to build boats, so that he could establish a bridge on the Main if necessary.
At 6:00 a.m., an increasing musketry fire began to tell. After a fight, Freytag's light troops occupied Marköbel to the north-east of Bergen, pushing back the French light troops who retreated from the forest near Kilianstädten and Nieder-Dorfelden and from the height of "Hohen Stein," close to Bergen.
Around 7:30 a.m., Ferdinand received a report from his light troops stating that a very strong French force was already deployed at Bergen. He immediately gave orders to the Hereditary Prince to advance with the vanguard to seize the heights before the French could take position on them. He also instructed the commanders of the two columns of the main body to march on Bergen as soon as their troops were ready.
At 8:00 a.m., Freytag’s detachment occupied the "Hohen Stein." The Volontaires d’Alsace then repeatedly tried to reconquer these heights, but all their attacks were repulsed.
Around 8:00 a.m., as a few Allied units (Freytag’s detachment) could be seen on the highway, Broglie immediately invited his subordinates, Lieutenant-General de Beaupréau, Lieutenant-General Prince Camille von Lothringen and Lieutenant-General Marquis de Castries to a meeting near the watchtower of Bergen and presented them the situation and gave them their orders for the coming battle. Beaupréau received command of the cavalry; Prince Camille, of the right wing; Lieutenant-General von Dyherrn, of the right wing. Major-General Chevalier Pelletier would command the artillery. Broglie also wrote to Saint-Germain, asking him to speedily march towards Bergen with his corps.
Meanwhile, the Hereditary Prince at the head of the Allied vanguard advanced on the road leading from Kilianstädten to Bergen. The Hereditary Prince was seconded by Major-General von Gilsa. Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick personally accompanied his vanguard. The head of the vanguard consisted of 2 grenadier coys from Prinz von Anhalt Infantry and Mansbach Infantry with the Hessian Leib Dragoons. They were followed by the Converged Grenadier Battalion Dehne and the Converged Grenadier Battalion Cramm with two 6-pdrs and one 12-pdr (by that time, only one 12-pdr under Captain von Imhoff had managed to join the vanguard). The Hereditary Prince also sent detachments towards Friedberg, Giessen and Hanau.
The main body of the Allied army was still slowly assembling under the Prince von Ysenburg and the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp in the vicinity of Kilianstädten. I./Zastrow Infantry (1bn) was placed at the head of the main body.
Soon after the departure of the vanguard, the first column of the main body, under the Prince von Ysenburg, set off from the vicinity of Kilianstädten and followed the vanguard, marching slightly to the right of the vanguard while remaining in sight of it.
Around 9:00 a.m.
- The Allied vanguard reached the "Hohen Stein." The Hereditary Prince and Duke Ferdinand found Freytag’s detachment in combat against French troops in the forest south of Vilbel and north of Bergen. Since the French seemed to be receiving reinforcements, Ferdinand immediately sent 2 grenadier coys from Prinz von Anhalt Infantry and Mansbach Infantry and the Hessian Leib Dragoons to support Freytag. Ferdinand wanted to keep the enemy busy until the arrival of the main body of his army. The 2 grenadier coys split in small groups and advanced against the French.
- From the height of "Hohen Stein," Duke Ferdinand examined Broglie’s positions, but from there he only had a partial view of the enemy lines. He concluded that the French were just arriving and not in full possession of the ground. He also realised that Bergen, the strong point of the French positions was impregnable unless he could make himself master of the neighbouring Berger Warte. Ferdinand had noticed that enemy troops were deployed on the western slope of this height but he estimated that they were only some 3,500 men strong. However, through the thick veil of the orchards, behind which Bergen was hidden, he failed to notice the peculiarity of this place and of its immediate surroundings, which were extremely unfavorable for an attack. Furthermore, Ferdinand had not noticed the strong force occupying Bergen and the orchards in front of it, which were in placed barred with abatis. Finally, he could not see the important reserve posted at the western edge of the town.
- New reports just strengthened Ferdinand’s belief that the French had not yet completed their concentration at Bergen. He decided to rapidly launch an attack against Bergen. The column of the Prince von Ysenburg would attack the east side of Bergen while the vanguard of the Hereditary Prince would attack frontally the north side of the town. Ferdinand gave orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Freytag to occupy Vilbel and the neighbouring bridge on the Nidda River to secure the flank and rear of the army and to create a diversion in these quarters.
- After much delay, the column of the main body under the Duke of Holstein finally set off from the vicinity of Kilianstädten.
The Freytag Jägers drove the Volontaires d’Alsace out of Vilbel at their first attempt and occupied the village and captured the bridge on the Nidda. Freytag left a detachment behind to guard the bridge and then advanced southwards into the forest. One coy of Freytag Jägers under Captain von Linsingen had remained on the height of "Hohen Stein" with Ferdinand.
The fire from the orchards in front of Bergen against the groups of grenadiers advancing on the town soon became so lively that Ferdinand feared that it could impair the advance of his columns.
The Allies probe through the orchards covering Bergen
Around 9:30 a.m., wanting to get more information on the strength of the enemy hidden in the orchards in front of Bergen, Ferdinand sent forward the coy of Freytag Jägers under Captain Linsingen, supported by 100 grenadiers. This force entered into the orchards where it bumped into a far superior force, being driven back in disorder.
Around 9:30 a.m., Major-General von Gilsa had reached the height of "Hohen Stein" with the Converged Grenadier Battalion Dehne and the Converged Grenadier Battalion Cramm which all formed part of the vanguard of the Hereditary Prince.
Gilsa’s troops advance into the orchards
Around 9:45 a.m., the Hereditary Prince saw jaegers hurrying back from the orchards in front of Bergen. He immediately gave orders to Major-General von Gilsa to advance on Bergen with his 2 converged Brunswicker grenadier bns (Converged Grenadier Battalion Dehne and Converged Grenadier Battalion Cramm) and with the two 6-pdrs . Meanwhile, the single 12-pdr opened on the French artillery posted near the Berger Warte.
As soon as Gilsa advanced with his 2 converged grenadier bns, the retreating jaegers and grenadiers rallied and joined in the attack. When all these Allied units left the cover of the “Hohen Stein,” they came under a violent artillery fire. Lieutenant Clüver answered as he could with his two 6-pdrs. Nevertheless, the brave Allied units continued to advance, while withstanding heavy losses, they conquered orchards and farms and reached the eastern sunken road. After a minute to take breath in the sunken road, they advanced in the open ground at the eastern outskirts of Bergen, just by the wall. Under a heavy fire and defending themselves with violent volleys, the Allied grenadiers reached the wall, but were slowed by an abatis. The French then fire on them at point-blank range while a battery took them in enfilade fire with canister shots. The grenadiers were stopped and thrown back.
From the height of the Berger Warte, Broglie had seen the movement of the Allies. There he had a reserve of 11 bns (Piémont, I./Royal Roussillon, Alsace Infanterie, Castellas and Diesbach) posted west of Bergen under his direct command. He sent the 7 bns of Piémont, Royal Roussillon, Alsace northwards and the 4 bns of Castellas and Diesbach around the southern side of Bergen.
Gilsa’s grenadiers and jaegers were attacked frontally and on their western flank. The French infantry most heavily involved in this fire fight were Planta and Royal-Suédois. Gilsa’s units had to slowly fall back with heavy losses over the deep sunken road, under fire of French regimental guns from the north, answering shot to shot to defenders. The two 6-pdrs which had taken position in the orchards were captured by the French.
Ferdinand reinforces Gilsa
Duke Ferdinand, who had accompanied Gilsa’s forces in their advance through the orchards, saw by himself the strength of the French forces occupying Bergen and its vicinity. When he noticed the arrival of the Swiss regiments south of Bergen, he rushed back to the "Hohen Stein" and sent the just arrived I./Zastrow Infantry to move against the four Swiss bns emerging at the south of Bergen to cover the Allied grenadiers.
The I./Zastrow Infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel von Kalm advanced at double-quick pace, under the lively fire of the French battery established near the Berger Warte, against the southeast outskirts of Bergen.
The I./Zastrow Infantry hurled back the Swiss who took refuge in Bergen.
The intrepid advance of the I./Zastrow Infantry had a beneficial effect on Gilsa’s retreating grenadiers and jaegers who turned back and advanced on the enemy. They, too, now pushed their stunned opponent back to Bergen, following them up to 100 paces up to the walls.
In fact, two bns of Piémont Infanterie and the first battalion of I./Royal Roussillon Infanterie advanced along the main street of Bergen but were thrown back by a volley at less than 50 paces. Fire ceased, the defenders being thrown in confusion.
The 7 bns (Piémont, Royal Roussillon, Alsace) sent northwards did not dare to launch another counterattack. However, the Allied units were by then so disorganised that they first had to rally before resuming their attack.
However, the main body of the division of the Hereditary Prince was still too far away to provide any support to Gilsa. When the French defenders recovered from the combat, Gilsa’s units and I./Zastrow Infantry found themselves in a desperate situation. Indeed, despite the failure of the first counterattack, others French coys attacked at the point of the bayonet and repulsed the Allies who immediately counterattacked pushing their French opponents back into a vineyard. Then 4 French grenadier coys belonging to Piémont Infanterie and I./Royal Roussillon Infanterie launched an attack as they emerged from the village. Seeing this the other French bns rallied, returned from the vineyard and supported the French grenadiers.
When Broglie had seen the I./Zastrow Infantry advancing on Bergen, he had ridden there. He brought with him 4 bns (2 bns of Rohan Montbazon Infanterie, 2 bns of Beauvoisis Infanterie) which were still hold in reserve west of Bergen to support the Dauphin Brigade (2 bns of Dauphin Infanterie, 2 bns of Enghien Infanterie) which was advancing from Broglie’s left towards the western outskirts of Bergen.
Gilsa’s forces could not withstand the fire of the far superior French troops defending Bergen. The Allies suffered heavy casualties (Major-General von Gilsa, Lieutenant-Colonel von Kalm and 8 other officers were severely wounded) and began to gradually retire, closely followed by Royal-Suédois.
Gilsa’s troops were finally forced to retire and the French captured the two 6-pdrs.
During these combats on the east side of Bergen, the division of the Hereditary Prince deployed on the “Hohen Stein.” The very active French heavy artillery took aim at Allied troops as they came out of cover, already inflicting losses.
According to Ferdinand's instructions, given at the beginning of the battle, the division of the Hereditary Prince should have deployed behind the “Hohen Stein” and then advanced southwards on Bergen; while the division of Prince Ysenburg, marching to his right, would deploy east of this height. But since Ysenburg’s troops were still lagging behind, the Hereditary Prince decided to deploy on the “Hohen Stein” where he found better cover and, above all, secured the advance and manoeuvres of the main body of the army and covered the troops fighting on the eastern side of Bergen from intervention by the enemy forces deployed northwest of the knoll of the Berger Warte.
Prince Ysenburg attack in support of Gilsa
Meanwhile, Duke Ferdinand had closely followed the events at Bergen. He realised that in its current position on the “Hohen Stein,” the division of the Hereditary Prince could not quickly support the troops engaged at Bergen. Accordingly, he sent orders to Prince Ysenburg to speed up his advance, to reinforce Gilsa’s grenadiers with a few bns and to make himself master of Bergen at all costs.
A small vanguard (Converged Grenadier Battalion Mirbach, 2 sqns of Hammerstein Cavalry and 4 sqns of Dachenhausen Dragoons) covered Ysenburg’s advance. Prince Ysenburg was at the head of these troops, advancing towards the “Hohen Stein” when he received Ferdinand’s new orders. He immediately sent the Converged Grenadier Battalion Mirbach in an attack against the northeastern corner of Bergen.
The grenadiers were followed by the 6 sqns (Hammerstein Cavalry, Dachenhausen Dragoons) advancing south of the highway, to support troops fighting in the orchards. Freytag also sent the 2 sqns of Ruesch Hussars to support these troops.
Prince Ysenburg then received new orders from Ferdinand, instructing him to set Bergen on fire as soon as his heavy artillery would be deployed and then to use all his forces to make himself master of the village. Ysenburg immediately despatched one of his adjutants, Captain Murhard, to the heavy artillery train in order to speed up its march.
Meanwhile, part of the Dachenhausen Dragoons managed to penetrate into Bergen by an open gate but were soon taken prisoners.
The Converged Grenadier Battalion Mirbach engaged the enemy at the sunken road. Its arrival gave Gilsa’s slowly retiring troops a respite. They rallied resumed their gallant advance. The sunken road was conquered for the second time and the abatis reached. But for the second time the abatis halted the Allies who were forced to retire. For some time the bloody battlefield fell silent.
It was now around 10:15 a.m., the Allies now had 4½ bns, 6 sqns, 2 sqns of hussars and some jaegers engaged in a confuse combat in the orchards on the eastern side of Bergen against vastly superior French forces which, to the exception of the 2 bns of Rohan Montbazon Infanterie, contented themselves to defend Bergen. These 2 bns were sent forward by Broglie against the right flank of the Converged Grenadier Battalion Mirbach.
During this time, Ysenburg’s Division had completed it deployment on the southeastern slope of the “Hohen Stein.” The two divisions of the Hereditary Prince and Prince Ysenburg now stood side by side with the cavalry on both wings and in rear.
At about this time, the French heavy artillery posted on the knoll of the Berger Warte was gradually moved forward about 200 meters along the eastern side of the sunken road leading from the western gate of Bergen to Vilbel. From these new positions it opened on Ysenburg’s Division.
Seeing this, Prince Ysenburg did not hesitate to launch his attack on Bergen as ordered by Ferdinand. He advanced at the head of the Hanoverian bns of his left wing (Fersen, Monroy, Wrede, Linstrow, Post) under the fire of the French artillery posted along the sunken road which poured a devastating fire into the advancing columns. Nevertheless Ysenburg continued his advance across the open terrain separating him from the orchards.
Despite this lively artillery fire, Ysenburg orderly deployed his Hanoverian bns into line. His bns then entered into the orchards and soon came across the remnants of Gilsa’s forces and the Converged Grenadier Battalion Mirbach, which rallied and followed up.
As they advanced through the orchards, the ranks of Ysenburg’s gradually became disorganised. They suffered from musket fire and canister shots. Furthermore, Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie enveloped their flanks. Prince Ysenburg was killed during the advance and Lieutenant-Colonel Marsschalck, Lieutenant-Colonel Wrede and several other officers were wounded. Adjutant Murhard, who had just returned from his mission, managed with great difficulty to bring back the body of Prince Ysenburg. Soon Ysenburg’s troops, deprived of several of their commanders, could not withstand the overwhelming fire of the French units surrounding them. This was a fight against all odds. The enormous difference of number began to tell, as Broglie threw against them all available bns, personally leading Rohan Montbazon Infanterie. Suffering heavy casualties, the Allies broke and routed, leaving behind some guns (2 battalion guns belonging to Wrede Infantry and 1 battalion gun belonging to Fersen Fusiliers). They were pursued by Rohan-Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie.
Urff and the Hereditary Prince cover the retreat of the attackers
From his post on the “Hohen Stein,” Duke Ferdinand had heard with growing concern the approaching din of battle. When he saw the remnants of his disorganised troops pouring out of the orchards and noticed the pursuing French, he thought that the enemy was on the verge of launching a general attack. He quickly instructed the Hereditary Prince to be ready to defend himself and then personally rode to the cavalry of his left wing and ordered Major-General von Urff to charge the French who were breaking through south of the highway.
Urff immediately advanced with 2 sqns of the Hessian Leib-Regiment Cavalry in first line and 2 sqns of the Prinz Friedrich Dragoons in second line and charged the flank of Beauvoisis Infanterie which broke and fled towards Bergen after suffering heavy casualties. Some 150 prisoners remained in the hands of the Hessians who pursued the French up to the orchards where they were received by such a lively fire that they had to withdraw with significant losses. Nevertheless, they managed to bring back their prisoners with them.
Meanwhile, the Hereditary Prince had taken command of the Hessian infantry rgts previously belonging to Ysenburg’s Division. They advanced towards the orchards to stop Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and thus allow the broken Allied bns to retire. A violent firefight broke out where the French infantry was effectively supported by its artillery.
The Duc de Broglie did not approve of the uncontrolled advance of his infantry out of the orchards. He did not intend to move out of his strong positions to counterattack and expected that Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie would meet with failure. He sent 10 cavalry sqns of his centre to a new position about 400 m in front of the sunken road near the Berger Warte. However, this cavalry could no longer intervene and took positions in a fold of the terrain, not far east of the sunken road.
While the Hereditary Prince and Major-General von Urff stopped the advance of the pursuing French infantry, Duke Ferdinand with the help of his adjutants (Bülow, Derenthal and Schlieffen) managed with great difficulty to rally the crowd of disordered troops retiring form the orchards near Bergen.
Ferdinand confided command of this division to Major-General Count von der Schulenburg to replace Prince Ysenburg.
When Schulenburg saw the 10 French sqns, which had crossed the sunken road and advanced, he deployed his own cavalry on the southwest slope of the “Hohen Stein”, ready for a counter-attack. However, his cavalry suffered so badly from the fire of the French artillery that Schulenburg, as soon as he realized that 10 French sqns did not intend to advance, immediately brought his cavalry back to cover.
The Allies regroup on the Hohen Stein
Around 11:00 a.m., the column of the Duke of Holstein finally reached the vicinity of the “Hohen Stein” after much delays. The Prince of Anhalt was at the head of the column with the Converged Grenadier Battalion Faust, the Hessian Garde-Infanterie (1 bn) and the Hessian Grenadier-Regiment. These bns, as ordered by Ferdinand, had sped up their advance and were marching alternatively at regular pace and double pace since an hour. They reinforced the left infantry wing of Schulenburg’s Division.
The bns of the Prince of Anhalt fired on the retiring Rohan Montbazon Infanterie.
Soon afterwards the rest of the division of the Duke of Holstein arrived. Ferdinand directed them to form the right wing of the army. Almost simultaneously, part of the Allied heavy artillery (4 x 12-pdrs) arrived and posted itself in front of the centre of the army. At last, the Allies had a few artillery pieces with which to answer to the 8 French batteries. Of course, these few guns were unable to significantly undermine the effects of the 45 cannons and howitzers of the French, but at least their action had an positive effect on the morale of the troops who had previously seen themselves defenceless against the enemy artillery fire.
After the withdrawal of the Rohan Montbazon Infanterie and Beauvoisis Infanterie, when Ferdinand realised that the French were unlikely to launch a new counterattack, he withdrew his troops behind the ridge of the “Hohen Stein” to put them under cover and avoid useless losses.
Ferdinand now had to decide whether and how he intended to continue the fight. It was not like him to give up without any further attempt, so he ordered his army to launch a new attack. He also hoped that the withdrawal of his troops would lead Broglie to believe that the Allies had retreated and that he would move out of his advantageous positions. If so, he would then attack him with all his forces. To complete the deception, he ordered his heavy guns to cease fire. But the cautious Broglie was not fooled and did not come out of his favorable positions. In fact, when the Allies retired behind the ridge of the “Hohen Stein,” Broglie concluded that they were preparing a new attack on Bergen.
Around noon, while his troops were deploying in a new order of battle, Ferdinand closely reconnoitered the left wing of Broglie’s positions. To drive the French out of Bergen and to prevent a counterattack launched from there, and probably to deceive Broglie about his real target, he ordered his heavy artillery to set Bergen on fire.
Some heavy guns which arrived later were aimed at Broglie’s left wing.
Freytag Jägers were already posted in the woods south of Vilbel, skirmishing with the Volontaires d’Alsace to cover the right wing of the Allies. Their guns were dueling with the regimental guns of the Saxons posted to the southwest of Vilbel.
Still convinced that the Allies planned a new attack on Bergen, Broglie decided to make a diversionary attack to threaten their right wing and to force them to leave troops in this area. Broglie gave orders to the commander of the Saxon Contingent, Lieutenant-General Baron von Dyherrn, to advance along the edge of the forest with 6 bns towards the northwestern slope of the “Hohen Stein.”
Dyherrn advanced a certain distance with his 6 bns, but then came back without having accomplished anything. On his way back, Dyherrn was severely wounded and had to be carried away from the battlefield (he would soon afterwards succumbed to his injuries).
Once the Allied army had deployed according to Ferdinand’s new orders, it marched over the ridge of the “Hohen Stein.” However, the attack was canceled when Ferdinand realised that the terrain in front of Broglie’s left wing was too difficult. He immediately pulled back his troops behind the cover of the ridge.
When the Allies reappeared on the height of the “Hohen Stein,” Broglie thought that he would soon have to face an attack south of Vilbel. He moved the 6 bns (Anhalt (2 bns), Bergh (1 bn), Royal Bavière (2 bns) and Nassau Prince Louis (1 bn)) posted to the northwest of the Berger Warte to the centre of his positions, so that they would be available to intervene on his left wing if necessary.
The Saxon artillery, which until then had only taken part in the skirmishes between light troops on Broglie’s left wing, now turned its attention to artillery positions on the right wing of the Allies. It was reinforced with 2 heavy pieces transferred from the French batteries established in the centre.
Ferdinand interpreted these changes in Broglie’s positions as preparation for a counterattack. Consequently, he once more moved his troops across the ridge of the “Hohen Stein.”
Since the French no longer advanced, Ferdinand finally took the army back into cover behind the ridge of the “Hohen Stein,” leaving only his artillery in its former positions. Now, all he had to do was to wait until darkness to retire unmolested from his positions.
The artillery duel continued, causing considerable losses on both sides. Gradually the rest of Ferdinand’s heavy artillery arrived and joined the combat.
By 6:00 p.m., all of Ferdinand’s heavy artillery (21 pieces) had arrived and was firing on Broglie’s positions.
Meanwhile, the Allied had buried their dead and transported their wounded to Windecken, with the exception of those too severely wounded to be moved.
Towards the end of the battle, fearing for his large magazines at Friedberg, Broglie despatched General d’Apchon with 2 dragoon rgts to reinforce the Chasseurs de Fischer who guarded these magazines.
As darkness fell, the artillery fire on both sides gradually decreased.
Broglie maintained his position while Saint-Germain arrived at Bergen with his corps to reinforce him.
Around 10:00 p.m., the Allies retired in two columns. Ferdinand remained on the “Hohen Stein” with the Hereditary Prince and the rearguard until 1:00 a.m. on April 14. The French made no attempt to pursue Ferdinand’s Army.
The Allied army spent the night of April 13 to 14 between Kilianstädten and Rossdorf.
The Allies lost 18 officers and 422 men, killed; 106 officers and 1,837 men, wounded; and 200 men, missing. The French also captures 5 artillery pieces.
The French 500 dead and 1,300 wounded. Furthermore, 4 officers (including one of Broglie’s adjutant) and 164 men were taken prisoners. They also lost 4 artillery pieces. Lieutenant-General von Dyherrn of the Saxon contingent was mortally wounded by a cannonball (he would die at Frankfurt/Main on April 24) while Prince Camille de Lorraine was wounded.
Please note that the French losses may be underestimated. The day after the battle, Broglie reported that his losses were at least 5,000 men killed or wounded. He also mentioned that Planta Infanterie and Royal Suédois Infanterie had been virtually annihilated. Contades, who arrived in Frankfurt on April 25, mentioned 3,400 men wounded.
However, Ferdinand's plan to drive the French out of Hesse had failed and he retired towards Minden.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick
Summary: 40 squadrons, 27 battalions, 21 field guns and approximately 46 battalion guns; for a total of about 22,000 men plus 1,900 light troops in 13 companies (excluding Prussian hussars).
N.B.: According to strength report dated April 1759, the average Allied battalion strength was about 600 men while a squadron averaged some 150 men.
- First column (or avant-garde column) under the Hereditary Prince
- Vanguard under Major-General von Gilsa (4 sqns, 2 bns)
- Main Force (9 bns, 7 sqns)
- Brunswick Zastrow (1 bn)
- Hessian Mansbach (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Anhalt (1 bn)
- Brunswick Imhoff (2 bns)
- Brunswick Behr (2 bns)
- Brunswick Leib-Regiment (2 bns)
- British 2nd (Royal North British) Dragoons (2 sqns) aka Grey Dragoons
- British 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons (2 sqns)
- British Royal Horse Guards (3 sqns) aka The Blues
- Artillery (2 x 6-pdrs, 2 x 12-pdrs, 3 howitzers
- Second column (or left column) under Prince von Ysenburg assisted by Lieutenant-General von der Schulenburg
- Vanguard (1 bn, 6 sqns)
- Main force under Major-General von Urff (10 sqns, 9 bns), from left to right
- Hessian Prinz Friedrich Dragoons (4 sqns)
- Hessian Pruschenk Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hessian Leib-Regiment Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hessian Prinz Wilhelm Cavalry (2 sqns)
- Hanoverian Post (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Linstrow (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Monroy (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Wrede (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Fersen (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Carl (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Ysenburg (1 bn)
- Hessian Canitz (1 bn)
- Hessian Hessen-Hanau (1 bn)
- Artillery (11 x 12-pdrs)
- Third column under Duke of Holstein-Gottorp assisted by Lieutenant-General Granby, Prince von Anhalt and von Wutginau
- Main force (10 sqns, 5 bns), from right to left
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Victor François, Duc de Broglie
Summary: 44 sqns, 46 bns, 1 artillery bn, 45 field pieces and about 66 battalion guns (incl. 16 Saxon); for a total of about 30,000 men plus 450 light troops
N.B.: The average French battalion strength was about 450 men while a squadron averaged some 120 men.
|Advanced Positions||First Line||Second Line||Third Line|
|Right Wing under Lieutenant-General Prince Camille de Lorraine seconded by Major-General Comte d’Orlick and Major-General Marquis de Saint-Chamond|
|French troops occupying Bergen under Brigadier Clausen||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)
||behind Bergen (deployed in regimental columns)|
|Centre under Lieutenant-General Comte de Beaupréau seconded by Lieutenant-General Marquis de Castries|
|Artillery guns deployed along the sunken road to the east of the Wartberg under Major-General Chevalier de Pelletier||Cavalry behind the Berger Warte||Cavalry||Dragoon Reserve|
|Left Wing under Lieutenant-General Baron von Dyherrn, north of the Wartberg near Vilbel|
|1st Saxon Brigade
2nd Saxon Brigade
Artillery (16 x 4-pdrs)
|Apchon Dragons (4 sqns)||Cavalry|
Left Wing Reserve, deployed in regimental columns behind the Wartberg
- Dauphin Brigade
- Anhalt Brigade
- Royal Bavière Brigade
- Volontaires d’Alsace (approx. 450 men), deployed en tirailleur in the woods near Vilbel in front of the Saxon line
Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Vol. 19
Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 478-498.
Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 9 Bergen, Berlin, 1911, pp. 154-174, Append. 17, Anlage 6
Jomini, Baron de: Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811, pp. 7-10
Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. IV, Paris, 1891, pp. 370-371
Pengel and Hurt: Allied armies in Germany during the Seven Years War
Rogge, Christian: The French and Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt: 2007
Savory, Reginald: His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany during the Seven Years War, Oxford University Press: 1966
Susane, Louis: Histoire de l'infanterie française, Librairie Militaire Maritime et Polytechnique de J. Corréard, Paris: 1876
Westphalen, Christian Heinrich Philipp: Geschichte der Feldzüge des Herzogs Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Berlin: 1859
Wikipedia – Battle of Bergen
Carlo Bessolo for the initial version of this article