1759-08-01 - Battle of Minden
- 1 Prelude to the Battle
- 2 Map
- 3 Description of Events
- 4 Outcome
- 5 Order of Battle
- 6 References
Prelude to the Battle
|Did you know that...|
|In 1759, Voltaire published the satire Candide ou l'optimisme. To preserve Voltaire's anonymity, the satire was initially attributed to Dr. Ralph, a German doctor.
A new edition with amendments was published in 1761. The English title of this edition was Candide, or Optimism. Translated from the German of Dr. Ralph. With the additions found in the Doctor's pocket when he died at Minden, in the Year of Grace 1759.
In 1762, Candide was listed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Roman Catholic Church's list of prohibited books.
In 1768, Voltaire finally recognized paternity of this controversial satire.
Acknowledgement: Leonard Dorn for this interesting anecdote
At the beginning of July 1759, a French force under the Duc de Broglie captured the town of Minden by surprise, thus securing a bridge over the Weser and getting access to Hanover. By July 16, the Maréchal de Contades had joined Broglie at Minden with the main French army. Meanwhile, Ferdinand of Brunswick concentrated the Allied army and methodically approached the town.
On July 29, Ferdinand, leaving Wangenheim's Corps in its entrenched positions at Todtenhausen, advanced to Friedewalde and Hille with the rest of his army, making sure that his left could rapidly link with Wangenheim's right. The British held the place of honour on the right of the line and pickets were pushed on forward. A small corps under Gilsa was sent to Lübbecke to maintain communication with the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick.
On July 31 at 9:00 a.m., Engineer-Captain von Bauer, who was observing the French positions from a knoll, reported that a large dust cloud could be seen on the highway between Minden and Herford. News from Minden also stated that the French headquarters were preparing to move. In the afternoon, the Luckner Hussars, posted on the east bank of the Weser, reported that movements could be observed in Broglie’s camp. Ferdinand was still uncertain whether the French intended to retire or to attack, but he gave orders that his army should be ready to march by 1:00 a.m. on August 1, with the cavalry horse saddled, the artillery horses harnessed and the infantry gathered; but tents were not to be struck, nor the troops put under arms till further orders.
Ferdinand assumed that, if the French attacked, they would first turn against Wangenheim's Corps and then fall into his left flank between Hahlen and Stemmer. Consequently, he advised his generals to closely watch the roads leading from their positions and to reconnoitre the terrain through which their troops would have to advance. As soon as a French attack would be detected, the Allied army would advance in eight columns into the plain and then deploy in two lines. His right wing would reach the windmill located to the northwest of Hahlen and his left at Stemmer, where it communicated with Wangenheim’s positions. Wangenheim, for his part, would sustain the French attack in his fortified position of Kutenhausen and Todtenhausen. Meanwhile, the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick would attack the Duc de Brissac and capture the bridge near Gohfeld to cut the line of communication of the French army with Paderborn.
Contades, ignoring these dispositions, considered that the Allied army was dispersed. With his lines of communication with Kassel cut, it looked very tempting to engage a battle against Ferdinand. In preparation for such an endeavour, Contades detached the Duc de Brissac with 8,000 men to Gohfeld to cover the Hereditary Prince. He also threw 19 bridges over the Bastau for the passage of his troops across it in as many columns.
On July 31 at 6:00 p.m., Contades assembled his generals and informed them of his decision to attack the Allies on the following morning. They all agreed with him. He then gave them very detailed instructions about the orders of march and battle. The march would begin when the “Retraite” would be sounded at 10:00 p.m. During the night, the main army would cross the Bastau and then form in eight columns and advance under cover of the southeastern slope of the plain of Minden. At daybreak, Contades expected that his army would be deployed in two lines between the “Red Houses,” from the farmstead of Malbergen to Hahlen. Contades had decided to deploy his cavalry in the centre because the terrain in front of his wings was marshy and covered with bushes while an open heath was facing his centre. His heavy artillery, deployed in front of his two wings would keep the terrain facing the centre under cross-fire. Each infantry brigade of the first line had to keep 1 bn in column formation. A distance of 400 paces would separate the lines.
For his part, Broglie was ordered to cross the Weser on the bridge of Minden with his corps to form a 9th column upon Contades’ right and to attack Todtenhausen and Bevern's camp at Petershagen. The 8 elite bns of Grenadiers de France and the Grenadiers Royaux, which were encamped at the foot of the fortifications of Minden would then join Broglie’s Corps with six 12-pdrs and four howitzers. Broglie would then advance against the entrenchments of Todtenhausen. Contades insisted that this attack should be rapid and lively to drive Wangenheim out of his fortified positions. Broglie should then immediately attack Ferdinand’s left flank, while Contades would launch a frontal assault. Lieutenant-General Chevalier de Nicolay, who commanded the right wing of the main army would then support Broglie’s attack.
Meanwhile, the Duc d’Havré at the head of his detachment would launch a diversionary attack against the causeway of Eickhorst. He also had to protect the left flank of the main army against any attack of the Allies through the moors; and to maintain communication with the Duc de Brissac. In case of a retreat of the French army, d'Havré had been instructed to block the causeway of Eickhorst.
In case of a defeat, the left wing and the centre of the French army had been instructed to recross the Bastau and to return to their camp; while the right wing and Broglie’s Corps would take refuge in Minden.
Most of the baggage of the French army was sent under escort to Rehme. To cover the baggage, the Duc de Brissac was instructed to take position behind the Werre at Gohfeld.
Contades could bring 51,000 men with 162 guns into the plain of Minden while Ferdinand could oppose him 41,000 men and 170 guns.
Wikimedia Commons also propose the following high resolution maps of the Battle of Minden:
The battlefield lay to the west of the Weser and extended northwards and northwestwards up to a line formed by the villages of Todtenhausen (aka Thonhausen), Friedewalde, Hille and Lübbecke. To the south, the Wiehen Hills formed a sort of wall delimiting this mainly flat area. Apart from the large post road from Minden to Herford, which ran along the Weser through the defile of Wittekindstein (Porta Westfalica) and crossed the Werre at Gohfeld, there were usable crossings for troops and artillery at Bergkirchen and Lübbecke, while less good tracks led from Luttern to Volmerdingsen and from Elfte to Wulferdingsen across the hills.
The Bastau, a 5 m. wide stream, flowed into the Weser near Minden. Its upper and middle courses ran through a 2 km wide peat bog, which could only be crossed on the causeway between Hille and Eickhorst. From Süd-Hemmern, Hartum and Hahlen only hauling paths led into the moor. On the stretch from Hummelbeck to Minden, the Bastau flowed through partly boggy meadows.
The plain of Minden extended south of Stemmer and Kutenhausen. It formed a flat meadow sloping down towards Minden. At the edge of this vast heath, there were numerous large villages surrounded by gardens and hedges. However, on the heath itself, there were only a few farmsteads (Malbergen, Neuland and Finster-Reihe), commonly designated as the “Red Houses.” A few large woods located in the western part of the heath, as well as trees and hedges that bordered the connecting paths between the villages limited the view, especially to the west and northwest. A 500 m wide depression ran down from the Malbergen farmstead to the Weser.
The Allied army was encamped between Friedewalde and Hille behind the Landerbach, a tributary of the Bastau. Seven bridges allowed to march forward into the plain of Minden. Ferdinand had a line of outposts extending from Stemmer and Holzhausen, to Hartum and the bog of the Bastau, in various villages and woody patches and favourable spots, all looking in upon Minden. His positions formed a kind of arc 8 or 11 km from Minden. Numerous hedges, rows of trees and bushes could hide from the French any advancing column for a long time. From Friedewalde the meadow extended eastwards to the banks of the Weser River. A picket of British infantry was posted in Hartum; a picket of Hanoverians in Süd-Hemmern; a picket of Hessians in the woods between Hartum and Holzhausen; a cavalry picket in Holzhausen; and a picket of Brunswickers in Stemmer. On July 31, the Hessian Lieutenant-General Prince Karl Leopold of Anhalt-Bernburg commanded the 1,600 foot and 200 horse manning these outposts.
Wangenheim’s Corps was encamped north of Todtenhausen. The villages of Stemmer and Kutenhausen, located in front of this camp, were protected by defensive works. Near these villages and the Weser, a broad knoll dominated the road leading to Minden and its vicinity. On this knoll, the Count von Bückeburg had established entrenched artillery positions to counter any northwards French attack.
Some 150 Prussian hussars under Lieutenant-Colonel von Narzynsky, posted between the villages of Stemmer and Kutenhausen, secured communication between the main army and Wangenheim’s Corps. The two Brunswicker converged grenadier bns had been detached to Todtenhausen.
Initially Contades’ Army was deployed at the northern foot of the Wiehen Hills, south of the Bastau to the west of Minden. The French had established 19 passages on Bastau stream.
Description of Events
On Tuesday evening July 31, the French camp was all alert in the darkness. More than 50,000 French were in motion. Contades had 19 bridges ready on the Bastau stream, in front of him. He planned to march his army across these bridges, to its various stations on the plain of Minden.
On August 1, about midnight, Contades' army came out of its camp and started to cross the Bastau. Meanwhile, Broglie passed the Weser by the town bridge, and marched through Minden. Broglie’s Corps formed a ninth column to the right of the French army and gradually ranked itself opposite Todtenhausen. The advance was conducted without being noticed by the Allies because a violent storm had broken out, drowning out all noises.
By 1:00 a.m., as instructed, Ferdinand’s Army was ready to march and waited in its camp behind the Lauterbach. However, Sackville’s cavalry was not saddled as ordered (it would get saddled only around 4:00 a.m.).
Around 1:00 a.m., two deserters from Picardie Infanterie were brought in by a picket to Hartum to the Prince of Anhalt, general officer of the day in the Allied army, with the important intelligence that the whole French army was in motion towards the Minden Heath since 10:00 p.m. on the previous evening. Even though the prince of Anhalt did not believe them, he sent them to Ferdinand, because the latter had directed that, on the observance of the slightest movement at the advanced posts, information should be brought to him at once.
Around 3:30 a.m., a messenger arrived at Ferdinand's headquarters at Hille from the Prince of Anhalt with the two deserters. Ferdinand did not doubt of the veracity of these information given by these deserters and instantly called the whole of his troops to arms, and ordered them to march to their appointed positions. His orders had already been issued, and were clear and precise enough. Ferdinand also dispatched all the adjutants present at his headquarters to speed up the departure of all columns.
and to take possession of Hahlen, to support his right wing.
To compensate for the delay of Sackville's column, Ferdinand galloped away to Hartum and ordered the pickets stationed therein under the Prince of Anhalt, along with a British light artillery brigade (9 x 6-pdrs), to move at once to Hahlen, and then hurried back with all speed to the latter village, only to learn the bad news that it was already in possession of the French. Meanwhile not a word had come from Wangenheim, who, for aught he knew, might be in serious difficulties. Ferdinand then despatched his solitary aide-de-camp to Todtenhausen to ascertain how matters were going on the left.
By 4:00 a.m., Broglie, a capable officer, had crossed the Weser, taken up his appointed position on the right close to the Weser. His corps was deployed in order of battle between Malbergen and the Weser. With the grenadier bns which had joined him at Minden, Broglie was now at the head of 22 bns: 18 of them deployed in two lines and 4 kept in reserve. His cavalry covered his left wing.
At sunrise, around 4:30 a.m., Wangenheim’s outposts spotted Broglie’s advancing corps and sent alarm to his camp. As Broglie’s artillery was taking position, only 4 bns (2 Brunswick converged grenadier bns, and the Hanoverian Jung Zastrow Infantry and Scheither Infantry) were available to defend Todtenhausen, and the heavy artillery that was supposed to occupy the redoubts had not yet arrived from the Allied camp.
Around 4:30 a.m., Allied patrols reported that the French had reached Hahlen. Ferdinand rode forward to determine if the enemy had already reached the plain of Minden.
Around 5:00 a.m., Ferdinand saw strong French columns advancing in the direction of Kutenhausen and a large dust cloud in the direction of Todtenhausen. However, he could not hear the sound of the guns because a strong wind was blowing eastwards, damping all noises.
Artillery duel near Todtenhausen
The morning was very misty. Broglie's instructions were to root Wangenheim and then to take advantage of the 5 km gap between Ferdinand and Wangenheim. Even though Contades’ plan called for an attack on the Allied army at 5:00 a.m., his troops had wasted many hours to form after crossing the Bastau.
By 5:00 a.m., Broglie, had made his dispositions to fall upon Wangenheim, punctually and in good order. Broglie’s artillery opened a lively fire on Wangenheim’s positions.
Around 5:00 AM, Wangenheim's corps moved out of its camp through the openings previously made in the dyke and formed in order of battle as follows (from right to left):
- 18 cavalry sqns
- 8 infantry bns in the hedges of Kutenhausen
- batteries of Todtenhausen
While the Wangenheim’s troops rushed out of their camp, the French fired violently at the weak forces opposing them. An immediate attack would probably have made Broglie master of the positions of Todtenhausen in a short time; but Broglie did not dare to attack because Nicolay’s Corps, which was supposed to cover his left flank had not yet reached its assigned position and Broglie’s attack degenerated in a long and lively artillery duel, allowing Wangenheim’s troops enough time to man their entrenchments. A few houses were set afire in Todtenhausen.
Broglie continued, quite uselessly to cannonade Wangenheim's positions around Todtenhausen for 3 hours. The Hessian heavy artillery brigade of Lieutenant Colonel Huth, which had moved into the redoubts, soon established its superiority. Broglie’s infantry, particularly the grenadiers deployed in the first line, suffered heavy losses.
When Lieutenant-General Nicolay finally marched on Kutenhausen with the Picardie Brigade and Belsunce Brigade, it did not change the general situation in this section of the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Contades' main army was forming in order of battle on the plain of Minden. His cavalry occupied the heath in the centre and his infantry on the left extended to the morass near the village of Hahlen.
From 5:00 a.m., Ferdinand was issuing from his camp, advancing eastward, closing on Contades. The advance was to be in 8 columns:
- 1st column: cavalry of the right wing
- 2nd column: heavy artillery of the right wing
- 3rd and 4th columns: infantry of the right wing
- 5th column: heavy artillery of the centre
- 6th and 7th column: infantry of the left wing
- 8th column: cavalry of the left wing
On the French left wing, the 4 bns of the Champagne Brigade were posted at Hahlen, which formed the extremity of the first line. The three other French brigades of the left infantry wing (Du Roy, Aquitaine and Condé) were deployed to the right of the village, facing to the northwest. These 16 bns of the first line were under the command of Lieutenant-General Comte Guerchy. The second line (15 Saxon bns) was under the command of Prince Xavier (aka Comte de Lusace). The heavy artillery (30 pieces) assigned to the left wing was deployed in front of these two lines.
Around 6:00 a.m., seven of the eight columns of Ferdinand’s main army began to deploy at their assigned positions. However, in Sackville's column all was confusion and delay. Some of the regiments were ready and others were not. Sackville himself was not to be found. It was no good beginning for the British cavalry who was supposed to form the right wing at Hahlen. There was therefore every likelihood that the village on which Ferdinand had intended to rest his right flank, might be occupied by the French before Sackville could be there to prevent them.
Advance of the Allies
The Prince of Anhalt then informed Ferdinand that the French had already occupied Hahlen. Ferdinand ordered him to attack and recapture this village.
Between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m., the Allied columns deployed in order of battle from Hartum and Hahlen to their right and Stemmeren to their left. According to Ferdinand's instructions, the Allied pickets under the Prince of Anhalt were deployed in front of the cavalry of the right wing near Hahlen.
About 7:00 a.m., a French battery of the left wing opened against the second Allied column of artillery on its march and raked it. The British brigade forming part of this column deployed and returned fire and silenced the French battery within 10 minutes.
By 7:00 a.m. and even by 8:00 a.m., Contade's troops were still struggling to take position. Some columns were too close, others too distant. His line was convex in form, following, as it were, the contour of the walls of Minden, with the right resting on the Weser and the left on the morass. At the extreme right, Broglie's corps on the right was drawn up in two lines, the first of infantry, the second of cavalry, with two powerful batteries in advance. The ground on both wings was rough and quite unfit for cavalry. Therefore, Contades had put his entire cavalry in the centre. These 10,000 horses were the flower of the French Army, they had firm open ground ahead of them and strong batteries and masses of infantry to support on each flank. The batteries were positioned to catch any assailant in cross-fire. However, the French left wing of infantry was late in arriving at its position, and its tardiness was not without effect on the issue of the action.
By 8:00 a.m., the British cavalry under Sackville had finally taken position at the village of Hartum.
Soon after 8:00 AM, a furious cannonade began about Hille on the French left, where the causeway issued from the western end of the morass. However, Ferdinand had already sealed up the outlet of the causeway with 500 men and two guns. Ferdinand sent information to the Hereditary Prince of what was passing. A French battery of 6 guns began to cannonade Ferdinand's headquarters at Hille from Eickhorst. A French corps was deployed nearby to make a false attack on Hille to distract Ferdinand's attention from their main effort on the Allied left wing. When Ferdinand heard the roar of cannon coming from the direction of Eickhorst, he rightly considered that it was a diversionary attack. Nevertheless, he sent two 12-pdrs to reinforce the detachment at Reinecke and sent orders to Lieutenant-General von Gilsa to march from Lübbecke to Eickhorst and to drive the French out of this position.
Broglie, realising that his cannonade was producing no tangible results and that Wangenheim was opposing him a larger force than expected, decided to go and meet Contades to request reinforcements.
Combat near Hahlen
After making sure that his columns were advancing, Ferdinand turned his attention back to Hahlen. There, the Prince of Anhalt had duly brought up the pickets and 2 howitzers from Hartum before Hahlen, as directed, but had halted instead of clearing the French out of the village. This inaction had delayed the deployment of the whole of Spörcken's column. Ferdinand then ordered the Prince of Anhalt to take at once the village, occupied by 2 French bns during the night, which Anhalt finally did after three assaults. The French evacuated the village after setting fire to its western part, and retired to Dützen along the marshes.
The British light artillery brigade assigned to Anhalt’s detachment established itself near the windmill of Hahlen and opened fire on the French left wing.
After the occupation of Hahlen, matters on the right began to adjust themselves for the Allies. Ferdinand ordered Captain Foy's battery to the front of the village, to cover the formation of the troops, and was soon satisfied by the admirable working of these British guns that all was safe in that quarter. Meanwhile his aide-de-camp returned from Todtenhausen with intelligence that Wangenheim was holding his own, though the enemy had gained ground on Wangenheim's right, where his flank was uncovered.
Observing the excellent practice of Foy's battery before Hahlen, Ferdinand had already sent Macbean's British battery to join it and ordered Haase's Hanoverian brigade of heavy guns to the same position. Then seeing his rightmost infantry column under Spörcken in the act of deployment in two lines on the height of the Hahlen windmill, he sent orders that its advance, when the other columns would have completed their deployment, should be made with drums beating. The order was either misdelivered or misunderstood, for to his surprise the leading British brigade shook itself up and began to advance forthwith.
A flight of aides-de-camp galloped off to stop Spörcken’s troops and the British line halted behind a belt of fir-wood north of Hahlen to await the formation of the rest of the army. In the first line of Spörcken's division stood, counting from right to left, the 12th Foot, 37th Foot and 23rd Foot under Brigadier Waldegrave. In the second line, which extended beyond the first on each flank, the 20th Foot, 51st Foot and 25th Foot under Brigadier Kingsley, Hanoverian Hardenberg Infantry, and the 2 bns of Hanoverian Foot Guards. There then they stood for a few minutes, while the second line, which was only partially deployed, hastened to complete the evolution.
After a short halt, without waiting for the complete deployment of the army, the drums again began to roll and, to the general amazement, Spörcken’s first line stepped off once more, came out of the fir-wood, re-formed and advanced rapidly but in perfect order, straight upon the cavalry deployed on the left of the French centre. The bns marched so impetuously that the regiment artillery pieces could not follow.
The second line, though its formation was still incomplete, stepped off likewise in rear of its comrades, deploying as it moved, and therefore of necessity dropping somewhat in rear. Hardenberg Infantry, which was at the head of the neighbouring column under General Scheele, also joined the attack of Spörcken’s troops. And so the 9 bns, with the leading brigade far in advance, swung proudly forward. Two French batteries of 30 and 36 guns took the advancing line in cross-fire while the British light artillery brigade (9 x 6-pdrs) attached to Spörcken’s column opened against the artillery of the French left wing. Alone and unsupported from the rest of the line, the British line continued its advance.
Attack of the French Cavalry
No aide-de-camp, gallop though he might, could stop the British infantry brigades now. The British bns deployed on the right were the more exposed to destruction, for the French batteries at Malbergen on their left were too remote to maintain a really deadly fire. For nearly 150 paces of the advance, the French guns tore great gaps in their ranks. However, Allied batteries soon silenced the French battery, and the British brigades pressed on with steadiness against the motionless lines of French cavalry.
Spörcken’s Division was advancing against the left wing of the French cavalry centre, which was led by Lieutenant-General Duc de Fitzjames and consisted of two lines of three brigades each. A Reserve (8 sqns of the Gendarmerie de France and the 10 sqns of Carabiniers) under Lieutenant-General Marquis de Poyanne stood behind these two lines. Overall, there were 63 sqns, some 7,000 horse) facing Spörcken’s Division (9 bns when including Hardenberg Infantry) on a terrain particularly well suited for cavalry.
Maréchal Contades was astounded to see two lines of infantry coming out of the bushes in front of his cavalry and advancing across the heath, undeterred by the fire of his artillery established near Hahlen. The Duc de Fitzjames gave orders to the Lieutenant-General Duc de Castries to charge the audacious attackers with 11 sqns (Mestre de Camp Brigade and part of Royal Cravates Brigade) of the left wing of his first line. These sqns bore straight down upon the 6 bns of the first line.
When the British bns saw the French cavalry advancing against them, they halted, let their opponents come within 10 meters. They then poured a deadly volley which strewed the ground with men and horses, throwing back the French first line of cavalry and continuing their advance. Part of the cavalrymen managed to reach the first rank of the defenders who repulsed them at the point of the bayonet while the rest of the attackers retired.
Ferdinand, perceiving the disorder of the French, sent an aide-de-camp at full speed to Lord George Sackville, who commanded the 24 sqns of the Allied right wing, to form in columns of sqns and to bring up his cavalry and complete the rout. Sackville disputed the meaning of the order for a time, and then advancing his sqns for a short distance, as if to obey it, brought them once more to a halt. A second messenger came up in hot haste to ask why the cavalry of the right did not come on, but Sackville remained stationary, and the opportunity was lost.
Indeed, Contades arrived in the centre and ordered Beaupréau to occupy a few houses and hedges situated in front of the French cavalry with Touraine brigade and 8 guns. While Beaupréau marched to his new positions, 3 additional French infantry brigades and 24 guns were coming forward from the French left to enfilade the audacious British and Hanoverian bns. Ferdinand, since Sackville would not move, advanced Phillips's Brigade of heavy guns in order to parry, if possible, this flanking attack.
The Duc de Fitzjames then sent forward 14 sqns (Royal Étrangers Brigade (8 sqns) and Bourgogne Brigade (6 sqns)) of his second line. These sqns came thundering down, eager to retrieve their defeat, upon the 9 isolated bns. For a moment the Anglo-Hanoverian lines seemed to waver under this attack, but recovering themselves they closed up their ranks and met the charging sqns with a storm of musketry. Some sqns managed to break through the 6 bns of the first line but they were received by the fire of the 3 bns of the second line and few escaped.
Lieutenant-General Comte Guerchy, who commanded the infantry of the French left wing, had just formed the two Saxon brigades of his second line in two columns behind his left wing on both sides of the road leading from Minden to Hahlen, planning to attack the Allies in these quarters. When he saw Spörcken’s Division driving the French cavalry back, he decided to cancel his attack and to come to the support of the cavalry with the two rightmost brigades (Condé and Aquitaine for a total of 8 bns) of his first line. These bns fell on the right flank of Spörcken’s Division, which had resumed its advance.
Spörcken moved the 3 bns of his second line to the right of his first line to engage the 8 French bns. Meanwhile Ferdinand sent 5 bns (Reden, Scheele, [Stolzenberg Infantry|Stolzenberg]], Estorff, Erbprinz Friedrich) of Scheele’s column to support Spörcken’s right wing which was on the verge of being turned.
Again an aide-de-camp flew from Ferdinand's side to Sackville, adjuring him to bring up the cavalry of the right wing only, if no more, to make good the success. However, it was not jealousy of the foreign sqns under his command that kept Sackville back. The messenger delivered his order; but not a sqn moved. However, Spörcken’s Division received effective support from the Hanoverian heavy artillery brigade of the right wing, under Major Haase, which had taken position between the windmill of Hahlen and the fir-wood.
Haase's artillery brigades had barely opened fire, and Scheele's bns were still on the march when the French launched a third cavalry attack. This charge conducted by Lieutenant-General de Poyanne at the head of the Cavalry Reserve (the 8 sqns of the Gendarmerie de France and the 10 sqns of Carabiniers for a total of approx. 2,000 horse) was more massive and more dangerous than the first two. Their attack was directed against the front and the left flank of the 9 brave bns of Spörcken’s Division. They charged and broke through the line of Allied infantry in several locations. They also stormed around Spörcken’s left wing, trying to attack from the rear. The third rank of Spörcken’s infantry made an about-face. The infantry wavered because there was no longer a second line to support it.
At this crucial moment, Spörcken’s Division finally received support. It came from Wutginau’s column, which had initially advanced to the left of Scheele’s column. When the latter column was redirected towards Hahlen to cover Spörcken’s right flank (Scheele was still on the march towards his new assigned positions), Wutginau marched towards Spörcken’s Division. His 2 rightmost bns ([Wangenheim Infantry]] and Hessian Garde) opened a lively fire against the flank of the French Gendarmerie. In conjunction with the steadfast attitude of Spörcken’s Division, Wutginau’ support forced the French cavalry to retire. The Gendarmerie had suffered very heavy casualties (approx. 50%). The Hanoverian Foot Guards captured six of its standards and Hardenberg Infantry, two more. Poyanne, commanding the reserve, suffered several wounds during this charge.
A fourth messenger was sent to Sackville, but with no result. Ferdinand's impatience waxed hot. “When is that cavalry coming?" he kept exclaiming. "Has no one seen that cavalry of the right wing? " But no cavalry came. “Good God! is there no means of getting that cavalry to advance," he ejaculated in desperation, and sent a fifth messenger to bring up Lord Granby with the sqns of Sackville's second line only. Granby was about to execute the order, when Sackville rode up and forbade him and then, as if still in doubt as to these repeated orders, Sackville trotted up to Ferdinand and asked what they might mean. “My Lord," Ferdinand is said to have answered, calmly, but with such contempt as may be imagined, “the opportunity is now passed."
Attack of the Saxon Contingent
During the combat against the French Cavalry Reserve, the French infantry brigades (Condé and Aquitaine) were also driven back. They had suffered heavy casualties from the numerous British and Hanoverian artillery established north of Hahlen; and the routing French cavalry had disordered their ranks. There were no second line to support them because the two Saxon brigades had been left in column formation near Hahlen.
Prince Xavier, then sent his 3 rightmost Saxon bns (Kurprinzessin (2 bns), Prinz Sachsen-Gotha (1 bn)) forward. They fired in the flank of Spörcken’s Division. The remaining 3 bns (Prinz Anton (1 bn), Graf Brühl (1 bn), Rochow Fusiliers (1 bn)) of the rightmost Saxon brigade deployed “en potence” to the left of the others, facing northwestwards.
Combat near Malbergen
During the epic combat, which took place during the bold advance of Spörcken’s Division, the left wing of Ferdinand’s Army continued its march to the southeast of Holzhausen. Imhoff’s column was advancing to the left of Wutginau’s column. Meanwhile, the artillery brigade of the centre, posted between these two columns, opened against the French cavalry, which were trying to rally south of Malbergen. The rightmost French cavalry brigade (Colonel Général), under the command of Lieutenant-General Vogüé, then launched a fourth charge against Spörcken’s troops. This last charge broke under the deadly fire of this artillery brigade before contacting Spörcken’s troops. The French cavalry was now totally beaten.
The wide prairie before Minden was covered with routing cavalrymen who broke through the French positions, inducing part of the infantry of the French right wing to retire. The battle would have turned to a total disaster for the French if Sackville’s cavalry had attacked at this moment as repeatedly ordered by Ferdinand.
During the repeated cavalry attack in the centre, Maréchal Contades had joined his infantry right wing. The two leftmost brigades (Touraine and Rourgue) advanced from the southeast of Malbergen under Lieutenant-General Beaupréau. Contades gave orders to Beaupréau to attack the flank of the Allied infantry while it was fighting his cavalry. Contades sent the Du Roy Cavalry Brigade to support Beaupréau’s attack.
At this moment, the Duc de Broglie personally arrived to meet the Maréchal de Contades to explain that a frontal assault on Wangenheim’s positions would be very difficult. Contades then gave him order to simply hold his present positions.
The two brigades under Beaupréau began their advance at the moment when Wutginau and Imhoff had completed their deployment and that the cavalry left wing of the Allies, under the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, was deploying south of Stemmer. So Beaupréau’s isolated brigade had to face an attack from vastly superior Allied forces. Some Hessian rgts (Toll, Gilsa, Prinz Wilhelm, Leib Grenadier) made themselves masters of Malbergen at the point of the bayonet. The Leib Grenadier Regiment captured five artillery pieces.
As the French were retiring in disorder, the cavalry of the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp appeared with trumpets blaring and fell on the retiring bns. Several cavalry regiments (Hanoverian Garde du Corps, Hammerstein Cavalry, Prussian Holstein-Gottorp Dragoons and some Hessian cavalry) along with the Hessian grenadiers distinguished themselves in this attack on Malbergen. They gained the right flank of the Touraine and Rouergue infantry brigades and drove them back, capturing a large part of Rouergue Brigade and taking possession of the houses and hedges previously occupied by these brigades. During the attack, the Holstein-Gottorp Dragoons captured three colours and nine artillery pieces. However, their commander, Colonel von Versen was severely wounded.
Further right, Lieutenant-General von Urff, who was arriving from the left wing with the 8 Hessian sqns and the Hanoverian Hammerstein Cavalry faced a counter-attack of the Du Roy Cavalry Brigade. The French managed to free Lieutenant-General Beaupréau, who had been captured, but were gradually driven back.
Defeated, Contades sent orders to Broglie to retire. The latter, who was still cannonading Wangenheim's Corps and had never seriously engaged his force, sent his cavalry to support the right flank of the main French army.
Near Neuland, the two French infantry brigades of the second line (Auvergne and Anhalt) stopped the pursuing Allied cavalry, while a strong French cavalry corps, sent by Broglie, was approaching from the east.
A cavalry combat developed between Broglie’s cavalry corps and the the Prussian Holstein-Gottorp Dragoons and the cavalry of Wangenheim’s Corps which had until then been standing between Stemmer and Kutenhausen. The Hessian Leib Dragoons distinguished themselves in this combat.
The La Marche Infanterie then advanced and fired on the Prussian dragoons who wheeled left, attacked La Marche and captured it along with 10 guns and 2 colours.
Contades’ left wing could no longer hold its positions. The isolated Saxons led by Prince Xavier had momentarily forced back the depleted British bns on the right wing of Spörcken’s Corps, but they suffered from the fire of the artillery north of Hahlen.
General von Wutginau sent 2 bns ([Wangenheim Infantry]] and Hessian Garde) to support the wavering British bns, which rallied. The Allied infantry resumed its advance.
Meanwhile, the leftmost French and Saxon bns were threatened by Scheele Infantry which had taken position north of Hahlen. The Aquitaine and Condé infantry brigades, under the command of Maugiron, wanted to march to the support of the Saxons but they were driven back. Maugiron was wounded during the action.
About 9:00 a.m., in front of Scheele’s fresh troops the French and Saxons retired. Even unengaged units retreated.
Broglie’s Corps and Nicolay’s Division retired in good order and repeatedly faced Wangenheim’s troops which had come out of their entrenchments and were following them. They finally took refuge under the walls of Minden, and Broglie’s infantry occupied Minden.
About 10:00 a.m., the whole French army fled in disorder, taking shelter under the guns of Minden or recrossing the bridges over the Bastau to their camp behind the marsh. All these troops recrossed the Bastau under the fire of the Allied artillery. The Saxons were the last to cross. These bridges were then broken for fear of being pursued.
Ferdinand ordered the British artillery to advance as near the morass as possible to dislodge the French units who had taken refuge in their old camp. The British artillery then forced the French to retire.
Gilsa's Corps pushed forward from Lübbecke over the morass by Eickhorst. Contades was too busy re-establishing order in the remnants of his army to support d’Havré’s detachment. Gilsa drove d’Havré back and reached the old French camp. About this time, the remnants of Brissac's corps defeated during the engagement of Gohfeld arrived in the neighbourhood of Minden and joined the main army in its retreat.
When Contades learned that the Duc de Brissac had been defeated at Gohfeld and that his line of communication with Herford had been cut, Contades held a war council in Minden. With the Hereditary Prince blocking their line of retreat towards Herford, nobody dared to recommend to retire in this direction. Finally, it was decided to follow Broglie’s advice and to transfer the army to the right bank of the Weser, and then by a wide detour by way of Einbeck, Göttingen and Münden, to retreat to Kassel, even though this retreat compromised any future junction with Armentières’ Army and represented a great danger for the French magazines in Westphalia and for the isolated baggage train.
Had Sackville's cavalry come forward when it was bidden, it might have cut the flying French sqns to pieces, barred the retreat of most if not all of the French left wing and turned the victory into a decisive one. As things happened, it fell to Foy and Macbean of the British Artillery to gather the laurels of the pursuit. Hard though they had worked all day, these officers limbered up their guns and moved with astonishing rapidity along the border of the marsh, halting from time to time to pound the retreating masses of the enemy.
The victorious Allied army encamped on the battlefield for the night. The headquarters were established at Süd-Hemmern.
French lost 7,086 men killed, wounded and taken prisoners (including 127 officers and 4,151 men killed). Prince Camille was killed in action while the Count of Lutzelburg and the marquis de Monti were taken prisoners. The Saxon Contigent suffered heavily with a loss around 33% and its commander, Prince Xavier, was wounded. The Allies captured 43 guns, 1 pair of kettle-drums, 10 pair of colours and 7 standards.
The Allies lost 2,822 men (including 28 officers and 590 men killed), half of it falling on those rash 6 British bns who, from 4,434 men and 78 officers, lost 1,252 men. The heaviest sufferers were the 12th Foot, which lost 302 men and the 20th Foot, which lost 322 of all ranks, these regiments holding the place of honour on the right of the first and second lines.
From 10:00 p.m., abandoning his communications with Paderborn, Contades crossed the Weser. The crossing was completed by daybreak on August 2. Only a small garrison of 300 men under Brigadier Dagieu had been left in Minden. Contades then broke down the bridge of Minden, burned his bridges of boats and retired through a difficult and distressing country to Kassel, with an army not only beaten but demoralised.
After this victory, the Allied army advanced into Hesse recapturing Kassel, Marburg and Münster, recovering all territories previously lost during this campaign.
For his conduct at the battle, Lord Sackville was considered disgraced and, in order to clear his name, he requested a court martial. However, the evidence against him was substantial and the court martial declared him "...unfit to serve His Majesty in any capacity whatsoever."
Maréchal de Contades was subsequently relieved of his command and replaced by the Duc de Broglie.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Ferdinand of Brunswick
Summary: 42,000 men in 48 bns, 65 sqns and 105 artillery pieces
Main Army under Ferdinand of Brunswick
|First Line||Second Line|
|First column: Cavalry Right Wing under Lieutenant-General Lord Sackville|
|First Line of Cavalry under Lieutenant-general Lord Sackville
||Second Line of Cavalry under Lieutenant-General Marquis of Granby|
|Second column: Artillery under Major Haase|
|Third column under Lieutenant-General von Spörcken|
|Major-General Waldegrave's Brigade||Major-General Kingsley's Brigade|
|Fourth column: Prinz Anhalt Division under Lieutenant-General Scheele|
|Major-General von Scheele's Brigade||Major-General Wissembach's Brigade|
|Fifth column: Artillery under Colonel Braun|
|Sixth column under Lieutenant-General von Wutginau|
|Major-General von Toll's Brigade||Major-General von Bischausen|
|Seventh column under Lieutenant-General von Imhoff|
|Major-General von Einsiedel's Brigade||Major-General von Behr's Brigade|
|Eighth column: Left Wing under Lieutenant-General the Duke of Holstein|
|Lieutenant-General the Duke of Holstein's Brigade||Lieutenant-General von Urff's Brigade|
Wangenheim Corps between the village of Kutenhausen and the Weser
|First Line||Second Line||Third Line|
|Cavalry Right Wing|
|Prussian Ruesch Hussars (1 sqn)|
Reinecke Detachment near Hille guarding the Eickhorst causeway crossing the peat bog
- Brunswicker Imhoff Detachment (500 men)
- 2 x 12-pdrs
- 2 x 6 pdrs
Gilsa Detachment at Lübbecke
- Hanoverian Linstrow (1 bn)
- Hessian Prinz Karl (1 bn)
- Brunswicker I./Behr (1 bn)
- British Dragoons (300 men from an unidentified unit)
- Prussian Ruesch Hussars (2 sqns)
Laffert Detachment on the left bank of the Weser
- Hanoverian Luckner's Hussars (2 sqns)
- Hanoverian Converged Grenadiers (1 bn) under Wense
- Hanoverian Converged Grenadiers (1 bn) under Sydow
- Hanoverian Jägers
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Maréchal de Contades assisted by Lieutenant-General Comte de Noailles and Maréchal de camp de Raugrave
Summary: 57,000 men in 84 bns (avg. 500 men per bn), 85 sqns (avg. 120-140 men per sqn) and 90 artillery pieces
Main Army under Maréchal de Contades deployed in front of the fortress of Minden
|First Line||Second Line||Third Line|
|Right Wing Infantry|
|Chevalier de Nicolaï's Division assisted by Lieutenant-General Beaupréau||Comte de Saint-Germain's Division
assisted by Maréchaux-de-camp Leyde and Glaubitz
|Duc de FitzJames' Division
assisted by lieutenant-generals [[Vogüé and Castries
|Du Mesnil's Division
assisted by lieutenant-generals Andlau and d'Orlick
|Marquis de Poyanne's Division|
assisted by maréchaux-de-camp Bellefonds and Bissy
|Left Wing Infantry|
assisted by maréchaux-de-camp Laval and Maugiron
|Saxon Division under Prince Xavier
assisted by comte de Solms
N.B.: out of the Saxon division, one bn
N.B.: The rightmost bn of each brigade was formed in column. The bns of the second line were spread wider than those of the first. Exceptionally, Auvergne Infanterie had its first bn formed in column on the left to link with the cavalry centre. Each line of the French army maintained a distance of 400 paces. The 64 pieces in front of Contades infantry would include 8 12-pdrs, a good number of 8-pdrs, and the most being long barreled 4-pdrs.
Detached units from Contades Main Army under Chevreuse (Dragoons Reserve) and d'Auvet (infantry) in Lippstadt
- Orléans Infanterie (2 bns)
- Rohan Rochefort Infanterie (2 bns)
- Du Roy Dragons (4 sqns)
- La Ferronnaye Dragons (4 sqns)
- Caraman Dragons (4 sqns)
Detached units from Contades Main Army under de Buizenwal in Hameln
Detached units from Contades Main Army under Fischer between Göttingen and Minden, raiding the country up to the city of Hannover
|Attack||First Line||Second Line|
|Infantry, probably under Chevalier du Muy||Cavalry, probably under Prince Camille|
N.B.: Each infantry brigade was preceded by 100 workers with the necessary wagons and tools. Once ordered to only contain Bevern’s grenadiers and Wangenheim’s corps, Broglie redeployed in a different formation with his infantry in 3 lines and the horse to their left.
Broglie also commanded the following light troops, on the far bank of the Weser watching Luckner’s detachment:
Duc d'Havré Corps in an advanced post at Eickhorst to the left, opposing Hille.
- Navarre (4 bns)
- Volontaires du Dauphiné (infantry only, approx. 300 men). The Dragoons (approx. 300 men) were guarding the defiles of Bergkirchen.
- Volontaires Liégeois aka Volontaires de Hallet (approx. 600 men)
- Volontaires de Muret (from Royal Comtois Infanterie, approx. 150 men)
- Artillery (4 x 8-pdrs)
Garrison of Minden under maréchal de camp de Bisson
N.B.: Lowendahl Brigade occupied the ramparts of Minden and the 3 bridgeheads. Most heavy artillery pieces were placed on the cavaliers of Minden and some pieces in the work covering the stone bridge.
Detached units from Broglie Corps for garrison
- Volontaires Étrangers de Clermont Prince in Münster
- Volontaires de la Noue in Petershagen
- Eptingen Infanterie (2 bns) in Hanau
- Royal Pologne Infanterie (1 bn) in Giessen
Detached units from Broglie Corps with unknown location
- Nassau Prince Louis Infanterie (2 bns)
- Courten Infanterie (2 bns)
- Montcalm Cavalerie (2 sqns)
- d'Hericy Cavalerie (2 sqns)
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. 398-404
- 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. 487-494.
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 11 Minden und Maxen, Berlin, 1912, pp. 22-42
- 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, p. 99-104
- Jomini, Baron de: Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811, pp. 30-46
This article also incorporates texts from the following articles published in Wikipedia:
- Bruns, J.C.C.: Die Schlacht bei Minden, Bruns Verlag, Minden in Westfalen: 1959
- Rogge, Christian: The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt: 2006
- Salisch, M. von: Treue Deserteure – Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg, Munich, 2009
- Schirmer, Friedrich: Minden (1. August 1759), in: Die Zinnfigur (1959) Neue Folge, 8. Jg., H. 5, page 81-94
- Schuster, O. and F. Francke: Geschichte der Sächsischen Armee, 2. part, Leipzig 1885
- Vial, J. L.: Nec Pluribus Impar
Hannoverdidi and Frédéric Aubert for the information supplied
Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Contingent