1760-07-16 - Engagement of Emsdorf
Prelude to the engagement
At the end of June 1760, the French Grande Armée, under the command of the Duc de Broglie, proceeded to the invasion of Hesse. At the beginning of July, Broglie instructed the Comte de Saint-Germain to leave Dortmund and to make a junction with his own army. On July 10, the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick vainly attempted to prevent this junction but was defeated at the Combat of Corbach. On the night of July 14, Ferdinand of Brunswick had intelligence that a considerable French brigade under Major-General Baron Glaubitz (6 bns, 1 hussar rgt, some light troops) was on its way from Marburg to Ziegenhain to cover the French field-bakery established at Marburg. Ferdinand detached the Hereditary Prince to take command of 6 battalions which were lying at Fritzlar and to attack this detachment and then to destroy this field-bakery. On the morning of July 15, the prince marched rapidly southward, being joined on the way by Luckner's Hussars and by the 15th Light Horse, which had just arrived from Great Britain. On reaching the vicinity of Ziegenhain, he found that Glaubitz was encamped farther to the west, near the village of Emsdorf. His troops being exhausted by a long march, the prince halted for the night at Treysa. The Hereditary Prince now had an occasion to take his revenge...
Map and initial deployment
From Speckswinkel, the Hatzbach stream flowed west towards Wohra, in a deep valley through a forest north of Erksdorf. A track of open land, traversed by a few hedges, gently sloped from the Hatzback to Erksdorf. A forest extended to the north and west of Emsdorf towards the Hatzbach. To the north of the French camp, between Emsdorf and Erksdorf, several streams ran through a swampy valley. An open tract of land occupied the area to the south of the camp.
The French were posted at the mouth of the Hatzbach Valley, fronting to northeast, astride of the two roads that lead from Kirchhain to Fritzlar and to Ziegenhain. Their right lay in rear of the village of Erksdorf, and their left in front of the village of Emsdorf, resting on a forest some 5 km long extending to Allendorf. The camp extended on about 4 km.
The Bercheny Hussards were encamped on the right wing to the south of Erksdorf while light infantry was posted to the west of this village. Anhalt Infanterie occupied the centre of the camp and Royal Bavière Infanterie the left wing.
There were very few advanced posts to guard the approach of the camp.
Description of Events
On the morning of July 16 1760, the Hereditary Prince picked up Hanoverian Freytag Jägers, which were on their way to him, and pushed on with his mounted troops only, to reconnoitre the French position. The prince and Major-General Nikolaus Luckner, who was with him, entered the forest, but found neither picquets nor sentries. They pushed forward through the corn-fields to within 1 km of the French camp but saw neither vedettes, nor patrols, nor so much as a main-guard. Furthermore, the village of Erksdorf itself, though within less than 2 km of the camp, was not occupied. They stole back well content with what they had seen.
At 10:00 a.m., not expecting to be attacked, Glaubitz sent one battalion of Royal Bavière Infanterie towards Marburg where it would be assigned to the guard of the field-bakery, thus depleting his left wing.
The Hereditary Prince waited at Speckswinkel for his infantry to join him. His infantry had marched 11 km from Treysa through the villages of Wiera and Momberg before reaching Speckswinkel at 11:00 a.m. The Allies were only 2 km from the French right wing. Meanwhile, the Hereditary Prince had resolved to approach the French camp through the forest north of Emsdorf, thus turning the French left wing, combined with a cavalry attack on the French right wing at Erksdorf.
At 11:00 a.m., the Hereditary Prince posted Behr Infantry , Luckner's Hussars, the 15th Eliot's Light Horse, a mounted coy of Freytag Jägers and 3 guns, in a hollow near Speckswinkel, 1.5 km before Erksdorf. He placed this detachment under the command of Major-General von Luckner. The latter was instructed to attack the French right wing at Erksdorf as soon as he would hear musketry fire coming from the French left wing. Then, taking the 5 remaining battalions, together with the rest of the Freytag Jägers and 11 guns, the Hereditary Prince marched through the woods towards Emsdorf. Maybe as a stratagem, maybe because the day was very hot, the soldiers removed their coat.
At noon, after a march of 10 km, the Allies arrived unnoticed at Burgholz, only 2.5 km from the French left wing at Emsdorf. The few French outposts in the forest between Burgholz and Emsdorf were captured before they could alarm the camp. Meanwhile, the bread arrived at the camp of Glaubitz.
Around 1:15 p.m., the Allies were deployed for the attack of the French left wing. As they approached the French positions, the Allied foot clad in pale waistcoats and breeches were initially mistaken for French or Saxon troops. However, when they formed in order of battle, they put their coat back on. Mansbach Infantry was deployed on the left at the edge of the woods with 6 guns. Then came the 2nd Garde formed north and northwest of Emsdorf. Marschalk Infantry along with the Freytag Jägers and 5 guns covered the road from Emsdorf to Kirchhain.
Before 2:00 p.m., the Freytag Jägers opened fire on the French positions. This was the signal for general attack. The French were completely surprised. The 2 remaining battalions of Royal Bavière Infanterie were at the bread distribution, they rushed to their arms in waistcoats. Glaubitz initially thought that it was a simple skirmish with Allied jägers which were known to have roamed in the area. Royal Bavière Infanterie formed and counter-attacked Freytag Jägers but soon realised that they were facing a much larger Allied force. Their right flank was immediately attacked by the 2nd Garde whose colonel was wounded at the first discharge. The colonel of Royal Bavière Infanterie, Count von Helffenberg was killed by a cannon shot but his regiment managed to retire, narrowly avoiding encirclement. It lost 300 men and all its guns in this first engagement.
The French Bercheny Hussards tried to stop the advancing Allied cavalry but were routed. French light troops and part of Anhalt Infanterie then opened fire on the victorious Allied cavalry but they were charged in flank and rear by the 15th Light Horse. In this action, Anhalt Infanterie lost its 2 cannon.
Seeing this, the entire French force abandoned its camp and retired through the woods in their rear towards Langenstein. Here they rallied but Luckner's Hussars and Behr Infantry hurried on beyond them to bar their way over the Ohm to westward, while the 15th Light Horse, pressing on along their flank, stationed itself across the road to Amöneburg, and charging full upon them headed them back from that side. With some difficulty the French repelled the attack, and turning about to south-eastward made for a wood not far away, hoping to pass through it and so to escape to the south. The Allied infantry could not keep pace with the pursuit after it reached Langenstein.
On arriving at the southern edge of the wood, the French found every outlet blocked by the prince's mounted irregulars. Perforce they turned back through the wood again and emerged on to the open ground on its western side, trusting that some marshy ground, which lay in the way of the prince's cavalry, would secure them from further pursuit.
The French had not marched over the plain for more than 1,5 km before Luckner's Hussars and the 15th Light Horse were upon them again. For the second time, the 15th Light Horse crashed single-handed into the midst of them, cutting them down by scores and capturing an entire battalion.
With great difficulty the remnant of the French beat back their pursuers and continued the retreat: half of them had been killed or captured, or had dropped down unable to march farther, but the rest struggled gallantly on. Reaching an open wood they again halted and formed for action. The Hereditary Prince, still close at their heels with his cavalry, thereupon surrounded them and summoned them to surrender.
At 7:00 p.m., Major-General Glaubitz, despairing of further resistance in the exhausted state of his troops, was obliged to yield.
So ended the action. The French camp had been surprised at noon and the last fragment of their force capitulated at 7:00 p.m., having striven manfully but in vain to shake off the implacable enemy that had hunted them for nearly 30 km. The French prisoners were conducted to Ziegenhain.
On the Allied side, Colonel Freytag and M. Derenthal, Ferdinand's aide-de-camp, were wounded and M. Normand, Behr's aide-de-camp, killed. Overall, the Allies lost 162 killed, 152 wounded and 6 missing. Of these, 125 men and 116 horses belonged to the 15th Light Horse. In fact, it was the 15th Light Horse who did most of the fighting. The other Allied regiments engaged did not lose 20 men apiece. The 2 other Allied cavalry units, though they did excellent work in heading back the enemy, never came to close quarters. Luckner's Hussars did not lose a man nor a horse, and of the mounted irregulars but 23 men and horses were killed or wounded. The Allies captured 9 pairs of colours, 5 artillery pieces and a howitzer.
The French lost 7 officers (including Count Hessenberg and Muschinski) and more than 500 men killed, 34 officers and 577 men wounded, 300 men missing. Furthermore a large number had been taken prisoners: 177 officers and 2,482 privates, including Major-General Glaubitz and Prince of Anhalt. The French also lost 1,000 horses, 9 colours and 5 guns and a howitzer.
Despite this tactical success, due to the stubborn resistance of the French detachment until 7:00 p.m., the Allies were unable to fulfil their objective: the destruction of the French field-bakery at Marburg.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick seconded by Major-General Behr and M. de Bischausen
Summary: approx. 1,290 horse, 3,740 foot and 18 guns
- Hanoverian Behr (1 bn)
- Hanoverian Marschalk (1 bn)
- Hessian 2nd Garde (2 bns)
- Hessian Mansbach (2 bns)
- Hanoverian Luckner's Hussars (4 sqns)
- British 15th Elliot's Light Horse (3 sqns)
- Hanoverian Freytag Jägers (2 foot coys and 2 mounted coys)
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Major-General Christian Baron von Glaubitz
Summary: 990 hussars, 4,200 foot and 6 guns
- Bercheny Hussards (6 sqns)
- Chasseurs-à-pied d'Origny (1 bn of approx. 450 men) a small unit of volunteer attached to Bercheny Hussars
This article is essentially a compilation of 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. 524-525
- Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Vol. 20
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 504-507
- Hotham (probably): 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. 152-155
- Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. V, Paris, 1891, pp. 60-61
Erdel, Eike: Das Gefecht bei Emsdorf am 16. Juli 1760