Origin and History
This unit is also as found under the titles Schlesische Volontairs, Freibataillon Beck, Becksche (or: Beckische) Jäger or similar designations (the Albertina manuscript names the corresponding figure 'Volontair de Gen. Böck'...).
|Did you know that...|
|An item from the Geheimes Staatsarchiv in Berlin has come down to us, which shows that polite behaviour was possible during the Seven Years War.
It deals with a money transaction in which General Beck returned 111 Dukaten to the Prussian King's Schatulle (coffer) in May 1759. He had previously furnished 3 Anthals (50 or 70 litres depending on measure used) of Hungarian wine for the King's table, for which 145 Dukaten were sent to him, whereas in his opinion 34 Dukaten would have been sufficient. Unfortunately the 'lower orders' could not count on such polite treatment regularly...
Source: SPSG Schatullrechnungen
As this unit is closely associated with General Beck it is appropriate to give some information about this person as background.
Philipp Levin von Beck was born in 1720. He took service with the Austrian Army in 1739, fought in the Turkish War and the War of Austrian Succession and soon acquired reputation as an enterprising and successful officer.
Beck served in different Grenzer regiments and by 1753 had been named Colonel of the Slavonisch-Brooder Grenzer.
Even before the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, Beck (in 1755) had reached the rank of General-Feldwachtmeister and was named Commanding Officer of the Warasdin Generalate1, 2.
Beck continued his distinguished career and was acknowledged a resourceful and energetic detachment commander in the army and in Vienna. Prisoner after Leuthen and the surrender of Breslau, Beck was promoted to FML in February 17583, 4, 5.
Unit Organization and History
Printed records show 1759 as the year of the establishment of the battalion6, 7. But there are indications that a kernel of four companies had already been collected and employed earlier. In the correspondence (March 1759) concerning the establishment of Grün Loudon8 (see also our article on Grün Loudon Grenadiers) there is a veto by Maria-Theresia on using the men of the “4 Freikompanien recruited by FML Beck” to fill the new Loudon Regiment “as they had shown themselves to be of little use”. (Following this proposal could have been felt as a reprimand by Beck, who at this time was senior in rank to Loudon!). This implies that these Beck Freicompanien must already have existed during the winter 1758/59.
The name of Beck's Bataillon referring to Silesia obviously was meant to appeal to men taken prisoner or deserted from Prussian units with recruitment areas in that province (or young Silesians who could otherwise expect to be pressed into the Prussian army). The Beck's Volunteers consisted of a single battalion; there is no mention of any grenadier company6.
During the Seven Years' War, the Inhaber of the regiment was:
- from 1759 to 1763: FML Philipp Levin Beck
During the Seven Years' War, its commander was:
- from 1759 to 1763: Major Rochus Montagutti
The Silesian Volunteers Battalion was dissolved after the Peace of Hubertusburg in 1763.
Service during the War
Bataillon Beck is reported to have been closely attached to the command of its founder and Inhaber and served mostly in detachments or corps under his command6, 7, 9, 10.
Please note that in the following sections, while it seems rather certain that Beck's Silesian Volunteers were under his immediate or indirect command, it should not be assumed that this battalion was involved directly in all actions mentioned. Reports in print on such involvement are few and far between.
Summary of Beck as commander from 1759 onwards (as translated from Schweigerd11)
'Note: in this section, texts in italics are our own additions to complement Schweigerd's original text.
“The following year, Maria Theresia named Beck Feldmarschalllieutenant (FML) and kept him with the army of FM Daun. The campaign of 1759 was to prove his circumspection and military talents in a brilliant manner.
Acting with an independent corps, to which its Freibataillon erected at the beginning of the year (the so-called Silesian Volunteers) was attached, Beck found a number of opportunities to justify the trust granted to him.
On March 26, Beck surprised Greifenberg (present-day Gryfów Śląski, a town in Powiat Lwówecki in Poland; more details on this action can be found in refs. 12 and 13) on the Queiß River (present-day Kwisa River) with 4,200 Croats, captured the enemy Colonel Dieringshofen, who had occupied the surroundings with a grenadier battalion and 4 squadrons, and also captured 14 officers and 640 other ranks and 2 cannons.
On June 20, Beck dispersed an enemy detachment at Friedland (present-day Mieroszów, a town in Powiat Wałbrzyski; an account of the movements and encounters is refs. 14 and 15) and kept his position at Gebhardsdorf (present-day Giebułtów, a village in Powiat Lwówecki, in Poland).
In August, when Daun wanted to undertake an incursion into Silesia, he ordered the advance-guard commander FML Beck to force the passages of the Bober River (present-day Bóbr, a left tributary of the Oder) and to secure Grünberg (present-day Zielona Góra, a city in Województwo Lubuskie). On August 17, Beck attacked this town and took prisoners 15 officers and 498 men (for details of the action, see refs. 16, 17 and 18).
Beck's intended assault of Sorau (present-day Żary in Województwo Lubuskie) in order to cut off Zieten's retreat did not succeed because of the latter's hurried retreat; but it had the important result that Prince Heinrich had to leave his strong encampment at Sagan (present-day Żagań a town in Powiat Żagański) and move into Upper Lusatia. These moves (there does not seem to have been much notable fighting) are treated in refs 19, 20 and 21. The last one does note the participation of Beck's Volunteers.
The most brilliant deed of the campaign was still to come: reinforced by General Pellegrini with 5 battalions and 500 horse, Beck with his 5,486 strong detachment was ordered to get rid of General Dierke (sic!) who was stationed with a corps of 6 battalions and 1,000 horse at Cölln near Meissen. He surprised him (Dierike) on December 3 and after a brave resistance and before succour could be brought across the frozen Elbe, Beck took prisoner the commander, with 55 officers and 1,659 men; he also took a good amount of supplies, 8 guns and 10 ammunition carts. This encounter came shortly after the Prussian disaster at Maxen. It is also found named for Meissen, Cölln, Cölen, Köhlen, Kehlen. Reference should be made to Kronoskaf Project's article on the Combat of Meissen.
For these circumspect and brave enterprises, Beck was rewarded on January 23, 1760 with the Grand Cross of the Theresien Order. That same year. from Großenhain he carried out various surprise attacks with success. On February 20, he stood fast at skirmish near Cosdorf (also Cossdorf, Kossdorf, part of the town of Mühlberg, separated from Saxony and allocated to Prussia by the Congress of Vienna, situated in southern Brandenburg on the eastern bank of the Elbe; in this skirmish, Beck took a number of prisoners, among them Major-General von Czettritz, a large quantity of supplies, including the complete set of new uniforms for the Cuirassier Regiment Schmettau and the first copy for Austrian eyes of Frederick's up to then closely guarded General-Prinzipien vom Kriege25; for relations and reports on this engagement, see refs. 22, 23 and 24) and Niederabrensdorf (sic!) (this is obviously in reference to the combat at (Nieder-) Ahrensdorf , also: Arensdorf, commonly: Arnsdorf; which will be treated farther down in some detail).
In the campaign of 1761, Beck had unfortunately fewer opportunities to excel.
The last year of the war was yet to test his mettle; always attached to Daun's Army Beck (in company of Lacy, Brentano and O'Donnel) took the most honourable part in the combat on the Fischerberge (refers to what is more commonly called the Battle of Reichenbach which is treated in its article in Kronoskaf; Beck's Jäger show up in the OoB for this combat; but they do not seem to have been heavily involved as they did not suffer any casualties) against the Duke of Bevern, in order to relieve the besieged Fortress of Schweidnitz. Victory was already in his grasp when the Prussians received support and the success of the day was lost.”
Beck's notable involvements
In order to round-off the record of Beck's activities during the Seven Years' War, the following involvements may be noted:
- in 1760, Beck was ordered to make a diversionary attack on the Prussian camp near Liegnitz but the king had already moved out of the trap before this attack came off
- when Frederick marched from Silesia to catch the raiders of Berlin in 1760, Beck was detailed to tail the King's Army closely.
- during the Battle of Torgau, Beck was stationed on the right bank of the Elbe where he guarded the baggage sent across the river by FM Daun. After the battle he provided the rearguard of the defeated army during its withdrawal south towards Dresden
- in 1761, FML Beck with his corps had to act in close cooperation with a Russian army. At Bunzelwitz, he was stationed between Loudon and the Russians and during the separate withdrawal of the Russian army, he accompanied it as rearguard on its march to the Oder
- in 1762, he tried to keep Lieutenant-General Werner from raiding into Austrian Silesia
Skirmish at Arnsdorf in 1760
The skirmish at Arnsdorf on September 3, 1760, is the only action of some importance in which the Volunteers took a significant part (at least insofar as has been handed down in printed reports) and therefore is treated here in excess of its military importance. Details are given in refs 26, 27, 28, 29, 30).
Ahrensdorf (present-day Milikowice, part of Jaworzyna Slaska community in Powiat Swidnicki) is located north-west of Schweidnitz as depicted on the accompanying map which should be used to follow events (present-day's names of other villages can easily be found on current maps).
After having successfully brushed off the planned ambush by the combined Austrian army at Liegnitz (present-day Legnica), King Frederick continued his march to Silesia. He joined his brother's army to his own (Prince Heinrich leaving the army for the time being, pleading sickness) in position between the Russian army under Saltykov and the Austrian army under Daun following him. A joint action of these two enemies was now precluded for the time being. Leaving a small detachment to watch the Russians (withdrawing over the Oder), the king turned south to relieve Schweidnitz (present-day Świdnica) (at that point in time to the rear of the Austrians) and regain Silesia to his domination. From Hermannsdorf (present-day Jerzmanowo -Wrocław) west of Breslau), strenuous marches east of the Weistritz River (present-day Bystrzyca Świdnicka) and Mount Zobten (present-day Ślęża) turned the Austrian right wing position (who had no other recourse than to fall back to the heights of Bögendorf (present-day Witoszow) south-west of Schweidnitz and brought the Prussian army into contact with Schweidnitz on September 1. Next day was a day of rest for the Prussians in a camp at Pilzen (present-day Boleścin, south-east close to Schweidnitz); the king himself with strong guard went out to reconnoitre the eastern flank of the Austrian positions west of Burkersdorf (present-day Burkatów), finding this too strong to attack.
His preferred option would have been to entice the Austrians out from their mountainous strongholds and defeat them decisively then (even though his army was much smaller); lacking such an opportunity he would have to manoeuvre against their lines of supply to force them to give up any pretensions to holding on to Lower Silesia over the coming winter. He would have to accomplish this with an army of about 50,000 men against opponents of almost double strength.
The day of the encounter
The following section follows closely the account of the Neues Generalstabswerk and of Gaudi's Journal.
The King prepared to cross the Weistritz River near Schweidnitz during the night of September 3 and to march to Striegau (present-day Strzegom). Obviously he chose a route near the front of the Austrian army to entice Daun out from his position and then defeat him in a open field battle. The very early start (2:00 a.m. for the advance-guard under Zieten, 4:00 a.m. for the main body) explains itself by the intention to cross the river before dawn.
Zieten marched close to the southern fortifications of Schweidnitz and deployed north of Schönbrunn (present-day Słotwina) to cover the main body's river crossings. Once the passage of the river had started, the advance-guard continued its march in the direction of Jauernick (present-day Jaworów). The main body followed in 3 columns south and north around Schweidnitz.
FM Daun had been informed early in the morning but showed no inclination to leave his strong position. The small detachment of light troops under Major-General Ried south of Schönbrunn had retreated on Zieten's advance.
The situation at Arnsdorf was quite different. There Beck's Corps had been deployed with front facing east towards Schweidnitz. On Zieten's approach, Beck occupied the Castle of Nieder-Arnsdorf (actually more like a manor house) with a larger detachment whereas his Croats and the Silesian Volunteers distributed themselves in the brushwoods along the brook flowing north-west from Nieder-Arnsdorf. The rest of this corps took position on some heights to the west of Mittel-Arnsdorf, facing towards Wickendorf.
In the meantime the Prussian army had progressed so far that the rearguard Brigade Ramin had reached a location north of Wickendorf, when Beck's troops occupied that village and started sniping and harassing the Prussians. Thereupon the king ordered Major-General Ramin to attack this village. Under the fire support of his heavy artillery Ramin's infantry (1 battalion of Ramin Infantry and 1 battalion of Manteuffel Infantry) succeeded in penetrating into Wickendorf against determined and heavy resistance but had no such success against Nieder-Arnsdorf. When then enemy regular infantry (Forgách Infantry of Beck's Corps) with artillery made its appearance on heights east of Mittel-Arnsdorf, Frederick ordered Ramin to break off the engagement. Grenadier battalions and carabiniers from Daun's Army had started to show themselves in the plain, Loudon's Army could be seen in full battle formation on its heights, but apparently this was not the wished-for opportunity for a decisive battle. Additional casualties were not warranted.
In relation to the number of troops engaged, casualties had been quite heavy: the Prussians lost 27 men killed and 118 wounded; while Daun reported 131 men killed, 226 wounded, and 53 missing, mostly from Warasdiner Croats and Beck's Silesians, about evenly divided (civilian casualties were not reported).
Results and remarks
- Depending on the side offering its report either the Prussians (Tempelhoff) or the Austrians were victorious in the skirmish at Arnsdorf: Tempelhoff plays down the continuing Austrian hold on the castle; the journal published by the Austrian headquarters does not give any significance to the retreat from Wickendorf (incidentally Gieraths "Kampfhandlungen" books indicates it as a 'negative' for the Prussian army)
- From an operational point of view King Frederick had every reason to be content with his day: he had moved his so much smaller army across the Weistritz River and into a camp which offered manoeuvring opportunities in all directions; all this in full view and short distance from Daun, Lacy and Loudon. During the march near Striegau, his advance-guard under Zieten had chased away a cavalry detachment of Loudon's Army under General Nauendorf with significant losses to the latter – about 150 prisoners – this engagement is totally ignored in the Austrian journal. Frederick had impressed his moral superiority to the Austrian side and could easily afford to call off additional fighting by Ramin.
- It is difficult to see what purpose was to be fulfilled by Beck's attack on the Prussian rear guard. It was too late in the day to hold up the king's march, quite apart from the small numbers committed originally. But it must have been intended as somehow more significant than the usual sniping to be expected from light troops, because this would not have been served by the occupation of the castle. Also the determined holding onto Wickendorf and later Arnsdorf is inconsistent with hit-and-run tactics. The supply of support by sending grenadier battalions argues for at least tacit agreement by Daun to Beck's initiation of the action. It may not be too far-fetched to assume that the whole action was meant to show that the Austrian High Command was taking the king's movement not totally without reaction.
- The Austrian journal has a slightly apologetic tone, speaking of the high losses as only to be expected in such a long engagement (three hours); its claim of probably having inflicted losses of at least triple the own is preposterous.
- The day after the skirmish, Ramin's rearguard was pulled into the perimeter line of the Prussian camp and a small flèche was built and occupied at the southern tip of Wickendorf by the Prussians. Norman's grenadiers stayed down in the plain in support of Beck. No fighting took place until Frederick's march towards the Austrian left on September 11.
- When King Frederick started on his march towards Landeshut (present-day Kamienna Góra), Reichenbach (present-day Dzierżoniów) and Baumgarten (present-day Braszowice) in order to circumvent the western flank of the Austrian position, Beck's Corps was ordered to follow the Prussian train and rearguard (the reorganized remnants of his Silesian Volunteers in all probability took part). This detachment ended up after nightfall on the heights of Hohenpetersdorf (present-day Dobromierz), where it went into bivouac (reported by Tempelhof as mistaking the camp fires of the Prussian left for those of the Austrian right by faulty reconnaissance) to the left and even slightly behind the Prussian position. Attacked immediately the next morning, September 12, Beck hurriedly but skilfully retreated out of this predicament without much loss. The Reserve Corps of Löwenstein which came to his support fared worse losing hundreds of its Croats, including Colonel Adelsfeld of the Karlstädter-Ottochaner Grenzer as prisoners. Beck after being chased from the hills stayed in the plain near Mönersdorf (aka Möhnersdorf, present-day Jaskulin) and thus was in position to interfere with the next Prussian flanking march towards the east on September 17. Again it was a matter of attacking and cannonading the enemy's rearguard; and this time the Volunteers actually are reported to have been employed at Mönersdorf and Scholmnitz (aka Schollwitz, present-day Szymanów).
- On August 27, 1759 an outpost of Schlesische Volontairs was attacked by hussars under Colonel Gersdorf near Sagan (present-day Żagań) upriver on the Bober River (present-day Bóbr) who then retreated with slight losses.31
- For completeness sake: There is a newspaper account32 based on the Austrian headquarters journal that on June 25, 1762 a detachment of Prussian hussars plus a battalion of infantry had been sent from Pladen (aka Bladen, present-day Włodzienin) to Pleischwitz (aka Bleischwitz, present-day Bliszczyce), on the Oppawa River (present-day Oppa, Opawa) and there had encountered the Austrian outposts. A short clash followed during which a Lieutenant of the Silesian Volunteers had toppled with his horse and then been taken prisoner...
Mentions in Orders of Battle, etc.
The battalion is mentioned in the following sources: ( no claim to completeness)
- Beyträge zur neuern Staats-Und Krieges-Geschichte, Band 10, Danzig,1760, page 429
- Der Schlesische Feldzug von 1762, Kloppert, Achim, Dissertation, Bonn, 1988, pages 100, 389, 419
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Teil 3 - Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763,
- Band 11, Anlage 7 and Anlage 10; page 224 note
- Band 12, Anlage 3
- Band 13, Anlage 2
- Geschichte des k. u. k. ungarischen Infanterie-Regimentes Nr. 37 Erzherzog Joseph, Band 1, Wien,1896, page185
- Geschichte des k. k. Infanterie-Regiments Nr. 41, Band 1, Czernowitz 1886, page 485
It also shows up in at least one civilian chronicle, namely 'Geschichte von Löwenberg aus Urkunden und Handschriften gesammlet, Bunzlau 1784' where the cupidity of the Jäger earned them the sobriquet 'Grüne Raupen' (i.e. green caterpillars).
|Headgear||black tricorne with black cockade|
|Coat||dark green with 3 silver buttons arranged vertically under the right lapel
|Waistcoat||dark green as the coat with 2 rows of 'buttonholes' (small silver buttons?) and horizontal pockets, each with 3 silver buttons|
Troopers were armed with a musket and a short infantry saber (brass hilt).
The Albertina Handschrift shows the following differences for the uniforms of privates
- a black tricorne laced straight white with a white fastening strap
- seven buttons on each lapel
- light beige lapels
- light beige cuffs
- turnbacks of a slightly lighter green than the coat
- waistcoat of a slightly lighter green than the coat with only one row of buttons
- breeches of a slightly lighter green than the coat
Officers wore uniforms quite similar to those of privates with the following differences:
- green hat with a white cockade
- a silver Dragoner-Schnur (aiguillette) on left shoulder of the coat and no turnbacks
- green breeches
- black and gold "Feldbinde"
- a straight officer's sword in a brown leather scabbard with golden tip
- yellow gloves
no information found
The unit didn't carry colours.
Footnotes and references
01 Artikel „Beck, Philipp Levin Freiherr von“ von Wilhelm Edler von Janko in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 2 (1875), S. 218–219,
02 Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, Erscheinungsdatum:1856–1891, Eintrag „Beck, Philipp Lewin Freiherr von“
03 Rudolf Kiszling, Beck, Philipp Lewin von, in: Biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte Südosteuropas. Bd. 1, München, 1974
04 Fortgesetzte Neue Genealogisch-Historische Nachrichten...., der 91.Theil, Leipzig, 1769
05 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, A. Schmidt-Brentano: Kaiserliche und k.k. Generale (1618-1815), Wien, 2006
06 Mittheilungen des k.u.k.Kriegs-Archivs - Supplement. Geschichte der K.u.k. Wehrmacht; II.Band (bearbeitet von Alfons Freiherrn von Wrede), Wien, 1898
07 Annalen der k.k. Österreichischen Armee, Dritter Band; Welcher mehrere interessante Gegenstände enthält; Wien, 1812
08 Kunisch, J. - Der kleine Krieg. Studien zum Heerwesen des Absolutismus, Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1973
09 Geschichte derer kayserlich königlichen Regimenter, darinnen derer ehemalige und jetzige Verfassung..., Franckfurt am Main, 1762
10 Gedenkblätter aus der Kriegsgeschichte der k. k. Oesrerreichischen Armee, II.Band, A.Graf Thürheim, Wien und Teschen, 1880
11 Oesterreichs Helden und Heerfuhrer von Maximilian I. bis auf die Neueste Zeit, C.A. Schweigerd , Grimma, 1853
12 Journal des Feldzugs von 1759 in: Bellona: ein militärisches Journal, Band 4, Dresden 1784
13 Der deutsche Fabius Cunctator, oder Fortsetzung des Lebens und der Thaten seiner Excellenz ..(Daun), anno 1760
14 Johan Christoph Adelungs pragmatische Staats-Geschichte des letztern Krieges bis auf den hubertsburgischen Frieden, Gotha, 1769
15 Beyträge zur neuern Staats-Und Krieges-Geschichte, Band 7, Danzig 1759
16 Memoires Politiques & Militaires Pour Servir á L'Histoire de Notre Tems, Frankfurt, 1760
17 Kurtz-gefaßte historische Nachrichten zum Behuf der neuern Europäischen Begebenheiten, auf das Jahr 1759, Band 46, Regenspurg
18 Der Geschichte des Seit 1756 in Deutschland und Dessen Angranzenden Landern ..., Frankfurt und Leipzig, 1761
19 Lebensbeschreibung Hans Joachims von Zieten, königlich-preussischen ..., Band 2, von Blumenthal, Louise, Berli, 1805
20 Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland zwischen dem ..., Band 3, von Tempelhoff, Georg Friedrich, Berlin,1787
21 Östreichische militärische Zeitschrift, Band 1, Wien, 1841
22 Helden- Staats- und Lebens Geschichte Des Allerdurchlauchtigsten ..., Band 6, Frankfurth und Leipzig, 1762
23 Beyträge zur neuern Staats-Und Krieges-Geschichte, Band 9, Danzig 1760
24 Denckwürdigkeiten Friedrichs des Großen, jtztregierenden Königs in Preussen, 6.Teil, 1760
25 Geschichte der preussischen Armee, Bd. 2, Jany, Curt, Nachdruck Osnabrück, 1967
26 Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland zwischen dem ..., Band 4, von Tempelhoff, Georg Friedrich, Berlin,1789
27 Beyträge zur neuern Staats-Und Krieges-Geschichte, Band 11, Danzig 1761
28 Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 13
29 Augspurgische Ordinari-Post-Zeitung: 1760, Extra Zeitung dated Sept. 16
30 Journal vom Siebenjährigen Kriege, Bd 6,1760 -Teil2;, Gaudi, Friedrich Wilhelm von;bearb. von Manfred Löffelholz, Buchholz 1997
31 Augspurgische Ordinari-Post-Zeitung: 1759, issue dated Sept. 10
32 Augspurgische Ordinari-Post-Zeitung: 1762, issue dated July 16
Dieter Müller for the initial version of this article.