French Mobile Hospital of Soubise in 1757

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This monograph on the mobile hospital of the army of the prince de Soubise starts in June 1757, when a new army assembled in Alsace to second the French Army of Westphalia fighting in Germany. Soubise's army, counting 32 battalions and 22 squadrons, should make a junction with the Reichsarmee assembling near Nuremberg under the command of the duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen. These combined armies had for objective the invasion of Saxony. On November 5, after a march through the heart of Germany (Hanau, Hessen), these armies clashed with a Prussian army at the battle of Rossbach.


The Growing Importance of the Mobile Hospital

At the opening of the campaign, Soubise's army had no mobile hospital following its movements. In June 1757, the secretary of war secrétaire d'Etat à la Guerre instructed M. Gayot, quartermaster general of the army, to rapidly establish a mobile hospital. Everything would have to be ready by July 26 to accompany the army in its campaign. The doctor in chief of the army was Le Monnier, the surgeon-major Bagieu and the apothecary-major Dubois.

The Administrative Personnel

All administrative personnel were protégés of the court or had served with Boisrozier in the campaigns of the War of the Austrian Succession. They arrived in Strasbourg on July 1.

  • war commissioner responsible for the mobile hospital: De Thiville
  • director of the mobile hospital and of the train: De Boisrozier (soon deceased), replaced by Gouget
  • assistant-director: Revoil
  • controller: Badetz from Fort Louis on the Rhine
  • assistant-controller: Servierre
  • 2 office clerks
  • 3 store keepers
  • 2 reception clerks
  • 1 interpreter
  • 1 evacuation clerk
  • 1 wagon inspector

In July, to these superior officers, one must adds 5 orderlies-majors et 46 medical orderlies.

The Medical Personnel

The medical personnel, originally missing, was placed under the direction of the surgeon aide-major Moreau from Lille. It was assembled by a call to the medical resources of the kingdom. It essentially consisted of personnel hired during the war, supervised by a small nucleus of military professionals.

Their recruiting centre was established in Paris, next to the Hôtel des Invalides. The candidates were examined by Sénac, the king's doctor, surgeons La Martinière and Morand, and the apothecary Cadet. If considered fit for duty, they were sent to join the army.

Bu mid-August, while Soubise's army quitted Hanau, only 6 surgeons aide-majors on 15 and 37 surgeons on 46 had already joined the mobile hospital.

The Train

The train of the mobile hospital was placed under the command of captain Richard Sigrist and of driver Macard. In September, it counted 15 caissons with 64 harnessed horses.

These caissons (10 feet long, 2 fet high, 3 feet wide) were built in a rush in Strasbourg. Their construction was so much delayed that, on July 27, 12 additional caissons had to be ordered to a sir Lambert from Strasbourg. On the day of departure, the regulations were not ready and the mobile hospital passed the Rhine with 7 overloaded caissons. The rest of the equipement, particularly the large volume of bedding, had to be transported aboard barges up to Mainz from where it finally reached the mobile hospital at Hanau.

At the opening of the campaign, the caissons of the mobile hospital proved to be insufficient. Sanitary evacuation depended only on ordinance wagons initially destined for the provisions of the army, often peasant cart unfit for this type of transportation.

The Supplies

Supplies were essentially:

  • bought on the spot (drugs, provisions, lints, etc.)
  • made in Strasbourg and in Alsace (transport caissons, packings, campaign chests, etc.)
  • coming from the royal magazines of Strasbourg, Metz or Lille (bedding, blankets, cauldrons, etc.) or from specialised warehouses in Paris, at the Arsenal or at the Invalides (surgical instruments, campaign chapel, special bandages).

The Moblie Hospital During the Campaign

Till the battle of Rossbach

In July, after the crossing of the Rhine, Soubise's army occupied Hanau County. By mid-August, it had advanced up to Fulda. On August 25, it reached Eisenach and Erfurt.

The mobile hospital settled in Erfurt with 4 satellites: the sedentary hospitals of Eisenach, Fulda, Hanau and Heidelberg. Erfurt thus became the logistical centre of Soubise's army. However, on September 10, the town was evacuated in front of the advancing Prussian army. The mobile hospital had to evacuate 250 sick to Gotha where it established itself.

Soubise's mobile hospital was then reinforced by elements of the mobile hospital of the army of the duc de Richelieu. When the Franco-Imperial army advanced on the Saale, the mobile hospital was transferred from Gotha to Burgthonna near Langensalza. However, due to the lack of proper transport, part of the material was abandoned (October 19-21). The mobile hospital was barely installed at Burgthonna that it had to move to Steigra where it operated during the battle of Rossbach on November 5.

During the battle of Rossbach and the retreat on Nordhausen

On the eve of the battle of Rossbach, in anticipation of the forthcoming evacuations, the mobile hospital evacuated 145 sick from Steigra to Erfurt. On the day of the battle, an element of the mobile hospital was set up on the battlefield with 4 caissons loaded with bread, wine, meat, eau de vie, medicines, bandages, lints and other clothes and utensils.

"At usage, we realized that these caissons had been built without taking into consideration the services to which they were destined; the pharmacy services were always late due to difficulties with unloading" (Dublanchy, p. 140-141).

Furthermore, awnings were lacking for such an open air installation.

During the battle, French troops were jostled by the Prussians. They routed and then withdrew. The advanced element of the mobile hospital was abandoned on the spot, to the exception of one horse team and one caisson.

The French army then precipitously retreated by night and day till it reached the safety of Nordhausen:

  • on November 6, the mobile hospital quitted Bamerstroda and reached the Laucha whose bridge was mostly burned, loosing 2 horses and 2 wagons who were unable to keep up with the forced march. One was loaded with flour the other with eau de vie and wine;
  • in the night of November 6 to 7, 2 caissons loaded with flour, wine and eau de vie were knocked over and partly broken. Their content was plundered by the retreating troops;
  • in the night of November 7 to 8, a caisson was lost near Kannewurf. The horse teams disappeared at the favour of night.
  • in the night of November 8 to 9, another caisson was lost with 2 horses;
  • on November 10, a horse was lost as well as a wagon loaded with a beef and 6 sheeps.

Lame soldiers, often dumped material of the entrepreneurs to find a place aboard the wagons. Once arrived at Nordhausen, the caissons had to be permanently protected to prevent pludering.

On November 10, the entrepreneur realized that he had lost 4 caissons and 19 horses. Altogether, his losses amounted to some 5 075 livres, excluding the material belonging to the king. In December, these caissons were replaced by 4 large covered wagons bought at Laucha to transport wounded officers.

At the battle of Rossbach, the French had lost 800 men killed, about 6,000 (mostly among the wounded) taken prisoners morts, 72 pieces of artillery and 27 flags.

The French wounded abandoned on the battlefield were transported to Leipzig and Merseburg by the Prussians before being evacuated, for the less seriously wounded, towards Magdeburg and Berlin. After agrrements between the commanders of both armies, a detachment of the French mobile hospital was sent to Leipzig and Merseburg to treat French prisoners. This detachment was placed under the command of the war commissioner Salart de Lormois who died while treating soldiers. This detachment consisted of assistant-director Revoil, of 1 controller, 1 accountant, 1 reception clerk, 1 store keeper (Dupré whose wife served as cook for the wounded French officers, 1 dépensier and 2 bakers. The medical orderlies and servants were supplied by the Prussians. The medical detachment was directed by Boucher and consisted of 2 surgeons aide-majors and 8 surgeons. At the beginning of April 1758, there were only 301 French soldiers (including 106 sick or wounded) still in the Prussian hospitals.

Till the Winter-Quarters

Arrived at Nordhausen, where the was a fix hospital, with the routing French army, the mobile hospital had to substitute itself to the missing hospital company to provide daily sanitary service (from November 14 to December 7).

Another part of the mobile hospital established itself at Dudderstadt from where it took part in the organisation of another fix hospital.

By December 8, the mobile hospital had established itself at Eisenach after the abandon of the fix hospitals of Nordhausen and Dudderstadt (évacuated between December 1 and 8). The French abandoned wounded who could not be transported.:

  • in Nordhausen: 400 sick and wounded with a detachment of the mobile hospital under the command of the war commissioners Praslin and Droz de Louviers;
  • in Dudderstadt: 130 wounded and 240 sick with another detachment of the mobile hospital.

On December 31 1757, the French army took its winter-quarters in Hanau county, Fulda country and Hessen where there were only army equipement and lame soldiers. Gayot, quartermaster general of the army, was replaced by Foullon while war commissioner de Thiville who had deployed all his personal resources in this unsuccessful campaign was promoted inspector-general of the hospitals of Hessen and Hanau county (February 1758) and relentlessly prepared the next campaign.


Bibliothèque nationale de France, Richelieu, Paris, nouv. acq. françaises, ms. 550, 561ff.

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arsenal, Paris, ms. 6690 (1742-1767)

Service historique de l'armée de terre, Vincennes, Ya 128, armée de Soubise.

Bagieu, Examen de plusieurs parties de la chirurgie, 2t., Paris, imp. Delaguette, 1756. (I, p. 142-150, sur l'hôpital ambulant)

Chennevieres (de), Détails militaires, Paris, imp. Jombert, 1768, t. 5 (supplément aux 4 vol. imprimés en 1750), p. 173-198.

Cilleuls (J. des), Les hôpitaux ambulants aux armées de l'ancien régime, in Bulletin de la société de médecine militair française, réunion du 16 avril 1953, p. 82-88.

Cilleuls (J des), Le corps de santé militaire sous la monarchie, depuis les origines jusqu'à la Révolution française, Paris, ed. S.P.E.I., 1961.

Collard (E.), Un caisson de pharmacie en 1758, in Revue d'Histoire de la Pharmacie, n° 130-Juin, septembre 1951, p. 237-239.

Dublanchy (lieutenant), Une intendance d'armée au XVIIIè siècle. Etude sur les services administratifs à l'armée de Soubise pendant la guerre de Sept ans, d'après la correspondance et les papiers inédits de l'intendant François Marie Gayot, Paris, ch. Lavauzelle, 1905, 220p.

Pajol (général, comte), Les Guerres sous Louis XV. t. IV, (1749-1759), Guerre de Sept ans, Paris, lib. Firmin-Didot, 1885.

Ravaton, Chirurgie d'armée ou Traité des plaies d'armes à feu, et d'armes blanches, Paris, Didot le Jeune, 1768 (p. 635-666 on mobile hospital).

Suby Y, Des hôpitaux militaires, Metz, imp. Collignon, 1789, 149 p.


Jean-Louis Vial of Nec Pluribus Impar for his authoraisation to translate and integrate an article written by F. Olier into our initial article.