Friday, 19 August 2011

The Lunebergers fate outside La Haie Sainte

In “Behind the Lion” I described the experiences of the Hannoverian infantry of Verden and Bremen battalions.  Kielmansegge’s brigade must have been held in high esteem by Wellington: it was placed in the front rank, close to the centre of the line.  What’s more, when light infantry were needed to defend Hougoumont it was men from this brigade who were sent.

Jacobi, quoted in Glover’s account, gives an interesting summary of the recent history of the Hannoverian troops, pointing out that their morale had been affected by Wellington’s division to break up Alten’s corps of Hannoverian units and to assign them to British divisions.  He says he understands this was necessary to spread inexperienced troops with veterans, but he reports the new commanders were critical of everything the Hannoverians did, could not speak their language, were paid more and had a different lifestyle.  Up until the 26th April 1815, Kielmansegge had commanded the Light Division, consisting of 6 battalions, but this was now designated a brigade; the men were thankful it was assigned to the division to be commanded by Alten himself.

Adkin reports the brigade had a strength of 3,315 men with the battalions ranging in size from 533 to 643 men.  The brigade consisted of three other battalions as well, the Grubenhagen and the Duke of York’s battalions which, on this day were paired in the same way as the Verden and Bremen battalions.  The final battalion, the Luneberg, is reported to have operated on its own.

Early on the morning of the 18th, 100 men in total were detached to Hougoumont from the Grubenhagen and the Luneberg.  In the deployment at 11am, the Grubenhagen and Duke of York’s deployed east of Bremen and Verden battalions, closer to the crossroads, and further back (Adkin, Map 11, page 157).  The Luneberg battalion stood alongside the Verden, on the line of the road from the main road to the Lion Mound, closer to La Haie Sainte.

I have yet to read a personal account of the Grubenhagen and Duke of York battalions; where the soldiers of Verden and Bremen battalions comment it is to say their comrades seemed to have the same experiences.  The only other mention I can find is in the account of Kielmansegge, the brigade commander, who says that the Grubenhagen / Duke of York’s square was taking short-range artillery fire from French guns this was why the Verden / Bremen square advanced to clear them away, as described.   

The Luneberg battalion met a different fate.  As d’Erlon’s attack developed at around 1.30pm, the most westerly column, Charlet’s, attacked La Haie Sainte and the Luneberg were sent as reinforcements. (Adkin says the order was given by Wellington but by Alten on page 369; Jacobi offers two candidates, an adjutant to the Prince of Orange and the Luneberg battalion commander himself).  They advanced in line going down the slope about 200 paces and into the smoke towards the farm buildings.  Carl Jacobi, commanding one of the Luneberg companies, says the French surrounding the part of the farm upon which they were advancing fell back and his men (with others of the battalion) were deployed in the orchard, which was to the south of the farm, closest to the French lines.  He says the rest of the battalion were deployed in the open to combat French skirmishers.  The men in the orchard initially resisted the French, who had re-formed and were advancing, but there being little cover they were driven out to rejoin the rest of the battalion.  Jacobi’s account suggests they arrived just as their comrades were being attacked by French cavalry.  The battalion was scattered and it was every man for himself.  “Nobody among us really knew how they escaped the horses’ hooves or the horsemen’s swords,” he wrote. “There were moments when the senses of hearing a sight had in fact shut down, and not just figuratively.  Only faintly do I remember that I had told some men fleeing next to me to fire on individual horsemen among the pursuers.”  Jacobi reached the safety of the ridge – oddly he says he found refuge behind the squares of the brigade, suggesting the squares did not give him enough space to get inside

The cavalry were Dubois’ brigade, the 1st and 4th Cuirassiers, actually moving quite slowly.  Adkin (page 239) provides a fascinating diagram showing how the cavalry took advantage of a slight dip in the ground and smoke to surprise the Hannoverians.
It’s possible when Jacobi referred to the horse’s hooves, he meant horses rearing up and striking with their forelegs rather than being literally trampled, although that was obviously possible as well.

Jacobi and about 50 survivors gathered at the rear of Mont St Jean, and he marched them back to the ridge, taking casualties along the way from artillery fire.  When they arrived Kielmansegge ordered them to march back to Brussels.

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