The Only Man in Prussia.
North Germany 1803
The Electorate of Hanover had not yet recovered from the deep financial wounds which the French revolutionary war, the support of the Empires army on her frontier, and, above all, the occupation of her territory by Prussia, had inflicted upon the resources of the state; when new misunderstandings between France and England threatened her with a renewal of hostilities, coming hard on the heels of the impending collapse of the Peace of Amiens.
Emboldened by sound measures to strengthen the economy, an extreme effort on the part of the Hanoverian government, had been for some years operating to heighten the military importance of the electorate, and now rendered it well qualified to assume a defensive position; the army had been increased, the fortresses in the main repaired, and a great part of the existing force suffered to return to the ranks, many vacancies in regiments, both among officers and men, had been filled, and a general tightening of military discipline and military spirit had been encouraged to develop.
In March, 1803, the nominal strength of the army, including cavalry, infantry, artillery, and engineers, amounted to 15,546; however, more than one third more were on furlough, and the effective force could be fairly estimated at more than twenty thousand men.
Such was the strength of the Hanoverian army, when M. de Talleyrand’s celebrated note verbale to the English ambassador (Communicated to lord Whitworth at Paris, on the 11th of March, and which stated, "If we do not receive satisfactory explanation respecting these armaments in England, and if they actually take place, it is natural that the first consul should march 20,000 men into Holland. These troops being once in the country, it is natural that an encampment should be formed on the frontier of Hanover." &c.) sufficiently indicated the first consul’s designs upon the electorate.
According to the principles of justice, good faith, and the acknowledged rights of nations, Hanover was justified in an expectation of being allowed to remain an undisturbed spectator of the impending contest. Under the treaty of Basle, Hanover could claim neutrality, and, as an integral part of the German empire, the protection afforded her by the peace of Luneville. However, such claims had little weight with the French First Consul. Under the pretext that if the sovereign of both Britain and Hanover declare war as King of one, his other territory must necessarily be involved in the same contest, Napoleon justified his occupation of Hanover.
That Napoleon would do such a thing, however, was to be expected by the Hanoverian Electorate, Hanover’s Prime Minister, the Baron von Lenthe, Knew only too well that such course of events would happen; that The Ogre, Napoleon, who had violated the most solemn engagements of the treaty of Luneville; who, instead of restoring the independence of Switzerland, Holland, and the Italian republic, was endeavouring to fix more firmly his despotic rule in those occupied states; Napoleon who, it was believed was both uninfluenced by national or personal honour, sought to evade his sacred promise to the German emperor, and withhold all indemnification to the grand duke Ferdinand for the loss of Tuscany; That the perfidious Bonaparte, who had scarcely ratified the treaty of Amiens, when he took measures for its violation; should now meditate a breach of faith with the Holy Roman Empire by invading one of her provinces, Baron von Lenthe determined to raise the alarm.
Baron von Lenthe was further convinced by his imperious wife, who was determined that her standing in the Empire would be no less than that she saw for herself (some believed she acted as if she thought she was the head of state herself!) arguing that to be a First Rate State, one should act as a First Rate State, and not let the machinations of the Jacobins and murderers now ruling France, affect the fortunes of Hanover, or the ambitions of it’s ruling families to raise the State to the be foremost in North Germany.
Subsequently and notwithstanding the King’s message to parliament of the 8th of March, the consequent preparations in England, (of which von Lenthe, residing in London, was fully aware,) M. Talleyrand’s note verbale of the 11th, and still more decisive evidence of approaching war which an actual assembly of French troops in Holland furnished, this exasperated statesman persevered in an opinion that hostilities would take place, and succeeded in rendering his colleagues in Hanover equally mindful of the gathering storm.
In England, the King was encouraging an expectation of war, and it was no surprise that he was engaged in energetic measures for the defence of the electorate and the protection of her troops; these measures were in no small part echoed in the confidence and actions of his Hanoverian minister.
So early as the end of March, major von der Decken, aid-de-camp to His Royal Highness the duke of Cambridge, (who, without being a member of the Hanoverian cabinet, served as lieutenant-general in that army,) was commissioned, at an interview with the King in London, to acquaint the Duke that his majesty’s wishes were, first, that endeavours should be made to procure assistance from Prussia, in case of which being unsuccessful, the troops to be drawn towards Stade, and if then found unable to oppose any effective resistance to the enemy, that they should be there embarked for England.
His majesty, the Prince of Wales, and their royal highnesses the dukes of York and Clarence, strenuously supported the views of the King, and the English ministry sanctioned the preparation of transports for the conveyance of the Hanoverian troops, and their being taken into British pay on their arrival in England.
This considerate and judicious design was totally supported by the indomitable will of Baron von Lenthe; and the non-interference of the British government in Hanoverian politics left that minister at full liberty to guide the helm of the electorate, and to dictate to his acquiescent colleagues forthright and determined policy envisaged by his majesty.
Unknown by all in the theatre of North Germany, Alexander, the Czar of Russia had secretly mobilised 70’000 troops ready to intervene if, as he saw it, the neutrality of Hanover was corrupted by either the threatened invasion of France; or the occupation of Hanover by Prussia, even if that occupation was to prevent the French invasion! It is quite incredulous that such a mobilisation was not heard about until some time later in the year, when the force moved into East Prussia without prior notice. But of that, more later!
However, after England had been one month in expectation of, and in preparation for, the invasion of Hanover of which his majesty’s message to parliament intimated the approach, Baron von Lenthe decided that more precautionary measures on the part of Hanover were also advisable, and in furtherance of this view an official communication was despatched from London, on the 8th of April, addressed to field marshal von Wallmoden Gimborn, then at the head of the Hanoverian army. This document stated that, "it appeared adapted to circumstances to employ the present time, usually devoted to the exercise of the troops, to call in all those on furlough, and to make arrangements for a camp of instruction, in order that the regiments might be brought together without exciting public attention, and thus, at all events, to prevent the scattered garrisons from being unexpectedly cut off;" it further empowered marshal Wallmoden to take the steps necessary on his part for the execution of the proposed plan, which was stated to be, for the present, "solely limited to measures of defence!"
It must be noted that on the occasion of this letter being penned, the Barons wife had been absent for some time from her influence on his forthright stance against France, and thus some of his old habits of prevarication had again surfaced. The Barons wife had been invited to Brunswick, to an audience with Her Majesty Queen Louise of Prussia, and her fellow Princesses from Mecklenburg (her sister in law) Brunswick (the hostess of the assembly of the Princesses) Saxony and Hesse-Kassel. Such an audience appealed to the Barons wife as only fitting for the First Lady of Hanover, and she went without hesitation.
The official note which contained these instructions reached marshal Wallmoden on the 19th, and on the following day he sought further instruction from the ministry respecting the prescribed arrangements, which not corresponding with his own notions of the best means to be adopted for putting the country into a state of preparation against danger, also feeling doubtful as to the extent of preparation intended to be made, led him to submit to the ministry the following queries:
In what part of the country are the troops to be assembled?
Upon what place are they to fall back?
Is the fortress of Hameln to be put in a full state of defence?
What are in general our means of resistance?
To what extent shall we be permitted to employ them?
The field marshal added his conviction that the execution of "the measures which the approach of danger would require, could not be effected in a short time," and concluded by stating that "he found himself obliged to press most urgently for a decision respecting the points of preparation alluded to, or to give up the possibility of being able to execute them with promptitude."
The reply of the Hanoverian cabinet, on the 22d, was as inconsistent as extraordinary.
"The ministry," say they, "entirely acknowledges the necessity for detailed determinations, which the object in view requires; and, as those determinations depend entirely upon the future development of affairs, it would be not only dangerous but altogether impracticable to countenance them with too much determination, and to fix positively upon points of detail. On the whole the ministry view two points as the most important to be first decided on; the one to avoid for the moment all that could give the enemy reason to accelerate his actions; the second to concert all the preparatory measures which are not contrary to the first point of view, and which might assist the execution of the King’s orders."
The field marshal, perceiving clearly that this note of the cabinet empowered him literally with the fate of the Electorate, decided upon laying the state of his forces and options before the King himself, and on the 27th addressed a letter to London, in which he unreservedly detailed the situation of the country.
"The army," said he, "is very different from what it appeared on paper at the end of March; it has been considerably increased by the efforts of the Officers, and it is absolutely exhausting of all means of being recruited. We shall be obliged to leave small garrisons in several places; the fortress of Hameln will not be abandoned; and all the infantry that can be calculated on amounts to twenty thousand bayonets; the cavalry need fewer than five hundred horses, and at the same time means are found to supply one hundred and forty men, which the cavalry want to complete, and so on.
The Electoral Army of Hanover
Light Dragoon Brigade
First Heavy Brigade
Second Heavy Brigade
Third Heavy Brigade
Fourth Heavy Brigade
Meantime the designs of France became more developed, and the title of Armée d’Hanovre, given to the troops which she had collected on the Dutch frontier, rendered their destination no longer doubtful. The troops thus assembled in this army were, however, not the force that all believed them to be. Stories had multiplied them from a twenty thousand strong force of infantry, some cavalry and no field artillery; to a corps of all arms exceeding thirty five thousand strong, and gaining more men and materials every day! The real state of affairs in this army were hidden from the understanding of the Hanoverian command by a mixture of efficient French border police, and the rumour of the uninformed populace. This “fog of war” was to help the French marshal Mortier in his initial march in to Hanoverian lands, and prevented the early arrest of the Marshal by a more determined Hanoverian military than actually occurred.
Marshal Wallmoden, therefore, did not delay in taking every step compatible with the orders by which his exertions were bounded; the Elbe and Weser were reconnoitred, the necessary field equipage put in preparation, the repairs required at Hameln commenced, and on the 4th of May an exact account of what had been done was laid by him before the ministry, who were at the same time informed that, "in consequence of the interdiction of all preparations that might give ‘umbrage’ he found himself incapable of making any further arrangements." He had done all he could and more!
(The following anecdote, in explanation of the meaning attached by the ministry to the word "umbrage," was related to me in Hanover. The general commanding the Hanoverian army having been instructed by the ministry not to suffer the troops to fire, and only in case of emergency "to use the bayonet with moderation," Baron Arentschildt -, one of that body, was questioned by a friend, "whether such orders had absolutely been given," and "what was meant by using the bayonet with CHRISTIAN moderation?" The Baron, in reply, acknowledged "that the statement was substantially true," but declared "that the word ‘Christian’ was an uncharitable addition made in a sarcastic way to reflect on the nature of the note!"), This declaration the marshal supported, on the following day, by a long and pressing note in which the ministry were plainly told that, "according to the principles which they had laid down, their measures literally amounted to doing nothing, by not antagonising the enemy into accelerating his actions;" a considerable augmentation of the army was now complete; the details consequent upon this measure brought to their notice; and, finally, they were requested to inform the marshal, who naturally felt that he would be held responsible for the execution of their plans, (especially if they went awry, what were their absolute intentions with regard to the defence of the country.)
The ministry had already decided upon authorizing the assembly of the camp of instruction, suggested to them by the official communication from London, which has been already mentioned, when this note reached them; and marshal Wallmoden was consequently, on the following day, empowered to undertake the arrangements necessary for the accomplishment of that object; and the camp of instruction appeared to be the of the utmost usefulness in the preparation of the recruits in which the Ministry had eventually decided to call upon.
With reference to this measure, marshal Wallmoden reported, on the 9th of May, that the regiments could be brought together in less than one week. The intelligence from London now furnished a confirmation of the probability that war would be immediately declared, and that from Holland announced the approach of a French army. Wallmoden, therefore, again addressed the ministry, and after detailing the arrangements that he had been able to make, again made clear to the ministry his design as to what should be undertaken to secure the Electorate.
"The ministry have already been informed of the actual number of effective troops, and can judge what will remain after Hameln has been garrisoned with three thousand men; the number remaining is sensible to support an obstinate and continued defence; the insufficiency of the corps without others aid, however stimulated by duty its ardour and bravery may be, cannot escape the observation of the ministry. But we have resources; this is a fact not doubtful; they exist, and we did not hesitate to have recourse to them under circumstances of much less danger than those which probably now await us."
"This is no question of war with foreign countries; we seek but to defend our own, to protect the property of individuals, our own homes, and to ensure our personal safety. Who would withhold his person and all his exertions from a co-operation in this defence? Arms and ammunition are not wanting; we have only to assemble the combatants. The field-marshal feels confident that they will be found not wanting, given the measures be taken to procure them."
"If we should even be unable to assemble such an army as the electorate furnished during the seven years’ war, we may at least calculate on collecting, in a short time, from twenty-eight to thirty thousand men."
"A corps of this strength would always render an absolute defence possible, and, even anticipating the most unfortunate consequences, that of being obliged to yield to a superior force, the position must be again laid down, that it is only with arms in our hands, and provided with a respectable force, that we can hope to obtain an equitable, and not a disgraceful capitulation."
This note was drawn up by marshal Wallmoden in concert with His Royal Highness the duke of Cambridge, who, however, did not place much dependence upon the doubtful prospect of a capitulation, (more than once alluded to by marshal Wallmoden,) but strongly advocated the more vigorous measure of determined resistance.
The deputies for the province of Calenberg (Calenbergischen Landstände) also advocated defensive measures; and to these united counsels the ministry agreed. An augmentation of the army from twenty-five to thirty thousand men was achieved, and the note of the 13th of May, which communicated to marshal Wallmoden this acquiescence in his proposition, invited him, at the same time, to a personal communication with the ministry; a freedom of intercourse which, although so imperatively called for by the official activity and expedition which the state of the country demanded, had yet, up to this moment, never been offered to him.
His actions and efforts were rewarded by a note received from no less a person of Her Majesty Queen Louise of Prussia, delivered by Baroness von Lenthe. The note was designed to assure him that the Queen was campaigning strenuously on Hanover’s behalf, that the Electorate should not be left alone to the mercy of the Corsican wolf. She inferred to the Treaty of Luneville; and advised him that she was in progress around the North German States treating with her fellow Princesses and Ladies of State, cousins all, to ensure that the Kings and Princes had their full support in the coming storm.
Wallmoden considered the note and its contents; and considered that Her Majesty was a very talented and capable lady. He put the note in his walnut and brass campaign desk and locked the drawer. For the first time in weeks Wallmoden smiled. Her Majesty was a very talented and capable lady indeed!