Friday, September 24, 2010

The 'Black Hussars' in action 15th August 1813

After the defeat of Prussia in 1806, the Duchy of Brunswick was dissolved. The Field Marshal, Karl, Duke of Brunswick, overall commander of the Prussian Army was killed at the battle of Auerstadt. His son, Friedrich Wilhelm, fled to Austria.

With the outbreak of war between France and Austria in 1809, Friedrich organized a "Free-Corps" for the Austrian Army. The force consisted of one regiment of Infantry and one of Hussars. Their uniforms earned them the nickname of the "Black Horde". By July Austria was knocked out of the war and an armistice was at Znaim on 12th July, Friedrich didn't feel himself bound by this and he decided to fight his way out to the North German coast and thence to England. Remarkably he succeeded and after some fierce fighting he sailed for England on the 6th August

The Brunswick Hussars were formed as part of the reorganisation of the 'Black Horde' in England following their 'escape' from Germany and were subsequently sent to Spain in 1813.

Since the summer of 1812, an 8,000-strong Anglo-Sicilian force, joined by about 6,000 Spanish troops from Minorca, occupied the port of Alicante on the east coast of Spain. The army frequently changed generals but did nothing to contribute to the Anglo-Allied war effort. In February 1813, Sir John Murray was appointed to command the now 18,000-man force made up of
7,000 British and KGL troops, 3,000 Sicilians and Italians, with two Spanish divisions totalling 8,000 men, and was to conduct a series of amphibious operations along the Spanish coast.

After defeating Suchet at Castalla in April, Murray was ordered to move by sea to capture the port of Tarragona. By this maneuver, Wellington intended to distract Suchet from his summer 'Vittoria' Campaign. Murray landed on June 2nd, the raid, initially very successful, was badly managed by a timid Murray and developed into a farce, with a disgracefully and unnecessarily hurried withdrawal of the force back on to its ships in which many cannon were abandoned and for which Sir John Murray was later court-martialed. He was relieved of command on June 18th.

The Brunswick Hussars, two squadrons strong, totaling 18 Officers and 258 troopers landed at Alicante, direct from England, in February 1813. Along with two squadrons of the 20th Light Dragoons they formed the cavalry brigade under Lord F. Bentinck and took part in many of the actions under Murray.

Sir John Murray was replaced by Lieutenant General W. Bentinck and by August 1813 they were once again back besieging Tarragona.

As Lord W. Bentinck reports:
On the 3rd the Duke del Parque's corps came up to Tarragona; as did the division of General Sarsfield on the 11th. General Elio could not spare the three regiments of the division of Migares, which I had requested him to send me.

0n the 10th I heard that Marshal Suchet had returned to Villa Franca from Barcelona, and had brought with him five thousand men. The reports of the succeeding days, left no doubt of it being his intention to move forward; and on the 14th, I learned from the Baron d'Esoles and Colonel Manzo, that besides collecting all he could from the garrisons, he had been joined by Decaen with six thousand men.

In consequence of this intelligence, I suspended all operations for the siege of Tarragona, except the making of fascines, and landed neither artillery nor stores.

There was no position on the Gaya, as I had in my former letter supposed. There are only two carriageable roads across it, but they are at a distance of ten miles from each other. The river having no water in it, and being only impassable from the steepness of its banks, is passable for infantry every where. A corps placed in the centre could not reach either flank in time to prevent the passage of the enemy. General Whittingham, whom I had sent with his corps to the Cols of San Christina and Llebra, reported them not to be defensible, with so small a force as we could allot to this object.

I had intended to have pushed on to the Llebregat. Suchet's army was at one time divided between Barcelona and Villa Franca, and its environs. A rapid movement might possibly have enabled me to fall separately upon his advanced corps, and to obtain possession of the ridge of mountains on this side the Llobregat before he could have time to bring up his troops from Barcelona. I could not execute this movement before being joined by Sarsfield, and previously Suchet had concentrated his force in Villa Franca and it's neighbourhood. Suchet's force has been variously reported, from twenty to twenty-five thousand men.

The immediate vicinity of Tarragona offered a very good position in itself, but it may be completely turned by an enemy who, crossing the Cols, should approach Tarragona by Valls and Reus.

On the 14th Suchet moved a large corps upon Alta Fulla, but the road being close to the beach, the gun-boats prevented him from passing, if such were his intention.

On the 15th he drove back the posts on the Cols of San Christina and Llebra, and afterwards forced the corps at Brafia, by which they were supported, to retire.

Colonel Lord F. Bentinck had been ordered to observe the force crossing the Cols in the direction of Valls on the 15th and he reports on the actions of that day:
In obedience to your directions, I marched yesterday afternoon, with the brigade of cavalry under my command, beyond Nulles and Villabella, and reconnoitered the enemy's column, which was advancing upon Valls.

As soon as we began to retire, the enemy followed us both with cavalry and infantry, and a squadron of the 4th Hussars pressed closely upon our rear-guard, formed by Captain Wullfen's troop of the Brunswick Hussars, and attempted to charge and overpower it.

The enemy was opposed each time with determined spirit and resolution; and Captain Erichcson, with his troop, being sent to the support of Captain Wulffen, the enemy were driven back, with the loss of one officer killed, another officer wounded, and between twenty and thirty men left sabred on the field. Sixteen prisoners and eleven horses fell into our hands.

I had sincere pleasure in observing the spirit displayed by tbe officers and men of the Brunswick Hussars. Lieutenant-Colonel Schrader, at all times zealous, was particularly useful on this occasion in restraining the impetuosity of his men. Circumstanced as we were, with a strong column of the enemy far advanced upon our right flank, and two battalions of infantry (as I was informed by the prisoners) upon our left and rear, and in an enclosed country, I did not deem it prudent to pursue the advantage we had gained. I regret to say that Cornet Redant, of the Brunswick Hussars, was wounded and taken, and I subjoin a return of the remainder of the wounded and missing.

Bentinck reported wounded and missing as:
Brunswick Hussars
6 privates wounded, 6 privates missing, 4 horses killed, 2 horses wounded, 2 horses missing.
20th Light Dragoons
2 privates, 2 horses missing.
Total loss: 1 officer, 13 privates, 16 horses.

With Suchet's continuing to advance towards Tarragona, Lord W. Bentinck abandoned the siege and retired on Cambrills.

The Black Brunswickers - Osprey MAA-007 Otto Von Pivka
History of the Peninsular War Southey Vol VI p253
The European Magazine, and London Review, Volume 64 By Philological Society (Great Britain) p349
The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 114 By John Nichols
The Gentleman's magazine, Volume 83, Part 2
Royal military panorama, or, Officers' companion, Volume 3
Cobbett's political register, Volume 24
A History of the Brtish Army - Volume IX 1813-1814 By J W Fortescue, Sir
My thanks to Steven H. Smith, Digby Smith and Ron McGuigan!

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