But an unlooked-for event soon destroyed this anticipation.
The probable proximity of the attack requiring an early preparation of the troops, the heavy cavalry brigade, consisting of the life-guards, garde-du-corps, and second heavy dragoons, who were encamped near Lauenburg, was, at midnight, ordered to saddle. No sooner had this order been pronounced, when suddenly from one end of the brigade to the other was heard the pass-word (The order to saddle is given in the words "Es soll aufgesattelt werden.") of, "the troops will not saddle!" Es soll nicht aufgesattelt werden.) The officers, thinking it prudent to appear at first unconscious of this symptom of insubordination, simply exhibited astonishment at the order being so slowly complied with, and succeeded in making the few individual men whom they met, proceed, at least apparently, to the fulfilment of their duty. By degrees, however, the mutineers assembled in large bodies, in the middle of which, the most hardy, their persons being concealed by the darkness of the night, gave vent to their feelings in unequivocal terms, and openly declared "that no further duty ought to be done until it was known for whom they were really to fight and have their bones broken - why the country had been abandoned, and the army shut up in a corner, where, sooner or later, they must be in one way or other destroyed; who since the whole income of the country was in the enemys power, would pay their pensions to those soldiers who might become crippled in the approaching battle; finally, until it was known whether the soldiers from whom the exertions of war for no kind of purpose were required, would be given, at least, their full war allowances, and not be suffered to starve upon their scanty peace allowances under the sweat of their brows and the loss of their blood."
With these and similar expressions were the officers assailed, who mixed among the insurgents, and by threats, exhortations, prayers, and promises, endeavoured to calm their irritation and bring them back to their duty. These efforts had been partially successful, and the garde-du-corps had nearly all complied with the order to saddle, when a new subject of complaint brought the former angry feeling into action with an increased impulse.
A few men of the second cavalry regiment had, at the beginning of the disturbance, gone to the left of the brigade, where the life-guards were encamped, and endeavoured to kindle, as zealously as the officers laboured to extinguish in that regiment, the flame of insubordination. Observing their efforts, and the injury which they were effecting, cornet Jansen, a high-spirited young officer of the life-guards, went up to them, and demanded what their business was with that regiment at so late an hour. The men made no reply, but endeavoured to escape, upon which Jansen cut at them with his sword, and wounded three of the party sufficiently to make evident to their comrades the chastisement which they had undergone.
Exaggerating these appearances, the men of the second regiment now became furious, and cried out for revenge upon the officers of the life-guards. In vain did the most resolute of their superiors endeavour to counteract this design; in vain did they succeed in drawing off a few of the more tractable from the mass and making them return to their tents; the threats and imprecations of their comrades soon changed their good intentions, and in a few minutes more than two hundred men, armed with their swords and threatening the most violent proceedings, had assembled. Before, however, any further step towards the excesses to which these manifestations appeared likely to lead, had been taken by the mutineers, the powerful remonstrances of their respected colonel, von Dzierzianowsky, succeeded in subduing their rage, and thus prevented a scene which would probably have led to the most fatal consequences.
But although the personal exertions of this zealous officer defeated the intentions of his misguided corps, they were insufficient to check the general spirit of discontent which an exaggerated report of the cause of the excitement had spread throughout the camp. Major general du Plat, who commanded the left wing, accompanied by colonel the prince of Schwartzburg, now arrived on the spot. By this time an outward appearance of quiet had been assumed, and a squadron of the life-guards marched, by the generals order, to the relief of an outpost; a gloomy, stubborn, and mutinous spirit was, however, still perceptible, and in this state Wallmoden found the three regiments whose reported insubordination caused him to appear before them about day-break on the morning of the 4th.
The field-marshal addressed the brigade with all the energy with which a painful consciousness of the disgraceful nature of their conduct, and of the pressing danger of the moment, inspired him. He promised them an investigation into their complaint if it was properly brought forward, and satisfaction, if it proved to be well founded. He reminded them of the fame which they had earned in former wars - stated to them the probability of being immediately attacked - and, finally, demanded of them whether they would fight or surrender as prisoners of war. A gloomy silence followed this appeal, and the outward demeanour of those to whom it was addresses, showed too clearly how ineffective it had proved. A report now reached the marshal that the enemy were about to cross the Elbe at Artlenburg. This, which afterwards proved to be a false alarm, could not but augment the difficulties with which events, already embarrassing, had surrounded him; he, therefore, resolved again to summon a meeting of the generals of his army, and to submit to them the expediency of assenting to the modified terms which Mortier had last proposed.
Before, however, Wallmoden left the camp, some individual soldiers of the disaffected regiments hurried after him and expressed their contrition and readiness to return to their duty, and soon after a field officer and a captain of the second regiment officially reported to him that that regiment awaited his orders to turn out and oppose the enemy; but the marshals confidence in his army had been shaken; he feared that the mutinous spirit which had been yet but partially exhibited might prove contagious and become general; that a knowledge of the late commotion might reach the French head-quarters, and lead to demands still harder than those which had been yet put forward, and which the disorganized state of his army might render him unable to resist; in fine, perplexed, disheartened, and despairing of that re-establishment of discipline and good spirit among his troops, upon which he could alone depend for success in the unequal contest with which he was threatened, he did not allow himself to be influenced by the symptoms of returning order which the disaffected regiments now exhibited, but retained his intention of summoning another council of war, and again submitting the guidance of his conduct to the generals of his army.
These officers accordingly assembled at Haidekrug about five oclock in the afternoon, and the conditions on which Mortier had last proposed to treat having been laid before them, they declared themselves unanimously of opinion that, "provided the proposed conditions were observed, and no worse substituted, his excellency might conclude a convention with the French general."
Supported by this opinion, which was formally drawn up and signed, Wallmoden addressed a note to Mortier early on the following morning, accepting the terms which had been last offered, and requesting permission to send an officer of his staff to concert the necessary details with the French general. Mortier replied by expressing his readiness to comply with the marshals request, but subsequently proposed that the details should be arranged by Wallmoden and himself on the Elbe, which was acceded to, and a boat having been moored in the river for the purpose, the conference was fixed for the same afternoon.
The fates seemed, however, opposed to this finishing stroke of the French general; for just as he left the Hanoverian shore, a squall of wind sprang up, and the little sail-boat in which he had embarked, being badly managed, was in imminent danger. Another accidental circumstance threatened still more the personal safety of the general. On the departure of the boat from Artlenburg, the French had omitted to make the usual signal of a flag of truce, and the officer who commanded the Hanoverian artillery on the opposite bank had not been informed of the approaching conference. Seeing, therefore, a vessel in full sail making for the right bank, with an enemys crew on board, the officer considered that he would be only acting in obedience to his orders by firing upon the apparent invader. He accordingly directed a gun upon the vessel and fired two shots, one of which is said to have hit the bark without doing much injury. This salutation was now about to be strengthened by a charge of grape, when a staff officer gallopped up and arrested the fire by communicating the pacific state of affairs.
Thus escaping from the perils of two elements, Mortier reached the boat, and the two commanders proceeded to draw up the details of the new convention.
This document, which has been respectively called the Elbe, Artlenburg, and Lauenburg convention, was thus worded.
"The king of England having refused to ratify the convention of Suhlingen, the French consul feels himself obliged to consider that convention as not having been concluded. Lieutenant-general Mortier, commanding in chief the French army, and his excellency the count Wallmoden, commanding in chief the Hanoverian army, have consequently agreed upon the following capitulation, which shall be immediately put in execution, without being submitted to the ratification of the two governments.
"Art. I. The Hanoverian army shall lay down their arms, which shall be given up, together with all their artillery, to the French army.
"II. All the Hanoverian cavalry horses, together with those of the artillery, shall be given up to the French army by one of the members of the government. A commission nominated by the general in chief shall be immediately sent to make the necessary arrangements for this purpose.
"III. The Hanoverian army shall be disbanded; the troops shall pass the Elbe and return to their homes; they shall bind themselves by word of honour not to bear arms against France and her allies until after they have been exchanged by as many French military of equal rank, as may be taken prisoners by the English in the course of the war.
"IV. The Hanoverian generals and officers shall retire upon parole to those places which they may select for their residences, provided that they do not leave the continent. They shall keep their swords, and take with them their horses, effects, and baggage.
"V. A nominative control over all the individuals which compose the Hanoverian army shall be given to the general commanding the French army with the least delay.
"VI. The Hanoverian soldiers sent to their homes shall not wear uniform.
"VII. Subsistence shall be issued to the Hanoverian troops until their arrival at home. In like manner forage for the officers horses shall be also allowed.
"VIII. The sixteenth and seventeenth articles of the convention of Suhlingen shall be applicable to the Hanoverian army.
"IX. The French troops shall immediately occupy that part of the electorate of Hanover situated in the province of Lauenburg.
"Done in duplicate on the Elbe, this sixteenth Messidor, year eleven of the French republic (5th of July, 1803.)
"The lieutenant-general commanding the French army in chief,
"Signed. ED. MORTIER. Marshal count von WALLMODEN."
Owing to the hurry of the moment and the variety of details to be entered into, many stipulations which a regard for the future welfare of the Hanoverian army would naturally have dictated to marshal Wallmoden, were either settled verbally, or altogether omitted. Among others, that which provided for the future subsistence of the officers and soldiers was unfortunately entrusted to the former mode of adjustment, and the advantage afterwards taken by the enemy of this inadvertency, in withholding or deferring the payment of the promised subsistence, placed many individuals in circumstances at once unexpected and distressing.
The mutinous conduct of the three cavalry regiments having been the immediate cause of marshal Wallmoden taking the opinions of his generals on the expediency of submitting to the conditions upon which this convention was founded, it seems fitting that we should here inquire into the motives which led to so violent and open a demonstration of indiscipline and disloyalty.
Fairly to effect this object, it will be necessary to bring under review the general condition and temper of the army from the period of its arrival in the province of Lauenburg until the fatal morning of the 4th July.
It has been stated that the march of the army towards the Elbe was attended with considerable desertion. That this breach of faith with their country and the discontented feeling which led to it should have become more general among the troops after they had crossed that river, may well be imagined. Banished from their homes and families without having been allowed to make one effort to avert that condition - forced to leave all that they held most dear to the doubtful protection of a lawless enemy - shut up in a corner of the land from whence they could only be liberated by gallant exploits in which they were themselves denied a participation, it cannot be a matter of surprise that discontent and despondency should have taken strong possession of their minds. The long existing laxity in discipline had also engendered among them a habit of criticising and censuring the orders of their superiors; and the fatigues and inconveniences consequent upon their present situation, which were, perhaps, sometimes unnecessarily though unintentionally increased, gave frequent occasion to such comments. To all these causes of dissatisfaction was added that contained in the regulation respecting their pay and allowances, which were not, as they expected, placed upon the war establishment; and so far did the perverseness produced by this latter cause of complaint carry them, that although the commissariat had provided amply for the wants of the army and offered provisions to the men at the first cost, they preferred buying in the neighbouring towns and villages at double the price charged by the commissariat, articles which they conceived ought to have been furnished to them gratis.
The forage was also deficient both in quality and quantity. The horses were altogether deprived of straw; the ration of hay was reduced to three pounds per diem; and although that of oats was at the same time increased to ten pounds, the quality of the corn was so indifferent as to render it no equivalent for the reduction in the former article. The cavalry horses were consequently thrown out of the good condition in which they had previously been, and for the preservation of which the German dragoon is so justly celebrated, and the spirit of the rider sank with the condition of the animal, on whose powers his own efficiency in the day of battle depended.
The elements themselves appeared to be in league against the soldiers constancy. Cold and rainy weather, unnatural to the time of year, had followed the encampment of the troops, and this they the more severely felt in consequence of the meagre supply of blankets which had been issued to them, and the impossibility of obtaining even the substitute of straw.
Exemplary as was the conduct of the officers in general during this trying period, some imprudent individuals of that body were unguarded enough to allow themselves a freedom of expression respecting the convention of Suhlingen, and the present humbled condition of the troops, which could not fail to increase the irritation of minds already too well disposed to receive exciting impressions; and their open abuse of those authorities to whose measures they considered the late convention chargeable, no doubt fed that suppressed spirit of revolt which at last exploded.
The general discontent of the army was first expressed by numerous and frequent desertions. These occurred both in the infantry and cavalry, some regiments losing more than a hundred men in the space of three weeks; nor was, as is commonly the case, this loss confined to the idle and disorderly, but the choicest, best conducted, and most confidential soldiers left their ranks.
The local position of the three heavy cavalry regiments peculiarly exposed them to the impression thus general throughout the army. Encamped between the towns of Lauenburg and Glüsingen, where the greatest body of troops was united, and in more direct communication with their native provinces than the other regiments, they became early acquainted with the various dispiriting reports and lamentations which the friends and kindred of the soldiers daily spread among them. The citizens of Lauenburg, also, with whom these regiments had frequent intercourse, and who felt themselves oppressed by the unaccustomed burthen of their presence, spared no exertions to seduce them from their duty. However, the result of the council of war of the 1st of July, when Mortiers demand that the army should surrender and be marched to France was positively rejected, was hailed by these regiments with the same satisfaction, good spirit, and anxious desire to regain, by a contest, that position from which the late convention had thrown them, as animated the rest of the troops; but the communication made by the deputies on the 2d, that of the French general on the following day - the distorted and exaggerated manner in which intelligence of these varied propositions reached them, and, finally, the doubt and perplexity in which the whole proceeding appeared to be enveloped - caused their former feelings to return in aggravated force.
On the 1st of July, for instance, the troops were informed that the enemy required they should proceed to France as prisoners of war. The thought of this was most appalling to them. Many veterans knew, by sad experience, the miseries which such a condition involved, and pictured them to their uninitiated comrades, who in consequence burned with the desire of revenging themselves upon the enemy, and hesitated not to encounter death rather than submit to demands attended with such frightful results. But on the following day this excitement was at an end. Even before the new terms then offered were made known to the troops, it had been falsely reported among them that the officers only would be required as prisoners. Hence arose a belief that they were called upon to fight merely for the honour of their superiors; and when on the 2d the certain information reached them, that no prisoners of war whatever were required by the enemy, they began altogether to doubt whether this condition had been ever proposed, and to suspect that it had been mentioned for the sole purpose of urging them to a contest in which the honour of their superiors was alone concerned.
The soldier, also, could not reconcile it to his simple notions of consistency, that no effort to defend the country had been made at Suhlingen, and that now, when the prospects of success had been so much diminished, a desperate engagement was to be fought, which, in all probability, would leave both the country and the army abandoned to the devastating consequences of an unsuccessful contest.
That these various and just causes of dissatisfaction, suffered to take root and become entwined in the minds of troops over whom the strictness of military discipline had been long relinquished, should have kindled the flame of mutiny, and led at length to its bursting forth in an act of open resistance to authority, cannot be a matter of surprise; and the same reasons forbid us to make it a subject of censure.
The conduct of marshal Wallmoden both previous to and during the eventful period of the French invasion of Hanover, has called forth much and severe animadversion. The reduction of the army has been attributed to his influence, and its inefficiency to his inertness; his advocacy of resistance has been pronounced insincere; military talent has been denied him; a predetermined intention to avoid all hostilities has been laid to his charge, and even his personal courage has been questioned.
As in, perhaps, all cases of unqualified and wide-extended censure, these imputations contain much of untruth and much of exaggeration. So far from the inefficient state of the Hanoverian army being attributable to the influence or inertness of Wallmoden, it is a well attested fact, that, long previous to the period now under consideration, he submitted to his majesty a plan for the entire reorganization of that army, as the only means of restoring it to an effective condition; and at the same time, feeling himself, it is to be presumed, too old (Wallmoden was then upwards of sixty.) and infirm for so arduous a situation, proposed to resign the command of the army in favour of his royal highness the duke of Cambridge.
But the interference of baron von Lenthe prevented the first part of the proposed arrangement from being carried into execution, and his majesty being at the same time unwilling that his royal highness should be yet engaged in the labours of public business, the marshal still continued to discharge the duties of commander-in-chief.
Of the nature of Wallmodens views and intentions respecting the defence of the electorate, the letters which have been already quoted furnish the best developement. His anxiety that bold, effective, and decided measures should be adopted immediately upon the first intimation of impending danger, is there clearly evinced, as well as his undisguised condemnation of the temporizing policy exhibited by the Hanoverian ministers.
That, after his strenuous efforts to infuse vigour into their councils, to point out the resources of the country, and to shew the inadequacy of the means with which he had been provided, had been unproductive of good effect; after his zeal had been discouraged, and his exertions neutralized, and when he found himself left at last with an army which he felt convinced was unequal to fulfil the task that was likely to be required of it; that under these circumstances Wallmoden should have voluntarily continued in his command, may, perhaps, be a matter of surprise; but his doing so can be alone ascribed to the high sense of public duty with which he was impressed; and unfitted as his advanced age and limited military experience may have rendered him for the critical situation into which he was suddenly thrown, upright, conscientious, and truly patriotic motives cannot fairly be denied him.
The evident desire to effect the peace of the electorate by amicable means, which so strongly marked his proceedings after the French had passed the Hanoverian frontier, has probably led to the imputations upon his personal courage; but this charge appears to be entirely without foundation. For many years the Hanoverian ambassador at Vienna, the marshals experience had been more in diplomatic than in military transactions; extreme caution, also, was a conspicuous feature in his character, and this quality, increasing with age, tended to produce in him an indecision of purpose which rendered him totally unequal to meet the rapid succession of unfavourable events which followed the march of the French army; but his uniformly gallant conduct during the campaigns of 1793 - 95 in Holland, where he commanded a corps of Hanoverian troops, and, after the departure of the duke of York, the whole Anglo-Hanoverian army, places his personal courage beyond all question.
Controlled by the restrictions of the ministry - limited in his sphere of action to passive measures of defence - expressly prohibited from giving "umbrage" to the enemy, and being himself strongly impressed with the conviction that the general welfare of the country, and not the particular interests of the army, should be his paramount consideration, he adopted that course which under the circumstances he conceived best calculated to attain this object. That his dependance upon conciliatory measures led him into an extreme of forbearance which raised the hopes and increased the demands of the enemy in proportion as his system became developed, the facts which have been recorded too clearly testify. What might not a opposite course have effected? It has been generally allowed that the first engagement with the French advanced corps must have terminated favourably to the Hanoverians; Mortier himself admitted the probability of such a result - and to what important consequences might not so propitious a commencement have led? The French general boasted, certainly, of his "army of reserve," and endeavoured to shew how fruitless any success that might attend the first efforts of the Hanoverian arms would be rendered by the superior numbers which would ultimately be opposed to them; but this vaunted reserve proved, on its arrival, to be an ill-clothed, worse-appointed, and undisciplined band of conscripts, without artillery, cavalry, or magazines! The probable increase of the Hanoverian army is also to be considered - every day brought new levies to its ranks; and, unwillingly as many individuals might have left their homes and families when the unchecked progress of the French seemed to prefix the stamp of hopelessness to a cause in support of which the hazard of their lives was required, one successful action, one reasonable prospect of the invaders being driven back, would doubtless have reconciled them to the demand on their exertions; and instead of the gloom and dissatisfaction which every where prevailed, the tide of public opinion might have so turned in favour of resistance, as to have supplied the army with zealous volunteers in place of discontented conscripts.
Thus encouraged to maintain the neutrality of the north of Germany, Prussia could no longer have stood by a passive observer of its violation, but complying with the request of the Hanoverian government, would doubtless have hastened to its assistance, and vigorously supported the further operations of those troops whose first effort offered so fair a prospect of ultimate success; England would soon have added the strong arms of her naval and military force, and instead of upholding the cause of freedom through the long struggle of the peninsular war, would have encountered the usurper in a more friendly territory; then might that land, where Varros veteran legions yielded to the patriotic bands of Armin, have been also distinguished by the baffled efforts of ambitious France, and the first step towards the liberation of Europe.
© 2003 Michael-Andreas Tänzer