Napoleon Series Archive 2010

Re: Kielmansegge
In Response To: Re: New Publication ()


The letters are as follows : from my article

From General Sir James Shaw Kennedy
8 The Circus, Bath on 12 September 1859
My dear Sir Willoughby,
If I understand you right, you mentioned, when I had the pleasure of seeing you here; that you had not had an opportunity of reading the pamphlet and its supplement which I published 3, but that you intended doing so. I had not copies by me at the time, but forward a copy of each by this days post, of which I have to beg your acceptance. I was very sorry to have seen so very little of you when you were in Bath. Our interview at Bath was so short that I omitted asking whether you happen to recollect if it was on the 2nd of June that I had the interview with the Duke of Wellington as to Count Kielmansegge.
My impression is, but it may be erroneous, that it was on the 2nd and that the Duke had left Brussels that morning. My impression is, but I may be wrong in that also, that the house at which I found you with the Duke was a French farm immediately within the French frontier.

Strangely however, the date of the letter written from Byrkley Lodge near Burton upon Trent, was 12th December 1863, some full four years after the initial query by Shaw Kennedy! It is unclear why there is such a large gap, however the letter reads:

My dear Rooke,
I have just received your letter. / am afraid I cannot help much to solve your doubt, but I do recollect the Great Duke passing the column & the cheering with which he was greeted. My impression is, that it was near Malplaquet & that would make it the 2nd. The bivouac on the 1st was near the frontier, I forget the name of the place, was
it perhaps Binch? I wish I could send you a clearer opinion…

However the third letter in the series, written

by Shaw Kennedy and dated 19 December 1863 made all clear.
My dear Sir Willoughby
I am very much obliged to you for your letter of the 16th instant, and for the trouble you took in writing to Sir Alexander Woodford to assist in clearing up the point as to the day on which I had the interview in your presence with the Duke of Wellington in regard to Count Kielmansegge.
Since I last communicated with you on the subject I have found a diary which I kept of the march of the army from Waterloo, and on the question of that march I have to Siborne 's work, and also to Maxwell's life of Wellington. Upon the authority of those works, both of which in regard to dates agree with my diary, the army moved from the field of Waterloo on the 19* and bivouacked that night at and near to Nivelles, marched on the 20th to Binch and on the 21st marched from Binch to Bavay entering France on that latter days march. According to Siborne (vol 2 pages 335 and 336) the allied army had, on the 2nd, its right at Mons and left at Binch with the headquarters at Binch; but it appears that the headquarters were not at Binch, but at Nivelles, on the 20th; from which place the Duke issued on the 20th his famous cautionary order as to the entrance of the army into France and of thanks to the Army for its glorious conduct on the 18th (see Maxwell's Life of Wellington Vol 3 page 508). All this corresponds exactly with my diary written from day to day at the time, but my diary says nothing of where the Duke slept on the night of the 2nd; but 1 suppose that he did sleep at Nivelles 20th June, and it corresponds with his intention of passing the frontier with his army next day, as he actually did; for it was between Binch and Bavay that he passed the Guards and Third Division on that morning that he placed Kielmansegge in arrest.
I was one of the Staff Officers introduced to the King of France by the Duke of Wellington at Paris on the occasion to which you refer, and at that time I was in daily and constant communication with Count Kielmansegge, yet I never until now heard that anything occurred on that occasion respecting Kielmansegge, and I shall be very much obliged to you to let me know which it was, as I am of course very much interested in all that regards his case. Accompanying this I return Sir Alex Woodford's letter to you.

A final letter from Shaw Kennedy dated Bath, 24 December 1863 gives a few more details regarding the issue.
My dear Sir Willoughby,
I have just received your letter of the 22nd which gives me a great degree of pleasure and satisfaction. I am very much gratified to find upon such evidence as yours that the Duke of Wellington behaved to the gallant old Count Kielmansegge with the kindness & consideration which you observed.
My object in now writing is to explain to you that I am not in the slightest degree an evidence against the opinion which you formed that the Duke took Kielmansegge to the levee of the King of the French in his carriage. After the Third Division arrived at Paris and was quartered near Passy, I dined with Kielmansegge and was a great deal with him every day, but when the command of the division fell into other hands, and we all went into Paris, I very rarely saw Kielmansegge, and I did not see him at the levee, nor did 1 know until 1 received your letter this morning that he had been at it. The conduct of the Duke of Wellington to Count Kielmansegge, under all the circumstances of the case, was just, high minded, noble & honourable. He was justified in the first instance, by the unintentionally false report of Count Alten, in dealing so harshly as he did with Kielmansegge; but, when, after a most searching cross examination, I completely proved to the Duke that Alten's report was totally erroneous, he offered every reparation to the much injured Kielmansegge. You are aware that Alten had left the field wounded, and knew nothing himself of what had taken place, so that I positively contradicted what Alten had reported, and Alten himself fully confirmed my contradiction when subsequently referred to, and fully confirmed Kielmannsegge’s gallant conduct up to [the] time of his (Alten's) leaving the field wounded.

So the facts regarding Kielmannsegge’s arrest can now be clearly established.
The Duke of Wellington, having spent the 19th June in Brussels completing his Dispatch, rode out to join his advancing army early on the morning of the 20th June and arrived at Nivelles that evening. Catching up with the army and passing the Third Division between Binch and Bavay on the 21st, he immediately ordered that Count Kielmansegge, (who commanded the Division since Alten was lying wounded at Brussels) be placed under arrest. Presumably Kielmansegge was asked to place himself under arrest, rather than being reduced to the ignominy of having to be actually arrested and the Duke promptly rode on. The army was clearly stunned by this act as no particular reason was apparent for the Duke's action. The following day, in a farmhouse just inside the French border which served as headquarters for the night, several senior officers of the Third Division, including Shaw Kennedy obtained an interview with the Duke to ascertain the reason for the arrest. The intervention of these officers eventually succeeded in persuading the Duke that the information sent to him, which had caused him to arrest Count Kielmansegge, was completely unfounded and he was promptly released from arrest.
But what was the reason for Kielmannsegge’s arrest in the first place? The answer was fortunately discovered by Gary Cousins, it lies in Wellington's Supplementary Dispatches Volume X. There is printed Lieutenant General Charles Alten report to the Duke of Wellington dated Brussels 19th June 1815 .

My Lord Duke,

In this position the hostile armies continued for several hours, the enemy bringing up his infantry, and latterly approaching his numerous artillery to within grape shot The squares by this time had been so much reduced in number by the continued fire of cannon, musketry, and ultimately grape shot of the enemy, that they had hardly men enough left to remain in squares, and therefore were
withdrawn from the position by Count Kielmansegge; and the remains of the Legion and Hanoverian brigades, and part of the British brigade, reformed on the high road in rear of the village of Mont St Jean

So what within these few words had upset Wellington so much? Let us look back at the situation that Count Kielmansegge found himself in near the end of the battle. With the rapid recall of troops to the colours in April 1815 Kielmansegge was promoted to Major General and was given command of the 1st Hanoverian Brigade consisting of the Field Battalions Osnabruck (also known as the Duke of York's), Grubenhagen, Bremen, Lunenburg and Verden each of approximately 660 men and the Jaeger corps of von Sporken. In numbers this was the strongest brigade in the allied army, numbering some 3300 men, but was possibly not the strongest in capabilities.
At Quatre Bras, the brigade was deployed on the extreme left of the army, where it supported the 95th rifles and took part in the allied advance at the end of the battle.
Having retreated with the army to Waterloo, the brigade was stationed in the right centre of the first line, between Ompteda's 2nd KGL Brigade covering the right of the crossroads and Halkett's 5th British Brigade. This position was a key point in the allied centre and indicates that Wellington had a good impression of the quality of these troops, possibly aided by the fact that they had recently been bolstered by the addition of a strong draft of experienced KGL officers and NCO's. During the battle, the brigade had repaid this trust by standing solidly in squares throughout the repeated mass cavalry attacks and enduring the incessant artillery bombardment. However, late in the afternoon, Kielmansegge was ordered to send forward the Lunenburg Field battalion to aid the beleaguered garrison of La Haye Sainte. The battalion was caught unprepared by French cuirassiers, losing heavily and temporarily losing their colour. With the fall of La Haye Sainte, the allied centre came under a tremendous fire and under the pressure the line began to buckle. Whilst rallying his troops, Alten was severely wounded, Ompteda had already been killed and command of the Third Division devolved upon Kielmansegge. Under such a murderous fire the whole centre started to give way and Kielmansegge was hard pressed to rally his troops and hold the line.

Kennedy, who was a witness to this, makes a few comments in his Notes.
The French took no time in taking advantage of this [the fall of La Haye Sainte], by pushing forward infantry supported by guns, which enabled them to maintain a most destructive fire…so much so that Ompteda's Brigade having been previously nearly destroyed, and Kielmannsegge’s much weakened, they were now not sufficiently strong to occupy the front which was originally assigned to them.
He continues:
The Prince of Orange, Count Alten, and so many officers of the 3rd division, had, before this event happened, been killed, or wounded and obliged to leave the field, that I did not then know… who was …senior officer of the division on the field: I therefore, as the staff-officer present, galloped direct to the Duke, and informed him that his line was open for the whole space between Halkett's and Kempt's Brigades.
…His Grace's answer…was…’I shall order the Brunswick troops to the spot, and other troops besides; go you and get all the German troops of the division to the spot that you can, and all the guns that you can find.’

And again:
Of such gravity did Wellington consider this…[that he] put
himself at their head; and it was even then with the greatest difficulty that the ground could be held; but Count Kielmansegge soon led back his gallant Germans to the spot…’

If the day was a near run thing, then this was the nearest the allied army came to disaster. This crisis was the greatest of all those faced by Wellington's army that day; at this point the entire centre of his army nearly disintegrated and it only just held by the determined action of the Duke and a few other senior officers. However, the line did hold and the disaster was averted. After this the Brigade being completely exhausted, took little further action but did join the final advance if only as far as La Haye Sainte.
Wellington probably thought little more of this episode in the euphoria of victory, being only one of many other difficult moments in that long day. However, the report of Alten must have exploded like a bomb on his desk! There were the words quoted previously

'and therefore were withdrawn from the position by Count Kielmansegge; and the remains of the Legion and Hanoverian brigades, and part of the British brigade, reformed on the high road in rear of the village of Mont St Jean…’

Here was the reason for the crisis! Kielmansegge had pulled his troops out of the line and retired beyond Mont St Jean! It was all his fault that the allied line had so nearly collapsed! The Duke would have been apoplectic! Immediately on his passing the 3rd Division, he therefore promptly placed poor Count Kielmansegge under arrest pending Courts martial.
The situation was not helped by a further letter which Alten wrote to Wellington dated Brussels 20th June 1815 making recommendations for awards for the gallant actions of officers of his division in the battle; it is very significant that he fails to mention Kielmansegge at all!
However help was at hand for poor Kielmansegge; his divisional officers were aware of his brave actions that day; that far from withdrawing his troops, Kielmansegge had strained every nerve to rally his troops as they started to recoil under the ferocious French fire and succeeded in holding the line and brought the troops forward again.
Kennedy and Rooke took the honourable and very brave decision to defend Kielmansegge at an interview with Wellington. This probably occurred at a farmhouse near La Cateau on the 22nd June. Following what must have been a very interesting discussion and with the arrival of a further letter from Alten to Wellington dated Brussels 22nd June 1815 in which he explains how he was mistaken in his criticism of Kielmansegge .

My Lord Duke,
It is with the utmost concern that I have been informed by Major-General Count Kielmansegge that an unintentional error in my report to your Grace representing the action of the 18th instant has been productive of incurring your Grace's displeasure on the General officer.
Towards the close of the action, and immediately previous to my being wounded, I found one of the squares of Count Kielmannsegge’s brigade, on which the fire of grape was so tremendous that the four faces of the square are marked by the bodies on the field of battle, give way a little. As I found myself at that time with another square, which was equally critically situated, I remained with it, and directed the Count to stop the square which was giving way, and bring it up again; which the General immediately complied with that zeal he always shows to comply with the orders of his superiors, to the best of his power. I was immediately after wounded and obliged to quit the field; and it was from the circumstance which was mentioned to me that the remainder of the division had been collected in rear of the village of Mont St Jean without my being able to learn the positive reason how they left the position, and having witnessed the gallantry of every individual regiment of the division during the whole of the day under the most severe fire and trying circumstances, I concluded they had not quitted the position without order, but under the sanction of the General officer commanding by higher authority.
The expression, however, ‘withdrawn from the position by Count Kielmansegge, ‘ which I used in my report, was not the proper one; and I have to appeal to your Grace's indulgence to make an allowance for the hurry in which the report was dictated by me, and at a time when I was suffering
under the effects of a wound. I have doubly to regret the circumstance, as, independent of my giving your Grace the trouble to peruse this letter, it had for a time implicated the military character of an officer who, on the day of the 18th in particular, has given proofs of the greater intrepidity, and is indeed the last man I know of who would abandon his post if he could help it without orders.
After this explanation on my part, who gave the unintentional cause of its becoming necessary, may I be allowed to ask it as a particular favour that your Grace will be pleased to have the Count's conduct so far publicly cleared as to order an inquiry of the Commanding officers whether the Count gave such an order; and, injustice to the troops with such bravery on that day, whether the squares were not so far reduced in number as no longer to allow of that formation, which I understand to be the case, but, as I was no longer an eye-witness, cannot vouch for, although inclined to believe from what I witnessed as long as I was with them. If I could still further hope to meet with an indulgent ear, I venture to express a wish that in case your Grace has not already superseded the Count in command of the 3r Division, you will be pleased to allow him to retain it for a short period, in order to do away the appearance of his being superseded on account of the above unfortunate circumstance. I have the honour to be, my Lord Duke, Your Grace's most obedient and most humble servant Charles Alten

Although severely wounded and no longer an eye witness to events, Alten had led the Duke to believe that Kielmansegge had ordered his troops to retire beyond Mont St Jean. Obviously messages informing Alten of the Count's arrest would have reached Brussels and he attempted to make some amends, however the letter is couched in terms of only modest apology for his being the cause of Kielmannsegge’s troubles. Alten states he may be mistaken and suggests an inquiry could be held on the Count's actions and perhaps the Duke will not supersede him in command of the division until a little later for forms sake! This really is a handsome apology! Despite this lukewarm apology, the arguments of the senior staff of the division obviously convinced Wellington that Kielmansegge was not guilty, even in the slightest degree. The Duke would not undo his removal from the division but he could clearly indicate his favour by personally escorting him to the King's levee, a very public statement of his support, which instantly reinstated his reputation.
Luckily for all concerned, this very unfortunate incident therefore came to an immediate close and there it seems to have lain, forgotten by all until the discovery of this series of letters.

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