Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815: Brunswick-Lüneburg, Ferdinand, Herzog von

By: Digby Smith

 

Brunswick-Lüneburg, Ferdinand, Herzog von

Born 12 January 1721, in Wolfenbüttel; died 3 July 1792, in Vechelde, just west of Brunswick Ferdinand was the fourth son of Ferdinand Albert II, Herzog von Braunschweig-Lüneburg. He was educated for a military career. In July 1740, his brother-in-law, king Friedrich II (the Great) of Prussia, appointed Ferdinand as Chef of his newly-raised IR Nr 39. In 1741, at the start of the first Silesian War, Ferdinand was present in the battle of Mollwitz as ADC to the king. On 17 May 1742, Ferdinand took part to the Prussian victory in the battle of Chotusitz. When peace was signed with Austria, Ferdinand received the HOSA and was promoted to GM. In 1744, in succession to Markgraf Wilhelm of Brandenburg, who had been killed at Prague, Ferdinand received the command of Frederick the Great's Leibgarde battalion. In this same year, he was appointed Chef of IR Nr 15, which post he held until 1755

On 4 June 1745, during the battle of Hohenfriedberg, Ferdinand commanded an infantry brigade. On 30 September of that same year, he again distinguished himself during the battle of Soor, in that he stormed a hill defended by Ludwig, one of his younger brothers, who was serving in the Austrian army, took the post together with 5 guns. After the peace of Dresden (25 December 1745), which ended the Second Silesian War, Herzog Ferdinand paraded in Berlin with Frederick II. After the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), Ferdinand had become a close confidante of Frederick the Great. During this period, he was successively promoted to GL (in 1750) and was appointed Governor of Magdeburg in 1755.

In 1756, during the opening campaign of the Seven Years' War, Ferdinand led the westernmost of the three Prussian columns which converged upon Dresden in the opening move of the war. On 13 September, he commanded the Prussian vanguard that chased the Saxon army out of Nollendorf. During the blockade of that army in their camp at Pirna. In the battle of Lobositz, on 1 October, he commanded the right wing of the Prussian infantry. Ferdinand then spent the winter of 1756-57 with Frederick II at Dresden.  On 23 April 1757, Ferdinand captured the village of Assig. On 6 May, he fought in the battle of Prague, commanding a division with distinction. He then served in the campaign which led to the battle of Rossbach on November 5, but was not involved in that action. Shortly after this battle, he was appointed to take over command of the Allied army (about 50,000 men) from the Duke of Cumberland, who had signed the Convention of Kloster-Zeven, by which the Hanoverian army was to be disbanded following their defeat by the French at Hastenbeck (southeast of Hameln) on 26 July 1757. King George II of Great Britain refused to ratify the Convention and removed Cumberland from his command. Ferdinand found the demoralized army at Stade, near the estuary of the River Elbe. By means of firm, energetic command, within six weeks he was able to launch an offensive which surprised the French army within its winter-quarters. Ferdinand`s style of command owed much to the influence of Frederick the Great, under whom he had served for so long. Yet his task was in many respects far more difficult than that of the king. Frederick was the absolute master of his own homogeneous army, Ferdinand merely the commander of a polyglot group of minor contingents (Prussians, Hanoverians, Hessians, Brunswickers, and men of Gotha and Schaumburg-Lippe). He also had to placate the princely rulers of the mini-states from where these contingents came. By the end of March 1758, Ferdinand had driven the French army back across the Rhine. On June 23, he fought and defeated the Comte de Clermont's French army at Krefeld, several marches on the French side of the Rhine. His success induced the British parliament to send a contingent of 8,000 British troops which joined him in August. Despite this, Ferdinand was unable to hold his advanced position on the Rhine and had to fall back eastwards to the River Lippe. In November, Frederick promoted Ferdinand to FM. In March 1759, Ferdinand launched another offensive but was defeated at Bergen (near Frankfurt-on-Main) on 13 April. He recovered rapidly and won the key battle of Minden on 1 August, forcing the French army to abandon most of the territories that it had taken earlier that year. After his victory at Minden, king George II awarded him the Order of the Garter, and the British parliament gave him a vote of thanks.

On 31 July 1760, Ferdinand defeated a French under the General Chevalier du Muy`s army at the battle of Warburg, southeast of Paderborn on the River Diemel in north Germany. However, he was subsequently gradually pushed back eastwards by his superior enemy, but managed to protect King Frederick's flank. In 1761, Ferdinand had to face two French armies totaling more than 100,000 men. He threatened their lines of communications forcing the two armies to merge. He then confronted and defeated these armies with his 60,000 men at Vellinghausen on 15 and 16 July.

In 1762, Ferdinand still faced two much larger French armies. He defeated one of these armies at Wilhelmsthal on 24 June, effectively ending the threat to King Frederick`s flank. Early in 1763, after the Seven Years' War, Ferdinand visited Frederick at Potsdam. In June, they toured together the battlefields of Minden, Warburg and Vellinghausen. Later, Ferdinand resumed his function of Governor of Magdeburg. In 1766, Frederick and Ferdinand relations became strained and the duke resigned from Prussian service. In 1767, Ferdinand acquired the castle of Vechelde, just west of Burnswick. In the following years, Frederick and Ferdinand finally came to a reconciliation and the former payed repeated visits to Ferdinand at Vechelde in 1772, 1777, 1779 and 1782. Ferdinand died on 3 July 1792, heavily indebted.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010

 

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