Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815: Friedrich Ludwig Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen

By: Digby Smith

Friedrich Ludwig Fürst zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen

Born in 1746 in the castle of Ingelfingen, east of Heidleberg, in the then-duchy of Württemberg; died on 15 February 1818. He was the eldest son of Prince Johann Friedrich Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, who had died in1796. Friedrich Ludwig began his military career as a boy, serving against the Prussians in the last years of the Seven Years' War, in the imperial Austrian forces.

Entering the Prussian army after the war (in 1768), he was at once made major (due to his princely rank), and in 1775 he was promoted to Obstlt. In 1778 he fought in the War of the Bavarian Succession and was again promoted, to Obst. Hohenlohe succeeded to the throne of his principality, and acquired additional lands by his marriage with Amalie, daughter of Graf von Hoym in 1782. In 1786 he was promoted to GM and appointed Chef of IR Nr 34 in Breslau (now Wroclaw); five years later he was appointed governor of Berlin. In 1794 he commanded a corps in the Prussian army on the Rhine and distinguished himself greatly in many engagements, particularly in the Battle of Kaiserslautern on 20 September. He became one of the most popular officers in the Prussian army and General von Blücher admired him as a leader. Prussian general Friedrich von der Marwitz, however, commented of Hohenlohe`s style of command in 1806: `Er wurde niemals fertig.` (He never finished anything). He also thought him to be easily distracted, easily led and quickly lost sight of the main objective of his current operation. In August 1806, just before the outbreak of the war, he abdicated rule of the principality to his eldest son, when the mini-state fell under the rule of Württemberg, in Napoleon`s re-shuffling of the components of the defunct Holy Roman Empire. Hohenlohe (now GdI), was appointed to command the right wing of the Prussian forces opposing Napoleon, having under him Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia; but, lacking confidence in his ability as a commander, he allowed his chief of staff (Oberst Christian Karl von Massenbach, also a Württemberger) to influence him unduly. Hohenlohe was also chronically myopic, seeing scarcely 20 paces with any clarity. His vanity forbade him from wearing glasses and he depended on Massenbach to be his eyes. Disputes soon broke out between Hohenlohe and the commander-in-chief of the Prussian army, the Herzog von Braunschweig, and Hohenlohe sought to `bend` Braunschweig`s orders to suit his own agenda. In the early days of the war, the Prussian army became fragmented, marching hither and thither, achieving nothing, while Napoleon rushed upon them. Finally, Hohenlohe's wing of the army was almost destroyed by Napoleon at Jena on 14 October. According to the official Prussian account of events of that fateful campaign, Hohenlohe`s conduct was chaotic, illogical and almost criminally negligent, for a senior commander. This account is that of Major von der Marwitz, who was present at Jena. On 12 October, Hohenlohe and his entourage were about to begin lunch in the castle of Jena, when the field officer commanding the outposts burst in and told them that the French were attacking the town and that the outposts had withdrawn almost to the castle. The alarm was sounded, but no French unit were found. Then isolated French skirmishers appeared in the woods west of the town, and it was reported that the French had taken the Saale bridges at Camburg and Dornburg, northeast of Jena. General von Senft was ordered to take some cavalry squadrons and retake the bridges, but sent only one, then retired with the rest to their bivouac at Zwätzen. During the night, General von Tauentzien learnt of this and repeated Hohenlohe`s order to Senft. Senft set off, but not to Dornburg or Camburg, but to Stiebritz, about 5 km west of Dornburg and away from the river, thus leaving those two Saale crossings in French hands. Criminal disobedience.

The camp of the Prusso-Saxon army, on the plateau west of Jena, was laid out on a line running NW to SE facing an enemy expected to be coming from the southwest, running from Kötschau and Kapellendorf. But all the intelligence gathered on the 13th pointed to an enemy to the north and east of Jena, i.e. advancing into the rear of the allied army. No orders were given to alter the disposition of the camp.

The Saxon contingent of the allied army had had no rations or forage supply for four days and were mutinous. It was in the morning of the 13th, that Hohenlohe learned that General Pelet`s Füsilier brigade had abandoned its position in the outpost line, without reporting the fact to anyone, and was now in the rear of the camp. Criminal disobedience. Instead of having Pelet shot, Hohenlohe merely ordered him to go back to his allotted post. Just after this, Hohenlohe was told that the French were in Jena in force and advancing against him. Then considerable musketry was heard from behind the southern wing of the camp. It was General von Tauentzien`s division being thrown out of Jena and chased up the hills by superior forces. Hohenlohe at once led some Saxons and Prussians to help him. The French were now at Lützerode, directly east (to the rear) of the allied army, but in 30 minutes, they were thrown out again. General von Cerrini`s Saxons were on the Dornberg, east of the village. Other French forces had appeared on the Landgrafenberg, above Jena. Hohenlohe was determined to attack the enemy and drive them down into the Saale valley, when Oberst Christian Karl von Massenbach, his Chief-of-Staff, rode in from Weimar, apparently with orders that Hohenlohe was to abandon that attack and to take a force to occupy Dornburg on the Saale, to act as flank guard for the main Pussian army, as it withdrew north through Auerstädt-away from Hohenlohe`s corps-onto Magdeburg.

Hohenlohe thus handed command of the combat by Lützerode back to von Tauentzien, collected a force of 4 ½ battalions, 20 squadrons and two batteries and set off, with them and Massenbach, to Dornburg! This left the main body of his army, with no orders (except to abandon the attack on the enemy to their front), with an unknown enemy force to their rear, establishing themselves on the edge of the plateau. An amazing situation.

Arriving at Dornburg after some hours, Hohenlohe then dictated detailed orders to General von Holtzendorff, who was to command here. It was now 1730 hours and the sun was setting. On the way back to his HQ in the castle in Kapellendorf, Hohenlohe`s party got lost and did not arrive there until after 2100 hours. No orders were issued that night to the allied army concerning the altered tactical situation, and all the while, Napoleon and his troops were busy, moving some 10,000 men and their artillery up onto the eastern side of the plateau. An astounding situation.

The morning of 14 October was very foggy. Hohenlohe`s command was now in the following state:

Part of it had been sent off to the isolated outposts at Dornburg and Camburg.

Part (Rüchel`s corps) had been left in Weimar.

The main body was scattered about at Kappelendorf, with outposts at Isserstedt and Closewitz, to the east. Part, the Saxons, were at the Schnecke, to the west.

The main body of the Prussian army, apparently in blissful ignorance of the lowering storm, was getting ready to march away from Hohenlohe, to the north.

Napoleon meanwhile, had collected his Guard and two divisions of Lannes` V Corps on the Landgrafenberg, while more poured up the improved tracks of the Rauhthal, the Eule and the Steiger, bringing up the artillery. Eventually, he concentrated almost 40,000 men on the plateau. The action opened with a clash on the eastern side of the plateau, between the men of Lannes` Corps and St Hilaire`s division (IV Corps) and Tauentzien`s troops, who were coming down southwest from the heights of the Dornberg hill, onto the villages of Closwitz and Lützerode. After 90 minutes, the outnumbered Tauentzien fell back to the northwest, through Vierzehnheiligen and Alten Gönne. Those who withdrew through the former village, joined up with Grawert`s division, which was advancing to their aid; the other half of Tauentzien`s command later joined up with Holtzendorff`s men at Hermstedt and Klein-Romstedt, northeast of Gross-Romstedt, to reorganize. 

By now, the Saxons on the left wing (around Isserstadt) had taken up position as they had been the day before.

Despite the growing sounds of a major combat, it seems that Hohenlohe still believed that no serious action was to be expected today. He wrote a report to the king, then mounted his horse and rode to Grawert`s position, and approved of what he had done. The Prussian cavalry advanced, their infantry in line behind them, on Vierzehnheiligen in line, as on a parade ground, into the fire of the French skirmishers and cannon. Hohenlohe then ordered the line to halt, just short of the village, in order to wait for the mist to lift. The French took full advantage of this, pushing more battalions and guns forward into the village and flanking hedgerows, which tore into the Prussians. Prussian artillery was also advanced and replied affectively to this fire. While the Prussian line was in full view of the enemy, the French took every advantage of their cover to minimize casualties. At about this point, increased firing was heard off to the east; it was General von Holtzendorff, who was mounting a desperate flank assault at Rödingen, to try to break the French attack. Holtzendorff`s infantry advanced south of Nerkwitz, through Rödigen and on, against Heiligenholtz wood, towards Lützerode, deep into Lanne`s right wing. But here they were taken in the left flank by St Hilaire`s division of Soult`s corps. After a time, some French cavalry charged an exposed Prussian HA battery in front of Hohenzollern`s line and took it; the Prussian cavalry in the area (Kür Rs Holtzendorff, Henkel and Drag R Prittwitz) panicked, broke and fled throught their own infantry. These three regiments could not be brought into combat for the rest of the day. The mist now suddenly cleared and Hohenlohe ordered the infantry to advance on Vierzehnheiligen from the left of the line, which soon lapped around the eastern side of the place.

The prince displayed his usual personal bravery in the battle, and managed to rally a portion of his corps near Erfurt, after which he retreated northeast into Prussia, the French close on his heels. Still acting under Massenbach`s advice, he surrendered the remnant of his army at Prenzlau on October 28. After two years spent as a prisoner of war in France, Hohenlohe retired to his estates, living in self-imposed obscurity until his death in 1818.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011

 

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