Research Subjects: Miscellaneous


Contribution of Honour: The King’s German Legion Casualties Buried at Elvas

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

 

Introduction

In every age, there are military heroes. 

From the ancient Greeks at Marathon (10 August, 490 B.C.), to the destruction of Emperor Augustus’ legions in the Teutoburger Wald (September, 9 A.D. ) by the German tribes of Arminius, and on into the 21st Century with the fighting in Iraq, we can find selfless men and women willing to lay down their lives for what they believe in and for their fellow soldiers.

Roberto A. Scattolin’s second work of the Portuguese Trilogy illustrates the sacrifices that the British and German soldiers were willing to make in Portugal .  The cemetery at Elvas is, with every evidence, their eternal resting place. 

If historians do not search and discover little known facts of the past, those sacrifices are soon forgotten. Cemeteries have always offered a wealth of historical perspective.  If one is willing to dig, one can discover the stories of the people who lived and died in another time.

It is in the small, seemingly insignificant details of historic events, such as the cemetery at Elvas, that makes the study of military history fascinating.

Contribute of Honour: The King’s German Legion Casualties Buried at Elvas

In a previous research paper attention has been focused on a forgotten British cemetery at Elvas[1], Portugal . XIXth Century preservation of history, and historic memories of the time, has pointed to the terrific collisions and battle experiences at Albuhera and Badajoz.

Further data have emerged about the soldiers who had experienced tough fighting and who had died at Elvas during the Napoleonic wars. In order to preserve their military identities from oblivion, and to invigorate further researching in this topic (Elvas and the Napoleonic Wars), I would like to denote the following specifications.

Confirmative Evidence

Piece of information #1: Schmalhausen.

The figure of Schmalhausen[2] is connected with the military corps of the King’s German Legion. He served in the ranks of the 1. leicht Bataillon (i.e. 1st Light Infantry battalion), and retained the rank of Fähnrich. On May 16, 1811, he was critically wounded at Albuhera[3]; three weeks later he died at Elvas (9 June).

Piece of information #2: Heise.

Hauptmann[4] Heise[5] died of wounds at Elvas on June 10, 1811.  He had served in the 2. leicht Bataillon (i.e. 2nd Light Infantry battalion) of the King’s German Legion. The circumstances of the fighting, and his wounding, can be carefully examined in the narrative of rifleman Friedrich Lindau (a German, who was born in 1787 in the town of Hameln). 

“Ich mußte links von dem Dorfe in einem Grunde auf Piquet bleiben, fand hier einen weichen Platz und legte mich nieder, aber Kälte und Sturm, dazu ein abscheulicher Gestank in meiner Nähe, ließen mich die ganze Nacht nicht schlafen.

Deshalb schlich ich mich heimlich fort in’s Dorf, um Lebensmittel zu suchen; hier hörte ich auf einmal ein leises Wimmern, ich ging darauf zu und erkannte einen Offizier von unserm Bataillone, den Hauptmann Heise, welcher, das Gesicht voll Blut, mich mit matter Stimme bat, ihn todtzuschießen.

Ich schauderte vor solchem Elende und tröstete den Mann, welchen ich lieb hatte, da er ein rechter Freund des Soldaten war, mit liebreichen Worten, er möge sich geduldigen, es werde bald besser mit ihm werden; dann legte ich ihm etwas Heu unter den Kopf, eilte zu meinem Piquet zurück und legte mich wieder nieder.

Am anderen Morgen bemerkte ich, daß mein weiches Lager ein mit weniger Erde zugedeckter Leichnam gewesen war, dessen Füße noch aus der Erde hervorstanden. Nachdem wir am Mittage vom Piquet abgelös’t waren, besuchten wir das Schlachtfeld; es lag da noch eine Menge Verwundeter von den Unsrigen und Feinden, Infanterie und Kavallerie, Gemeine und Offiziere, zwischen einer Masse von Todten.

Der Tag war sehr heiß, die nglücklichen jammerten nach einem Trunke Wasser, und wir holten ihnen aus dem benachbarten Flusse und linderten ihnen die Qualen des Todeskampfes, da wir den Wunsch der Meisten, sie todtzuschießen, nicht erfüllen konnten.

Dicht neben einer Mauer war auch der Hauptmann Heise, mit einem Schusse durch den Kopf, bereits verschieden“[6].

At the battle of Albuhera the 1st Btn. KGL. Light Infantry counted an operative force of 588 effectives (eight companies); the 2nd Btn. KGL. Light Infantry numbered instead 510 effectives (eight companies). Both units were under the command of General Karl von Alten.

British Memories

Elvas however is associated with significant British losses suffered in the Iberian military engagements, Albuera (1811) and Badajos (1812) just to mention two of them. Appalling losses were to affect and mark the proficiency of the British armed forces, and sensibly conditioned the oncoming field operations. In a letter written from Elvas, on May 20th 1811, the Duke of Wellington expressed his grief over the British losses to Lady Myers; the document, a token of moral esteem to the military valour, and to the unspoken severity of the collision against the French host at Albuera, was austere in tone:

It will be some satisfaction to you to know that your son fell in the action, in which, if possible, the British troops surpassed all their former deeds; and, at the head of the Fusilier Brigade, to which a greater part of the final success of the day was to be attributed.

As an officer he had already been highly distinguished, and, if Providence had prolonged his life, he promised to become one of the brightest ornaments to his profession, and an honour to his country”.

A silent hero of a time of protracted military operations, William James Myers – 7th Foot – was claimed among the memories of the British people. In St. Paul’s Cathedral ( London) there is his memorial plate: “Erected at the public expense to the memory of Lieutenant-Colonel SIR WILLIAM MYERS, Bart., who gloriously fell in the battle of Albuera, May 16th, 1811, aged 27 years[7]. The son of Lieutenant-General Sir William Myers, he was born on November 27th, 1783. Memorials to the Meyers are carefully preserved in Saint Mary’s church, Cheltenham; worth recalling is that Lieutenant-General Sir William Myers, bart, died in the year 1803; aged 55, he was then in command of the British Forces in the West Indies. Code numbers do sign the commemorative plates: 1. – 10B., Myers 1811; 2. – 10C., Myers 1814; 2. – 11B., Myers 1817.

Quite a number of His Majesty’s gallant soldiers ended their lives of sacrifice in the town of Elvas. 

They set a standard of dedication to the Nation.  Among them are remembered the figures of Lieutenant Henry Ireson Jones, 7th Foot; wounded at Albuera, May 16th, 1811, died at Elvas (August 7th, 1811); and Captain George Kirby, 57th Regiment of Foot, wounded at Albuera, May 16th, 1811. The son of Rev. John Kirby ( Mayfield, Sussex ), passed away on June 10th, 1811 (Elvas). In this fortressed town in Alentejo exhaled his last breathe Lieutenant Donald McPherson (95th Foot; wounded at the storming of Badajos, 6th April 1812); died on May 7th, 1812.

Captain Leonard Potter, 28th Foot, was also wounded storming Badajos (6th April 1812), and died on April 20th.

Modern military research would indeed prove quintessential in sharing the emotional words that Lord Byron left in his 1812 literary work (Childe Harold’ s Pilgrimage).  The terrific fighting and the heavy losses sustained in battle were left in a lamentable expression: “Oh Albuera, glorious field of grief !. To this compensative literary expression must be added, in primis, the prayer to the fallen military professionals.                

Bibliography

English Works:

Beamish, North Ludlow. History of the King’s German Legion. London: Thomas and William Boone,1832. Beamish, North Ludlow.

Chapell. The King’s German Legion. Vol. 1: 1803-1812; Vol. II: 1812-1815.

Tissington, Silvester. A Collection of Epithaphs and Monumental Inscriptions, on the Most Illustrious Persons of All Ages And Countries. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., Stationers’ Hall Court; Keene, Derby; Piper, Ipswich; And By Order Through Every Bookseller. 1857.

German works:

Lindau, Friedrich. Erinnerungen eines Soldaten aus den Feldzügen der Königlich-deutschen Legion  - Ein Bürger Hamelns erzählt aus der Zeit 1806 - 1815.  Helwingsche Hofbuchhandlung, Hameln, 1846. Aurel Verlag, Wegberg 2006.

Schwertfeger, Bernhard. Geschichte der Königlich Deutschen Legion, 1803-1816. Hannover und Leipzig 1907. 1. und 2. Band von Bernhard Schwertfeger, Königlich Sächsischer Hauptmann und Lehrer an der Kriegsschule in Hannover 1907.

Notes

[1] Helvas is connected with the Roman culture and its widespreading civilization; although few Roman artefacts have been found, it is generally agreed that the Romans had only a defensive stronghold on location. A wooden complex, a fortified asset, not exceeding the suppositive evidence of a castrum.  However, Roman remains in the region are considerable (villae), and there is even a town near Monforte.A strict ethimological research reveals that the name originated from the Arabic language. A proper translation of Al Bas means = The Strong (place); it is known that the Arabs built the castled structure, and traces of the original walled perimeter are easy discernible (there is even a remaining doorway). The ancient Moorish settlement was named Balesh, while the Spanish used to mention the place with the nominal indication of Yelves. From 1642, the location was the chief frontier fortress (i.e. strategic asset on ground) south of the Tagus River.  Facing hard warfare emergencies, it twice withstood sieges by the Spanish forces (in 1658, and 1711).

[2] Full name: Schmalhausen, Eduard.

[3] British Army OOB.

Division of Major General Hon. William Stewart.

Brigade of Lieutenant Colonel John Colborne: 3rd Foot, 1st Btn. (755 men, 10 companies); 31st Foot, 2nd Btn. (418 men, 10 companies); 48th Foot, 2nd Btn. (452 men, 10 companies); 66th Foot, 2nd Btn. (441 men, 10 companies).

Brigade of Major General Daniel Hoghton: 29th Foot (507 men, 10 companies); 48th Foot, 1st Btn. (497 men, 10 companies); 57th Foot, 1st Btn. (647 men, 10 companies).

Brigade of Brigadier Hon. Alexander Abercrombie: 28th Foot (519 men, 10 companies); 34th Foot, 2nd Btn. (596 men, 10 companies); 39th foot, 2nd Btn. (482 men, 10 companies); detachment of the 60th Rifles (146 men, 3 companies).

Division of Major General Hon. Galbraith Lowry Cole.

Brigade of Brigadier Sir William Myer: 7th Foot, 1st Btn. (714 men, 10 companies);

7th Foot, 2nd Btn. (568 men, 10 companies); 23nd Foot, 1st Btn. (733 men. 10 companies); detachment (165 men, 3 companies).

Brigade of Major General Karl von Alten: 1st Btn. KGL. Light Infantry (588 men, 8 companies); 2st Btn. KGL. Light Infantry (510 men, 8 companies).

Division of Brigadier General Sir William Lumley.

Brigade of Brigadier Hon. George de Grey: 3rd Dragoon Guards (374 men, 4 squadrons); 4th Dragoons (387 men, 4 squadrons); 13th Light Dragoons (403 men, 4 squadrons).

Artillery: 1st Battery, 4th Btn. R.A. (144 men, 3 detachments, 5 heavy 6lb. guns, 1 5.5. inch howitzer); 2nd Battery, 4th Btn. R.A. (144 men, 3 detachments, 5 heavy 6lb. guns, 1 5.5. inch howitzer); 3rd Battery, 4th Btn. R.A. (139 men, 3 detachments, 5 heavy 6lb. guns, 1 5.5. inch howitzer); D Troop R.H.A. (126 men, 3 detachments, 5 light 6lb guns, 1 4.4 inch howitzer); 2nd Battery, KGL Foot Artillery (116 men, 3 detachments, 5 heavy 6lb. Guns, 1 5.5 inch howitzer); 4th Battery, KGL Foot Artillery (107 men, 3 detachments, 5 heavy 6lb. Guns, 1 5.5 inch howitzer).

[4] He ranked as a Kapitän.  

[5] Full name: Heise, Georg Arnold.  

[6] Cfr. Lindau, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten [...].

[7] Tissington,  A Collection of Epithaphs [...], p. 45.

Thanks

The author would like to expresse his gratitude to Mrs M. Whitehead.

It is understood that the graves in the British cemetery at Elvas have an appealing story all of their own. Considering that the aim of any serious researcher is but to present the truth, we are given a highly emotional view of military professionals who have died in action for their country.  Their memories must be carefully preserved.

If according to the latin dictum «historia – is – magistra vitae, conforming to this principle requires a special evaluation of the graves at Elvas, and enhances the value of understanding conflicts and wars  of the past (XIXth Century), and the stolen lives of many young soldiers who perished on the front lines for glory and honour.

The Portuguese trilogy is dedicated to preserving their memory from oblivion.

As long as posterity reads of their exploits, they are not forgotten identities, but silent heroes still living in history

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2007

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