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They Fought with Extraordinary Bravery: The III German (Saxon) Army Corps in the Southern Netherlands, 1814.

They Fought with Extraordinary Bravery: The III German (Saxon) Army Corps in the Southern Netherlands, 1814.

They Fought with Extraordinary Bravery: The III German (Saxon) Army Corps in the Southern Netherlands, 1814.

van Uythoven, Geert.

Helion and Company Limited (2020)

(From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 Number 47)

ISBN 9781912866656

Paperback, 152 pages, 8pp colour plates, 4 b/w maps, 6 b/w ills

This study by Geert van Uythoven provides one of the few accounts in English of the III German Army Corps’ experience in the Low Countries during 1814. Drawing on a mixture of first-hand accounts and secondary sources, which in many cases are only available in German, van Uythoven’s account provides a substantive overview of the strategic situation in the Low Countries, the operations of the III Army Corps and their composition during the campaign.

The cadre for this corps was a mixed bag, drawn in part from the Saxon veterans who had dramatically defected from Napoleon during the Battle of Leipzig (16th-19th October 1813), including some prisoners-of-war from the 1812 Russian Campaign. These grizzled veterans were joined by fresh regiments of Landwehr and regular army units from the Saxon Duchies of Gotha and Weimar, the Anhalt Duchies and the Principality of Schwarzburg to form the nucleus of the III German (Saxon) Army Corps. This combination of experienced regular units and fresh-faced recruits from the Saxon states was also supported by Prussian and Cossack veterans. Despite the host of states that the III Army Corps could draw its manpower from this unit faced a constant battle to overcome a dearth in both men and supplies whilst providing the flank to Blücher’s Army of Silesia as he duelled with Napoleon.

Charting the often fluctuating order of battle of the III Corps, van Uythoven provides  an extensive collection of Appendices at the end of his book, which follow not only the composition of the III Corps but also provides details on their main antagonists – the French I Corps under Général de division Nicolas Maison. This balance between the detail of unit organisation and the grand narrative of the Low Countries campaign ensures this book will be a great resource for students both new to researching the fall of Napoleon and those familiar with the German experience of the Napoleonic Wars.  

The book opens with an exploration of the strategic situation faced by the III German Corps. The Netherlands had been liberated in January 1814 by Generalleutnant Friedrich von Bülow who was anxious to leave the Crown Prince of Sweden, Jean Bernadotte’s Army of the North to join Blücher in France. Command of the III German Corps was given to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who was instructed to  follow Bernadotte’s orders, whilst acting as a detached command in the Low Countries,  until Bernadotte and his Swedish troops arrived to take on the brunt of the fighting having completed their campaign in Denmark and North Germany. Despite the hope for a swift arrival of the Swedes this was not the case leaving Saxe-Weimar in the unenviable position of trying to hold onto Belgium, organise a provisional government, maintain contact with a British expedition under General Sir Thomas Graham at Antwerp, all whilst trying to stop the Prussians from departing en masse for France and leaving his already understrength Corps vulnerable and at the same time planning a campaign against the French I Corps. It was a trying situation, to say the least, and lasted for two months from February to early April 1814.

Van Uythoven’s book provides a great overview of the III German Corps, transitioning from strategic insights to tactical overviews of the campaign. The author advances methodically from his observations of the key characters and their influence on the strategic situation in Belgium to the formation of the III German Army Corps, and then focussing on their campaigns.

While this may have been a small theatre of operations compared with the titanic struggles in Northern France, They Fought with Extraordinary Bravery, is a must for those who have an interest in the minor German states who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

Owen Davis

June 2020