The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

The Germans Under the French Eagles: The Soldiers of Hesse and Nassau Chapters II & III

The Germans Under the French Eagles: The Soldiers of Hesse and Nassau Chapters II & III

The Germans Under the French Eagles

Translated by Greg Gorsuch


 Troops of Hesse-Darmstadt.

The early troops maintained by the house of Hesse-Darmstadt were standardized in 1700; in the middle of the XVIIIth Century the infantry included the Grenadiers of the Corps (Life Guard), the battalions of Düring, Dalwig, Lehrbach, Geismar, and a regiment of “Troops of the Circles” which took part in the battle of Rossbach in the army of the Empire. Landgrave Louis IX, as crown prince, had been from 1743 to 1757 head of a Prussian infantry regiment; so he introduced into the troops of Darmstadt the uniforms of the Prussian type and the exercise regulations of the Prussian army.

In 1803, the Darmstadt infantry consisted of 3 brigades each made up of 3 battalions: 3 of musketeers (or blue battalions, because of the color of the coat) and 1 of fusiliers (green battalion):

Brigade ‘of the Corps

Brigade ‘Landgrave’

Brigade ‘Crown Prince

whose recruiting districts were respectively the provinces of Starkenburg, Upper Hesse and Westphalia.

The cavalry had originally included 1 company on horseback of the Guard (1661 to 1678), 1 company of mounted grenadiers (1716) which became the dragoons of the Guard (1731) and disbanded in 1768, 1 corps of hussars (1763); finally, Life Guards. In 1790 there was raised 1 regiment of light horse which remained during all the duration of the wars of the Revolution and the Empire. There was also a field artillery Corps.

Following the entry of Hesse-Darmstadt into the Confederation of the Rhine, the new Grand Duke changed the names of his regiments on 18 August 1806:  the 2 battalions of musketeers of the “Corps” brigade formed the Brigade of the Guard and the battalion of fusiliers of this brigade took the name Battalion of Fusiliers of the Guard ; the 2 battalions of musketeers of the Landgrave brigade became Brigade du Corps and its battalion of fusiliers 1st Battalion of Fusiliers du Corps; finally, the 2 battalions of musketeers of the Crown Prince brigade made up the new Crown Prince brigade (Gross und Erbprinz), its battalion of fusiliers taking the name of 2nd Battalion of Fusiliers du Corps.

The light horse regiment was called Light Horse of the Guard, and the artillery Artillery Corps of the Grand Duchy of Hesse.

The kind of autonomy enjoyed by the fusilier battalions explains their almost continuous grouping during the wars that followed. They were formed in 1812 into a provisional regiment which soon became the Fusilier Regiment of the Hessian Guard.

The Crown Prince brigade, when it was sent to Spain in 1808, had to adopt the French formation of the battalion of 6 companies (including 1 of grenadiers and 1 of voltigeurs):  in each of the 2 battalions of musketeers, the 4 existing companies were therefore reinforced by the incorporation of 2 fusilier companies; the amalgamation having taken place, the larger men formed the 2 companies of grenadiers, and the smallest the 2 companies of voltigeurs: from where a variegated of the worst effect in each of the 6 companies of the 2 battalions, where two thirds of the strength consisted of musketeers in blue coats and a third of fusiliers in green coats.

 Troops of Nassau.

Following the territorial upheavals at the end of the XVIIIth Century, the princes of Nassau had been dispossessed for the benefit of France of all their territories located on the left bank of the Rhine.  The Peace of Lunéville regularized the borders of the four principalities of the House of Nassau (Orange, Saarbrück, Usingen and Weilburg); William V of Nassau-Orange received in compensation the bishopric of Fulda, Corvey, etc., which his son Frederick-William lost in 1806, as well as his own hereditary estates included in large part in the new duchy of Berg; he was not to return in possession of his patrimony until 1814 – and for a while – for he was called the following year to the throne of Holland.

The branch of Nassau-Saarbrück was in 1797 in the person of succession passed to Prince Charles-William of Nassau-Usingen:  the Diet of Regensburg attributed to the latter, in compensation for the territories he had abandoned on the left bank of the Rhine, the bailiwicks of Königstein, Kronenberg, Höchst, Hochheim, Castel, Eltville, Rudesheim (from the former Electorate of Mainz), the bailiwicks of Linz and Deutz (from the former Electorate of Cologne), and a few Hessian bailiwicks, Braumbach, etc.

As for Prince Frederick-William of Nassau-Weilburg, he received, in the same way, the bailiwicks of Limburg and Ehrenbreitstein, former possessions of the Electorate of Trier.

The only two still reigning princes of Nassau had the following military forces:

Nassau-Usingen. { 2 infantry companies (in Wiesbaden and Biebrich).
1 cavalry detachment (at Biebrich).
Nassau-Weilburg : 2 companies of hunters (in Weilburg).

After the territorial reorganization of which we have just spoken, these troops received a new training:  one organized 4 infantry battalions:

1st Battalion of Nassau (Corps Battalion, Major VON TODENWARTH) with company of Biebrich.

2nd Battalion (Major VON KRUSE) with the 2 companies of jäger from Weilburg.

3rd Battalion (called “of jäger”, Major VON SCHAFFER), formed in 1800 on the countries coming from

the Electorate of Mainz and passed in 1802 to the service of Nassau-Usingen.

4th Battalion (Major VON HOLBACH), organized with the company from Wiesbaden.

These 4 battalions incorporated Königstein’s Circle Company and many men who had served in Mainz’s electoral troops, notably in the Grenadier Battalion of the Elector, and in the regiments of Faber, Ruedt and Gimnich.

Captain Bismarck raised a company of mounted jäger in which the horsemen of Nassau-Usingen, the hussars of Wildenburg (formerly Coblenz troop) and Hachenburg merged; these last two territories had fallen to Nassau-Weilburg; a few Hessian cavalrymen and a certain number of men from the regiment of Austrian cuirassiers owned by the Prince of Nassau were again brought into this company of mounted jäger.

In the Bailiwick of Braumbach, which had become the territory of Nassau, was the fort of Marxburg occupied by a small troop of infantry which passed into the service of Nassau as a garrison company.

The Nassau battalions, whose organization and instruction were uniform, had been using Austrian exercise regulations since 7 June 1803; they were in 4 companies, each made up of 3 officers and 137 men; the battalion, commanded by a lieutenant colonel and a major, had a force of 15 officers and 563 soldiers. Recruitment was done by conscription and voluntary engagements; but many men escaped conscription by legal exemptions, for example in all the towns which were responsible for maintaining the troops. Replacement was permitted; nevertheless, the deserters were so numerous that in 1806 it was necessary to impose the death penalty against them.

On 30 August 1806, after the accession of the two princes of Nassau to the Confederation, the troops of Usingen and Weilburg were formed into a common brigade; Charles-William of Nassau-Usingen had succeeded in 1803 Prince Frederick-Augustus, who became Duke of Nassau, and who governed jointly with Prince Frederick-William of Nassau-Weilburg.

Situation of the troops of Nassau in 1805.

1st Battalion (of the Corps), Ct VON PÖLLNITZ, in Biebrich and Wiesbaden.
2nd ……………………… Ct VON KRUSE, in Weilburg.
3rd (jäger), Ct VON MEDER, in Castel and in Hochheim.
4th ……………………… Ct VON HOLBACH, in Deutz and Linz.
Garrison Company …………………………………………………………… in Marxburg.
Mounted Jäger ………………………. Cne VON BISMARCK, at Biebrich.

The 4 battalions would take part in the war of 1806-1807: the 3rd Battalion (jäger) would fight under Augereau at Jena, and, united with the 3 others, would participate in the sieges of Colberg against the Prussians and of Stralsund against the Swedes; then, in 1808, the Emperor asked the princes of Nassau to send a regiment to Spain: the 2nd and 3rd  Battalions, increased from 4 to 6 companies by withdrawals from the 1st and 4th Battalions, would henceforth form the 2nd Regiment of Nassau which entered the German division sent to the Peninsula. The 1st Regiment, made up of the 1st and 4th Battalions, would participate in the 1809 campaign against Austria and would also be directed towards Spain: but, assigned to the Army of Catalonia, it would not have , like the 2nd Regiment and the mounted jäger, to distinguish themselves on the battlefields where the Army of Spain will triumph over the Spaniards and the English. We will see in the following how the fate of these two regiments was different, at the critical moment of 1813:  the 1st Regiment will be disarmed in Barcelona after the princes of Nassau would abandon the Confederation of the Rhine:  ‘That will make us more fusils and fewer enemies,’ the Emperor wrote; while the 2nd Regiment would pass stealthily into the English lines on the Nivelle, marring for the first time the honor of its flags hitherto untainted.


The mobilization of the Rhine contingents. Jena.

When Napoleon, in September 1806, saw that war with Prussia was becoming inevitable, he immediately took all the necessary precautions to ensure that the contingents of the Confederation of the Rhine were ready in time.

From 13 September he wrote to Talleyrand to prepare a draft circular to be sent to the Confederate princes ‘to inform them of the state of the matter’, and at the same time he ordered the Major General to move his headquarters to Würzburg at the first noise of the invasion of Saxony by the Prussians; on the 15th, Berthier was advised to set Marshals Ney, Davout and Augereau on Bamberg as soon as M. Laforest, Minister of France in Prussia, had left Berlin:  ‘4,000 troops from Hesse-Darmstadt will reinforce Marshal Augereau’s corps.

Finally, the federal requisition of the Rhine contingents was launched from Saint-Cloud on 21September:

‘…The arming of Prussia brought about the case provided for by one of the articles of the treaty of 12 July, and we believe it necessary that all the Sovereigns who make up the Confederation of the Rhine arm to defend its interests, to guarantee its territory and to maintain its inviolability… We invite Y. H. to put its troops without delay in a condition to march with all their field crews, and to contribute to the defense of the common cause.’

The Grand Duke of Hesse immediately mobilized his troops: the 3 infantry brigades ‘of the Guard’, ‘of the Corps’ and ‘Crown Prince’, as well as the regiment of Light Horse of the Guard and 1 artillery battery. The battalion of Fusiliers of the Guard and the 1st Battalion of Fusiliers of the Corps, the first ready, left on 2 October for Würzburg where they entered the Heudelet Division of the 7th Corps (commanded by Marshal Augereau ): these 2 battalions were the only troops of Hesse which took part in the Battle of Jena.

The rest of the Hessian regiments mobilized slowly, with difficulty; it was only on 10 October that General von Werner, commanding the contingent, could leave with a first echelon as follows:

Guard Brigade: { 1st battalion, Major FOLLENIUS.
Major-General VON STOCH. 2nd Lieutenant-Col. HOPFENBLATT.
(Total strength: 31 officers, 910 men, 38 horses.)
Corps Brigade: { 1st battalion, Lieut.-Col. BECK.
Colonel VON NAGEL. 2nd Major INDEBRANDT.
Light Horse Squadron : { 120 horses ridden by veteran horsemen.
2nd Foot Battery: { 2 howitzers of 7 and 4 cannons of 6, with 4 officers,
Captain SCHÜLER.      133 gunners, 93 men of the train and 156 horses.

The Crown Prince brigade, with 2 pieces of 6, did not leave Darmstadt until 21 October; commanded by Colonel Schäffer-Bernstein, it included 2 battalions of musketeers (Lieutenant-Colonel von Lehrbach and Major Hermanny) and the 2nd Fusilier Battalion of the Corps (Major Damm); its strength was 41 officers, 107 non-commissioned officers, 84 skirmishers, 800 soldiers and 60 musicians.

In total, the Hessian contingent amounted to 130 officers and 3,900 men. All these troops were sent to Spandau and Berlin where they arrived between 1 November (1st Echelon) and 8 December (Crown Prince Brigade).

For their part, the princes of Nassau put their troops on a war footing:  the 4 infantry battalions, under General von Schäffer, were increased from 4 to 6 companies and went to Hanau at the beginning of October; there, efforts are made to complete their clothing and equipment; many newly recruited men have no military training yet.

It was from Hanau that the 3rd Battalion (jäger) was directed towards Würzburg to enter, likewise, the Heudelet Division of the 7th Corps.

The Emperor not wanting the princes of the Rhine to be worried about their territories while their contingents were in the Grande Armée, had them reassured by Marshal Mortier: the latter had the order ‘to send officers to the Prince of Nassau , to the Prince-Primate and the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt to let them know that he commanded a corps of 25,000 men whose head arrived at Mainz and which was specially responsible for protecting their states and the territory of the Confederacy of the Rhine.’[1]

The speed of the French army’s march stunned our German allies, who were unable to set up their contingents: the Emperor announced to Augereau that 6 to 800 Hessians would arrive on 5 or 6 October in Würzburg:[2] but the Marshal said that his troops, nor those of the Prince-Primate and the Prince of Nassau-Usingen were not ready, and that he sent an officer to each of these princes to invite them to make their arrangements with the greater speed.[3]

Finally, on 5 October, the 2 battalions of Hessian fusiliers and the 3rd Battalion from Nassau reached Würzburg; General Victor was to receive the command of a division there (formed with the 28th Light Infantry Regiment, the 14th Line, the troops of Darmstadt and those of the Prince-Primate), and Berthier had told him that ‘the 4,000 Hessian were very good troops, which could render great services, which must depend particularly on the esteem that one showed them.’ But this division was not formed, and Augereau entrusted the only 3 German battalions that had arrived so far to General Heudelet who took them on 8 October to Bamberg.[4] From there, the battalion of Nassau is directed on Schleiz “where it is intended to hold garrison and to act as police in this part of the communications of the army”;[5] he did not stay there long and followed Marshal Augereau’s corps to Jena.


After the bloody fight of Saalfeld, Napoleon decided to approach the plateau of Jena: the reports indicated the presence of the main body of the enemy army which could no longer avoid battle.  From 13 October, aide-de-camp Camille Duvivier, sent on reconnaissance by General Heudelet, made known ‘that the Prussians had a very considerable camp two leagues from Weimar on the road to Jena; that it had had entrenched the village of Tromlitz, had taken possession of it, the voltigeurs of its detachment in front of the village, the main body behind, and the detachment of Darmstadt in the second line.’[6]

The jäger (chasseurs) of Nassau and the 2 battalions of Hessian fusiliers counted in the Sarrut Brigade, with the French 24th and 63rd Regiments. They were at the extreme left of the line of battle and engage against the Saxons who occupied Schnecke; during this combat, the Hessian fusiliers were charged by a regiment of French hussars which took them for Saxon infantry, because of their hats edged in white and the color of their uniforms. To avoid such a mishap in the future, the Hessian officers shortly after received a high red plume (later black and red) which distinguished their hats from those worn by the enemy.

Report of Marshal Augereau on the Battle of Jena.

‘…The Desjardins Division (the 1st of the 7th Army Corps) moved forward with the cavalry brigade (7th and 20th Chasseurs) as soon as Marshal Lannes’ cannon was heard…While these troops were in the grips of the enemy on the battlefield, the 2nd Division commanded by General Heudelet passed with difficulty into the defile, all encumbered by artillery and a large number of wounded. I sent the order to this general to hasten his march; he judged that he should not wait for his entire division and made his troops defile as they arrived…At the head of its 1st Brigade, the 7th Light lined up in front of the village of Isserstadt, to move to the left of the 1st Division… Meanwhile, the Sarrut Brigade, 24th and 63rd and confederates of Darmstadt and Usingen, arrived; I immediately ordered the attack:  but the enemy, who had seen our troops prepare there, withdrew at the first fire of the skirmishers.’






  1. — MARSHAL AUGEREAU, Commander of the 7th Army Corps (Based on a contemporary print.)




After the victory, during the relentless pursuit of the Prussian debris by the entire French army, the Emperor entrusted his German auxiliaries with the conduct of the columns of prisoners and the escort of the convoys intended for his troops.  Augereau was therefore advised from 16 October of having to immediately send the 2 Hessian battalions to Erfurt, and that these battalions henceforth attached to the General Staff would in future receive direct orders from the Major Genera:[7]  Marshal Ney was informed at the same time of the dispatch of these 2 battalions to Erfurt, where they would be used to escort the columns of prisoners to Frankfurt.[8]

There was a great need for people in Erfurt:  the Prussian prisoners numbered there in the tens of thousands.  General Clarke, governor of the place, reported on 17 October that a column of prisoners had just left with an escort ‘which included a Hessian battalion commanded by M. de Gall (the battalion of fusiliers of the Guard) which left many people behind’; but he demanded a reinforcement of his garrison too weak to ensure its service.[9]  On receipt of this letter, the Emperor gave the order to direct on Erfurt all the troops from Hesse-Darmstadt and Usingen who had not yet passed through Würzburg.[10]  General Thouvenot, governor of this last place, was also sent to Erfurt all the French and German troops who formed his garrison.[11]

As was his custom, the Emperor supervised the execution of his orders: aide-de-camp Custine, charged with a mission for the town of Weimar, returned on 18 October at eight o’clock in the evening that:

‘…115 prisoners of war passed through Weimar, directed to Erfurt under the escort of 50 jäger from Nassau-Usingen commanded by an officer.  The Weimar garrison was composed of 1,420 men from the 14th Line, leaving on the 19th, and 152 men from Nassau-Usingen…’

Adjutant-Commandant Dentzel, town commander in Weimar, for his part complained of not being able to provide with his limited means the escorts of the prisoners who arrived daily and asked for about twenty cavalry and 1 Hessian battalion.

Also, to distract from operations as little as possible French troops, the Emperor demanded from his allies the full complement of their contingents: it was the corps remaining behind the army who received the mission of organizing the delayed Germans:

The Emperor’ –writes the Major General to Marshal Mortier—‘instructs you to take the necessary steps so that the remainder of the contingent from Hesse-Darmstadt and Nassau is fully completed… and send as quickly as possible to Erfurt, where it will be under the orders of General Clarke.’[12]

Fearing, with reason, that the troops of Hesse Cassel would join the Prussians, despite the declaration of neutrality of the Elector of Hesse, and threaten the communications of the French army, Napoleon had given Marshal Mortier the order to occupy the Electorate of Hesse with a corps formed in Mainz and Frankfurt:  the Marshal entered the country of Fulda, then into Cassel itself, while King Louis of Holland advanced on Paderborn: the Elector disbanded his troops, who were disarmed by the French.  During these operations, the 4th Battalion of Nassau had been maintained in Hanau at the disposal of Marshal Mortier: when the ‘execution’ of Hesse-Cassel was finished, this battalions left on 7 January 1807 for Berlin. The question of armament embarrassing the allied German princes, who were a little off guard with almost empty arsenals, General Lagrange, in Cassel, received the order to give the princes of Nassau all the fusils they needed.[13]

The 3rd Battalion of Nassau (jäger), following Augereau’s corps after the battle of Jena, arrived in Berlin and was led on 5 November by Custrin on Driesen and Posen; there, it escorted a convoy to Magdeburg, then stayed in this last place where it was joined by the 1st and 2nd Battalions: the latter, who left Hanau on 18 October, accompanying a large convoy of ammunition and baggage to Erfurt, arrived in Magdeburg on the 26th of the same month and were employed there in the garrison service. The 3 battalions of Nassau left this town on December 12th to go to Berlin where the whole Nassau brigade was assembled on 13 February 1807, when the 4th Battalion arrived at Hanau; used there as a garrison and to escort convoys to Magdeburg, Stettin and even Warsaw, it provided a permanent detachment at Spandau and another at Wriezen: Captain Goedecke, commanding this last post, refused a sum offered to him by the inhabitants in recognition of the services he had rendered them on several occasions; but learning that the Prussian officers prisoners of war at Wriezen were reduced to extreme poverty, he begged the magistrates to distribute to these officers the sum which had been intended for him. This act of generosity was made known to the Emperor who ordered the Major General to ‘show his satisfaction to Captain Goedecke and to make known what he could do for this officer.’






The Gate of Brandenburg, in Berlin.



During this time, the French army passed Berlin; it was in Spandau that our allies of the Rhine must henceforth rally: General Corbineau, governor of this place, used the Hessians upon their arrival to escort to Mainz the Prussians taken prisoner in Prenzlau by Prince Murat and Marshal Lannes:[14]  the Life Guard (du Corps) Regiment, that of the Guard, and the light horse were employed in this service, 3,000 prisoners left on 2 November from Spandau under the escort of the 1st Battalion of the Hessian Guard and 50 light horse; while on the road to Lützen, Captain Schulz, commander of these light horse, had an altercation with the French commander of arms of the locality; the latter had him put under arrest immediately and the Hessian captain, escorted back to Darmstadt, immediately received his discharge; out of the 3,000 Prussians in the convoy, only 1,600 reached Mainz…The 2nd Guard Battalion, which left Spandau on 6 November with 5,000 other prisoners, also let half of it escape before arriving on the Rhine.

The report of the town of Spandau of 15 November gives the following strengths for the troops in Nassau:

1st Battalion…………………………………. 750 men.
2nd and 3rd Battalions……………………. 1,500

1 officer and 21 men are reported as employed by the large field artillery mobile park on 2 November. The 4th Battalion was still in Hanau.

Each battalion had already lost more than 150 men from their starting strength.

[1] Instructions for Marshal Mortier. Mainz, 1 October 1806.

[2] The Emperor to Augereau. Mainz, 1 October 1806.

[3]  Augereau to the Emperor. Frankfurt, 1 October 1806.

[4] Marshal Augereau to General Heudelet. Burg-Ebrach, 7 October 1806.

[5] Order of the Chief of Staff, dated 12 October 1806.

[6] Report to General Heudelet, Magdal, 13 October 1806, eleven o’clock in the evening.

[7] The Major General to Augereau. Weimar, 16 October 1806.

[8] The Major General to Ney. Weimar, 16 October 1806.

[9] General Clarke to the Emperor, Erfurt, 17 October 1806.

[10] The Emperor to the Major General. Weimar, 17 October 1806.

[11] Major General to General Thouvenot, Merseburg, 18 October 1806.

[12] Chief of Staff to Marshal Mortier. Halle, 20 October 1806.

[13] The Emperor to General Lagrange. Berlin, 5 November 1806.

[14] General Corbineau to the Emperor, Spandau, 1, 2 and 3 November 1806.