The Hanoverian Army at Waterloo

The Hanoverian contingent in Wellington’s army was integrated fully into the British divisional structure; it comprised five infantry brigades, a cavalry brigade, two artillery batteries and a ‘reserve corps’ that was not committed to the battle.

Hanover had had a close connection with Britain since the accession of the Elector of Hanover to the British throne as King George I in 1714, but although this connection had exerted some influence upon British foreign policy, and despite sharing a ruler, the states and their armies had remained separate entities. Hanoverian troops had fought alongside the British in the eighteenth century, as they had under Marlborough’s command even before the accession of George I, but the separation of the states was demonstrated by the exit of Hanover from the war against France following the withdrawal of Prussia in 1795, by which Hanover’s position became militarily untenable. Upon the renewal of the war between France and Britain after the brief Peace of Amiens, Hanover was occupied by Napoleon and part incorporated into his satellite Kingdom of Westphalia. The state of Hanover was only restored after the defeat of Napoleon.

Hanover’s military contribution to the Napoleonic Wars was displayed most prominently in the King’s German Legion, the excellent Hanoverian formation in the British army. The Hanoverian army, which in organization and uniform had closely resembled the British, had been disbanded in 1803 and was only resurrected during the ‘War of Liberation’ against Napoleon. Its infantry comprised both regular battalions (Feld-Bataillone) and militia (Landwehr), and from February 1815 each ‘Field Battalion’ was linked to three Landwehr battalions in a regimental structure, but for field service each battalion remained an independent entity. Organization was on basically British lines, though with trained skirmisher sections (every twelfth man) rather than flank companies of British style; two of the regular battalions at Waterloo (Lüneburg and Grubenhagen) were ‘Light Battalions’ with all personnel thus trained. The Landwehr battalions each had four companies. Uniforms were largely of British style, in red (except for the green-clad light battalions and the Feldjäger corps), although the initial shortages in equipment evident when the army was first organized in 1813 may not have been overcome entirely, with continuing use of older uniforms and ‘stovepipe’ shakos. An example of the initial shortage of equipment concerned Battn. Bennigsen, renamed Verden in early 1815, which at first received white shakos manufactured as tropical headdress for the British army in India. Although the Hanoverians used the British black cockade, officers wore yellow sashes in place of the British crimson, and some Hanoverian troops had British knapsacks painted yellow.

A Hanoverian contingent, sometimes termed the ‘Hanoverian Subsidiary Corps’, had been stationed in the Netherlands since the end of hostilities in 1814; but the reserve corps of Landwehr had been formed in Hanover shortly before the beginning of the 1815 campaign by General von der Decken. The Hanoverian forces were initially under the superintendence of Sir Charles Alten, who suggested to the Hanoverian government that due to the inexperience of the newly formed units, the recruits should be permitted to volunteer into the King’s German Legion, to bring their battalions up to strength; but this suggestion was declined. Instead, the KGL battalions were reorganized into six companies each, and the supernumerary cadres of officers and NCOs were transferred temporarily into the Landwehr to provide experienced leadership for the young soldiers. KGL captains stepped up to field rank as part of this process, and two of the Hanoverian brigade commanders were also drawn from the Legion. The connection between British and Hanoverian formations was emphasized by the fact that Wellington reported Hanoverian casualties alongside the British losses, published together in the London Gazette, including officers’ names, just as Portuguese losses had been reported during the Peninsular War when they, too, were part of a joint army.

The Hanoverian brigades were distributed as follows.

I Corps: 3rd Division: 1st Hanoverian Brigade

Commanded by Major General Count (Graf) Kielmansegge, a member of a distinguished Hanoverian family who took command of the division after Alten was wounded, this was the strongest Hanoverian brigade, comprising five Field Battalions (York or 1st Duke of York’s, Bremen, Verden and the light battalions Lüneburg and Grubenhagen), and two companies of the Field Jäger Corps, a unit of sharpshooters. The brigade was involved heavily during the campaign: at Quatre Bras it held the extreme left of the position, and in the initial dispositions at Waterloo was posted to the west of the Charleroi-Brussels highway, between the brigades of Ompteda and Colin Halkett. Two battalions lost their commanding officers at Waterloo: Grubenhagen (Lieutenant Colonel von Wurmb, killed) and Bremen (Lieutenant Colonel Langrehr, mortally wounded).

II Corps: 2nd Division: 3rd Hanoverian Brigade

This Landwehr formation comprised Battns. Osnabrück, Quackenbrück (these sometimes referred to as the 2nd and 3rd Duke of York’s respectively), Bremervörde and Salzgitter, and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hugh (or Hew) Halkett of the 7th Line Battn., King’s German Legion. Brother of Colin Halkett, commander of the 5th British Brigade, he was an experienced Peninsula officer who had also served in north Germany and the Netherlands in 1813–14. Initially at Waterloo the brigade occupied a position in reserve on the extreme right of Wellington’s line, north of Hougoumont. In the final advance one battalion was supporting Hougoumont, and Halkett ordered the others forward, but his brigade major was killed before the order could be delivered, so Halkett and the Osnabrück Battn. advanced alone. Halkett observed a French general, ‘trying to animate his men to stand’ – it was actually Cambronne – so he dashed at the Frenchman, who surrendered, but Halkett’s horse fell and when he got up he discovered that Cambronne ‘had taken French leave in the direction from where he came. I instantly overtook him, laid hold of him by the aiguillette, and brought him in safety and gave him in charge to a sergeant of the Osnabrückers to deliver to the Duke; I could not spare an Officer for the purpose, many being wounded.’

4th Division: 6th Hanoverian Brigade

This brigade was with Colville at Hal and so was not involved in the Battle of Waterloo; it comprised Field Battalions Lauenberg and Calenburg, and Landwehr Battns. Bentheim, Hoya and Nienburg. Its commander, Major General Sir James Lyon, was the senior British officer with the Hanoverian contingent; he had commanded Hanoverians in the 1813 campaign, notably at Goehrde. He came from an ancient family and had been born aboard ship, in mid-Atlantic, when his mother was returning home after his father, Captain James Lyon of the 35th, had been mortally wounded at Bunker’s Hill. Sir James had the unusual distinction of having served at the Battle of the Glorious First of June (1794) when a detachment of his regiment (25th) was serving as marines aboard the British fleet; he had also commanded the 97th in the Peninsula.

Reserve: 5th Division: 5th Hanoverian Brigade

Commanded by Colonel von Vincke, this brigade of four Landwehr battalions (Gifhorn, Hameln, Hildesheim, Peine) was posted at the extreme left of Wellington’s line at Waterloo, and was not heavily engaged.

6th Division: 4th Hanoverian Brigade

Another brigade of Landwehr (Battns. Lüneburg, Münden, Osterode and Verden), it was engaged at Quatre Bras, initially deployed behind the main British line; at Waterloo it was on the left wing and not heavily engaged. Its commander was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Best of the 8th KGL Line Battn.

Hanoverian Reserve Corps

Used as garrisons in various locations in the rear of the area of the campaign, this formation was led by Lieutenant General Count (Graf) F von der Decken and comprised four brigades: 1st (Lieutenant Colonel von Bennigsen): Field-Battn. Hoya, Landwehr Battns. Bremerlehe and Mölln; 2nd (Colonel von Beaulieu): Landwehr Battns. Ahlefeldt, Nordheim and Springe; 3rd (Lieutenant Colonel von Bodecken): Landwehr Battns. Celle, Ottendorf and Ratzeburg; 4th (Lieutenant Colonel von Wissel): Landwehr Battns. Diepholz, Hanover, Neustadt and Uelzen.

Cavalry

The Hanoverian cavalry brigade, commanded by Colonel H S G F von Estorff, comprised the hussar regiments of Prince Regent’s or Lüneburg; Bremen and Verden; and the Duke of Cumberland’s. Their uniform was of British hussar style, the former blue with scarlet facings and pelisse, the other two green with scarlet facings and scarlet and green pelisses respectively; the Duke of Cumberland’s wore shakos and the others busbies. Estorff was not present at Waterloo, and two regiments were with the force detached at Hal; only the Duke of Cumberland’s was at Waterloo, a volunteer regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Adolphus von Hacke (or ‘Hake’) and named after the fifth son of King George III, who was to become King of Hanover in 1837. The regiment was in reserve at Waterloo when Uxbridge noticed them beginning to move to the rear without orders. He sent his ADC Sir Horace Seymour to stop them; Seymour recalled how von Hacke ‘told me that he had no confidence in his men, that they were Volunteers, and their horses their own property’. Seymour described how ‘in the exigence of the moment I laid hold of the bridle of the Colonel’s horse, and remarked what I thought of his conduct; but all to no purpose’ and the regiment trotted away from the battlefield. Hacke was court-martialled subsequently and the regiment split up among various Allied corps to perform escort duties for the commissariat; Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery recorded that ‘Being all gentlemen in Hanover, it is easy to imagine they are rather irate at this degradation … They are all amazingly sulky and snappish with every one …’.

Artillery

Two Hanoverian foot artillery companies served with the army, those of Captains von Rettberg (attached to the 4th Division) and Braun (5th Division); they were constituted in British style, the former with five 9-pounders and a 5½-inch howitzer, the latter with five 6-pounders and a howitzer. Braun’s company served at Quatre Bras, and both at Waterloo. The Hanoverian artillery wore a uniform like that of the British Royal Artillery, in the same colouring, but with the usual Hanoverian distinction of yellow sashes for officers.

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