Archive for September, 2012

Just saw this on Youtube…quite strange…

and another one


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BE WARNED: THIS POST DOES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE THINGS I USUALLY WRITE ABOUT – Its only that I did not want to open a fourth blog for just one post. 

CDV Photograph with an interesting history.

Every now and then I buy collections of photographs. I am especially after early (pre 1900) images of prussian soldiers and veterans wearing interesting medals and medal bars. A couple of days ago I received another small collection and as soon as I unpacked them my eyes fell on a guy looking very much like an english soldier.  The good thing about the photo is that the photographer did not only note the plate number on the backside but also the soldiers name, regiment and a date.

We are looking at Clayton S. Willicombe of the 3rd West Riding of Yorkshire Rifle Volunteer Corps on the 25th of June 1869.

Clayton Stanford Willicombe – 25th of June 1869

A quick search brought up some information on his military career

Edinburgh Gazette March 1869

London Gazette 1873

Some hours of online research led me to the this article (*) found in the newsletter of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society. 

Woodbury Park Cemetery is just minutes from the busy St John’s Road, the main route into Tunbridge Wells from the north; but on a sunny day it’s a lovely place for a quiet walk. The Victorian statuary and the contrasting greens of the dark conifers and the not over-manicured grass have a calming effect. One can imagine the staid, respectable lives of the worthy people buried here: Canon Hoare, vicar of Holy Trinity; Henry Thomas Austen, brother of Jane; and Jacob Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society. So the inscription on top of the Willicombe family tomb is all the more bizarre.

It is to Clayton Stanford Willicombe, “who was shot on Sunday 14th October 1883 at Glendive Montana USA while aiding the Sheriff in the execution of his duty”. It’s a clear, straightforward enough statement, but somehow, in the middle of Victorian Tunbridge Wells, it cries out for further explanation. Just who was Clayton Stanford Willicombe and what on earth was he doing in Montana?

Photos of the Willicombe family tomb on Woodbury Park Cemetary, Tunbridge Wells. Kindly taken by my “foreign correspondent” and history loving friend Mr. Nick Britten of Rochester, Kent (twitter : @Nick_Britten)

Montana – it’s a long way away even now. Up there in the top left-hand corner of the United States, beyond Wyoming and the Dakotas, nestling up against the Canadian border; in 1883 it hadn’t yet been recognised as a state. Until the 1860’s it was visited mainly by fur-trappers and traders. Then gold was discovered, and silver and lead and copper; and a great mining and metal-working industry developed in the far west of the Territory.

The eastern part, however, where Glendive lies, remained undeveloped; though fought over in those last, sad years of the Indian Wars. The Little Big Horn, where Custer died in 1876, is less than 200 miles away. In June each year small paddle steamers would make their way up the Yellowstone river bringing in supplies and settlers, and taking away furs and buffalo ‘robes’. All that changed in 1881 with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Rail Road, bringing reliable year-round transportation and opening up the land to economic exploitation.

One of the first to take advantage was Pierre Wibaux, son of a wealthy textile manufacturer in Roubaix, northern France. He arrived in 1883, and within 12 years had built up one of the biggest ranching operations in the state, running some 65,000 cattle. And this, presumably, was the sort of thing that 34 year-old Willicombe had in mind when he arrived in 1883.

Ravensdale Victorian villa and gate lodge built in the 1800s for William Willicombe

William and his wife, Maria, had at least twelve children. Clayton was one of the youngest. The educational opportunities available to the children widened as William became more successful. The elder boys had been apprenticed in the building trade within Tunbridge Wells, whereas Clayton, at age 11, and his brother, Gordon Burton, aged 13, were sent as boarders to a school in Regents Park (which seems to have occupied one of the fine houses designed there by Decimus Burton). We don’t know what Clayton did for the next ten years, but in 1871 (aged 22) he was a stuff merchant (ie a merchant of woollen cloth) living in Bradford. This could be a significant pointer to his later plans, as he went to Montana, not to ranch cattle, but to raise sheep. This is not as unusual as it might sound – one of the most successful ranchers in Glendive, Charles Krug, made his money from sheep, having switched from cattle after the disastrous winter of 1886-7.

And again, although we don’t know the full story, it seems that Clayton had some experience of sheep-raising. In 1875 we think he was on a sheep station in Australia, having borrowed one thousand pounds from his father. Certainly when his father died in 1875, he is the only one among seven surviving sons and three sons-in-law who was not present at the funeral. In 1881 Clayton was staying with his brother Henry in 9 Calverley Place, in what had been the main family home when he was a child. He is described as living on ‘income from houses’. He could have inherited these from his father, who left the income from various houses in Calverley Park Gardens to his wife and children. In Clayton’s case we think that this included a house called ‘Newlyn’, which today is known as 30 Lansdowne Road.

The Graecian Monarch

In July 1883 Clayton and his nephew Mortimer Mansfield (then aged 20 and son of his sister Augusta Maria) arrived in Glendive via Chicago. They had sailed from London on the ship ‘Grecian Monarch’, arriving in New York on 26th June. The Glendive Times of July 14th records that they bought a ranch about six miles south-west of the town, and that they were “very pleasant and accomplished gentlemen [with] unlimited capital to further any enterprise they may project”. Two weeks later they bought a second ranch, making them “possessed of two of the finest ranches in the Yellowstone Valley, and no better can be found in Uncle Sam’s great domain.”

Things started well – they built an ‘almost palatial cottage’ on the ranch, and in September were complimented on the quality and abundance of the potatoes, rutabagas and water-melons produced there. They also registered a brand for their cattle and horses, though the intention was always to raise sheep. But suddenly it all went wrong.

Glendive Main Street in 1881

On the evening of Sunday 14th October, Clayton was in the offices of Pontet & Gallagher in the town. Pontet & Gallagher were mainly liquor merchants, but were also land agents and fulfilled certain administrative functions for the county.

That afternoon three Texan cowboys employed by Scott & Hanks Cattle Co. came into town. They came by train from Keith, thirty miles to the east (the town of Keith is now called Wibaux). They started drinking and making a nuisance of themselves. One of them began shooting at a sign. Sheriff Taylor, who had been playing stud poker in the Star saloon, went out to tell him to be quiet, but another of the cowboys followed him from the saloon and the two cowboys overpowered the sheriff, hitting him with the butt of a revolver. No attempt was made to arrest them, and in fact all three returned to the Star saloon, where the cowboys bought drinks for the crowd, including the sheriff. Apparently the under-sheriff and the night constable were also in the bar, enjoying the hospitality.

This situation continued for perhaps a further hour and a half. Although the officials made no attempt to arrest the cowboys, others amongst the townsfolk, including Clayton, seem to have formed a posse. The command ‘Hold up your hands’ was given. At this the cowboys, with two or three associates, retreated towards the freight depot, the posse firing upon them as they went. The cowboys crawled under a freight car and waited, their six-shooters ready. They were heard to say that they would not be taken alive.

Having fired some twenty-five to fifty shots towards the cowboys the posse split up and made its way towards the depot in ones and twos. Clayton was in the lead. With two others in support he made his way towards the freight car itself. Placing his hand upon the side of the car he peered beneath. Three shots rang out almost simultaneously, the bullets passing through his chest and neck, no more than an inch and a half apart. He died instantly. At this his companions retreated, each man seeking shelter for himself. In the meantime the cowboys escaped.

Record of the inques

At daybreak on Monday the search for the murderers began. One of them, Homer (or Larry) Wolverton, was caught very early – at the railroad while attempting to catch the 6:10 west-bound train. Conductor Brown of the Northern Pacific was also arrested. He had allowed the cowboys to travel free from Keith the previous afternoon, and had accompanied them for most of that evening. An inquest on Clayton was held that afternoon, and concluded that he had been killed ‘feloniously and with malice aforethought’ by the three men. Posters were put up in public places offering a reward of $1000 for the arrest of the two escaped cowboys, named as Dave Coward and Horace Risley. It was reported that the ‘citizens are very much excited, and strongly in favour of lynching the men under arrest’.

“Died with boots and spurs on” -Larry Wolverton, the man who shot Clayton

Two posses were sent to Keith, one by train and one on horseback, but they returned without success. Then, during the afternoon two local men hunting for a lost horse came across the cowboys, in the direction of Clayton’s ranch. A posse was made up which found the cowboys asleep and brought them in. On Wednesday, October 17th, the three cowboys were taken by train to the Custer county jail in Miles City for their better protection. On October 22nd a further warrant was issued for the arrest of James Lynch, a bartender who had been engaged by the cowboys to cook for them, and who had been with them at the freight depot.

On Saturday the Glendive Times reported Clayton’s funeral. It said “Glendive has lost a friend, the county a citizen, and people a patron who can never be replaced … He was a young man just merging into the prime of life … a noble man and friend to the lowest as well as the highest in the paths of life. He is sadly missed from our midst … He was followed to his grave by a vast concourse, almost the entire population who could, by any means attend.”

And yet that same issue of the paper, having said that the whole affair was a dark blot on the usually peaceable town, went on to say that it did not think that a court of law would convict the cowboys of murder.

Three days later the daily paper in Miles City reported that $2000 had been raised to defend the cowboys, and a prominent lawyer from Cheyenne, Wyoming engaged. It claimed that the whole thing had been a drunken row, in which the officers were as drunk as anyone. This drew a ferocious reponse from the Glendive paper, which described Miles City as ‘home of thugs, thieves, rounders, incendiary and vigilants’. (Miles City is some seventy miles south-west of Glendive. It developed as a trading post providing liquor and other services to army personnel stationed nearby after the Little Big Horn. In 1880 it had a population of 550 and 23 saloons – in 1881 there were 42. The Scott & Hanks Cattle Co ran its 20,000 cattle to the south of Miles City.)

The case eventually came to trial in April 1884. The charge against the three cowboys was not murder, but “drawing and exhibiting a deadly weapon in a rude, angry, and threatening manner, and not necessary self-defence”. No charges were brought against Conductor Brown. James Lynch, the cook and bartender, who had been held in jail since the previous October as a possible witness, was also discharged.

The case against David Coward was heard on April 7th. He was fined $100, and ordered to be held in jail until it had been paid. The case against Horace Resley was heard on April 8th. He appears to have been found not-guilty. Larry Wolverton was discharged without trial on April 9th.

On April 12th David Coward ‘moved to be released as a poor person upon his having been confined one day’. The records at this point are very fragile and impossible to read, but it looks as though some sort of deal was done. So, the cowboys do seem to have escaped justice, just as the newspaper had forecast.

We will probably never know the real reason behind the events of that evening. Was it just high spirits? or a deliberate attempt to cause trouble in Glendive? or a deliberate targeting of Clayton (which seems unlikely)? And what was the real role of Conductor Brown?

Sheriff Taylor was only sheriff for two years. There was later a Grand Jury investigation of the local government, specifically addressing the Sheriff’s department.

Robert Pontet of Pontet & Gallagher acted as administrator of Clayton’s estate. We have details of all the claims against it, which totalled $1,984. They included $243.48 from Pontet & Gallagher themselves, $37.48 in local taxes, $329.30 from the ranch foreman, and $18 for a revolver, which may have been that supplied to Clayton when he joined the posse. Clayton’s personal estate was valued at $1,926 and his real estate at $4,500. Pontet sold the two ranches to cover the claims and legal expenses. It would appear that the estimates of Clayton’s wealth when he settled in Glendive – one newspaper reported $200,000 (£40,000) – had been exaggerated. The principal asset noted in the will that he signed in London on 5th June was the house Newlyn. From the value of that he made legacies of £700 with the residue going to his brother Raymond. His personal estate in the UK was calculated at £3 18s and 4d.

And that seems to be the story of who Clayton Stanford Willicombe was, and what he was doing in Montana. Two items remain though. We have not been able to find a picture of Clayton, although we do have the coroner’s post-mortem description: fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair. And we have no explanation of those unusual Christian names. “

Whereas the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society has not been able to find a photograph of Clayton, one did for mysterious reasons turn up in germany, where I had the luck to obtain it. I managed to get into contact with the Vice president of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, Mr. John A. Cunningham and Mr. Chris Jones, the above articles author, and I am happy to say that the photograph of Mr. Clayton S. Willicombe is now back home in Tunbridge Wells. 

Incredible what a story can hide behind a single, small photograph. I dedicate this post to Mr. Clayton Stanford Willicombe, may he rest in peace.

An unusual story and one which i wanted to share.

* used with kind permission (http://www.thecivicsociety.org/newsletter/05b-7-clayton.html) written by Mr. Chris Jones.

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Just when I thought that these things do not happen anymore a friend of mine found  this medal bar hidden in his father’s cellar. A bar that once belonged to a brave soldier of the prussian army fighting in the wars of 1864, 1866 (Battle of Königgrätz) and 1870/71.  and who later seems to have worked successfully for the prussian government. Today no one seems to know anymore where this did come from and whom it belonged to. A pitty. Its untouched, has original stitching and best of off a rare period example of a Militär-Ehrenzeichen 2. Klasse (First medal on the left, Military Merit). These have become very rare indeed and if you see some any they are mainly much later examples made in the 1880s/1900s (which are of far inferior quality). This medal often gets confused with the Kriegerverdienst Medaille and it’s a beautiful thing.

A wonderful bar (which now has a new good home) and I hope I can find out more about its former owner. Stay tuned for more.

More to come. 

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The text below was taken from the Battalions official history, written by a former officer of the Bückeburger Jägers and published in 1898. I dont have a lot of time this weekend so I will only put a small part into today post. Translating the german original is not a lot of fun as its written in a vintage style and using grammar I am not accustomed to translate very often. 

Prussian Jäger – Jägerbataillon 7 (click to visit Part 1)

The Battalion in the Battle of Spicheren.

The Battle of Spicheren, also known as the Battle of Forbach, was a battle during the Franco-Prussian War. The German victory compelled the French to withdraw to the defenses of Metz. Moltke was pressing on with the concentration of the Prussian armies. His forces now formed two wings. On the right, the Second Army under Frederick Charles containing the III, IV, IX, X, XII Corps, and the Prussian Guard, was advancing from the Rhine River towards Saarbrücken, while the First Army under General Steinmetz with the I, VII and VIII Corps were moving into line with the Second Army from the direction of the lower Moselle River towards Saarlouis, in all both armies numbered some 185,000 men.

Battle of Spicheren

The battle was not intended by Moltke, who wished to keep Bazaine’s army on the Saar River until he could attack it with the II army in front and the I army on its left flank, while the third army was closing towards its rear. The aging General Karl von Steinmetz made an overzealous, unplanned move, and proved that he did not have the slightest notion regarding Moltke’s plans. Leading the I army south from his position on the Moselle. He moved straight toward the town of Spicheren, cutting off Prince Frederick Charles from his forward cavalry units in the process. The First Army advance guard (14th Division, VII Corps) under General Arnold Karl von Kameke, advancing on west from Saarbrücken on the morning of the 6th August, found the bridges still intact, and seeing the opportunity that this offered, pushed on to occupy the high ground just beyond the town. The French 2nd Corps under Frossard, who had withdrawn his 2nd Corps back about one mile to the Spicheren plateau, had abandoned these heights in order to take up what he considered to be a ‘position magnifique,’fortified between Spicheren and Forbach. Frossard distributed his corps as follows: holding the right and centre was the division of General Laveaucoupet, deployed along the heights, with two companies entrenched on the Rotherberg. On the left General Vergé’s division occupied Stiring and the Forbach valley. General Bataille’s division was held back in reserve around Spicheren; in all, counting the corps cavalry and artillery, some 27,000 men with 90 guns.

Kameke thought he would be engaging the rear guard of Frossard’s Corps, which he believed was in retreat. He ordered a full attack, committing his two brigades under Gen. Francois into the walls of hills running between Spicheren and Forbach.

Francois’s attack had stopped cold by one o’clock. He would sit and wait for reinforcements, wondering all the while just how many French were in front of him. Lucky for him, every French attempt at a counterattack was stopped by his artillery. Kameke’s 28th Brigade under von Woyna would arrive in late afternoon and bring the battle back to life again, but the Prussian attack would again be repulsed. The French would now counterattack. Gen. Laveaucoupet’s 40th Regiment pushed back Francois badly demoralized surviving troops while Gen. Charles Vergé’s 2nd Brigade attacked Woyna’s troops, pushing them back almost to Saarbrücken. If Frossard had pursued these counterattacks he might have won the battle.

By this time, General Constantin von Alvensleben, commander of the III Corps of the German II Army under Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia came to the aid of their compatriots leading units that had arrived on the scene. Alvensleben decided to attack Frossard’s left flank. With a combination of overlapping infantry and artillery attacks, the Prussians were able to roll the flank, thus gaining control of the Rotherberg Hill. By 9 o’clock, the French had given up the entire plateau outside Spicheren to the Prussians. Frossard had ordered a retreat towards Moselle where he planned to withdraw and move to the fortress of Verdun, but once again he was attacked by Steinmetz at the Battle of Borny-Colombey. On the way there they ran into Bazaine’s division coming to reinforce them.

France had lost another battle; the quality of its military commanders and their lack of initiative mainly to blame. The German casualties were relatively high due to lack of planning and the effectiveness of the French chassepot rifle.

The Battlefield:

Sarrbrücken stood on the left bank of the River Saar, with two stone bridges connecting it to the twin town of St Johann on the opposite side. It was a prosperous and thriving community of some 20,000 inhabitants, and one of the main railway centres for coal distribution. Virtually surrounded by hills, the road running from St Johann on the north, cuts through the great Kollerthaler Forest to Lebach and St Wendel. At the village of St Arnual, about 1,800 meters above Saarbrücken, the river changes direction from north to west, where it is joined by a stream flowing from the west. This stream passes through an open valley, which runs parallel to that of the Saar River, but is much more confined, and named the Valley of St Arnual, which allowed for some unobstructed manoeuvring, the harvest already being gathered.  Between Saarbrücken and the St Arnual Valley there rises an isolated ridge, which is divided into four separate crests. Further to the West stood the high ground upon which the drill-ground had been constructed for the garrison, while just above the Lower Bridge of the town rose the Reppertsberg. To the east stood the Winterberg, looking down on St. Arnual and the angle of the Saar River. In the space dividing the Winterberg and the Reppertsberg there rose a steep wooded knoll called the Nussberg. The Spicheren heights themselves dominated the surrounding countryside. To the east their slopes were covered by the thick timber of the Stiftswald and the Giferts Forests. To the west the slope dropped away into the Forbach- Stiring valley in which stood the imposing Stiring-Wendel ironworks, and through which ran the road to Metz. The entrance to this valley at the north was overlooked by a spur jutting out from the Spicheren heights, and known, from the reddish colour of the soil, as the Rotherberg. This particular feature overlooked the whole of the valley that lay between it and the recently evacuated heights around Sarrbrücken.The railway station stood at the north end of the town, just behind the centre of the Saarbrübrucken ridge, while the French Custom House and the Golden Bremm Inn lay just below the frowning Spicheren heights.

The French

Frossard distributed his corps as follows: holding the right and centre was the division of General Laveaucoupet, deployed along the heights, with two companies entrenched on the Rotherberg. On the left General Vergé’s division occupied Stiring and the Forbach valley. General Bataille’s division was held back in reserve around Spicheren; in all, counting the corps cavalry and artillery, some 27,000 men with 90 guns.  The map shows the positions of Frossard’s corps, and tells us much about his military attitude. By abandoning the high ground overlooking the Saar bridges (which he had not destroyed) he gave the enemy adequate room to establish a strong bridgehead, which in itself is a damming inditement on his military ability. He was, by training, first and foremost an engineer, and that he had imbibed the needs of modern warfare in which the spade complemented the rife, still does not excuse the fact that he totally failed to appreciate the full potential of his position being used not only for defensive purposes, but also for strong offensive action, which could have seriously jeopardised the whole Prussian plan of campaign. Not only this, but had he been adequately supported by other corps and divisions of the Army of Metz, most of whom were within no more than a few hours march of Spicheren, the well laid plans of Moltke could have been relegated to the rubbish heap.

f Frossard aired on the side of caution, Kameke threw restraint to the wind. After obtaining orders from his Corps commander, General von Zastrow to launch an attack on what he believed to be nothing more than a French rearguard, and without waiting for support, ordered his division forward. Not only had he failed to comprehend that, rather than a weak French rearguard, an entire army corps confronted him, but he also hit the part of the frontier where the French had massed more than one army corps. The four divisions of Bazaine’s 3rd Corps lay within fifteen miles of Spicheren.

French Mitrailleuse

Just before noon on the morning of 6th August, General von François, commanding the 27th Brigade of Kameke’s division was ordered to clear the French artillery from the Rotherberg, and obviously sharing his commander’s view that nothing lay before him other than a weak holding force, François’s cannon began to lay down fire in prelude to his infantry advancing. Just after 1 p.m. he pushed out two battalions of the 74thRegiment on either flank, while the remaining two battalions moved towards the Rotherburg. Upon emerging from the tree line onto the open ground in front of the Spicheren heights the Prussians were greeted by heavy artillery and chassepot fire, together with the harsh Tak-Tak-Tak-Tak of the Mitrailleuse machine-gun as it barked into action, none of this doing any real damage to their company columns owing to the erratic nature of the French artillery fuses, and the fact that the Mitrailleuse was used in batteries like the artillery, rather than being pushed forward and dug-in among the infantry. However his flank battalions were forced to halt their forward progress in the Stiring valley on their left by the massed fire from Laveaucoupet’s division, and in front of Stiring Wendel on their right by a blizzard of lead and iron delivered by Vergé’s division. At the same time, although they had managed to reach the base of the Rotherberg the Prussians could do little more than take shelter there from French fire, which proved difficult to deliver owing to the steepness of the cliff face.

By 2.30 p.m. François 27th Brigade was spread out over three miles and barely hanging on to the scanty ground it had thus far gained. Its losses were mounting and the troops much fatigued by their efforts. Kameke’s other brigade, the 28th was just crossing the Saar River with instructions to attack the French left rear, and to this end its commander, General von Woyna, had already sent the 53rd Regiment together with a half battalion of the 77th Regiment into the Saarbrücken Forest, while the rest of his brigade was still strung out in the rear.

Now should have been the moment for Frossard to launch a counterattack. With Kameke’s division spread so thinly over the ground, and his brigades separated from one another by the thickly wooded terrain, a strong blow delivered to the Prussian left flank would have forced them to retire, maybe it would even have caused them to route? Their gun line would have been overrun, and serious problems would have resulted in Prussian coordination once the French had regained the Saarbrücken Ridge.  The view of a recent French historian sums it up nicely:

What greater opportunity can be imagined? Frossard had only to throw himself on the Prussian formations and destroy them as they arrived one by one in the valley. But that did not happen. Frossard, an excellent engineer officer but a second-rate tactician, sat tight, and so succeeded in losing a battle which he should with minimum effort have won, while Bazaine, with 40,000 men close at hand, watched impassively the defeat of an army corps for no better reason than that its commander enjoyed a greater esteem than he in Imperial circles.

Therefore the Prussians, who should have been taught a resounding lesson for their hastily conceived offensive, although still under considerable pressure from the French, were given time to bolster their overstretched front as more troops, and in particular more guns, were drawn to the sound of the fighting. As well as the remaining division of Zastrow’s VII Corps, the 13th, Frederick Charles, seething at having Steinmetz’s First Army blocking the road that he was meant to use, now ordered a general advance on Sarrbrücken.

Not only had Kameke put all his available infantry and guns into the battle, he had also thrown in a squadron of Hussars to clear the French from the Rotherberg, a gesture which clearly shows his desperation. Just what these mounted troops were supposed to do when confronted by the steep sides of the cliff face which had caused their brothers in the infantry enough problems we will never know:At 3.30 p.m. Kameke, with every unit committed, but fully aware that help was on its way, launched a frontal attack against the Rotherberg using the Fusilier battalion of the 74th Regimentand three companies of the 39th, with General François leading. Opposed to them along the crest of the Rotherberg, and well dug-in, were the 10thChasseurs and to their rear in support, a battery of Mitrailleuses. With remarkable courage and tenacity, the Prussians managed to scale the cliff face, and despite taking heavy causalities, managed to gain the crest, where they held on grimly in the face of mounting French attacks. General François was killed along with many of his men, but sustained by their own guns down in the valley, which raked the French position with an accurate and concentrated fire; the Prussians could not be forced from the heights.

The Hussars were not long in discovering that their riding-school lessons did not include practice in crag-climbing, and they went back wiser than before…They saw before them a track which looked practicable, and they dashed on up, strewing the path with dead and living debris as they advanced. How near the summit one at least of them may have got I never knew till the next day, when I saw a dead hussar and a dead horse tumbled over into the ravine three-fourths of the way up. I saw them ride up. I never saw any of them ride back.’

As more and more Prussian batteries arrived on the field they inundated the French position. Every attempt to force Kameke’s small force from their precarious hold on the Rotherberg was smothered in shell fire, which also caused the French artillery to pull back out of range, their bronze muzzle loaders being no match for the Krupp breech-loading cannon.

Prussian officers

By 4.30 p.m. the first Prussian infantry reinforcements started to make their appearance. The 40th Regiment (VIII Corps, First Army) came in between the Rotherberg and the Gifert wood. Here they forced the French Chasseurs from the crest and linked up with Kameke’s line. To consolidate their hold on the position, and with great skill and courage, four guns were hauled up a rough track on the eastern face of the Rotherberg, these were soon joined by a further four cannon, also dragged up the steep track manually. Once in position they concentrated their fire on the village of Spicheren, about 1000 meters further south across a spur of open ground. Three separate French attacks were driven back with great loss but the Prussians found that they had only scratched the surface of Frossard’s main position, which lay before them on the high ground around Spicheren and Forbach, and to come to grips with the main French line they would have to cross over ground covered by artillery on the Pfaffenberg, which remained outside the range of their own guns.

Frossard was well aware of the threat of a turning movement around his left flank. Vergé’s 1st Brigade (Valazé) had been holding its ground around the railway yards and factories of Stiring Wendel, but now became threatened on its left by the advance of the Prussian 13th Division moving down the Rossel valley in response to the sound of battle. Frossard had moved Vergé’s other brigade (Jolivet) from its position guarding his extreme left to bolster the defence of Stiring, while Bataille sent forward a regiment from his reserve division to Vergé’s assistance. Frossard also sent off an urgent message for help to General Metman, whose division had been ordered by Bazaine to take up a defensive (again!) position covering the road to St Avold, to move onto the ground vacated by Jolivet’s brigade -unfortunately for Frossard, Metman became as dilatory as Bazaine, and never got into action – thereafter the French launched a counterattack, which drove the Prussians back in some confusion, many retreating back to Saarbrücken. At 6.00 p.m. it appeared that the entire Prussian right wing was about to fall apart. On the Prussian right Woyna’s 28th Brigade had become disorientated as it moved through the Saarbrücken Forest in an attempt to turn the French left. The 53rd Regiment, accompanied by the general himself, had conformed to his orders and attacked the high ground known as the Coal-pit Ridge, but suddenly discovering that the French position extended much further than he had anticipated, Woyna called up the77th Regiment to bear more to the south-west. The two leading companies conformed, but the remainder of the First Battalion continued along the railway line where they became embroiled in the attack on Stiring Wendel. The other two battalions, just as they were about to wheel to the right, had received François 1.30 p.m. request for support, and had moved directly to the front, linking up with the 27th Brigade at around 3.00 p.m. The problem of control and command was so bad that Woyna was unaware, even at 4.30 p.m. that he had effectively been deprived of half of his brigade, and that what still remained was insufficient even to hold onto the ground he had gained, never mind being able to carry out any turning movement.

Constantin von Alvensleben

Fortunately for the Prussians, Constantin von Alvensleben had arrived earlier on the field with the forward elements of his III Corps (Second Army), and although he was outranked by both General Goeben and General Zastrow, his experience was such that his superiors were quite willing to leave operations in his capable hands. In the gathering darkness Frossard reluctantly decided to withdraw. Although his right wing had managed to blunt every attack thrown against it, the advance of General Glümer’s fresh Prussian division threatened his centre and left. To cover his retreat Frossard positioned 58 guns in one great battery around Spicheren, under the covering fire of which he managed to pull his corps back towards Sarreguemines. Having committed his troops piecemeal to the centre and left as they came up, Alvensleben realized that, although he had no firm information concerning the state of the Prussian right wing, if the French now counterattacked in strength he could be forced back against the river. Therefore he decided to make another attempt to force the French to relinquish their hold on the Spicheren heights. To this end he sent six battalions forward in a direct assault from the Stiring Valley, endeavouring to come in against Laveaucoupet’s flank. Even here the Prussians found themselves in trouble. The first wave of the attack crumpled as it came under massed artillery and chassepot fire, while the second wave, coming up through the Spicheren Forest was stalled by a well executed hit-and-run withdrawal to the crest by Laveaucoupet’s flank guard, the Prussians only gaining the summit well after night had fallen. Here the French made a last bid to push their enemy from the Rotherberg and the Giferts Forest, but the attack was so disjointed and ill conceived that it achieved nothing. Finally at 7.30 p.m. Laveaucoupet concentrated his division in a tighter formation above Spicheren.

The French losses are reported as 2,000 killed and wounded, with a further 2,000 men missing, the majority of which were taken prisoner. The Prussians suffered over 4,400 casualties, which, allowing for their superiority in artillery, still demonstrates the effectiveness of the French chassepot.

French wounded after Spicheren

On the same day (6th August), some 40 miles further to the east across the Vosges mountains the Prussian Third Army had defeated Marshal MacMahon at Froeschwiller, inflicting upon him the loss of almost twenty thousand men.

“On the 24th of July, at six in the morning, 19 officers, 2 doctors, 1 paymaster, 58 Oberjägers, 13 buglers, 860 Jägers, 23 soldiers of the baggage-train, 4 medical assistants and one gunsmith stood ready to march out into war. Behind them the reserve Battalion consisting of 2 officers, 17 Oberjägers, 3 buglers, 168 Jägers and 2 medical assistants. Leaving was not easy and every single soldier knew that he might never come back. The Battalion was attached to 13. Division commanded by Generalleutnant von Glümer. This division of VII. Armeekorps was part of First Army which was commanded by General von Steinmetz.”

BATTLE OF SPICHEREN – Forbach, 6th of August

“At dawn, on the 6th of August 13. Division advanced towards the river Saar, the battalion being part of the advance guard. At half past twelve it reached Völklingen, were it halted to prepare camp. Only a few hours afterwards an alarm was sounded. The enemy had taken the heights of Spicheren and was under attack by 14. Division. Our Division was ordered to advance towards Forbach attacking the enemies left wing and rear.
Three of the battalions companies advanced on Gross-Rossel. Here they stopped and pickets were sent out to the nearby hills as it seemed the fighting near Spicheren was already over. From their vantage point though, the pickets could clearly see that the fight was still raging, so the advance on Forbach was continued, the battalion moving forward in companies abreast on the right bank of the Rossel.

At about 10 minutes past six our Jägers crossed the border into France, but as soon as they had passed the forest of Leisch they were greeted by french bullets. The enemy had entrenched himself on the Kaninchenberg (Rabbit-Hill) and had taken us under lively and well aimed fire. Soon some elements of the 55th Regiment arrived and with their support the batallion managed to push the opposing forces off the hill. Soon the enemy was in full retreat. He was chased by some of our rifle platoons, but as soon as the men had reached the plain on the other side of the hill, they were attacked by enemy Dragoons. Even though our Jägers defensive fire emptied a few saddles, the dragoons managed to break into and through their open formations. The Jägers threw themselves to the ground to avoid the vicious blows of the enemies swords. The speed of their charge carried the enemy further forward where they were met by the reminder of the company which calmly awaited the attack. Their first volleys killed most of the enemy dragoons and horses. Only a few managed to reach the line. One who did was the brave french commander, the Comte de Cernayel. He fell with six bullet wounds to the chest, but only after he had put a revolver bullet through the head of Oberjäger Rietz and sabred the arm of Jäger Klein. The few french survivors fled towards Forbach.”

French Dragoons charging, 1870

“When darkness set in the battalion tried to enter the city, but was repulsed by such a heavy fire by rifles and Mitrailleuses that the attack was called off. In the night two rifle platoons were on picket duty close to the enemy lines when they heard the sounds of large bodies of troops moving from the direction of the village of Forbach. Second company tried to get into contact with the neighbouring troops of 14. Division and on the way had the opportunity to practice their shooting at straggling enemy soldiers. So far the battalion had one Oberjäger killed in action and one officer (Hauptmann von Kusserow) and six Jägers wounded.

On the morning of the 7th of August Forbach was taken after a small skirmish with french stragglers. Inside the village the battalion captured huge quantities of enemy supplies.
Everywhere on the roads the signs of a hasty enemy retreat could be witnessed. The victory at Spicheren was a huge success and gave a tremendous moral boost to our soldiers. Impregnable defensive positions had been overrun by prussian soldiers, spreading terror and fear in the ranks of the enemy. The enemy fell back towards Metz to reorganise his defences. ”


PART  3 (The Battle of Colombey) NEXT WEEK – Stay tuned


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This Carte de Visite photography is one of my personal favourites. It shows a Jäger (Hunter/Rifleman) serving in one of the elite Jägerbatallions of the Prussian Army, the Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 7 or “Bückeburger Jäger” as it was also known. 

In the peacetime Prussian Army, the main component of the Imperial German Army, there were one Imperial Guard Jäger battalion, the Garde-Jäger-Bataillon, and twelve line Jäger battalions. One Jäger battalion, the Großherzoglich Mecklenburgisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 14, was from the grand duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Our soldiers Batallion, the Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 7, was raised in the principality of Schaumburg-Lippe (whose capital was Bückeburg). The other ten were from Prussian lands. In addition, another Prussian Guard unit, the Garde-Schützen-Bataillon, though not designated Jäger, was a in fact a Jäger formation.
The german Jäger units were distinguished by their wear of dark green tunics and shakos (in contrast to the dark blue tunics and spiked helmets of most German infantry) and by using the Zündnadelbüchse instead of the Zündnadelgewehr used by common line infantry.

In the Franco-Prussian War all Jäger units were equipped with the Zündnadelbüchse M65. It featured a shortened breechblock and a Stecher (double set) trigger which gave it much higher accuracy. Jägers were trained marksmen and were used as such.


We can see the Iron Cross so I left this out. On his ribbon bar he has the ribbons for:

Alsen Cross for Reserve Troops 1864

Düppel Cross with ribbon for Reserve Troops (fighting at Düppel but in reserve during the assault on the redoubts) 1864

Königgrätz Cross for Combatants 1866

War Commemoration Medal (Kriegsdenkmünze) Campaign medal for the Franco-Prussian War 1870/71 for Combatants

I have access to the Batallions history published by one of its officers in 1898. In this there is a list of awards given to its soldiers after the wars of 1864, 1866 and 1870/71. The man on the photo is wearing the coveted Iron Cross 2nd Class of 1870. That narrows down the number of possible candidates to about 40 names. His identity will remain unsolved.

But enough of that now..lets look at Jäger Bataillon Nr. 7 and its conduct and experiences in the Franco Prussian-War.

Short unit history:

Formed 3rd of October 1815 as 2. Schützen-Bataillon (Rhein.) using active soldiers from the disbanded volunteer Rifle-detachments of Saxony and Nassau which were now under prussian control, the best marksmen of the reserve battalions of the Rhineland and parts of the disbanded Jäger battalion of the Duchy of Cleve-Berg.
13th of April 1821 Battalion gets split into three independent rifle detachments. 21st of November: 7. Jäger Battalion is formed with three companies. 7th of June 1852: Fourth company is raised. 4th of July 1860: Designated Westfälisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 7.

Commanding officers:

1815: von Böhler, 1816: von Tempski, 1817: von Holleben, 1830: von Bursky, 1834: von Frobel, 1848: Graf von Schlieffen, 1849: Meyne, 1851: von Plonski, 1854: v. Stückradt, 1857: von Massow, 1862: von Beckedorff, 1865: von Sell, 1866: Reinike, 1870: Vogel von Falkenstein, 1881: Graf von Carmer, 1883: von Hacke, 1886: von Bojanowski, 1890: Freiherr von Plettenberg, 1894: von Flatow, 1897: Graf von Brünau, 1900: von Laris

Prussian General and Staff. Unidentified location in France, 1870


1848 against Denmark: 17th of April – Süderballig, 7th of May – Alminde and Viuf, 8th of May – Vejle, 31st of May – Arhus

1864 against Denmark: 1st of February – Windeby (1st detachment), 2nd of February – Missunde, 12th of February to 18th of April – Siege of the Düppel (Dybbøl) Redoubts, 18th of April – Assault on the Düppel (Dybbøl)) Redoubts

Slaughterhouse Düppel. One day after the battle (1864)

1866 against Austria: 28th of June – Münchengrätz, 3rd of July- Königgrätz

Prussian Cuirassiers fight austrian Husars at the Battle of Königgrätz (1866)

1870 & 1871 against France: 6th of August – Spichern, 7th of August – Forbach, 13th of August – Ars Laquenexy, 14th of August – Colombey-Nouilly, 18th of August – Gravelotte-St. Privat, 19th of August to 2nd of October -Metz, 22nd of September – Villers l’Orme, Colombey and Mercy le Haut, 27th of September – Colombey, Peltre and Mercy le Haut, 15th of November to 5th of December – Siege of Montmedy and reconaissance around Longwy, 11th of December – Marac and Ormancey, 20th of December – Auxerrem, 17th of January 1871 – Piemont, 21st of January – Ognon, 23rd of January – Quingey, 24th of January – Chatillon sur Lison, 25th of January – Vorges, 26th of January – Busy and Vorges

French cannon with crew, 1870

In the next part I will present you with a translation of the Batallions history in the campaign against France in 1870/1871. Very interesting text and I hope you will enjoy it.

In the meantime you might want to have a look at this to get an idea on the general situation in those years

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Should you understand german, enjoy these great documentaries. In case you can’t  THIS  is a good place to start.

Die Schlacht von Sedan 1870 (Battle of Sedan)

Die Deutschen – Bismarck und das Deutsche Reich / Bismarck and the German Empire

Otto von Bismarck – Kanzler und Dämon (Chancellor and Demon)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Otto von Bismarck – Junker aus der Altmark 

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