Donnerstag, 17. Oktober 2019

The siege of Freiburg in 1744 (Part 1)

As it was with the battlefield of Simbach, I had the chance to walk over the landscape of the great siege of Freiburg. Therefore I decided to write about it and I hope that this topic is even more exciting for you, as we have the 275th anniversary of the battle (no great attention in Freiburg today nevertheless).

275 years passed since the great siege of Freiburg in autumn 1744. Fortunately this particular siege was viewed as one of the major events of the 1744-campaign in Germany. Therefor a big part of Porges and Rebrachas very detailed work about the War of the Austrian Succession is dedicated to Freiburg[1]. But there are many contemporary accounts printed during the mid 18th century too like “Campagne de Monsieur le Maréchal Duc de Coigny en Allemagne” including many letters and statistics[2]. A really impressive number of maps and other pictures of this and other sieges of Freiburg and the fortress were published in 1988 as one volume of two about the fortress and city[3]. This book is really recommended to get an impression of the actions in 1744.

 A map of the Fort St Pierre on a plaque at the fortress.

I’m so fortunate to look at the remnants of the fortress of Freiburg every morning looking out of the window of our living room. It’s really inspiring for somebody who has an interest in military history. When Alex Burns asked me to write a short guest post I thought about all the remnants of the fortress still visible today and spend a day with my kids walking over the Schlossberg. Besides I was reading a biography about De la Metterie, one of Fredericks closest philosophers and drinking buddies, who suffered a lot from a fever during the siege of Freiburg, where he was present as an intimate of the Duc de Gramont (1689-1745) and as a doctor of the guards[4].

But let us commence more chronical.

The French army followed the Austrian troops under prince Charles of Lorraine and FM Traun when they had to march east to deal with Frederick II attempt to join the war again. The French commanded by Noailles and Coigny tried to attack the Austrians crossing the river Rhine but where thrown back by the Austrian rearguard at Auenheim and Suffelnheim at August 23th 1744. This fail reduced the French plans to catch the Austrian main army. Frederick II justly blamed Coigny and Noailles for their poor leadership at Auenheim. To get one objective for the rest of the campaigning season at least the Austrians began to encircle in September 1744 the city of Freiburg.  Some days later the French commanders send Belle-Isle with significant troops to Rheinfelden, Konstanz and later even to Bregenz to occupy these towns. After some easy success the French were humiliated during their attempt to invade Vorarlberg by local Austrian militias[5].

The militia in Vorderösterreich (Further Austria) were formerly very similar like the strong militia of Vorarlberg and sometimes organized by the same administration. In the 17th century Further Austria assembled the men from 16 to 40 years old in 8 “Landfahnen” (banners). But since 1734 2 “Landfahnen” only remained. One of them, the “Hauensteiner Fahne”, had 906 men in 4 platoons. These relicts of the old militia were commanded by a baron Grammond (not to be mixed up with the French duke of the similar name!), who reinforced the garrison of Freiburg in 1733/34 and was again in Freiburg in 1744[6]. These troops naturally were not fit to fight regulars. But they were used as workers on the fortifications and should stock the old “Linien” (lines of fortifications) all over the Black Forest, when they first were built during the War of the Spanish Succession[7]. Though the militia of Further Austria was weak in numbers compared with the size of the territory (bigger than Wurttemberg for example!), the corporative recruitments were of no great significance too. Further Austria and Vorarlberg together had to put forward 1.500 men for the regular Austrian army in 1744. Most of them were infantry serving in the regiment Brandenburg-Bayreuth (IR 41)[8]  

A view from the Fort St Pierre at the town – one can imagine how easily the Austrians could shoot at the French in 1713 from this Position. The Kaiserstuhl lies in the background.

The siege was very different from the siege of 1713, when the French attacked coming from the Kaiserstuhl. Therefor the Austrians had put a lot of effort in reinforcing the fortification in the western and northern sections of the town. Reason was perhaps that the town seemed to be secured by a natural obstacle, the river Dreisam. Nowadays the river is small and low. But in 18th century the river had a very broad riverbed which would make it impossible to build siege-entrenchments at this side of the town. One can imagine the surprise of the defenders when Noailles’ army opened the trenches at the southern front of the town.

It was a massive work to give the Dreisam-river a new riverbed under the nose of the defenders. De Coigny wrote on September 23th:

“… des ordres que j’ai donné pour le travail de la nuit derniere, je dois vous dire que 2000. Travailleurs soutenus par 3000. Fusiliers, ont commencé d’ouvrir un Canal”[9].

(The duke reported at d’Argenson, that 2000 workers reinforced by 3000 fusiliers had started to open a channel for the new riverbed.)

 That was a major effort of engineering, which surely surprised the defenders who tried to stop some of the works. But the work was at a high cost. Work in the damp is a highly unhealthy job and the large number of French losses during the battle could be explained by this.

Opposing the Schwabentor and the Wiehre the first two redoubts were built by the French. On September 24th the defenders launched their first outbreak with hussars and light troops there[10].

The Schwabentor today. The street at the foreground with the traffic lights is where the 18th century fortifications stood. 

Text: André Hanselmann
Photos: André Hanselmann

[1] Belagerung von Freiburg … (II. Theil des Feldzuges 1744) in August Porges/Carl von Rebracha: „Österreichischer Erbfolge-Krieg 1740-1748.“ Seidel & Sohn, V.Band, Wien 1901, p.523-594
[2] „Campagne de Monsieur le Maréchal Duc de Coigny en Allemagne l’an M.DCC.XLIV“ 5eme partie, Marc Michel Rey, Amsterdam, 1761
[3] Josef Diel (and others): „Stadt und Festung Freiburg“ Stadtarchiv und Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg, Freiburg, 1988
[4] Bernd Schluchter: „Herr Maschine oder vom wunderlichen Leben und Sterben des Julien Offray de La Mettrie“ braumüller, Wien, 2018, p. 85-97
[5] Porges/Rebrachta p. 538-543
[6] Oskar Regele: „Zur Militärgeschichte Vorderösterreichs“ in Friedrich Metz (Hg.): „Vorderösterreich – Eine Landesgeschichte“ Rombach, Freiburg, 2000, p. 88
[7] Told by Dr. Andreas Haasis-Berner: “Die barockzeitlichen Befestigungen im Schwarzwald” at the colloquium by the Alemannisches Institut and the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege „Im Krieg ist weder Glück noch Stern“ Friday 15th of june 2018, at Breisach
[8] Oskar Regele: „Zur Militärgeschichte Vorderösterreichs“  p. 89
[9] Coigny à d’Argenson, au Camp devant Fribourg, le 23 Septembre 1744 in „Campagne de Monsieur le Maréchal Duc de Coigny en Allemagne l’an M.DCC.XLIV“ 5eme partie, Marc Michel Rey, Amsterdam, 1761, p. 215
[10] Porges/Rebrachta p. 538-543

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