Thursday, August 10, 2017

"The Rest Set about the Enemy and Hacked Them to Pieces.": the Erzherzog Carl/Ferdinand Regiment

Image of an Austrian Grenadier, possibly from No. 2
Copyright Royal Trust Collection and Lessing Archive
Reproduced here for educational purposes only.
It may seem odd that the first regiment I choose to focus on is an Austrian unit. Indeed, when I suggested this series on facebook, one commenter suggested that Austrian units were mediocre. However, not all Austrian units were created equal. The Austrian army was divided into a number of "national" contingents, and of these, one of the best groups were the Hungarian infantry regiments. Today, we are going to look at one of the best of those Hungarian troops: the Erzherzog Carl infantry regiment.

When examining the Austrian Army of the Seven Years' War era, Dr. Christopher Duffy is the master, and this case is no different. Please refer to his two volume study of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years' War if you have further questions about this capable and oft-maligned fighting force. In his concise and insightful manner, Duffy records that the regiment was "distinguished at Kolin, Breslau, Lethen [and] Hochkirk." He also indicates that at Torgau it took the heaviest losses of any regiment involved, "resulting from its repeated counterattacks."[1]

So- how does the regiment fair under our criteria? Duffy asserts that the regiment had, "a fine reputation," and that it was "crack" infantry regiment, but little has come down to us by way of other Austrian army commentators on the regiment's reputation.[2] However, in two categories, specifically their performance on campaign and the reputation of their commander, we shall see the men of Erzherzog Carl developed a stellar name for themselves.

No. 2's service record was exemplary in the Austrian service. Its officers were distinguished at Kolin, and it displayed remarkable self-control in containing the disaster at Leuthen. When a group of blue coated infantry rushed the regiment's position, the men displayed perfect self-control, waiting to receive them with, "good platoon fire."[3] It quickly came to light that these were allied Würtemburg troops, not Prussians. The men quickly opened holes in the ranks, and then played a vital part in the rearguard defense of the fleeing Austrian army. This was difficult to do in the stress of battle, and the Prince de Ligne commented on the fortitude of regiments who withheld their fire in similar circumstances.

The men of Erzherzog Carl also displayed a great sense of initiative in the face of the enemy. During the advance at Hochkirk, No. 2 had the misfortune to attack a number of heavy enemy entrenchments. Prince de Ligne recalled the scene: "The cries of the Hungarians and of the enemy who were being taken by surprise, and the horror of the night, illuminated only by the musket shots, had something really terrifying about it."[4] After initial repulse and resulting confusion, officers such as Major Jerky rode throughout the regiment, quickly restoring order, and allowing 2nd Lt. Dezier to move forward with sixty volunteers, and clear the redoubts.[5]

A drawing of the regiment taken in 1762
The regiment fought with great determination at the Battle of Torgau, even after it was completely surrounded by Prussian forces. It refused to surrender for some time, resulting in the highest single unit casualties of the engagement. Some men cut their way out, others were forced to surrender. After this massive loss of men, the regiment was placed in reserve duty, in order to recover its strength. A portion of the regiment were placed in the fortress of Schwiednitz in order to protect it from a Prussian siege in 1762. In the course of the siege, the regiment once again made a name for itself, when 1st Lt. Waldhütter and thirty men of the regiment spearheaded a successful sortie against the besieging Prussian forces. Franz Guasco, the fortress commandant, left this description of the sortie:
"Waldhütter and his troops jumped inside without hesitation and found the Prussians on their guard.Some of the opened fire, while some knelt on the floor and raised their muskets, the bayonets fixed to the muzzles. Our men flung themselves blindly among them, sabre in hand; some of them were skewered on the bayonets, but the rest set about the enemy and hacked them to pieces."[6]
So, clearly, these men were not afraid to snuff some powder. Observers praised the regiment's ability to deliver "effective musket fire."[7] It is possible that this ability stemmed from the regimental commander Joseph Siskovics' frequent practice of having the men fire at targets.[8] Jacob Cogniazzo, a veteran of the regiment, described Siskovics as "an excellent drillmaster."[9] It appears that Siskovics placed a high importance for language training among his officers. The Prince de Ligne, another Austrian veteran, marveled at Siskovics ability to exercise and maneuver 4 different regiments at once, when each of those regiments spoke a different national language.[10] Siskovics sponsored language training for some of his officers and was not shy about publicly rating individuals in his officer cadre, "Good" or "Poor" depending on their service with the regiment.[11] He maintained an excellent reputation among the Austrian military, largely because he drilled his regiment into a highly competent fighting force.

As a result of their performance on campaign, the reputation of their commander, and the opinions of historians, the Erzherzog Carl Regiment deserves to be considered one of the best regiments in Austrian service during the Seven Years' War, and perhaps one of the best regiments of the eighteenth century.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Duffy, By Force of Arms, 429.
[2] Ibid, 126,; Duffy, Instrument of War, 65.
[3]Cogniazzo, Gestaendnisse eines oesterrichishen Veterans, Vol 2, 419.
[4] Prince de Ligne, Melanges Militaires, Vol 14, 168-169.
[5] Duffy, By Force of Arms, 136-137.
[6] Kriegs Archiv, Vienna, HKR Memoires 1762  880/12, Guasco, Relation du Siege de Schweidnitz, 31 October, 1762.
[7] Anon., Neues Militaerisches Zeitschrift, Vol 4, (1811), 99.
[8] Duffy, By Force of Arms, 427.
[9] Cogniazzo, Gestaendnisse eines oesterrichishen Veterans, Vol 3, 15.
[10] Prince de Ligne, His Memoirs, Letters, and  Miscellaneous Papers, 93.
[11] Duffy, Instrument of War,  65, 173.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this interesting look at a crack Austrian regiment of the Seven Years' War!

    All the best on your oral exam!