From the Diary of Lieutenant Ernst Meier of the Westphalian Garde Chevau-Legers, the Brunswick Hussars and 2nd Dragoons King’s German Legion 1809-1815

To be published by Ken Trotman Publishing Spring 2019

 

This short memoir, covering only 37 pages has no date, but was published in German by Stephan Seidel & Co. in Altenburg a little after 1856[1] and has never been published in English. A copy was kindly supplied to me many years ago by Michael Tänzer and translated recently by my friend Ralf Bäzol, allowing me to bring this important memoir to a British audience. Although written late in life it is clear that it is largely based on a contemporary diary which he kept throughout his service.

The story described by Ernst Meier is a fascinating illustration of the confusion that German nationals felt over their loyalties during the Napoleonic wars. Napoleon had formed the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1807, largely from the states of Hanover, Hesse and Brunswick, putting his brother Jerome on the throne. Born in the state of Brunswick, Ernst initially joined the Garde Chevau-leger regiment of the newly formed Kingdom of Westphalia in 1809 despite his concerns with serving in the forces allied to Napoleon.

That year, Austria launched an attack into southern Germany including forces commanded by the former Duke of Brunswick. During a skirmish Ernst was captured and almost killed, but having survived the ordeal, he readily agreed to switch his allegiance and to serve in the Duke of Brunswick’s Black Hussars as an NCO, where he found in the ranks many old colleagues from his old university days. With the Austrians defeated, the Duke led his corps towards the North Sea coast where British ships had been sent to receive them, allowing the Brunswick troops to continue to fight against Napoleon. Ernst gives a number of very interesting details regarding this march to the coast and apparently got to know the Duke of Brunswick during the voyage to England, a friendship that continued until the Duke’s death at Waterloo. Ernst continued to serve with the Brunswick corps which was sent to garrison Guernsey, but the large number of young officers in the corps meant that gaining a commission was a tedious if not impossible path for an ambitious NCO.

Ernst Meier[2] eventually joined the 2nd Dragoons of the King’s German Legion as an NCO, and he became a Cornet in the regiment on 9 May 1812 and a became a lieutenant on 15 March 1814.

He was retained at the depot in Ipswich for a considerable period, much to his frustration, but finally he was able to get attached to a detachment of reinforcements going out to Spain. He served in the peninsula from October 1813 to April 1814. He did not see a huge amount of action, but was present at the action of Vic Bigore and also at the Battle of Toulouse and later at Waterloo. Ernst remained with the Legion whilst forming part of the Army of Occupation in France, until they marched into Germany in 1816 to disband. Again, Meier gives interesting details regarding the route taken and how the disbanding occurred. He then joined the army of Brunswick and later became a captain and then major. He received a Brunswick Gold Cross for distinguished service.

 

I trust you will find this memoir as fascinating as I did

[1] He records at the end of the text being at the 50th anniversary celebrations after Waterloo

[2] Beamish number 145