Sunday, September 8, 2013

Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars, Part 1 - Introduction

    One of the few articles that I have written for the wargaming public back in the print-only days was one about the Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars, 1801-1815. I am of remotely Danish descent myself, my paternal great grandfather having emigrated from Denmark to the US after fighting in the 2nd Schleswig - Holstein war. He foresaw a great war coming to Europe, and wanted his family out of harm's way. He initially settled in the upper Midwest USA, where Scandinavian names are very common, and few people there had difficulty with his last name, Andreassen. He later bought a farm in Virginia, where everyone referred to him as "Mr. Anderson". After a while, he had had enough and legally changed the family's name to that! From the time that he and his family arrived in the US, he forbade the speaking of Danish; they were Americans now, and English was the language spoken here! Unfortunately, along with their language and their last name, they also left most of their Danish culture behind as well. Just about the only remnants of it that survived to my father's generation were having a  small glass of  Cherry Kijafa over ice after Thanksgiving dinner, and celebrating the Christmas holiday primarily on Christmas Eve. I can speak some Spanish and German, but no Danish whatsoever!

   Anyway, as I began to study the Napoleonic Wars in more depth, I became interested in the role that the Danes played in it, and began collecting sources of information, including four excellent plates and text on the Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars that my father bought for me at the venerable old Soldier Shop in New York City. Using that and a variety of other sources  I put it together an article over the summer of 1973, while I was working as a counselor at our local Boy Scout camp prior to starting college. I sent it off to the old New England Wargamers Association newsletter, the original Courier. It never appeared in print, and within a year or so that original version of The Courier ceased publication. I eventually forgot all about it. Later, Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as quite a few sets of Historical wargames rules (Chainmail, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Don't Give up the Ship, and Tricolor come readily to mind) started their (largely) Fantasy Wargames Magazine, The Dragon. It proved very successful, and I was a subscriber myself. They then decided to introduce their own Historical Wargames magazine, named Little Wars. I of course subscribed to that as well.

   Near the end of the first year of that publication, I received my bi monthly copy of Little Wars (Feb 1977), and was pleasantly surprised to see an article on the Danish Army of the Napoleonic Wars featured on the cover, with a nice if somewhat inaccurate full color illustration of a number of Danish soldiers on the front cover. Looking forward to reading the article, I was quite surprised when it turned out to be the one I had submitted to The Courier years earlier! Evidently, Dick (Bryant), the editor of the earlier and subsequent Courier, had passed his unpublished article file along to TSR when the original Courier had ceased publication. All fine and well, but in the interim, I had acquired quite a bit of additional information that could have updated and improved the original article. In addition, some one at the magazine had "edited" the article, and clearly knowing little or nothing about Denmark, had made some errors that were real howlers. Chief among these were transforming the "Jutland" Light Dragoons into the "Ireland" Light Dragoons, and the "Funen" Light Dragoons into the "Finland" Light Dragoons (Fünen (or "Fyn" in Danish) is the name of the second largest of the islands making up a good portion of the territory of modern day Denmark, the largest island being Zealand ("Sjælland" in dansk), the island on which København [Copenhagen] is situated). Anyway, the intent is for this series of blog posts to be a greatly updated version of that original article.

The cover of the Feb 1977 magazine containing the original article. Note the price!

    The Kingdom of Denmark during the Napoleonic Wars was a much larger state than it is today. The biggest reason for this was the "personal union" of Norway and Denmark under the same monarch, which dated back to 1380. Technically, the Norwegian state was separate (and had it s own army, which was reorganized and modernized in 1810, and operated only in Norway), and included not only present day Norway, but also its colonial possessions: Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The Kingdom also included the territory of Schleswig (also known as Southern Jutland or Sønderjylland), and the North German Duchy of Holtein (Holsten in Danish), which was still a member state of the Holy Roman Empire at the start of the Napoleonic Wars. Finally Denmark proper had a few remaining colonial possessions in Western Africa and India, as well as the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John, which became the US Virgin Islands after they were sold to the United States in 1917.

Map of Denmark, as it is today.

Map showing the Duchy of Holstein, and the Schleswig territories. 

    These areas would later be the subject of two wars with Germany, with Denmark prevailing in maintaining the status quot the first (with British and other European help) in 1848, but Prussia (with the assistance of Austria) prevailing and taking control of the territories after the second Schleswig-Holstein war of 1864. Following the end of World War I (in which the Danes remained neutral), the Treaty of Versailles mandated the Schleswig plebiscites, which resulted in the return of Northern Schleswig (or South Jutland) to Denmark.

    Christian VII (29 January 1749 – 13 March 1808) reigned as King of Denmark and Norway from 1766 until his death. However, he was afflicted with serious mental illness (probably schizophrenia), and for most of this time his reign was in name only. From 1784 until 1808, his son ruled as de factor regent, becoming King Frederick VI upon Christian's death. He was a fairly liberal monarch, but perhaps not well suited to the challenges that the Napoleonic Wars would bring to his kingdom.

Coat of arms of the Kings of Denmark after the dissolution of the personal union with Norway

    The Danes saw a fair amount of action during the Napoleonic Wars, but most of it was away from the main theaters. In November 1800, Denmark renewed the Treaty of Armed Neutrality with Russia and Sweden, which pertained especially to freedom of shipping in the Baltic Sea. This was perceived as an act of hostility by Great Britain.  The threat of invasion by Britain was real, and the Danes were totally unprepared. They raised several volunteer units, most notable among them the King's Livjager Corops, which was to have a long and honored career. In April of 1801 a task force of the British navy was dispatched to attack the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. After a fierce battle in the harbor, none less than Admiral Horatio Nelson ignored orders from the fleet commander, Sir Hyde Parker to break of the action. Nelson instead proceeded to destroy most of the Danish fleet. Danish losses amounted to roughly 6,000 dead and wounded, six times those of the British. Denmark subsequently withdrew from the neutrality treaty. 

The Danish flag or "Dannebrog". Supposedly its origins may date back as far as the 13th century.

    The 1st Battle of Copenhagen shocked the Danes into putting their military on a more modern footing. Despite their defeat, the Danes retained a considerable Navy. Following the defeat of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806, Britain became increasingly concerned that Napoleon would invade Denmark, and seize the Danish fleet for his own use. Indeed, in 1807, the majority of the Army, under the command of the Crown Prince, was stationed in southern Jutland, prepared to oppose a French invasion. Both France and England attempted to persuade the Danes to give up their neutrality, and support their cause, but neither was successful. On July 31, 1807 Talleyrand was instructed to tell the Danes to prepare for war against Britain or face invasion by a French Corps under Marshal Bernadotte.  Instead, the British sent a fleet of 22 ships to attack Denmark, resulting in the 2nd Battle of Copenhagen, August 16 - September 5th, 1807. They demanded surrender of the Danish fleet to Britain for the remainder of the war. The Danes resisted, and the British fleet bombarded the city for three days. Fortunately, the bulk of the civilian population had been evacuated prior to the bombardment. The bombardment included Congreve Rockets, which started a number of fires, burning over 1,000 buildings in the city, made worse by the civilian evacuation and thus the loss of the normal fire fighting establishment. Despite this, the bombardment of the city still killed some 195 civilians and injured 768. In the course of the campaign, British troops under one Arthur Wellesley defeated a Danish force, composed largely of militia, at the Battle of Køge, fought south of the city of Copenhagen. The Danes capitulated on September 7th, handing over their fleet to Britain for the duration of the war. Denmark thus became the firm if reluctant ally of Napoleon. 

The national Coat of Arms of Denmark

   The Danes helped quell the rebellion of Major Von Schill  in 1809. After riding across Germany, von Schill   had holed up in Stralsund, in Swedish Pomerania on the Baltic Sea. At one time von Schill had planned to slip away to the Island of Rugen, to be evacuated by the British fleet to Spain. Instead, he decided to establish a base of operations there. A joint Dutch/Danish force assaulted the fortress city; it was a Danish soldier who shot the famous major on May 31, 1809. The Danish troops involved in the Assault on Stralsund (and later the pursuit of the Duke of Brunswick) were:

1st and 2nd battalions (minus the Grenadier company), Oldenburg Infantry Regiment
3rd battalion, Holstein Infantry Regiment
4th and 56th companies, 2nd battalion Holstein Sharpshooter Corps
1 troop Holstein Heavy Cavalry Regiment
2nd and 6th squadrons, Danish Hussars
8 x 3 pounder light Foot Artillery and 2 x 3 pounder Horse Artillery guns

Arms of the Duchy of Holstein; a stylized nettle leaf on a red field.

    The Danes repelled a Swedish invasion of Norway during the Russo-Swedish war of 1809, and also contributed a Division to fight with the Russians in Finland and southern Sweden. There is a detailed listing of Danish and Norwegian forces involved in the war (plus those of Sweden, Finland, Russia Holland, Spain and Great Britain), along with thoughts on wargaming the conflict, here.  The composition of the Danish Division from that site (additions by me in Italics):

Danish 1st Division: Prince Frederich Von Hessen (Russo-Swedish War of 1807-1808)

Cavalry Brigade: Prince Kristian Von Hessen
  • Garde Ryttere Regiment (2 sqns of 160 - Guard Cavalry)
  • Liv Regiment (4 sqns of 160 - Unknown regiment, probably a heavy cavalry regiment - yes, almost certainly the Liv Ryttere Regiment)
  • Sjaelandske Ridene Jaegerkorps (1 sqn / company of 160 / 140 mounted jagers - volunteers)
  • Danske Horse Bty. (1 battery of 6 or 8 guns)
  • Livjaegerkropset (2 btns of 700 jagers, possibly rifle armed- I suspect a single battalion of the Kings Livjager Corps, about 500 men)

1st Brigade: Baudissin
  • Garde Fod Regiment (1 btn of 700 foot guard - The Kings Livgaurd of Foot, roughly 640 men book strength)
  • Kongens Fod Regiment (2 btns of 700 - Crown Princes Regiment)
  • Holstanske Fod Regiment (2 btns of 700 - Holstein Infantry Reguiment)

2nd Brigade: Prince Kristian Frederiks of Denmark
  • Norske Fod Regiment (2 btns of 700 - Norwegian Life Regiment)
  • Prince Kristians Fod Regiment (3 btns of 700 - Hereditary Princes Regiment)

3rd Brigade: Falbe
  • Marine Regiment (3 btns of 700 - Unknown, possibly marines from the fleet - actually, according to a 1975 letter from the curator of the Tojhus museum in Copenhagen, the Marine regiment was established in 1798, disbanded in 1810, and had four battalions total. )
  • Kjobenhavnske Fod Regiment (2 btns of 700 - Danish Life Regiment)
Divisional Artillery: Danska Artillery Brigade (??) - 3 Foot Batteries of 6 or 8 guns. (Just literally means Danish Artillery brigade - as opposed to French or Norwegian, etc)

Arms of Schleswig; the similarity to the Danish national arms is easily seen. 

    Denmark was to have contributed a Division to Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, but King Frederick VI convinced the Emperor that the Danes would be better stationed in Holstein to avert a German uprising. In May, 1813, after offering Danish neutrality to the Allies in exchange for retaining Norway, a Danish  Auxiliary Corps (a Division, more or less) was committed in North Germany. Commanded by Prince Frederick of Hessen, it consisted of 15 battalions, 10 squadrons, and 4 artillery batteries:

Danish Auxiliary Corps, Prince Frederick von Hessen, May 1813

Advanced Guard Brigade
2nd battalion, Schleswig Jager Corps
1st and 2nd battalions, Holstein Sharpshooter Corps
2nd and 6th squadrons, Danish Hussars
1 battery Danish 3# Horse Artillery

1st Brigade
1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions Oldenburg Infantry Regiment
4th battalion Holstein Infantry Regiment
1st battalion and Jager co. of 2nd battalion, Queen's Infantry Regiment
1st battalion and Jager co. of 2nd battalion Danish Liv Regiment
4 squadrons Holstein Heavy Cavalry Regiment
1 battery Danish 6 pounder Foot Artillery

2nd Brigade
1st and 2nd battalions Funen Infantry Regiment
1st and 2nd battalions, Schleswig Infantry Regiment
3rd battalion, Holstein Infantry Regiment
4 squadrons Jutland Light Dragoon Regiment
1 battery Danish 6 pounder Foot Artillery

Reinforcements, late August, 1813:
4 squadrons Funen Light Dragoon Regiment
1 company sailors (120 men)

Reinforcements, November 1813:
1st battalion 3rd Jutland Infantry Regiment
3rd battalion Schleswig Infantry Regiment
1 comopany each Louise Augustus Livjagers and Jager Grenadiers of Altona (both volunteers).

    These troops fought in several minor battles, among them Zarrentin, Gudow, and Alt Rahlstatd, before withdrawing to Denmark when Marshal Davout retreated to Hamburg. The Danes were pursued by a mixed force of Swedes, Prussians, and Russians under the command of Bernadotte, himself now Karl-Johann, Crown Prince of Sweden. Several skirmishes and a minor battle (including the Battle of Boden, Dec 4th, 1813) followed before the Danes were bottled up in Rendisburg. King Fredrick VI refused to commit the main army, and so at this point a treaty was signed by which Norway was ceded to Sweden.  

    The Norwegians rebelled and resisted, setting up their own constitution and naming Crown Prince Christian Frederick of Denmark, cousin of  King Frederick VI, as their King. He lead some 20,000 men of the Norwegian army, initially outnumbering the 16,000 Swedes opposed to him. The Swedes had a heavy advantage in Naval power, however, and by July 1814 Swedish forces had risen to 45,000 men as opposed to only 27,000 Norwegians.  By August, the Norwegians had capitulated. Bernadotte accepted a modified version of the new Norwegian constitution, and Norway was joined to Sweden by personal union under the King of Sweden. Denmark retained the former Norwegian colonial possessions, but by the end of 1814, it had lost 5/6th of its territory, and the government was bankrupt. Denmark was thus probably the biggest loser of all the states that fought in the Napoleonic Wars... a conflict it would have been happy to remain out of it it could!

    The next post in this series will be one of two planned covering the Line Infantry regiments of the Danish Army, of which there were 12. The plan is to eventually cover the organization, uniforms, and flags of the entire Danish army of the Napoleonic wars.

Gud og den retfærdige sag!

("God and the just cause" - motto of king Frederick VI of Denmark, seen here at his Coronation, at age 40)



  1. A great read Peter,
    I knew very little of Denmark during the Napoleonic period except the 2nd battle of Copenhagen mentioned. This is the 2nd Time I've heard mention of Christian VII recently, I think the 1st was on tv. Look forward to reading more.

    1. Well, you're about to learn a lot more than you ever wanted to, Paul, LOL! Seriously, I have a lot of reference material on the subject not readily available to most wargamers. I didn't mention the "Gunboat War" between Britain and Denmark on the Baltic Sea from 1808-1814, but a great source of small actions.

      It is interesting and perhaps even a bit ironic that both Nelson and Wellington were involved in one of the battles of Copenhagen. The 1807 battle and bombardment of the city provoked serious debate in Parliament about the legality and ethics of the attack, although in the end no vote was taken.

    2. Sounds good to me,
      Loads of possible mini sea battles then?

    3. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the subject:

  2. another excellent reference, great read.


  3. Most interesting and edifying Peter. It's great that you are going to write several posts on a little known 'minor state' in the Napoleonic wars; with some particularly interesting and colourful uniforms.
    Thanks for this one and the others to come!

    1. Thanks, James. There should be about eight or nine more coming over the rest of this year. Denmark had the largest military of any of the minor states after Spain, Portugal, and Poland. Not necessarily the most efficient or effective, and certainly saw far less combat than any of those.

  4. Very interesting. I'm sort of a Dane by association. My godmother was from Denmark and my cousin is half Danish and taught her sons the language. Very interesting history that I knew nothing about. I look forward to reading more. Skal.

    1. "A Dane by association" :-)

      Well, at this point, I'm 25% Danish blood, with a Swedish last name (it would have been *Andersen* if Great Grandfather had changed it to the Danish spelling of the name instead of the Scotts/Swedish version).

      Even among those of us with an interest in history in general and military history in general, much of the story told here in Part One is unknown or forgotten. Maybe that's why the Danes are supposedly the "Happiest People in the World" now days - nobody thinks about them enough to bother hassling them! :-)

  5. An excellent post, some really great info!

  6. This should be shed some light on a much neglected army. Looking forward to the rest of the posts!

  7. Very good post. I'm looking forward to the rest, not planning to paint any Danes yet, but you just never know...

    1. Even if you don't, it's your duty as a Napoleonic enthusiast to acquire uniform trivia, isn't it? :-)

  8. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thank you for the censorship. And don´t read many new books about napoleonic wars. That could harm your petty brains

    2. I rarely delete comments; perhaps less than 10 in 4 years. As a copy of deleted comments is not retained, I cannot be sure why I deleted your, but IIRC, with prompt of your latest comment, it was about a new book that while Napoleonic in nature, was not relevant to the contents of this post. I felt that was a form of spam, and thus inappropriate and deleted it. The tone of your present comment would seem to vindicate my judgement, sir.

  10. A brilliant read, and a trusting source.