Friday, 5 October 2018

The York and Grubenhagen Double Battalion square

Private Heinrich Dening served in the Luneburg Light Battalion.  His Waterloo Medal. 

The fighting in the centre of the British position was at its most intense adjacent to three brigades: Colin Halkett's consisted of two double squares, the 73rd and 30th and the 69th and 33rd.  To Halkett's left was Kielmansegge's Hanoverian brigade, again of two double squares, the Bremen and Verden and the York and Grubenhagen.

A fifth battalion, the Luneburg Light Battalion, had been despatched to defend La Haye Sainte but was caught in the flank and largely disintegrated.  A similar fate befell the 5th and 8th KGL battalions of Ompteda's brigade which were also fed into the fight for La Haye Sainte and were punished by Cuirassiers, each losing a Colour.

The precarious nature of the British position resulting from these reverses were further exacerbated when the Divisional Commander, Sir Charles Alten, was wounded.  His departure from the battlefield led to one of the most unfortunate incidents that followed Waterloo.  Alten (who was himself a Hanoverian in the British service) became convinced that Kielmansegge had encouraged the survivors of the Luneburg Battalion to leave the field.  When informed of this after  the battle Wellington was incensed and ordered that Kielmansegge should be arrested.

Alten, whose wounds meant that he had not personally witnessed the closing stages of the battle, to his credit, was quick to realise his mistake and rectified his report to Wellington.  Wellington, in turn, quickly had Kielmansegge released and went out of his way to make amends.

Shaw Kennedy, one of Wellington's ADCs present at Waterloo, explained what happened in correspondence of 1863:

"I am able to assist in clearing up the point as to the day on which I had the interview  with the Duke of Wellington in regard to Count Kielmansegge. I have found a diary which I kept of the march of the army from Waterloo. The army moved from the field of Waterloo on the 19th  and bivouacked that night at and near to Nivelles, marched on the 20th to Binch and on the 21st marched from Binch to Bavay entering France on that latter days march. The headquarters were at Nivelles, on the 20th; from which place the Duke issued his famous cautionary order as to the entrance of the army into France and of thanks to the Army for its glorious conduct on the 18th. It was between Binch and Bavay that he passed the Guards and Third Division on the 20th and placed Kielmansegge in arrest. 

A letter from Shaw Kennedy of 24 December 1863 explains more about how Wellington, after he had realised his mistake, treated Kielmansegge in Paris: 

"The Duke took Kielmansegge to the levee of the King of the French in his carriage. After the Third Division arrived at Paris and was quartered near Passy, I dined with Kielmansegge and was a great deal with him every day. The conduct of the Duke of Wellington to Count Kielmansegge, under all the circumstances of the case, was just, high minded, noble & honourable. He was justified in the first instance, by the unintentionally false report of Count Alten, in dealing so harshly as he did with Kielmansegge; but, when, after a most searching cross examination, I completely proved to the Duke that Alten's report was totally erroneous, he offered every reparation to the much injured Kielmansegge. You are aware that Alten had left the field wounded, and knew nothing himself of what had taken place, so that I positively contradicted what Alten had reported, and Alten himself fully confirmed my contradiction when subsequently referred to, and fully confirmed Kielmannsegge’s gallant conduct up to [the] time of his (Alten's) leaving the field wounded."

The cause of the original injustice lay in Lieutenant General Charles Alten's first report to the Duke of Wellington dated Brussels 19th June 1815, which contained the following statement:

"....The squares had been so much reduced in number by the continued fire of cannon, musketry, and ultimately grape shot of the enemy, that they had hardly men enough left to remain in squares, and therefore were withdrawn from the position by Count Kielmansegge; and the remains of the Legion and Hanoverian brigades, and part of the British brigade, reformed on the high road in rear of the village of Mont St Jean."

Alten issued a correction which read as follows:

"My Lord Duke, 

It is with the utmost concern that I have been informed by Major-General Count Kielmansegge that an unintentional error in my report to your Grace representing the action of the 18th instant has been productive of incurring your Grace's displeasure on the General officer. 

Towards the close of the action, and immediately previous to my being wounded, I found one of the squares of Count Kielmannsegge’s brigade, on which the fire of grape was so tremendous that the four faces of the square are marked by the bodies on the field of battle, give way a little. As I found myself at that time with another square, which was equally critically situated, I remained with it, and directed the Count to stop the square which was giving way, and bring it up again; which the General immediately complied with that zeal he always shows to comply with the orders of his superiors, to the best of his power. I was immediately after wounded and obliged to quit the field; and it was from the circumstance which was mentioned to me that the remainder of the division had been collected in rear of the village of Mont St Jean without my being able to learn the positive reason how they left the position, and having witnessed the gallantry of every individual regiment of the division during the whole of the day under the most severe fire and trying circumstances, I concluded they had not quitted the position without order, but under the sanction of the General officer commanding by higher authority. 

The expression, however, ‘withdrawn from the position by Count Kielmansegge, ‘ which I used in my report, was not the proper one; and I have to appeal to your Grace's indulgence to make an allowance for the hurry in which the report was dictated by me, and at a time when I was suffering under the effects of a wound. I have doubly to regret the circumstance, as, independent of my giving your Grace the trouble to peruse this letter, it had for a time implicated the military character of an officer who, on the day of the 18th in particular, has given proofs of the greater intrepidity, and is indeed the last man I know of who would abandon his post if he could help it without orders. 

After this explanation on my part, who gave the unintentional cause of its becoming necessary, may I be allowed to ask it as a particular favour that your Grace will be pleased to have the Count's conduct so far publicly cleared as to order an inquiry of the Commanding officers whether the Count gave such an order; and, injustice to the troops with such bravery on that day, whether the squares were not so far reduced in number as no longer to allow of that formation, which I understand to be the case, but, as I was no longer an eye-witness, cannot vouch for, although inclined to believe from what I witnessed as long as I was with them. If I could still further hope to meet with an indulgent ear, I venture to express a wish that in case your Grace has not already superseded the Count in command of the 3r Division, you will be pleased to allow him to retain it for a short period, in order to do away the appearance of his being superseded on account of the above unfortunate circumstance. I have the honour to be, my Lord Duke, Your Grace's most obedient and most humble servant Charles Alten".

Much revisionist history of Waterloo has tended to focus on unfair criticism by the British of their German and Dutch allies.  Yet what is so interesting about this incident is that it is one Hanoverian officer casting aspersions on another, before retracting his accusations and thereby allowing Wellington the chance to make amends.

But was the smoke really without fire?  The story of the Luneburg Light Battalion is certainly less than glorious.  Having been despatched to defend La Haye Sainte, the Luneburgers were overrun by Cuirassiers and routed.  Captain Jacobi of the Luneburgers wrote that:

"A number of men who happened to be nearby attached themselves to the officers; they told us that more men had fled to the houses behind the rear of Mont St Jean.  We went there, and after some time Captain Call, Lieutenants Borries, Creydt, Ritter and Adjutant von Peltz gathered here together with about 50 men.  Captain Rall could not make up his mind; he was completely exhausted and let me be in charge and stayed with us.  We marched without delay to a spot directly behind our brigade.  Adjutant von Pentz had been riding ahead in order to report to General Count von Kielmansegge our coming: he now returned to us and brought the general's order to march to Brussels with the remaining core of the battalion and to gather as many of the battalion's men as possible."

I was going to show the Luneburg Battalion, but given its disintegration I decided to paint The York and Grubenhagen double battalion square, one of those mentioned by Alten in his despatch.

The Grubenhagen Light Battalion is described by Siborne as wearing red coats, but all other sources state they were in green, so I have painted them thus.  The York Field Battalion were previously the Benigsen Battalion which wore white British tropical shakos.  I was tempted to paint them with these white shakos but all the evidence suggest that they gave them up in 1814 and wore black belgic shakos, red coats and blue facings.

Painting 800 figures has taken up rather a lot of time but I hope you enjoy the results!

The York and Grubenhagen Double Square
Grubenhagen Light Infantry
I've tried to give a sense of the casualties in this square.  
The drum major and drummers, which are of course Airfix.
Corner of the square
The double battalion squares weren't very square
Strelets officer
Grubenhagen officer - Zvezda Russian artillery conversion
Imex ACW conversion
The bulk of the Grubenhagen battalion are Hat Prussian conversions.
Many of the Grubenhagen front rank are conversions from the new Strelets ACW skirmishers.
Newline Cuirassier casualty in the foreground
Along the line
You can just see an Odemars officer with a pistol
The standard four ranks
Esci conversions
Qualicast officer
Colour Party with Drums Platoon in front
Waterloo 1815 Prussian officers converted to British - these are the new oversized figures but change the horses and put them on their own, they are nice figures
Italieri officer
Falcata officer
Most of the front rank are conversions
Add caption
Wellington drops in for a chat
Wounded and dead outside the corner of the square
Wounded move to centre of the square
Grubenhagen buglers
Schilling pair - wounded officer and soldier
York Battalion in the foreground
The drum major is an Imex Mexican conversion
Many of my figures are conversions and much of the Grubenhagen Battalion are conversions from Hat Set 8084 Prussian Fusiliers.  I turn their heads with a pair of pliers.

I've added a plume by inserting the end of a wooden toothpick into the shako and adding a Trotter pack to his back.


  1. Amazing work! A real museum piece there.

    Best Regards,


    1. Thanks Stokes, you are very kind!

  2. Stunning work! One could spend ages looking at the individual characters and vignettes such as the two guys carrying the wounded comrade, and of course this is just ONE square. Brilliant.

  3. Usual breathtaking standard of workmanship, Pic - thoroughly enjoyed looking at these pics and muttering "Wow!" for 20 minutes!

    1. Thanks Lee, it was a pleasure to do

    2. Nice to hear from you, Foy, your own project is coming along brilliantly. My trouble is that it just takes ages to finish anything

  4. More fantastic work - how long did it take you to paint these 800 figures?

    1. Hi Stryker, I suppose about 8 weeks, but then some of them were already half done.

  5. Amazing work, GP.
    Can you say a bit more about the colours? I've yet to find really solid references about Hanoverian flags, so had to basically make mine up.
    Best regards

    1. Hi WP, it's a really good question and the truth is the evidence is almost non-existent. John Cunningham of Vintage 20mm sent me a printed set of colours for every unit at Waterloo but my feeling is that the Hanoverian ones are generic. There must also be doubt about whether Hanoverian Light Battalions carried colours at all - the evidence suggest the Luneburgers lost a Colour to the French but it would have been unusual for a green jacketed unit to do this.

  6. Amazing stuff!

    Could I use the first picture on my facebook to illustrate the square formation?
    It's the best representation of a square I've seen.

    1. Thanks Gunfreak, help yourself!

  7. A very nice job indeed. I have some sympathy having painted the entire Luneburg Light Field battalion at 1:3 scale in 28mm. I don't get the impression Luneberg and Grubenhagen were used as rifle battalions (I think only a quarter or third of each had rifles) but more like line battalions with an increased skirmish capability. Therefore having colours would have been likely - and I had to make mine up too for lack of solid evidence. Chris

  8. Thanks Chris, I think you may well be right about the Hanoverian Light Battalions. Napoleonic propagandists tend to exaggerate the number of 'British' colours captured at Waterloo. To my knowledge only one British Colour was captured (of the 69th) and that at Quartre Bras. But it is true to say that some Hanoverian colours were captured and reports suggest the Lunebergers lost theirs. If so, this would obviously prove your point. I'm just not sure it was ever recovered which might call into question the story. And then, as you say, if they did have Colours, what did they look like?

  9. Hi, it's fantastic! I know how long I need for my figures and how frustrating some of the research is on the not “standard” Regiments.
    Are the Yorks supposed to be the 4te or “Des Herzog von Yorks 1ste Osnabruecksche” Feldbatallion? That was not von Benningsen, but von Langwerth old Unit. One of the Flags was:
    Obverse: The white horse over green ground in jump on a yellow field, surrounded by a wreath on one side of laurel and the other of oak under the electoral crown.
    Reverse: St. Petrus in full monks habit in natural colors standing on white ground, one hand resting on a shield of silver with a black, six spoked wheel, the other holding two keys.
    The finale was a Spear one side the Royal cypher the other the Coat of Arms of Hannover under the electoral crown.
    I have some images saved from the 30s, the colours were destroyed in a bombing in '44.
    Facings were blue as it was a “Royal” Unit.
    Sorry, my family was in there, it's our city “Regiment” and our Prince-bishop was the Duke of York.

  10. That's terribly helpful advice, thank you very much! Do you have any pictures of these flags which you could send me?