Mysunde battle as reported in the Illustrated London News

Som rapporteret i the Illustrated London News 21. september 1850.

by Stuart Penhall

As reported in the Illustrated London News Sept. 21st 1850

Of the three larger battles fought during the 1850 campaign the conflict at Mysunde is the least well known. There are a variety of reasons for this, the main one probably being its short duration. This relative lack of importance did not dissuade the Newspaper reporters of the time from devoting several columns of the Illustrated London News. The article begins by outlining the principle aspects of the action.

The severest engagement that has taken place between the two armies since the battle of Idstedt, occurred on Thursday, the 12th of September. The Schleswig – Holstein troops made a reconnaissance towards Eckernförde and Mysunde in strong force, and attacked the bridge across the Schlei at the latter point, but without success. After cannonading the defences of the bridge on the north bank of the Schlei for more than an hour the artillery was recalled, and the troops supporting it retired along the line of country by which they had advanced during the day, bivouacking to the north of their original positions.

After the cannonade ceased, and as the troops sent forward with the batteries were retiring, the Danes issued from the entrenchment’s with several field-pieces, and for some time considerably annoyed the Holsteiners, who were on the chaussée to Eckernförde, and immediately south of it; but they were in too great force to be pursued and as soon as the Danes discovered the strength of the battalions which had not been engaged, they ceased the pursuit and regained their fortified position.”


Illustrated London News fra oktober 1849. Avisen blev udgivet mellem 1842 og 2003.
Illustrated London News fra oktober 1849. Avisen blev udgivet mellem 1842 og 2003.

As their own correspondent was with the Duchy forces the article goes on to detail his observations of the preparations for the attack and of the march up to Mysunde.

It was known on the evening of the 11th , that a movement somewhat more important than usual was contemplated. A large number of wagons, put in requisition for the baggage, the knapsacks of the infantry, &c., left Rendsburg during the night; the head-quarters of the advanced guard, under Colonel Gerhard and Major Von Stutterheim, were at Holzbunge, a little hamlet between two lakes Wittensee and Bistensee.

The wagons that had gone in the night were already packed with the knapsacks of the infantry and chasseurs which are thus taken on without compelling the men to march under an oppressive weight. Further on, two pontoons were mounted on wagons, with others carrying the materials for bridging over a stream; but they were never used and this part of the train did nothing but encumber the narrow roads.

The first purpose of the movement was to clear all the country north from the head of the Wittensee Lake to Mysunde, and as far west of it towards Schleswig as might be possible, of the Danish troops encamped in the intervening space, but not entrenched. A force quite strong enough to effect it was taken ; the whole of the advanced guard of Colonel Gerhard’s brigade moved up through Damendorf to Osterbye; the 4th and 12th battalions of infantry formed the right wing of the advanced guard and took a parallel route, but more to the east, upon Kochendorf ; a corps of Jagers, still more to the right, advanced on Westerthal and Eckrenförde itself.

I took the same road as the 4th battalion of infantry to 0sterbye, since one route must needs be chosen, and cannot speak of what occurred on the left and centre except from report. For some time, our route lay along the shore of the Wittensee, close to the water’s edge. It was a lovely morning, cool, with a brilliant sun – one of those days which make the early autumn one of the most pleasant seasons of the year. The lake shone like a sheet of silver, and the wooded banks were reflected clear and sharp in it to every minute detail in its depth.

Beyond the village of Great Wittensee we turned off the Eckernförde road to the left, and by various indirect and crooked ways we got on the ground till lately within the Danish lines. It was anticipated that the Danish outposts would be found somewhere about Osterbye, and the calculation proved pretty correct. About ½-past twelve o’clock, an irregular fire of small-arms to our right indicated that the Jagers, advancing in that direction on Westerthal, had come upon them, and it was equally as evident that the Danes were retiring ; the same process was going on the left, and we had nothing to do but to listen and speculate. We had got beyond Osterbye, and were approaching Kochendorf before anything was visible ; but there we saw the last of a Danish company being driven from a wood to the right of the latter village.

The Danes retired so readily, and were dislodged from point to point with so little difficulty, that they plainly acted on orders to fall back if attacked in any force, without exposing themselves to loss, and retire within the fortified position behind them , thus the advance was little more than a march. By three o’clock the whole staff were in Kochendorf, and the extensive camp constructed by the Danes to the north of the village abandoned. But the country between Kochendorf and Mysunde was not quite cleared of them ; a few field-pieces were still keeping up a fire on them as the 2nd and 4th battalions of the Holsteiners were coming up from the rear and forming a little in advance of the village itself.

It was four o’clock before the artillery intended for the attack on the bridge at Mysunde was sent forward, accompanied by the above-named battalions. A cannonade in front indicated that the attack on the bridge had begun. The 2nd and 4th battalions were stationed to the south of the Eckernförde chaussée; the artillery was on the rising ground overlooking the Schlei, beyond Cosel supported by a body of Jagers and some infantry and cavalry.”

The correspondents view of the actual battle was limited due to his position but the article does include his observations and conclusions which were contained in a separate letter.

The bridge was defended from both points at once ; though the “téte du pont” being behind some higher ground could not be seen from our post to the west, and nearly parallel with the village of Cosel ; the Holstein and the Danish batteries were, indeed, firing across the water, but the bridge was not withdrawn and the Danish guns on the “téte du pont” were fully engaged. The bridge itself is so completely covered by the works, which must be constructed with great skill, that from no point the Holsteiners reached could they fire with any effect on the bridge itself, or it must have been shot to pieces ; only some guns far to our left were brought to bear on a portion of it, but did no damage.

I was with a group of spectators on the high road to Eckernförde just at its junction with the country road to Kochendorf, when the Danes opened a smart fire on the 4th battalion, through which we had just come, and they had to bear the brunt of the onset, which luckily did not last long. The peasants with the wagons and wounded put their horses to the top of their speed down the sandy road ; and for a quarter of an hour there was a chariot race worthy of any ancient arena.

I made my legs compasses over as pretty a piece of ground as 1 ever measured in the same space of time, and was by no means sorry when the whistle of the heavier balls became a little less sharp and distinct, though I knew that ½ of them were from our own guns, and that the other ½ were flying among my friends of the morning march. It was the only time they were under fire during the day. Some of the shots went right through the column, and I understand, caused some loss and a momentary confusion , but the mass stood firm, and, as before described, the Danes did not pursue in the face of the superior force. They soon drew back again to their “téte du pont” .

This was the close of the engagement. The Holsteiners, as they retired, set fire to the Danish camp at Kochendorf ; and several Danes who could not get away soon enough in the morning, and had hidden themselves in nooks and corners under the straw, were turned out of their hiding places by the flames, to the no small amusement of the Holsteiners, who did not suspect the place had any living tenants, at least human ones. In two hours the camp was entirely destroyed. Smaller encampments at other points were given to the flames in the same manner, and our route southward was illuminated by several conflagrations on the hills behind us. The moon set calm and silvery, exactly opposite to the scene of destruction. The narrow roads were choked up by the wagons conveying the wounded and baggage, and the artillery, but, as we were not pressed on, no casualties occurred.

The heavy firing at Eckernförde, to the east continued after nightfall; it is said it was only intended to cheek the advance of the Holstein Infantry on the town while the Danish troops were embarked in their ships and boats and taken across the bay, but I cannot answer positively for what I did not see. A mill behind the town was set on fire, and burnt for many hours. It is reported this morning that Eckernförde is in possession of the Holsteiners, but it is a question if they can hold it, as they are always open to an attack from the water.

The artillery was brought back to Damendorf, and the Infantry to the points south of it, but still in advance of their former position. The men bivouacked by their watch-fires, and appeared in nowise discouraged by the result of the day’s proceedings, for they were singing and cheering merrily, & the wagons, laden with their wounded comrades, crawled along the road by the side of their posts towards Rendsburgs.

The result of the affair may be briefly stated. If the object was to force that bridge at Mysunde, it was decidedly defeated, as no Impression was made on the works, and the Danes were able at the close of the day to become the assailant. If it was a mere reconnaissance, it only proved that the Danes are very strongly entrenched which was pretty well known before.

On the other hand, the Danes, appear to have declined defending Eckernförde at all on the land side and assuming report to be correct, it is in the hands of the Holsteiners. There loss is described by their own semi-official authority to be 130 killed and wounded, among the latter are five officers ; an officer and 50 men of the Jagers were also taken prisoners, having been cut off from the main body by the sally of the Danes from the “téte du pont” at Mysunde when the Holstein batteries were recalled. Their total loss, therefore, is little less than 200 men.

The opinion already expressed, that the Holsteiners could not long hold Eckernförde, proved correct, for the corps that advanced on it at midday of the 12th was withdrawn late in the evening. The firing front the Danish steamers in the bay during the afternoon and up to seven o’clock was heavy, though not rapid; the guns were evidently of large calibre, and their report can be easily distinguished from that of field-pieces. It is feared the town is much damaged. Two English officers of artillery rode with General Willisen’s staff throughout the day, and were present at the attack on the bridge. The action lasted from ½-past four till nearly six o’clock.”

The precise casualties (and therefore the units actually engaged) were as follows –

10th. Battalion
3rd. Jager Korps
3rd. Reserve Battalion
Artillery (Dinesen’s & Lumholtz Batteries)
Schleswig Holstein
1st. Battalion
2nd. Battalion
12th. Battalion
15th. Battalion
2nd Jager Korps
3rd Jager Korps
5th Jager Korps
6 pdr. Battery #4
24pdr. Battery

All in all a very interesting account in which the correspondent does his best to put the whole affair in a good light. In reality he confirms the fact that even at the time of the attack these was some confusion as to the purpose of the attack. One or two notes are in order; ·

  • Firstly it should also be noted that the 4th regiment, with which the correspondent marched, is either miss identified by him, mistyped in the report or in the paper itself or he was mistaken as to their coming under fire and taking casualties as they suffered no loss according to the official lists. The second alternative seems the most probable which would make the proper identification of the battalion as the 1st.
  • Secondly the usual claim that the Duchy forces made the attack without giving any thought as to how they might get across the Schlei is shown to be false. The correspondent clearly states that a bridging unit was present with the advance.

Whatever the motive or the objective of the attack it was soon overshadowed by the costly siege of Fredrickstadt a few weeks latter.

Danish Forces 1st Brigade:

  • Captain Krabbe. 10th Light Battalion: 1022 men.
  • 3rd. Jægerkorps: 840 men.
  • 3rd. Reserve Battalion: 966 men.
  • 4th. Line battalion: 43 men. (detachment)
  • Dinesen’s Battery 6 cannon 138 men.
  • ½ Lumholz’s Battery: 4 cannon 77 men.
  • 1st. Squadron, 4th. dragoon regiment. 177 men.

At Eckernførde – Major Neergaard.

  • 4th. Line battalion: 900 men.
  • Battery Dinesen: 2 cannon
  • 12 Dragoons.
  • 150 men (marines ?)

Duchy Forces:
Note: As General Willisen appears to have had the belief that the Danish army would respond by charging out of the dannevirke the whole Schleswig Holstein army was placed in the field.

Right Flank Corps: Hauptmann v. Aller.

  • 1 squad 5th Jägerkorps.
  • 1 squad 1st Besazbattallion, Friedrichsort. (Garnisonsbattallion).
  • 6 pdr. Battery #5 (4 cannon)
  • 2nd. Dragoon regiment (½ squadron)

1st. Column.

  • ½ 1st. Brigade – Oberstliuetnant v. Gagern.
  • 3rd. Battalion.
  • 4th. Battalion.
  • 6 pdr. Battery # 1 (4 cannon.)

2nd. Column.

  • Advance Guard – Oberst v. Gerhardt.
  • 2nd. Jägerkorps.
  • 3rd. Jägerkorps.
  • 1st. Battalion.
  • 2nd. Battalion.
  • 12th. Battalion.
  • Two Squadrons.
  • 6 pdr. Battery # 4
  • 12 pdr. Battery # 1
  • 24 pdr. Heavy Artillery Battery
  • Pioneer detachment of 120 men

3rd. Column.

  • ½ 2nd. Brigade – Oberstliuetnant Lange.
  • 13th. Battalion.
  • 15th. Battalion.
  • ½ 5th. Jägerkorps.
  • ½ 6 pdr. Battery # 1.
  • Mortar Battery. (2nd. section, ten 10 pdr. Mortars)
  • ½ Squadron.

Centre (reserve): Oberst v. Abercron.

  • ½ (?) 2nd. brigade.
  • 5th. Battalion.
  • 6th. Battalion.
  • 7th. Battalion.
  • 8th. Battalion.
  • ½ Squadron.
  • 6 pdr. Battery no. 3.
  • 12 pdr. Battery no. 2. (no. 1?)
  • 1st 24 pdr. Battery.
  • Six 24 pdr. “kugle” cannon.

Total army strength on the 12th September:

  • Avantgarde brigade 103 officers, 5626 men.
  • 1st. Brigade 88 officers, 5509 men.
  • 2nd. Brigade 85 officers, 4320 men.
  • Cavalry 50 officers, 1529 men.

In preparing this article I am indebted to Mads Kofoed who supplied the orders of battle, the map and other details.