As the siege of Strassburg commenced Kronprinz Michael felt confident that the city would hold out for some months. He comforted himself in the knowledge that the Alsatians had commenced a major siege late in the season and, by normal reckoning, had only 3 months with which to prosecute it before the bad weather made it hard to continue. Michael was thus content to let the Duc de Bellegarde ruin his army before the walls of Strassburg and instead decided to concentrate on achieving moral superiority against the army of the Duc de Chambon, covering the siege.
Chambon, in the meantime, was a happy man. His army was strong and well provisioned and he had thrown out a series of advance posts to watch the roads south and east from Haguenau in case Michael made any aggressive moves. One such was at Hammbruck, near Bouxwiller, on the far left of the line of posts. Under the command of Baron Sterne it had six squadrons, five battalions and some guns, around 3,000 men. Sterne was not one of the Duc de Chambon’s old guard but rather an aggressive young officer from Devligne’s camp. Sterne had become convinced that his forward and vulnerable position was due to this and that Chambon expected him to fail. Consequently, Sterne did his best to ensure he did not, and threw out aggressive patrols to disrupt the Franconian line of communications leading back from Haguenau over the Rhine to Baden-Baden.
It is possibly the desire to remove this irritant that encouraged Michael to choose to attack Sterne. The trigger was intelligence (later proved false) of an Alsatian siege train moving from Metz to Strassburg that the position at Bouxwiller was covering. Consequently Michael tasked Generalleutnant Graf Hohenzollern-Hechiggen to lead a column from Haguenau to force Sterne to withdraw and raid the road along which the Alsatian guns were alleged to be travelling.
Hohenzollern proved barely equal to the task, independent command was new to him and he fussed and fretted. He finally lumbered out of Haguenau on the 9th June and marched to within 2 miles of the enemy, and then stopped to make camp and reconnoitre Sterne’s position. Sterne, on seeing this expected nightmare unfold, sent a courier to Chambon advising him that he was likely to be attacked the next day and requesting reinforcements. Chambon, on receipt of Sterne’s despatch was unsure if this was a real attack or a feint to draw him away from the main road to Strassburg from Nancy. He therefore sent a small force of two battalions and some grenadiers to Sterne’s aid under Colonel de Fontaubonne, who arrived on the field at 11pm on the 10th, not long after Hohenzollern-Hechiggen had commenced his attack.
Orders of Battle
O/C: Brigadier Baron Sterne
O/C: Brigadier Baron Sterne
Main Line: Colonel Varennes
1/Regiment ‘Moselle’ Major Kupfermann 516
2/Regiment ‘Moselle’ Lt Col Crouziliere 553
3/Regiment ‘Moselle’ Major Grammont 536
Light Troops: Colonel de Maso
Hussards ‘Devligne’ Major Comte de Houstache 798
2/Corps Franc Devligne Major Tabberte 530
Artillery: Major Pasteau
Battery ‘Chauvel’ Captaine Chauvel 4x4livre
Battery ‘Schiaperelli’ Captaine Schiaperelli 4x8livre, 2 howitzers
Relief Column: Colonel de Fontaubonne
3/Regiment ‘Arc des Vosges’ Major Reubell 690
Grenadier Battalion ‘Tual’ Major Tual 363
Fusiliers-Frontieres Hohneck Major Desbordes 611
NB: Each line battalion had one 4 livre cannon
O/C Glt Graf Hohenzollern-Hechiggen
Avantgarde: GfwM Ritter von Ochsenhausen
Baden-Durlach Dragoons 436
Strassburg Husarencorps 644
Franconia Feldjager 641
Brigade: Oberst Jan van Pfeffer
1/’Van Pfeffer’ Musketiere 894
2/’Van Pfeffer’ Musketiere 811
1/’Royale Gaulios’ Musketiere 875
2/’Royale Gaulois’ Musketiere 618
Brigade: Generalmajor von Harmann (Strassburg)
1/Strassburg Regiment 576
2/Strassburg Regiment 700
Strassburg Artillerie 4x3pfd
NB: Each line battalion had one 3 pfund kanonen
Sterne had positioned his forces astride the road to Bouxwiller, now the modern D24, and had placed himself between two forests. On the left the Devligne Hussards and the Devligne Freicorps, in the centre his infantry and guns and his right was to be covered by the Fusiliers-Frontieres whilst the remainder of the relief column were to form a second line. Hohenzollen, a better battlefield commander than campaigner, formed his infantry in two lines in the centre with the Strassburg Hussars and Franconia Jager balancing off the Alsatian lights on the left. In reserve, and as a surprise, were the Baden-Durlach Dragoons.
As the light forces skirmished desultorily on the Franconian left, Hohenzollern led his infantry against the Alsatian position. It was not long before volleys began to be exchanged all along the line. The 1/Strassburg suffered very heavily as they took fire from Schiaperelli’s battery but everything seemed to be settling down to a gruelling linear slog. At 9am a weary Fontaubonne presented himself to Sterne and gave news of the approach of his troops. “
“Is that all?” Sterne asked incredulously when Fontaubonne told him how little Chambon had despatched.
“Mais oui!” Fontaubonne had replied.
At this moment Sterne realised that he was probably going to lose. Still, he ordered Fontaubonne to deploy the Fusiliers-Frontieres to cover the left of the Schiaperelli battery and bring the rest of his column into a second line. It was then that Hohenzollern unleashed his surprise.
Obrist Peter von Mergentheim was a professional officer. On receipt of his orders he knew what Hohenzollern intended: with the Alsatian line pinned by the Franconian infantry, Mergentheim was to take his regiment and attack the Alsatian left flank. Thus began one of the most memorable cavalry charges of the war. Sweeping in from the Franconian right-rear he launched himself against Schiaperelli’s battery. Although they managed to wheel some guns to face the new threat the Franconian horsemen crashed through them with ease, killing Schiaperelli and all but 8 of his gunners who took shelter under the cannon.
Plunging past the guns, their blood up, they hurled themselves into the flank of 3/Moselle Regiment, taking its colour and breaking it. The terrified Alsatians plunged down the road to Bouxwiller, breaking through the 3/Arc des Vosges and ‘Tual’ Grenadiers who were still on the road. The Baden-Durlach dragoons hacked into them too and they also turned tail, abandoning their colours and guns, and the whole disorganised mass fled back to Bouxwiller. For Sterne it was an unmitigated disaster. His right had been doing fairly well against the French mercenaries of the Royale Gaulois, the 1/Regiment Moselle even taking the colour of the second battalion, but the catastrophe on his left meant withdrawal. This quickly turned into a rout, as the Devligne Hussards and Corps Franc tried to cover the retreat of the other two Moselle battalions and Chauvel’s guns. Only the threat of a charge by the Strassburg Hussars forced the Devligne troopers to turn tail taking the rest of the infantry with them followed by the cries and cheers of the Stassburg men.
Hohenzollern had managed to stumble to victory, mainly because Chambon’s caution, and dislike for Sterne, had led him to send only piecemeal reinforcements. A bolder man may have sent more, and Hohenzollern’s decision to halt would then have cost him dear.
Instead he had a victory. Only 174 Alsatian prisoners were taken, most simply ran away, either into the woods and deserted or back to Bouxwiller. The honour of Obrist Mergentheim, and the Baden-Durlach dragoons, was quickly acknowleged with the award of the Cross of Baden to Mergentheim and additional pay for the troopers. The regiment had taken three sets of colours and eight cannon for the loss of 76 killed and wounded.
The field was a sorry sight, though, as regards dead and fatally wounded. Among them was Sterne himself, identified by his silk waistcoat, along with Majors Comte de Houstache, Tabberte, Pasteau, Tual and Capitaine Schiaperelli. Still, the 1/Moselle managed to hang on to the captured colour of 2/Royale Gaulois.
Alsatian Returns after Hammbruck, taken 13 June
1/Regiment ‘Moselle’ 447
2/Regiment ‘Moselle’ 332
3/Regiment ‘Moselle’ 301
Devligne Hussards 505
2/Corps Franc Devligne 462
3/Regiment ‘Arc des Vosges’ 360
Grenadiers ‘Tual’ 21
Fusiliers-Frontieres Hohneck 473
Colours of 2/’Royale Gaulois’ Regiment
Total of 1826 casualties from an original 4,760 or 38%
Baden-Durlach Dragoons 360
Strassburg Husaren 633
Franconia Jagercorps 577
1/Strassburg Regiment 367
2/Strassburg Regiment 648
Strassburg Artillerie 4 3pfd
1/’Van Pfeffer’ Regiment 824
2/’Van Pfeffer’ Regiment 780
1/’Royale Gaulois’ Regiment 875
2/’Royale Gaulois’ Regiment 536
Colours of 3/Moselle Regiment, 3/Arc des Vosges Regiment, Tual’s Grenadiers and 8 cannon from Schiaperelli’s battery, all taken by Baden-Durlach Dragoons
6 4 livre cannon also left on the field by Chauvel’s battery, 3/Arc des Vosges and 3/Moselle
Total of 726 casualties from an original 6,195, or 12%