The Battle of Minden
Minden: an iconic victory for the "Minden"
Regiments who advanced to battle with white roses in their hats,
plucked from the hedgerows, and repelled the attacks of French
War: Seven Years War
Date: 1st August 1759
Place: Minden in North Germany
Combatants: British, Hanoverians, Hessians and Prussians
against French and Saxons
Generals: Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick against Marshal
the Marquis de Contades
Size of the armies
41,000 British and Germans with 170 guns against 51,000 French and
Saxons with 162 guns.
Soldier of the 20th Foot
with roses in his hat
Uniforms, arms and equipment
All regular European soldiers of this time fought in a knee length
uniform coat, turned back at the skirt, cuffs and lapels to reveal a
distinctive regimental lining colour. Headgear was a black tricorne
hat with a lace brim, except for grenadiers who wore a tall mitre
cap. In some armies the grenadier mitre was giving way to a bearskin
cap. The uniform was white for the majority of French regiments,
blue for the Prussians and German armies that followed the Prussian
tradition, like Hesse-Darmstadt, and red for the British and
Hanoverians. There were exceptions within every army. The French
Royal Household troops wore a variety of coats. The foreign
mercenary regiments in the French service wore red or blue. The
Hanoverian and Hessen horse wore white. The British Royal Artillery
and Royal Horse Guards wore blue coats.
The standard infantry weapon was the musket and bayonet. The
musket fired a ball propelled by black powder loaded, one shot at a
time, through the muzzle. A skilled infantryman might fire 3 to 4
shots a minute. The black powder quickly fouled the musket making
loading and firing increasingly difficult. Misfires were frequent
particularly in wet weather. The ammunition scale for a British
soldier was 24 rounds. Arrangements for replenishing the supply
during a battle were haphazard.
Cavalry was armed with the sword and in almost every case with
some form of carbine.
The artillery was armed with muzzle loading cannon. The ease with
which the guns could be moved about the battlefield varied according
to the army. The British Royal Artillery was still hampered by a
lack of full-time teams to draw the guns, relying on civilians
engaged for the war. The British batteries at Minden were armed with
light guns, which could if necessary be moved by hand.
Winner: Prince Ferdinand’s army.
The 20th Foot with the 19th and 21st Foot
12th, 20th, 23rd, 25th, 37th and 51st Regiments of Foot in
Waldegrave’s and Kingsley’s brigades. These regiments have Minden as
a battle honour.
Sackville’s command contained The Royal Horse Guards, 1st and 3rd
Dragoon Guards, the Scots Greys and the 10th Dragoons. The Marquis
of Granby was second in command to Lord George Sackville.
The Royal Artillery companies of Captains Phillips, MacBean,
Drummond, Williams and Foy.
12th Foot: later the Suffolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian
20th Foot: later the Lancashire Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment
23rd Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers*
25th Foot: Now the King’s Own Scottish Borderers*
37th Foot: later the Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of
Wales’s Royal Regiment*
The 37th Foot, the centre regiment of the first line of British
repelling the attack of the French cavalry at the Battle of Minden
Copies of this picture can be purchased from the Regimental Museum of
the Royal Hampshire Regiment in Winchester; proceeds go to regimental funds.
51st Foot: later the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and now the
Royal Horse Guards: now the Blues and Royals*
1st Dragoon Guards: now the Queen’s Dragoon Guards
3rd Dragoon Guards: later the 3rd Carabineers and now the Royal
Scots Dragoon Guards
The Royal Scots Greys: now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
10th Dragoons: later the 10th Light Dragoons, then the 10th Hussars,
then the Royal Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars.
*These regiments were awarded Minden as a battle honour.
Map of the Battle of Minden
(c) Illustration by John Mackenzie 2009 -
click to enlarge.
In 1759 two French armies threatened Western Germany. By the end of
July the Marquis de Contades with the Rhine Army had successfully
fought his way to the Weser, capturing a number of important towns,
and lay at Minden. Hanover was invaded and the city of Hanover
itself threatened by the French. The Duc de Broglie was encamped on
the east bank of the Weser.
Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick
Prince Ferdinand with his army lay to the north of Minden. While
Ferdinand’s primary allegiance was to his King, Frederick of
Prussia, he commanded King George II’s forces and was bound to serve
his interests, in particular to preserve the Electorate of Hanover
from French invasion.
Contades had adopted an impregnable position, the French camp
lying to the south west of the town of Minden behind the boggy
Bastau River. A French garrison held Minden and Broglie was across
the Weser. Detached French forces were hurrying to join the main
army, Ferdinand felt it necessary to bring matters to a conclusion
General Wangenheim with his corps of German troops advanced to
Todtenhausen, a few miles north of Minden on the west bank of the
Weser, and entrenched. Ferdinand’s main army lay to the west.
Ferdinand appeared to be concerned with the manoeuvres he was
conducting against Contades’ left flank and rear. It is said that
Ferdinand wished to give Contades the impression that he had left
Wangenheim to fend for himself. When Contades moved against
Wangenheim, Ferdinand would have the opportunity to attack the
French as they crossed the Bastau.
Contades was also under pressure to produce a resounding success.
His subordinates were restless and Marshal Belleisle, the French
Minister of War was pressing for a move against the enemy.
The French camp, while providing an excellent defensive position,
was not well placed for launching an aggressive move. There were but
two bridges immediately to the west of Minden, insufficient for the
passage of a large force of troops.
Trooper of the Royal Scots Greys
Contades built eight bridges of boats across the Bastau. It was
impossible to conceal such activity from Ferdinand and it was
apparent that the French intended to fall in with his plans and
attack Wangenheim. Ferdinand did not know when the attack would be
carried out. He ordered a careful watch and directed that all French
deserters be sent to him immediately on capture.
On 31st July 1759 Contades ordered that the attack be made the
next day, with the French Army crossing the bridges of boats during
the night. Broglie was ordered to cross the Weser and march through
Minden to the North. Artillery and 8 battalions of grenadiers would
be provided to him from the main army as it crossed the Bastau.
Broglie was to assault Wangenheim’s corps in its positions before
Todtenhausen at dawn and drive him back. The French army would then
fall on the rest of Prince Ferdinand’s army in its positions to the
Hanaverian Foot Guards
The movements of Broglie’s army crossing the bridges into Minden
on 31st July 1759 were seen by German Hussars patrolling on the
banks of the Weser. Prince Ferdinand climbed a hill to the west and
saw signs of activity in the French camp. Ferdinand ordered that his
army be ready to advance at 1am the next morning. His troops would
move in 8 columns. On the extreme right were the British and
Hanoverian cavalry under Sir George Sackville.
The next column was
of Hanoverian artillery, then a force of British and Hanoverian foot
under General Sporcken, then Generals Wutginau and Imhoff and on the
left of the line General Holstein-Gottorp’s cavalry. There were two
further columns of artillery. In front of the army was a screen of
piquets commanded by Lieutenant General Prince Karl of
Two French deserters were taken by Anhalt’s piquets and revealed
that the French Army was crossing the Bastau and moving forward to
the attack. It is said that Anhalt delayed for two hours before
passing this information to his commander, Prince Ferdinand.
As soon as the news was relayed the army’s 8 columns were
All responded, except Sackville’s cavalry, who were not ready. This
created an immediate problem as it was Sackville’s responsibility to
capture the village of Hahlen on the critical right flank of the
army. The task had to be given to Anhalt’s piquets. The French had
been delayed in crossing the Bastau and were coming up slowly,
enabling Anhalt to take the village in spite of fierce fighting.
Anhalt’s piquets were assisted by Foy’s and MacBean’s batteries of
British artillery which came up and bombarded the French infantry,
the artillery being commanded by Captain Phillips.
The 51st Foot attack the French Horse
While Hahlen was being taken by Anhalt, Ferdinand intended that
his line should pause and resume the advance with its flank secured.
In particular Ferdinand needed Sackville’s British and Hanoverian
cavalry to come up into the line.
Sporcken’s column, intended to be second from the right after
Sackville’s, comprised two brigades of British infantry. The leading
brigade, commanded by Major General Waldegrave, consisted of the
British 23rd Foot (the Royal Welch Fusiliers), the 37th Foot and the
The 25th Foot at Minden
The second brigade, commanded by Major General Kingsley,
consisted of the 25th Foot, the 51st Foot, a newly raised regiment,
and the 20th Foot, Major General James Wolfe’s old regiment. On the
previous day, as these regiments had marched up from Prince
Ferdinand’s camp near Hille, they had picked wild roses from the
hedges and decorated their hats and uniforms.
There now occurred one of the incidents beloved of British
military history. It is said that an order was sent that the
infantry were to “advance on the beat of drum” and that this was
misinterpreted as an order to “advance to the beat of drum”.
Waldegrave’s brigade set off towards the French line, followed by
The Royal Artillery
At some stage during the subsequent fighting the two brigades
were reinforced on their left flank by battalions from the
Hanoverian Foot Guards and Hardenburg’s Hanoverian Regiment.
Contades’ plan had been carefully prepared by his staff officers
with troops allocated to particular bridges and an order of battle
that put the cavalry in the centre of the line, due to the marshy
ground to the north of the Bastau River. Mid-eighteenth century
armies did not have the structures or discipline to conduct a
night-time move across improvised bridging on such a large scale.
This was particularly so of the Bourbon French Army with its officer
corps drawn from an arrogant and unprofessional nobility. In
addition, the weather broke during the night with high winds and
rain. Crossing the Bastau took longer than planned and the troops
were debouching onto the Minden plain late and in confusion. It will
not have been lost on the soldiers that in the event of the battle
going badly the retreat would be infinitely more difficult.
The British and Hanoverian Foot attack the French Cavalry at the
Battle of Minden
Broglie began his assault on Wangenheim’s corps, but with little
drive and the attack dissolved into an artillery duel between the
On the right of Ferdinand’s line, Sporcken’s British and
Hanoverian column marched past the struggle in the village of Hahlen
and headed for the mass of French cavalry in the centre of Contades’
Waldegrave’s brigade outstripped Kingsley’s and halted by a
copse. After a pause the brigade resumed its advance angling to its
left at the flank of the French Horse. Kingsley’s men pressed on in
support. The two brigades emerged from the copse and now in full
sight of the French army, they attracted the fire of the French guns
along the line, from right and left.
The French cavalry commander, Lieutenant General Fitzjames,
launched his first attack on the British and Hanoverian foot, 11
squadrons of the regiments Royal Cravates and the Mestre de Camp
under the Marquis de Castries. The charge was received with fire and
dispersed. The second French charge was delivered by 22 squadrons of
the regiments Royal Étranger, Bourgogne and Brigade du Roi. Again
the charge was dispersed.
Lieutenant General Comte Guerchy, falling back from the fighting
in Hahlen, directed 8 of his infantry battalions in an attack on the
right flank of Sporcken’s column. Prince Ferdinand was near at hand
supervising the fighting and he ordered forward General Scheele with
5 Hanoverian battalions and a substantial force of Hanoverian guns
on Sporcken’s right.
At the same time the third French cavalry attack was delivered by
the Gendarmerie de France and the Carabineers led by Lieutenant
General de Poyanne. This charge lapped around the right flank of
Sporcken’s column. The British and Hanoverian foot held firm
considerably assisted by the fire from the column to its left,
Wutginau’s Hanoverian and Hessian Foot.
Guerchy’s infantry assault was driven back, as was Poyanne’s
cavalry charge. The remainder of Ferdinand’s line was coming up with
Sporcken’s British and Hanoverian regiments and the French were
pressed back, particularly by the heavy and well delivered fire of
the British and Hanoverian artillery.
The Hanoverian Regiments of Sporcken's
brigade : von Hardenburg's and the
During these critical phases of the battle Prince Ferdinand sent
four separate orders to Sackville to attack with his powerful
cavalry force. Every time Sackville refused to obey the order.
Sackville’s deputy commander, the Earl of Granby attempted to lead
the force forward but was ordered to halt by Sackville. It is said
that if the British and Hanoverian cavalry had charged the overthrow
of the French army would have been complete.
As it was the final
stage of the battle was being reached. Contades ordered General
Beaupréau with 8 battalions positioned on the right of the main
French line to attack Prince Ferdinand’s flank. Beaupréau’s
battalions were counterattacked by 4 Hanoverian battalions, that
drove them back through the village of Maulbeerkamp, before being
charged in the rear by 19 Prussian and Hanoverian squadrons. Covered
by Beaupréau’s second line the French began to fall back.
On Contades’ left a force of Saxon foot came forward, but after a
fierce battle with Sporcken’s column and heavy artillery fire, they
fell back with the disordered remnants of the French army to the
The Hanoverian Regiment of Horse :
The British light guns of Foy and MacBean moved forward and
bombarded the French troops as they retreated across the bridges of
boats causing further significant casualties.
Prince Frederick’s army suffered 2,600 casualties of which half were
from the British infantry and artillery. The British right flank
regiments, the 12th and 20th, suffered particularly heavily.
Royal Artillery: 3 officers and 11 men killed and wounded
12th Foot: 17 officers and 272 men killed and wounded
20th Foot: 17 officers and 304 men killed and wounded
23rd Foot, Royal Welch Fusiliers: 10 officers and 196 men killed and
25th Foot: 7 officers and 138 men killed and wounded
37th Foot: 15 officers and 231 men killed and wounded
51st Foot: 10 officers and 98 men killed and wounded
Contades and Broglie in correspondence stated the French casualties
to be between 10,000 and 11,000. The French army lost much of its
baggage, 17 standards and colours and 43 guns.
During Contades’ advance the Hereditary Prince, operating in the
French rear, captured Gohfeld on their lines of communications.
After the battle Contades crossed the Weser and withdrew to Cassel,
abandoning the towns the French had captured during the earlier part
of the year.
Lord George Sackville
Regimental anecdotes and traditions
Minden Day - Minden is a victory replete with symbolism and controversy for the
British Army. The four infantry regiments and their successors
celebrate Minden Day with parades and dinners, decorating their hats
and accoutrements with wild roses to commemorate the picking and
wearing of the roses as they advanced through the countryside on
31st July and 1st August 1759.
- Marshal Contades is reputed to have said bitterly after the
battle: “I never thought to see a single line of infantry break
through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble
them to ruin.”
- Major General Waldegrave was promoted to Lieutenant General.
- Against this success is set the dark failure of the cavalry under
Sackville. Sackville was dismissed from the army by King George II.
He insisted on being tried by general court martial and his demand
was conceded. Sackville was tried at the Horse Guards for disobeying
Prince Ferdinand’s orders. He was convicted and the sentence was
that he should never serve His Majesty in any capacity thereafter.
Unfortunately the sentence was not maintained and in the next reign
Sackville, under the name of Lord Germaine, became Secretary for War
and directed the operations of the British Army during the American
War of Independence.
- The attention paid to the British Infantry after Minden has
overshadowed the contribution of the other forces under Prince
Ferdinand. The handling of the Prince’s artillery under the Count of
Lippe-Buckeburg was masterful. The chronicler of the campaign,
Westphalen, picks out the conduct of the British Royal Artillery for
particular praise. Foy and MacBean took their guns to the edge of
the field and harassed the retreating French army, performing the
function Sackville so resolutely refused to accept for his cavalry.
- It is said that Prince Ferdinand wrote to Captain MacBean saying;
“It is to you and your brigade that I am indebted for having
silenced the fire of a battery of the enemy, which extremely galled
the troops”. The Prince directed his paymaster to distribute the
sums of 1,000 crowns to Captain Phillips and 500 each to Captains
MacBean, Drummond, Williams and Foy for distribution amongst their
- Captain Phillips, as Major General Phillips, in the American War
of Independence in 1777 commanded the Royal Artillery under Major
General Burgoyne during the campaign that led to the surrender at
- The performance of the Prussian dragoons on the left flank of
Prince Ferdinand’s line was quite in keeping with the highest
traditions of the Prussian service, as was that of the Hanoverian
troops and in particular the Hanoverian Foot Guards and the
battalion of Hardenburg’s Regiment that advanced with Waldegrave and
- Every year on 1st August 6 red roses are delivered anonymously to
the British Consulate in Chicago, with a card commemorating the
Battle of Minden and giving the list of 6 British infantry regiments
that fought at the battle.
The Lancashire Fusiliers (XXth Foot) trooping the colour on Minden
Day 1951 in Egypt
- His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany during the Seven Year War by
- Fortescue’s History of the British Army