The Ghastly Rampart: A Guards Action in The Seven Years' War

This coming Saturday, June 22nd, the 4th Company will take part in birthday celebrations for the City of Alexandria, VA (its 270th) held at the historic home of John Carlyle. This house holds a special place in the history of the British Army...and interestingly not directly related to its role fighting the rebels of the American Revolution. Rather, Carlyle's home hosted the April 1755 Congress of Alexandria, a planning meeting for Major-General Edward Braddock's ill-fated expedition to capture Fort Duquesne from the French that ended in his death and defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela that July.

Indeed, there is much to discuss regarding the effects that Braddock's shocking rout had on the evolution of British military tactics in North America - both during the "Seven Years'" or "French and Indian" War that immediately followed and during the American Revolution 20 years later - Yet, focusing on former provides us an opportunity to explore the battlefield successes of a certain Brigade of Guards....not in America during the Revolution, but rather in Western Germany fifteen years prior.

And while Braddock's defeat occurred at the very beginning of renewed hostilities between Great Britain and France, two European rivals who had been at war at a seemingly constant pace for centuries, the Guards would not officially see action in the North American theater in the coming conflict that would see such grand British victories as Louisbourg (1758) and Quebec (1759). Guards volunteers were invited to join the newly raised 60th "Royal American" Regiment of Foot in 1756, but most of the Guards would see action on the Continent as the King chose to "brigade" select battalions of the 1st, 3rd, and Coldstream Guards for operations in France and Germany. The first expedition departed in spring 1758, and included among its 15,000 men the first battalions from each Guards regiment. Over the next several months, the Guards brigade took part in raids against several French coastal towns, including St. Malo and (the disastrous) St. Cas. It returned to London by that winter.
Grenadiers of the three Guards regiments, as depicted by David Morier in 1751.

The Guards would subsequently not join a 1759 British expedition to Germany in support of allied Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, having been held back in Britain for fear of a possible French invasion. However, with the defeat of the French navy at Quiberon Bay, a brigade of the Guards' second battalions under Major-General Julius Caesar of the Coldstream Guards departed London in spring 1760 to reinforce the British and Hanovarian armies fighting the French in Germany. Over the course of the next two years, it would distinguish itself at such major battles as Vellinghausen (July 1761) and Wilhemstahl (June 1762).

The question commonly arises - how many of the Guards who fought with the 4th Company during the American Revolution would have already seen combat in this previous conflict? Well, unfortunately, without knowing precisely who fought with the first and second battalions in the Seven Years War (vs. remaining in London), it's difficult to say with absolutely certainty. Of the 15 officers who served with the 4th Company in America, we do know that only two had been with the Guards in the late 1750s/early 1760s:
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Cox, 1st Guards, commissioned ensign in 1753
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Hall, 3rd Guards, commissioned ensign in 1757
Furthermore, a 1779 muster roll lists only three of the Company's 82 rank and file - two from the Coldstream and one from the 3rd Guards - having the more than twenty years of service that could have placed them in the first battalions that raided the French Coast in 1758. A total of ten men (12%) - three from the 1st, four from the Coldstream, and three from the 3rd Guards - had service long enough to have possibly been "drafted" into the final shipments of reinforcements to Germany in spring 1762.

Yet, if any of these men had in fact served on the Continent that year, they did so at high cost, particularly at an action in September 1762 near the castle and town of Amöneburg. The French Army, seeking to take the castle from a thinly staffed forward allied position, simultaneously sought to stymy the crossing of Allied reinforcements at a nearby bridge (Brücker Mühle) over the River Ohm. Defending the bridge from French possession was a redoubt of allied soldiers on the far side, originally held by a detachment of 100 Hanoverians.

Looking west toward Amöneburg Castle, with the River Ohm and Brücker Mühle in the immediate foreground. The Allied redoubt lay on the east side of the bridge. Depiction dated 1640.

Following an eight hour French artillery barrage on the redoubt, Allied command called in the Brigade of Guards to reinforce the position. As F.W. Hamilton details over 100 years later:
The Grenadier battalion of the Guards was the first ordered into the work, and to line the banks of the relieve the Hanoverians, an operation which was effected with the greatest coolness and bravery, though the men were obliged to march nearly 400 paces exposed to a murderous fire of musketry and grape...the cannonading became more determined than ever. After a time the second battalion First Guards relieved the Grenadier battalion in the redoubt, and these, in turn, were relieved by the other two battalions of the brigade of Guards, and so on alternatively as the ammunition of each was expended. (Hamilton, pp. 190)
Failing to dislodge the Guards (who were subsequently relieved by the Hessians), the French retired. The Allies suffered 800 in the action, with roughly one third being British. But it is the amount of ammunition used that is truly shocking. Over the course of 14 hours, the Allies expended three tons of powder, including 173,289 infantry musket cartridges. Allied artillery pieces fired a total of 2529 rounds. And the French barrage was so intense that relief battalions were forced to "creep" in a single file toward the redoubt.

Once there, it was indeed a bloody affair:
The guardsmen piled up the dead bodies of their slain comrades, and fired over them, as from behind a rampart. At this exciting time, Thomas, Viscount Saye and Sele, in the height of the confusion and slaughter, reprimanded a sergeant of the Coldstreams for uttering an exclamation of horror, and was answered, "Oh, Sir; you are now supporting yourself on the body of your own brother!" This was his elder brother, Captain John Twisleton, who had just been slain, and added to the ghastly rampart...(Grant, p.313)
While the action at Amöneburg would prove to be the last of the Seven Years' War (the Treaty of Paris was signed the following year), it would have no doubt remained in the minds of those Guards who arrived in New York City 14 years later to face enemy fire for the first time since that ghastly day in the redoubt along the River Ohm.


"Combat at Amöneburg" on Kronoskaf 

Grant, James (1866), Constable of France and Other Military Historiettes (London: George Routledge and Sons)

Hamilton, Lieut.-Gen. Sir F. W. (1874), Origin and History of the First or Grenadier Guards, Vol. II (London: John Murray)