Ferdinand, Duke Of Brunswick

FERDINAND, DUKE OF BRUNSWICK, duke of Brunswick (1721-1792), Prussian general field marshal, was the fourth son of Ferdinand Albert, duke of Brunswick, and was born at Wolfenbüttel on the 12th of January 1721. He was carefully educated with a view to a military career, and in his twentieth year he was made chief of a newly-raised Brunswick regiment in the Prussian service. He was present in the battles of Mollwitz and Chotusitz. In succession to Margrave Wilhelm of Brandenburg, killed at Prague (1744), Ferdinand received the command of Frederick the Great's Leibgarde battalion, and at Sohr (1745) he distinguished himself so greatly at the head of his brigade that Frederick wrote of him, "le Prince Ferdinand s'est surpassé." The height which he captured was defended by his brother Ludwig as an officer of the Austrian service, and another brother of Duke Ferdinand was killed by his side in the charge. During the ten years' peace he was in the closest touch with the military work of Frederick the Great, who supervised the instruction of the guard battalion, and sought to make it a model of the whole Prussian army. Ferdinand was, moreover, one of the most intimate friends of the king, and thus he was peculiarly fitted for the tasks which afterwards fell to his lot. In this time he became successively major-general and lieutenant-general. In the first campaign of the Seven Years' War Ferdinand commanded one of the Prussian columns which converged upon Dresden, and in the operations which led up to the surrender of the Saxon army at Pirna (1756), and at the battle of Lobositz, he led the right wing of the Prussian infantry. In 1757 he was present, and distinguished himself, at Prague, and he served also in the campaign of Rossbach. Shortly after this he was appointed to command the allied forces which were being organized for the war in western Germany. He found this army dejected by a reverse and a capitulation, yet within a week of his taking up the command he assumed the offensive, and thus began the career of victory which made his European reputation as a soldier. His conduct of the five campaigns which followed (see Seven Years' War) was naturally influenced by the teachings of Frederick, whose pupil the duke had been for so many years. Ferdinand, indeed, approximated more closely to Frederick in his method of making war than any other general of the time. Yet his task was in many respects far more difficult than that of the king. Frederick was the absolute master of his own homogeneous army, Ferdinand merely the commander of a group of contingents, and answerable to several princes for the troops placed under his control. The French were by no means despicable opponents in the field, and their leaders, if not of the first grade, were cool and experienced veterans. In 1758 he fought and won the battle of Crefeld, several marches beyond the Rhine, but so advanced a position he could not well maintain, and he fell back to the Lippe. He resumed a bold offensive in 1759, only to be repulsed at Bergen (near Frankfort-on-Main). On the 1st of August of this year Ferdinand won the brilliant victory of Minden (q.v.). Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal, Warburg and other victories attested the increasing power of Ferdinand in the following campaigns, and Frederick, hard pressed in the eastern theatre of war, owed much of his success in an almost hopeless task to the continued pressure exerted by Ferdinand in the west. In promoting him to be a field marshal (November 1758) Frederick acknowledged his debt in the words, "Je n'ai fait que ce que je dois, mon cher Ferdinand." After Minden, King George II. gave the duke the order of the Garter, and the thanks of the British parliament were voted on the same occasion to the "Victor of Minden." After the war he was honoured by other sovereigns, and he received the rank of field marshal and a regiment from the Austrians. During the War of American Independence there was a suggestion, which came to nothing, of offering him the command of the British forces. He exerted himself to compensate those who had suffered by the Seven Years' War, devoting to this purpose most of the small income he received from his various offices and the rewards given to him by the allied princes. The estrangement of Frederick and Ferdinand in 1766 led to the duke's retirement from Prussian service, but there was no open breach between the old friends, and Ferdinand visited the king in 1772, 1777, 1779 and 1782. After 1766 he passed the remainder of his life at his castle of Veschelde, where he occupied himself in building and other improvements, and became a patron of learning and art, and a great benefactor of the poor. He died on the 3rd of July 1792. The merits, civil and military, of the prince were recognized by memorials not only in Prussia and Hanover, but also in Denmark, the states of western Germany and England. The Prussian memorials include an equestrian statue at Berlin (1863).

See E. v. L. Knesebeck, Ferdinand, Herzog von Braunschweig und Lüneburg, während des Siebenjährigen Kriegs (2 vols., Hanover, 1857-1858); Von Westphalen, Geschichte der Feldzüge des Herzogs Ferdinands von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (5 vols., Berlin, 1859-1872); v. d. Osten, Tagebuch des Herzogl. Gen. Adjutanten v. Reden (Hamburg, 1805); v. Schafer, Vie militaire du maréchal Prince Ferdinand (Magdeburg, 1796; Nuremberg, 1798); also the OEuvres of Frederick the Great, passim, and authorities for the Seven Years' War.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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