Find a Security Clearance Job!


First Schleswig-Holstein War
First War of the Danish Duchies

All the great landowners of the duchies, through the negligence and indifference of successive Danish governments, had been allowed to bring German teachers and preachers into the parishes over which they had manorial or other rights. Soon the question of a separate independence for Slesvig and Holstein was openly brought fonvard by the German leaders of the anti-Danish party. The chief movers in this matter were Duke Christian of Augustenburg and his brother, Prince Frederick of Noer, who, by their personal influence, through anonymous writings, and by other direct as well as indirect means, laboured for the complete severance of the provinces from the mother-land. Great ill-will and suspicion were therefore excited against King Christian VIII when he raised the Prince of Noer, in 1842, to the rank of Stadtholder and commander-in-chief in Slesvig and Holstein, and made him president of the government of the duchies.

The outbreak of open rebellion was probably hastened by the French Revolution of February 1848, which carried the waves of disturbance over almost every part of Continental Europe. In the Danish provinces everything was ripe for a final revolutionary movement against the monarchy. The higher classes, who had been indoctrinated with German ideas by the professors of the University of Kiel, which was the centre of Germanising influences, were eager for a union with what they termed their true Fatherland, whilst the lower orders were roused into temporary excitement against Denmark through the press of Germany, by public appeals, and by every other means at the command of the leaders of the party.

Christian VIII, King of Denmark, died almost suddenly in January 1848, at the height of popular disturbances in every part of his dominions; for while the Slesvig-Holsteiners were clamouring for the realization of their dream of a union with Germany, the people of the islands and Jutland were equally impatient to secure the free constitution for which they hungered. Frederick VII. had only just ascended the throne of Denmark when the outbreak of the French Revolution brought the many troubles which he had inherited with his crown to their full maturity.

The Slesvig-Holsteiners, taking courage from the success of French malcontents by the Revolution at Paris of February 1848, sent a deputation to Copenhagen to demand the immediate recognition by the king of a joint state of Slesvig-Holstein previous to its admittance into the German Confederation. King Frederick's reply, in which he admitted the right of Holstein as a German confederate state to be guided by the decrees of the Frankfort diet, but declared that he had neither "the power, right, nor wish" to incorporate Slesvig in the confederation, was immediately followed, if even it had not been preceded, by an outbreak of open rebellion.

On the very day in which the king wrote his reply, Prince Frederick of Noer gained over the garrison of the Castle of Rendsburg by circulating the false news that Copenhagen was in a state of siege and Frederick VII. a prisoner, while at the same time his elder brother, the Duke of Augustenburg, had gone to Berlin to demand help from the Prussian king, William IV. At that time the insurrection had taken no hold of the mass of the people; and the Danish army, which advanced rapidly into the duchies, found no difficulty in dispersing and thoroughly breaking up the regiments under Prince Frederick, who neither on this nor on any subsequent occasion gave proof of military skill or even of ordinary courage.

The rebellion would speedily have been put down had not Prussia and the German Confederation made it a pretext for drawing away the minds of Germans from the ideas of constitutional liberty, which they were beginning to entertain ; and hence the war of the Danish duchies was used as a safety-valve for troublesome agitation.

The Danes had met the Holstein army near Flensborg, and forced it to fall back; but before they could follow up their advantages, the insurgents received strong reinforcements of German Confederate troops, under Generals Wrangel and Halkett. The arrogance of the Danes repelled all conciliation. They marched into Schleswig, and destroyed at Bau, on April 9, a troop of volunteers consisting in part of students. This defiance moved the diet of the Confederation to intrust Prussia with the commission of ridding Schleswig of the Danes, to give Prussia the command of the troops in the duchies, and to designate the 10th Confederate army-corps to re-enforce the Prussians. On the 12th the Prussians under General Wrangel crossed the Eider, defeated the Danes on the 23d at Schleswig, on the 24th at Oeversee, and took Flensborg on the 25th.

On the 23rd of April, 1848, a fierce battle was fought near Slesvig between the allied armies, amounting to 28,000 men, and the Danes, who were under the command of General Hedemann. The result was unfavorable to the Danish army, which, numbering only 11,000 men and being unprovided with the better and more modem weapons carried by the German troops, was forced, after a gallant stand prolonged through the whole day, to retreat upon the little island Als, which is separated by a narrow, but deep sound from the mainland, and was at the time protected by Danish ships of the line. Here the Danes were able to recruit their strength, while their ships harassed the enemy's encampments on the opposite shore ; but General Wrangel, by way of retaliation, advanced inland, and, throwing himself into Jutland, demanded the payment of four million rix dollars from the Jutlanders in return for the damage inflicted on his army by the Danish shipping.

These successes, easily gained over an antagonist so much weaker by land, were more than counterbalanced by the retaliation which puny Denmark inflicted on unprotected Germany at sea: a few ships of war, hardly seaworthy, sufficed to paralyze the entire German commerce on the Baltic and on the North Sea, and to Hockade all the German harbors. By this severe calamity Prussia was incited to seize upon a part of Jutland as a security, although inadequate, for the losses suffered, and to demand in addition a money indemnity. This disgraceful, defenceless condition by sea aroused a call, even in the remotest corners of the interior, for a German fleet; patriotic enthusiasm presented its well-meant but ineffectual mite for the purpose; and with the aid of the six million thalers granted by the National Assembly, there were assembled, at the mouth of the Weser, several war-ships under Admiral Brommy. But their flag failed of international recognition; and in the aversion of the other Powers to the endeavors to effect the unity of Germany, this recognition could not be obtained.

Before General Wrangel could enforce his demands, however, he received orders from the Prussian court to retire south of the little stream known as the Konge-aae in Slesvig; and he was therefore forced at once to evacuate the territory of Jutland. This sudden and unexpected movement was the result of Russian intervention, which the Prussian monarch was not in a position to defy; and hence the Berlin war minister had been constrained to instruct General Wrangel that the old line of the Konge-Aae was not to be crossed by his army.

At the same time, King Oscar of Sweden sent troops into Fyen to help the Danes, but before they could strike a blow the great Powers interfered, and by their exertions a truce for seven months was agreed upon, and signed at Malmo on the 26th of August between Denmark and the German Confederation. By this treaty it was agreed that the duchies should be governed till the conclusion of the war by five Slesvig and Holstein commissioners, chosen conjointly by the kings of Prussia and Denmark.

But so much dissatisfaction was caused in the provinces by this mode of government, which pleased neither party, that Frederick VII determined to continue the war as soon as the seven months' truce had ended. The Germans were equally eager to resume hostilities, and in the spring of 1849, some 80,000 insurgent and German confederate troops were brought under arms in the duchies. The Danes beat back the Hanoverians under General Wynecken at Ullerup, and inflicted a severe loss on an army of Saxons, Bavarians, and Hessians, who tried to take the Dybbel works by storm; but they were unfortunate in losing some of the best of their men-of-war; and when the fine line-of-battle-ship, Kristian VIII., and the war-frigate Gefton, were forced to surrender from want of ammunition, a feeling of profound depression spread through the kingdom. General Rye, in conjunction with the Generals Schleppegrell and Moltke, succeeded in relieving Kolding in Jutland and driving out the insurgents; and this achievement, together with his masterly retreat before an army triple his own in numbers, by which he was enabled to bring his men in good order to the help of Frederits, somewhat restored the failing hopes of the Danes, while it excited the admiration of their enemies. Rye fell in the engagement which took place before Frederits in July 1849, when the Danes, under the chief command of General Billow, carried by assault the Holstein lines, and, in addition to a large number of prisoners, took 31 cannons and 3,000 arms from the insurgents.

With this Danish victory the campaign ended and another truce was agreed upon, during which the provinces were again placed under commissioners, among whom was included an English plenipotentiary, Colonel Hodges, the others being for Denmark Chamberlain Tillisch, and for Prussia Count Eulenburg. The southern districts were under the guard of Prussian troops, and the northern under Swedes and Norwegians. The result was much as in the former case ; the Germans did all in their power to thwart the intentions of the Danish king, and the English and Danish commissioners found themselves unable to maintain order. Soon, however, a peace was concluded with Prussia, and after that Denmark for the first time since the beginning of the war found herself at liberty to deal single-handed with the insurgents, who had, however, succeeded in getting together an army of upwards of 30,000 men, which was under the command of a Prussian general, Willisen.

On July 1st, 1850, before the armistice had expired, Willisen took up a strong position at Isted, near Slesvig ; after having made a public entry into the town accompanied by the Duke of Augustenburg, who assumed the title and character of sovereign of the provinces, and made constant appeals to the people as if he were a wronged prince, about to fight for his own and their independence against an oppressive tyrant. The Danish army, numbering 37,000 men, under General Krogh, attacked the insurgents July 24th, and on that and the following day, in the midst of rain and heavy mist, a decisive battle was fought at Isted, which ended in the retreat of Willisen, and in the occupation by the triumphant Danes of Slesvig and the old Danish frontier defences, the Dannevirke.

An attack on Midsunde in the following September by Willisen was equally unsuccessful; and after the insurgents had been driven back with frightful loss from Fredericksstad, where one Holstein battalion lost all its officers and was nearly destroyed, the German Confederate government interfered, and sent 40,000 Austrians into the Holstein territory, after which the rebel army was disbanded, and a joint Danish, Prussian, and Austrian commission was appointed to govern Holstein till its relations to Denmark could be defined, while Slesvig was left under the control of the Danish king to be dealt with as he and his advisers might determine.

In virtue of the Treaty of London, signed by Austria and Prussia on May 8th, 1852, under the mediation of Russia, the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein had been reunited to the Danish monarchy, and the two powers acknowledged Prince Christian of Glucksburg as the future king. But the German Diet had always refused to recognize this treaty, and asserted that the law of 1650 was still in force, by which the Duchies were not united to the state of Denmark, but only to the direct line of the Danish kings, and were to revert on its extinction, not to the branch of Glucksburg, but to the German ducal family of Augustenburg.

Join the mailing list