Split into thirds, the area of Schleswig saw three different types of nationalities. First were the Germans who spoke German and held the traditions of Germany. The second were the Danish who spoke Danish and felt more of a pull towards Denmark. The third were a mix of people of both German and Danish descent. After the February revolution in France when King Louise Phillipe was deposed, the people of Denmark and part of Schleswig began to feel the same way and wanted a liberal constitution. This movement came when King Christian VIII died early in 1848 and Frederick VII took over from the House of Oldenburg in Denmark. However, there has been some speculation as to the validity of his character, but many historians believe that he was impotent which created a problem in the lines of the monarchy. He set out a Royal Decree that the females of the House of Oldenburg be eligible for the Danish Kingdom and the people responded in revolt.
In March, the people of Denmark, along with some Danes from Schleswig, met in Copenhagen to revolt against the monarchy and demand a liberal constitution. They claimed the Royal Decree of Frederick to be illegal and either demanded the overturn of that decision or that Frederick be deposed. Either way, there was a want to destroy the monarchy in order to gain their liberal constitution. Frederick became angry with this demonstration and looked to the German Confederation for answers, especially those in charge of the Duchy of Schleswig and Holstein. A movement like this was determined that the people of Northern Schleswig (the Danish in Schleswig) wanted to secede from Denmark, even though they were never really part of Denmark. The German Confederation claimed not to know what was going on and was surprised as they were when the word reached them of the revolt. This caused a massive panic throughout all of Europe that France was at it again by creating a sense of revolution among the people. With the creation of nationalism, France once again set Europe ablaze.
The confederation was not entirely helpful in this endeavor and sat by as Schleswig and Holstein created a provincial government outside of the realm of Denmark. Frederick became outraged and declared that the people were in rebellion. In response to Frederick’s claim of rebellion, the head of the Duchy of Schleswig, Prince Frederik of Noer, gathered the 5th Lauenburger Rifle Corps, also known as the Jagercorps, and other students from Kiel University. Kiel, being the capital of Schleswig, housed some of the most intellectual minds in northern Germany. The only university that outperformed it was the University of Bonn at the time. Noer and his forces targeted the fortress at Rendsburg where there was a known arsenal in order to fuel their rebellion. Inside were the 14th, 15th and 16th infantry along with the 2nd Regiment of Artillery. At the beginning of the rebellion, the Danish military had a laissez-faire attitude about the whole ordeal and left the doors to the fortress wide open. This would allow Noer and his force to march in and seize the fort without any fighting.
The forces under King Frederick VII were surprised not only that such a force could be created by the rebellious forces, but that it was done so quickly. Noer gave an impassioned speech about the right of the people to secede and join the confederation and forced the men of the 14th, 15th and 16th Infantry, along with the 2nd Regiment of Artillery, never to fight against the people of Schleswig again.
Once the fortress had been held and the arsenal used to its full capacity, Prince Noer commissioned General Krohn to head the army against the Danish and change this rebellion into war. Krohn took seven thousand Schleswig men to Flensborg on the border of Schleswig and Denmark. There, he stationed his seven thousand only to be surrounded by seven thousand Danish ready to attack. There is little historic record on the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1848, but many historians believe that there were close to nine thousand Danish present at Flensborg. Krohn knew that he had to retreat but before he could, he was assaulted on April 9th in the first major engagement of the war. Known today as the Battle of Bov, General Krohn could not find any way around the Danish and panicked. Two hours away from the fighting was Prince Noer, who was riding as fast as he could to aid in the fight. By the time he would reach the field, the battle was over and the casualties from the entire fight, one hour of combat, was one thousand men of Schleswig compared to seventy four Danes. It was a shattering loss for the rebels but it was not without recognition.
Prussia, part of the confederation but still its own country, decided to give aid to the people of Schleswig and employed Friedrich Graf von Wrangel, along with twelve thousand soldiers, to lead the forces of Schleswig and Holstein. Two men of the Prussian force would be present later in Gettysburg. One was Alexander von Schimmelfennig and the other Leopold von Gilsa. Most likely ignorant of each other now, they would share in this combat that would start their military careers of distinction in Europe.
Join us next week as we talk about the engagements of the Schleswig Holstein War and the contributions of Schimmelfennig and von Gilsa!
Image of The Battle of Bov courtesy of wikipedia.org