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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir John Hepburn
Chapter XIII. The Scottish Brigades at the great Battle of Leiozig, 1631


The united armies of Sweden and Saxony now marched together against the invaders of the latter—a movement which brought on what was called the great battle of Leipzig, in which the Scottish troops bore a part so conspicuous, and where Sir John Hepburn (who came up with his brigade before the action began) behaved himself so gallantly, "that unto him, in so far as praise is due to man, was attributed the honour of the day.” The army of Gustavus was thirty thousand strong; that of Tilly forty-four thousand. The ground around Leipzig is described in an old topographical work as being at that time “a pleasant and fruitful plain, abounding with all necessaries and pleasures, constantly mowed twice, and sometimes thrice a-year, besides having pleasant woods, and many fine orchards, with all sorts of fruit.”

On this plain, which is both dull pud monotonous, surrounded, as it is, by a country without a single eminence to relieve the tameness of its level Gustavus halted within one mile of the Austrian camp, on the evening of the 6th September.

When the out-guards (now called picquets) were posted, the whole army bivouacked for the night on the bare ground, in their armour, with their swords, muskets, and haversacks for pillows. The King occupied his travelling-coach, and around it were Sir John Hepburn, Marshal Horne, Sir John Banier, Baron Teuffel of the Guards, and other cavaliers, who, sheathed in their complete mail, notwithstanding the fatigue of their recent march, remained near him, and with them he conversed at intervals on the chances of the coming strife.

Around them were thousands taking their last mortal sleep, for their next would be that one “which knows no waking.”

A haze covered the vast plain, which extends even to Misnia; and though there are hollows here and there, throughout the whole expanse not the semblance of a mountain can be distinguished even in the clearest day; but the line of red fires which marked Tilly’s position in front of Leipzig were distinctly visible at midnight, dotting the slope of a gentle eminence south-west of Podel-witz, and extending nearly two miles from flank to flank.

In that somewhat apocryphal work, the Memoirs of a Cavalier, a long conversation is introduced, as having taken place between the hero and Sir John Hepburn, prior to the encounter at Leipzig. The meeting took place in the tent of a Captain Gordon, when Hepburn is said kindly to have placed his horses, servants, and equipage at the disposal of this English volunteer, with whose father he had been intimate. The conversation, which is related to have taken place over such a supper as could be cooked at a camp fire, is somewhat curious.

"I told him,” says the cavalier, "his care of me was so obliging, that I knew not what return to make him; but if he pleased to leave me my choice, I desired no greater favour than to trail a pike under his command in the ensuing battle.”

"I could never answer for it to your father,” said Hepburn, "if I thus suffered you to expose yourself so far.”

"My father will certainly acknowledge your friendship,” replied the English volunteer; "and I am sure that he would ride five hundred miles to be present in such a battle, under such a leader; but could never be told that his son had ridden fifty to be out of it.”

"1 approve of your courage,” said Hepburn; "but remember no man gets credit by running upon needless adventures, nor loses any by shunning hazards which he hath no order to encounter. ’Tis enough for a gentleman to behave well when he is commanded upon service; I have had fighting enough upon these points of honour, and never got aught for them but reproofs from Gustavus.”

"Sir John, if a man expects to rise by valour, he must show it somewhere; and if I am to have a command in an army, I would first endeavour to deserve it. I shall never have a better schoolmaster than yourself or a better school than such an army as this.”

"Well,” continued Hepburn, "1 must tell you beforehand that this will be a bloody encounter. Tilly has a strong army of old lads, who are used to boxing fellows with faces of iron; and His a little too much to engage so hotly at one's first entrance into the wars. We never put our new soldiers into pitched battles for the first campaign, but place them in garrisons, and there first try them in skirmishes.”

"Sir,” replied the volunteer, "I mean not to make a trade of war, and therefore need not serve an apprenticeship to it. ’Tis a hard battle where none escape. If I come out safe I shall not disgrace you; and if not, ’twill be some satisfaction for my father at home to hear that his son died fighting under the command of Sir John Hepburn, in the army of the great king of Sweden. I desire no better epitaph on my tomb.”

In this remarkable work (which, though erroneous in many parts, Harte, in his Life of Gustavus, considers veritable) everything is related with an air of candour and truth which is very perplexing, and almost impossible to mistake for genuine. Now it is generally ascribed to Defoe.

Day broke, and the white mist was rising like a gauzy curtain from the mighty plain of Leipzig or Breitenfeldt, on the morning of Wednesday, the memorable 7th of September 1631, when, after prayers had been said in front of every regiment, the whole forces of Gustavus moved in good order towards the imperialists, on whose long lines of burnished arms the rising sun was shining. The immediate arena of the strife was called God's Acre, and was the same ground on which the Emperor Charles V. overthrew the Elector of Saxony. The occasional re-lighting of gun-matches, opening of pouches, and springing of ramrods, gave stem token of what was about to ensue.

The Scottish brigades covered both the advance and rear of the so-called Swedish army.

In the van were the Scottish regiments of Sir James Ramsay the Black, the laird of Foulis, and Sir John Hamilton, who no sooner crossed a small rivulet called the Lober, which ran through a hollow, than they found themselves close upon the enemy.

Sir John Hepburn’s green Scotch brigade formed part of the reserve, a post always occupied by the best troops of every army, as on their decision and valour the victory so frequently depends. As senior colonel, Hepburn commanded this column, which consisted of three brigades; his own regiment carried four colours into the field that day.

Field-Marshal Home, General Banier, and Lieutenant-General Bauditzen commanded the cavalry; the King and Baron Teuffel, of Ginersdorf and Weyersburg, led the main body of infantry.

Godt mit vs was the war-cry of the Swedes, a motto borne on all their standards, which were fluttering in the strong west wind as they advanced.

Sancta Maria was the watch-word of the Imperialists, whose helmets were decorated by knots of white ribbands.

As the Swedish troops took up their ground, a great flock of birds, which rose suddenly from among the long grass and furrows of the fields, and flew towards Tilly’s lines, was viewed by each army as an omen of victory. The Swedes occupied the right, and the Saxons the left of the line, which advanced, as usual, with muskets carried, matches lighted, drums beating, trumpets sounding, pikes and colours advanced, and every cavalier and soldier wearing a branch of laurel in his helmet.

Tilly’s troops were drawn up in close columns, according to the ancient mode; one flank rested on Sohausen, the other on Lindenthal, two miles distant. He commanded the centre himself, Count Furstenberg the right wing, and Count Fappenheim the left. His Walloon infantry were all intrenched behind a rampart flanked by two batteries, mounting each twenty pieces of heavy cannon; one commanded the Swedish approach in a direct line; the other enfiladed the Saxons. In his rear lay a thick wood of dark autumnal trees, where he proposed to rally in case of a defeat. The Imperial cuirassiers, led by the Count de Furstenberg, were sheathed in complete suits of armour, under which they wore coats of buff and leather. Among them were the gaudy Italian cavalry and Cronenberg’s horse, the flower of the empire, bearing on their standards the Austrian eagle and Burgundian cross. These horse occupied the wings, the infantry the centre. The regiment of Renconi was on the extreme left of Tilly; a heavily mailed regiment of reformadoes occupied the extreme right.

Here Gustavus introduced, with good effect, that now exploded order of battle, which he had practised since the Polish war, by chequering his horse and foot in alternate brigades: thus, in an old plan of the field of Leipzig, we find that five hundred horse of the King’s own regiment were drawn up between the Scottish corps of Ramsay and Munro; and two thousand three hundred horse of the Rhinegrave, Courland, and Livonia between the brigades of Sir John Hepburn, Halle, Thum, and others.

In front of each brigade of his reserve, Hepburn posted twelve pieces of cannon: there were four on the right flank of each regiment, and immediately behind the colours.

Old John of Tsercla had a high opinion of the talents of Gustavus.

"The king of Sweden,” said he to the Diet at Ratisbon, "is alike brave and prudent; his plans are excellent, his resources admirable; his army, inured to war, is enthusiastically attached to him; and though composed of Swedes and Germans, Scots and Livonians, is blended into one’great nation, by devoted obedience to their leader.”

Gustavus on this day was plainly attired, having a doublet of gray cloth under his corslet; he wore a long green plume in his beaver, and rode a spirited charger.

The vanguard of Scots, under Sir James Ramsay, the Black Colonel, had no sooner crossed the Lober, than they were furiously charged by a body of cuirassiers under Pappenheim, whom they repelled by dint of pike and musket, and compelled to fall back on their main body, previous to which they spitefully burned the small village of Podelwitz.

After a destructive cannonade of two hours and a half, during which, says the author of the Expedition, "our battailes of horse and foote stood firme, like a wall, the cannon making great breaches amongst us" a long line of steel was seen to glitter amid the white smoke, and a strong column of Imperial Eeiters, with banners uplifted, swords brandished, and helmets closed, poured like lightning into the field, and, among clouds of chalky dust, which the galloping hoofs set in motion, and a high wind rolled along the plain from west to east, fell with the weight of a mountain upon the Swedish and Finland cavalry, who unshaken received the shock, and steadily repelled it. Again the Reiters charged, and again they were repulsed.

Though nearly blinded by the smoke and dust, which entered the openings of their helmets, they next poured all their fury upon the Saxons, (the Swedish left,) and, after a hard contest, drove them pell-mell across the plain, their cowardly Elector being the first to quit the field, from which he rode ten miles without drawing bridle. Five colonels, three lieutenant-colonels, and many other Saxon officers were slain; for the lofty plumage in their helmets made them conspicuous marks to the long swords of the elated Imperialists, who hewed them down on every side, until the roll of Hepburn’s drums, and the deadly fire of his Scottish ranks, arrested their triumphant career, and stopped their cries of

"Victoria!—Victoria! Follow—follow!”

"Halt I” cried their leader, perceiving that the Saxons were too far off, and the Scottish regiments were fast approaching; “let us beat these curs, and then all Germany is our own!”

Observing that the Saxons were lost, and that Count Tilly in person was preparing to charge the Swedes and Livonians at the head of his main body, Gustavus had selected two thousand musketeers of “the brave Scots nation,” says the old account of Leipzig, (published soon after,) and placed two thousand horse on their flanks. "The Scottish officers formed their men into divisions of six or seven hundred each,” with their three front ranks kneeling, and the three rear standing upright, but all giving fire together, and pouring so much lead among these formidable Reiters, that their ranks were broken, and, by a charge of the Swedish horsemen, they were completely routed.

The flight of the Saxons having exposed his left flank, Gustavus sent Baron Teuffel, colonel of the Foot Guards, to see how matters stood there; for the smoke and dust were so dense, that he could discern nothing at his post in the centre. But the baron, as he dashed at full gallop across the corpse-strewn plain, was shot dead by a random bullet, that pierced his mail of proof like a gossamer web. Greeted with cries of vivat! from the soldiers, Gustavus rode with all speed along the line, to seek succour from Hepburn, whom he commanded to advance.

The latter immediately ordered the brigades of horse on his right and left flanks to "wheel—form column of squadrons—and advance to the charge!” while his own brigade, and half of Vitzdam’s corps, marched, as fast as their cumbrous buff and iron trappings would permit, from the rear of the centre to that left flank which the Saxons had so shamefully abandoned; but before this oblique movement was executed) the Imperialists, led by the savage John of Tsercla, (rendered prominent by his conical hat and red feather,) were arrived within pistol-shot.

The din of the volleying musketry between the adverse lines was now tremendous, and drowned the lesser roar of calivers and pistolettes, while the deep hoarse boom of the Swedish carthouns replied to the culverins, falcons, and serpents of the Imperialists, which made terrible gaps in the close ranks as they swept from right to left. “Here it was that the Scottish regiments first practised firing in platoons,” says Harte; "which amazed the Imperialists to such a degree, that they hardly knew how to conduct themselves.”

In full armour, with laurel in his helmet, sword in hand, and conspicuous on his richly caparisoned horse, Sir John Hepburn, who outshone all the army in the splendour of his military trappings, led on his Scots brigade ; and then came the bloodiest encounter of that well-fought field.

His Scots advanced in dense columns, with the pikemen in front, while behind were three ranks stooping and three erect, giving thus six volleys at once from the faces of their squares, and pouring in their shot over each other’s helmets like a hail-storm, mowing down the shrinking enemy even as grass is mown by the scythe; and so they swept on, until so close to the Austrians that the very colour of their eyes was visible, when Hepburn gave the order,— "Forward pikes!”

In a moment the old Scottish weapon was levelled to the charge, the musketeers clubbed their muskets, and, with a loud cheer, the regiments of Hepburn, Lumsden, and Lord Reay, each led by its colonel, burst through the columns of Tilly, driving them back in irredeemable confusion, and with frightful slaughter.

The brave Highlanders of Lord Reay formed the leading column of the Green Brigade, and had the honour of first breaking the Austrian ranks. They were a thousand strong, composed of that noble’s own immediate clansmen; and the Imperialists regarded them with terror, calling them the invincible old Regiment} and the right hand of Gustavus Adolphus.

Led by Munro, the right wing of the brigade carried the trenches of the Walloon infantry, stormed the breastworks at push of pike, and captured the cannon, cutting to pieces the gunners, and exterminating their guards. The slaughter would have been greater, and scarcely a man of those columns assailed by Hepburn would have escaped, but the ground where they fought being dry and parched, and having been recently ploughed, the dust raised from it by the stormy west wind mingled with the smoke of the contest, and favoured the tumultuous retreat of the enemy. "We were as in a dark cloud,” says Munro graphically, "not seeing half our actions, much less discerning either the way of our enemies or the rest of our brigades; whereupon, having a drummer by me, I caused him beat The Scots March till it cleared up, which recollected our friends unto us.” This old national air, which was the terror of the Spaniards in Holland, and of the Austrians in Germany —so much so, that it was frequently beaten by the drums of the Dutch at night when they wished to keep their quarters unmolested, was first composed for the ancient guard of James V., when marching to attack the castle of Tantallon in 1527.

When Hepburn with his single brigade was advancing against the main body of Tilly, Gustavus had ordered the Blue Brigade to succour him; but ere its arrival his men were victorious, and the Imperialists were in full flight, pursued by the Swedish dragoons. In every part of the field success attended the banners of Gustavus; but he lost his baggage, which was plundered by the cowardly Saxons in their flight.

In this great battle the Scots won the greatest honour, particularly that brigade led by Hepburn. So spirited was the resistance, that some regiments charged fifteen times; and to their bold advance and headlong valour Gustavus ascribed the fortune of the day. The Green Brigade was publicly thanked in front of the whole army, and promised noble rewards, as we are told by Colonel Munro, who modestly adds:

"The battaile thus happily wonne, his Majesty did principally under God ascribe the glory of the (first) victory to the Swedes and Fynnes horsemen, who were led by the valorous Fieldt-Marshall Gustavus Horne; for though the Dutch horsemen did behave themselves valourously divers times that day, yet it was not their fortune to put the enemy to flight; and though there were brave brigadds of Sweds and Dutch in the field, yet it was the Scots brigade fortune to have gotten the praise for the foote service, and not without cause, having behaved themselves well, being led and conducted by an expert cavalier and fortunat—the valiant Hepburne.”

Colonel Lumsden was wounded early in the action; three colonels of horse, four lieutenant-colonels, a number of rittmasters, captains and subalterns, with three hundred soldiers, were slain; but Tilly lost the gallant Lerma, his aide-de-camp, Marshal Count Furstenberg, the Duke of Holstein, Sergeant-Major Count Schomberg, the Marquis de Gonzaga, and seven thousand soldiers, (the Intelligencer states fifteen thousand,) dead on the field, which presented a terrible spectacle when Hepburn’s brigade advanced over it; for the corpses lay in some places piled over each other chin deep,—an appalling rampart, mingled with rent and bloody armour, torn standards, dismounted cannon, broken drums, dying horses, and all the frightful debris of a desperate conflict.

Besides all the tents and camp equipage, sixty waggons and thirty-two pieces of cannon (fourteen great carthouns, and eighteen eight and ten pounders) were taken —the latter by Munro, with Hepburn’s right wing. The venerable Tilly, severely wounded, continued his flight with a few regiments, which, favoured by the dust, the smoke, and the descending night, escaped. The Swedish troops occupied the Imperial tents, and made more than merry with the good Rhenish wine and Flemish beer which they found in the stores of the Sutlers and Fourriers. The Scots made great bonfires of the broken waggons and tumbrils, the shattered stockades and pikes, which strewed the field; and the red glow of these, as they blazed on the plains of Leipzig, glaring on the glistening mail and upturned faces of the dead, were visible to the retreating Imperialists as they marched towards the Weser.

No valour ever surpassed that of the gallant old Tilly. Pierced by three bullets, once taken prisoner, and only rescued after a desperate conflict, and doing all that mortal courage could achieve, the soldier-priest burst into a passion of tears on beholding the slaughter of his soldiers, and finding that the field, after a five hours struggle, was lost by the advance of Hepburn. Cronenberg and six hundred Walloon cavalry threw themselves around him, and bore him off.

Instead of encamping, had Gustavus pushed on at the head of his victorious army, and driven the discomfited Tilly to the gates of Vienna, the most important results must have ensued; and he could have dictated his own terms to an Emperor who both feared and dispised him; for the result of Leipzig struck a terror on the Catholic league, and opened up an avenue to the very heart of the Empire; but the occasion was lost; and though, like Hannibal, Gustavus knew how to conquer, he knew not how to use his conquest in this instance.

Such was the great battle of Leipzig, the most important field of the fifty years before. A hundred standards were taken; but every company of foot usually bore one in those days, which accounts for the vast number that were displayed in the Riddarholm Kirche at Stockholm, where, until 1839, five thousand banners were hung as the trophies of the German wars.

Colonels Lumsden, Mostyn, and Munro, Majors Monipenny and Sinclair, with many other cavaliers of merit, were promoted and rewarded for their bravery in that day’s victory, which Gustavus had won "with the helpe of the nation that never was conquered by a forraine enemy—the invincible Scots.”

As the gloom of the autumnal night deepened on the plain, the distant reports from the petronels and pistolettes of the pursuing dragoons, which had succeeded the roar of the battle, died away; but the alarm bells of the surrounding villages tolled incessantly, the whole peasantry were astir, and as instant death betided the Austrian soldier who fell into their hands, nearly all the wounded and the weary perished.


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