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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir John Hepburn
Chapter XVII. The Sconce on the Rhine


Leaving a garrison in Marienburg, Gustavus broke up his camp and marched to Aschaffenburg, a city on the Maine but first despatched three hundred of Ramsay's musketeers under the cavalier Hana, and a body of artillerists under Leonard Tortensohn, with several pieces of cannon and a great quantity of fireworks and ammunition, in boats down the long windings of the river, with orders to capture every place on their way and meet him at Aschaffenburg, for he was to march across the country in a more direct line towards Hesse-Darmstadt.

Conform to these orders, Hana’s Scots stormed and demolished every town and castle that stood in their way; cannonading and laying under contribution, right and left, as they proceeded down the river—amassing a vast amount of prize-money, especially at Miltenburg.

Leaving Marshal Horne in Franconia with eight thousand men, Gustavus had thus resolved to proceed towards the Rhine by the course of the Maine, for the purpose of securing the frontier of the Empire from the Spaniards, to disarm the electoral bishops, and from their fertile provinces obtain new treasures to prosecute the war.

Hepburn’s brigade formed the van of the Swedish army, which, after marching five dayB through a pleasant and fertile country — then, however, exhibiting the bare and leafless aspect of winter, for the season was the middle of November—reached Aschaffenburg, a strong and stately city of the Bishop of Mentz, on the castle of which Hana had already displayed the banner with the three crowns of Sweden.

There he rejoined Hepburn, and crossing the river the troops proceeded through the beautiful district beyond, traversing the rich plains and glorious scenery of Germany’s most fruitful provinces, till the 16th November, when the Scottish drums rang in the streets of Frankfort on the Maine. Situated in a fertile plain, overlooked and bounded on the north by the mountains of the Feldberg and Taunus, on the south by sloping eminences, forest-lands, orchards, and vineyards, this large and beautiful city, so famous for its commercial activity, is divided by the river, which the troops crossed by a bridge of fourteen arches. On the north bank is Frankfort proper, and on the south is Saxenhausen, where a garrison of Imperialists laid down their arms as soon as they saw Hepburn’s green banners, though the city was well fortified, and had been so for ages, by eleven high bastions, overlooking deep ditches and counterscarps, which, in more peaceable times, have been converted into promenades and shady gardens. But four watch-towers, grey and moss-grown, half a league from the town, still indicate the limits of its ancient territory.

The troops entered in admirable order, with all their bright weapons and iron accoutrements glittering in the morning sun. Fifty-six pieces of cannon were in front, their gunners marching with matches lighted and kettledrums beating; seventy-four infantry standards, and forty-five cavalry guidons waved above the long array of helmets, as regiment after regiment poured through the Bockenheim gate.

The streets were then spacious (as Monoonys tells us,) and were built of red sandstone, covered with wood and painted plaster; but the most stately edifices were the old church of St Bartholomew the Martyr, and the Braunfeld, or preceptory of the Teutonic Knights, which was a sanctuary for debtors. Gustavus halted and refreshed his soldiers, who found the rich wine of the boors u plentiful as ditch waterbut there was no rest for his Scottish auxiliaries, and least of all for Hepburn's brigade, as many a castle and city were yet to be stormed and won.

Two hundred Scots of Colonel Ludovick Leslie’s regiment took possession of Busselsheim, a castle on the Maine, belonging to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, and garrisoned it under Captain Macdougal.

During this campaign the army, which had suffered greatly by its arduous and extensive operations, was remodelled into five brigades, and several regiments were incorporated into one corps. Each brigade was to consist of two thousand and sixteen men, to be distinguished by the colours of the senior colonel. As given in an old list, the five were as follows—but regiment is substituted erroneously for brigade in the original.

“First, the Life Brigade, or the guards for the king’s owne body, commanded ever since Baron Dyvell’s death by Grave Neeles, a Swede.

"Secondly, the Green Brigade, led by Sir John Hepburn, a Scottish gentleman, the eldest collonel.

"Thirdly, the Blue Brigade, whereof Winckle is collonel.

"Fourthly, the White Brigade, conducted by Collonel Vitzthimb.

"Fifthly, the Red Brigade, whereof Collonel Hagendorff hath the leading.

Amongst all these were but few (scarce any) naturall borne Swedens.” Other two Scottish regiments, under Sir Frederick Hamilton and Alexander, master of Forbes, with one of Englishmen, under a Colonel Austin, had lately joined Gustavus, who had then thirteen regiments of Scottish infantry, while the other corps of the army were almost entirely officered by Scottish gentlemen. He had five other regiments, composed of English and Irish: these were principally officered by Scotsmen; and made in all eighteen regiments of British infantry. The gallant Marquis of Hamilton was at Frankfort with Gustavus^ to whom, on a visit with congratulations for his manifold victories, came old Sir Patrick Ruthven, the governor of Mariburg.

Encouraged by the easy capture of Frankfort, the King resolved now to turn his conquering arms against the Palatinate, which was then possessed by a body of Spaniards under Don Philippo de Sylvia, with regard to whose intentions he politely requested to be informed. The cavalier replied "that his sole orders were to support the Elector of Mentz against the Swedes.”

On this Gustavus entered the Bergstrasse, took Gernsheim, a town of Darmstadt, and at Stockstadt, appearing a second time on the Rhine, drove the Spaniards of the Palatinate before him. They had abandoned all the mountainous district, but obstinately endeavoured to defend and obstruct the passage of the great river, by burning every vessel and boat they could find. Count Braht, with three hundred Swedes and three hundred Scots of the regiments of Ramsay, Lord Reay, and the Laird of Wormiston, boldly secured a few small craft, crossed the river and intrenched themselves, repulsing no less than fourteen squadrons of Spanish cuirassiers, who retired, leaving six hundred of their number lying shot by the water side. Many fled at full speed to Mentz, but the greater part took refuge- at Oppenheim, which was the next scene of Hepburn’s achievements. A marble lion, with a helmet on its head and bearing a sword, was seventy years afterwards erected on a column sixty feet in height, to mark the place where Gustavus with his Swedes and Scots crossed the great river of Germany.

Oppenheim, an ancient town, with the castle where the Emperor Rodolph expired about twenty years beforej lay on the Imperialists’ side of the Rhine. On the other was a strong fort or sconce, erected on an eminence and encompassed by double ditches, which were deep and broad, full of muddy water, and crossed by a single drawbridge, which, as it led towards the town, enabled the garrison to obtain with ease provisions, and whatever they required. Its occupants were a thousand resolute Italians and Burgundians, “such old blades,” says'the Intelligencer, "as the king had never met with since the battell of Leipsich.” The castle, which was situated on a high hill and overlooked the town, until its demolition by the French in 1693, was deemed one of the best fortresses in the duchy of Deux-Ponts; and as its cannon swept the champaign country on the other side of the river, they greatly incommoded Hepburn’s men, who were ordered to reduce the sconce.

The season was December—the whole country lay buried under a thick mantle of snow; yet these hardy veterans were encamped amidst it, with no other covering than their cold corslets and helmets, and a few sheepskin doublets, supplied by the care of Gustavus at the commencement of this rapid and glorious campaign. They were partially protected from the keen north wind by a few leafless bushes that grew among the frozen sedges of the Bhine.

Upon the afternoon of Sunday the 4th December, Hepburn with his brigade, and Colonel Winckel with the Blue, broke ground before the enemy’s works, relieving the foot regiment of Life Guards, under Grave Neeles, who had first commenced the blockade. Muskets and pikes were piled, and the soldiers worked vigorously to get under cover from the flank fire of the castle. “The King, about 5 o’clock, gave command unto Sir John Hebron (who, being the eldest colonell, commanded ther in chiefe) to storms or give an assault vnto the fort. Scarcely was he gone from Hebron when there was a letter brought from a gentleman of the Palatinate, that dwelt upon the river, saying he would send the King some boates that very evening. Upon this the storm was countermanded.

Leaving Hepburn fully occupied before this troublesome sconce, Gustavus, on receiving the promised boats at Gemsheim, five miles distant, conveyed first the brigade of Guards, and then the White Brigade, across the river in the night; and, on the other side, marched towards the town of Oppenheim with drums beating.

The winter night by the margin of the Rhine was intensely cold; and, helping themselves to fuel wherever they could find it, the Scottish soldiers at the sconce lit large fires behind their breastworks; and near one of these Hepburn and Munro sat at supper, enjoying a "stone jar of Low-Country wine,” while their horses stood picketed close by, and their swords and helmets lay beside them. The light of the watchfire reflected from the snow, or perhaps by the brightness of their armour, attracted the attention of the Spaniards in the castle of Oppenheim, for they sent a thirty-two pound shot whizzing across the Rhine. It passed over the heads of the two friends, and went crash through Hepburn's lumbering old-fashioned coach, which stood unused among the baggage, a little way off. The next shot killed a sergeant of Munro’s, who sat near the same fire solacing himself with a can of flip and a pipe of tobacco.

Aiming by the light of the watchfires, the garrison of the castle now began a close cannonade, the flashes of which broke incessantly through the gloom that involved everything on the other side of the river. Many of Hepburn’s men were cut in two and tom to pieces by the round-shot, which dyed with blood all the snow around the parallels.

About eleven o’clock at night, two hundred Burgundian musketeers made a gallant sortie to scour the trenches; but the Scots were on the alert. Not a shot was returned by them; but, led on sword in hand by Hepburn, the brave pikemen, after some sharp fighting and severe loss, drove them in confusion within the graff or ditch of their sconce.

So passed the night.

Day dawned, and then a roar of musketry and explosion of petards announced that the King had commenced his operations against the castle on the opposite side of the river. On this, the Spanish cavalier in the sconce, fearing that his retreat would be cut off, resolved to capitulate. About seven o’clock in the grey twilight of the winter morning, a little but gaudily-attired Italian drummer was seen to leave the fort, and, beating a parley, approach the trenches, where he delivered the following paper:—

“Articles of Capitulation between Sir John Hepburn, knight, and the Commandant of the Sconce at Oppenheiml 5th December 1631.

"I. At seven o’clock on the evening of Thursday the 8th December, the garrison will march out with bag and baggage, colours flying, drums beating, matches lighted, and bandaliers filled.

"II. To be assured by the King of being unmolested in their way by aiiy of his forces, the Landgrave of Hesse’s men, or others.

"III. A captain to be given them for hostage (they leaving another with the Kang,) and the garrison to be conveyed the same night, with one thousand musketeers, to a village half a league distant from thence, and the next morning unto the banks of the Maine.

“IV. His Majesty to furnish them on their march with victuals,” &c.

Hepburn perused the document.

On the King’s part he replied,— "All the defenders of the fort must take their way towards Bingen, passing first the Maine and afterwards the Rhine. They shall not march to Mentz, but to some other place where there is a Spanish garrison. They shall not carry away any of their cannon; nor must they commit any pillage by the way.”

The drummer returned to the fort with these terms, to which the Spanish commandant was obliged to accede, and marched out with all the usual honours and insignia, delivering over the sconce to Hepburn. The latter placed in it a hundred musketeers of Lumsden’s regiment, with a hundred of Lord Reay’s Highlanders, and immediately prepared to cross the Rhine with his own and Winckel’s brigade, to assist Gustavus in reducing the old castle of Oppenheim,—a place of vast size and strength, where a garrison of Spaniards and Italians were defending themselves with the greatest resolution and bravery, although the citizens had yielded the town by opening the gates to two hundred men of Sir James Ramsay’s regiment.

That officer was not present in these operations, having remained at Wurtzburg, enduring great pain from his wounded arm: his regiment was commanded by George Douglas, the lieutenant-colonel. So severe was the service in which this brave corps had been engaged, that, though it mustered two thousand strong when leaving Sweden, but two hundred men survived at the close of the war, and few or none of these ever saw Scotland again.

A hundred and seven boats having been found moored under the town wall, Gustavus sent them to Hepburn, who was thus enabled to embark the Blue Brigade and his own with ease. They crossed the river together, but were carried by the current below the town, where the Scottish cavalier landed at the very base of the hill on which the fortress stood, and, forming the brigade in battalions, advanced at once to the assault of the fortress on the side opposite to that assailed by Gustavus. As they approached, Hepburn was astonished to hear discharges of musketry within the fortress, and to see the garrison leaping over the lower works, throwing away their arms, and endeavouring to escape in all directions, crying piteously for quarter as they fell among the Green and Blue brigades. The reason was as follows:—

The two hundred Scots who entered the town having discovered a private passage to the castle, led by Ramsay’s new major, advanced close to the outer wall, which they carried by storm, driving in the Italian guards, and, crossing the bridge, entered with them into the very heart of the place, where they engaged in a close and desperate hand-to-hand conflict with the garrison.

Though outnumbered by five or six to one, these Scots fell furiously on with pike and musket, their officers fighting in the melee with partisan, sword, and dagger. But, encouraged by the smallness of their force, the Italians resisted them manfully, and a sad carnage ensued. The covered-way to the bridge was barricaded by a heap of killed and wounded men, whose blood was pouring from the stone gutters into the moat below; while within the castle the uproar of swords ringing on steel helmets, or crashing among the wood of pikes, the incessant discharges of musketry and pistols, the yells of the wounded and the combatants, was increased by the ringing of bells in the town steeples, and the boom of the Swedish cannon battering the land side of the fortress; but before either Hepburn or Gustavus could succour them, Ramsay’s gallant musketeers had conquered, slaying five hundred of the garrison, and capturing four pair of colours.

This was on the morning of the 6th December.

Nine companies of Italians, each one hundred strong, were taken prisoners in this assault, the accounts of which are various and dissimilar. These must have been the occupants of the sconce, as quarter was granted them by Sir John Hepburn; and they must have been surrounded and taken by orders of Gustavus, after the mere ceremony of marching out armed with the insignia of war.

"As the first circumstance [their surrender] absolved them from their allegiance to the Emperor, the King made a present of them to Hepburn (whose kindness and humanity were equal to his bravery) to refit his broken brigade; but these birds of passage not liking the severity of the German winter and Swedish campaign, all took flight to a warmer region at the approach of spring.” They deserted en masse from Beyerland, a few months after.

Their colours were the first which Gustavus had ever taken from Spain, and it was to Scottish valour that he was indebted for them.

While some of the garrison were obtaining quarter and being disarmed, an officer with several Spaniards endeavoured to escape, by running as fast as they could along the edge of the moat. A flock of hares, roused by them among the bushes that grew in luxuriance by the edge of the ditch, were seen running with them, and in the same direction, along the front of the Swedish lines below the castle; and a shout of laughter rang along the ranks at the sight of this strange convoy.

Agreeably to an old Scottish superstition,—“’Tis ill lucke (saies a souldier) to have one’s way crost with a hare, and that ill lucke is now ours; for we are likely to get but little honor by them, should all their countrimen runne away in the like manner.”

On visiting the castle which had thus been stormed for him before he could reach it, Gustavus was received by Ramsay’s musketeers with a profound salute at the gates, where they were drawn up to receive him.

"My brave Scots!” said he, with generous admiration, as he looked along the close ranks of the little band, "why were you too quick for me?”

His whole army now crossed the Shine; and to inspire the Scottish cavaliers and their veteran soldiers to gather fresh laurels, Gustavus, in an address made to them, declared that he despised alike the resentment of Austria and the malevolence of Spain, while now in the Palatinate he could employ their valour for the restoration of an injured princess—their own countrywoman—Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of James of Scotland, and Electress-queen of Bohemia.

“And now those two hundred Scots that had beene put into the towne at the yielding of it, fall immediately thereupon to storme the said castle at the towne-port which was betwixt the castle and the towne. The Scots fell on with such a tempest and resolution that they instantly forced the garrison into the inner part, they storming in together with them; so that, by the time the King was ready to assault on one side and Hepburn on the other, they meete (to their great admiration) divers of the garrison that had already leapt over the walls, throwne away their armes, and crying Quarter as the rest also now did that had not gotten out of the castle. In these actions (about the fort and castle) there were some two-hundred Spanish cut downe, and eight colours taken, which were the first colours that the King ever tooke from the Spaniards.”

The nine companies of Italians given to Hepburn must have been those in the sconce; and Cannon, in his History of the Royals, p. 24, states distinctly that they were so.


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