By Alex Richards
While the conflict in the Spanish Netherlands occupied the majority of French attention, Turenne and the remaining German troops in French service were to be directed against Bavaria and the Emperor in the hopes of ensuring a final peace treaty here. Yet due to the imbalance in forces, he was to find himself the definitively junior partner in a conflict being increasingly driven by the energies of the General Wrangel. As the final year of the war wore on, it was Sweden who were to lay the final, decisive blows.
The Battle of Zusmarshausen
Discounting the garrison troops scattered in locations from Pomerania to the town of Benfeld in Alsace- which Sweden maintained control of as part of their political bargaining chips with Paris- the Swedes began 1648 with 12,500 cavalry and 6,000 infantry under Wrangel camped on the lower Weser, with an additional 1,500 cavalry under Königsmarck as an advance guard. The French had overall committed fewer troops to the war in the Empire, and had suffered significant losses by the defection of the German mercenaries to Sweden the previous year, but with less areas to garrison this still meant that Turenne had 4,000 horse and 5,000 men in the Upper Rhine.
Melander’s Bavarian-Imperial was larger than either army individually- numbering 10,000 Imperial troops and 14,000 Bavarians, approximately half of which were cavalry- but was in the unfortunate situation that the only way to prevent the two armies from joining up to create a force larger than them was to take up an exposed position between them in land that had been thoroughly devastated by the last few years of fighting. Melander attempted to circumvent this situation by drawing the Swedes towards Bohemia while the Westphalian army of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne could threaten the French supply lines. In this he was thwarted by the independent tendencies of the Archbishop, as his refusal to allow the army to leave Westphalia allowed Turenne and Wrangel to join forces by using the French controlled bridges on the Middle Rhine around Mainz. While theoretically the plan might have been able to force a stalemate for the year- perhaps allowing the Emperor Ferdinand III to secure slightly better terms after Lens made the Spanish exit from the war inevitable- it is unlikely that the Archbishop-Elector could ever have been persuaded to use the army in that manner, not least due to how disillusioned he had become with the ability of the Emperor or the Bavarians to prosecute the war in Westphalia to his satisfaction.
Melander thus retreated towards Nuremberg while Gronsfeld positioned the Bavarians at Ingolstadt, hoping in this manner to at least protect the Bavarian heartland from attack. Initially he was aided in this by disputes between Turenne and Wrangel hindering close cooperation. Not only did Turenne find it difficult to work in tandem with an army containing several regiments which had mutinied against him, but the French reluctance to directly attack Bavaria combined with the Swedish desire to push into Bohemia created a distinct difference in strategic outcome. Their close co-operation lasted until the capture of Donauwörth before the two armies parted ways- Turenne to take advantage of the fresh fodder in the Tauber Valley, and Wrangel to relieve Eger.
By the start of May 1648, however, it had become clear that Wrangel could not break into Bohemia at this time and he persuaded Turenne to attack Bavaria thus opening up Austria itself to an invasion along the Danube. Melander- partially through caution, partially through secret orders issued by an Emperor conscious of the fact that even a significant victory could only bring marginal benefits at this point- had merely advanced to fresher quarters between Ulm and Augsburg. The combined Franco-Swedish force now advanced in a wide loop to cross the Danube at Launingen on 16th May in hopes of cutting Melander off.
Had Gronsfeld succeeded in persuading Melander to turn north from their encampments to face the army and prevent them from crossing en masse, it is possible that the allied forces would have been successfully held in check for the short term, potentially prompting another period of separation. As was, Melander appears to have panicked at the news that his enemy had already crossed the Danube and ordered a retreat, leaving Raimondo Montecuccoli with a force of nearly 3,000 to serve as a rearguard at Zusmarshausen. While hindered by the terrain, the superior numbers of French troops soon showed through, and after an hour’s skirmishing Montecuccoli retreated across the Zusam stream rather than risk facing the entire army. He was still at distinct risk of being encircled by the French cavalry however, and as such Melander raced back from the slowly moving army to attempt a rescue. However, in his rush to get the army moving he had neglected to put on his armour that morning, and shortly after joining Montecuccoli he took a direct, and fatal, pistol shot to the chest. His sacrifice bought enough time for the rest of the army to entrench themselves enough to resist the initial Franco-Swedish probing attacks later that day, and then slip away to Augsburg under cover of darkness, but it was far costlier than would have been achieved by simply abandoning the baggage train.
It was left to Gronsfeld to both keep the army together and attempt to hold the enemy at bay, tasks not made easier by the demoralising effect of losing their general- and, indeed, part of the baggage train in a later cavalry advance- and having to slowly retreat in difficult terrain while under fire from guns the French had captured from his own army. For two weeks he succeeded in his endeavours, making it across the Lech and avoiding Tilly’s mistakes in 1632 by drawing up positions some way from the river to be able to pounce on any troops advancing across the river. However, the psychological effects of the death of Melander and the fighting retreat now showed themselves. Wrangel had dispatched a forward guard of cavalry across the river, which was mistakenly reported to by the entire Swedish army. Gronsfeld panicked, retreated to Ingolstadt, and effectively abandoned Bavaria to her fate. By June 3rd the Imperial army had essentially ceased to exist, Gronsfeld had been fired and the Elector Maximilian was resorting to executing commanders of fortifications which had surrendered to the French. He had also been forced to swallow his pride on two significant factors- fleeing to a pre-prepared residence in Salzburg along with 12,000 Bavarian citizens, and recalling Werth from Bohemia to take up the army leadership once more.
Ironically just as Wrangel was proving himself on the battlefield, political considerations driven by Queen Christina of Sweden’s efforts to secure the inheritance for her cousin Carl Gustav of Pfalz-Zweibrücken rather than have to marry herself meant that his replacement as commander was on his way. That, combined with the strong defensive line that prevented any hope of an advance beyond the Inn, led to the Franco-Swedish army retreating back towards Munich. It was at this point that one of the odder potential divergences of the war occurred when Werth set an ambush for the opposing generals while they were hunting in the woods north of Munich. Managing to make their way around the defensive pickets, Werth’s troops captured 94 prisoners and 1,000 horses, as well as causing 20 panicked Swedish officers to drown in the treacherous bogs of the area. Wrangel himself was nearly one of the casualties, and while it may have had little effect on the overall outcome of the war by this stage, his death at this point would certainly have had significant repercussions for the next 30 years of Swedish politics and warfare.
As was, the Swedes merely complained about the underhanded nature of the ambush’s tactics and remained effectively in control of Bavaria. It was to be a sideshow for the remainder of the year however, as fighting once again moved to Bohemia.
Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP