Hesse-Cassel Free Regiment von Gerlach of the Seven Years’ War
The Hesse-Cassel Free Regiment von Gerlach is one of the elusive free corps units of the Seven Years’ War. Herbert Knötel jr. and Martin Lezius show a musketeer of the Frei-Regiment v. Gerlach with light blue coat, green facings, and white buttons in their 1932 cigarette card album "Deutsche Uniformen, Band 1: Das Zeitalter Friedrichs des Großen". R. D. Pengel published a description of this particular cigarette card in his 1979 uniformology "Seven Years’ War. Uniforms of Swedish and German states, line and cannon". Pengel mentions the Brauer-Bogen plate № 91 published in “Heer und Tradition” as another source, with the exception that Brauer and Knötel show the green cuffs without buttons. A similar illustration of the musketeer without buttons on his cuffs had already been published in the 1976 edition of Funcken’s “Historical Uniforms 18th Century” (vol. 2, p. 90). Pengel repeats his description of the Uniform in his 1984 edition of the “Seven Years’ War. Hessen Cassel Supplement”, which also includes a drawing in plate 4. In addition to these uniform descriptions, the Sturm Cigarette Card Album tells us that the unit was disbanded after the Seven Years’ War.
Stuart Reid writes in his 2010 edition of “Frederick the Great’s Allies 1756–63” (Osprey Men-at-Arms 460), that the “light infantry unit raised for Cavendish’s light brigade in 1762 was initially designated the Chasseur Battalion Rall, before becoming the Frei-Regiment von Gerlach”. Reid explains further that the Chasseurs were “volunteers” drawn from the regular infantry and that they eventually discarded their old regimentals and adopted the Prussian-style light blue uniform customarily reserved for second-line free corps units. However, this view contradicts the information on the Chasseurs v. d. Armee found in Rudolf Witzel’s book “Hessen Kassels Regimenter in der Alliierten Armee 1762”. Here we find the information that the Battalion Rall of the Chasseurs von der Armee received 50 men each from the hessian infantry regiments 2nd Garde, 3rd Garde, Mansbach, Wutginau, Anhalt, Gilsa, Bischhausen and Malsburg. Added to this was the required number of NCOs and officers who were also reassigned from their regiments. One of the commandees was Johann Gottlieb Rall; Major and commanding officer of the 4th company of Infantry Regiment von Bischhausen since 7 May 1760, he now became battalion commander of the newly formed Hesse-Cassel Chasseurs de l’Armée. Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick is said to have been so impressed with the Chasseur battalions, that in June 1762 he gave them permission to play the grenadier march of their respective nations. Only the best and most reliable men were to be selected for service with the Chasseurs, and they received special training in patrol and ambush tactics. The men removed the lace from their hats, grenadiers replaced their conspicuous mitre caps with plain tricornes, and the adhoc unit donned green cockades. Many officers followed this example, as camouflage proved to be tactically useful in petty warfare. The Chasseurs formed an elite, and they drew their replacements directly from the regular army, making them quite distinct from any free corps formations.
Attached to Luckner’s Corps, the Hessian Chasseurs de l’Armee reached Bingenheim on 28 August 1762 and took key points along the Nidder at Staten, Mockstadt, Ober- and Niederdauerheim, once they had driven the enemy off. On 15 November 1762, Ferdinand of Brunswick and the French marshalls Le Tellier and Soubise signed the convention at the Brücker Mühle near Amöneburg, confirming the ceasefire in the western theater of operations. In January 1763, shortly before war’s end, Major Rall was transferred to the Garrison Regiment of Major-General J. L. F. v. Stein, where he rose to Lieutenant-Colonel. If Major Rall commanded his regular light infantry battalion from May 1762 to the end of the war, the Chasseurs von der Armee may have to be ruled out as potential predecessors of the Free Regiment von Gerlach.
- light blue coat with white buttons
- light blue lapels with white buttons
- green cuffs, with two white buttons
- green turnbacks
- green shoulder strap on left shoulder
- black stock
- green waistcoat with white buttons
- green breeches
- black gaiters with white buttons
- black tricorne hat with white edging, green pompom, and white hat button
- white leather waistbelt
- infantry sabre with brass guard, and black scabbard with brass throat and chape, on a white leather shoulder belt
- black cartridge box on a white leather shoulder belt
- dark brown Tornister haversack and white metal field flask
The arrangement of the buttons on the Sturm Cigarette Card suggests light blue flaps (lapels). Funcken shows the uniform from the right-hand side and here, too, the buttons seem to be placed on lapels in the coat colour. Stuart Reid differs from the earlier representations and now gives the Free Regiment von Gerlach green lapels. There is no information on musicians, NCOs and officers. Following the "Reglement vor die hessische Infanterie" of 1767, shabracks and pistol covers of mounted officers were in the regimental colour, green in this case, with galloon trim in the button colour. Since we are dealing with a Free Regiment here, the miniature in our example has been issued a much cheaper white bordure. This commanding officer of the Free Regiment von Gerlach rides a blond chestnut horse.
We are not aware of a campaign history of the Frei-Regiment von Gerlach. If it was a regiment, it may have had two battalions, perhaps with four companies each. According to the Sturm Cigarette Card Album, the Free Regiment von Gerlach was disbanded after the war, as was common practise with war formations and light troops at the time.
- Funcken: Historische Uniformen 18. Jahrhundert, vol. 2, p. 90
- Knötel, Herbert d.J.; Brauer, Hans M.: Uniformbogen № 91 Die Kurhessischen Infanterie Regimenter im Siebenjährigen- und Amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg 1756–1783 (Berl. 1926–1962)
- Knötel, Herbert d.J.; Lezius, Martin: Deutsche Uniformen im Zeitalter Friedrichs des Großen (Dresd. 1932)
- Pengel, R. D.: Seven Years’ War. Uniforms of Swedish and German states, line and cannon (Birmingham 1976)
- Pengel, R. D.: Seven Years’ War. Hessen Cassel Supplement (Birmingham 1985)
- Reid, Stuart: Frederick the Great’s Allies 1756–63 (Botley 2010)
- Witzel, Rudolf: Hessen Kassels Regimenter in der Alliierten Armee 1762 (Norderstedt 2007)