Prussia 1786-1815

Freicorps Schill 1809

A.) The Pre-History of the Rebellion

In 1809 Emperor Francis I., inspired by the vigor of the Spanish popular war, called upon the Germans to rise against Napoleon, while Austria herself took the field. Among those who responded to the call was Prussian Freiherr FERDINAND VON SCHILL. Prussia herself stayed out of the war.

B.) The Military Course of Events

Schill, with a regiment of hussars, left Berlin April 28th 1809, campaigning against French forces (in official terminology, he deserted with his regiment). As Prussia was at peace with France, he christened his regiment a "Freischar" (FREE CORPS). In order not to compromise Prussia, he had to campaign outside of Prussian territory. On May 1st he was in front of Wittenberg (Saxony) demanding the fortress commander to surrender - he did not, as Saxony was a staunch French ally.
Aware that he alone could not hope to defeat the French, Schill had hoped on Emperor Francis I. and on Germany's patriots to answer his call and rise, like he did. On May 13th Vienna surrendered to the French; yet the Austrian army still campaigned.
Schill withdrew to STRALSUND in Swedish Pomerania, where he overwhelmed the weak forces, occupying the city (May 25th) in the name of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphys IV. (who at that time was under arrest in Sweden). Swedish soldiers and the Ruegen militia joined Schill in his fight. Schill faced a force outnumbering his 4:1; he died while fighting in the streets May 31st. 543 of his men were deported to the galleys, 11 of his officers brought to the city of WESEL, where they were executed.

C.) The Legacy

Schill had volunteered for the fight; he belongs to a generation of German patriots who regarded the fight against Napoleon as their personal affair. During the WARS OF LIBERATION (1813), many would follow the role model provided by Schill, among them LÜTZOW and poet THEODOR KÖRNER.

Ferdinand von Schill, from Lutherstadt Wittenberg, in English Account of Schill's struggle in Stralsund, from Sehenswertes in Wesel, in German
Zeittafel Europäische Geschichte 1801-1900, from Univ. Erlangen, in May 1809 documents itinerary of Freischar Schill, in German
DOCUMENTS Image of Ferdinand von Schill, from KHM

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 19th 2004

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