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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

175 Years Since the Battle of Fredericia

Photo credit: Visit Fredericia

The Battle Begins

There was no way out in the morning of 6 July 1849. Under the cover of darkness, the troops of Schleswig-Holstein under the command of Eduard von Bonin stood at the gates of the fortified town of Fredericia. But the defending Danes had a plan: To deter an impending attack before it could even start, the Danish troops under the command of General de Meza decided to strike first. And so they did: All hell broke loose when they fired their mortar batteries and advanced on horses and on foot to block the enemies’ columns. Danish General Olaf Rye charged ahead, wanting to bypass parts of the Schleswig-Holstein units. Being out on his own, he came under fire and his horse was shot. He then continued on foot and was shortly after shot in the leg and abdomen himself. He died within 2 hours after the start of the battle; at 3 in the morning.

Stalemate and Victory

With the death of one of only three Danish generals, Olaf Rye, the battle came to a stalemate. But just one hour later, at 4 am, the Danish troops could reinforce their flank with their 8th battalion and the half-battery Tillisch, which to rapid advancements and 300 prisoners. The 1st brigrade of the forces of Schleswig-Holstein had to withdraw. In the next few hours, the Danes would likewise advance along other parts of the battle line, withstanding a brief counterattack by Schleswig-Holstein. Ultimately, the Danish defenders kept holding Fredericia and concluded the battle victoriously on the same day it had started.

The Prelude

The Battle of Fredericia was caused by the ongoing conflict between Denmark and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which eventually led to the First Schleswig War (1848–1850). Schleswig and Holstein were duchies with predominantly German-speaking populations, while Denmark was primarily Danish-speaking. The question of whether these duchies should be part of Denmark or the German Confederation led to tensions The death of the Danish king, Frederick VI, in 1839 reignited the question of the succession of the duchies. The German-speaking population of the duchies supported a separate administration from Denmark, while Denmark wished to maintain control. Ultimately, in 1849, Denmark issued a new constitution that incorporated Schleswig into the Danish state, triggering a rebellion by the German-speaking population of the duchies. Fredericia itself was strategically important as it is situated on the waterway Little Belt, which is one of Denmark’s most famous nature parks today.

The Aftermath

The Battle of Fredericia marked a turning point in the war and helped to boost Danish morale. Following their defeat at Fredericia, the Schleswig-Holstein forces retreated northwards. The Danish army pursued them and won several smaller engagements in the following weeks. However, the war continued for several more years, with both sides experiencing victories and defeats. The conflict was eventually concluded with the London Protocol in 1852, which reaffirmed Danish control over the duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg.

175 Years on

The attentive reader will have noticed that the Battle of Fredericia took place exactly 175 years ago. For the occasion, the town hosts the Fortress Days from 30 June – 7 July 2024. Open horse stables, re-enactors dressed up in the soldiers’ uniforms, live cannon fire, historical tours of the city, and even story tellings for children await the visitors. The latter is done by narrator Ellen Mortensen who will relive the events from the battle on the 5 -6 July through oral storytelling at children’s level. This will take place at the library and the Welcome Centre. The Danish Landsoldater will await in their splendid uniforms, where visitors can engage in a competition to throw horseshoes, and learn more about the historical weapons and uniforms. The full programme (in Danish) can be found here.

A Solemn Moment and Plenty of Joy

On the evening of July 5, the fallen soldiers are commemorated with an impressive torchlight procession through Fredericia. Flowers are placed by the Soldier’s Grave at Trinitatis Church and the Statue of the Brave Soldier. This statue also happens to be the first ever monument for the unknown soldier in the world. The following day, 6 July, is mostly a day of celebration and joy. At the Prinsessens Bastion, there will be parades and even live cannon fire that visitors can see, and especially hear. In line with the historical day of battle in 1848, these live fire exercises will take place on 6 July 2024. On the evening of the same day, at 11pm, the festivities will gloriously conclude with a fireworks display.

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