Old Soldier’s Story - Escape & Evasion during the Schleswig-Holstein War
In 1911, Peter Jorgensen, a 90-year old Dane, wrote an account of his life for his children and grandchildren. Born in 1820, in 1843 the young farmhand he did his bit in the Royal Danish Army, and upon his discharge became a coachman for a clergyman and was later apprenticed to a wheelwright. As a reservist, he returned to active duty each autumn to take part in the annual maneuvers. In 1848, only about three weeks before Easter, war broke out between Denmark and the German Confederation over the ownership of Schleswig-Holstein.
Recalled to active duty, Jorgensen served for three years. The fighting in the first year was rather desultory, and was quickly ended by a cease-fire in June. That winter, Jorgensen was furloughed.
In the spring of 1849, we were again called to the service and had to report in Sonderborg, where we stayed about 8 days. Then, we were ferried across the sound and drove the Germans back to Gravensten. That day we were so unlucky as the Germans sank two of our ships – one was blown up – and that night, we had to retreat to Dybbol . Here, the whole army was concentrated while they held counsel of war. Whereupon, we were distributed and took position on the hill. Here we had several small skirmishes, but, the Jaegerkorps got orders again to march over Als and Fyn to Jutland to meet the enemy at Kolding. Here, we drove them out of the city, but, it wasn't long before they got so much heavy artillery that we could not hold the line and had to retreat. I had now advanced so far ahead on a street, where I got cut off and would have been captured if I had not hid in a farmhouse and changed to civilian clothes. Here, I had to act as a stable boy for two weeks before I could get back to my outfit. That night 36 Germans and some horses were put up in the same house. I stayed among those Germans for 14 days. Sure, they asked me if I wasn't a Danish soldier, but, when I said I was disabled, they let it go at that. The owner let me patch up some holes in the walls made by the German cannons the day before; the Germans then took me to be a bricklayer.
Fourteen days later, on a Sunday, as I was walking around to see a little of the town, I could tell by the Germans' actions that they planned to attack the next day. They had their whole army concentrated here. I, then, made plans to follow the German army as close as possible. Now, it was lucky the farmer asked me to take some lunch out to one of his men who were out there ploughing a field, and it was just in the right direction, I could then follow the enemy's line, and perhaps, after the battle, sneak through the line. It was a little dangerous as I had been asked if I was a spy a couple of times. But, I showed them my work clothes and the lunch basket with a three pint bottle in it, so, they could see I came from work. I understood that our army was moving toward Fredericia and the German army was following close by. The Germans stayed away from Kolding fiord. Here lived an old couple and I asked the man if he could take me across the water, but, he said, that he was too old, but, a little closer to Kolding, there was a man who could. However, I was getting hungry and asked if I could have something to eat. The old woman said she only had some rye bread and fried pork, which I said was excellent as I had not had anything to eat the whole day. After I had offered to pay for the food, the man, who was a good patriotic Dane, said that I could trust the man he had referred me to. Nearby, there had been a hot battle and I came across where the artillery had held out. I saw two horses that had been shot and their harnesses were still in flame and two soldiers with half their heads blown off. As I looked ahead of me, I saw so many people and horses that it looked like a market. I didn't know if they were Germans.
However, I had to go on, and when I came closer, I was told that they were people from the village of Gudso which had been burned down. As they were all civilians, I inquired about the man to whom I had been referred. I found him, but, he said he could not take me across as he wasn't sure he could get back, but , I could stay with him temporarily. He also asked me to eat supper with him. While we were eating a boy came in and asked to be taken across to Fyn, but, he was also told no. We finally located a family -people of humble means- from Gudso who had acquired a boat they wanted to sail over to Fyn, as their house had burnt to the ground. Nobody asked who I was, so, I jumped in the boat and sat quiet until we reached the shore of Fyn. Here, we were challenged by the Danish coast defense; we were not allowed to go ashore. We were told not to sail away or they would shoot; but, I was glad anyway. I understood, we were to follow the coast to the guardhouse. Two men followed us on the shore to keep us from leaving. At last we came ashore. Since nobody asked who I was, I just kept quiet and to myself and managed to sneak out to the kitchen where a couple of girls were kind enough to let me have a cup of coffee; it tasted good and warmed me up.
Jorgensen rejoined his regiment. Later that year, during the winter lull in the fighting, he managed to get a few days leave, to get married. Two days later he was back with his regiment, Nevertheless, in the Spring of 1850 he returned to duty. The following spring Jorgensen fought in the Battle of Isted and helped drive the Germans from Rensborg, where he was wounded. By the time he recovered, the war was over, a Danish victory, but one which helped spark the reform of the Prussian Army, that would play so prominent a role in the history of warfare over the next century.
A translation from the Danish by Hans Pedersen, great-grandson of Peter Jorgensen (who died in 1917, at 97), published online by the Danish Military History page, an excellent site, which kindly gave us permission to reprint portions here.