The Battle of Pfaffenhofen

No matter where your ancestors were from, chances are that they endured tumultuous events such as famines, epidemics, and wars.  In researching my Bavarian ancestors, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the history of their towns and villages to try to understand the customs, beliefs, and society in which they lived.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll uncover many interesting events that took place during the lives of your ancestors. There aren’t any records that allow me to fully understand how these events impacted my ancestors in particular, but learning about these historical events helps to imagine what their lives were like.

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

Maria Theresa in 1759 (SOURCE: Wikipedia public domain image)

The town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm has a long history dating back to the 12th century.  Like most areas of Europe, Pfaffenhofen has witnessed many disasters over the years.   In the middle of the 18th Century, a war raged throughout Europe called the War of Austrian Succession.  Although it is largely forgotten in history books, it could almost be called the first world war since it involved almost all of the powers of Europe. While war is often considered to be a man’s game, this one all started because of a woman – Maria Theresa of Austria.  Her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, died without a male heir.  Charles hoped to enable Maria Theresa to take his place by persuading the various German states to agree to her succession in 1713 with the Pragmatic Sanction.

After the death of Charles in 1740, King Frederick II of Prussia protested her reign by invading  Silesia.  Thus began a long war that was a competition among various courts for a male heir with the genealogical claim to the throne to take precedence over Maria Theresa’s rule.  Frederick joined forces with France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony, while Austria garnered support from several other European forces.

The Bavarian army fought with French forces in both Silesia and Bohemia over the next few years.  This war had several campaigns fought in several countries.  Throughout, both Austria and Prussia gained allies and lost allies with some countries even switching sides.  But the war continued, and the succession issue remained unresolved although several claimed the throne.

By 1742, the war came much closer to home for my ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  By this time, the Bavarian army was still aligned with the French, and Austria had turned to Hungary for support.  The capital of Bavaria, Munich – only 33 miles south of Pfaffenhofen – fell to the Austro-Hungarian army on February 13, 1742.  Four days later, Pfaffenhofen and all of the surrounding towns located in the area between the Inn and Lech rivers were under Austrian control.

An Austrian Pandur

An Austrian Pandur

Some of the Austro-Hungarian forces were Croat mercenary soldiers called the Pandurs.  Pandur forces swept through the Bavarian countryside.  The Pandurs’ tactics would be known as guerrilla warfare today.  They were also known for their lack of discipline in which plunder was more important than their military orders.  Histories of Pfaffenhofen do not record all of the details of this invasion, but one notes the “wild hordes of terror” as the Pandurs occupied the area and resorted to robbery, murder, and fire.

All throughout this war, the simple townsfolk of Pfaffenhofen and the local farmers were expected to pay increased taxes to support the armies.  If anyone refused to pay, they were arrested.

By the end of 1742, the forces shifted and Pfaffenhofen was no longer occupied by enemy forces.  The following year, Bavaria was again invaded in May and occupied through October.  But the year of the war that is most remembered in Pfaffenhofen is 1745.  By April 12, 1745, the two armies again amassed just outside of the city.

The Franco-Bavarian army was led by General François de Ségur with about 7,000 forces.  However, Ségur was unaware that his Bavarian and Hessian reinforcements under General Törring had retreated several miles away, and he was caught off guard when the Austro-Hungarian forces arrived.  The Austro-Hungarian army was led by General Karl Josef Batthyány and consisted of 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian forces.  Batthyány  was aware of Ségur’s isolation, and attacked Pfaffenhofen on the morning of April 15, 1745.

Like most medieval cities, Pfaffenhofen was a walled town with four gates to get in or out of town.  The Austrian army, consisting of infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, broke through the town wall and fighting ensued on the streets of the town with the Croat Pandurs engaging in house-to-house combat.  The French army defending the townspeople took on heavy casualties, and 300 French soldiers were captured by the enemy.

Outnumbered, Ségur was forced to withdrawn or else his army would have been completed encircled.   Some of Ségur’s Palatinate forces panicked, and in their retreat the fierce Pandurs and Hussar cavalry attacked the retreating troops.  The French forces hastily retreated with their heavy equipment getting stuck in the muddy fields outside of Pfaffenhofen; when the horses were cut free, they fled as well.  Ségur’s retreating army was literally chased by the Batthyány’s forces until that evening when the Austrians gave up pursuit.

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Red line shows Austrian forces; Blue shows Franco-Bavarian forces

Austria, with about 800 casualties, was the clear “winner” of the battle, while the Franco-Bavarian forces lost 2,400.  As a result of the defeat, Bavaria’s leader Maximilian III Joseph gave up the war that his father had begun.  He made peace with Maria Theresa through the Treaty of Füssen on April 22, 1745.  Oh, and Törring, the guy who left Ségur outnumbered?  He was fired.  The peace treaty took Bavaria officially out of the War of Austrian Succession, leaving Austria with only three other fronts to fight in Silesia, Italy, and the Netherlands.  In the end, after years of bloodshed, Maria Theresa’s claim to the throne did prevail when her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, became Emperor on September 13, 1745.

The battle definitely had an impact on the townspeople of Pfaffenhofen.  One can only assume that they were all inside the walls of the town when the attack occurred.  The only place of refuge nearby would have been the monastery at Scheyern, where it was reported that the monks only escaped the looting of the Pandurs because a wounded Austrian officer being tended by the monks would not allow it.  Two brave priests left the walls of the monastery to administer last rites to soldiers dying in the fields.

Most of the accounts of the battle were in German, and I relied on poor translations from online translators.  I was able to get the general idea that the invading Army left the town a mess.  Some of the town’s court records seem to indicate that residents petitioned the town for assistance after their homes were looted and severely damaged.  One resident, Georg Gerhauser, reported that he, his wife, and their eight children could not even attend church services on Good Friday because they lacked the appropriate clothing after Austrian soldiers looted their home.  Food was also scarce in the days following the battle.

This battle must have been quite terrifying to the farmers and merchants of the area.  The battle took place on the day of the calendar that happened to be Holy Thursday in the Roman Catholic Church calendar that year.  This is the feast prior to the day Christ died when Catholics remember His Last Supper and the gift of the Eucharist.  As a special feast, this likely would have been a religious holiday in the town in which everyone would have attended Mass – but I doubt their plans went as scheduled that fateful day.

At this time I have several ancestors living in Pfaffenhofen.  Bernhard Eggerer, my 5th great-grandfather, was born in 1721 and would have been about to turn 24 at the time of the battle.  Did he fight in the army?  Did he defend his town as a simple shoemaker?  I don’t know, but he did survive this event.  He would marry 17 years later and have 8 children before dying in 1778 at the age of 57.

Other ancestors residing in Pfaffenhofen in 1745 include Matthias Kaillinger, a glassmaker, Michael Paur, a carpenter, and possibly Phillip Nigg, a mason.  I have not found Philip’s birth record yet, but he marries in town eight years after the battle.  One thing is certain – after all of the street fighting and looting, the skills of all three gentlemen would have been put to good use after the battle ended!  I also had my Bergmeister ancestor, Johann Paul Bergmeister, living in the nearby town of Puch and running the grain mill.  With all of the havoc in the fields, one can only wonder the impact on the family’s business as a result.

In reviewing my ancestral records, I do not appear to have any deaths on that day, so my families were safe after the fighting ended.  Now that I have learned about this event, I want to review the death records to see if any soldier or civilian deaths are recorded in the church books. It is apparent in these few accounts I uncovered that although the battle itself was relatively short in duration, the town took a long time to recover from it.

[Written for the 77th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Disasters Our Ancestors Lived Through]

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2 thoughts on “The Battle of Pfaffenhofen

  1. Hi – I really enjoyed this piece – I am reading a book calle “Germania” (by Simon Winder) at the moment and he mentions this battle. I know Pfaffenhoffen a little – I have cousins living in Reichertshofen an Karlskron, which are not far from there. My own father was born in Karlsbad (now Karlovy Vary). How did you trace your central european ancestors? Did you take a trip to Germany. Anyway thanks again

    Maggie

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