Date added: 16 Feb 2015
Baron von Ompteda was born 1765 in Ahlden an der Aller. At age six he was educated by his uncle, Dietrich Heinrich Ludwig v. Ompteda, statesman and prolific author, including jurisprudence. In 1777 he joined the Royal Corps of Pages in Hannover and subsequently entered the Hanoverian Army as Ensign in the Foot Guards in 1780, becoming Lieutenant a year later. By 1793 he rose to command a grenadier company in the French Revolutionary wars and being badly wounded at Mont Cassel, he came to England with Field Marshal Wilhelm von Freytag in 1794.
Ompteda was the older brother of Lieutenant Colonel Ferdinand Baron v. Ompteda and Ludwig Karl Konrad Georg Baron v. Ompteda (statesman with extensive postings, including Cabinet Minister to William IV of the United Kingdom), with whom Christian corresponded frequently.
He was one of the first to join the British Service in the King’s German Legion (KGL), becoming Major of the 1st Line Battalion and Lieutenant Colonel in 1805. He was on the retired list from 1810 to 1812, when he resumed his former post. By 1815 he was Oberst and Brigade Commander of the 2nd KGL in General von Alten’s division within Wellington‘s army. Baron Ompteda’s service took him to Flanders, Hanover, Sicily, Gibraltar, Portugal, and the Baltic; he was a prisoner of war; was active in the Netherlands and France and was ultimately killed at Waterloo.
Much had been written about him. Over the years, many drew their inspiration not only from this military leader, who lived for his soldiers; his bravery and his successful campaigns; but also from his extensive diaries. The final day of his life is often described in detail, especially how he and his men were sent to their death.
Ompteda was a veteran of 20 years of campaigning, and at 50 years of age was, as we would say today, ‘a survivor’, yet he and his men were sent to their deaths needlessly, by an inexperienced 22 year old Prince of Orange. On June 18, 1815, La Haye Sainte, a farm on the road to Brussels, had become one of the focal points of the battle, blocking the French attack on the British center. It was held by the KGL Second Light Battalion, as ordered by Wellington, John Koster noted. The French were fearless in their repeated attacks and eventually captured the farm after much carnage.
In the important counter-attack, Ompteda employed the 1st, then 2nd, 8th and finally the 5th, ‘the Fighting’ battalion, one of the best line units in the British Army, with combat experience from Denmark to Portugal, to repel the French cavalry. They then formed into squares to resist further attacks by Marshal Michel Ney. An English aide-de camp ordered line formation, but Ompteda knew it would be suicide, to which Lord Somerset agreed, recognizing there was no one to cover the 5th rear and they would be cut down by the French cavalry, waiting a few hundred yards away.
However, an angry Prince of Orange, with General Carl von Alten, Ompteda’s divisional commander, demanded to know why Ompteda refused to attack in line, since the cavalry were Dutch Allies. Ompteda knew better and said so, but the 22-year old snapped repeated orders to attack. “Well I will”, Ompteda replied, first asking the 5th Battalion Commander Linsingen, to save his two teenage nephews, which was done. At sixty yards he cried “Charge”, according to Edmund Wheatley, an English officer of the 5th and then “Follow me, brave comrades”, as he rode into the French forey, ahead of his men. The French admired his rank and bravery and wanted to capture him, but finally felled him with a shot through the neck, as Ompteda attacked with his sword. Even though the KGL 5th had punched a hole in a unit of 1,000 French infantry, they were torn apart from the rear and then front, by the French cavalry; Ompteda’s famous 5th needlessly massacred, his three other Battalions virtually mauled to death.
The KGL had helped to buy the time that enabled Blucher’s Prussians to arrive on the field in force. The last French charge collapsed and Napoleon’s soldiers ended a day of unparalleled courage by fleeing for their lives.
Today a monument remembering the KGL stands near the farm, inscribed with the fallen, including Colonel Christian von Ompteda.
Submitted by Frederik Freiherr von Ompteda, great-great-great-grand-nephew of Colonel Christian Freiherr von Ompteda.