The Baden Revolution of 1848/1849

Arofan Gregory, Copyright (c) 2018. All rights reserved.


The year 1848 is rightly known as the "Year of Revolutions," during which no fewer than 50 uprisings took place worldwide against the absolutist governments of the day. Many of these uprisings occurred in Central Europe, although France, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, and Britain were also the scene of revolutionary activity to one extent or another (to name but a few). Germany - divided into more than 20 different states, and not yet formally distinct from Austria or some of the other Hapsburg possessions - was the scene of a large number of these uprisings. Of these, the ones in the Grand Duchy of Baden were both typical and exemplary.

The Grand Duke of Baden, Leopold, was actually a progressive ruler for the absolutists of the time, having emerged from the Napoleonic Wars with a state four times the size it had been when his father began his reign. Because of his leniency, many radicals who were no longer welcome in other parts of Europe congregated there, where they were not as likely to become the targets of repression for their political views. As with many of the revolutionaries in Germany, those within Baden had a vision of a single German state, ruled by a republican government which would provide a free press and a means of democratic representation for the citizenry. Although later to be coopted by Bismarck in the formation of the German Empire, dominated by the reactionary Prussia, this form of nationalism was a strongly held sentiment within many German states of the day, and could not be ignored by the absolutist rulers, much as they opposed the idea.

Germania, symbol of a united German nation, a mural from 1848 in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt am Main.
(Note the open shackle by her right foot, and the Hapsburg Imperial eagle on her chest. Austria and some other Hapsburg possessions
were still very much considered a part of Germany, even though Bismarck disliked the competition.)

There were three phases to the revolution in Baden: the Hecker Uprising of April 1848, the Struve Putsch of September 1848, and the Imperial Constitution Campaign of May 1849 (the Rastatt Mutiny). In the first of these, revolutionary forces in southwest Germany were planning to join other Germans coming across the Rhine from Alsace, to march on Karlsruhe, the capital, and other cities along the Rhine (Mannheim/Ludwigshaven, etc.). In the end, they were outmaneuvered by forces from the Grand Duchy of Hesse and the troops of the Baden government, and defeated in detail at the battles of Kandern and Dossenbach. Even after the defeat, there was considerable unrest within Baden, with various forces such as the students of the university at Freiburg fighting with government troops attempting to restore the status quo. Leopold, the Grand Duke, fled Karlsruhe after risings there in May of 1848. The Struve Putsch in September in L�rrach lasted for less than a month before being put down. The third part of the Baden Revolution (the "Baden Mutiny") involved the mutiny of the garrison of the Federal Fortress at Rastatt in May 1849. Baden was briefly declared a republic, but this did not last - Prussian troops beseiged the fortress and it fell in July of 1849, marking the final defeat of the Baden Revolution. The Palatine Uprising occurred in the nearby Rhenish Palatinate, which was at the time ruled by the Bavarians. The uprisings in Baden and the Rhenish Palatinate were in essence part of the same phenomenon, given the nationalist sentiments of the participants, and occurring as they did in adjacent territories along the Rhine.

Baden during the period of the revolution. Alsace is in tan, and the Rhenish Palatinate is labelled "Pfalz."

The Baden Revolutionaries

Of all the many leaders involved in the Baden Revolution, Frederich Hecker, commander during the first part of the revolution, is perhaps the most famous. (He ended up fleeing to the US, where he became a successful abolitionist politician in Illinois and served as a colonel in the American Civil War.) He became well-known for his costume, which was the uniform of many of the revolutionary troops: a high-crowned broad-brimmed grey hat (sometimes black) with a plume, and a blue-grey peasant smock, similar to those worn in red by the Garibaldini in Italy. The following pictures illustrate the ragged-but-uniform appearance of the German revolutionaries in Baden and the Palatinate.

Frederich Hecker as depicted in a period caricature

The Battle of Kandern against the Hessian and Badenese troops

German revolutionaries (from the Hessian State Archive in Darmstadt)

Leaders of the Baden Revolution

Revolutionary troops in camp

The Struve Putsch in L�rrach - the Republic is declared!

The revolutionaries were made up of citizens with Republican sympathies, professional revolutionaries, ex-members of various German militaries, students, and others. The defection of some local militias, and then the Baden troops en masse late in the revolution, gave these forces both more experienced soldiery and better equipment than might otherwise have been the case. (In the nearby Palatinate, the military was not as supportive of the Republican cause.)

Equipment was thus not standard issue, although many of the revolutionaries would have carried the percussion smoothbore muskets and pistols in use by the miltary at the time. Civilian firearms would of course be used, possibly including the shotguns and rifled guns used for hunting, flintlock muskets and pistols, and single-action and pepperbox revolvers. Scythes with straightened blades are seen in many depictions of the conflict. Badenese artillery forces were among those who mutinied, and the revolutionaries - even the largely student forces in Freiburg - did manage to field some artillery. Although there are depictions of mounted revolutionaries, these were leaders or scouts - they did not field cavalry as a significant military force.

Government Forces

The troops of Baden, Hesse, and Prussia were all engaged at different points during the conflict. The Prussians who beseiged Rastatt were elements of a Federal force, which may well have included soldiers from other German states as well. After defeating Napoleon, there was a strong militia tradition in Germany - the Landwehr and B�rgerwehr were both forces which could not be politically dismissed, much as they caused unease among the ruling classes for what turned out to be excellent reasons: in the Baden Revolution many did in fact take up arms against their former masters. The Baden forces were in a transitional period between a Napoleonic-era uniform with coatee and the later uniform with tunic, and were staring to wear the early version of the picklehaub (the taller one most wargamers associate with Crimean Russians). In the 1st Schleswig-Holstein War, the Badenese infantry still wore coatee and shako of their Napoleonic uniforms. The artillery, however, wore a raupenhelm similar to that of the Bavarian army. The Hessian forces are always depicted wearing a Napoleonic-era uniform with shako. The militia of some states is shown in a Napoleonic-style landwehr uniform with a flat-topped cap and landwehr cross. Prussian troops looked much like they would in the more often-gamed wars of 1866 and 1870, except that trousers were worn long, not tucked into boots, and the picklehaub was in its earlier, taller form. The jager were at this period still wearing the picklehaub as well, not shifting to their distinctive shako for a few more years. The pictures below show some of the government troops during the conflict:

Infantry, cheveau-leger, and artillery from Baden in the newer uniform (in action a grey greatcoat was often worn)

Town militia from Karlsruhe, the capital of Baden: infantryman, fireman, sharp-shooter, and artillerist

Prussian infantry and jagers (in green) - in action, they wore light grey trousers, no helmet plumes, and are generally shown in a grey greatcoat

The Hessian infantry in Napoleonic-era uniform, which was similar to those worn in 1848 - Hesse in this case refers not to Hesse-Kassel ("the Electorate of Hesse", or "Kur-Hesse") but to the Grand Duchy of the post-Napoleonic period

The infantry of the day were in most cases using percussion smoothbore muskets - the Model 1841 Dreyse "needlegun" was first used in action by the Prussian infantry in Dresden in 1849, but it was not in use in the Baden conflict. Jager and other light troops might have percussion rifles of the Minie type (the Prussians used the 1835 jager rifle). Artillery pieces were generally smoothbores of 6, 8, or 12 pounds, or (less often) howitzers of a similar size (4-, 6- or 7-pounders). Light cavalry (hussars, dragoons, and cheveau-leger, but not lancers) generally carried percussion smoothbore carbines, while heavy cavalry carried pistols, but dismounted action was rare, and tactics emphasized the charge.

Flags of the Baden Revolution

As is often the case, not a lot of information is available regarding the flags carried by the various forces in this conflict. A few things should be noted: while the black-yellow-red tricolor is most often seen (horizontal stripes, top to bottom) in depictions of the Baden revolutionaries, the sequence of colors neither matches the modern German flag nor is consistent in period depictions, which vary widely. (It is worth remembering that the artist creating the plates was often not the same person who would later apply color to them, so mistakes are no doubt very possible.) While generally rectangular, in the Rhenish Palatinate flags are often shown as pennant-shaped tricolors. The images below are typical of what can be seen:

The black-yellow-red tricolor is most common in depictions of the Baden revolutionaries

A black-red-yellow tricolor being flown above the barricades in Baden

A black-red-yellow tricolor in pennant shape - in this case that of Willich's volunteers - is often seen in depictions of the revolutionaries in the Rhenish Palatinate

The flag of a Freiwilligen Compagnie (Volunteer Company) found in the State Museum in Trier, Germany. It reads "Freedom or Death!"

For the government troops, we are in an even worse plight:

A standard-bearer of the Badenese government troops in 1851

The grand-ducal coat of arms of Baden, showing the griffins and chains - this is presumably the device on the flag in the picture to the left

Prussian flags would be those of the late Napoleonic period - a white field with an upright black cross is the one most often described for this period. Because the Prussians were acting in their capacity as members of the German Confederation during the 1848/1849 revolutions, however, it is possible that they used the civil flag (sometimes flown in the 2nd Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864). It is a rectangular flag bisected horizontally, black on top and white beneath.

Hessian flags were probably the same as those carried during the Napoleonic period by the troops of Hesse-Darmstadt. (Note that the Grand Duchy of Hesse also has a simple civil flag, red over white.)


Although all of the uprisings in Germany during 1848/1849 were suppressed by the forces of reaction, their ultimate goals were eventually realized. By 1855, even the ultra-conservative state of Prussia had ended feudalism. The German Confederation issued and debated versions of a German constitution, but the overall idea that absolutist rule must give way to more progressive forms of government had taken hold. Bismarck, unwilling to concede anything to the liberals, ended up coopting the notion of a unified Germany in such fashion that Austria was excluded, but even for such a master of political manipulation it was a challenge. (The 1st Schleswig-Holstein War was used by Bismarck as a way to channel nationalist enthusiasm into a conflict which would not disrupt the existing order.) Baden had been the scene of the first of the 1848 uprisings in Germany, and, although it failed like the rest, it helped to set the stage for the rise of a more modern, unified Germany.