The Prussian Needle Gun Makes Its Debut – The Skirmish at Lundby 1864

By Benjamin T. Christensen

Note from the author: This article of mine was originally published in Danish and Swedish in October 2011, I bring a slightly altered version in an English translation here, for those who do not speak Danish. It’s not connected to the project this blog covers, but I had nowhere else to post it at this time.

The village of Lundby near Aalborg, Denmark 3 July 1864 – early morning.
Heymann, a young Prussian corporal, is nervous. For the first time in his life, he is facing the enemy, and his heart is beating fast. A few minutes ago, a Danish company appeared on the top of a hill south of the small Danish village of Lundby where Heymann was enjoying a cup of breakfast coffee together with the rest of his company. Hastily, his company was assembled and sent on a forced march; first to collect their rifles which had been arranged in pyramids in a field to the north of the village, then hurried back to a low drystone wall at the southern outskirts of the village.
Behind this drystone wall, Heymann is now watching the enemy, trotting straight towards him. The Danish soldiers quickly approach the nervous Prussian soldiers, quickly closing the gap between them – now they are only 500 paces away … 450 paces … 400 paces. In a strained voice, Heymann asks his superior, Hauptmann (i.e. Captain) von Schlutterbach, “Herr Hauptmann, may we serve them some breakfast?”, but von Schlutterbach shakes his head, “Wait – let them get closer; I shall let you know when to fire at them”. Von Schlutterbach has full confidence in their new weapon, the needle gun which can be re-loaded considerably quicker than the rifles of the Danish soldiers. Coolly, he therefore lets the Danish soldiers advance till they are only 250 paces away, and then in a firm and calm voice commands his soldiers, “250 paces rear sight, but aim true and well, my children; now, in the name of God, “ Fire!”

The needle gun was invented by the German gunsmith Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse in 1827. The use of a complete cartridge: bullet, black powder charge and percussion cap in a paper case, was its greatest advantage. Contrary to the ammunition used for contemporary rifles, the complete cartridge was inserted into the barrel from the rear part (the breech) of the gun, and the needle gun was hence also known as the breach-loading gun. When the trigger was pulled, a needle pierced the paper case, ignited the black powder charge, and the bullet was discharged. Loading a needle gun was much quicker than loading other guns, among these the muzzle-loading rifle applied by the Danish army which was loaded by inserting a powder charge followed by a bullet into the top of the barrel and stamping these to the bottom of the barrel with a ramrod. This lengthy and laborious loading process for the muzzle-loader meant that a rifleman with a breach-loader could load and fire about four shots while a rifleman with a muzzle-loader loaded and fired one shot.

The Dreyse needle gun.
The Dreyse needle gun.

Furthermore, the needle gun could be loaded while lying down, whereas handling the long ramrod for the muzzle-loader meant that the rifleman had to more or less stand upright while loading, thus presenting a much better target for enemy bullets.

Despite the above-mentioned advantages of the needle gun, most countries decided not to make use of Dreyse’s invention in the mid-19th century. The first versions of the needle gun were too inaccurate and loading them could be dangerous. When Dreyse appeared at a presentation to the Prussian military of his new type of gun with one arm in bandages after an accident where a bullet exploded during loading, he was asked to leave and not return until he had improved his invention. After a number of improvements had been made to the gun, the Prussian army finally accepted his new gun and starting 1840, it was gradually implemented as their new standard weapon. At the beginning, the Prussian army tried to keep the new gun type secret, referring to it as “the light percussion rifle model 1841” instead of the more revealing name “needle gun”.

Austria, Prussia’s major rival inside the German Confederation, had shown some interest in the needle gun but had rejected it for various reasons. First and foremost, many Austrian officers considered their men too poorly trained to be able to use the sights of the needle gun correctly – the ability to load and shoot quickly was no advantage to an undisciplined soldier who was unable to assess the distance to the enemy correctly and thus might fire all his bullets before the enemy was within the optimum firing distance. Furthermore, the needle gun had not proved its worth in battle – as had the shock tactics developed and used by the French army against the Austrian army during the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859. The tactics of the French army were quite simply to avoid long exchanges of fire, instead they stormed the enemy lines with fixed bayonets, either defeating him in close combat or scaring his soldiers to flee in panic. This tactic had proved very efficient towards Austrian soldiers, and was quickly adopted by the Austrian army. It also appealed to conservative Austrian officers who feared that infantry armed with needle guns would have to fight in scattered formation, no longer being deployed in the more easily controlled tightly packed columns and battle lines. Using the shock tactics, quick-firing guns like the needle gun were superfluous, and the Austrian army hence decided to save the huge expense of changing their weaponry to needle guns.

Austria was not alone in her decision. The high commands of most European armies decided to adopt the French shock tactics – including Denmark, where Lieutenant Carl Irminger in his assessment of the training of his regiment provides us with a vivid description of the tactics around 1862, “We all agree that this firing is of no particular importance in battle. We approach the enemy till we are at a distance of about 700 to 600 feet, and then we storm straight at him with our bayonets. All his bullets fly right over our heads.”

New weaponry in the Prussian army and new tactics in the Austrian army in place, the two high commands now only waited for an opportunity of putting them to a test against a manageable enemy – and this presented itself on 1 February 1864 as the second Schleswig war broke out between Denmark and Prussia/Austria, representing the German Confederation. The war primarily derived from a controversy over the status of the duchies Schleswig and Holstein in relation to Denmark and the German Confederation, fuelled by the clash between Danish and German nationalism in these areas. However, to Austria and Prussia, it was a most welcome opportunity to test their new tactics and new weapons, and not least: to determine which of these two countries held the leadership position within the German Confederation.

From the very first day of the war, the Prussian and Austrian armies competed in winning the most battles and securing the most spectacular victories. The Danish army had been deployed along the dilapidated and outworn fortification Dannevirke (i.e. a system of linear defensive earthwork fortifications stretching across the duchy Schleswig, north of the duchy of Holstein) , and in front of this, a number of outpost skirmishes took place initially. On 2 February, the Prussians attempted to assault the village of Mysunde, but were beaten off by the Danish defenders. The following day, the Austrians engaged Danish troops near the hill Kongshøj (near Dannevirke), pressing the Danish outpost back to Dannevirke, and a few days later, when the Danish army abandoned the Dannevirke fortifications, Austrian troops engaged the Danish rear guard at the village of Sankelmark to the north of Dannevirke. Armed with identical weapons and using the same tactics, the Austrian and Danish units threw themselves into intense close combats, fighting hand-to-hand. The battle of Sankelmark ended without a winner as night fell, and the Danish army continued its orderly retreat to the north. In the friendly rivalry between Austria and Prussia, the Austrian army was clearly in the lead at the beginning of the war. Twice they had succeeded with their shock tactics, whereas the Prussians had yet to produce a victory.

Austrian troops capturing the hill Kongshøj in front of the Dannevirke fortifications.
Austrian troops capturing the hill Kongshøj in front of the Dannevirke fortifications.

After its retreat from the Dannevirke fortifications, the Danish army split into two: the main part of the army entrenched itself at Dybbøl, a series of Danish fortifications and trenches near the town of Sønderborg, about 50 km north of Dannevirke, and a small section of the army was ordered to retreat further north. Subsequently, the Prussian army besieged the Dybbøl fortifications. After prolonged bombardments and lengthy digging of trenches, the Prussian army was finally ready to storm Dybbøl on 18 April 1864. A total of 10,000 Prussian troops stormed the fortifications, defended by 2,200 Danish troops, and the fight was over in a few hours. The Dybbøl fortifications had been captured by the Prussians, and the Danish army retreated to the island of Als, east of Dybbøl. A couple of weeks of fruitless negotiations in London followed, and then the war was resumed at the end of June. Meanwhile, the Prussian army had prepared what was a new type of offensive to them: an amphibious assault on the island of Als via the narrow strait between the island and the Danish peninsula. The Prussians launched an attack on the island in boats during the night of 28 June, and took the Danish defenders completely by surprise.

The attack on the Dybbøl position as imagined by a British artist in the Illustrated London News.
The attack on the Dybbøl position as imagined by a British artist in the Illustrated London News.

The Prussian army had now won two big victories, and they were leading their friendly rivalry with the Austrians. However, they had still not had a chance to prove the superiority of their needle guns. At the battle of the Dybbøl fortifications, their rifled cannons had proved decisive, and in their amphibious attack on the island of Als, the element of surprise had gained them their victory. In a military sense, Denmark had been defeated, and it was generally agreed that it was now only a question of time before the war would end – and the Prussians had still not had a chance to prove the worth of their needle gun. However, in the evening of 2 July, the commander of the Danish forces north of the fjord Limfjorden (separating the northern part of the Danish peninsula Jutland from its central part), Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Charles Johannes Beck received a report which would change this.

The report contains alarming news. Lieutenant-Colonel Beck learns that his outposts south of the Limfjorden had earlier that day been in a firefight with a patrol of Prussian soldiers. He has also received reports of sightings of other Prussian patrols in his area. After having lost the island of Als to the enemy, the Danish high command has decided to withdraw all their soldiers from the peninsula of Jutland, and in this connection, Lieutenant-Colonel Beck has been charged with the task of covering the retreat of the last Danish troops from the northern part of Jutland with his small force deployed near the town of Nørresundly on the northern brink of the fjord Limfjorden. If the Prussian army is sending patrols northwards, towards the towns of Aalborg (on the southern brink of the fjord) and Nørresundby, there is a great risk that they will discover exactly how exposed his position is. Lieutenant-Colonel Beck sees only one solution: The Prussian patrols must be deterred from approaching the fjord of Limfjorden.

Map of the area south of Aalborg.
Map of the area south of Aalborg

Consequently, in the evening of the 2nd of July Lieutenant-Colonel Beck leads about one fifth of his troops on a march from the town of Nørresundby through Aalborg towards the village of Ellidshøj a couple of kilometers to the south of the town of Aalborg. He is bringing about 180 men from the 5th company of the 1st regiment including some dragoons and volunteers. He intends during that night to stage an assault on a Prussian patrol which should be in Ellidshøj and capture the whole patrol. However, when Lieutenant-Colonel Beck’s troops reach Ellidshøj, the Prussians have vanished. The locals inform him that the enemy which had been in the village earlier that day, have withdrawn to the south again, but that another enemy patrol is camped for the night in the small village of Gunderup to the east of Ellidshøj.

Instead of setting off towards the village of Gunderup, Lieutenant-Colonel Beck to the great surprise of his men decides to halt his troops in the village of Ellidshøj. Not until he has spent several hours in the company of the local priest and his aide, Albert Peter Carl Abrahams, is Lieutenant-Colonel Beck ready to lead his troops towards the village of Gunderup. But by now, the night is almost over – the sun will rise soon. He shall miss his chance of an attack in the darkness of the night unless he hurries. Still, Lieutenant-Colonel Beck does not make haste. A few days earlier, he had received a general command from his superior, the brigade commander, that should he encounter the enemy, he was ordered to “fall on him, exploiting our superior handling of the bayonet”. Lieutenant-Colonel Beck makes a brief speech to his men, encouraging them to follow this advice. His plan of attacking and capturing a sleeping enemy has been abandoned. To Lieutenant-Colonel Beck, the objective is now to seek out the enemy, attack him in a frontal assault, bayonets fixed – an honourable attack, following the spirit of chock tactics.

At long last, the Danish troops break camp, leaving Ellidshøj. The Danish soldiers march through the warm summer night towards the village of Gunderup in silence, but when they reach the village, the Prussians have left it, moving further north. They are just half an hour late. Had they set out from Ellidshøj just after having been informed that the Prussian patrol had left this village, they would have caught up with their enemy while he was camped for the night in Gunderup. Now they have to continue their march northwards, following the tracks of the Prussian patrol which has by now probably reached the small village of Lundby.

Between the villages of Gunderup and Lundby is a high hill, and the road from the top of this runs through Lundby, bending left just before reaching the southern outskirts of the village. The long stretch of road down the hill slope is quite exposed, but before the bend there is a low drystone wall encircling a garden to the left of the road. Local farmers repeatedly advise Lieutenant-Colonel Beck to lead his men around Lundby, through a hollow, enabling him to get quite close to the Prussian soldiers without being discovered by them. But Lieutenant-Colonel Beck refuses to follow their advice – “My men are not to be guided by a peasant”, he explains the local farmers, angrily. The Prussian troops camped in Lundby are still unaware of the presence of Danish troops near the village. They suspect no arrival of Danish troops from the south – not until a Danish dragoon unintentionally shows himself at the top of the hill.

About half (65 men) of the Prussian patrol hastily assemble behind the drystone wall at the southern edge of Lundby, while the rest is kept in reserve in the village. From the top of the hill, Lieutenant-Colonel Beck orders his captain to lead a frontal attack against their position – there is no time to deploy the men in skirmish lines. “Just fix bayonets and fall on the enemy!”. Lieutenant-Colonel Beck’s aide is speechless: “That brigade command was etched into his mind … down that hill – on the exposed road – run 1000-1200 feet straight towards a couple of hundred rifles – in an excellent position with ample support for their rifles – madness!”.

At the foot of the hill, in Lundby, the Prussian corporal Heymann has trouble believing his own eyes. To him, the Danish frontal attack on the Prussian position behind the drystone wall seems insane: “These people must have been out of their minds to run like that, straight into our fire. Did they think we were firing blanks at them?”. But the Prussian needle guns are not loaded with blanks. The first volley of shots cuts down a number of Danish soldiers. The Danish troops expect to receive only one volley of shots – believing the enemy to have time to fire only one volley before they close in on him. But the Danish commander has not taken the Prussians’ quick-loading needle guns into account. A few seconds after the first volley of shots, another volley rings out from the drystone wall. Corporal Heymann is appalled: “Dear God in Heaven, how terrifying an impact!”. But the Danish soldiers continue their attack, still running down the hill in a column formation. When they are close to the drystone wall, the third volley of shots hit them. The column breaks up completely; most Danish soldiers throw themselves into the fields of corn on both sides of the road, a few continues forward but are mowed down. At the same time, a small group from the corn field trying to attack the Prussian flank is overpowered and taken prisoner. Other Danish soldiers attempt to retaliate against the Prussian fire from their positions in the corn fields but having to stand up to reload their muzzle-loaders, they are quickly shot down.

Lieutenant-Colonel Beck has observed the attack of his soldiers. Within a few minutes, his forces have been annihilated. Of the about 160 soldiers of the 5th company of the 1st regiment participating in the attack, 95 have been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Three Prussian soldiers have been wounded. Shocked, Lieutenant-Colonel Beck lets his trumpeter sound the retreat.

The skirmish at Lundby
Later Danish drawing of the skirmish at Lundby.

The skirmish at the village of Lundby was a brief and brutal lesson in the superiority of the Prussian needle gun. For the first time, its protagonists were able to present a fighting where a Prussian force armed with needle guns had crushed an enemy outnumbering them.
In 1866, two years after the skirmish at Lundby, Prussia and Austria fought each other for dominance in the German Confederation – a war which the Austrian General Gablenz later described as “one long series of Lundby skirmishes”. In the battle of Königgrätz, Prussian troops armed with needle guns annihilated the Austrian army which still stuck to its shock tactics.
After 1864, the skirmish at Lundby was discussed ardently by European armies’ high commands, and the skirmish was mentioned in Prussian and Austrian instruction books for officers as a prime example for imitation. Within 20 years, almost all European armies had abandoned their old muzzle-loaders and had implemented rifles based on the needle gun instead.

Chr. Richardts grundlovsdigt til de danske soldater

I mit første indlæg her på bloggen, skrev jeg lidt om H.C. Andernsen og hans syn på de danske soldater i 1864, men H.C. Andersen var ikke den eneste danske digter, der følte med soldaterne og lod det komme til udtryk i sine digte. Allerede 5. juni 1864, i forbindelse med en grundlovsfest på Eremitagen, offentliggjorde Chr. Richardt sit digt For Hær og Flaade, der dagen efter blev trykt i Fædrelandet. Et uddrag fra digtet lyder:

I Danmarks Kæmper alle,
som kækt i Kampen drog
og vilde staa og falde
med gamle Dannebrog.
Den Tak, vi eder skylde
for Møje, Sorg og Savn
tag den af Hjertets Fylde
i Danmarks Modernavn

(Møller, 1913)

Chr. Richardt var så nationalt sindet, at det ikke var nok for ham at støtte hærens indsats i skrift og tale. I foråret havde den 33-årige digter, der i øvrigt året før var blevet forlovet, således forsøgt at melde sig til hæren sammen med Georg Brandes (Carlsen, 1929). En idé der ikke vækkede stor glæde hos digterens venner og bekendte, der alle ivrigt forsøgte at tale ham fra den. Hans gode ven, Konsul Hages hustru, skrev således til Chr. Richardt:

”Jeg har et Par Gange hørt sige, at De tænkte paa at blive Soldat. Der kan være megen Tvivl og Vrøvl inden i et Menneske, men dette er for stærkt! De har jo faa legemlige Kræfter, og derimod har De bestemt aandelige, som De skylder Gud og Mennesker at gøre frugtbringende. Jeg tror, det er misforstaaet Pligtfølelse, om De vilde tilbyde Deres Tjeneste, Vorherre vil, at vi skal bruge vor Forstand, og saa vil han hjælpe os – men i den Idé er der ingen Forstand! Richardt, jeg har i disse Tider, da mangen Gang alt har været mørkt for mig, faaet Lyst og følt Trang til at være god og mild, naar jeg læste ”Lær mig, Nattens Stjærne -”. Naar De formaar dette, saa maa De ikke forlange ogsaa at være Soldat!” (Carlsen, 1929).

I sidste ende var det dog ikke vennernes bønner men Chr. Richardts dårlige helbred, der afholdt ham fra at indtræde i hæren. I stedet gav han ved enhver given lejlighed sin støtte til de kæmpende soldater, og stod ikke tilbage for at rose deres indsats, som det blandt andet var tilfældet ved ovennævnte grundlovsfest.

Med kongerejsevogn gennem Jylland

Følgende er et uddrag fra menig ved 6. Regiments 4. Kompagni P. Sørensens erindringer:

”Da Krigen var forbi, blev 6. Regiment permitteret i Køge, og fra København tog en Del af os med Damper til Aarhus samme Dag.
I Aarhus laa der fuldt af Tyskere. Der var nogen, der fortalte os, at hvis vi gik op til den tyske Øverstkommanderende, kunde vi blive kørt til Skanderborg i det mindste. Der var straks nogen, som gik derop. De blev ogsaa flinkt behandlet, men der var ikke flere Vogne at undvære. Vi var saa fem, der vilde gaa paa vore Ben. Vi havde gaaet før, endda med fuld Oppakning, saa maatte vi vel kunne vel spadsere til Horsens, naar vi intet havde at bære paa.
Et stykke udenfor Byen blev vi indhentet af en Kongerejsevogn, hvori der kun sad en civilklædt Herre foruden Kusken.
”Holdt! Kan vi køre med?”
Manden holdt, men trykkede sig lidt ved at svare.
”Det manglede bare”, var der en, der indvendte. –
Han var altid lidt rask i Tøjet. – Og næste Øjeblik sad vi i Vognen ved den fremmede.
Vi saa lidt paa ham, og saa begyndte vi at synge Soldaterviser. Vi sang da ogsaa ”Dengang jeg drog afsted” med dette her: ”Og skælder man ham ud paa Dansk, saa siger han ”Hols Maul,””
”Kan I synge den en Gang til?” spurgte den fremmede.
”Ja, Fan’deme lissaa tit du vil ha’en”, var der en. Der svarede, og saa sang vi den igen.
Da vi kom tæt til Skanderborg, tog den fremmede til sin Brystlomme, og saa bød han Cigarer rundt. Med fuld Damp kom vi ind i Skanderborg, og vi sang, saa Brostenene lettede sig.
Kusken holdt ind i en Gæstgivergaard, og vi sagde Tak for Køren.
”Ved I hvem I har sunget for?” spurgte han. ”Det er en højtstaaende tysk Officer. Han skal til Kolding.”
Saa var vi saa kloge.
Vi gik nu ind i Skænkestuen og bestilte Smørrebrød. Vi havde akkurat faaet begyndt paa det, da der kom Bud ind, at hvis vi var færdige, kunde vi køre med til Horsens, ja der var en, som skulde med til Kolding, og det kunde han ogsaa faa Lov til.
Naa, vi snuppede hver nogle Stykker Smørrebrød, som vi spiste under Vejs, og saa kørte vi videre.
Paa den Maade kom vi skam gratis hjem.
Men denne her tyske Officer har jo nok moret sig storartet og fortalt Historien, da han er kommen til Vejs Ende.”
(Gejlager 1914, s.22-23).

Lad os få sparket lidt gang i denne side.

Så er det ved at være på tide, at jeg får sparket lidt gang i denne specialeblog. Emnet bliver de danske soldaters hjemkomst efter krigen i 1864. Hvordan tog befolkningen imod dem, og hvordan oplevede soldaterne selv hjemkomsten. Mere herom i menu-feltet “Om Projektet”.

I første omgang kommer denne side primært til at indeholde en række udklip fra soldater og civiles dagbøger, breve, memoirer samt diverse avisartikler.

Og hvem er bedre at starte med end vores nationale fortæller og digter, H.C. Andersen:

En af de første til at beklage den manglende festlige modtagelse af soldaterne i efteråret 1864 var H.C. Andersen. På grund af hans status som international berømthed og den omfattende brevsamling og de mange dagbøger som H.C. Andersen efterlod sig, lader det til, at mange historikere, har set ham som en glimrende kilde til stemningen blandt befolkningen på Sjælland og i København, hvor han fortrinsvis befandt sig under krigen. Tom Buk-Swienty, der med sine to bestsellere om 1864 (Slagtebænk Dybbøl og Dommedag Als) har genoplivet hele debatten om krigen på godt og ondt, benyttede sig i høj grad af H.C. Andersens dagbøger og breve til at male et billede af stemningen i København hen over sommeren og efteråret 1864. I flere bøger om 1864 er Andersens digt Ved Soldatens Hjemkomst i 1864 fremhævet som et stemningsbillede fra den tid, sammen med hans breve og dagbøger. Spørgsmålet er dog, om digtet og Andersens andre skriverier på den tid i virkeligheden afspejler folkestemningen men nærmere H.C. Andersens tungsindige skuffelse over krigens udfald og enkelte bekendtes syn på hærens indsats.

Den verdenskendte digter havde siden Treårskrigen, hvor han endegyldigt blev tvunget til at tage stilling mellem dansk og tysk (Hedegaard, 1950), været særdeles aktiv i sin støtte til den danske hær og de danske soldater. I 1851 havde han således til en sejrsfest på den østfynske herregård Glorup skrevet en hyldestsang til de hjemvendte landsoldater, der blandt andet indeholdt følgende vers (Adriansen, 2003):

Dengang du drog afsted

Vor Herre han var med,

ja Vor Herre han var med;

Du gik til ærligt Slag

for Danmarks gode Sag.

Og alle danske Hjerter bleve eet paa Kampens Dag.

Igjennem Hegn og Moser, hvor Kugleregnen faldt,

Gik frejdigt Landsoldaten, det kunde ei gaae galt;

Og derfor er vi stolt af Dig vor Landsoldat!

Hurra, Hurra, Hurra!

Det fremgår af H.C. Andersens breve og dagbøger, at han var dybt skuffet over, at de hjemvendte soldater ikke blev modtaget med samme glæde og taknemmelighed i 1864. Hans breve fra august måned – den måned hvor flest soldater blev hjempermitteret, vidner om dette. I starten af måneden befandt Andersen sig på godset Christinelund ved Præstø, hvorfra han med ængstelse afventede nyt om fredsforhandlinger. Her modtog han d. 6. august nyt om de strenge betingelser Bismarck stillede for en fred.. I et brev til den norske digter Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson skrev Andersen samme dag fortvivlet:

Fred er en deilig Ting, men Freden denne Gang er ikke ,som sidst, da kunde vi jublende modtage vore hjemdragende Soldater, det kunde vi ikke nu og dog have de holdt ud, lidt og stridt, saa Mange givet deres unge Liv! de kjære velsignede Mennesker.”

Og nærmest i kopi fortsatte han samme dag i et brev til sin ven, komponisten I.P.E. Hartmann:

”…Veiret er koldt og graat, jeg troer Sommeren er forbi, men Freden kommer jo, Freden hvor vi ikke som sidst kan med Jubel modtage vore hjemdragende Soldater og dog have de lidt og stridt, dog have saa Mange givet deres unge Liv hen for Danmark, jeg kunde græde, hjalp det kun Noget…”

En uge senere var Andersen draget videre til Conradine-Lyst ved Slagelse, hvorfra han ved selvsyn kunne se de hjemvendende soldater, når de ankom til Korsør fra Fyn. Herfra beklagede han sig i et brev til Mathilde Ørsted fra d. 14. august sig igen over, at de hjemvendte soldater ikke modtoges med sang og jubel:

Sommeren er faret hen og har kun efterladt Tidens tunge Bundfald, disse mange tunge smertelige Erindringer fra denne Krig! forrige Gang kom vore Soldater hjem med Sang og Jubel, vi reiste Æreporte, hang Flag ud og nu er Alt saa bitterligt stille og dog har Soldaten holdt ud, lidt og stridt saa godt, ja maaskee endnu mere, end under forrige Krig, men i denne Verden kommer Glands og Glorie efter Udfaldet, efter Tingene som de sluttes.”

Det er værd at bemærke hvor tæt Andersen her kommer tæt på at formulere de strofer der nogle uger senere blev en del af digtet Ved Soldatens Hjemkomst. At det ikke udelukkende var negative modtagelser soldaterne fik viser et brev som Andersen samme dag sendte til Jonna Stampe, som han havde boet hos i Præstø, hvori han skrev om sin husværtinde i Slagelse, Fru Ingemann:

Hun fik, medens jeg var der, Indqvartering, to vel udseende Soldater. Hun takkede dem saa smukt for hvad de havde gjort for os og lod ret indrette for dem som for kjærkomne Gjæster.”

Sigende er det, at Andersen her (ligesom flere andre gange) fremhæver et konkret eksempel på at soldaterne modtages venligt og elskværdigt af befolkningen, hvorimod den generelle misstemning over for de hjemvendte soldater, som Andersen ellers giver udtryk for i sine breve og dagbogsoptegnelser sjældent bliver konkret. Den eneste gang Andersen bliver konkret om en episode hvor der tales nedsættende om soldaternes indsats er således i en dagbogsoptegnelse fra d. 21. august, hvor han fortæller:

Jeg gik hen at besøge Mathiesen-Hansen der saa smukt spillede for os igaar, derpaa hen til gamle Windings, Konen er det Magreste jeg har seet; hun var lidenskabelig for at Soldaterne bedre skulde have forsvaret Landet, ikke lade sig tage tilfange. Der var ikke Noget at sætte op mod hendes Heftighed og jeg indlod mig derfor ikke videre i Disput.”

Udover dette ene eksempel er H.C. Andersens papirer blottet for negative udtalelser om soldaternes indsats i krigen. Andersens skuffelse går dog heller ikke så meget på at soldaterne skulle være blevet omtalt som kujoner eller forrædere eller lignende, men nærmere på, at de ikke fik den samme heltemodtagelse som deres forgængere. Det er denne skuffelse der kommer til udtryk da han d. 29. august sætter sig ned og skriver et hjemkomstdigt til soldaterne, ligesom han havde gjort det i den forrige krig:

Ved Soldatens Hjemkomst i 1864

Vor brave Soldat, som saa ærligt har stridt,

Du kommer nu hjem uden Glæde.

O Danmark, hvor har Du dog bitterligt lidt,

Blod er flydt, og Blod er at græde!

I forrige Krig, da Soldaten kom hjem,

Stor Festlighed Byerne gjorde,

Fra Husene hængte man Danebrog frem,

Stod med Sange og Æresporte.

Nu kommer Du hjem uden Hurra og Sang.

Og dog: Du holdt ud, maatte lide

Langt mere i Danmarks Kamp denne Gang,

End Mange betænke og vide.

Hav Tak!“ det siger vort Hjertelag,

Det vil i hvert Haandtryk Du kjende.

Og saa vil vi sjunge om „Atterdag“;

Den Sang er ei skrevet tilende.

I Gud er Fremtid! „Han gav, han tog“,

Han kan skrive paa Danskens Skjolde:

Atter plantedes Danebrog

Paa Thyras gjenreiste Volde.“