Induction of new soldiers into the Vincenti Regiment, 1744
In late July, young man disembarked at Bastia from a Livornesi pinque along with an assortment of barrels and shipping crates. He was dressed in the crisp blue uniform of a Prussian second lieutenant, introduced himself as “Guillaume de la Marck,” and insisted that he had urgent business with “His Majesty, the King of Corsica.” He was directed to Count Marcantonio Giappiconi
, then at Bastia with the garrison and his regulars-in-training. The count and the cadet enjoyed a brief chat, and then the young man laid down his pseudonym and reintroduced himself. Actually “de la Marck” (more properly von der Mark
) was his mother’s name; his own name was Friedrich Wilhelm Franz Heinrich, Freiherr von Neuhoff zu Pungelscheid
, and he was Theodore’s cousin.[A]
Friedrich Wilhelm was the only living son of Franz Bernhard
, Theodore’s uncle, who had taken little Theodore and his infant sister under his own roof after the death of their father. Franz Bernhard had provided for Theodore’s education and was one of his two father figures early in life (the other being his stepfather Joseph Marneau
, who would later fall out with Theodore and report him for theft). Franz Bernhard appears to have had his own children rather late in life, and Friedrich Wilhelm was only 11 years old when Theodore was crowned as King of Corsica. Nevertheless, the boy heard his father’s stories about his “royal cousin,” who still sent regular letters to Franz Bernhard at his estate in Pungelscheid and received regular mentions in the popular gazettes.
In 1741, as Europe was plunging into war, the sixteen year old Friedrich Wilhelm joined the Prussian Army. He was was accepted as a cadet in the Musketeer Regiment No. 9 of Major General Otto Friedrich von Leps
, which was recruited from his home district of the Prussian Rhineland. His unit had been on garrison duty during the First Silesian War and saw no action, but in the Second Silesian War - now as an ensign, or fähnrich
- he had taken part in the decisive battles against Saxony in 1745, and obtained his commission as a second lieutenant in late 1745 or early 1746. Yet although this was a rather promising start to a military career, Friedrich still recalled his father’s stories about Theodore. He had followed news of Theodore’s triumphant return from exile in England, and is known to have bought a copy of Lochner’s 1736 Das Alte und Neue Corsica
, which described Theodore’s arrival and coronation as well as the general history of the island. In March of 1746, Friedrich took a leave of absence, traveled to Italy by way of Switzerland, purchased some crates of muskets and other supplies with his father’s money, and secured passage to Corsica.
Theodore heartily welcomed his young cousin at Corti and vowed to put him to use. Befitting his military experience, Theodore commissioned him as a captain and sent him back to Giappiconi to be put in command of a regular company.
It was not exactly a high posting compared to Drost and Rauschenburg, who were both lieutenant-generals, but a 21 year old general would not have been very credible. Moreover, generals were a dime a dozen in Corsica; Father Carlo Rostini not Theodore used high military ranks to flatter and win over his prominent subjects in the same way he used titles of nobility. Most had no “permanent” military command or standing troops save whatever local militia they might raise. Pungelscheid may have been merely a captain, but he was a regular
captain with his own regular troops in the permanent military establishment.
Uniform of the Prussian Musketeer Regt. No. 9 in 1750
Pungelscheid, of course, did not transform the royalist army overnight. Giappiconi was not interested in an abrupt overhaul of his training regimen, and one imagines that the forty-seven year old general was not entirely pleased to have a twenty-one year old captain give him “advice” on the training and conduct of his troops. Nevertheless, Pungelscheid did convince Giappiconi to “Prussify” his training and drill regimen in various ways - the reputation of the Prussian army in 1746 was rather good, and it no doubt helped that the captain was the king’s cousin. In the main this amounted to a greater emphasis on marching and maneuvering in step, and Pungelscheid also introduced the new Prussian bayonet drill of 1740 which involved the soldiers holding their muskets against the hip at waist height.
He also petitioned Theodore for money to acquire iron ramrods instead of wooden ones, as the latter were prone to snapping when handled roughly in the heat of battle.
As the captain was settling in with his troops at Bastia, the first Corsican battalion was fighting in the Riviera campaign under the overall command of the formidable Karl Sigmund, Freiherr von Leutrum
, a German-born officer in Savoyard service known affectionately by the Piedmontese as “Barôn Litrôn.” While King Carlo Emanuele
had led the army approaching Piacenza in the east, Leutrum had been entrusted with pushing against the French rearguard forces along the Genoese frontier, and spent the summer personally riding back and forth from Novi to Saorgio, commanding multiple offensives at once and probing the Franco-Genoese defenders up and down the line. The breakthrough came in the far west, where the Sardinian forces at Saorgio, including the “Corsican Regiment,” attacked and outmaneuvered a French force at Sospel. The Sardinians then cut southeast and advanced down the Roya river valley to Ventimiglia, which surrendered after the Sardinians were joined by a squadron of the British Navy, and occupied San Remo on August 15th.
Although the Corsicans continued to suffer from a reputation of indiscipline, particularly when in camp, the Sardinians found them to be well suited for the mountain warfare of the Alpine front. Major Pietro Giovan Battaglini’s
battalion had been among those which turned the flank of the French at Sospel by taking a narrow track over the mountains. The features that made the Riviera and the Alpine foothills so difficult for normal military maneuvers - rugged mountains, isolated valleys, and narrow trails - were business as usual in Corsica. Although the battalion had lost some men to desertion in Piedmont, morale after Sospel was high. But it remained to be seen how the unit would comport themselves once they were actually in Genoese territory, particularly given what had happened at the Corsican siege of Bastia. For many of the Corsican rank-and-file soldiers, the rebellion - now in its 17th year - was coterminous with their adult lives; being at war with the Genoese was all they had ever known.
As it turned out, there was not much to fear. Genoese claims that the Sardinians had unleashed a mob of Corsican “bandits” upon them appear to have been unfounded,
and the nickname which the unit acquired in Italy - il reggimento nero
, “the black regiment” - appears to have been based on their uniforms rather than their conduct. Indeed, the Corsicans were surprised to find that the Sanremesi hated the Genoese almost as much as they did and greeted the Sardinian forces as liberators (although their ardor for the British, who had shelled their town twice, was presumably more muted). The Genoese Republic was a conglomeration of former city-states and principalities which had been acquired by the Genoa over the centuries - often by force - and not every one of these constituent parts loved Genoese dominion. In 1729, the same year the rebellion had broken out on Corsica, the Sanremesi had filed suit at the Imperial Aulic Council in Vienna (as Genoa was nominally an imperial vassal) claiming that the Republic’s authority over them was unlawful, but without success. A later (and possibly apocryphal) folk legend quotes Major Battaglini as telling the Sanremesi elders that “the Genoese do not heed lawsuits and treaties, but only muskets and cannon.”
After the fall of Piacenza and the swift approach of the imperial army, the demoralized Genoese government quickly abandoned any hope of resistance and signed an armistice with Feldmarshall Josef Wenzel, Fürst von Liechtenstein
. The marshal assured them that they would be treated with leniency, and that coming to terms with Austria would be preferable to being left at the mercy of the Sardinians. Carlo Emanuele, however, was not bound by this armistice and had no intention of observing it. Although the allied cause probably would have been best served by a close pursuit of the remaining French forces as they retreated west, Carlo Emanuele instead launched Leutrum’s army in a race eastwards along the Ligurian coast in an attempt to occupy as much Genoese territory as possible before the Austrians could reach it. Such was the state of trust and cooperation between Turin and Vienna.
The post-armistice Genoese army existed in a strange limbo. The army was formally declared to be prisoners of war, but they were not actually imprisoned or even disarmed. Only the expeditionary force at Piacenza and the garrison of the fortress of Gavi (which had surrendered before the armistice) were actually interned, and most of them subsequently died from hunger and disease in the atrocious conditions of their captivity. Elsewhere the Genoese battalions continued to hold their posts, either at their barracks in Genoa or in the Republic’s various fortresses, but their numbers were fearfully reduced by desertion. The Austrians actively solicited the demoralized Genoese soldiers to join them, offering a release from their “captivity” and steady pay that the indebted Republic had trouble providing (in part because of the end of the Spanish subsidy and the indemnity which the Austrians levied upon the supine republic). Most of Genoa’s foreign regiments - the Germans, Swiss, and Grisons - virtually evaporated, with even their senior officers jumping ship (and sometimes even encouraging their soldiers to join them). Turnabout, it may be argued, was fair play; in years past, the Genoese had taken to replenishing the numbers of these regiments with Austrian deserters.
And then there were the Corsicans. The number of Corsican regiments in the Genoese army had been gradually declining since the outbreak of the rebellion, and by 1745 there were only two. The quality had also gone downhill. While some were micheletti
driven into exile by the rebels, generally considered reliable, many were poor Corsicans put into a desperate position by the privation of the long rebellion who saw an army enlistment bonus as their only way out. The oldest and most reliable of the Corsican battalions, the 1st battalion of the Giacomone regiment, was captured at Piacenza. The others, the 2nd Giacomone battalion and the single battalion of the Vincenti regiment, had been relegated to garrison duties throughout Liguria. In particular, most of the Vincenti regiment had been assigned to the western Ligurian garrisons under the command of Major-General Escher
, who was now conducting a fighting retreat towards Finale together with several “lost” battalions of the French army.
As this retreat was underway, two of the Vincenti regiment’s captains - Giuseppe Antonio Lepidi
and Domenico Maria Vincenti
(none other than the son of the regimental colonel) - decided that this was an opportune moment to desert. It seems unlikely that their disloyalty was the result of a belated conversion to Corsican nationalism. Vincenti’s motives are unclear; he belonged to a family of Venzolasca with a proud history of Genoese military service. Lepidi’s motives can be more easily guessed, as he had been in trouble with his superiors over accusations of misusing army funds, and had retained his rank (for the moment) only because the Genoese were desperate for officers. After making contact with the Sardinians through a certain Ensign Colonna
, the captains agreed to defect and surrender their companies in exchange for Sardinian commissions.[B]
On August 27th, a Sardinian army detachment including Battaglini’s Corsicans “attacked” a portion of the Genoese line manned by the Vincenti battalion, only for the defenders to immediately throw down their weapons in a pre-arranged surrender. The Sardinians moved quickly to exploit this gap and the defenders were routed, falling back to Savona and its formidable Priamar Fortress, which would remain under siege for months. This betrayal so unnerved Escher that he excluded the rest of his Corsican troops from the fortress garrison, forcing them to surrender to the Sardinians after failing to escape eastwards.
Priamar Fortress, Savona
The ripple effect spread still further to Genoa, where the senators - fearing more such planned betrayals - dissolved the Vincenti regiment altogether and removed the Corsican Lieutenant-Colonel Paolo Francesco Petralba
from command of the fortress of Sarzanello in the east. This left only the significantly under-strength 2nd Giacomone battalion in Genoa itself, and seeing no ready means to replenish it, this too was disbanded several weeks later. By the end of October, although individual Corsicans continued to serve in various “Ligurian” regiments (mostly soldiers from the former 2nd Giacomone), there were no longer any active Corsican national units in the Genoese Army. Overall, nearly 250 Corsicans in Genoese service were adopted into the (Royal) Corsican Regiment, the majority into two new supernumerary companies under Lepidi and Vincenti. Although the quality of these new recruits was mediocre and the desertion rates of the two new companies were the highest in the battalion, Battaglini was still able to boast in the autumn of 1746 that his battalion had actually gained
men over the course of its service in Italy. In contrast, the Genoese forces had dwindled dramatically from defeat, disease, desertion, and defection. In July of 1746 the Genoese army, at least on paper, had over 12,000 men; four months later, the army commissioners reported that the entire regular army had barely 4,000 soldiers fit for service.
Back on Corsica, Genoa’s surrender and occupation was received with delight by Theodore and his cabinet, but they soon realized that it was not necessarily an unambiguous victory for their cause. Genoa’s armistice was only with the Austrians, and it said nothing about evacuating or disarming their overseas garrisons at Bonifacio and Capraia. As with the Genoese garrisons in Liguria, they were to remain in place. Genoa’s withdrawal from the war also threatened the resumption of Genoese shipping to these beleaguered garrisons, for now that the Republic had dropped out of the war there was no longer any need for a British blockade. For the moment, however, the blockade continued - not out of any sympathy for the Corsicans, but because of the fury of Britain’s minister to Turin Arthur Villettes
, who was so incensed by Austria’s “separate peace” with Genoa that he demanded that Vice-Admiral Henry Medley
continue the blockade as a sort of diplomatic protest. It was not until early November that Medley received orders from Secretary Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle
telling him to desist immediately and divert all available forces to the planned invasion of Provence.
In the meantime, Theodore focused his diplomatic efforts on Austria, as the Austrians now held the whip hand in Genoa. His route to Vienna ran through Tuscany; in particular he had the friendly ear of Emmanuel François, Comte de Richecourt
, who sat on the Tuscan Council of Regency, as well as James Mills
, an English-born former Austrian colonel living in Pistoia who still had friends in Vienna.
His overtures were received favorably because although she knew nothing of Corsica, Empress-Queen Maria Theresa
despised the Genoese. She credited them with opening the gates of Italy to her enemies (ignoring the fact that by offering Finale to Carlo Emanuele she had arguably betrayed them first) and was absolutely pitiless towards the current plight of the Republic. It was probably for the best that Austria was represented there by the rather more restrained General Ludwig Ferdinand, Graf von Schulenburg
. But her feelings towards the Sardinians were little better. Trust between Turin and Vienna was at a nadir, with only the British keeping the tenuous alliance together.
Theodore’s appeals, conveyed through Richecourt’s correspondence, played on these prejudices. The Empress, Theodore noted gratefully, had already voiced her support for the “liberty” of the Corsicans, but Carlo Emanuele had done that much and more, sending money into Corsica and raising a regiment of Corsican expatriates (that is, Theodore’s regiment) with the obvious intent of advancing his own agenda in Corsica. Theodore suggested that imperial recognition of his Corsican state - and not merely a statement in support of the abstract “liberty” of its people - would win the eternal admiration of both himself and the Corsicans while also frustrating the Genoese, the Sardinians, and even the French.
A pro-Austrian Corsica would provide Austria with much better harbors than Livorno, useful if the Austrians were to attempt to reassert themselves in the Mediterranean, as well as denying these bases to France and Genoa. He did not fail to mention that Bonifacio had a substantial cache of impounded Spanish artillery, badly needed by the forces of General Maximilian Ulysses, Graf von Browne
which were now preparing to invade Provence. Critically, however, he asked for nothing in return save recognition - no money, no troops, no supplies. However meager his contribution to the war might be, he was offering it for no more than a scrap of paper - and, he added, the opportunity to serve the rightful emperor and his just and benevolent empress.
It was certainly a bold strategy. Theodore obliquely implied that imperial suzerainty would be welcomed by the grateful Corsicans, but he made it quite clear that what he was asking was the recognition of the Kingdom of Corsica as a state
, with himself and his naziunale
government at its head. This was not quite the same as claiming to be king
; he might, after all, rule the Kingdom as a viceroy or regent, and thus the possibility was left open that Corsica’s king might yet be Franz Stefan, ruling by proxy in the same way that he ruled Tuscany. But it was nevertheless a recognition of independence and sovereignty, provided the Empress-Queen was willing to oblige him.
The Corsicans had yet one more iron in the fire. While young Pungelscheid was pleased with his new commission and hard at work training the infantry in Bastia, he shared the desire common to many young officers of attaining glory in combat, this time as a captain leading his own men rather than a mere ensign. Theodore would not send him to the continent, lest his cousin be thrown carelessly into the bloody fray by some callous Sardinian general. Yet there were other targets which seemed tempting now that the Genoese were vulnerable, and thus Giappiconi and Pungelscheid began laying plans for an assault on the isle of Capraia.
 Friedrich Wilhelm appears to have been merely “on leave” from the Prussian army at the time, which presumably did not permit him to take a commission with a foreign power. But nobody in Berlin seems to have noticed at the time, and Friedrich would never return to Prussia to attempt to regain his old lieutenancy. Whether he ever formally resigned
from the Prussian Army is unclear; if not, he may qualify as the most famous Prussian deserter.
 The old drill, derived from the use of pikes, involved a soldier holding the musket out in front of himself at shoulder height with his right palm against the butt. This was useful enough for presenting a wall of points to receive a charge or force back an enemy, but it was awkward for real hand-to-hand combat. The Prussian waist-high method allowed easier handling of the weapon, a more effective thrust, and in general promoted a more offensively-minded use of the bayonet. This method eventually became universal. Some sources argue that the Prussian drill at this time was not actually waist-height but somewhat higher, still held against the soldier’s side but just under the breast. Either way, in this matter the Corsican Army was rather ahead of the curve; the army of Great Britain did not officially adopt a Prussian-style bayonet drill until the 1760s.
 This was rather rich coming from the Genoese, who had unleashed an actual
regiment of bandits upon the Corsicans in 1736 whose soldiers were literally pulled from the Republic’s jails and offered amnesty for service.
 Mills may have liked Theodore because he was something of a visionary adventurer himself. He had served with the East India Company forces in Bengal, and wrote a curious memo to the British government explaining how Britain might conquer and rule all of India.
 In light of the fall of Calvi, King Louis had affirmed his continuing support for the Republic by declaring himself “in favor of the Corsicans faithful to the Republic of Genoa, and against those who seek to evade her domination.”
[A] Finally, we meet our last royal cousin. I don't know that much about Friedrich Wilhelm - he was indeed a junior officer in the Infantry Regiment No. 9, although the details of his military career are just my guesses based on his age and the actual history of the 9th Regiment during the WotAS. After that, however, he becomes a mystery - I don't even know his death date, or whether he attained any higher rank than lieutenant. The dearth of information and the fact that he had no known wife or children suggests he may have been killed in the war or died of other causes shortly thereafter, but I don't actually know that. I figured we could use a new royal cousin in the mix - and a little Prussian martinet, to boot - so here you go.
[B] Lepidi and Vincenti did indeed desert from the Genoese army in 1746. I’m not sure what happened to Vincenti, but Lepidi subsequently became a captain in Sardinia’s Corsican regiment - that is, Rivarola’s regiment - and was part of the attempted invasion of Corsica. He may be the same “Captain Lepidi” who, according to a British newspaper, made some statements “injurious to the Honor of the Daughters of Count Rivarola” and was shot dead by Rivarola’s men. Gosh, I wonder why that expedition went so poorly?