|August Wilhelm Gildemeister was born in Bremen 26 March 1791 as son of the merchant and senator Johann Gildemeister (1753-1837) and of Gerbetha, born Wilckens (1763-1803). After his participation in the German Campaign of 1813 as reported in his diary, he and his Marburg friend Wulf Ludwig Ries went to the United States, where they founded Gildemeister & Ries, a textile trading company. They came back to Bremen in 1826 and got involved with the shipowning business, from which the Visurgis shareholder company developed in 1897. Gildemeister was married to Auguste, born Nettmann (1805-1890), with whom he had several children, and he died in Bremen 16 May 1866.
The diary (privately owned) is a handwritten copy, probably from shortly after Gildemeister’s death. The last page has the little date notice 27 July 1867. The leather binding (17,5×21,5 cm) bears the gilt title saying: A. W. Gildemeister. Adventures in the years 1813 and 1815. The book contains two texts with separate paginations (with 17 blank pages in between). The first text is entitled Tour with the guard of honor in 1813 (p. 1-191), the other one (p. 1-168) has no title. The handwriting is clear, easy to read, but has quite a number of later (?) pencil corrections, especially with regard to French words and names. The diary is published here for the very first time.
Bremen was occupied by Napoleonic forces since 1806 and under French government since 1811. Napoleon’s defeat in the Russian campaign of 1812 nourished the hope for liberation and led to riots in the city, which were put down with brute force by General Dominique Joseph Vandamme.
The recruitment of sons of prosperous bourgeois families in Bremen and the forming of the guard of honor have to be seen against this background – just a few weeks prior to Napoleon’s defeat in the so called “Völkerschlacht” at Leipzig (Battle of Leipzig) from 16 to 19 October 1813.
August Wilhelm Gildemeister’s
Tour with the guard of honor
in the years 1813-1814
(according to his own records)
We left Metz 1 January (1814), after we had stayed about four weeks in the barracks under supervision of police officers. It was harsh frost weather and we were mostly very hilarious to be able to leave this sad stay behind. We saw ruins of Roman water pipelines on our way. We headed for Pont v. Mousson this first day, where unexpected hassle occurred. Instead of our normal inn accommodation we were locked into the local municipal prison, because our first division (which had left Metz on 31 December) had refused to pay the local officers 30 francs for their guarding them at the inn. We were led through a corridor into the backyard, which led to several prison departments, the door was locked behind us, and the inmates came to their cell doors to greet us as their new comrades through iron grids. After about 15 minutes the guardian came and took twelve of us including myself into a slightly better prison with a heating, where we were able to get bad beds for the night for money. The others had to sleep on rotten straw in a rathole. I had to content myself with straw, too, but at least in a warm chamber. As another calamity we hardly got anything to eat, because the jailer was a man of 70 years, but childish, one of his daughters totally drunk and the other one extremely stupid. However, we succeeded in having a few potatoes cooked for a dear price, but at least we were able to still our hunger.
We left with the guard of honor 4 September 1813. Our corps consisted of about 78 men. We gathered about 6 a.m. beneath the Ostertor (Eastern Gate), but did not leave until 8. It was a very sad day for all of us. An innumerable crowd of people accompanied us until the Buntentor, where friends and family said farewell. We paused at Mohren Vorwerk for a review by the long-legged villain the prefect and by the red-nosed war commissioner Cung. Breakfast was provided for us after the review in the Mohren garden, where the prefect babbled a long speech with loud exclamations of Honnem Napoleon Patrie. After the meal we went back to our horses and it was blown to mount and march. I had equipped myself with a couple of bottles of Madeira, which I put into my bag to consume them with my comrades in the evening. The prefect was still present upon our breakup and our comrade von Harten was so impertinent to exclaim Vive l’Empereur, but nobody else chimed in. We reached our night’s lodging at Bassum late, but to our dislike we had to get the fourage for the horses ourselves, because our servants had not yet arrived. I had an only average accommodation together with Stock, but with friendly people. The coat bags had weakend most of the horses and only my one remained in quite a good shape until the end.
(1) A street called Am Mohrenshof does still exist in Bremen-Arsten today.