The dragoon’s last stand
Sunday morning, 28 FEB 1864. While the American Civil War was raging on the other side of the Atlantic, Prussia and Austria was invading the Kingdom of Denmark over the territory of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg in the Second Schleswig War.
It was that morning that 23 year old Niels Kjeldsen, a cavalryman of the 4th Eskadron, 6th Dragoon Regiment, of the Royal Danish Army gave his last full measure. Drafted into the army 18 months before, he was a natural horseman who learned to ride on his family farm.
While scouting ahead in the Blakjaer forest, Kjeldsen’s detachment of 6 dragoons ran into a 14-man troop of Prussian Leib-Garde-Husaren Regiment under Count Gustav von Lüttichau. As with any scouts then or today, the Danes turned and rapidly tried to break contact to report wheat they had found. One by one the detachment was mown down or surrendered, the light hussars being mounted on faster horses than the Danish heavy cavalry . Soon it was only Kjeldsen and a corporal left on their horses.
In order to buy time for the corporal to bring the intelligence back to the lines, Kjeldsen wheeled and fought the German horsemen 14:1.
The legend has it that in the struggle the young Dane fought like a lion before being shot from behind by a rival hussar– depicted just to the right of the dragoon in the painting. Kjeldsen’s helmet lay on the road while his single-shot Remington 1852 pattern carbine hangs at his side.
Forced to rely on the cold steel of his M1839 pattern Dansk dragonsabel, he is outnumbered and outgunned but refuses to surrender. According to reports, after the hussars engaged him without result with their own sabers, von Lüttichau shot the Dane through the forehead at close range with a revolver.
In 1901 the Board of the Museum of National History commissioned Frantz Henningsen to portray the incident and the painting now hangs at Frederiksborg Castle. Kjeldsen’s sword and helmet are on display in a military museum and he was buried at home on his family’s farm, his body picked up from the road by a passing peasant. He is remembered as a Danish military hero.
As for Denmark, after suffering some 1500 casualties, a peace was signed on 1 August 1864 and the King of Denmark renounced to all his rights in the duchies in favor of the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia. However they gave better than they got and the Austro-German forces lost well past that number.