Postwar Cities: The Cost of the Wars of 1813–1815 on Society in Hamburg and Leipzig

TitlePostwar Cities: The Cost of the Wars of 1813–1815 on Society in Hamburg and Leipzig
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsAaslestad, Katherine B.
EditorForrest, Alan, Karen Hagemann, and Michael Rowe
Book TitleWar, Demobilization and Memory: The Legacy of War in the Era of Atlantic Revolutions
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
CityNew York

'The years 1813 and 1814 are happy years indeed in deciding the inner independence of Europe [from French rule]. But they have also cost tears’.1 With this bittersweet observation Pastor Karl Zimmerman began his account of the destruction of Hamm, his village outside Hamburg. The clergyman celebrated the Allied defeat of Napoleon in 1814, but stressed the burdens of war bequeathed to the postwar period. Merchant and shipowner Peter Godeffroy recounted these hardships in a series of letters in 1814. Godeffroy’s letters to his daughter in England from his estate in Dockenhunden on the Elbe outside Hamburg, describing the destruction of Hamburg’s suburbs, villages and gardens, provide lengthy accounts of requisitions by the occupying French military, and enumerate the fiscal cost and the miseries of those inside and outside of occupied Hamburg. His letters narrate the daily burden of billeting large numbers of soldiers as Russians replaced the French on his estate, the physical destruction of occupied Hamburg under Marshal Davout, and the many impoverished expellees who sought shelter on his property. Godeffroy’s greatest loss, however, was beyond calculation; his son Jack, a second lieutenant in the cavalry of the Hanseatic Legion, a volunteer unit formed from citizens of the Hanseatic cities, fell in the Battle of Dutzow in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.2 The social trauma and costs of the war continued after the fighting ceased and armies moved on, as Godeffroy’s case reveals.

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