Thursday, June 2, 2011

Monarchist Profile: General Franz Graf Thun-Hohenstein

Count Thun-Hohenstein may not be widely known in Austria (or the Czech Republic) today, but he has a very unique position in history as the leader of the only major Hapsburg military force to fight on the American continent in the 19th Century. He was born on July 27, 1826 in Bohemia and in 1844 entered the Imperial Royal Army as an officer cadet with Infantry Regiment No. 28. Promotions and transfers followed and it was while serving with the First Infantry as a captain that he saw his first major action in Italy during the Revolution of 1848. In March he and his men were engaged in heavy fighting in Milan, street to street and house to house. Other battles in other cities followed (including Vienna) but it was his courage and heroism at Milan and Vienna against the revolutionary forces that earned him the Military Merit Cross. He fought with distinction in numerous other battles throughout 1849, being wounded in action and for which he received much praise and many commendations. In the aftermath of the conflict, he was so highly regarded that he was promoted to major and later personal adjutant to the famous Field Marshal Radetzky.

The legendary field marshal died in 1857 and Thun-Hohenstein was sent back to his regiment and given the prestigious appointment to command the grenadier battalion in 1859. He fought at the brutal battle of Solferino in the 1859 war and his conduct on that occasion earned him a commendation from Emperor Francis Joseph himself. His conduct in other battles earned him more decorations (the Order of Leopold among them) and finally promotion to full colonel. By this time he had achieved a high reputation for skill, courage and efficiency whether fighting the French, Italians or assorted revolutionaries. So, it was no great surprise when Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who had recently agreed to become Emperor of Mexico, chose Graf Thun-Hohenstein to be the commander of the Austrian forces he wished to take to Mexico with him as added security. The French were carrying the bulk of the conflict against the Mexican republicans but it was only natural that Maximilian and Carlota welcomed having some soldiers from their own countries as well.

So, in 1864, Emperor Francis Joseph authorized the formation of the Austrian Volunteer Corps which recruited out of Laibach in Slovenia. Men enlisted from almost every corner of the Hapsburg empire and Graf Thun-Hohenstein was the man Maximilian wanted to command the force. The Emperor agreed to transfer him to the Imperial Mexican Army and he, in due course, took command of the 6,800 men of the Austrian corps as well as the two battalions of Belgian volunteers as the formations were grouped together into the “Imperial Mexican Corps of Austrian and Belgian Volunteers”. After crossing the Atlantic, Thun-Hohenstein established his headquarters at Puebla and his forces would operate mostly in eastern Mexico. However, as was bound to happen, he was often at odds with the French over his desire to maintain the Austrian corps as a totally separate entity under his own command, apart from the French forces. He was immediately at odds with the French commander Marshal Bazaine and this eventually led to a souring of his relationship with Emperor Maximilian as well.

Nonetheless, the Austrian forces were often called upon to act in smaller detachments, as flying columns to counter insurgents and as shock troops to stiffen less reliable forces. He was praised and decorated for his efforts (though not as much as the commander of the Belgian contingent which enjoyed the unqualified support of the Empress) but his relationship with his French and Mexican counterparts remained tense. Things worsened when the French began to pull out of Mexico such as at a battle near San Luis Potosi where a small force of Austrians were decimated while a French column sat within earshot and took no action to come to their aid. It thus came as no great surprise that when diplomatic pressure forces the recall of the foreign troops in Mexico, Graf Thun-Hohenstein refused to remain on hand and join the regular Mexican Imperial Army. Nonetheless, he was further honored by Emperor Francis Joseph with the Order of the Iron Crown upon his return to Austria. The record of the Austrian corps had been impressive. With 55 battles fought only 9 of them could even be argued to be defeats.

As the fighting in Mexico ground to its eventual, glorious doom, the count was recalled to service in the Imperial Royal Army with promotion to major general and a brigade to command. Transferred from Innsbruck to Trient and finally given command of the 25th Infantry Division he earned further praise and honors for his services before being promoted to lieutenant marshal in 1873 and put in command of the Tyrol military sector, an area he regarded as his second home. He married in 1877 and won further promotion, especially for his action in dealing with a disastrous storm in the winter of 1882-83. Poor health finally forced him to retire from active duty and he died on July 30, 1888 with the rank of Feldzeugmeister.


  1. Just a small hiccup; Radetzky died on the 5th January, 1858. Not the year before. Otherwise flawless as always.

  2. Very interesting. I had no idea that the Austrians had anything to do with Mexico.

  3. Oh certainly, there's even an old Italian western (which I've reviewed here) set in Mexico which features the Austrian corps and a fictitious Austrian colonel as the villain.


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