Heinrich Wilhelm von Freytag (17 March 1720, Estorf – 2 January 1798, Hannover ) was an officer in the service of the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover).
B.1720 in Estorf, Freytag rose to prominence during the Seven Years' War, organising & commanding a corps of light infantry, the Freytag Jägers. At the Battle of Bergen 17 April 1759 he commanding 9 companies of Jägers & 2 squadrons of Prussian Hussars.
Promoted Field Marshal in 1792, he was appointed to raise and command the 3,873 man Hanoverian electoral contingent to the Holy Roman Empire. This force was absorbed into the general army mobilization at the end of 1792. Freytag commanded the Hanoverian troops and the 13–15,000 man Austro-Hanoverian corps under the Duke of York in the Flanders Campaign in 1793, seeing action at Rüme (St.Amand) 1 May, Famars 23rd, the siege of Valenciennes 13 June-28 July, and Cæsar’s Camp 7/8 August. In the Siege of Dunkirk he commanded the left wing covering column. On 6 September he was driven back by Houchard at the Battle of Hondschoote, where he was wounded and captured, but rescued the following day by Wallmoden’s counter-attack. He resigned soon after due to poor relations with the Duke of York & was replaced by Wallmoden.
Freytag died on 2 January 1798 in Hanover.
He knew the Duke of York from when the Prince studied in Hanover in the 1780s. Relations between the two were seriously strained right from the beginning of the campaign. At St. Amand 1 May York tried to locate him & Bussche to bring their troops forward, "but found neither at home, because they too had ridden out to reconnoitre, which annoyed the Duke very much, because he had expected to find them in their quarters. The Duke then went to Rüme, but first ordered the Light Dragoons to advance. The Field Marshal, however, forbade their marching, and it was only after fresh orders that they set out, but arrived too late… The Field Marshal declined to sit by the Duke at his table that day, and left before the joints were served".
Fortescue claims that his 21-mile front in advance of Hondschoote was badly chosen, stamped him as a believer in the cordon system, and that a shorter front around the village would have been better. But Burne persuasively challenges this by citing 5 reasons for the weakness of Hondschoote – "it is difficult to see on what grounds Fortescue asserts that ‘the position at Hondschoote would have covered the besiegers quite as efficiently and with less risk’. In my opinion Freytag occupied the best possible position; his mistake was that he was forgetful of the principal of maintenance of the objective – namely, to cover the besieging army – till pulled up sharply and rightly by the Duke… The fact that even without the Duke’s aid Freytag very nearly held up the French is a clear indication that with it the victory would almost certainly have gone to the Allies".
The Duke of York criticised his actions in the battle thus: "On the 6th of September, the day of the first attack upon the Field Marshal’s Corps, He never would believe that the Enemy had forced the post on His left and turned His left flank in spite of repeated reports that were sent to Him, nor was it till six in the evening, that he consented to retreat, which he did in two Columns. Instead however of sending the Artillery and baggage with General Count Walmoden's Column which was the furthest from the Enemy, He chose to take them in the rear of His own Column. I shall not touch upon the subject of His and my brother Adolphus’s being taken prisoners. I do not imagine there can be two opinions on the subject. I will only say that in consequence of this misfortune, everything would have been lost if it had not been for the presence of mind and coolness of Count Walmoden".