Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord

Armin Friedrich Herbert Hilmar Wilhelm Gottfried Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord was born on the 14th of May 1832 at Hildesheim. The old protestant family of the Freiherrn von Hammerstein was divided into different branches while the Equord-line is seen as the primary branch. Male members of this old noble family performed service with Hannover, Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Austria, reaching the highest military and civilian ranks. Armin was the 3rd son of the Westphalian Generalleutnant Hans Georg Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord (1771-1841) and Adelgunde Friederike, a born Gräfin von Bernstorff. His oldest brother Sigurd (born 1829) succeeded to the estates at Equord, Mehrum and Schierke and his youngest brother Helge (born 1833) the succession of the estate of Albrechtsberg in Lower Austria, which made him a member of the Landstand of Lower Austria, after converting to Catholicism he married Anna Maria Gräfin Stolberg-Stolberg in 1861. This partition of the estates left the two other brothers, Wittekind and Armin, only their military careers - Wittekind (born 1831) with the Prussian Army and Armin with the Austrian.

Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord entered Austrian military service as an Unterleutnant 2nd class in September 1852 in infantry regiment number 46 shortly followed by the promotion to Unterleutnant 1st class in early 1853. This regiment was formed in 1762 as the 1st Siebenbürger-Wallachen Grenz-Regiment which was renamed into the 16th border regiment (1st Romanen Grenz Regiment) in 1848 and finally transformed into a line-infantry-regiment recruiting from Hungary in 1851. In November 1854 Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord received his promotion to Oberleutnant. During the war of 1859 the regiment was part of the 2nd army-corps of Fürst Liechtenstein taking an honorable part in the battles at Palestro on the 31st of May and of Magenta on the 4th of June. Oberleutnant Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord would distinguish himself during both occasions receiving the commendation of the Kaiser on the 3rd of July 1859. It seems a little strange that he was not promoted within his regiment although he held the rank of Oberleutnant for more than 6 years. On the 16th of September 1862 he was transferred into the newly raised infantry regiment number 68 at Szolnok receiving there immediately the long expected promotion to Hauptmann 2nd class. His personal file is no longer available at the archives today, so there are no obvious reasons why he came to the conclusion that remaining in the Austrian army would not be good for him, probably he was troubled with one of the "3 capital crimes" for young officers "cards, duels, girls" - the fact is that Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord enlisted in the summer of 1864 in the Austrian Volunteer Corps for Mexico as an Hauptmann 1st class of the Jäger (Light Infantry) with seniority from the 6th of November 1862.

During the following years in Mexico Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord became one of the most dashing infantry officers of the Volunteer Corps. He took part in all the major engagements of the Jäger-unit, for his performance during the battle of Tlapacoyan he was honored with the knight's cross of the Order of our beloved Madonna of Guadalupe, for Icacoaco he received the bronze Military Merit Medal and was honored with the award of the officer's cross of the Order of our beloved Madonna of Guadalupe in April 1866. He also was one of 10 officers of the Volunteer Corps who received the Austrian Military Merit Cross with war decoration with the additional promotion to Major in September 1866. During the siege of Jalapa he was the commander of the imperial troops and would lead the few survivors back on the 13th of November 1866. For his performance during the hard battles between the 6th and 12th of April 1867 during the general retreat from Puebla to Mexico City he was honored with the award of the officer's cross of the Order of the Eagle. Felix Prince zu Salm-Salm described in his memoirs "von Kodolitsch, Graf Khevenhüller and Freiherr von Hammerstein" as the most excellent and trustworthy officers among all adherents of the Mexican Kaiser.

So it was little wonder that Maximilian asked those three to help him in building a new National Mexican Army after the disbanding of all Volunteer Corps in December 1866. While the majority of the Austrian volunteers left Mexico in February 1867 these three officers decided to stand by their Emperor entering the new formed National Army. While Colonel Graf Khevenhüller-Metsch formed a cavalry regiment, the "Red Hussars", from those cavalrymen of the Volunteer Corps who decided to stay, Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, did the same, forming the 18th line infantry regiment "Baron Hammerstein". These two regiments, mainly formed of Europeans, were the most powerful and loyal units of the National Mexican Army. Following the published diary of Graf Khevenhüller, they all knew at this time that they could not win but they remained in their determination to protect the life of their Kaiser under all circumstances. One could imagine how shocked they were when Kaiser Maximilian decided to go to Querétaro taking only Mexican troops with him leaving his best regiments in Mexico City. It was reported that when Maximilian left Mexico City on the 13th of February 1867 these three officers had surrounded him, begging him on their knees (sic!) to take them with him but he refused, his orders were clear, he left his best troops to protect the capital while he himself, as Mexican Emperor, gave his life into the hands of (mainly) Mexican troops at Querétaro. A decision, a perfect political message but with fatal consequences!

On the 12th of April 1867 the Republican Forces laid siege to Mexico City but the loyal troops could hold the capital city and surrendered on the 20th of June 1867 only after they had truthful and clear knowledge that the Emperor was really dead. But Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord would not live long enough to take part in the surrender. In the genealogical handbook ("Gotha") of 1868 it was commonly reported that "Oberst Freiherr von Hammerstein had died in a sortie before Mexico City on the 5th of June 1867", but Graf Khevenhüller gave a less heroic but more realistic description of the circumstances of the death of his friend in his diary (published by Elisabeth Hamann in 1993). To understand this better, one had to know that Armin Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord was a very tall, bald-headed man, while his face had a dark suntan the permanent wearing of a cap caused a bright and white shining head, like a lighthouse. On the 25th of May 1867 Graf Khevenhüller wrote in his diary: "Poor Hammerstein has been shot, caused by his tallness and his bald pate. As long as the siege goes on he used to control the troops along the top of the walls, reaching high over the parapet, always without a hat. When the artillery officer informed him that there was a new French deserter out there shooting much better than the Mexicans he laughed and replied that in this country no bullet was made for him. Then a shot was fired. A projectile had blown away a part of his cranium, he died the day after without regaining consciousness anymore."

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