Patriot and soldier, b. at St. Leonhard in Passeyrthale, Tyrol, Nov. 22, 1767; executed at Mantua, Feb. 20, 1810
Hofer, ANDREAS, patriot and soldier, b. at St. Leonhard in Passeyrthale, Tyrol, November 22, 1767; executed at Mantua, February 20, 1810. His father was known as the “Sandwirth” (i.e., landlord of the inn on the sandy spit of land formed by the Passeyr. The inn had been in the family for over one hundred years). Hofer’s education was very limited. As a youth, he was engaged in the wine and horse trade, but he went farther afield, learned to know men of every class, and even acquired a knowledge of Italian that stood him in good stead later. After his marriage with Anna Ladurner, he took over his father’s business, which, however, did not flourish in his hands. Gifted, though not a genius, a dashing but upright young man, loyal to his God and his sovereign, he made many friends by his straightforward character; his stately figure and flowing beard contributing in no small degree to his attractiveness. When the Tyrol was handed over to Bavaria at the Peace of Presburg, the “Sandwirth” was among the delegates who escorted the departing Archduke John. Thenceforth he attended quietly to his own affairs until, in 1806, he was called to Vienna with others, and was informed of the proposed uprising in the Tyrol. At the outset of the rebellion he was by no means its chief, but acquired fame as a leader mainly by his capture of a Bavarian detachment in the marsh of Sterzing. Hofer was not engaged in the first capture of Innsbruck, being then an officer on the southern frontier with the title of “Imperial Royal Commandant”. When the French broke victoriously into the Tyrol and occupied Innsbruck, he issued a general summons to the people, which roused many patriots and drew them to his standard. The fact that the enemy, underestimating the strength of the popular party, left only a small garrison of troops, favored their cause. After various skirmishes Hofer’s men broke into Innsbruck on May 30. The real battle came off at Berg Isel. The “Sandwirth” took no part in the conflict; nevertheless he directed it with skill and success.
The Tyrol was now free from invasion for two months; indeed, a few bands of insurgents ventured into Bavarian and Italian territory. Under these conditions Hofer thought he could return to his home and leave the government in the hands of the Intendant Hormayr, who had been sent from Vienna. But when, in spite of positive assurances from the emperor, the Tyrol was abandoned at the armistice of Znaim, and Marshal Lefebvre advanced to subdue the country, the people determined to risk their lives for faith and freedom. Again the written order of the “Sandwirth” flew round the valleys. Haspinger and Speckbacher organized the people, and on 13 and August 14 occurred the second battle of Berg Isel. Haspinger decided the result of the day; but Hofer stood for some time in the very heat of the battle, and by his energetic efforts induced the already weakening ranks to renew their efforts. Henceforth, the Intendant having fled, Hofer took the government into his own hands, moved into the Hofburg, and ruled his admiring countrymen in a patriarchal manner. Francis II bestowed on him a golden medal, but this proved fatal to Hofer, who was thereby strengthened in his delusion that the emperor would never abandon his faithful Tyrolese. Thus it happened that he even disregarded a letter from the Archduke John, as though it were a Bavarian or French proclamation, and on November 1 lost the third battle of Berg Isel against a superior force of the enemy.
The renewed success of the French general and the Bavarian crown prince (afterwards Ludwig I) now determined Hofer to surrender; trusting, however, to his friends and to false rumors, he changed his mind and decided to fight to the last. The mighty columns of the allies soon crushed all resistance, and the leaders of the peasant army saw that nothing remained but flight; Hofer alone remained and went into hiding. A covetous countryman, greedy for the reward offered for his capture, betrayed him. He was surprised in his hiding place, dragged to Mantua amid insults and outrages, and haled before a court. Without awaiting its sentence a peremptory order from Napoleon ordered him to be shot forthwith. He took his death-sentence with Christian calmness, and died with the courage of a hero. The prophecy he uttered in the presence of his confessor shortly before he died: “The Tyrol will be Austrian again” was fulfilled three years later. His remains were disinterred in 1823 and laid to rest in the court chapel at Innsbruck, where his life-size statue now stands. The emperor ennobled the Hofer family. The youth of Germany has been inspired by his heroic figure, and German poets like Mosen, Schenkendorf, Immermann, etc. have sung of his deeds and sufferings. Even the French pay a wondering homage to his sincere piety, his self-sacrificing patriotism, and his noble sense of honor (Denis in “Hist. gen.”; Correard in “Precis d’histoire moderne”: a text-book for the pupils of the military school of St. Cyr).