The Battle of Gitschin, 29th June 1866.
Despite Prussian victories and the slowly drawing together of all three of his armies, Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian army Chief of Staff, was still worried that his Second Army would become a target for the main Austrian thrust, sending a telegram at 6:35 a.m. on the morning of the 29th June to First Army Quartermaster General, Major General Wolf Louis Anton Ferdinand von Stülpnagel, informing him of the situation regarding Second Army, adding that:
It seems to me absolutely necessary that he [Crown Prince Frederick William] should be disengaged by the First Army which, five corps strong, has against it only 1st and 3rd Austrian and Saxon Corps. The opportunity of making the most of so great a superiority will perhaps not occur.
Sending a further telegram to Frederick Charles himself an hour later just to be on the safe side stating:
His Majesty expects that the First Army by a quickened advance will disengage the Second Army which, in spite of a series of victorious actions, is still for the moment in a difficult situation.
Moltke need not have been quite so concerned, as Prince Frederick Charles had already sent six cavalry squadrons together with the 5th Division heading off towards Gitschin (now Jicin) on the 28th, and now, at 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the 29th he set off himself with the rest of the First Army in the same direction.
Gitschin had once been the residential centre of the Duchy of Friedland bestowed upon the Imperial General Albrect Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583 – 1634) by a grateful Emperor, Ferdinand II, for his great victory at the battle of the White Hill in 1620, during the Thirty Years War. Its significance in 1866, particularly after the Austrians had lost their grip on the River Iser, was that it was the most important crossroads between that river and the Elbe, forming a hub for the major highways leading north, south, east and west and being surrounded by good defensive ground. Here, on the 29th June, Clam – Gallas had drawn up his corps north of the town, cognisant with Benedek’s “new” orders for the proposed forward concentration of the Northern Army at Gitschin, and fully expected to be relieved during the evening by the arrival of Archduke Ernst’s III Corps, followed by more troops the next day. Also nearing Gitschin were Crown Prince Albert’s Saxons, whose circuitous retirement from Münchengrätz had exhausted over half his command, causing many to fall out by the wayside and as a consequence these would take no part in the coming battle. Those that did manage to stay in the ranks were, eventually, formed in the centre of Clam’s defensive line around the village of Diletz; the whole position extending from the right at Eisenstadt to the left at Unter – Lochow (now Dolni Lochov) and being divided by the heights of Privysin, thereby effectively causing the forthcoming battle to become two separate engagements. (See map)
The first shots were exchanged when, by 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 29th June, the advance guard of Lieutenant – General Ludwig Karl von Tümpling’s 5th Prussian Division, approaching from the north, drove back Austrian outposts around the village of Libun, thereafter pressing on to Ober – Knisnitz where they came under artillery fire from an Austrian battery situated on rising ground just behind the village. The accuracy of these guns soon became evident when Tümpling’s orderly officer, riding forward with the general to reconnoitre the position, was torn apart by a shell, Tümpling’s observations soon discerning still more hostile batteries covering all the approaches to the right and left.
While the Prussian 5th Division was engaging the Austrian and Saxon formations stationed on the right of the Privysin heights, at 4:30 p.m. the Prussian 3rd Division under major General von Werder, whose forward units came trudging wearily along the road towards Sobotka, caught the sound of gunfire off to the north. Pressing on, Werder soon discovered that his own route was blocked by Ringelsheim’s Austrian brigade ensconced on the plateau overlooking the village of Unter – Lochow, from which they could not be budged, despite several attempts being undertaken using frontal and flanking attacks. Having held the enemy at bay for three hours Rigelsheim received orders to pull back to Gitschin, apparently no reinforcements were coming and, with his usual total lack of coordination and cooperation, Benedek had decided not to move towards the Iser after all. Ringelsheim had no option but to try to disengage his troops, who had been under the impression that they were doing a first rate job of containing the enemy, and would soon be supported by more of their comrades with whom they would drive the Prussians from the field: the decision to retire now having a detrimental effect on the men’s morale. Nevertheless Ringelshim sent his 73rd Regiment (Wüttemberg) to gain time for the withdrawal of the rest of the brigade by attacking the Prussian line, this resulting in the usual decimation of the attacking columns with the 73ed sustaining losses amounting to 600 officers and men, but their sacrifice permitted the successful retirement of the other units.
Over on the Austrian right Tümpling’s advance had been checked by the fire of well positioned artillery and infantry on the Privysin heights to the west of the road from Kniznitz, which was held by Brigade Abele, and Poschacher’s Iron Brigade. To their right were ranged 56 guns in a mass battery running from Brada to the village of Diletz ( now Dilce), backed up by two Saxon brigades and the Austrian Brigade Leiningen, with Cavalry Division Edelsheim in close support. To the right again, stationed on the high ground near the village of Eisenstadt, stood Austrian Brigade Piret, backed up by another massed artillery battery of 40 cannon; the Cidlina stream, of no great depth or width, meandered across the plain in front of these positions.
Despite attempting a frontal approach towards Brada, a wide swinging flanking attack around the west of the Privysin heights and another flanking attack over the Cidlina via Zames towards Diletz, Tümpling’s efforts all proved fruitless, with a fifteen company assault on Diletz at 7:30 p.m. also held in check, but only briefly as it was to turn out, and as a consequence all Tümpling’s reserves had been committed with no “ apparent” effect on the enemy, who still had fresh formations to continue the battle.
There was, however, an effect, which soon became apparent to Prussian, Saxon and Austrian alike, coming in the shape of the new orders received from Benedek, the same orders that had caused Ringelsheim’s withdrawal, stating “I have suspended the move on the Iser. Today the army will take up a new position described in the appendix. Continue your movements to join with the grand army. Until the juncture is complete, avoid all major battles.” (Signed: Benedek) To add confusion to disappointment no appendix was attached to the orders and therefore although Benedek had instructed Clam – Gallas and the Saxons to join the main Northern Army he had not specified where they should meet.
Clam – Gallas and the Saxon Crown Prince, after a brief consultation, agreed that they had no choice other than to comply with these latest incomplete instructions from their commander – in – chief, and now tried to attempt breaking off the battle without turning the retreat into a route. This task was particularly difficult for the units defending the village of Diletz, now once more coming under pressure from renewed Prussian attacks. The Saxon report on the battle compiled after the war stating:
Because of the nature of the fight in the village and the exhausted condition of the troops, the evacuation of Diletz by the 1st Infantry Brigade (Crown Prince) could not take place in regular order. The companies were mixed together, some of them deprived of leaders, and they had to retire over completely open terrain, traversed with ditches and ravines. The enemy, pressing quickly into the village, therefore inflicted great losses upon them with infantry fire.
In an attempt to assist their beleaguered comrades, Edelsheim sent in repeated spoiling attacks with his cavalry, while Austrian Brigade Piret, losing heavily, came in on the enemy flank from the direction of Eisenstadt, finally enabling the Saxons to pull out of the fight.
The situation in Gitschin soon deteriorated into a monumental traffic jam as wagons, artillery limbers, worn out soldiers and walking wounded soon filled the streets. Clam and the Saxon Prince attempted to sort out the chaos personally, eventually deciding that the town should be held until the retreat was secure. The troops chosen for the task of rear guard were Brigade Ringelsheim, probably for no other reason other than the fact that they were the first coherent force to reach the town. However, it soon became apparent that after their exertions, coupled with the losses sustained during the battle, that they were in no condition to be put into another fight, and the task was given to the Saxon Life Brigade.
Two roads had been chosen for retirement, the Saxons were to take the south highway to Königgrätz, while the Austrians took the road east to Königinhof. The problem was that the Prussian advance was so rapid and at 10:30 p.m., Werder’s 3rd Division was in the streets of Gitschin, causing pandemonium, the liaison units designated to direct the line of march of each Saxon and Austrian column through the dark streets had all bolted and as a consequence one massive bottleneck built up on a single road. Clam – Gallas had had enough, leaving his chief – of staff to try and sort out the confusion he made good his escape followed by his sycophantic staff. What remained of his worn out and depressed corps arrived during the morning of the 30th June in mixed up masses at Miletin, Smidar, Horitz and Josephstadt. Luckily being themselves in no condition to keep up the pursuit the Prussians took breath around Gitschin. A Prussian officer wrote after the battle:
The battlefields were dreadful to look at, and the worst thing is that there was no means of carrying the wounded to lazerets as quickly as one would have desired. Often one finds these helpless persons days later lying half dead in the fields. The inhabitants have all fled, and there are seldom people in the villages and, when there are, they themselves have nothing to live on, so how can anything be done for the sick and wounded?
The “abattoirs” account for the Austrians came to 184 officers, 4714 men and 96 horses. The Saxons, 27 officers, 586 men and 58 horses. The Prussian losses amounted to 71 officers (including General Tümpling wounded), 1,482 men and 56 horses.
The town centre of Gitschin (Jicin) is still very much how it would have looked in 1866, maybe with the exception of one or two later additions around the old tower. Good food and fine Czech wine and beer are available at the many bars and restaurants around the old town square at prices that do not break the bank.
The battlefield needs at least two or three days to explore in full, Dr Bob and I unfortunately only had a few hours before we had to press on to visit the other sites of this fascinating campaign.
The Jicin Tourist Information Office, situated in the old town square, has booklets and walking and cycling maps of the battlefield trails. If, like us your time is limited, then go straight to the Bradaburg for superb panoramic views over the whole site.
Opposing Forces at Gitschin.
Austrian and Saxon Troops.
1st Corps General Commanding Count Clam Gallas
- Assistant General Count Gondrecourt
- Chief of Staff Colonel von Litzelhofen
- Commander of Brigade Major General Poschacher
- 18th Field Jäger Battalion
- 30th Infantry Regiment (Martini)
- 34th Infantry Regiment (King of Prussia)
- Commander of Brigade Colonel Count Leiningen
- 32nd Field Jäger Battalion
- 33rd Infantry Regiment (Giulay)
- 38th Infantry Regiment (Haugwitz)
- Commander of Brigade Major General Piret
- 29th Field Jäger Battalion
- 18th Infantry Regiment (Constantin)
- 45th Infantry Regiment (Sigismund)
- Commander of Brigade Major General Ringelsheim
- 26th Field Jäger Battalion
- 42nd Infantry Regiment (Hanover)
- 73rd Infantry Regiment (Württemberg)
- Commander of Brigade Colonel von Abele
- 22nd Field Jäger Battalion
- 35th Infantry Regiment (Khevenhüller)
- 72nd Infantry Regiment (Ramming)
1st Light Cavalry Division Major General Baron Edelsheim
- Commander of Brigade Colonel Appel
- 2nd Dragoon Regiment (Windischgrätz)
- 9th Hussar Regiment (Liechtenstein)
- Commander of Brigade Colonel Wallis
- 1st Dragoon Regiment (Savoy)
- 10th Hussar Regiment (King of Prussia)
- Commander of Brigade Colonel Fratricievies)
- 5th Hussar Regiment (Radetzky)
- 8th Hussar Regiment (Hesse Cassel)
Each cavalry brigade had one Horse Artillery Battery attached
Each brigade had one squadron of the Nikolaus Hussar Regiment (No 2) attached and one 4 – pounder Field Battery.
General Commanding Crown Prince Albert of Saxony.
Chief of Staff Major General von Fabrice
Commander of Artillery Major General Schmalz
2nd Infantry Division Lieutenant General von Stieglitz
- 1st Infantry Brigade Colonel von Boxberg
- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Infantry Battalions and 1st Rifle Battalions
- 4th Infantry Brigade (‘Libe’) Colonel von Hausen
- 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th Infantry Battalions and 4th Rifle Battalion
- Attached Division Cavalry –Two Squadrons of Guard and 1st ‘Ritter’ Regiments
- One 12 – pounder Battery
- One 6 – pounder Battery
Cavalry Division Lieutenant General von Fritsch
- 1st Cavalry Brigade Lieutenant General Prince George of Saxony
- Guard ‘Ritter’ Regiment and 1st ‘Ritter’ Regiment
- 2nd Cavalry Brigade Major General von Biedermann
- 2nd and 3rd ‘Ritter’ Regiments
- One 12 – pounder horse
- Reserve Artillery Colonel Köhler
- Three 12 – pounder Batteries
- Two 6 – pounder Batteries
First Army, General HRH Prince Frederick William, units engaged.
From II Corps Lieutenant General von Schmidt
3rd Division Major General von Werder
- 5th Brigade Major General von Janushowsky
- 2nd and 42nd Regiments
- 6th Brigade
- 15th and 54th Regiments
- Pomeranian Rife Battalion No 2
- Blücher Hussar Regiment No 5
- Pioneer Battalion No 2
- Four Batteries of Artillery
- IIICorps. No Commanding officer
5th Division Lieutenant General von Tümpling
- 9th Brigade Major General von Schimmelmann
- 8th and 48th Regiments
- 10th Brigade
- 12th and 18th Regiments
- 1st Brandenburg Uhlan Regiment, No 3
- 3rd Battalion Pioneers
- Four Batteries of Artillery